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First time to Alaska itinerary

Chandigarh...
Level Contributor
128 posts
33 reviews
First time to Alaska itinerary

Hello

We're interested to visit Alaska as a family of 6 which includes 2 fairly fit 65 year olds, 3 30 yr olds and a 7 yr old. Our areas of interest are wildlife, glaciers/fjords & day hikes.

Since this our first time to Alaska & perhaps the last for our parents, we have prepared the following itinerary based on blogs & online research. We intend to visit around the 2nd week of June. According to our research, Denali is not something that was high on our list given that it requires 12 hours travel from Anchorage and very long hours to travel within the park on a school bus.

Please help us out by pointing out some obvious aspects that we have may have omitted, places that are a must visit and any other suggestions that will make our first visit memorable. Thanks

Day 1 & 2 - arrive in Juneau from New York, primarily for humpback whale watching. Since a combo tour to mendenhall glacier is offered, we will probably opt for it.

Day 3 - 6 - fly to Anchorage & drive to Seward. Spend 4 nights to enjoy a 7.5 hour or even a 9 hour cruise in the Kenai Fjords NP (day 1), exit glacier & a 9 mile trek to the Harding ice field (2), Soldotna for bear viewing (optional, if it is possible to see them feed on salmon, day 3), Chugach NP for day hikes (time permitting) & kayak/paddleboard in resurrection bay to come close to bear glacier(? Perhaps the day we arrive from Anchorage).

Day 7 - drive back to Anchorage. Fly out of Alaska.

20 replies to this topic
Massachusetts
Level Contributor
4,871 posts
261 reviews
1. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

The Harding Icefield 9 mile hike for a 7-year-old and two seniors? This is a 6-8 hour all-day hike, I wouldn't recommend it for any one not in prime shape.

Are you sure you're allowing for travel times? Your arrival day in Juneau - it'll probably be early to mid-afternoon, and you'll be 3 hours 'ahead', still on east coast time.

Anchorage to Seward is 3-4 hours, assuming minimal stops (there are lots of scenic views, not to mention the Alaska Wildlife Conservation center and other things), so by the time you arrive in Anchorage, pickup your rental car and get to Seward, that day will be almost over.

Chandigarh...
Level Contributor
128 posts
33 reviews
2. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

Thanks. We intend to leave the child behjnd with the seniors while we hike Harding.

So we get a net total of 3 days in Seward which should be sufficient to do the activities we plan. May have to forgo Chugach.

Anchorage, Alaska
Destination Expert
for Anchorage
Level Contributor
13,125 posts
233 reviews
3. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

Day 3 or 7

- There's a ton to do/see between ANC & Seward, from 'too many to count' scenic pull outs, to short hikes to hand trams over gorges (Winner Creek), pan for gold (Crow Creek Mine), the AK Wildlife Conservation Ctr, easy hike into Byron Glacier (beautiful mtn valley - should still have snow in it to play on), etc.

Winnipeg, Canada
Level Contributor
6,512 posts
4. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

Since all you're doing in Juneau is whale-watching and a visit to a glacier, I'd skip Juneau. There is one company in Seward that guarantees whale sighting on their trip: https:/… , and with 6 in your group you'd have the whole boat to yourselves.

That would also give you a day for an easy hike ON a glacier at Matanuska, 2 hrs. NE of Anchorage. You'd need a private hike with MICA since your child is under the age of 8, but that might work out best anyway--then you can go at your own pace (if child or grandparents need to go a bit slower) without worrying you're holding up other folks on the tour.

Unlikely to see bears fishing in early June.

I suggest something like this:

Day 1 – arrive ANC, overnight.

Day 2 – drive to Matanuska Glacier (2 hrs) for private hike with MICA, maybe late morning. Since you’ll still be on east coast time, take advantage of that for an early start. After, drive to Girdwood (3 hrs) . Wildlife Conservation Center if time, or do that first thing tomorrow (it opens 8 a.m.) or on the final day. Overnight Girdwood.

Day 3 – either 26 Glaciers or Surprise Glacier cruise. After supper, drive to Seward (2 hrs) to overnight.

