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11-15-2015, 10:34 PM   #1
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Alaskan Vacation next Summer - Seeking Advice

Hey folks,

My wife and I will be celebrating our anniversary next year by going to Alaska in late June through early July. We've never made it to the biggest state before, and would love some advice from you fine folk who've lived or been there before. Of course I'll have my K-5iis (or the new FF?) and a slew of lenses, so I'll be looking for some prime landscape shots throughout the trip.

Here are some thoughts we've got so far:
- Fly in and out of anchorage and get a rental car.
- Gotta see some glaciers. A day cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park and likewise around Knik Glacier near Palmer. Are there better places?
- Denali National Park with some hiking. What are some top spots?
- Somewhere northeast of Fairbanks for a midnight sun viewing and timelapse photograph. Any recommendations? I'm thinking Cleary or Eagle Summit.
- Whale watching is on my wife's top list - I was thinking maybe use the ferry between Whittier and Valdez?
- We usually enjoy B&Bs. Any favorites out there?

My only regret is not being able to see the northern lights, perhaps in 10 years or so we could scrape up a trip to Iceland in the Spring.

Thanks in advance for any tips.

11-15-2015, 11:18 PM - 2 Likes   #2
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I've been to Alaska numerous times and love it up there. How long are you planning to go for? That will play a lot into what you can get into the trip. Also, are you looking for budget friendly options or is this an "all out bonanza" of a trip?

When we are there it's usually a "guy's trip" where we are fishing or hunting but I've done a bit of the touristy stuff too. One thing to remember, it rains in Alaska. Granted, I'm usually there later in the summer in mid to late August but weather will be a factor (and bugs).

Looking at your list, here are a few responses:

-Flying in and out of Anchorage will be the cheapest for both flights but also car rentals usually. Shop well in advance for both but you can get there fairly cheap.
-There is a glacier down by Valdez that you can literally walk up to and touch. Probably not as cool or photogenic as ones that are in the Fjords but it's worth a stop.
-Denali is a great stop but again, weather can play a factor. They say that only 30% of people ever get to see Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) out of the clouds. I've been lucky enough to see it a few times. We did a bus tour into the park this year and it was cool but long. Also, we did one of the cheaper options which was half the cost and still went the whole way in.
-I've done the drive all the way to Prudhoe Bay (twice) and it is really cool but most rental car companies forbid you from taking their cars on certain highways like the Dalton (Haul Road). However, the road is pretty decent anymore and you could easily make it up to the Arctic Circle if you wanted to. I can't comment on Cleary or Eagle Summit.
-Never done whale watching but I have done the ferry from Whittier to Valdez. It's a cool ride but again, weather can make it amazing or just "meh". I would suggest taking the fast ferry which cuts the trip time in half. I love Valdez by the way and one way or the other, I highly recommend doing the drive either to or from Valdez. It is truly spectacular.
-Sadly, the only places we have stayed are motels as we usually just camp in tents in most spots. There are plenty around though but be prepared to pay a bit as lodging (along with most other things up there) can get pricey quickly. Especially during their peak season in the summer.

I'll try to comment some more and dig up some photos as I have a ton. Here are a few:

Flying from Fairbanks to Anchorage with Denali sticking through the clouds

There is plenty of wildlife


One of my favorite spots to camp

Denali from our bus tour

Just a nice spot along the road

11-16-2015, 09:16 AM - 2 Likes   #3
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Good ideas, only things I'd add would be 1. You MUST go to Talkeetna and take a flight-seeing trip around Denali - they land on a glacier and the views of the mountain are unsurpassed. My family in 2013 were not excited about that trip beforehand but today all will tell you it was the pinnacle. 2. Get the publication "The Milepost". It's literally a mile by mile guide of every road in the state and indispensable.

Good ideas on itinerary. We did a week, started in Anchorage, drove day one to Talkeetna and stayed in a cabin, took the flight the next morning then drove up to Denali. There are three cabins just north of the park entrance at the river rafting place. We stayed there and rafted that afternoon, then went into the park the next day. Then we looped up to Fairbanks and down to Valdez and back to Whittier on the ferry. Not much whale watching opportunity there, as it's truly point A to point B. Then back to Anchorage for the night. Next morning we took the AK railroad down to Seward - recommend the Gold Star service, sightseeing cars with balconies make for great photo opps. Once in Seward we took a Glacier Bay tour and were inundated with hump backs and orcas and dolphin. Then back that same day late to Anchorage and flew out the next morning.[/IMG]

