We are often asked by visitors how to experience the best of Denali National Park. Without question, the best opportunity to see Mt. McKinley, observe wildlife, and experience a more exclusive, intimate perspective of Denali National Park is to make sure that a visit to Kantishna is included in your travel plans either as a day trip or a two night back-country lodging adventure. Located 92 miles deep into the Park, Kantishna is close to Wonder Lake. This lake, known for its epic reflections of Mt. McKinley, is something most Denali visitors see only on postcards as they don’t get deep enough into the National Park. The rolling foothills of Kantishna with views of Mt. McKinley, the historic streams that seemingly sparkle with gold, the abundant wildlife, and the premium lodging in Denali make the all day journey an adventure that will sure to be the highlight of your trip to Alaska. (more…)
Over the past couple of years my family and I have found that we love kayaking! My daughters are 13 and 15 and relish new outdoor experiences. This past summer we chose to go on a guided kayak tour in Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska. The Lowell Point Kayaking tour with Sunny Cove Kayaking departs from Lowell Point about two miles from downtown Seward. Sunny Cove does not have their own transportation to their kayak base so if you don’t have a car, you’ll need to take a taxi out to the Lowell Point from Seward. Depending on where you depart from, a taxi will cost about $15-$20 dollars. We all were dressed in layers with rain gear and warm hats. While it was July the weather was overcast and cool! Upon our arrival we were outfitted with rubber boots, a life vest and a kayak skirt and asked to complete a standard waiver.
After all kayakers were outfitted we headed to the beach and listened to a safety briefing which included kayaking tips and instructions. The tour group included a mix of ages as well as experienced kayakers and beginners. We had two guides and a total of ten guests. We loaded into our tandem kayaks – we had one adult with each of our kids. While one guide waited in the bay, the other guide helped us launch off of the beach. From the beach, the water looked a little rough but once we were in the bay in our kayaks it did not seem rough at all and was in fact smooth sailing! (more…)
Most visitors to Denali National Park stay two nights, possibly three, and have limited time to experience all the opportunities that Denali offers. We believe that if you have two days in Denali, the best excursion that you can take is a full day tour to Kantishna either on the Kantishna Wilderness Tour or the Denali Backcountry Tour. These tours are operated by two lodges that are about 93 miles deep into Denali, in fact, their lodges are located at the end of the Denali Park Road in Kantishna.
The tours into Kantishna include a bus ride both directions during which you see more of Denali National Park and have more opportunities to see wildlife and Mt. McKinley then you would on any other tour. It is a 12 hour adventure and so you are in Denali for a full day. It’s an unforgettable experience and one we recommend without hesitation to visitors that desire to really immerse themselves in Denali.
For those whose budget can afford it, an upgrade that we recommend is to take the bus tour one way to Kantishna and return to the Denali Park entrance by a majestic Denali Park Flightseeing excursion. (more…)
One rainy day in late August my family and I set out on a new adventure – a trip to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop to kayak on Spencer Lake and the chance to hike on Spencer glacier. to get to Spencer, you’ll need to take the Alaska Railroad’s Glacial Discovery train from either Anchorage or Girdwood. We traveled by car to Girdwood along the Turnagain Arm and were lucky enough to see Beluga whales in route.
