This self driving tour is all about adventure, wildlife, nature and magnificent scenery in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon Territory: Your self-drive tour starts in Anchorage and includes Denali National Park with towering 20.130 ft. Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) - the tallest mountain peak in North America, a cruise through Prince William Sound and the gold rush town of Dawson City. Take a ride on the wild-side with the historic White Pass & Yukon Railroad steam train along the famous Chilkoot & White Pass trail from Skagway. Join a wildlife and whale watching cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park, visit Glacier Bay and experience many other highlights in the Land of the Midnight Sun. Contact us to extend the tour or customize the itinerary.
Upon arrival in Anchorage transfer to your hotel. Pick up your rental car and get ready for a Alaska vacation of a lifetime. Anchorage features dozens of parks and 122 miles of paved bike paths. Warmed by a maritime climate, you can spend the day with salmon fishing on downtown's Ship Creek, hiking the nearby mountains, photographing glaciers and dining at a four-star restaurant. Within a 15-minute drive from downtown on the Hillside is the tree-lined trailhead of Anchorage’s most popular hike, Flattop Mountain. A short floatplane ride opens up the possibility of almost any type adventure. That’s one reason why Anchorage’s Lake Hood is the world’s busiest floatplane base. Try some fresh Alaska seafood (Salmon, Halibut and Dungeness Crab) for dinner in one of the many excellent restaurants around the hotel. Afterwards enjoy a stroll along the coastal trail with sweeping views of Mt. Denali and Mt. Susitna aka: the "Sleeping Lady". Overnight: Anchorage
Anchorage - Talkeetna
Enjoy sweeping views of snowcapped mountain peaks while traveling from Anchorage via Wasilla (Iditarod Museum) to Talkeetna - the base for most climbing expeditions. This afternoon you may enjoy a flightseeing tour to Mt. Denali (optional). This magnificent flight takes you within six miles of Mt. Denali's summit. As your flight departs, you begin to see how the last ice age has shaped the land. Moments later, you enter a world of rugged high mountain peaks and wide glacier filled valleys. See the Sheldon Amphitheater, beautiful Ruth Glacier, and the Great Gorge. Distance: 120 Miles | Overnight: Talkeetna
Talkeetna - Denali National Park
Continue your journey along the Alaska Range through Denali State Park with countless wildlife viewing opportunities. Stopover at Byers Lake and rent a canoe or kayak. Arrive at Denali National Park and check in your hotel. Denali, the “Great One”, is the name Athabascan people gave the massive peak that crowns the 600-mile long Alaska Range. Denali National Park and Preserve was created 1980 from the former Mt Mc.Kinley National Park. At over 6 million acres, the park is larger than the State of Massachusetts. It exemplifies interior Alaska’s character as one of the world’s last great frontiers for wilderness adventure and it remains largely wild and unspoiled, as the Athabascan knew it. Distance: 110 Miles | Overnight: Denali National Park
Denali National Park
Early departure (pre-reserved time) for a full day national park and wildlife observation tour within the shadows of 20.320 foot Mt. McKinley to the Eielson Visitor Center or scenic Wonder Lake with a immense view of “ the Mountain”. Watch out for grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolf and fox moving along the ridges and river beds or observe one of the 150 different bird species which inherit the park area. From the park road you enjoy great hiking opportunities. Return to the Denali Park entrance anytime during the day. Overnight: Denali National Park
Denali National Park - Fairbanks
Short drive via Nenana (Alaska Ice Classics) to Fairbanks. Fairbanks, known as the Golden Heart City of Alaska, is the gateway to the interior and features almost 24 hours of daylight during the summer months. You are invited to explore the local gold rush history, its vibrant traditional native cultures as well as its abundant wildlife and fantastic scenery. Tucked into miles of unexplored wilderness only 120 miles from the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks offers excellent year-round outdoor recreational opportunities. This afternoon you may visit the renown Alaska University Museum featuring Alaska's natural history best collection, Alaskaland or take an authentic sternwheeler on a scenic 20-mile roundtrip cruise down the Chena and Tanana Rivers. Enjoy lively narration, stop at a reconstructed Athabascan Indian Village to learn about native hunting & fishing techniques and watch a dogsled demonstration. Distance: 110 Miles | Overnight: Fairbanks
In 1902, Felix Pedro found gold in the region and thousands of prospectors swarmed to the area in search of the “Mother lode.” Nearly a century later, Fairbanks is the trade and transportation center for Interior and Far North Alaska. From mid-May through July, visitors can enjoy more than 20 hours of sunlight a day. Today you have the unique chance to cross the Arctic Circle and to visit the vast interior. Join us on a guided van tour along the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. En-route enjoy stunning views of the interior and the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline, put your hand in the Yukon River, travel through the wetlands and crest the high plateau of Finger Mountain looking out for wildlife. You can also join a bush mail plane flight and experience how the Gwich'in Athabascan Natives live in "Bush" Alaska. Another option is to drive along Chena Hot Springs road, go on a hiking trip and visit Chena Hot Springs Resort. Here you can relax in the large natural outdoor rock lake and visit the Aurora Ice Museum.