Day 4 – 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., guaranteed whale watching: https:/… Afternoon SeaLife Center for some, 2 pm paddleboarding at Bear Glacier for others: liquid-adventures.com/content/big-time-bear-…

Day 5 – Harding Icefield for some. Exit Glacier and Ididaride sled dog tour and exploring Seward for others. The ones doing the hike might want to keep the car since there is no cell phone service there. Ididaride will drive the others back to Seward after their tour (pre-arrange that) or use Exit Glacier Shuttle, or arrange for a taxi to come at a specified time.

Day 6 – 7.5 hr. Kenai Fjords cruise (the longer ones suggest a minimum age of 12). 90% chance of seeing whales.

Day 7 – drive back to ANC (2.5 to 3 hrs). Wildlife Conservation Center if you didn’t have time on the way down, maybe Winner Creek hike to the hand-tram over the gorge and/or Flattop Mt. in Anchorage. Late flight home.

Chandigarh...
Level Contributor
128 posts
33 reviews
5. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

Thanks sdp & MM. Have a few questions for you MM

"Since all you're doing in Juneau is whale-watching and a visit to a glacier, I'd skip Juneau. There is one company in Seward that guarantees whale sighting on their trip: https:/… , and with 6 in your group you'd have the whole boat to yourselves." What else does Juneau offer besides whale watching & Mendenhall glacier? Pardon my lack of knowledge but these two were the highlights of Juneau I found online.

We want to see humpbacks in particular, not just any whale so even if the back of a orca is visible, we would have 'seen' a whale but not met our objective (if you know what I mean). Our research tells us that Juneau is the best place to see humpbacks. Hence, even though it's out of our way & expensive, we included it. Since the glacier hike is offered in combination with a whale watch tour, we might as well do it. It is by no means our primary objective in Juneau. Is there anything else the city offers that we've missed out on?

We have hiked a glacier in Argentina (with crampons) recently so a hike on Matanuska is not as important. However, I think a visit to the WCC in Anchorage (correct?) sounds like a good idea, especially for our 7 yr old.

Do we take the surprise glacier/26 glacier cruise from Girdwood? Will it offer something unique given that we will take a 7.5 hr cruise on day 6? Do either of them offer kayaking as a part of the cruise?

I'm assuming that the sea life center is different from WCC? Can we do paddleboarding elsewhere (any other glacier other than bear) or is there a specific reason to do it at bear glacier? Can some kayak while I paddleboard at bear?

Will 4 nights be too long at Seward? We'll probably arrive by dinner time in Seward so I'm counting that out. Essentially 3 full days for a 7.5 hr cruise, exit glacier & harding ice field (sea life center for others) and kayak/paddle boarding.

Lastly, would you recommend a visit to Chugach NP (since we're in the area)? Does it offer an experience of a more green/lush park without glaciers (since there are glaciers in most parts of AK?

Anything else that you would recommend to a first timer to AK that we're missing out on?

Thanks for helping us with our questions but we want to plan our trip well so that we don't end up doing things we will not enjoy. After all, it's one hell of a trip from India!

Centerville, Ohio
Level Contributor
14,291 posts
3,301 reviews
6. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

Shantanu D

It is clear that you have done your research, and the Alaskan Experts provide great advice.

Read

Travel Alaska - Kenai

https://www.travelalaska.com › Destinations › Cities & Towns

Kenai Peninsula travel - Lonely Planet

https:/…kenai-peninsula

et al.

Bengaluru, India
Level Contributor
6 posts
7. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

First of all Denali is not 12hr drive from Anchorage.Its about 4.5hrs.The private vehicles are not allowed inside Denali national park so you will have to take park shuttle.Shuttle takes 12 hrs if you want to go to the end of the park and come back.Most visitors go up to Eielson Visitor center which is 3.5 hrs drive and come back.You can always choose the tickets depending on how far you want to go in the park.

Take Glacier cruise.It will be good.4 nights at Seward is too much if you are not hiking.You can drive through Chugach.

Check my blog on Alaska - https:/…

Winnipeg, Canada
Level Contributor
6,512 posts
8. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

"First of all Denali is not 12hr drive from Anchorage.Its about 4.5hrs"

It is a 4.5 hr. drive *IF* there is no traffic and no construction. Usually there is both, making it a 5 to 6 hour drive. Anyone allowing only 4.5 hrs. to drive that stretch could end up missing their plane.... And of course the drive BACK from there doubles the time, making it 10 to 12 hours.

