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Two Weeks in Alaska - July 2019

TLDR; Alaska is an amazing piece of the world.

4:00AM wake up. Catch a bus to the airport at 5:00AM. Alaska bound…kind of. Half way to Logan International, I receive a text message letting us know our flight has been delayed by 3 hours. Ugh. What a way to start the trip. We had originally planned on a 9 hour layover in Portland, which would give us enough time to Uber into town, get some lunch and get back to the airport in time for our flight to Anchorage. We’re now down to 6 hours and we haven’t even left New England.

Already a long day, we landed in Portland, and decided to go for it. I had a free day to use with National Car Rental. So we rented a car, paid $5.80 in taxes/fees and were on our way to Cartlandia...recommended by the lady at National. About 15 minutes from the airport, Cartlandia was a parking lot filled with food trucks. After a quick lap around the lot, we settled on burgers, French fries and a much-needed beer. Having not eaten since breakfast, 10 hours prior, the burgers did not stand a chance. They were delicious. Back in the car….and back to the airport we went.

After an uneventful flight to Anchorage (that’s the way I like my flights), we expected a dead airport as we exited the plane. Boy was I wrong. If I hadn’t known the time, I would have assumed it was 12:00 noon, not midnight. There were people humming about, getting on planes, the stores were still open, and security was still letting people in. Looking out the windows, it was still bright out. I knew the sun didn’t set until late, nevertheless, it’s a strange phenomenon to experience.

Though we made it to Alaska, the travel wasn’t over quite yet. We had a 7:00AM flight out to King Salmon, where we would catch a float plane to Katmai National Park and Brooks Camp. We were lucky enough to secure a campsite at Brooks Campground the day the sites went up for reservation. The sites became available mid-March this year (normally available earlier). I went to the website the second they went up. I then realized I needed an account to make the reservation…47 of 60 spots still available. I quickly filled in my information, signed in…5 sites available?!?! I was one of those lucky 5. Wow.

We didn’t want to waste time or money on a hotel for only 4-5 hours, so opted to find a quiet spot in the airport. Harder than it sounds when the airport was still buzzing at mid-night. After a walk around the entire airport, we settled into a little corner, under the escalator by the “A Terminal”. This was the terminal where all the small planes go out of, so it was nearly dead at this time of night. Since we were camping the following night, we had sleeping bags and camping pads to create a comfortable space. Finally a little shuteye and dreams of all the brown bears catching salmon that we would see tomorrow.

We awoke to check into our flight, grab some breakfast and wait for our flight to board. 7:00AM comes…and goes…flight delayed due to weather. It’s now 9:00AM, and the 9:00AM flight to King Salmon boards, and takes off. This creates a lot of frustration within the boarding area. We wait another half hour, and finally our flight is called to board. After the 45-minute flight out to King Salmon, our pilot informs the plane that we are not able to land at this time due to the weather taking a turn for the worse. We would circle for 20 minutes, and if the clouds didn’t lift, we would have to go back to Anchorage. 20 minutes passed, and back to Anchorage we went. At least the views were nice…


Upon landing in Anchorage, it was quickly realized that there are now 4 full planes (including the one that left before us) that were heading to King Salmon, all on standby. My husband and I reluctantly agreed that we’re not going to make it to Brooks. We requested refunds from the airline, the float plane and the campsite at Brooks. We got it all back, minus a $6 non-refundable fee from the campsite. Super disappointed we weren’t going to Brooks but determined not to dwell on it, we made quick arrangements for a hotel in Anchorage, and set out to find something else to do for the day.

Our day in Anchorage consisted of eating good food, meandering about the city, checking out the local outdoor market, and retiring to the hotel EARLY. I would like to give a shout out to Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse, for their amazing beer selection, friendly staff, entertaining atmosphere, and most of all…their Alaskan King Crab Nuggets….YUM! Other honorable mentions for food was Orso for dinner (pricey, but AMAZING…we splurged because we got all those refunds), and Snow City Café for breakfast…this is one of those call ahead if you don’t want to wait kind of places.

To add to our trials of the first couple days, Alaska was having a record breaking heat wave (90 degrees+ in Anchorage), accompanied by bad wildfires when we were there. There was one fire burning on the Kenai Peninsula, spreading smoke across Anchorage. The huge mountains you see in the pictures were non-existent. It seemed like we were striking out left and right, I started to wonder if this trip was going to live up to the hype.

