Alaska (Anchorage, Denali & Fairbanks)
Updated: Aug 4, 2022
It took us almost 5 hours and 4 stops to fly from Ketchikan to Anchorage, Alaska. But once we arrived, our first stop after checking into our room was the Anchorage Brewing Company. It was a beautiful afternoon so we were able to sit outside and enjoy our beers.
We had one full day in the Anchorage area so the next morning we drove out to hike to Byron glacier, only a little over an hour away. The drive was beautiful along the coastline with the the railroad parallel to the highway. We were able to see 2 black bears and some Dall sheep high up on the mountain on our drive.
Once we arrived to the hiking trail I was disappointed to discover that the snow had not yet melted. We parked along the roadway since the parking lot was still snowed over. I signed in, in case we got lost or "disappeared", the rescue team would know our last location. And, we headed off to find Byron glacier. We got as close as we could following the footsteps and snow shoe steps of previous hikers until we got as close as we could and discovered that there had been a recent avalanche that covered most of the blue ice of the glacier.
After our hike we drove to the town of Whittier. Only about 8 miles or so away. But to get there we had to drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest highway tunnel in North America at 2.5 miles. The tunnel also shares its lane with the railroad and cost us $13 roundtrip.
Whittier is a very small beautiful port town with less then 220 residents. I was able to find a quaint souvenir store named Log Cabin Gifts with all handmade items where I made a purchase. Dave and I then had some seafood chowder from the Swiftwater Cafe. It might actually have been the best chowder during our entire trip. We then headed back to Anchorage but not before stopping midway at the Girdwood Brewing Co.
The next day we had reservations with K2 Aviation for a glacier landing flightseeing tour from Talkeetna, approximately two hours away from Anchorage. We were on the 11am tour along with 5 other people and the pilot. Dave got to ride in the front as the co-pilot for the first half. The tour lasted a little over 2 hours. The plane's built-in skis allowed us to land on Ruth Glacier inside Denali National Park. We were able to spend about twenty minutes outside of the plane on the glacier. The tour company gave us "glacier boots" and sunglasses to anyone who didn't have a pair since it was so bright from the sun and snow.
The weather was perfect and the flight was about as smooth as could be. After returning to the airport we drove into the town. I had read that the town of Talkeetna was run by a "cat" mayor who was voted into office when the previous mayor, also a cat, passed away. Luckily, I was able to find Mayor Denali right in front of Nagley's General Store. After a short photo op we ate at the Denali Brew Pub and did some quick souvenir shopping.
There were some cute stores and many activities to do in Talkeetna however, we still had about 2 more hours to drive until we got to our next vacation rental in the town of Healy, just outside of the Denali National Park entrance.
On the drive up we stopped at the Denali South viewing observation area where we were able to see an unobstructed view of Mount Denali, formally Mt. McKinley. Its pictured below along with the other nearby mountains and the legend naming them all.
We were told that you can get a clear view of Mt. Denali, North America's tallest peak at 20,310 feet, only 30 percent of the year. But I'm not so sure how true that is because during the 3 days that we were within viewing distance of it we were able to clearly see the mountain 100 percent of the time.
Our cabin in Healy was only a 10 minute drive to the entrance to Denali National Park. So once checking in and dropping off our belongings we drove to the park. The park officially opened for the season on May 20th which gave us a day and a half to ourselves. Although the park encompasses over 6 million acres we were only able to drive up until mile 30 on our own. It took us about 2 hours each way to drive through the park, stopping for wildlife and photo ops.
We concluded our day at the 49th State Brewery with some of their delicious seafood chowder (salmon, halibut and clam), I had a Yak quesadilla and spruce tip beer. We sat next to a couple from Savannah, Ga along a high top bar that surrounded a fireplace. Once looking at their fried cheesecake dessert we had to order one of our own. We ended up running into this same couple 2 more times during our stay in Denali.
We woke up early and spent the next day inside Denali Park. Alaska is truly the "land of the midnight sun". While we were there the sun never really set making it easier to drive at night and spot all of the animals. That day we were able to go to the visitor's center at the entrance of the park. We took our time driving through the park stopping frequently to take more pictures. We saw moose, a porcupine, bears and the willow ptarmigan (Alaska's state bird).
On the second full day in Denali, the park officially opened up for tourism season which meant that we could now only drive up to mile 15 unless you took a tour. So we took the Tundra Wilderness Tour. It cost us $128 per person and lasted about 6 hours long. By taking this tour we were able to go up until mile 43 within the park. It was on this tour that we saw 2 grizzly bears! Our tour guide was very knowledgeable and the they provided water and a snack box.
After the tour we went to The Overlook for dinner and some drinks. It was a great location. We sat outside and watched the Alaska Railroad go by along the mountain side.
On our final day in Denali we once again entered the park, but this time only to mile 15. At 1pm we walked about a mile up the park road from the visitor's center and attended a dog sled demonstration by the park rangers. During the day we would see volunteers running (or walking) the sled dogs up and down the road keeping them in shape during the summer season.
The next morning we woke up, had breakfast at Roses Cafe in Healy, and then headed to Fairbanks for the final leg of our trip. We arrived too early to check into the yurt that we rented for the next 3 days so we visited the Museum of the North in the meantime. It was a great stop and I remember it from when I lived up there during my junior year of high school. We sat in on a northern lights informational movie before touring the exhibits. That evening we visited the host family that I stayed with in high school who made a delicious salmon barbecue for us.
Day two in Fairbanks we drove to North Pole, AK stopping at the Alaskan Pipeline on the way. North Pole is only about a twenty minute drive from Fairbanks. While there, we went to the Santa Claus House and also stopped by the North Pole Police Department to exchange patches. We had lunch at the East Ramp Wood Fired Pizza . It was a hidden spot on the second floor of a small building that overlooked the Fairbanks airport. Each table had two sets of binoculars to look out the window at the planes taking off and landing. For dinner we grilled reindeer sausage and steaks with Alaskan seasoning outside on the porch of our yurt.
Our last full day took us to the Large Animal Research Station (LARS) We attended a student led tour at noon which cost us $11 a piece. Reindeer, Bison and Muskoxen live at there. There were two baby muskoxen less then 2 months old to see. Our guide was very passionate about the work they do there. We were able to pick up some antlers and hooves and feel the fur from the various animals.
After visiting LARS we had some award winning ice-cream from Hot Licks. The wait was long, which was all part of the experience. Fairbanks is home to some great breweries and distilleries. The ones we were able to visit were:
Hoarfrost Distillery (great bloody marys)
We had dinner at the Pump House, a historic restaurant with a "gold rush" theme situated along the Chena River. This is where we had our final tasty seafood chowder of our trip.
We had a 6pm flight the next day. So, after making breakfast we went to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum. We spent over two hours in here, and I could have stayed longer. This was definitely the best display of antique cars that I have ever seen. The theme of the museum was Treads and Threads. Each car had an accompanying vintage mannequin dressed in time period appropriate attire.
Finally, before catching our flight we stopped at the North Star Ballet. This was the reason for me spending my junior year of high school in Fairbanks. I was invited to dance with the North Star Ballet Co. The location has changed but two of the instructors are still with the company from when I was there.
We spent two great weeks in Alaska, traveling from Ketchikan to Fairbanks. We took over 11,000 pictures and made a lot of memories. These were just some of the highlights.
Until the next trip!