What do you do when you fall in love with a place? You go there again and again. And that is what we did! This was our third trip to Alaska. After lot of planning around the dates and routes, we came up with an itinerary that allowed us enough time to explore and capture each place. This was a 7 day trip and we prepared ourselves to drive a lot.
Our trip started with flying to Anchorage from LA on a midnight flight, then a drive to Denali National Park followed by a trip to Valdez with a stop over at Palmer and finally back to Anchorage for a flight to LA.
Day 1 (Anchorage-Denali):
Our day started with waking up at a hotel in Anchorage, finished our breakfast and quickly hit the road. It was a long and hot drive to Denali. Yes HOT! The weather in Alaska was unexpectedly hot this year (summer 2015) and there were road constructions throughout Parks highway which made us stop several times.
We drove straight into Denali National Park and made our first stop at mile-15 Savage river loop trail.
It was an easy 2 mile hike with beautiful views. The trail loops around flowing savage river with tiny wildflowers to spot all along the trail. We crossed paths with few caribous and ground squirrels who were busy munching on those wildflowers and seemed a bit social. This was a much needed break after a long drive where we could enjoy the serene views and wildlife.
We checked-in at Earthsong Lodge in Healy which is only 10miles north of Denali.
Day 2 (Denali National Park):
On this fresh morning we spent some time exploring this charming lodge which itself was a site to see in our opinion. It is a family run lodge, very tastefully decorated and well maintained with their own husky kennels. After having a warm toasted bagel at the cafe we head out to spend our day at Denali National Park.
We picked up sandwiches from Morino Grill at the entrance of Denali park and hopped on our tour bus that took us to Eielson visitor center (mile 66) and back. Our bus driver/guide shared some interesting information about the park, stopped at few spots to click pictures and even helped us spot wildlife.
It was a slow drive which allowed us to take in the beauty with no rush. We came across couple of bears, few dall sheeps and a caribou, but we expected to see lot more.
We spent a good amount of time at the visitor center enjoying the views and taking short hikes. The highest mountain peak in North America, Mount Mckinley, was completely tucked under the clouds. It was our unlucky day. We took a bus back to the entrance just in time for dinner. There were many gift shops and places to eat close to Denali entrance.
Day 3 (Denali-Palmer):
We checked out and drove to the Husky Kennels inside Denali National Park. We had fun petting the dogs and were also lucky to see some puppies lazing around. It was time for yet another long drive to Palmer which was our pit stop for the night.
We took a detour on to Hatcher Pass Scenic drive where we found plenty of photo opportunities. Independence mine state historic park was closed at the time so we drove our way up to Summit Lake. This is a good spot for short hikes and to experience incredible scenery.
Later we checked-in at Alaska Garden Gate B&B which was a nice well maintained hotel. And called it a night.
Day 4 (Palmer-Valdez):
Next morning we hit Glenn highway on a long hot drive to Valdez. Matanuska glacier is one of the must stop spots on this highway among many others (since we covered it on our previous trip we did not stop). Restaurants on this highway were scarce and widely spread out. At the end of the freeway, at Glenallen junction where we had to take a right onto Richardson highway-4, there were few food trucks that served different cuisines. We had our lunch there before we headed further.
25 miles away from Valdez is Worthington Glacier. Just a short hike up on a rocky mountain we touched the tip of the glacier and saw melting ice gushing down to form a pool at the base.
As we drove by Keystone Canyon it started to rain quite heavily, making it a pleasant refreshing lush green drive rest of the way. We checked in at Best western Harbor Inn which was a convenient location for activities planned for the next day.
Day 5 (Valdez Kayaking):
Here comes the best part about this trip - Sea kayaking at Columbia Glacier. Early in the day, before 8am, we packed lunch from The Roadside Potatohead and reported at Pangaea Adventures, who were our tour organizers for the day. We were on a 2 hour boat ride into Prince William Sound, kayaked for nearly 4 hours, rested an hour in between and sailed back out to Valdez another 2 hours. It was a wonderful trip and an unbelievable experience. The scenery was WOW, we spotted wildlife, saw many waterfalls and kayaked among icebergs.
Read more about our Sea Kayaking at Columbia Glacier experience.
After a quick refreshing shower we head out to have dinner at Mike's Place. The ambience was great with live music and delicious food.
Day 6 (Valdez-Anchorage):
Now the sad truth. It was time to leave Valdez. All 3 days we spent some time strolling along the harbor watching otters entertain us. On our way out we made few stops along Keystone Canyon to explore the waterfalls and click pictures. There were many lookouts with hiking trails through out the drive where we could park and wander about.
Unlike our hot drive in, it was raining along Glenn highway which was a great photo opportunity. Fireweed and black spruce were a sight to look at. We checked in at a hotel in Wasilla to end our last night in Alaska.
Day 7 (Anchorage):
Our return flight to LA wasn't until midnight. So we decided to spend this day around Anchorage visiting some of the places we visited during our previous trip. Our first stop was Beluga Point. We did not see any whales, not even the first time, but enjoyed some quiet time watching the spectacular beauty of Turnagain Arm.
Then we headed to Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This is not just a place to see cubs, calves and other wildlife but also a place to capture stunning views. Our next stop was Portage lake visitor center. From the parking lot a short dense hiking trail led us to a calm and absolutely serene mossy forest with a wider trail that took us deeper into Chugach national forest. Time constraint did not permit us a boat ride to Portage Glacier which once had covered the entire landscape.
Our last stop for the trip was Byron Glacier. An easy scenic hiking trail beside glacial rapids led us to a mountain of rocks. We climbed up the boulders only to discover the glacier had retreated quite a lot. Nonetheless it was a good finish to our trip.
We hope you enjoyed reading about our experiences in Alaska and plan your own trip someday. Please do take all necessary precautions while traveling in bear country. Enjoy!
We used Fuji X-E2 with 18-55mm lens and 50-230mm lens for most of the trip. Selfie photos were captured using Panasonic GF7 with 12-32 lens.