We woke up late, grabbed some breakfast and had a bit of time to kill before picking up my sister-in-law and boyfriend at the airport. We drove out to the Eagle River Nature Center. The smoke seemed to clear a bit, opening views of the mountains as we travelled east of Anchorage. We took a short stroll through on the gravel paths, stopped at a couple of the viewing areas. It’s a beautiful location, and I wish we had a bit more time to do a longer hike there. On our way out, we stopped in the Nature Center where they had animal pelts, bear skins, antlers and other animal artifacts on display.


Traveling back to Anchorage we saw our first 2 moose of the trip! It started to feel like we were in Alaska.

We pick up my sister-in-law and boyfriend at the airport, played a little Tetris trying to get suitcases in the car and headed to Moose’s Tooth Pizzeria for lunch. Moose’s Tooth was recommended by 3 or 4 people I talked to, so I figured it must be a hit. Even though we were having a late afternoon lunch, there was still a wait…it must be good. After a 30 minute wait, we were seated, ordered pizzas and ate. I can be somewhat of a pizza-snob, and this pizza exceeded my standards.

After a trip to Fred Meyer’s for groceries, we were on our way to Seward. In Seward we stayed in a “cottage” (more house than cottage) on Lowell point, right on the Resurrection Bay. Even though the views were smoky…they were amazing. Driving out to the point, we saw a car pulled over watching…something. Pulling up closer, it was a bald eagle! Right there! We pulled over, watched it for a bit, and then continued to find our home for the next few days.


The next morning, we slept in, and took our time getting out of the house. By noontime we headed down the beach towards the Caine’s Head Trail. This is a mellow out-and-back trail that is considered a local’s favorite. It travels along the coast, through the woods, and comes out onto some beautiful rock beaches. The trail continues along the beach, and if you time the tides right (which we didn’t), you can continue much further down the coast.



That evening we went out into Seward for dinner. Went to a place called Ray’s, which is right on the harbor front where you can watch the otters play, and fisherman cleaning their fish. I had an amazing macadamia crusted halibut, with a curry sauce…OH MY…so good.
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Next up on the agenda was kayaking with Liquid Adventures. We booked a tour to Bear Glacier. The tour sets you up with dry suits, takes you out to the glacial lagoon by helicopter, provides double kayaks and then you spend the day kayaking around the most picturesque icebergs with bear glacier in the backdrop. Waking up to a smoky bay, we weren’t sure what the day was going to have in store for us. However, once we got out of the bay, the blue skies showed themselves, and a beautiful day followed. At the end of your kayaking tour, Liquid Adventures picks you up on a jet boat, and drives you back to Seward. Along the way, the driver pointed out countless bald eagles, a few otters, seals, and mountain goats.



After a day like that, I wasn’t sure anything could top it…but Alaska kept on giving.

Our last day in Seward, we packed up our bags, played some more Tetris, and headed out to the trailhead. The Harding Icefield Trail was on the top of my list of hikes to do, and it should be on the top of everyone’s list when visiting the Kenai Peninsula. The Harding Icefield trail starts at the Exit Glacier visitors center, and goes up 4.2 miles, gains 3300ft of elevation, out and back. Pictures don’t even do this place justice. The Harding Icefield is the field of ice that all the glaciers in the Kenai Fjords National Park descend off of...it is massive. One of the best feelings in the world is feeling small in nature. At the top of this trail, you feel miniscule.




After a long, hot, exhausting, so-worth-it hike, we packed into the car and headed off to the reason we were in Alaska…DH’s cousin’s wedding. We spent 4 nights in Kasilof with the family. Beautiful location, right on the river. On a down day, we drove around a bit, explored the local beaches of Clam Gulch, saw another moose, and a few more eagles.
One evening, we were talking to my uncle-in-law about how we didn’t get to see the bears at Brooks. He quickly convinced us that we should take a tour out of Homer to McNeil or Lake Clark National Park. I didn’t take much convincing. I was on my phone before you could say brown bear. The tour with Ultimate Alaska Safari’s was booked about 10 minutes later.

After a quick lunch in Homer at the Fresh Catch Cafe (halibut…again), and a “duck fart” at the Salty Dog (a world-renowned bar on the Spit) we were off to see bears! The Ultimate Alaska Safari’s depart from the Homer airport by helicopter, and fly you to wherever they think they’ll see bears. Today, they decided Lake Clark National Park would be the place. We were fitted with tall rubber boots, discussed some bear safety protocol and loaded up the helicopter.

