Alaska on my mind.........

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Vash01, Feb 13, 2013.

  1. Vash01

    Vash01 Well-Known Member

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    I need a vacation this year, and I have anywhere from 6 to 8 days for it (may be 10, if I stretch it). I considered mulitple options, eliminated some, and it seems I am close to being obsessed with Alaska at this point. I had taken the Inside passage cruise years ago, so instead of a cruise I want to fly into Fairbanks (more central than Anchorage), and take some sight seeing tours.

    My preferences are:

    Denali National park (a must for me, since I absolutely love visiting our national parks)

    Go North to the Arctic circle, and if possible see Circles of the Arctic national park

    May be Prudhoe Bay- would love to see where the Alaska pipeline comes from (I saw it in the south - Valdez/Anchorage/Seward area at the end of my cruise last time).

    I would love to see the Kenai Fjords (sp?) national park, but that seems to be too far to the southwest.

    I have a very nice 'vacation planner' published by Alaska tourism and I did some research on the internet, including airfares, hotels, and some tour companies. However, I would love to hear from those who have been to the interior of Alaska and have some recommendations.
  2. Whitneyskates

    Whitneyskates New Member

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    My family and I vacationed there when I was 15, it was amazing. You definitely have to see Denali, it is absolutely breathtaking. I hope you have a great vacation :)
  3. NancyNC

    NancyNC Well-Known Member

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    Mr. NC and I are headed that way in September for an Inside Passage cruise - starting in Sitka, ending in Seattle. We are splurging and going with Lindblad (same company we went with to the Galapagos) for our 20th anniversary, doing a special photography cruise. We can't wait!
  4. Chele615

    Chele615 Let's go Anacode!!!

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    My brother in law was just restationed to Alaska (they're flying up there on Saturday actually) and I am so excited to go visit this coming summer!!!!
  5. madm

    madm Active Member

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    We took the vistadome train from Anchorage to Denali and back. I would recommend flying into Fairbanks first and doing the northern sightseeing first. Then take the train from Fairbanks to Denali (2 hrs.), spend a couple of days there, and then take the train all the way to Seward (a full day trip). The scenery is spectacular, and you can easily ride the train back a few hours to Anchorage and fly home from there. If you have 2 days in Seward, take a boat tour to see the Kenai Fiords. The Alaska Railway has packaged tours you can sign up for so you don't have to make all the arrangements yourself. It's worth it to pay the top class fare so you have the glass dome top plus good food and drink.

    We spent 3 days in Denali at the Backcountry Lodge (very pricey - I think it was $880/nt double room meals/transportation/activities included). However expensive it is, you'll never experience anything like this anywhere else. The bus ride (on a refurbished school bus) was 13 hours long to go the 93 miles to the end of the road. Private cars are not allowed to go past mile marker 13. You stop a lot along the way to view wildlife. We saw grizzlies, Dahl sheep, a wolf, caribou, and many other animals. It's a photographer's paradise. The drivers are often local teachers who do this for a summer job and they are really interesting to listen to. The food at the lodge and accomodations were good. We went on a hike one day - be prepared to wear a mosquito-netted hat and be well clothed as the mosquitos are abundant. One thing we did not do but I wish we did was to take a plane ride around Denali Peak. The mountain is rarely visible from below, but it is visible above the clouds via plane ride - it is magnificent and the size of it (20,000+ ft.) is astounding! If you have any time in the city of Anchorage, the Alaska Museum of Science and Nature is a cool place to go. There are hotels right at the train station and it's easy to get a shuttle or cab to the airport. Best time to visit IMO is June or July - the temperatures will be the warmest they'll get all summer (75-80 degrees in Fairbanks but only 50-60s in Denali and Anchorage). There are only about 3-4 hours of "dusk" at night so it's challenging to sleep, but then again you have lots of daylight hours to sightsee.
  6. madm

    madm Active Member

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  7. Vash01

    Vash01 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the information! I really want to go to the Arctic circle, Prudhoe Bay, etc., so I am not likely to go to Anchorage to see that area. I did see some of it at the end of my cruise long ago, although not Kenai Fjords NP.

    I had not thought of taking the plane ride over Mt.Mckinley but I will consider that, based on your recommendation.
  8. zippy

    zippy Active Member

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    I worked in Denali for several summers back in college and definitely recommend flightseeing. The weather has to be right to be able to go up, but if you can, do it - it's just awesome. Kantishna Air Taxi is a good company with great pilots. You can actually stay at their headquarters in Kantishna, not sure of the price but it's a little known option that might be interesting. They run totally off solar panels and host a fun little music festival each summer. Otherwise, any of the three backcountry lodges in Kantishna are nice places, though pricey. Camp Denali/North Face has the best access to the main part of the park, though the cost reflects that. If you like camping and/or independence you can try Wonder Lake campground, or the Hawk's Nest cabin owned by Camp Denali, which allows you to drive your own car into the park - this may be booked solid for the year already though. With both of these options you can use the Park Service buses to access any point along the park road for day hikes.

