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Alaska Highlights, A Road Trip Report A ten day road trip including Denali, Homer, Seward, Valdez and McCarthy

Time. 

Ohhhh boy, I am not good at managing my time. I’m learning that now, with the “new” time I have mentioned in my last blog. I thought I would feel like I have all the time in the world to do everything I wanted and more, but of course, I was daydreaming. I’m still learning how to manage my time, structure my day, and become more efficient with the time I do have. I’ve been concentrating on getting my portrait business going and personal pictures have taken a back seat. I’ve wanted to share about our summer vacation but just now am organizing and editing the thousands (yes, thousands! Yikes!) of pictures I took on our Alaska road trip.

Our Alaska summer has been AMAZING. The biggest highlight was a ten-day road trip through Southern Alaska.  My Dad was visiting us along with his wife, so we had to plan a little bit differently than we would have without them. I hope to expand this post and write about each individual place with more detail, but in reality, I might not get to it. Check back! We wanted to hit many of the “major” stops that were within driving distance, I’m not sure how long we’re going to live in Alaska and I wanted to see as much as possible!

Our budget for this trip was VERY different than in both Asia and Europe (we spent almost twice our daily budget in Europe and waaaaaaay more than in Asia). That’s probably why we saw mostly only retirees and other military families, it’s very strange for us not to see backpackers or other young people traveling. I’m by no means that experienced traveling here but it seems the only way to travel budget minded is by camping. I enjoy camping, but I do not find tent camping in the rain to be fun. No. Not at all, and it seems to rain in Alaska a lot. Campers are another costly item, especially if you have to buy or rent in Fairbanks where everything costs waaay more than elsewhere.  

Aaaannyyways, here’s what we did;

 

Day 1 – Fairbanks to Teklanika

Drove from Fairbanks to Teklanika, stopping at Denali (mile 30) on the way. This was the first time we’ve been that the summer visitor center was open, so we had to check it out. We hiked the short, flat, but beautiful savage river hike. This area is full of a small, high altitude mammal called Pika. We watched them dash back and forth collecting hay, and for some reason, Jackson decided to nickname his Grandpa “pika”

Alaska Road Trip

Alaska Road Trip

Alaska Road Trip

Stopped at a cute little pizza place for dinner that just happened to have corn hole on its patio, and of course, had to play. Stayed the night at the Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.  We arrived just before sunset (at midnight!) and had to put our silly two-year-old to bed (which of course took a very long time, so that I couldn’t photograph the actual sunset!) 

 
 
 

Day 2 – Teklanika to Summit Lake

Drove from Teklanika to Summit Lake on the Kenai Peninsula. We had planned to drive back to Denali State Park to hike, but the toddler fell asleep on the drive and we made the decision to enjoy the rest of the day rather than fight the toddler (he had NOT slept well the night before). My dad and his wife (they were driving our other car) headed to Anchorage where they shopped and biked the coastal trail (he rented a bike close to the trail), while we drove past and checked out Portage Glacier and had a picnic along the road. 

Note about drones: We stopped at the Portage Glacier visitor center and found out that while drones are not allowed in either National Parks or Alaska State Parks, they are allowed in National Forests. Drones are allowed in the Chugach National Forest (but not the Chugach State Park).

 
 

We also spent time wandering the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where we saw bears and all sorts of other fun wildlife. Even though it was a completely different experience than seeing them in the wild, it’s worth a visit and a great organization to support.

 

We stayed overnight at the Summit Lake Lodge, where Mike attempted to fish after Jackson went to bed, and I played with our drone.  Beautiful setting just off the road. Would definitely recommend this place if you need somewhere to stop on your way South. Their restaurant is yummy!

 

Day 3 – Summit Lake to Homer

We drive from Summit Lake to Homer.  Since this wasn’t a very long drive, we stopped at the Russian River campground along the way to hike the Russian River Falls and try some Salmon fly fishing. Unfortunately, we wanted to do this along with thousands of other people, so we had to wait over an hour to park.

Tip: If you really want to fish for Salmon at the Russian River during a salmon run and peak season, book a campsite at the Russian River Campground as soon as possible. Or go somewhere else. 