Fairbanks - Dawson City
Heading south, the Richardson Highway passes through stands of white birch and black spruce, often photogenic close to the Tanana River. Soake up the raw beauty of the drive into the central Alaska Range, often paralleled by the Alaska pipeline. Continue your journey on the Top of the World Highway with endless views into spectacular alpine valleys. If you travel after the first hard frost - usually in mid August, the hills turn colors so brilliant that it seems almost unreal. You cross the mighty Yukon River and arrive in Dawson City. The legendary capital of the 1898 Gold rush is a living relic. After 100 years, miners are still digging for gold. Distance: 380 Miles | Overnight in Dawson City. Please Note: We can add an overnight in Tok if you wish to drive the distance in two days.
Visit the historical buildings, Jack London and Robert Service cabins, abandoned commercial buildings and old stores that were the pulse of the gold rush capital in its hey-days. And as you drive through the heart of Dawson City, your imagination will run to the likes of Klondike Kate, Arizona Charlie Meadows and Diamond Tooth Gertie strolling down Dawson's boardwalks. Their spirit is as alive today as it was in 1898. From the one-time capital of the Yukon you'll follow history up Bonanza Creek (pan for gold) to Discovery Claim and Grand Forks once boasted a population of 10,000 where the Eldorado Creek and Upper Bonanza come together to form the "mighty" Bonanza Creek. Overnight: Dawson City
Dawson City - Whitehorse
Heading south, the Klondike Highway passes through stands of white birch and black spruce, often close to the Yukon River. Soak up the raw beauty of the surrounding landscape, often paralleled by the Yukon River. Stopover at the Five Finger Rapids and hike down to the shore of the Yukon River. Late afternoon you will reach Yukon's capital city, Whitehorse - a city with a unique combination of pioneer values and urban sophistication. Take a side trip to scenic Miles Canyon. Distance: 340 Miles | Overnight: Whitehorse
Whitehorse - Skagway
Short drive via the South Klondike Highway to Skagway. In the rush years of 1897 and 1898, Skagway and its ghost-town twin city of Dyea were the logical places to get off the boat to head off on the trek to the gold fields near the new city of Dawson City, Yukon Territory. Skagway instantly grew from a single homestead to a population of between 15,000 and 25,000. This was a wide-open boomtown, a true Wild West outpost that in its biggest years was completely without law other than the survival of the meanest. Then, almost as quickly as it started, the rush ended and the town deflated. Distance: 110 Miles | Overnight: Skagway
Today you have the chance to board the historic narrow-gauge White Pass & Yukon Railway and ride along the White Pass Trail to the White Pass Summit. The entire distance between the gold-rush community of Skagway to the summit was completed in only two years in 1900's. The steamer pulls the train a couple of miles, then diesels take the cars - some of them originals more than 100 years old - up steep tracks that were chipped out of the side of the mountains. In the afternoon walk around the historic townsite and check out the old buildings. You may even visit the grave of "Soapy Smith" and walk part of the famous Chilkoot Trail. You can also visit Juneau on a day trip or visit famous Glacier Bay National Park and join the glacier cruise. Overnight: Skagway
Skagway - Haines
Spend this morning in Skagway and explore the old town buildings. Take the afternoon Alaska Ferry to Haines. It is a spectacularly scenic and relaxing ferry ride along the Lynn Canal, a fjord that is as beautiful and pristine as any in the world. Fjord walls steeply rise from sea level to 7,000 feet. Arrive in Haines, located in the Valley of the Eagles. Almost 4,000 American bald eagles gather along a 5 mile stretch of the Chilkat River near Haines and Klukwan each fall. Attracted by a late run of salmon, eagles come from all over Alaska, British Columbia and as far away as the state of Washington. Starting in October, hundreds and hundreds of eagles can be seen along sand bars or in nearby cottonwood trees. Distance: 5 Miles + Ferry Trip | Overnight: Haines
Haines - Haines Junction | Kluane National Park
The Haines Highway winds from Haines over the Chilkat Pass - the highest summit on this highway. You pass Klukshu, a native summer fishing camp offering great photo opportunities. Drive through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve before arriving at Kluane National Park. The Kluane area covers the largest non-polar icefields in the world. Visit the sheep mountain visitor center with its interpretive programs about the flora and fauna. Viewing telescopes are available where you can spot dall sheep on the mountain slopes. Overnight: Haines Junction
Haines Junction - Tok
This morning go on a short hiking trip before driving north along the shores of beautiful Kluane Lake. Stopover at Sheep Mountain and look out for dall sheep gracing alongside the mountain slopes. Your journey continues on the famous Alaska Highway through endless wilderness areas. Arrive in Tok, often referred to as the "Dog Mushing Capital of Alaska". The community originated as an Alaska Road Commission camp for the construction of the Alaska - and Glenn Highways in the 1940s. Distance: 290 Miles | Overnight: Tok
