Friday, 15 February 2019

Top 10 Things To Do in Alaska




     As promised, here is our top 10 list for Alaska on our road trip through the state this past summer. As noted in my previous Top 10: Yukon/northern BC post, I love doing some research before a trip to find some less touristy spots to check out along with our more touristy list. Now that we have Eli I'm also always looking for family-friendly options. Not a whole lot out there on the web laying out some 'off the beaten path' type places in Alaska to go check that are also good to bring kids. Also, finding a variety of options that don't all cost a lot is super helpful. So here's our little list of faves in Alaska.

#1 Drive out/take the White Pass to Skagway, AK 


     This is easily number one. Of the different legs to our drive, the drive from the Yukon highway into Skagway is definitely in my top 3 for beautifully scenic routes. Basically you can stop literally every 5 minutes (especially the closer you get to Skagway) and take uniquely gorgeous landscape pic to stock your Instagram feed for months. We chose to do this drive on a whim, seeing that it was only an hour and half to Skagway from the Yukon highway. And since we had the time (5 weeks), it was easy for us to add another day to our trip. We had also seen Skagway before on an Alaskan cruise several years ago, and wanted to see the land entry into this port. 

    Another option ($$) is to get on the White Pass/Yukon Route train to see this stretch of scenic mountainous terrain. Most of the trains depart from Skagway and do round trips stopping in places like Carcross, YT and Bennet. And although there is definitely a cost to this train (in US dollars) I would absolutely prioritize it if we ever get back to Skagway. The trip is well worth the cost.

#2 Visit Talkeetna, AK

     Between Anchorage and Denali National Park, and just a short distance off the highway is this super cute, underrated little town called Talkeetna. If you're looking for good food, great atmosphere, and cute little shops to pop into and out of for an afternoon, you should absolutely duck into Talkeetna. The Flying Squirrel Bakery Cafe is also the best in the area, boasting some of the most beautiful breads I've ever seen. Talkeetna is also a major hub for charters to get into the Alaska backcountry and deeper wilderness. It's super close to Denali so if you were looking for a flightseeing charter of Denali National Park, this is where you'd find it.


#3 Hike in Denali National Park


     We didn't end up heading directly into Denali National Park due to there being one road that was accessible by a shuttle bus that would take you into the park for a fee. We figured that if we wanted to venture into the park we would need a couple days and thus all of our camping gear, which was strapped to the back of our truck and in our camper. There are some RV campgrounds in Denali that you can access with a park permit, but we weren't planning on spending as much time in Denali as we probably should've. We camped just a little ways up the road at Byers Lake Campground, another state run campground that cost a little less and lead to some equally stunning hiking. We spent a full day hiking around, coming across a very old sunken cabin in the woods, this beautiful bridge over this creek, and a gorgeous waterfall that you could hike up to aways at the end of the trail. This trail travelled out of Byers Lake Campground and was very accessible.

#4 Charter a fishing boat in Valdez, AK

Disclaimer: this is a picture of a commerical fishing boat in Valdez. The chartered boats are a) more comfortable and b) not usually this big. 

     Valdez, AK is stunning. It is a small port in the southern part of mainland Alaska. It is well known for its salmon runs and stunning scenery. If getting out on the ocean is on your list of things to experience then chartering a boat out of Valdez into Prince William Sound is one of your best bets for incredible wildlife sightseeing and catching some serious seafood. The dock is even set up for gutting, cleaning, and packing your fish before leaving so you don't have to find your own place to do it. Check out Travel Alaska to find the right charter for you. Note that this option definitely has a cost attached.

#5 Take a Ferry from Valdez to Whittier, AK



     While in Valdez, hop on a ferry (vehicles permitted) that leaves early morning and takes you on a 6 hour tour through Prince William Sound to Whittier, AK. If this is a little out of your price point, there are also several cruise options from both Valdez and Whittier into Prince William Sound for wildlife and glacier viewing. We prioritized and booked this ferry a month or two in advance as it does fill up fairly quickly, and it was a serious highlight to our trip. Prince William Sound provides absolutely stunning scenery of mountains, waterfalls, and glaciers. In the right season you can also see whales and other ocean wildlife. We weren't so lucky. The ferry has both indoor and outdoor options for seating and viewing, as well as a cafeteria.

#6 Drive through the tunnel in Whittier



     The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is a must if you're driving through Alaska at all. It is the longest highway tunnel (2.5 miles) in North America, single lane, includes a freight line, and is shared by both cars and train going in both directions. What does that translate to? Waiting in line for 20-30 minutes before potentially entering the tunnel. It is also the only way in and out of Whittier making this port an incredibly unique little stop in Alaska. This tunnel passes through the glacial mountains that separate Whittier from the rest of mainland Alaska.

#7 Explore Anchorage


     Anchorage is the main business hub for Alaska and boasts an incredible array of hiking and other recreational opportunities. Top things to check out include Snow City Cafe (amazing brunch/lunch menu, but get there early. It's popular with tourists and locals alike), and the Alaska Aviation Museum. Both super affordable and can be done together in a day. We also checked out a really good butcher shop for sausage called Alaska Sausage and Seafood (a fairly typical meat shop, but the best sausage I've ever had).


#8 Drive the Top of the World Highway into Dawson City, YT

   
      I think I've been finding any reason imaginable to talk about the Top of the World Highway. It's pretty out of the way, but I will never have to guess what heaven looks like anymore. Gravel road that follows the very tops of these alpine meadows through northern driveable Alaska and the Yukon. Endless opportunities to stop and take pictures and breath in the glorious smell of the high alpine conifers. I feel like this is the kind of place people write poems about.

#9 Visit North Pole, AK


    This may only interest the Christmas enthusiast, but just east of Fairbanks is the little town of North Pole, Alaska. The town has really embraced the Christmas theme, naming most of their businesses and streets in a trendy Christmas way. They also boast the biggest Christmas store I've ever seen in my life, complete with a full-time santa who essentially does a full photo shoot with you and your family for free. Also, no ugly mall line ups for pictures with santa and you walk away with the most unique and cutest Christmas decor you heart could imagine. I definitely grabbed a job application on the way out. 'Hello, can I work here?!'


#10 Check out Wrangell-St. Elias National Park


    I've included Wrangell-St. Elias National Park because my heart was just so set on getting into this pretty inaccessible national park. This park is a behemoth, being the same size as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined!!! There are basically two ways in through Nebesna and Chitna. We drove into the little town of Chitna and were going to venture down the forest service road (McCarthy Road) to the smaller and historical mining towns of McCarthy and Kennecott where there is an old restored mine. There are also accommodations available in both McCarthy and Kennecott however the road access is very poor. Many locals told us to bring up to a full set of spare tires before heading down this Forest Service Road. If it was just the two of us we would've gone for it, but stranded with a baby wasn't on my list of activities for Alaska. We passed on the option and decided we would try again if ever we came back. So this photo of us has the Wrangell-St. Elias mountains in the background barely visible due to the clouds rolling in. But PLEASE check it out and tell me how amazing it is!!

- Katie




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