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Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

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Stanley, Falkland...
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Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

We have decided that we want our next vacation to be in Alaska, we are looking at Aug 2008.

I have no idea where to start! We want to go Whale watching, see lots of wildlife, see Glaciers, and escape into the wilderness. We also love visiting out of the way small towns and spending time talking to the local residents and getting a taste of their experiences and everyday life.

We will have 3 weeks vacation time to fill, and there are 4 in our party including 2 kids age 12 & 10.

I guess some fishing would be fun, dog sledding and maybe kayaking?

Any advice would be most welcome in trying to build an itinerary for this trip!

Manitoba, Canada
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1. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

Cooooool...you have 3 whole weeks. You ought to be able to plan a super vacation with that time! Since you didn't mention cruising, I assume you want the full 3 weeks as a landtour?

First suggestion, consider renting an RV. That will give you much more freedom to explore. Lots of RV parks, and you can pull over almost anywhere to overnight.

Second, get a copy of The Milepost, which describes mile by mile everything you need to know about driving Alaska highways.

How much driving are you willing to do? Alaska is huge, and if you want to cover more territory, you gotta drive the miles. Or you may prefer to concentrate on a smaller area and spend more time. Here is a handy site that contains a map that adds the mileage for you (click on "Interactive Statewide Map & Distance Calculator"): www.myalaskanvacation.com/maps/maps.html#

Here is a basic suggestion for an itinerary. Play around with it until you come up with something you like:

Day 1 - fly into Anchorage. Rent RV, SUV or car. Sightsee if time.

Day 2 – drive north to Talkeetna (2.5 hrs). Stop at Wasilla to see Iditarod HQ and have a sled ride, and/or stop at Dream a Dream kennel for a tour and sled ride. Explore Talkeetna, flightseeing Mt. McKinley. Overnight Talkeetna area. http://www.talkeetnachamber.org/

Day 3 – drive to Denali (2.5 hrs). Things to do: at least a 6 hour shuttle tour into the park (a popular destination is Wonder Lake, 11 hrs): nps.gov/archive/…destinations.html

With a shuttle (as opposed to a bus tour) you can get off and hike a bit or have a picnic (you must bring your own food and drink), then catch the next shuttle along to resume your trip. Take in the free Ranger sled dog demo at 10 am, 2pm or 4 pm (free bus to event leaves 40 minutes prior to the half-hour demo). Check out the Visitor Center. Ranger-led hikes or hikes on your own. Whitewater rafting is popular. Visit a nearby sled dog kennel. Take in a dinner theatre. Get kids involved in Jr. Ranger Program. www.nps.gov/dena/forkids/beajuniorranger.htm

Day 4 – Denali

Day 5 – Denali. In afternoon, 2.5 hour drive to Fairbanks.

Day 6 & 7 – Discovery III Sternwheeler, U. of A. Museum, Gold Dredge No. 8 or El Dorado Gold Mine, see the Pipeline, Ester Gold Camp & Malamute Saloon, Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park and look at free museums/gold rush village there. A site I found very helpful: http://fairbanks-alaska.com/site-index.htm

Day 8 & 9 & 10 – Drive to Valdez, do kayaking, a glacier/wildlife boat tour. http://www.valdezalaska.org/

Day 11 & 12 – drive to Palmer. Stop to walk to the face of Matanuska Glacier. See Reindeer Farm and Musk Ox farm, if in late Aug. check out the State Fair and HUGE vegetables (ever see a 100-lb. cabbage?). Drive on to scenic Hatcher Pass, tour Independence Mine, maybe do some goldpanning. http://www.alaskavisit.com/

Day 13 – Anchorage. Places' list of things to do in Anchorage: tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g60880-i350-k78686… .

Day 14 to 16 - head south. Very scenic drive with many stops, such as Beluga Point. Stop at Girdwood to go up the tram if the weather is clear, paragliding, zipline, Crow Creek Mine, Jade Co., Candle Factory. www.girdwoodchamber.com/cgi-bin/commerce.cgi

Stop at Portage Glacier visitor center, maybe take the 1 hour boat tour to the glacier and/or walk to the face of Byron Glacier to look for iceworms. Be sure to visit the nearby Wildlife Conservation Center. Drive on to Cooper Landing. Fishing, rafting, kayaking. http://www.cooperlandingchamber.com/ Drive to Homer. Fishing, kayaking, hiking, Pratt Museum, bear-watching tour, etc. http://www.homeralaska.org/

Day 17& 18 – Drive to Seward. Visit Exit Glacier, SeaLife Center, take at least a 6 hr. Kenai Fjords wildlife cruise, either Godwin Glacier or Ididaride sled dog tour and sled ride, fishing, kayaking. http://www.sewardak.org/directory.htm

Day 19 – drive to Whittier for a Glacier Tour of Prince William Sound. Afterwards, drive to Hope.

