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Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

Dallas, Texas
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Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

We are in the early stages of planning an approximately 10-day trip to Alaska during the summer of 2015. Most likely, we will travel late June or in the month of July. Family consists of myself and husband (40s) and 2 teen sons, ages 17 and 14. We want to enjoy the natural beauty of the state, see wildlife, and spend time together as a family. Current plan is to fly into/out of Anchorage and to have a rental vehicle the entire trip.

I'd like some input on the overall itinerary I'm putting together. Is it reasonable? Is there a better way to route the trip? Am I overlooking something? Any thoughts/suggestions are greatly appreciated.

Day 1: Fly to Anchorage. Arrive mid-afternoon. Pick up rental vehicle.

Maybe drive to Girdwood and check into condo (2 nights)

Day 2: Drive to Whittier. PWS Cruise. Return to Girdwood.

Day 3: Maybe ride the aerial tram? Visit Animal Wildlife Conservation Center.

Drive to Seward. (Spend 3 nights in Seward.)

Day 4/5: 2 full days here. Hope to do one of the cruises, kayak, Exit Glacier & Sea Life Center.

Day 6: Depart Seward and make 7 hr drive to Denali/Healy area. (2 nights)

Day 7: Husky Homestead Tour & Rafting Trip.

Day 8: Denali Bus Tour. Plan to do green shuttle bus.

Day 9: Drive to Fairbanks. Likely do the gold dredge/riverboat cruise if time permits both.

May do the salmon bake and Palace Theater at Pioneer Park. (1 night in Fairbanks)

Day 10: Depart Fairbanks - maybe see Auto Museum before leaving. Drive 7 hrs to Anchorage.

Day 11: Return flight home. If flight departs late in the day, may bike the Tony Knowles trail.

OR see the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

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fti
MN
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1. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

Your driving times from Seward to Denali and Fairbanks to Anchorage are way off.

Seward to Denali in the best of times with no stops is a good 8 hours. Figure traffic, meals, gas, photos, construction and you are looking at 10-14 hours. A couple of years ago I drove from Seward to Talkeetna with just a lunch stop and a brief stop for some groceries. That drive took me 8-1/2 hours. So there is no way whatsoever you will make it from Seward to Denali in 7 hours.

Fairbanks to Anchorage is similar. Right now Fairbanks to Denali is 3 hours or more with all the construction. Then Denali to Anchorage is another 5 hours. These times are with no stops. You really have so little time in Fairbanks and can not do the riverboat and the gold dredge in one day when driving from Denali. Also, the gold dredge is VERY touristy with half the time spent in the gift shop. Your teenage boys will hate it, trust me.

How about something like this:

Day 6 depart Seward for Matanuska Glacier, late afternoon glacier hike. This was a highlight of the trip for 7 teens I took to Alaska last summer.

Day 7 drive to Denali, evening rafting trip

Day 8 shuttle bus into Denali - book at least to Eielson and be sure to get off the bus for some walking. Your kids will love it and you will be able to spend time just with them - not with 40+ others on a bus!

Day 9 morning Husky Homestead tour (or spend time at the visitor center and see the park service's 10am sleddog demonstration), drive to Anchorage

Day 10 spend the day in the Anchorage area - Glen Alps is a great place to go hiking/walking and see the views. Rent bikes today, go to the Native Heritage Center to let your kids experience what some native communities are like.

Day 11 depart

By "slowing down and smelling the roses" you get to see/do more and are not nearly as rushed.

Remember there is one and only one road between all these places. If you get stopped due to some major incident (accident, rock slide, whatever), you are sitting for hours in traffic and are going nowhere. Trying to get to Faribanks for a day when it is 130 miles each way from Denali on a 2-lane road is not the wisest use of your time, especially with teenage boys.

Edited: 02 August 2014, 19:51
New York City, New...
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2. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

Everyone has their own interests and things that they want to see &do, but it is your vacation and only you can decide what to do.

