Alaska

Many people have asked us "What is there to see in Alaska?" There is lots to do. The more time and days you have to spend the better. Travel to Alaska can either be by air, cruise or by car ( from Canada ). With 9 days at hand, we will share our experiences and places that we visited. We decided to skip the cruise and take a flight into Anchorage. We had more time to spend and our own itinerary geared towards a family vacation.

Scenic Seward road
Driving on Seward Highway surrounded by scenic views



Below are the details of each place we visited. There may be more places you may want to see or have more activities in your itinerary. The official page for each city gives an in depth knowledge of the many activities that you can pursue and can serve as a more detailed reference.

1.) WHITTIER / PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND:

-- Whittier is the gateway to view and experience amazing tide-water glaciers and sea-life in calm waters of Prince William Sound

-- To reach Whittier, there is a 2 mile tunnel, the Anton Anderson tunnel, that you have to pass through. This is a unique tunnel as the train, the traffic to/from Whittier all go on the same single route. Specific timings are allotted. Get a copy of the current schedule to avoid waiting delays. The tunnel  closes at 11.30 pm and reopens in the morning. Click here for the tunnel schedule. There is a $12 fee for a round trip route.

Whittier tunnel entrance
Traffic at Whittier at the entrance of the tunnel

-- Portage Glacier: Stop at the Begich\Boggs visitor centre just before the tunnel. A boat ride is required to see the glacier. However, you may be able to see a couple of ice bergs near the visitor centre. From the parking lot, take the steps and walk along the lake.

-- Once you cross the tunnel you are in Whittier. Parking is available for $5 ( please check current rates ) on the right, after crossing the little bridge and the tracks in the Municipal parking Lot. Cash only, there is an attendant to assist you. There is also a parking lot near the entrance to 26 Glacier tour for $ 12 per day.

-- 26 Glacier Tour - We highly recommend this tour (6 hours) to view and experience the tide-water glaciers along with sea-life ( though not always guaranteed ) in the beautiful settings of Prince William Sound . The waters are not choppy. Very comfortable boat-ride throughout. Carry rain gear and sunglasses, camera, extra batteries, video and warm clothing. There are no words to describe the experience of viewing the a glacier calving.


Views on Prince William Sound
Fantastic views on our tour
Views on Prince William Sound
5 glaciers in a row
glaciers
Surrounded by majestic snow covered mountains and glaciers
Surprise Glacier
Surprise Glacier
Sea otters
Cute sea otters. They played in the water and had their babies on their stomachs.
Orca on Prince William Sound
We saw an Orca too!
2.) SEWARD HIGHWAY / TURNAGAIN ARM:

The Cook Inlet ( the body of water ) branches into the Knik Arm and the Turnagain Arm. The route from Anchorage to Seward has a lot of photo view points. Here are some where we stopped. Interestingly, we saw a plaque that stated that the Seward Highway is the 13th only Highway honored with a national award honoring it as a unique and treasured piece of America. The surroundings include flat valleys, rocky peaks, streams, wetlands, hillside forest, alpine tundra and treeless peaks. The Good Friday Earthquake of 1964 was the world's second largest earthquake struck. Portage and Girdwood valley were relocated.

-- Beluga Point: Located at Mile 110.5 on the Seward Highway about 6.5 miles south of Anchorage.  Known for spotting Beluga whales here, try spotting one in summer when salmon run in the Cook Inlet.

-- Bird Point: Mile 96. Look for Dall sheep grazing on the rocks above. This point is famous for the tidal bore where you would be able to see 2- 6 feet surges that occurs when the tide comes in.

-- Potter Marsh: Mile 117.4. A Favorite point for migratory birds. Boardwalks with about an hour walk takes you around the marsh. You may also be able to see wandering moose, spawning salmon and eagles soaring above.

-- Windy Point: Look for Dall Sheep on the rocks above and also beluga whales and eagles.

- Alaska Railroad tracks ( views with the train on the tracks winding its way at the base of the mountain make some gorgeous pics with the backdrop of Turnagain Arm.

View of Turnagain Arm
Turnagain Arm
View from Seward Highway
View from Seward Highway
3.) GIRDWOOD:

 This is the resort town of Alaska. The gondola ride at the Alyeska Resort to the top of the ski mountain is well worth it, with beautiful vistas of the valley below, the surrounding peaks, the Chugach Range and the Turnagain Arm. It is also the place for adventure sports - paragliding from the side of the mountain. If you are lucky you can also view bears on the slopes from the gondola. Mosquitoes are in abundance. Please carry a repellent. It will come in handy here. Fine dining is also available. For more details please click here. It's a perfect place to sit and relax with sweeping views of Mt. Alyeska.

