misc June 11, 2015

Our Complete Alaska Itinerary

This is by far the longest post I’ve ever written and the most in-depth travel guide. Before I begin, we now have a new design for our travel posts that allows us to include larger images and copy/text to correspond with images. Please feel free to let us know if you enjoy this new design!

You can see my first post about our trip to Alaska here, where I talked about how Alaska came up, traveling with our friends and included images from our time in Homer. This time around, we’re sharing our entire Alaska Itinerary with you guys! Everything from where we stayed, where we ate, what activities we did and a bunch of other details are all included in this post. After and during our trip we got a bunch of emails from people asking us for our itinerary (that Thomas and Carly spent months putting together) so we thought we would share it in a new type of post. To start, we wanted to highlight some of our favorite parts of the trip and can’t miss things while in Alaska. The rest of the post is broken up into the towns that we visited- Seward, Homer, Talkeetna and Denali National Park- with details of activities, lodging and food for each place.

*map by Lauren Taylor Creates

Trip Highlights

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  • Beauty of the state-We had high expectations of beautiful landscapes but were blown away!
  • Amount of water-This goes with the beauty, but living in draught ridden California, it’s simply amazing how much water there is. One of our guides said there were 3 million lakes in the state.
  • Food-If you enjoy fresh seafood like Halibut and Salmon there’s no better place. Seward and Homer are huge Halibut fishing towns so make sure to enjoy some there.
  • Company you keep-We went with some of our best friends and it made the experience 10 times better!
  • Activities-This is a main attraction of coming to Alaska, so make sure to book your favorite things.
  • Wildlife-I’ve never seen so many Bald Eagles and we saw tons of moose. The Glacier Cruise was perfect for seeing an abundance of wildlife.

Can’t miss:

  • We highly recommend that you rent your own car, the people that got off tour buses and cruises were following other people’s schedules. Having buffer time and our own car allowed us to stop whenever we wanted to. On some of the drives we stopped every 15-30 minutes because the views were irresistible.
  • Glacier Cruise out of Seward-We saw a ton of wildlife on our Glacier Cruise. Our 6 hour tour sounded long but it didn’t feel like it. We got really lucky and saw Orcas, Humpback Whales, Bald Eagles and even a Mountain Goat.
  • At least 1 hike- We took a great hike at our resort in Alyeska called Winner Creek Hike. There are hiking trails everywhere in Alaska, so working a hike into your trip should not be difficult.
  • Half day Fishing trip-The Salmon run lasts between June and the rest of the summer. If you are going in the summer like most visitors do, the fishing should be great. If you like to fish, I would make sure to get out on the river. Talkeetna is a great launching spot. We used Phantom Charters and had a great experience. If you go to Homer or Seward, you can fish for Halibut.
  • Flightseeing tour out of Talkeetna- (we didn’t end up doing this because we already had the fishing trip planned)-We wanted to fish on our trip and it was fish our flightsee in Talkeetna. We went with fish. We woke up that morning to a completely clear view of Mt. McKinley and immediately were bummed we missed out on the flightseeing.
  • Flight from Homer to Katmai to see bears catching Salmon (didn’t do, too early in the season)-We really, really wanted to do this but we were about a month and a half too early.

Seward

Seward, Alaska is located on the Kenai Peninsula. It’s named after William Seward who’s famous for negotiating to purchase Alaska from Russia. The well known dog sledding trail, The Iditarod starts in Seward.

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Alaska Itinerary
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Activities

We took a 6 hour glacier cruise through Major Marine Tours. This was a fantastic experience.  The wildlife viewing on this trip was quite incredible. We saw a pod of Orcas, multiple humpback whales bubble netting, porpoise, bald eagles, puffins, sea lions, seals, otters and even a mountain goat. The coastline and trip were beautiful, we saw multiple glaciers including Bear and Aialik Glaciers from a distance but we drove right up to Holgate Glacier where we witnessed calving of the glacier. The sound of the ice breaking off and landing in the water sounds like thunder and is quite an experience to see in person.

Lodging

While in Seward we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express. The location was perfect and the view probably rivaled any other hotel in the area.

Food

For food we went to Chinooks, twice. Thomas had the halibut fish and chips and I had the grilled salmon. It was amazing and I’d definitely recommend it- hence, the reason we went twice! They had a great selection of beers on tap as well (Thomas asked for me to add this :))

 

Homer

Homer, Alaska is located on the Southwest end of the Kenai Peninsula. It’s known as the Halibut Capital of the World.

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Activities

When we originally decided upon going to Homer we were going because this is the launch point for most of the bear viewing tours. When trying to book the bear viewing, we learned that the Salmon Run hadn’t started yet and the Grizzly Bears wouldn’t be found catching Salmon in the rivers in Katmai. I had also heard that Homer has some of the best sunsets in Alaska. The weather wasn’t great while we were there, so we didn’t get to see a sunset. However, we had a great morning on the Homer Spit, indulging in a big breakfast, walking around all of the shops and cafes and taking in the beautiful views. Homer is a great place to go halibut fishing.

Lodging

We stayed at Kenai Peninsula Suites. This was a fun little hotel that has about 8 rooms. We stayed in the Wolf Den, which was a subterranean room. The view from the hotel was incredible! There were two great features that made staying at this hotel worth it, the hillside hot tub and the fire pits. As soon as we arrived at the hotel we started a fire and made some s’mores.