Found my itineary with some links for the cabins and B&Bs we stayed at.
airfare for 5, one (8 hrs) or non (6.5 hrs)-stop. Arrive ANC NLT 14:00
taxi from ANC to downtown Enterprise Rent A Car 906 E 5th st (907)277-1600
Rent minivan - from downtown, not airport, to avoid tax and make return easier - note weekends they are closed at noon!!
Drive Anchorage to Talkeetna (per mapquest 2 hrs 112 miles)
first pit stop. Buy cooler, groceries for trip in Wasilla, say hi to sarah palin
dinner in Talkeetna
3 bedroom Eye of Denali Inn - lodging option 1 at
flightseeing for 4 Talkeetna Air Taxi (McKinley base Camp tour) or K2 air tours (Mckinley Flyer) with a glacier landing like a boss
drive 120 miles to Denali from Talkeetna
Scenic rafting for 5, no waves, no rapids - 18:30 for 2 hrs
dinner - on the grill
Cabin on theNenana River - Wow!
full day in Denali on a bus (or as much of it as you want to spend - bail out available for wusses)
dinner on the grill
Cabin on theNenana River - once again - Wow!
Drive from Denali to Tok via Fairbanks then down the Richardson Hwy, best road trip ever!- (per mapquest 6 hrs, 310 miles)
Cleft of the Rock B&B, the Trapper's Cabin, located obviously on Sundog Trail, Tok, Alaska 99780
Drive from Tok down the Richardson Hwy to Valdez, best road trip ever!- (per mapquest 5 hrs, 250 miles)
shooting for the Brookside B&B, suiter with one queen, 2 twins, 1 hideabed
Ferry Valdez to Whittier - MV Aurora 07:00 - 12:45
Drive Whittier to ANC - 13:00 - 14:30 (60 miles)
Rental car turn in
Fairfield Inn and Suites , Anchorage
Gold Star rail to Seward (06:00 to 11:00) and Day Tour, with round trip train fare
Kenai Fjords Nat Park cruise (11:30 - 17:30) - can you say Orca? (on the rocks)
Gold Star rail return to Anchorage (18:00 to 20:15)
late dinner
Fairfield Inn and Suites , Anchorage
Fly home boo hoo hoo

Last edited by missile; 11-16-2015 at 09:39 AM. Reason: addition
11-16-2015, 11:17 PM - 1 Like   #4
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We took an Alaska cruise (Princess out of Seattle, early June) for our 30th anniversary. I took K-30 and the 18-135 WR. We did a whale watching tour excursion out of Juneau, saw lots of orca and a few humpback. Did the White Pass railroad, a day in Glacier Bay, and a flightseeing tour of Misty Fiord Natl Monument. The weather gods smiled on us, as we only got a little rain during the whale watching. The Misty Fiords tour, nnot a cloud in the sky! ������������


11-17-2015, 01:44 PM - 1 Like   #5
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This was my 2 weeks trip in Alaska this year. 2 weeks is a rush to cover so much ground but it's primarily for me to hit the key spots and figure out where I want to spend more time in the future trips.

We also did rental car and basically made a lap. There's beautiful scenery every where along the road. Many pictures I took and love are places people don't even mention along the roads. I think my favorite spots are the southern part of Alaska - Kenai Fjords National Park, Eagle Beach, Homer, Valdez, etc. You should be able to see Whales by taking one of the Kenai Fjords cruises/tours. I think we saw 3 humpbacks that day. Denali was good but the weather wasn't cooperating with us. Fairbank/North Pole was worth stopping by just to say I've been there. We did get lucky that they let us in to play with the reindeer at Santa's House, which isn't normally open to the public. Our Valdez->Whitter ferry was canceled so I can't comment on the ride.

My favorite place to stay on the list is Timber Bay B&B near Homer and Denali Fireside Cabins & Suites near Talkeetna. Princess lodges we stayed along the way are pretty nice. The places in the big cities are just cheapest I could find.

One tip: Don't do want I did - lock my car key in the trunk early in the morning when I was in a rush to go out to take some photos. The closest smith we could find was 3 hours away.

Last edited by ruggiex; 11-17-2015 at 01:52 PM.
01-05-2016, 10:38 PM   #6
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Oh you wonderful people. First of all, so sorry for being "that guy" that asks for advice and never bothers to respond to the feedback. That was not cool, and I apologize for it.

After posting this, life turned quite chaotic as I ended up making a decision to switch career paths at work. My time and vacation planning abilities crumbled to the stress, and I kept not responding to your posts because I didn't feel I had time to give them their due. In hindsight I realize I should have posted a thank you earlier and responded more in detail later.

Thankfully with the new year things are calming down, vacation planning is back in swing. We purchased plane tickets and reserved a rental car this last weekend; so we're committed!

Based on your feedback, we've narrowed the trip down to just the Homer/Seward/Valdez area, and then a drive back through Glenn highway with a flightseeing trip and tour of Denali.

FYI, they canned the fast ferries from Prince William Sound! This coming summer there will only be the slow ferry, and it will only operate trips like Whittier to Valdez once a week, subject to delays. Not a great thing to plan around.

Anyway, when I get on my computer this weekend (on phone now) I'll post more details on what we're thinking. Your tips and trip plans and lessons learned have been extremely helpful - I can't thank you guys enough!

In other news, I just ordered a DA* 60-250 to take on the trip. It's on Alaska!
01-05-2016, 10:41 PM   #7
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PM me once you're on your computer with a phone number if you want and I'm more than happy to chat about the amazing possibilities.

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