@ Alyeska Tram station
We waited for our tram here.
Alyeska resort from the tram
View from the tram looking down at the resort

4.) EXIT GLACIER:

Have you always wanted to experience a glacier? Well, Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is where you can. The 1 mile hike is a gentle climb uphill. Very comfortable and moderately easy. It is not stroller \ wheelchair accessible. There are minor drop offs here and there. But worth the effort to climb up and see the glacier spilling from the Harding Icefield.  Mosquitoes are in abundance here. Carry your repellent. There are viewpoints near the visitor centre to view the glacier if you like.  An all day hike is required if you want to go all the way to the top of the Icefield. Here are some pictures and for more information on the all day hike click here.



Exit glacier
Approaching Exit glacier, view from the car
Exit glacier hike
Visitors almost there, winding their way up
Exit glacier
Finally! and it is gigantic!
5.)  SEWARD:


Seward is located in the Kenai Peninsula Borough. Mile 0 of the historic Iditarod Trail is located here. In the early 1900's goods and people were transported from Seward to interior Anchorage. Seward downtown is within walking distance to the harbour. It has a bike path that runs from downtown to the harbour. Seward is a tourist destination and is the end port for north bound cruise ships.

I spoke with a local who gave me this information. Many tourists, rent a trawler\ boat and venture out into the Resurrection Bay to fish. Each evening as the boats arrive ( around 4 pm ) they hang their catch on massive iron hooks. Many courier their catch back home to enjoy! You can view the catch just behind the visitor centre near Ray's Waterfront. Fresh seafood is available at most of the restaurants in downtown and near the harbor.

Kayaking, Fishing, Biking and touring the Kenai Fjords National Park and the Sea life centre are some of the things that you can do.

Seward Welcome Sign
Seward Welcome Sign
Picture Points while at Seward:

-- The cream of your visit to Seward I think is at Resurrection Bay.
-- Mile 0 Iditarod Start trail
-- Fishing boats and kayaks in the bay
-- Welcome Sign at Seward located at Dairy Hill Lane ( opposite Chevron )
-- The "Miles To & From " located near Hertz @ 600 Port Avenue, Seward


With a catch at Resurrection Bay
It is a good catch!
Resurrection Bay
Resurrection Bay
Seward harbor
Harbor at Seward
Mile 0 at Seward
Iditarod Mile 0
Distance sign board
Where am I?

6.) DENALI NATIONAL PARK


Of all the National Parks we have visited, Denali stands out for its scenic beauty, abundance in wildlife, Mt. McKinley that stands 20,000 ft and is seen as far as Anchorage and Palmer. Rising from the ground and standing tall against the fall colored landscape is beauty at its best.


Denali National Park has preserved its 2 million acres of wilderness. Hence only authorised buses are allowed into the park. You can however, take your car till Toklat River and enjoy the drive into the park. Mt. McKinley can be seen from Mile 8 onwards. However, its seen its best from Wonder Lake & Eielson Visitor Centre. With frequent timed tours of the shuttle buses, 6 hrs tour \ 8 hrs tour passes by fast.


Denali National Park
Road leading to Eielson Visitor Centre
We took the Eielson Visitor Centre, bus tour round trip of 8 hours. It was totally worth it. With views of the fall colors against the backdrop of the recently snow covered mountains was a picture perfect drive into the park. We saw a family of 3 Moose and 3 grizzlies on the way in and out of the park. The shuttle bus gives enough time to click pictures. To avoid the engine noise frightening the animals away, they stop the engine, so if the animals do plan on crossing the road, they would not be intimidated. We had a grizzly cross the road just near us after eating some berries alongside the road. What a wonderful experience! Our driver\ narrator was friendly, very environment friendly, wildlife lover and hiker who gave us a lot of information the entire way.

Moose in Denali
Moose


Denali Landscape

Bear crossing in the park
Grizzly passing infront of the bus in Denali.

Antlers on display with the Toklat river landscape

Denali scenic road
Scenic Denali Park road with fall colors

Some tips on making your trip to the park via the shuttle bus.