Our guide chose a place to lay down the helicopter, and as we got closer to the ground, we saw 4 bears scatter. One had been camouflaged, sleeping, right where he chose to land. Then mama bear and 3 cubs bound off in another direction. After exiting the helicopter, we immediately see several bears off in the distance. The guide handed us each a pair of binoculars, and we started trekking through the weeds down a bear path. He cautioned us to stay close together, so we look larger to the bears. We would trek a little way, then stop and wait, never approaching a bear, but rather letting the bears wander by when we were stopped. Watching them was such an amazing experience. They each seem to have a personality and an individualism about them that was incredible to watch.






We had now been in Alaska for a week, and it had continued to exceed my expectations over and over. After a beautiful wedding with the family, we would travel back towards Anchorage and take the train to Denali the following day. Along the way back to Anchorage, we stopped at the Portage Glacier. The boat tour took about an hour, and was a great way to break up the drive, learn a few things about glaciers and see a few more amazing views.


The train takes a bit longer than driving to Denali, but it was well worth it. We were able to relax, eat, play cards, and just soak in the Alaska views along the way.


When arriving by train, you need to rely on the transportation that is available in the area…which isn’t much. The transportation within the Park is great, but once you’re out of the park entrance you need to rely on shuttles your hotel, campground or lodge may offer, and the single Uber driver that lives in the area. We choose to stay at the Denali Mountain Hostel and Cabins, which offered a free shuttle to/from the park entrance twice a day.

The next morning, we packed up our backpacks and headed into the Park. Denali National Park and Preserve consists of 6 million acres, and a single, dead end, dirt road, 92 miles long. There are two types of busses in the park, Transit busses, and Tour busses. The transit busses will let you get off anywhere along the road if you want to hike, picnic, or camp; then you can catch another bus that comes along. Tour busses are narrated tours with a pre-determined turn around point. There are a few campgrounds along the route, and a visitor’s center at mile 66. Along the road there are several places you can view Denali and the Alaska Range from. Unfortunately, due to the wildfires, the Alaska Range was mostly covered in haze, and there was no chance of seeing “The Great One”.


Towards the end of the road, you leave the “Wilderness Area” and enter the “Preserve”. The Preserve has privately owned land where there is an area called Kantishna. Kantishna is an old mining community that now has a few privately-owned lodges, and an air strip. We reserved a room at the Skyline Lodge for two nights. The Skyline Lodge was owned and operated by a guy that also owns the Kantishna Air Taxi. The Skyline is the “budget” accommodations when compared to some of the other lodges in Kantishna. However, it suited us quite well. Matt, the owner, was an amazing host, and really knows how to make you feel welcome. The chef whipped up some of the most amazing food I’ve ever had. Including a salmon on the first night, that was caught by the pilot that morning…seriously.


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While out at the end of the road, the lodge had mountain bikes to borrow, a swimming hole down the road (refreshing but brrrr….), an old mining cottage that was owned by the most badass woman that ever lived (Fannie Quigley) and an abundance of hiking possibilities.



We took a hike on McKinley Bar Trail one afternoon. This trail is supposed to offer incredible views of Denali. However, the haze still hadn’t lifted from the wildfires, so we were limited to the close up views of the black forest, Wonder Lake and the local wildlife.



After 3 days, and 2 nights of absolute isolation from the modern world, it was time to start making our trek back to reality. Our original plan had been to air taxi back to the Park Entrance, but the smoke had come in thick the last night we were there. This left us with only one way to get back, taking the 6-hour bus ride, 92 miles to the Park Entrance. Though we had been hoping for a flight above the clouds, and maybe a glimpse of “The Great One”, another flight cancellation only seemed fitting.

We got off the bus at the Park Headquarters, just in time to watch the dog sled demonstrations. We got to learn about the dogs, pet a couple of them, walk around and check out their kennels. What amazingly talented, hard-working dogs they raise in Denali. Not to mention how adorable they are!


Finishing up our time in Denali, we stayed at the Denali Mountain Hostel and Cabins for another night, ate at another amazing restaurant (The Perch…located across the street from the Cabins), and caught the train the next morning.

Our moose count rose to 12 on the train ride back to Anchorage.

