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Alaska Trip June 2012

Boston...
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Alaska Trip June 2012

Hey All -

I'm booking a trip for my family (wife, 2 pre-teen sons and I) for late June 2012. We're an athletic and adventurous family and we look forward to enjoying the outdoors and adventurous side of Ak. The rough trip plan is to fly into Anchorage, take rail to Talkeetna for 2 days, rail to Denali for 3 days at Camp Denali, flight seeing transfer back to Anchorage to pick up rental car, drive to seward for 2 days, homer for 2 days, girdwood for 2 days and then fly home.

I've been researching for a long time but I am generating nearly as many questions as answers. Some of my biggest questions are as follows:

1. Should I take the time to head down to homer. The primary goal out of homer is to do a bear trip. Is it worth going to homer or should I just do a bear trip from somewhere else?

2. I've read that ice climbing in Matanuska is very cool but I'm not sure how to fit it in. I've read we can do some Glacier hiking in Girdwood. Should I stretch for Matanuska? I'd have to massage my itinerary to make it happen.

3. Has anyone done the Helicopter glacier trip with guided glacier hiking in Denali? That's a big ticket item and we have a couple of other flights in our itinerary. I'm wondering whether we should glacier hike elsewhere and save some money by not taking a helicopter.

4. Is it worth the money to stay at Camp Denali? Seems spectacular but seriously expensive. The reviews on this site sure make it seem like I should stretch for it.

Have lots of other questions but I'll stop there and hope that the experienced travelers here can help!!

Thanks,

Tim

Edited: 08 January 2012, 17:51
Lake Tahoe...
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1. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Rather than rail to Talkeetna and then to Denali, there is an alternative. You could do a the Glacier Discovery Train to Spencer Glacier from Portage, which you could do on your drive to Homer. It is a day activity so plan on overnighting after the ride as it arrives back a Portage at 5.15 in the afternoon. You could overnight at Summit Lake Lodge or in Cooper Landing.

Is Camp Denali one of those very expensive places deep in the park? If so they have a minimum stay and they shuttle you in as you cannot drive yourself.

Recommend a flight seeing trip with glacier landing out of Talkeetna. This can be coordinated with your drive to Denali which would be more flexible than a train schedule.

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2. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Hi Tim

Welcome to TA. For an athletic, adventurous family like yours I recommend the harding ice field trail along exit glacier just outside of Seward. It's worldclass in my opinion.

Camp Denali does take their visitors out on some great hikes. I know, since on several occasions I have watched where they are going & duplicated their paths. The Camp Denali staff has also turned me on to some awesome hikes & I find them very friendly & helpful. However, one can also hike independently in DNP so it's simply a matter of personal preference of location and weighing the expense.

Edited: 08 January 2012, 19:46
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3. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Also, I think you all & the boys would enjoy the hand tram across the creek on the Winner Creek trail out behind Alyeska hotel in Girdwood. The trail itself has old growth rainforest & is beautiful.

Adirondack, New York
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4. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Some time ago I wrote a review of Camp Denali/Northface Lodge but I can't find it. It wasn’t that great! It is a nice place but highly overrated, IMHO especially for the top $$. We get more pleasure while taking the shuttle bus because we can go at our own pace and stay as long as we want, hike wherever we want and if is a bad weather (rain, snow, wind) we can return at any time. Camp Denali has lots of history but if you have RV you could stay inside the park too and for much less. Anyway, IMO staying somewhere else is not less rewarding than staying in Camp Denali/Northface Lodge. Keep also in mind mosquitos in that area in June. For four people it would cost you about $6,000 for 3 nights. If you're staying three nights you have only two days in the lodge. On the day 1 you meet the bus at 1 or 1:30 at the train station and arrive in the lodge around 8-8:30 pm. You have a picnic on the way. Nice food but if is raining that could be a little challenging. On your last day you have to be on the bus back at 6 am so your breakfast is at 5:30.

It looks like you already decided on Camp Denali so I won't go to any more details. My husband and I don’t RV because we have our own car with us but to visitors with two pre-teens I highly recommend renting RV and traveling at own pace and stopping in places where you all want. If taking a train I would go for the section between Anchorage and Seward and not between Anchorage and Talkeetna and Denali.

You can fly from Anchorage or Soldtona to see bears. You will see them in Denali. Bear watching in June can be iffy so do some research here and make sure where you are going before shelling out a big $$$$.

Hiking or ice climbing on Matanuska Glacier could be a fantastic experience for kids. It is definitely very unique activity.

A few years ago we did heli-hiking in Denali but unguided. My suggestion is do not make any arrangements until you get there. You wouldn't want to be with or without a guide when weather is not magnificent. I mean go for it only if you have a clear blue sky and weather forecast guarantee no rain and no dark sky.

FYI, you can have similar experience while hiking from the shuttle and just a few hundred feet away from the road.

Because like you said you’re adventures an athletic family I feel that having RV and doing a whole trip on your own would be more fun for boys to do research and decide on activities they want and not rely on guides. Spending less money does not mean quality of your vacation would be diminished.