* The shuttle buses are cheaper and a reliable means to travel the park.
* You can get off and on the bus whenever you want as long as there is room for you on board.
* No food is available in the park. Water, food needs to be carried.
* Though there is absolutely wilderness ( 3 million acres to be specific ) there are provisions for clean restrooms at intervals.
*Children do need a car seat \ booster. I am not aware of any facility to store your car seat \ booster if you want to hike by yourself. We carried ours even on our hike, fortunately it was light weight and backless. Click here if you need more information.
* Take extra batteries, extra memory card and video.
* Not sure which shuttle to take. Click here for the details Wonder Lake is the closest you can get to Mt. McKinley. Only 30% of lucky visitors to the park get a chance to view it each year. Most of the time it is surrounded by low clouds. 



-- FREE SLED DOG DEMONSTRATION IN DENALI

This is one opportunity you will get to see and mingle with the Alaskan huskies, ask questions and take pictures on a sled and learn the work if the huskies. For more information click on the Denali National Park link that has information regarding the timings and the parking. http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/sled-dog-demonstrations.htm

Sled dog demo # Denali
Sled dog demonstration @ Denali

7.) FAIRBANKS: 

Fairbanks is located just 2 hours from Denali. It is very common to see the Northern Nights from here specially in winter since the days are very short and lights exceptionally long. For those who are not very familiar with what the Arora Borealis is click here for a comprehensive detailed explanation. If you ever have a chance to see this in the Northern Hemisphere, consider yourself very lucky.

I found a website that gives good information on the Northern lights. All your questions will be answered here. See some fantastic pictures from Ron Murray

-- BEST PLACES TO SEE THE ARORA BOREALIS:

Taking the Parks Highway towards Anchorage and pulling just off the road on to a spur road that leads to the town of Ester (5 minutes outside of western Fairbanks). One can continue driving for another 10 miles on the Parks Highway where there are several parking overlook pullouts which offer excellent views to the north and south. The road is usually maintained and the drive shouldn't be any challenge. Another place to consider is a trip up Ester Dome Road (off Sheep Creek Road) just northwest of the university (about 5 miles away). The view on top is great with several pullouts and views to the north and south. Finally, the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks to the town of Fox offers several good views of dark skies to the north. The drive is about 15 minutes from Fairbanks proper. At the university (west ridge), there are several x-country ski trails that open to a large field that is worth visiting in the day and perhaps at night." adapted from http://climate.gi.alaska.edu/curtis/aurora/aurora.html

-- CREAMER'S FIELD: It is a migratory waterfowl refuge. Lots of migratory birds come each fall and spring. Here are the directions.

We landed at the Bird Observatory at 418 Wedgewood Drive, Fairbanks, Alaska. From behind the office, we took the trail which led us to Creamers Field. A quiet, serene place to either take a walk or just observe the birds at a close distance. Sandhill cranes, Canada geese were some of the birds we saw. If you are interested in viewing wildlife here is a good link that you can refer to. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=viewinglocations.fairbanks

Birds at Creamers Field
CREAMERS FIELD
Sand Hill Cranes
Sand Hill Cranes
-- SANTA CLAUS HOUSE, NORTH POLE:  Location: at Santa Claus House 101 St. Nicholas Dr. North Pole, Alaska

If you are in Fairbanks, Santa's House is a major attraction even in Summer!! An interesting sight to see which will make you feel the warmth of Christmas are the roads that lead to Santa's house and the surrounding areas. We were welcomed by lamp posts painted in warm shades of Christmas red and green, park benches in red, white and green, street signs that read Santa Claus Lane, Snowman Lane, St. Nicholas Dr and the towering Santa Claus that is near the entrance of the house. It is an attraction that surely welcomes the young and the old from all over the world. Santa has his timings at the store too. Here is the link for details about store hours, address and the history of how it all began.

WELCOME SIGN AT SANTA'S HOUSE
OUTSIDE THE HOUSE
OUTSIDE SANTA'S HOUSE
SANTA WELCOMES KIDS
REINDEER BEHIND SANTA'S HOUSE
PARK BENCHES IN SHADES OF CHRISTMAS
LAMP POSTS IN CANDY COLOR
SIGN BOARDS
































The below 3 destinations were recommended to us by locals,  however due to lack of time we did not visit them. We have mentioned it here with the links to the websites for further information:


-- RIVERBOAT DISCOVERY TOURShttp://riverboatdiscovery.com/ 
Location: 5561 S. Bodenburg Loop Rd. Palmer, AK

 --  ICE MUSEUM: Chena Hot Springs Resort is located approximately 60 miles Northeast of Fairbanks at Mile 56.6 Chena Hot Springs Road. For more information click here. Chena Hot Springs is also one of the best places to view the Arora Borealis.