We are already looking forward to our next Alaskan Adventure...maybe next time it'll involve skis :wink:



Ski Diva Extraordinaire
Wow, what an amazing trip and beautiful photography. We just did a 1 week cruise which just gave us a sampling. I would love to got back and like you...ski and explore more.
Great trip report. When we were there I learned that shops at ANC are open until 2!

Our guide chose a place to lay down the helicopter, and as we got closer to the ground, we saw 4 bears scatter. One had been camouflaged, sleeping, right where he chose to land. Then mama bear and 3 cubs bound off in another direction.
I gotta say, though, that's the kind of thing I'd report. At Katmai they stressed the importance of never doing anything that will result in a bear changing its current behavior or path. People should always be the ones to move aside; our behavior shouldn't ever elicit any signs of stress (yawning, lip licking). But this guy landed a heli where they were sleeping causing mama and babies to run? In a national park where they are protected? Yikes. Sorry but that seems highly unethical and I'd personally write to the Lake Clark superintendent and report the company. I hate to harsh on what otherwise sounds like a great experience but you can't land a heli at any national park in the lower 48 and I think with good reason--maybe it should be that way in AK too.
But this guy landed a heli where they were sleeping causing mama and babies to run? In a national park where they are protected? Yikes. Sorry but that seems highly unethical and I'd personally write to the Lake Clark superintendent and report the company.
I understand your concerns, and maybe it was the way I phrased it that it sounded a lot worse than it was. Yes, the helicopter disturbed the mama bear, but they weren’t close to where we landed. There was a bear sleeping near the landing area that ran off...the guide felt bad about doing that, and really didn’t mean to. You couldn’t see him at all until we were really close.

Having been there first hand experiencing this company and this guide, they were nothing but ethical in the way they handled themselves and the respect they exhibited towards the bears and their habitats.

I would agree with you that maybe helicopters should be looked at differently, but if that’s the case, I would think bush planes should be looked at as well.
That's good to hear; thanks for clarifying. And I did also learn that it is indeed illegal to land a helicopter in Lake Clark or any other Alaska National Park, which is reassuring as I was imagining helicopter pilots looking for bears and landing in the midst of them. Apparently at Lake Clark you land outside park boundaries in the beach below the high tide line, which is state owned land.
Apparently at Lake Clark you land outside park boundaries in the beach below the high tide line, which is state owned land.
That is exactly where we landed, I didn’t realize it was technically outside of park boundaries. The guide did mention that you need permits to land there, and they were really tough to come by. So I’d imagine not every Joe-Schmo can bring their helicopter over and land wherever they please.
Super TR.. Alaska has been on my bucket list, always thought it would involve snow but your adventure sounds amazing!
I always thought when I made it to Alaska it would involve snow too. Who would’ve thought you could have such a good vacation without skiing...mind blown...ha! Now it just gives me an excuse to go back :thumbsup:
Wonderful trip. It all sounds amazing. Reading your TR makes me wish I were 20 years younger. Nowadays we tend to do the touristy cruise tours. A couple of things I’d do again if my feet would cooperate — helicopter flight to hike a glacier in Juneau, and a hike to the Exit Glacier from the Visitor Center in Seward. Ten years ago we were able to walk right up to the Exit Glacier and touch it.
Wonderful trip. It all sounds amazing. Reading your TR makes me wish I were 20 years younger. Nowadays we tend to do the touristy cruise tours. A couple of things I’d do again if my feet would cooperate — helicopter flight to hike a glacier in Juneau, and a hike to the Exit Glacier from the Visitor Center in Seward. Ten years ago we were able to walk right up to the Exit Glacier and touch it.
You can do a really terrific independent trip to AK even if you are less mobile than you'd like. A great trip is definitely not dependent on heli tours or long hikes.
@Ski Sine Fine - I completely agree with @Christy. There is sooooo much to see in AK from the comfort of cars, busses, trains and light walks in the woods. You can see a ton of Denali on a tour bus. The train up to Denali was amazing, they even have cars that have 360 degree windows that were really sweet. I’ve heard the train going southbound to Seward or Whittier is just as spectacular. Helicopter tours, flightseeing tours on planes, not to even get started on the glacial cruises or longer cruises offered. Not sure what the Exit glacier paths looked like when you were there, but you can get to some lookouts to see it with a 1/4 mile walk on a paved path now.

Amazing that you’ve gone to the exit glacier before. I’d love to go back in 10-20 years and see how it’s changed. Not sure I’ll be ready for the changes that are coming, but still would be interesting to witness.

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