We parked at the Hotel Alyeska and checked in with Ascending Path at the yurt next to the hotel. In the yurt we were fitted with crampons for our walk on the glacier. The guides also made sure that we were dressed appropriately – full rain gear, many layers, hats, gloves and NO cotton clothing! Alaska weather is always an adventure and can be enjoyed as long as you are prepared. A good hiking shoe is a plus but I only had running shoes and did okay. My feet got wet due to the rain and a bit cold but the crampon attached comfortably to my shoes. The guide service, The Ascending Path, will also set you up with climbing boots to use while on the glacier. A few of us took them up on the offer, while I did not. In retrospect I should have as they were much more comfortable and warm then I was by the end of the day. (more…)
Wildlife is one of Alaska’s major attractions. Alaska is home to brown and black bears, moose, caribou, wolves, sheep, eagles, whales and more. Alaska is also the largest state in the United States so the wildlife has room to spread out. This is great for the wildlife but can make it hard for the tourists to find the wildlife! While wildlife viewing is rarely guaranteed, below I will recommend where to travel in South-central and Interior Alaska to have the best opportunity to view Alaska’s wildlife.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park covers six million acres and many wild animals live within the parks’ boundaries. The Denali Park Road is the only road in the park and travels 90 miles deep into the heart of Denali National Park. Travel along this road offers the best opportunity to view Alaska’s Big Five – bear, moose, caribou, wolves and sheep. Only the first 15 miles of the Park Road are accessible by private vehicle and your chances of seeing wild life increases greatly the farther into the park you travel. We recommend the Kantishna Wilderness Trails tour which travels the full length of the road. The ride is long but the more time you spend on the Park Road the greater your chance of seeing wildlife. It also helps that there are many sets of eyes searching for the animals. The drivers of the tour bus have a lot of experience in Denali National Park and they will stop whenever possible to watch the wildlife. (more…)
For many visitors, Alaska is the trip of a lifetime. Visitors are often surprised that everything in Alaska costs more than they think it will. What makes Alaska so expensive? There are two key factors –Alaska is a long way from the rest of the lower 48 states and the summer tourism season is only four months long. All products that arrive in Alaska travel a long way to get here so everything from food to clothes to souvenirs are priced higher to cover the additional shipping costs. Hotels in Denali, Talkeetna and even some in Seward close after the summer tourism season so they have only four months to make their business profitable. The best plan is to be prepared, keep in mind that it is the trip of a lifetime and budget accordingly. I will also share some ideas on how to save money on your Alaskan vacation.
The most obvious way to spend less is to travel during non-peak times. There are some hotels that offer lower rates during May and September. Be sure to ask your reservation agent which hotels offers early and late season discounts as not every hotel offers lower rates during this time. The Alaska Railroad also offers lower rates during the early and late season. Most tours have the same price throughout the summer season.
The beauty of Alaska will not be found within the walls of your hotel room. If you are on a limited budget, consider value properties rather than higher end accommodations and book early to take advantage of specials. Look for hotels that have breakfast included, although you will find few hotels outside of Anchorage that offer this amenity.
Choosing the most economical transportation depends on the size of your traveling party. For parties of four or more, traveling by rental car is your best option. For a couple traveling independently choose bus travel over rail travel.
For those who wish to include rail travel, we recommend that you travel one direction by train and one way by bus. This gives you the opportunity to see and experience the scenery rail belt and the Alaskan road system. You also can choose between levels of train service with the standard service on the Alaska Railroad as the least expensive option. If you would like to upgrade to dome service, be sure to travel on the Wilderness Express train which offers dome seating and excellent service at a rate far less than the Goldstar dome service offered by the Alaska Railroad. Another transportation option to consider is renting a motorhome. This offers accommodations and transportation in one package. Be sure to budget for campgrounds and fuel costs!
My best suggestion for tours is to budget for the “must see” trips. I truly believe that any trip to Alaska would not be complete without a day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound, a flightseeing trip to Mt. McKinley and a bus tour into Denali National Park. These tours may seem expensive but the experience they offer is well worth the price!
Denali National Park is only accessible by bus. Generally, we recommend taking a tour into the Park to maximize your experience. A tour bus includes narration about the history, geology and wildlife of Denali National Park and a boxed lunch. A less expensive option is the shuttle bus service offered by the National Park Service. This service is more of a transportation service rather than a tour. It does not include narration but you would still get to travel the Park Road! For the budget minded traveler, look for hikes in each area you visit. Hiking is a great inexpensive way to see what Alaska has to offer. We generally recommend guided hikes but if cost is an issue you can do it on your own you just need to be sure to pack and plan accordingly.