Time and distance are not your friends when planning a trip to Alaska.

With all the things you may want to see the simple fact is that you need to focus

First, you need to research exactly what activities and places are the most important for you.

I am one that would not spend 2 nights in Girdwood, and I would definitely consider a visit to Homer.

The PWS cruise is known for seeing glaciers, On the Kenai Fjords cruise you will see much more wildlife.

Do you want or need to do both?

I have driven several times from Seward to Denali and both times it took 10 hours, which was fine for me.

You have plenty of time to consider your plans.

Once you have, get back on TA and many people will help with any questions along with making suggestions.

Dallas, Texas
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3. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

Thank you both for the replies. I especially appreciate the correction to my drive times!

I agree I need to drop Fairbanks. I have known it all along, but kept trying to make it work. :)

I hadn't considered Matanuska Glacier because it seemed out of the way but it seems worthwhile and maybe a good way to break up the trip from Seward to Denali.

I originally omitted PWS cruise thinking we did not need two cruises. But all the TA posts convinced me to put it in. I think we'd rather see the wildlife so PWS could be cut out.

I've been wanting to get to Homer! But I didn't know how to make it work in the time allotted and I was concerned that we'd feel like we ended up spending too much time in the car. But since you brought it up...I had at one time considered dropping Denali and using all of our time in the southern region of the state. That would allow us to get all the way to Homer, probably reduce our driving time and allow for a more relaxed trip overall I think. It would give us the chance to work in a fishing trip or maybe a bear viewing trip. Plus I know we are all going to hate 8 hours on a shuttle bus. But it seemed like Denali was a not to be missed experience so I kept it in the mix. Now I'm second guessing it. Is Denali really worth the time and the long day on the shuttle bus? Or do I focus on the southern penisula this time and make a second trip later for Denali/Fairbanks ? Ultimately we will have to decide what we most want out of this trip. But I'd appreciate any thoughts/advice on whether or not to skip Denali?

fti
MN
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4. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

As was said, only you can decide what is best for you. Denali was a highlight for the teens I brought with me last year.

Honestly, I love it when people complain about the shuttle bus into Denali. Many people get turned off by that and decide to not come to Denali. That helps those of us who do come to make it appear less crowded! The 8 hour shuttle bus ride goes by very quickly. I can't imagine a trip to Alaska for 11 days and not including Denali. Sure Homer is nice, but it is nothing like Denali. With your stated desire of natural beauty and wildlife, I don't think Homer can hold a candle to Denali in either of those two. But again, only you can decide.

And if you try to include both Homer and Denali, you won't do either one very well unfortunately.

Duluth, Minnesota
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5. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

To "Denali" or not to Denali...Million dollar question for sure!!

This June was our 6th trip to AK, and I just (loosely) added up the days; the previous 5 trips means we spent 66 days in AK (first trip was 19 days, etc...) BEFORE ever making it to Denali, which we finally did this June. (I know, that's tough to read FTI:)

We're fishermen, first and foremost, so that's the biggest part of the reason. Just too hard to think about being in salmon heaven and heading (gasp!) inland for 1/2 the trip! But we did it this year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We had a cloudy, damp time while we were there, but saw plenty of wildlife, and it was good to get to see more of the state for sure. I promise you, you would NOT hate spending the day (or 2) on the shuttle busses in Denali.

BUT....

Having read this thread so far, from my experience, I would suggest for your first trip....to skip Denali (sorry FTI!) It IS a not to be missed place, but so is the Kenai peninsula, and that's where my heart truly lies:)

You can EASILY spend your whole 11 days experiencing the KP, maybe adding in the Matanasku glacier as a side trip, and as you said, reduce your driving time by a bunch.

I can't believe how many people include Seward in their plans, but omit the rest of the KP.