-- PIONEER PARK: http://www.co.fairbanks.ak.us/pioneerpark/



8.) PALMER:

-- EAGLE RIVER CENTRE:
Address: 32750 Eagle River Rd., Eagle River, Alaska

 Located about 40 mins North of Anchorage, there are no words to describe the natural beauty. 12 miles from the highway takes you to the base of the glacially carved mountains green and beautiful. At the end of the road, trails lead up to the the salmon viewing deck and some amazing views of the Chugach mountains. Our initial plan was to hike the 3 mile Albert Loop Trail. However it was closed for bears feeding on salmons. Hence we took the Rodak Nature trail 3\4 miles and easy round trip. We saw lots of salmon at the viewing deck jumping in and out of the water with some beautiful scenery. Its worth it and recommended.


Eagle river nature centre
Salmon viewing


Salmon viewing
Lots of salmon

--  REINDEER FARM:

Does being the midst of reindeer and moose and elk seem like fun. Don't miss this place. It is so much fun and you will remember it forever. You get a chance to see reindeer, elk, and then after a brief introduction, you are handed a small bowl of grain. The reindeer automatically come to you. It was so much fun feeding them ( it felt like a baby nibbling at your hand ). No more grain to hand out? Just put your hand up and say "No" they will go away!! We also had an opportunity to feed a moose up close. It took a while to entice him to stand up but once he did I think he was a huge around 7-8 ft tall. Here are some pictures we took.

Reindeer Farm
Locking horns sounded like sticks!
At reindeer farm
Elk
Reindeer Farm
Feeding the reindeer
Moose at Reindeer Farm
Moose
9.) MATANUSKA GLACIER:

At 27 miles long and 4 miles wide, this glacier is the largest roadside glacier that is easily accessible from the Glen Highway. For an additional amount, there are walking tours that you can take to go near the glacier. Its also seen from the road. The location is about 1 hr 45 minutes drive from North Anchorage.

Matanuska Glacier
Matanuska Glacier seen from Glen Highway


10.) ANCHORAGE:

Anchorage like any other major city has lots to do. Depending on what your interests are your itinerary can either having hiking, biking, driving or walking included. A good place to begin is in Downtown. Lots of paid parking available along the street or at parking lots conveniently located at many intersections. For more details regarding Anchorage click here

Downtown Anchorage
Visitor Center in Downtown
-- Downtown Visitor Centre:
Location: Fourth Avenue and F Street or 542 West 4th Avenue Anchorage  
-- Photo Opportunity: Anchorage air crossroads of the world located in front of the Log Cabin Visitor Information Center in downtown Anchorage
-- Captain Cook Monument in Resolution Park: Great place to view the Cook Inlet.
-- Tony Knowles Coastal Bike Trail


Captain Cook Monument
Captain Cook Monument
And in summary a few points:

Alaska is vast and very beautiful. Though more time is required to see the entire state, we covered some of the most popular destinations in the time we had. Lucky you if you are able to spend more time.


1.) You have to get out and explore Alaska to experience its beauty. It's about glaciers, kayaking, hiking, sea-life and wild-life in their own environment, fall colors( in August-September ), road trips with the most beautiful vistas, tundra and coniferous forests, the northern lights, close encounters with reindeer and meeting Santa!
2.) The more days you have the better ( 9 days wasn't sufficient for us )

3.) Denali National Park has a car seat policy for children travelling in the shuttle bus. We took a portable, light toddler car seat since it was easy to carry along and lightweight. 
4) Weather changes anytime. Layered clothing is the best. Carry a raincoat\warm clothing.

Bon Voyage!



Comments

  1. Sav...awesome. Pic came out neat...well next year then.

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  2. Thanks for checking out our blog Venkat !

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  3. Hello, what a great trip and helpfull guide for other visitors.
    Thank you very much for your tips.

    Linda & Ad Heijmans ( the Netherlands )

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  4. Linda & Ad thank you for visiting www.savsmich.com. We are glad you found it helpful. We really appreciate your comments and letting us know your thoughts! If you are travelling soon..have a wonderful and safe trip.

    Regards,
    Savsmich

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