I have travelled around the United States a fair bit but the sheer beauty that Alaska has to offer is unparalleled. The entire state is serene and not only distinctive in its raw authentic natural beauty but also famous for its rich heritage. It was a real pleasure visiting the state and only having covered very little of it, it has left me longing to go back for more.
Being in the heart of the state with no internet connection, minimal service and nature all around really helped with my anxiety. You tend to forget all the problems that you have back home and feel very at peace with yourself. I would recommend Alaska for everyone but more so for people looking for a rejuvenating experience.
The route that we took was a little tricky as we drove south to Seward first and then drove all the way to Denali National Park and then back to Anchorage. You should choose the route that makes most sense to you but either way, you need to be prepared to drive - A lot!
If you would prefer to not drive, the Alaskan railroad service offers trains from Seward all the way till Fairbanks. The view by rail and road are both wonderful and you are going to have fun whichever route you choose.
Alaska being a bit remote, gets expensive. Everything costs what seems like a lot of money but trust me, the experiences are worth what you pay for. This has been one of the best destinations I have been to on planet Earth and I can’t wait for you to experience it as well!
Alaska get 22 hours of daylight during summer. This is a very quirky natural phenomenon for someone who has not seen daylight at night! It is as bright at 2 am as it is at 2 pm. Which makes sleeping sometimes challenging and that is why most hotels and airbnb’s have blackout curtains. The traveling around tires you enough to help get a good night’s rest too.
I’ll talk about the different places we went to and the things that are a must do there.
We took a flight from Seattle to Alaska. The average ticket prices are around $200.00 but depending on the season this can vary.
You will need a car to get around to different locations. We reserved an Enterprise rental car for the entire duration of our stay here. We picked the car from the airport and specifically choose a 4 wheel drive for ease and comfort.
Best Time to Travel
Alaska is beautiful and open to tourists all year round but the best time to visit depends on what your agenda is. If you are looking forward to experiencing the Northern Lights, your best bet is to travel during the more dry months of November -February. If you want to hike, the peak tourist season is between June - September.
Things to have with you
Apart from the obvious items such a a bottles of water and sunscreen, I recommend carrying or purchasing bug spray.
Layers! It can get quite cold even during summer.
Binoculars - Great for bird watching and spotting bears.
Picnic Blanket - Very useful!
Groceries (Milk, Bread, Fruits, Ready to Cook) - This was a life saver when we were hours from any civilization during lunch time!
Where to Stay?
Anchorage: Best Western - Golden Lion hotel($150.00 per night)
Seward: Best Western Plus Edgewater Hotel($200.00 per night)
Denali: Denali Crow’s Nest Cabins ($250.00 per night)
Our arrival and departure airport was in Anchorage and it will probably be the same for you. Since our flight got in late, we stayed at the Best Western - Golden Lion hotel. The price for the hotel was around $150.00 per night. We spent our first and last night in Anchorage and didn’t explore the city itself but there are many children friendly activities in Anchorage. Here are a few things that you might want to check out
- Anchorage Museum
- Alaska Aviation Museum
- Botanical Gardens
- Alaska Zoo
The first leg of our journey consisted of driving from Anchorage to Seward which is south of Anchorage. It takes about 2.5 hours to drive down to Seward. This drive is really scenic and there are multiple places where you can take short pit-stops to admire the majesty of the mountains. I always recommend starting the day early so you have a lot of time to spend at the various locations.
We spent 2 nights in Seward. The first day was driving to the coastal city and hiking to the Exit Glacier and the second one was spent on the cruise.
Seward is a famous destination for day cruises, hikes, kayaking, and, fishing. We opted for the Major Marine Tours to take the cruising experience. The 8 hour guided tour had catered lunch and snacks on board. The ride takes you to Kenai Fjords National Park and back. The price per person for the cruise is about $214.00. This might seem a little steep but it is well worth the money. The crew on board is very informative and are great at spotting wildlife, and talking about the Fjords and the history behind the glaciers.
We were lucky enough to see various aquatic mammals such as Otters, Orcas, and Dolphins and many local birds such as the Bald Eagle, Black-Billed Magpie, Puffins and the Steller’s Jay.
The glaciers at Kenai Fjord are huge. This was my first time seeing a glacier next to the ocean. There were giant icebergs in the water that the captain had to cruise around. You can imagine how the titanic must have gone down because even small icebergs are resilient and strong.
Along with witnessing how majestic glaciers are, you also can see the harsh reality of how much they have shrunk over the past few years due to global warming and the predictions for where they will be is alarming.
Exit Glacier and Harding Ice Field Trail
Located about 30 minutes or 12 miles from Seward, the Exit Glacier and the Harding Ice Field Trail are one of the most popular treks for tourists. The Exit Glacier is a short 1.2 mile roundtrip hike.
There are boards everywhere warning you on what to do if you spot a bear on the tracks. This is a serious risk here and for my peace of mind, I had an anti bear app downloaded on my phone, bear spray in my pack and ready-to-run shoes on! You can never be too safe, can you?!