"Shuttle takes 12 hrs if you want to go to the end of the park and come back"

The shuttle to Kantishna is 13 hrs. round trip. The shuttle to Wonder Lake is 11 hrs. There is no 12 hr. trip.

"Most visitors go up to Eielson Visitor center which is 3.5 hrs drive and come back."

The shuttle to Eielson is 8 hrs. round trip. It takes about 3.5 hours to GET to Eielson, but there is a long break there before the shuttle heads back. Though someone could try to hop on a returning shuttle as soon as they got to Eielson if they wanted to. But it doesn't make much sense to miss the views, new visitor center, and possible hikes in that area....

Winnipeg, Canada
Level Contributor
6,512 posts
9. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

"What else does Juneau offer besides whale watching & Mendenhall glacier? Pardon my lack of knowledge but these two were the highlights of Juneau I found online."

Juneau has a lot to offer, depends on your interests: https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attractions-g3102…

"Our research tells us that Juneau is the best place to see humpbacks"

Yes. 100% success in finding humpbacks. Though all most people see are the dorsal fins as the whales breathe and tails as they dive.

"Since the glacier hike is offered in combination with a whale watch tour, we might as well do it."

?? What tour combines a glacier hike with whale watching? Please give a link. The only combo I know of with Mendenhall drops you off at the visitor center where you can view the glacier from a short distance.

" I think a visit to the WCC in Anchorage (correct?) sounds like a good idea,"

The WCC is 1 hr. south of Anchorage. Very scenic drive.

"Do we take the surprise glacier/26 glacier cruise from Girdwood? Will it offer something unique given that we will take a 7.5 hr cruise on day 6?"

The glacier cruises depart from Whitter, about a half hour drive from Girdwood. We usually suggest people overnight in Girdwood because there are literally dozens of options there. Whittier has only 3. Whether the trips will be the same or different, no one can predict. The Whittier trips focus more on glaciers, usually see less wildlife, usually have very calm waters. Kenai Fjords trips can be choppy during the short time they are out in open ocean (while rounding Aialik Cape to get to the glaciers) and usually see more wildlife. But no one can guarantee what you will see on any one trip. That's why we recommend doing more than one if you can--doubles your chances of seeing something truly memorable.

"Do either of them offer kayaking as a part of the cruise?"

No. And most kayaking companies don't take kids as young as yours unless you book a private tour.

"I'm assuming that the sea life center is different from WCC?"

Yes. Very different.

"Can some kayak while I paddleboard at bear?"

The company I mentioned offers both tours. Whether they will do both at the same time is something you have to ask them.

"Will 4 nights be too long at Seward?"

If you have 4 days of activities there, then 4 days is what you need. If you have 3 days of activities, then 3 days. So you have to figure out which activities you want to do and where.

"Lastly, would you recommend a visit to Chugach NP (since we're in the area)? "

Do you mean the Chugach National Forest: radiokenai.us/wp-content/…chugach.jpg Or the Chugach State Park: alaska101.com/exploreAlaska/…turnagainArm.gif

I already mentioned Winner Creek hike: www.alaska.org/detail/winner-creek-trail

Michigan
Destination Expert
for Alaska
Level Contributor
3,204 posts
264 reviews
10. Re: First time to Alaska itinerary

"Is there anything else the city offers that we've missed out on?"

With your interests, you would likely enjoy a trip to Tracy Arm Fjord out of Juneau. Adventure Bound and Allen Marine are the two vendors that offer the tour out of Juneau. I believe that by the second week of June you should be able to get to the glaciers in Tracy Arm Fjord, but you should check with the vendors to be sure. Every year is not exactly the same, but you can ask them what the norm is for the second week of June. If they can't make it to Tracy Arm (ice jams would be the issue), they will substitute the Endicott Arm. I have only been to Tracy Arm, so I cannot compare the two. It sounds like those who have only been to Endicott enjoyed it. Those who have been to both, indicate Tracy Arm is more impressive. We were simply awed when we made the trips into Tracy Arm. We went once with Adventure Bound and another time it was a cruise ship transit. Both were incredible experiences.

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