I think the area around Cooper Landing and the Russian river is the most beautiful place I've seen so far on this earth. I do love Seward, and spend several days there each trip. And Homer is such a cool little town, and a jumping off spot for a lot of cool things, some of which are still on my "to do" list, even after spending so many days on the KP! Soldotna/Kenai area is a great area for seeing moose, and the fishing rocks:) And even little Hope is cool, as well as having some first class rafting to offer.

I agree...don't try to do both Denali and the KP, or you run the risk of not doing either justice.

No one can answer the either/or question for you, and obviously those of us with a lot of experience (and passion!) for AK have differing opinions at times. The great thing is...it's a no-lose situation:) Both are great, just different-great:)

Oh, and I'd highly suggest looking at an RV rental, if you're so inclined. We've done that a couple times, and it works out really well, and is possibly a money saver, or at least a break even. And I'd also suggest the mid June timeframe...usually better weather (not THIS June though!) and a little less crowded, especially on the KP.

Keep asking questions...great that you're getting the planning going not for sure!

Edited: 03 August 2014, 00:36
New York City, New...
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6. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

I have been coming to Alaska for over 20 years and still sometimes need to make some hard choices on where to go & what to see.

One year I did Denali, Seward and Homer in 13 days with my son & grandson. We had a lot of fun but the trip was very tiring and we missed a lot of very good stuff

Now, whenever I am making my travel plans, I try to figure out what I want to see and do at a particular place & then figure out how many days I need to do it in. I want to make sure that if I do not get back to a place, I have seen and done what I wanted.

Unless you can extend your time in Alaska I would not go to Denali on this trip.

I agree with MNman that you run the risk of not doing either justice.

There is more than enough stuff to see and do between Anchorage and the Kenai to keep you busy for 11 days.

Keep planning and asking questions

Sturgeon
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7. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

I think you could do Denali, Seward and Homer if you had 10 days. Sounds like you've dropped Fairbanks which was an excellent idea. I'd drop Whittier for more time in Seward/homer. Maybe we were lucky, but we did all but Homer in 7 days and did not feel rushed and had an amazing vacation

Duluth, Minnesota
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8. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

You could, yes. In fact, our route this past June was Seward, to Homer, than up to Denali, and back to Anchorage, in 11 days.

But...again, it was our 6th time up, and we drove by a TON of stuff we'd seen/done before. If the op was sure it was a once-in-a-lifetime trip, than I'd perhaps suggest differently, but for a first trip...I'd keep it a little more conservative, and stop everywhere that looks good. Which is pretty much everywhere:)

Of course, everyones travel pace is different, and it's all good:)

Sturgeon
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9. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

To save some time, I second the recommendation on the RV. You save time eating meals when and where you want, especially important with teenagers, if they are anything like ours were. Also, save time by not schlepping luggage in/out and unpacking. Alaska is a little more forgiving with extended check in hours, but not worrying about getting somewhere to check in and eat dinner allows you we extra time to sight see and hike. . It was our first RV experience and we loved it. Just my two cents worth

Anchorage, Alaska
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10. Re: Family w/Teens Summer 2015 Vacation

I like fti's original suggestions. I too don't think in this case Fairbanks is worth it, especially if you add in a trek on the Matanuska Glacier.

I'm all for 2 nights in Girdwood/Portage/Whittier. I think it's easily one of the best places to visit when a whole family is involved. There's easily enough in that area to keep. Even consider doing a small boat glacier cruise out of Whittier (e.g. lazyotter.com). Byron Glacier will give the family a chance to play on the snow at the foot of a glacier. Winner Creek will give some great photos of the kids pulling themselves across a gorge on a hand tram. You can pan for gold at Crow Creek Mine. Visit the AK Wildlife Conservation Ctr. and more... See: http://goo.gl/dPvuEJ for a post with more details.

Leave Anchorage sight-seeing until the end. If you end up with a full day or two there, no problem, there's tons of things to do. If you've a late night flight out, then head to the Moose's Tooth later for pizza (it'll be crowded).