Food

We ate at La Baleine Café on the Homer Spit. Before heading out of town we stopped at Two Sisters Bakery to get some sweets. Homer is the Halibut capital of the world so if you make your way down to Homer make sure to keep that in mind. The Homer Spit is where the harbor for Homer is. When we ate at Baleine Café, it was cool to see the local fisherman walking in with their fishing outfits and rubber boots to grab a cup of coffee.

 

Girdwood/Alyeska

Alyeska is a skiing resort in the winter time and a mountain bike/general outdoor resort during the summer time. It’s located about 45-60 minutes south of Anchorage. We decided to stay in this area so that we could break up our drive between Homer and Talkeetna.

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Activities

We took a great hike called Winner Creek Hike. This just happened to be Carly’s first hike, though she might have been lying because she was a natural! At the end of the hike there is a fun hand tram which you can use to cross the river gorge. The hike continues on from there or you can turn around and head back, like we did.

There is a large tram that you can ride to the top of the mountain. The views from the mountain are spectacular. It’s a bit expensive to pay to go up to the top. If you get a reservation at the restaurant though, the ticket is free.

Lodging

We stayed at the Alyeska resort, which was beautiful and everything we needed for our stay there.

Food

We ate at Seven Glaciers restaurant at the top of the mountain. This restaurant had one of the best view/best food combinations that we’ve had during all of our travels. We also ate at a nice lunch spot called Silvertip Grill before hitting the road again the next day.

 

Talkeetna

Talkeetna is a town located south of Denali National Park. It’s a great place to stop for a day or two if you are headed up to Denali National Park and/or Fairbanks. If you are lucky, you can get a great glimpse of Mt. Mckinley from Talkeetna.

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Activities

We went fishing on the multiple rivers that cross through Talkeetna. We used Phantom River Fishing Tours. Again, we were a little early for their prime fishing season. The Salmon Run starts mid-June and our guide mentioned that was the best time to come fish. Talkeetna is placed South of Denali National Park with one of the best views of Mount McKinley. It’s also the hub for flightseeing tours of Denali National Park. It’s a little expensive but we heard great things about it. Someone had actually mentioned that on a clear day, it’s the type of thing that you drop all of your other plans to go do. They do have some rafting trips in Talkeetna but from what we saw, the rivers were really wide and thus slow moving with very few rapids. If that’s your thing, this would be a good place to go rafting. If you are looking for more thrill, the rafting in Denali looked fun, though we did not go on a rafting trip.

Lodging

We stayed at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and this hotel had the best view of the trip. On a clear day you can see the Denali mountain range and if you get really lucky, the cloud on McKinley will clear and you will see this view. Mount McKinley or simply Denali is so large that it has its own weather system, it’s often covered by a huge cloud. When we first arrived at the hotel, this was the case. We were looking at the other large peaks to the side of it and we were trying to figure out which one was McKinley. It wasn’t until the cloud cleared around 11:00pm that we realized that there was a mountain in the middle that towered over the others. We sat on the back patio at the hotel and sipped coffee, had dessert, played Cards Against Humanity and enjoyed the sunset until the mosquitos chased us inside.

Food

Wildflower Café was the best food we had there. A nice little cafe with plenty of good options. It was actually recommended by our fishing guide.

We ate at Mountain High Pizza Pie the first night in Talkeetna. The restaurant had a cute design but the food was ok.

Wake and Shake- Located on main street in Talkeetna, this Ice Cream shack had an amazing Coffee Ice Cream Shake. While we were there we watched them make their own ice cream out in front of the shack.

Denali National Park

Located right in the middle of Alaska, Denali National Park is nearly the size of of Massachusetts. It’s home to the highest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley. To do The Park justice, you really have to make your way to the interior of The Park. This takes time, the tours we contemplated doing weren’t shorter than 8 hours round trip.

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Activities

Our group agreed that our ATV tour was one of our favorite activities from the trip. We decided to book the private 2.5 hour wilderness tour and we are super glad we did. It was only maybe 10-20% more expensive for this option. We had two awesome guides that let us crank up the speed.

Access to the park is limited; you can only drive your personal car until the 15 mile marker at Savage River. This is something that’s important to know before tacking on Denali onto your itinerary. If you are going to do Denali, most would recommend the 8-11.5 hour long round trip bus tour of the park. We decided against this because we didn’t want to sit in a school bus for that amount of time, we also preferred to be on our own schedule. We ended up hiking up the Savage River Alpine Trail. It was difficult and once we made it to the top of the mountain, we were greeted by some intense wind. The views were amazing and definitely worth the effort.

Compared to other National Parks we’ve been to, we all had agreed that driving all the way to Denali National Park was not worth it if you are just going for the first 15 miles. There’s nothing that’s strikingly beautiful during the first 15 miles of the park.

If you really want to see and experience the park, look for a backcountry lodge in Katnisha that you can spend 2-3 days at. The more beautiful areas closer to McKinley will be much easier to access from all the way in the heart of the park. This makes the 11 hour round trip worth it. Next time we go we will probably do just that.

Lodging

We stayed at the Grande Denali Lodge, while it had the best views of any hotel in the area there wasn’t much else to rave about. The service ranged from poor to mediocre.

Food

We ate at the restaurant at our hotel, Alpenglow. While the views were great, this is where our good experience stopped. Our meals were not good, the portion sizes were tiny compared to the price and the service was poor. If you stay at Grande Denali try to stay away from this restaurant.

Our second night we ate at Prospector Pizza. Definitely worth a stop if you’re craving pizza.

On our way out of town we stopped at the Salmon Bake. This was easily our best meal in the McKinley Park area.

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