For visitors that want to see glaciers but cannot afford to take a day cruise, consider visiting a number of the roadside glaciers. Exit Glacier in Seward, Byron Glacier in Portage and the Matanuska Glacier north of Palmer offer amazing glacial views and give you an up close experience with Alaska’s rivers of ice. The last suggestion I have is to be sure to visit our Alaska travel deals page. We offer several rebates that are listed on this page. It will also let you know about hotel and tour specials.
Once the planning and budgeting is complete be sure to relax and appreciate the beauty of Alaska and treasure your vacation to a unique travel destination.
Alaskans like to celebrate Alaskan summers and there is no better way then community events such as festivals and fairs to celebrate the Alaskan way of life. Many towns also have weekly markets that locals and visitors attend as well where you can purchase local produce, seafood, and arts such as Anchorage’s Downtown Weekend Market but today we’ll concentrate on once a summer seasonal fairs and festivals.
The Alaska State Fair is the largest fair in the state and runs 12 days during late August and early September. The State Fair is located in Palmer, Alaska, 50 miles north of Anchorage. The Alaska Railroad offers special train service for the fair but the space is limited so be sure to make reservations. Otherwise we recommend renting a car for the day to visit the Alaska State Fair. For 2014 the fair will run from August 21 to September 1. This fair features the annual Giant Cabbage Weigh Off – the record stands at 138.25 pounds! See many over-sized vegetables caused by the extra hours of daylight this area receives during the growing season. The State Fair offers carnival rides for the young and young at heart. My favorite fair activity is eating! Be sure to try the unique Alaskan fair food like a salmon quesadilla, a grilled reindeer sausage or deep fried halibut. Of course you can also find the more traditional fair food such as corn dogs, pork chops on a stick or a barbecued turkey leg.
Below is a list of dates for fairs and festivals throughout the state. Be sure to wander by if you find yourself in one of these locations at the right time!
May 15-18, 2014 Little Norway Festival Petersburg, Alaska
May 22-27, 2014 Crab Festival Kodiak, Alaska
June 6-29, 2014 Sitka Summer Music Festival Sitka, Alaska
June 20-21, 2014 Midnight Sun Folk Festival Nome, Alaska
June 21-22, 2014 Gold Rush Days Juneau, Alaska
June 22, 2014 Midnight Sun Festival Fairbanks, Alaska
July 4-6, 2014 Pink Salmon Festival Valdez, Alaska
July 4-6, 2014 Girdwood Forest Fair Girdwood, Alaska
July 16-20, 2014 Golden Days Fairbanks, Alaska
July 23-27, 2014 Alaska BearFest Wrangell, Alaska
July 31-Aug 3, 2014 South-east Alaska State Fair Haines, Alaska
August 1-3, 2014 Sitka Seafood Festival Sitka, Alaska
August 1-3, 2014 Salmonstock Music Festival Ninilchik, Alaska
August 1-9, 2014 Tanana Valley State Fair Fairbanks, Alaska
August 15-17, 2014 Kenai Peninsula Fair Ninilchik, Alaska
August 21-Sept 1, 2014 Alaska State Fair Palmer, Alaska
Alaska traditionally has been a vacation destination for retirees who seek to see their first glacier or to experience the scenic wonder of Mt. McKinley. But more and more families are traveling to Alaska. There are a number of great activities to experience in Alaska with children and a couple that are best avoided! Certainly the age of the children you are traveling with will dictate what you can and can’t do but there are many tours and destination suitable for people of all ages.
When booking hotels and excursions within Alaska, keep in mind that the child rate applies to children 11 years of age or younger and those over the age of twelve are considered adults. Another important aspect of traveling with children is becoming familiar with the car seat regulations. If you are traveling with a child under 60 pounds you will need to bring a car seat or booster seat along.
How to Travel
You have many options on how to travel around Alaska with your children. The most economical route is to travel by rental car. This allows you the most flexibility and if you are required to use car seats then you only have to secure them once. However, kids love a train ride as well! I would recommend traveling by car between Anchorage and Denali and then visiting Seward by train and bus. The train ride to Seward is about four hours and is the most scenic stretch of rail-belt in Alaska. (more…)