Because we had to wait an hour just to park, we ran out of time to fish. Sorry, Mike. We did get to see some Salmon jumping up the falls, but I failed to capture the amazement of it with my camera.

 
 

We splurged on our lodging for the next two nights, staying at a condo at the end of the spit, right on the beach. It was SO worth it, but only because we were able to split the cost with my Dad.

It was our 8th anniversary so Mike and I went out while Grandpa babysat. We went to Captain Patties because it was close to where we were staying, and the fresh seafood was amazing! It’s probably the only time we’ll splurge on King crab, and it was worth it. Expensive day!

 

Day 4 – Homer

We originally booked a Halibut charter for my Dad and Mike, but it was canceled because of the weather. We went out to breakfast, hung out at the house and on the beach, and wandered through the Wynn Nature Center, a great activity for toddlers (and parents!) They gave us a paper describing all the different plants in the area and it was fun identifying the flowers that we had been seeing but not knowing what they were.

 

Day 5 – Homer to Seward

Drove from Homer to Seward. We tried stopped at the Russian River but again, the wait to park looked like it would have been an hour.  Saw a few moose on the side of the road. We had planned to stop at Exit Glacier but decided against it because it was pouring. Stayed overnight at the Seward Military Resort. Grateful we weren’t camping because it was POURING.

 

Day 6 – Seward

We wanted to take either a glacier or wildlife cruise, but because the weather was crap we just wandered around the town and checked out the Alaska Sealife Center. During Jackson’s nap, Mike and my dad went to explore places to fish and ended up back at the Russian River, where they did fish but failed to catch anything.  Mike claims he’s a good fisherman, but not a catcherman. 

 

Day 7 – Seward to Valdez

Took the ferry from Whittier to Valdez. The ferry was a nice break from driving even though the weather was crap. There was a heated covered area on the top, and because we couldn’t find seats inside together, we stayed outside the whole ride and I’m so glad we did.  I had to book the ferry a few months prior, and since it only runs on certain days, it was the limiting factor that we planned the whole trip around. I’m not sure that was a good idea, but the ferry was an experience.

We stayed overnight 30 minutes outside of Valdez, the Tsaina Lodge, only because that was the only place with availability when we booked! I’m so glad we stayed here because the hotel had gorgeous views, great service, and good food. We, of course, stopped at both Horsetail and Bridal Veil Falls. 

 

Day 8 – Valdez area

Hiked next to the Worthington Glacier. We wanted to do more of a substantial hike so we ignored the danger signs. The hike ended up being way too steep for comfort, so we didn’t make it up to the top, but it was still a good hike. Since the weather was finally nice we wandered to Valdez to check out the town before heading back to the hotel.

 

Day 9 – Valdez to Kennicott

Drove the 60-mile gravel McCarthy road! Originally, I wasn’t sure we were able to fit a visit to the Wrangel St Elias National Park into our itinerary, but we were able to make it work for two nights. We stayed at the Kennicott Lodge, a comfortable way to see the park. The food here was impressive being so far from normal civilization, but not great. (I keep talking about food, maybe I’m hungry 🙂 ) That evening the National Park had a tour of the town talking about leisure life at the Kennecott Mine, so fun! Jackson decided to pretend to be a bunny, first by hopping, then by realizing running is more efficient. He would yell “bunny ruuuun!!!”

Tip: You can buy one night get one free at the Kennicott Lodge if you purchase the Alaska TourSaver!

 
 
 
 
 

 

Day 10 – Kennicott

We did what everyone else does at Kennicott, we checked out the mine (not on a tour) and Root Glacier (also not a tour). We didn’t bring our crampons, so we didn’t go too far. Still worth it 🙂

 
 
 
 
 
I spent a TON of time planning this trip.  After the fact, I realized we did mostly the “highlights” of the more easily accessible sites in Alaska. I’ll be posting soon about how I plan for travel in Alaska, and what I’ve learned in the (almost) year that we’ve lived in this beautiful state, so check back! 
 
If you want to see my favorite pictures from this trip (so far, I’m still editing), click here!
 
 
 

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