Day 20 – Explore Hope. Hiking, goldpanning, fishing, rafting, etc.http://www.advenalaska.com/hope/default.htm

Day 21 – Back to Anchorage. Sightsee until you have to go to airport.

Hopefully that gives you some ideas.

Stanley, Falkland...
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2. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

Ohhhh WOW thank you so much for all that wonderful info! We did think that hiring and RV might be a good idea, we are both fine with doing a fair amount of driving especially if the routes are very scenic.

I had thought about a cruise, is this a good idea? we have a pretty flexible budget so maybe a one week cruise and 2 weeks land? Do you have any recommendations for cruise companies?

I would also love to visit some Indian reserves/experience the culture, what would you recommend for us?

Thanks once again for taking the time to help!

Cadiz, Kentucky
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3. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

We are doing the combination you mentioned - cruising to Alaska, and then 2 weeks in an RV next month. We're doing whale watching and glacier landings in Juneau. Our land tour is mapped out very close to what Manitoba has suggested. Since I haven't been there yet, the best advice I can give you is what others told me this time last year - spend LOTS of time reading this forum, as well as Cruisecritic.com. Check with your library (or half.com) for a copy of Frommers Alaska - and you'll want to get a Milepost before you go. Don't pass up the freebie travel guides -

www.travelalaska.com

www.reachalaska.com

www.visit-ketchikan.com

www.skagwayinfo.com

www.traveljuneau.com

www.alaskavisit.com

www.anchorage.net

www.homeralaska.org

www.seward.com

www.kenaipeninsula.org

www.explorefairbanks.com

Hope you have as much fun planning as I've had!

Manitoba, Canada
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4. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

I love cruising myself, so you won’t get any arguments from me if you decide to include one. ;-) Hopefully cjnky will give us a trip report, so you have plenty of time to incorporate ideas into your itinerary.

I suggest you check out the websites cjnky and I gave you and decide what are your “must-do’s”. First, take a look at the landtour and see if you can cut 7 days out of it. If you can’t, then that pretty much makes the decision you stick with a landtour and save the cruise for next time. SE Alaska is VERY different, almost another world, so at some point I do think you’d want to see that too. If you decide you want to go with a 3-week landtour this trip, you could see Southeast Alaska on an easy 7-day round-trip (Vancouver to Vancouver via Royal Caribbean, or Seattle to Seattle via other lines). That would save the headache (for most of us at least) of flying to/from Anchorage before/after the cruise. Most flights are in the middle of the night or have awkward connections.

Of course, if you cruise, your 2 main concerns would be which destinations to include and which lines have the youth programs you think your kids would enjoy. These sites might get you started: …about.com/od/alaskacruises/Alaska_Cruises_a…

http://www.cruisemates.com/articles/family/

My own preference is Holland America, but I don't know what kids' programs they have.

I will mention that the best humpback-whale viewing is out of Juneau and Icy Strait Point, with sightings nearly 100% of the time. You see them on the majority of other wildlife cruises, but it’s the luck of the draw. Same with Denali. An animal could come right up on the road beside the bus, or you might see only little dots in the distance as I did on my trip (make sure to have binoculars for all 4 of you!) On the other hand, my very first day of my first visit to Anchorage, a moose and her 2 calves came right out beside me on a street where I’d stopped to take pictures of the view. Needless to say, I was thrilled. You just never know.

There are several different “cultures” in Alaska. Other posters will likely know a lot more than me about that, but my impressions are that you see more Indian (Tlingit & Haida) culture in SE Alaska (the "inside passage"), especially Icy Strait Point (http://www.icystraitpoint.com/), which up to a couple of years ago was just a little fishing village. Last year I saw their charming “tribal dance”, not “professional” at all, very natural, more like a school play. Of course there are wonderful totem poles in Ketchikan and Sitka and other places. And I think you’d really enjoy the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage (http://www.alaskanative.net/), and the U. of A. Museum in Fairbanks (http://www.uaf.edu/museum/ ) if you make it that far north. Don’t forget there is also Russian heritage as well. You might be interested in the virtual tour of the Russian Bishop’s House at this site: nps.gov/sitk/…russian-bishops-house.htm.

So much to see and do, and so hard to pick and choose!

Asheville, North...
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5. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

I would get there via the inland passage on a small boat... it is a wonderful, beautiful trip.. I made the trip from Bellingham WA to Haines on the Alaska ferry.. three days of wonderful weather, good food, fun people, views so awesome words can't describe them, wildlife.. whales, bears on the beach,etc. ...the drive into Anchorage was also amazing .. once there I would go to Homer -- from Anchorage to Homer is another amazing drive .. the Copper River, volcanoes on islands off shore,etc. Your children will never forget an Alaska family vacation.