    As for which month is best, it depends on what you like but I have to put in a good word for late August or September. June is enjoyable for the flowers and the endless midnight sun, and the mosquitos are usually still slow and hung over from the winter in early June (but can be bad some years). This time seems to be popular with birders. July can be the warmest time, or not - there's not much rhyme or reason to the weather, it could be snowing in July too. It's typically the worst month for mosquitos, who become full-fledged merciless bloodthirsty vampires by that point. The fireweed is nice. In late August, the tundra turns red and orange, the animals are fattened up for the winter, gearing up for the rut, and blueberries are everywhere. The foothills are snow covered. Sandhill cranes fly overhead. It gets dark at night, but this could mean a sighting of the northern lights. This is the time the photographers head to Denali en masse. To top it off, the mosquitos are gone. Anyway, whenever/wherever you go it will be a great trip. Just be prepared for some bugs. Have fun!
    Vash01 and (deleted member) like this.
  9. Vash01

    Vash01 Well-Known Member

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    I was thinking of going there in May because the rates seem a lot lower compared to June, but from what I am reading here, it sounds like later is better. Right now I feel like I can't wait to go there! :)

    Is May too risky in terms of weather, especially since I want to go to the Arctic circle, and also want to take a flight over Mt.McKinley?
  10. zippy

    zippy Active Member

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    I like May too. I'm not sure what it's like up in the Arctic but it will be ok in Denali. May is the peak climbing season for the mountain, so remember there will be people 18,000 feet higher than where you are! They say it can even be hot on the mountain at that time. Flightseeing will be fun at that time, because you'll be able to spot climbers. I wouldn't worry too much about the weather because it's basically unpredictable - it could be freezing at any time in the summer, and some summers are just cold and rainy the whole time, while other summers are fabulous the whole way through. The backcountry lodges may not be open yet but it looks like the campgrounds open on May 15, and I'm sure the lodges at the park entrance are open at that time. As an aside, you could check out Talkeetna as a place to visit; a lot of people enjoy staying there for a day or two.

    ETA: You can find some info about planning a May visit to Denali here. It may be a little more adventurous than I'm remembering - since I was staff I was able to drive and had a place to stay, so I may be a little out of the loop when it comes to being a visitor at that time. Some things will be closed, and the park service buses apparently don't run the entire road until June 8th. But if you are ok with the limitations, and especially if you are up for backpacking or biking the park road, it could be a great time to visit as you'd almost have the park to yourself. Also, you can check out the Talkeetna Air Taxi flightseeing company. I'm not sure if Kantishna Air is running in May but Talkeetna Air will be, and they offer some different things like landings on the Ruth Glacier, which would just be even more ridiculously awesome.
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2013
  11. Kelleys6th

    Kelleys6th New Member

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  12. overedge

    overedge Well-Known Member

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    There is some great advice in here, which I am filing away for future reference of my own.

    But in the meantime....you can also fly into Whitehorse (Yukon Territory) and rent a car or take day trips to Seward and the very southern part of the state. I was there last May and it was spectacularly beautiful.
  13. madm

    madm Active Member

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    Another great book about the early days living in Fairbanks and exploring the Arctic wilderness is "Two in the Far North" by Margaret Murie. http://www.amazon.com/Two-Far-North-Margaret-Murie/dp/088240489X#reader_088240489X

    "This enduring story of life, adventure, and love in Alaska was written by a
    woman who embraced the remote Alaskan wilderness and became one of its strongest
    advocates. In this moving testimonial to the preservation of the Arctic
    wilderness, Mardy Murie writes from her heart about growing up in Fairbanks,
    becoming the first woman graduate of the University of Alaska, and marrying
    noted biologist Olaus J. Murie. So begins her lifelong journey in Alaska and on
    to Jackson Hole, Wyoming where along with her husband and others, they founded
    The Wilderness Society. Mardy's work as one of the earliest female voices for
    the wilderness movement earned her the Presidential Medal of Freedom."
  14. Vash01

    Vash01 Well-Known Member

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    Bumping up this thread because I am at the decision point.

    I would very much like to see the north- Prudhoe Bay, Barrow, Coldfoot/Arctic circle. To see all these places the cheapest tour I have found is around $1300. Includes two nights stay (Prudhoe Bay & Coldfoot) at rustic accommodations (shared bath, which freaks me out).

    An alternative is to take a fly/drive one day adventure to the Arctic circle that only goes up to Coldfoot. This is around $360-$400.

    Anyone has experience with either tour (particularly the longer one)? How hard is it physically? Is it worth paying that much for, or am I better off just seeing the rest of the tourist places - Denali/Fairbanks area, Anchorage/Kenai Fjords area?
  15. nubka

    nubka Well-Known Member

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    Alaska is definately not my cup of tea, but I hope you have a wonderful time there! :)
  16. KCC

    KCC Active Member

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    Just wondering -- Did you take this trip? We are considering a trip next year and wondered if you had any tips/thoughts in addition to what was said above. Thanks!
  17. Vash01

    Vash01 Well-Known Member

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    I have postponed Alaska till next year. Just focusing on Russia & Poland this year
    PeterG and (deleted member) like this.
  18. NancyNC

    NancyNC Well-Known Member

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    Eeeeek I can't believe that we leave tomorrow!!! We fly to Seattle tomorrow, then on to Sitka on Sunday. I think I am going to get everything in my luggage...fingers crossed... ;)
  19. KCC

    KCC Active Member

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    I am going next spring (late May - mid June), so let me know how it goes!
  20. CynicElle

    CynicElle Well-Known Member

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    Have fun, Nancy! :)