Wildlife Viewing in Alaska

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…)

Alaska On A Budget

blog-glaciers-CarmenFor 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.

Accommodations
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.

Transportation
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!

Tours
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-fall-bus-tourDenali 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.

Summer Festivals in Alaska

state-fair-pumpkinAlaskans 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

Vacationing with Kids in 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…)

Great Hikes in Alaska to Explore on Own or with a Guide

Chugach State Park

Hiking in Alaska’s back-country is one of the most popular activities for those who live in Alaska but there are many visitors who wish to spend some time on Alaska trails as well. There are endless possibilities for those with hiking experience to venture out on their own in the back-country of Alaska. Below I will focus on the guided hikes and some easy hikes you can do on your own in some of Alaska’s most popular destinations that are suitable for the less experienced hiker that just want to get off the beaten trail and experience the serenity and beauty of Alaska.

Anchorage
Anchorage is blessed with over 250 miles of trails within the city and has over 230 parks, some of them very large. Anchorage also sits in the shadow of the mountains of Chugach State Park which is easily accessible and a short 15 to 20 minute drive from downtown. The half-day Chugach State Park Anchorage Day Hike departs from most of the hotels in downtown Anchorage mid-morning and returns after about four hours. You will travel by van to the scenic Glen Alps Trail-head and a naturalist guide will tailor a hike to match your fitness level. Hike in the alpine Chugach Mountains and valleys that surround Anchorage while your guide teaches you about the flora, fauna, geology and history of the area. It does not take long before you leave the city sights and immerse yourself in Alaska’s wilderness. Keep an eye out for moose and marmot and trail snacks and water will be provided. Be sure to wear sturdy shoes, layered clothing and a backpack. This hike is great for families! (more…)

The McKinley Explorer’s New Alaska Rail Schedule for 2014

In the past, there was only one northbound and one southbound scheduled passenger train between Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Denali. This train route is traditionally called the Denali Star. New for 2014 is a second train traveling the Denali Star route that may be more convenient for some traveler’s schedules.

Alaska RailroadThe Alaska Railroad’s standard Denali Star scheduled service will continue to depart Anchorage at 8:15am and arrive in Denali at 3:40pm. This train service includes the standard Alaska Railroad Adventure class cars and their Goldstar Dome deluxe cars as well as the privately operated Wilderness Express Dome cars which are pulled at the back of the train. The Wilderness Express offers a great value for independent travelers looking for a premium dome service and is highly rated as well. For guests traveling south from Denali, the Alaska Railroad’s standard Denali Star scheduled service will depart at 12:30pm and arrive in Anchorage at 8:00pm.

New for 2014 is that there is an additional rail departure northbound and southbound between Anchorage, Talkeetna and Denali that will strictly pull the McKinley Explorer Dome cars owned by Holland America-Princess. The McKinley Explorer is customarily the cars used by Princess and Holland America cruise-tour clients but are also available for independent travelers who book in advance. This rail service offers dome seating, open–air viewing platforms and a full dining room in the lower level of the train car. The McKinley Explorer Dome cars will travel on the same Denali Star route but will depart Anchorage at 9:15am, Talkeetna at noon, and arrive in Denali at 4:40pm. (more…)

Experiencing the Glaciers of South-central Alaska

Matanuska GlacierA glacier is defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as a very large area of ice that moves slowly down a slope or valley or over a wide area of land – A fairly bland description of a breathtaking sight! A common Alaska definition of a glacier is a river of ice. Glaciers common to Alaska include tidewater glaciers, hanging glaciers and valley glaciers. Tidewater glaciers flow down mountains and end in the sea, hanging glaciers rest on mountain sides and only descend a part of the way down the mountain and valley glaciers fill mountain valleys.

Glaciers are one of the top Alaskan attractions. Alaska is home to 100,000 glaciers, two-thirds of all of the glaciers on earth. Whether seen from the air, from the water or on a hike, your first sight of a glacier can be an awe-inspiring, humbling experience. It is amazing how accessible these massive rivers of ice can be! Below is a guide to the glaciers of South-central Alaska. (more…)

50th Anniversary of The Great Alaska Earthquake – Sites to Visit

sb-earthquake-park-monumentMarch 27th marks the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Great Alaskan Earthquake, the strongest earthquake to ever hit North America. This 9.2 magnitude quake was the second most powerful earthquake ever recorded, the first being the 1960 earthquake in Chile. The earthquake struck at 5:36pm and lasted over four minutes. Strong aftershocks were felt throughout the South-central Alaska region for days and weeks after the initial earthquake.The earthquake itself was responsible for 15 deaths and 124 people perished as a result of subsequent tsunamis. The tsunami death toll includes 5 killed in Oregon and 13 killed by the tsunami in California. (more…)

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