Ukiah, CA
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6. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

My first times posting, wanted to share quality times we had on this, our second trip to Alaska. Hoonah and Homer are small towns.

My husband and I cruised from Vancouver to Seward with 2 friends. I rented an apartment in Seward right across from the bay. from there we rented a car at Hertz (pricey, but worth it independence and tour wise). We drove to Homer with great sightseeing along the way. Saw combat fishing in glacial waters, very small towns, moose and some eagles along the way. I looked up a house to rent in Homer-overlooking the spit. Lots of halibut fishing charters from there, beach hikes, bird watching with Karl in his boat, the Turego, to Saltry restaurant on the Danny J. I would encourage you to check out homes for rent, so much different from a motel room. Meals are pricy, you can cook simple meals and meet the locals at the markets.

We cruised back (I do not fly) and had an especially amazing time in Hoonah, the town near Icy Strait. Forget me Knot Outfitters and Bob took us bear watching in his very comfortable van. He knew tons about them, we got terrific photos and five sightings along the way to a quiet Bay where a young bear was very curious about us. 26 days in AK and this was the highlight!

After our bear watching, we had halibut pizza at The Gallery in Hoonah and waited for Frank to return from his halibut fishing outing to take us out for whale watching. We spent the afternoon very close to a mother and her calf as they rolled on top of the waters enjoying the sun. We saw puffins, eagles and other birds.

Going with local people was a real treat. Although we have gone on the excursions from the ships, we particularly enjoyed the very small group and closeups with the wildlife. Prices were close to the ship's excursions prices. Look at the site of the town.com. Many local people advertise through there and their particular chamber of commerce.

We rented a car for a day out of Skagway and drove to Emeral Lake. Places to stop along the way so kids can get out and look around. Local Alaska kids had been camping outside of a tiny town, called Carcross. Others have written about this side trip in the forums.

Gulf Breeze, Florida
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7. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

I did a wonderful kayak trip out of Seward. They took us by small boat out to Pederson Lagoon, where we kayaked among giant icebergs. Then they took us into Aialak Bay and we saw an amazing calving. It's pricey, but worth it.

Anchorage is always a good starting point. You can hike in the Chugach Mountains, see the brilliant sights on Seward Highway. I would also spend a day or two in Denali Park. I also recommend renting an RV. It's really the way to go.

I'd be happy to answer any other questions you might have.

Cassandra

Covington, Virginia
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8. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

Hi,

We were in Alaska for 17 days in June-July. I would strongly suggest the following activities:

Bear trip from Homer with Emerald Air Service--absolutely awesome! There aren't words enough to describe this experience and Chris and Ken Day are wonderful. Reservations have to be made well in advance. It is expensive but worth every penny. Ken is a great pilot and will not fly if the weather is even iffy--he is extremely safety conscious.

Kayaking to Columbia Glacie--we went with Pangea Adventures out of Valdez--Great guide and great trip. The water was so choked with ice that we didn't get anywhere near the glacier, but it was so much fun kayaking among the icebergs, etc. Also saw right much wildlife.

Hiking with a guide on Matanuska Glacier--Went with MICA Guides. Again, a great trip. Although people go out on the ice much too far without a guide, you really shouldn't. Having a guide allowed us to get out to the blue ice, look down into the crevasses, venture to the mouth of snow caves, etc. There were people out where it was dangerous. It is not that expensive and well worth the cost to have a guide. We had fun and learned a lot. I wouldn't do anything less than the 3-hr. trip.

If you like to hike, don't miss the hike to the Harding Ice Field. It is steep at times and you think you will never get there, but oh, is it worth the time and strain. It rained the day we went and was even blowing sleet and snow at the top. Going the last 2 miles in deep snow wasn't easy either, but it was unbelievable at the top. The views and scenery are incredible. We went by ourselves, but a ranger leads a hike each saturday in July and August.

Definitely a shuttle trip into Denali--we saw only 1 bear, 4 moose and some sheep high on the mountains. But the scenery was beautiful. We also hiked in the park. Had we not gone on the bear trip, we would have been very disappointed with our lack of animal sightings.

We made a last minute decision to go to Fairbanks our last day since we were so close. Did the El Dorado Gold Mine. Fun, especially panning for gold. I will say, that those people do have a gold mine, but not necessairly the kind that comes out of the ground. :)

Also went to the Ice Museum downtown. We really liked it and thought it was interesting.

Also did a 6-hr. Kenai Fjords trip with Renown Tours. 6hrs. was long enough for us, especially since it was in the 50s and raining. But we had fun.

My favorite places were Homer and Talkeetna. My husband's was Seward.

Hope this helps.

9. Re: Want to go to Alaska - where to start?!

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