Getting to the glacier requires that you cross bridges, quiet paths, streams and rocky roads. There is no set trail which makes the experience more adventurous. What might seem like an easy hike can also very easily tire you.
Don’t get too close to the glacier as they are constantly breaking and one might just fall too close to you. One rule that the locals ask all tourists to follow is to “Respect Nature”.
If you are looking for a more challenging hike, I recommend doing the day-long Harding Ice Field trail. This 8.2 mile trek takes almost the whole day to complete but the view is very rewarding. The conditions are harsher/colder as you are gaining a lot of elevation and are at a constant risk of dehydration. We didn’t have enough time on our hands to go on this trail but I have it locked on my bucket list for the next time I visit Alaska.
Located about 58 miles south of Anchorage, this small town is a prime destination for cruise boats to dock at when they are in Alaska. The town has only one road that takes you in and out of the city. You go in through a very long tunnel, one car at a time with no through traffic.
The town itself has a very small population but is gorgeous. The wilderness in Prince William Sound is worth the detour. This makes Whittier a great destination for a pitstop before making your way onward to Denali National Park.
Denali National Park
It takes about 7 hours to drive from Seward to Denali. We started early and took many many pit stops along the way. The view is gorgeous so it doesn’t seem like a lot of driving but it is a 360 mile one way journey. Make sure to fill up on gas in Seward because there are very long patches where you don’t get cell coverage and there are no gas stations.
The drive to the park might be long but it is beautiful. Surrounded by trees, snow clad mountains, and wildlife. The tundra ecosystem is colorful and very unique. The hotels are very sparse in and around the park and they get filled up pretty quickly. The best advice would be to plan the trip out at least a month or two in advance to get good deals on the cabins.
We spent 3 nights and 2 days in Denali of which both of the days were spent exploring the park. There is only one road that takes you in and out of the park. There are free bus service that takes you in and around the 92 miles of the park that is open to public. The buses are low emission and therefore very quiet. This was designed specifically to not disturb the wildlife in the park.
To access the park is a $10.00 per person fee. We purchased the annual national park pass ($80.00) which made it easy to enter multiple park during our stay in Alaska.
Booking the bus to take you in and out of the park in advance helped us save a lot of time. Since we were there during peak season, most of the tickets were already reserved so I suggest that you book the tickets in advance as well. It costs $58.00 per day for each person to go all the way till Wonder lake and back. The buses run on a schedule and you can hop on and off on any of the points of interest.
A lot of people go on backcountry hikes and camp out in the wild. There are many campsites inside the park as well. You need permit to do both these activities and have to be hyper aware as this is bear county with over 300 bears present here. The campsites get booked more than 9 months in advance so you have to start planning very early if you want to be a little more adventurous.
There are many many animals in the park. You can spot Grizzly and Black Bears, Reindeers, Dall’s Sheep, wolves, foxes to name a few. Read on here to see where you can have the best chance of spotting some of these animals
There is little to no cell phone coverage in and around the park. This makes you feel closer to nature and lets you enjoy it without constantly giving you anxiety about posting on instagram.
Some points of interest that I particularly enjoyed were:
Sled Dog Kennel
Being the only park with an active sled dog kennel, this is one of the funnest place for any dog lover. The kennel has the most adorable, friendly gorgeous huskies. The park rangers travel across the park on sledges during peak winter. Isn’t that cool?
There are ranger led demonstrations here and you can also get up close to the dogs. If you are really interested, you can adopt retired sled dogs as well!
Savage River Trail
This is a really peaceful trail in the park. You can walk the 2 mile roundtrip route observing the tundra plants and really feel at peace. This is as far as you can take your own car before hopping on the park bus service. The weather in the park is very unpredictable. The 2 days that we spent here was mostly cloudy and it did rain at times and there was some sunlight too. Be prepared to face any climate change.
One of the most scenic views in the park, the Polychrome is just breathtaking. The chormatic nature of the mountains was caused because they are volcanic rocks. You can hike along the trail up a small hill and take in the nature, the wildlife and the majesty of the Alaskan Range.
The hike is just off the bus stop so you can hop out, walk around, and jump back on the same bus onward to your next destination. If you like, you can go on a longer hike and try to spot wildlife in their natural habitat.
Eielson Visitor Center
This is a great spot to end your day 1 journey after all the hikes and driving around in the bus. It is about 66 miles from the park entrance. There are many rangers here who are constantly talking about the native Athabascans, life at Denali, the history of the park and the wildlife.
On a clear day, Mt. Denali is visible from the visitor center and you can enjoy the view from the warmth of the Visitor center. There are restrooms and water stations here so you can freshen up and have a late lunch enjoying the panoramic view. NOTE: There are no restaurants inside the park and getting food and water with you is encouraged.
There are multiple trails starting from the Eielson Visitor Center that lead each feel like they are guiding you on a secret mission.