<<Is it worth the money to stay at Camp Denali?>> Everyone who stay there has own opinion about it but I wouldn’t do it again. For the money we saved by not staying there again we are able to return to Alaska every year and now for long trips. When we stayed there we did not see one teenager or pre-teenager and that is something you should consider as well.

Whatever you decide have a great trip!

Edited: 08 January 2012, 19:54
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5. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Good reminder, Places, regarding the mosquitoes in that area.

Boston...
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6. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Thanks to all for your excellent advice. A couple of quick thoughts.

1. I didn't plan on having a car fir the first half of our trip, so it would be tough to stop between Anchorage and Denali. I wanted to catch some rail service during our trip and that seemed to be the best way. Taking a flight seeing trip back to Anchorage from the Denali area allowed us to get alight around Mckinley while also avoiding the long bus ride out of the park , assuming we stay at Camp Denali.

2. I saw that hand tram on the Winner Trail hike in Alyeska. That looks like a winner for us! Also the ice field hike off of Exit glacier sounds awesome. I had seen one reference to that online and I'll look into it further based on your recommendation.

3. The question of whether to stay inside the park (ala Camp Denali) is the biggest question in my itinerary. Not only is it really expensive but I must check in on a Friday, so it acts as a cornerstone that I must build my trip around. Most of the Camp Denali reviews on TA are overwhelmingly positive, so I had decided to just bite the bullet and go for it. I just don't know how else I can get deep into the park with my family. I know I can hike off of the park shuttle but hiking deep in Denali with my wife and kids, without a guide, is a bit out of my comfort zone. For me it comes down to being able to get deep into the park or just picking at the edges. Hmmmm, am I over thinking that point?

The RV thing is something I hadn't even considered for this trip. So many great ideas, so little time!!!

Thanks

Tim

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7. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Tim, I can totally hear what you are saying about the "comfort zone." Here in the east we are used to marked trails and knowing how to get from point A to point B when hiking. On our first trip to Denali we listened to everyone's advice to get off the bus but never left the road when we did. It was an odd feeling to see the bus drive away and feel the absolute aloneness of the park but very exciting as well. We felt "deep" in the park even though we were on the road.

This year we talked to lots of drivers and rangers and did some great hikes that were easily accessible from the road yet we felt as if we were deep in the park and all alone. Denali is amazing in that respect -- you can feel as if you are the only ones there by just getting off the bus.

One way to increase your comfort would be to take a Discovery Hike led by a ranger. I am not a fan of hiking with strangers because the group can only go as fast as the slowest member but it is a great introduction to hiking in Denali and you get the expertise of the ranger.

The Harding Ice Field Trail is indeed glorious. We saw several bears, lots of wildflowers, great views of the glacier but nothing can compare to when you reach the top and see the ice field -- it really does feel as if you are at the top of the world.

The hand tram is a real hoot. We did the hike the first year and it is lovely. The hike to the top of the mountain is nice as well and the views are great.

Boston...
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8. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Ok, you guys/gals have me thinking... If I decided NOT to stay inside the park, what is the nicest, best place to stay outside the park? Amenities I'd be looking for would be really nice lodge style accommodations, with shuttle service to town/park entrance. Ideally, something a little nicer than most of the organized tours would use. My experience with hotels just outside of the Nat'l Parks has been mediocre. Most seem to focused on high tourist volume and less on quality of accommodations.

Thanks in advance for any advice,

Tim

Healy, Alaska
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9. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

Tim - most of us would tell you to rent a car for your Denali time - it is the only way to have the flexibility you would want with your family. If you have to take a train, do it to Seward. If you take the train to Denali, you are sort of stuck with the lodging problems you mentioned above.

Camp Denali is a wonderful experience (from the outside looking in) but with pre-teen boys, I think they may enjoy more of the activities available at the entrance areas, like the white water raft trips!

We do have all kinds of lodging available in the local area - some great B&B, cabins, even houses you can rent. However, the lodge type places - well, not sure we really have that in the area . . . the bigger lodge type hotels truly cater to the cruise industry, and I don't think that is the experience you are looking for either. How about you tell us a bit more what you want to do besides the hiking deep in Denali? It really is pretty easy to be independent here. :)

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10. Re: Alaska Trip June 2012

"looking for would be really nice lodge style accommodations"

I'm not sure if you mean you're looking for a luxury lodge...there aren't any. Accommodations in Alaska tend to be expensive and small. Think rustic. This link might help you: http://alaska.org/denali/denali-lodging.htm . Just be aware that, as Coalminer said, you be crammed in with the cruisetour folk. There are lots of more private options in nearby Healy, but you'd need a car to get there.

I too think you'd be better off taking the train to Seward instead of Denali. It's really handy to have a car in Denali, and would make it easier to visit Talkeetna (without being stuck there for 2 days) and Matanuska Glacier.

BTW, how old are your kids?