Some highlights from our 5-day trip to Alaska!
Must-do activities on a road trip in Alaska:
- A day cruise in the Kenai Fjords area. Major Marine offers some good ones, here’s the one we went on. Plenty of wildlife spotting(We saw bald eagles, orcas, sea otters, humpback whales etc.), glacier tour (scary loud rumbling and breaking of ice) and ice glacier martinis :D. Find some time to visit Exit Glacier on the way to Kenai Fjords!
For some perspective on the size of the glacier – That is a full-size ferry
This guy (or gal?) swam along with us for a bit!
Panoramic shot of the Bear Glacier
The drive to Exit Glacier!
Ice-filled river, so beautiful!
- Flightseeing tour of the Denali National Park. This can be done in Denali, or from Talkeetna. We went through Talkeetna Air and also did the glacier landing. The protective snow shoes provided by them came in handy while walking through the foot deep snow. Amazing aerial view of airplane-access-only homes, some with their own airstrip, some next to a lake which use water planes in the summer and ski planes in the winter.
Gorgeous aerial view of the mountains
Our little flight-seeing plane in the Ruth Glacier (or is it ‘on’ the glacier?)
- Catch Aurora Borealis every chance you get! We were lucky enough to see it 4 nights out of 5, and each viewing was more spectacular than the last! To this point, take a trip to the Arctic Circle. Plan the trip for later in the day. On the way there, the gorgeous fall foliage brightened everything up(We visited in September). On the way back, as night falls, the skies will be crystal clear and far, far away from any light pollution, providing the best opportunity for a Northern Light viewing(This was the MOST AMAZING THING I have ever seen).
Our first viewing, in Anchorage. Not quite as spectacular as the nights after, however, we were very excited about it!
This amazing view from Denali National Park 🙂
Lights from Fairbanks!
The most spectacular viewing was from our way back from Arctic Circle. Pretty far up north and absolute darkness led to the perfect conditions. Colors and dancing lights were an amazing treat for our last night in Alaska!
- Plan at least a couple of days in Denali National Park. One day for the park tour, one for hiking. Since personal cars can only be driven 15 miles into the park, there are plenty of tours of various lengths run by the Park Service. We went for the Kantishna experience, that follows the trail of pioneer Fannie Quigley into the gold town of Kantishna. This tour is joined by a Park Ranger halfway through, and is one of the best ways to see as much of the park as you can in one day. Wildlife spotting included moose, caribou, brown bears, golden eagles.
The valley where most of the wildlife spotting happened!
This edgy picture of Mount Denali through caribou antlers
Moose in the valley!
- Visit the Chena Hot Springs and Ice Museum. The natural hot springs are soothing, and there is a towel and locker service. While a relaxing and fun end to a trip, the locker rooms were way too crowded and stuffy. The Ice Museum is very interesting. Made entirely out of ice (I mean, ENTIRELY, including the chandeliers, the bar, barstools, sample hotel rooms etc.), this was the first time I had an appletini in a glass made out of ice! Chilled to the last drop 😉
Horse sculptures in the Ice Museum
Planning & Packing:
- Plan your visit based on your priorities. If you aren’t keen on Northern Lights, traveling in June/July will get you about 20 hours of sunlight, giving you plenty of time to sight-see. Alternatively, visiting around September will give you the best opportunity for viewing Aurora, while allowing for plenty of daylight for your wayfaring ways.
- Anchorage being the biggest airport in Alaska, you will most likely be flying in/out of there. Pick a direction, you can start your trip in Anchorage and go up to Fairbanks (what we did), or continue to Fairbanks on your way in and come back south towards Anchorage.
- Rent a vehicle above the basic compact, the unpaved roads will be less annoying 🙂
- Avoid planning more than one tour per day, unpredictable weather needs you to be flexible with timings, and a jam-packed itinerary might lead you missing something you’d rather not 🙂
- Pack light layers.
- Definitely bring a pair of decent binoculars. Here’s a recommendation.
- Check this website to find current and predicted Kp indices, and best locations around you for Aurora viewing.
- If you have an iPhone, download the NorthernLights app for taking pictures of, well, the Northern Lights.
- Bring a bathing suit.
Day 0: Arrive in Anchorage. Sleep in Anchorage.
Day 1: Leave early to visit Exit Glacier. Continue to wildlife cruise tour in Kenai Fjords. Back to Anchorage. Pick a spot for Aurora viewing. Sleep in Anchorage.
Day 2: Drive to Talkeetna. Catch a flightseeing tour of the Denali Mountains, preferably one that offers glacier landing. Continue to Denali National Park. Aurora viewing and sleep in Denali.
Day 3: Tour Denali National Park. Drive to Fairbanks. Aurora viewing and sleep in Fairbanks.
Day 4: Arctic Circle tour. Aurora viewing on the way back. Sleep in Fairbanks.
Day 5: Chena Hot Springs and Ice Museum. Red-eye flight back.
While there are umpteen places to see all over Alaska, just driving through this stunningly unique state is an experience in itself. I’ll leave you with these shots of the open road.
To Chena Hot Springs
Somewhere along the way!
Enroute to Talkeetna
The Aleyska Pipeline