Tundra Loop - 1mile roundtrip.
Eielson Alpine Trail - 1000ft hike.
Gorge Creek Trail - 600ft hike.
We took with us a portable gas stove and made ourselves some hot chai. The satisfaction of drinking a boiling hot cup of tea in the middle of nowhere is extremely satisfying.
Wonder Lake is as far as the bus will take you. The lake is known to reflect Mt. Denali on the lake and on a clear dry day, you can see the perfect reflection of the mountain in the lake. We were not so lucky as it was pouring when we reached the lake.
Regardless, this is a very popular camping spot and if the weather permits, I encourage sitting by the lake for a picnic. One thing to be very aware of here are the number of bugs. You will thank yourself for buying the bug spray with you.
If you are really lucky, you might spot a mama bear with her mini baby bears just strolling along the unpaved road. We happened to spot bears on both days and let me tell you - they are majestic beasts and all I wanted to do was give it a hug.
One thing that I’m glad we did was to halt in Anchorage on our way and load up on supplies and stop for lunch.
Located about 153 miles south of Denali, it takes about 3 hours to drive down here. This very unique town has a cat named Stubbs for a mayor and has the cutest mom-pop restaurants and shops. The town is a popular fishing destination for tourists and a starting point for people summiting Mt. Denali.
We rented out an airbnb here for 3 days and it was one of very homey and cosy. We ate a home cooked meal after almost 7 days and that felt wonderful. One of the weirdest experiences was sitting around a campfire, making smores’ at 11pm in the night when it looked like 10 am in the morning.
Just strolling along the Talkeetna river or having a filling brunch at the Roadhouse or walking along the historic downtown is a de-stressor. You are not hustling to get to the next point of interest but taking a step back and immersing yourself in the culture of the natives and enjoying the view along the way.
It is said that at any time, there is only a 30% chance of seeing the peak of Mt Denali. You need to very very lucky to get a clear enough day in order to view the highest mountain in North America. We decided to make our own luck. One way to do this is to fly over the cloud cover and view the peak.
Talkeetna has many air-taxi operators you can choose from to fly around Mt. Denali and land on one of the glaciers. This option is understandably very expensive but if you have the funds to do this, I highly recommend it. This was the highlight of our trip to Alaska. The price for 1 person to hop on the flight for a 2 hour experience is around $435.00. There are other options also available such as a flyby over the mountains which are far less expensive at around $220.00 per person.
The people at Talkeetna Air Taxi were very responsive while I was making the reservations. They provide a lot of feedback and answer any questions that you have.
The tour includes crossing the Alaska Range, The Wickersham Wall of Denali - the greatest continual vertical relief in the world, and landing on a Glacier. We had unobstructed, heavenly view of the snow covered peak of Mt Denali.
Being so high about the sea level amongst the clouds and surrounded by glaciers and snow feels like a slice of heaven. Here you can leave all your doubts and fear behind, be present in the moment and enjoy every minute of it.
Hurricane Turn Train
Alaskan Railroads are rightfully quite popular amongst the railbuffs. The flag-stop trains are a really fun experience as you get to see people living in remote regions with no road access. The only way to get to and from their cabins is by literally flagging the trains down. Alaska has a lot of raw nature and riding along the mountains and trees in a all window train can never disappoint, can it?
If you have an extra day and don’t want to do any strenous hikes or driving, the best way to spend that day would be to hop on the Hurricane Turn Train. Starting at Talkeetna, the train takes to the city of Hurricane and back.
The trains make multiple stops so you can go out and explore ruins of cities that once were, the smallest town in the world with the population of 2 and ofcourse the gorgeous Twin Bridges. On a clear day, you might get to see Mt. Denali from the trains.
It costs $108.00 for a round trip from Talkeetna to Hurricane. The rail service encourages passengers to get their own food on board and enjoy a unique picnic experience.
An FYI for you: The Alpine forget-me-not’s are the Alaskan state flower and you will find them everywhere. I love how sky blue and petite they are.
Le Barn Appetit: Located very close to the Exit Glacier, this family owned restaurant is great for an early brunch. The crepes are delicious, the service is sincere and the place itself is very homey.
Namaste Shangril-la: Sometimes you have got to curb those spicy Indian food cravings and that is exactly what we did! Anchorage has a lot of amazing sea-food but being vegetarians, we opted for a more traditional option of getting some filling spicey food. Namaste Shangril-la has some good options for food that wont fill you but will keep you satisfied for many hours of driving that you have ahead of you.
Payo’s Thai: Talkeetna being the quirky little town that it is has surprisingly good food. Payo’s had a light, fun atmosphere and the people were really having a great time.
Alaska has so much to offer and so much that I would love to go back for. This was an experience unlike any other that you will have and no matter where you decide to go, what you decide to do, you will be in a magical wonderland of a state and the experiences will be truly out of the world. If you are thinking of going to Alaska, don’t think just go!