Tok - Valdez
Your journey continues on the Glen Highway, offering an impressive view of the Wrangell Mountains - Mt. Deborah, Mt. Sanford and Mt. Drum. Once you have reached the Richardson Highway stopover at the historic roadhouse in Copper Center and watch native fish wheels at the nearby Copper River, providing an excellent salmon run. Shortly afterwards the Worthington Glacier peeks into view where a boardwalk leads to the toe of the glacier. Valdez - often called “ the Switzerland of Alaska” is a gateway for salmon fishing trips and narrated cruise tours to the magnificent Columbia Glacier. Visit the terminus of the Alaska Pipeline Terminal or enjoy some kayaking or short hiking trips. Distance: 250 Miles | Overnight: Valdez
Valdez - Prince William Sound | Ferry Trip - Seward
Scenic cruise through Prince William Sound onboard the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry. Watch out for whales, bald eagles, seals, sea lions and other marine wildlife. In the distance you'll see Columbia Glacier - one of the largest tidewater glaciers in Alaska. Arrive in Whittier and drive to Portage Glacier. After a stop at the visitor center continue to Seward, a small fishing community at the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. This afternoon you have time to visit Exit Glacier. A short trail leads to the toe of the glacier where you can climb on the surface of the glacier itself. Distance: 80 Miles + Ferry Trip | Overnight: Seward
Seward | Kenai Fjords National Park
In the morning take a Kenai Fjords cruise tour boat for an exciting glacier and wildlife cruise into magnificent Aialik Bay with its calving glaciers and stunning scenery. Covering 110-miles, the trip is narrated by a National Park Ranger, who is highly adept at spotting wildlife and pointing out the many spectacular sights. Wildlife is abundant throughout Kenai Fjords National Park, and the tidewater glaciers are massive. You'll visit the mighty Aialik Glacier where guests witness calving - a process by which glaciers shed giant blocks and slabs of ancient ice. The cruise also offers the good chance to spot whales in Alaska. Overnight: Seward
Seward - Anchorage
You may spend some time at the Alaska SeaLife Center – the world’s first cold water marine search institute with wildlife rehabilitation and public education facilities, try your luck halibut or salmon fishing or attend a kayaking tour from Lowell Point - the choice is yours. On your drive back to Anchorage, stopover at Alaska's Wildlife Conservation Center, providing refuge for orphaned, injured, and ill animals-those that can't survive in the wild. Continue to Alyeska and take the Alyeska Tramway to get a bird's eye view of the surrounding glaciers and the Turnagain Arm. Drive along the Seward Highway to Anchorage and check in your downtown hotel. Distance: 130 Miles | Overnight: Anchorage
The remaining day in Anchorage is at leisure. Explore Alaska's largest city by yourself and visit the many points of interests. Take a walk on the Coastal Trail along Cook Inlet to Earthquake Park with a magnificent view of the Alaska Mountain Range in the distance. Don't miss a delicious lunch at one of Anchorage's top seafood restaurants. Your vacation ends with the return of your rental car.
Anchorage: Is by far Alaska's largest and most sophisticated city, Anchorage is situated in a truly spectacular location. The permanently snow-covered peaks and volcanoes of the Alaska Range lie to the west of the city, part of the craggy Chugach Range is actually within the eastern edge of the municipality, and the Talkeetna and Kenai ranges are visible to the north and south. On clear days Mt. McKinley looms on the northern horizon, and two arms of Cook Inlet embrace the town's western and southern borders. The Native Heritage Center: There are more than 200 Native tribal entities in Alaska. At the Heritage Center, experience the lifestyles and traditions of these Native cultures through art and artifact displays and activities like blanket tossing, parka sewing, and drumming. Portage Glacier: This glacier has been receding rapidly, but you can ride the tour boat Ptarmigan across the lake to view its face. Keep an eye out for office building-size chunks of ice falling into the water. Flattop Mountain: Drive to the Glen Alps parking lot in Chugach State Park and take the short walk west to a scenic overlook on a clear day the view sweeps from Denali south along the Alaska Range past several active volcanoes on the other side of Cook Inlet. Or follow the hikers to the top of the mountain for even more stunning scenery. Native Crafts: Alaska's rich Native culture is reflected in its abundance of craft traditions, from totem poles to intricate baskets and detailed carvings. Many of the native crafts you'll see across the state are results of generations of traditions passed down among tribes; the craft process is usually labor-intensive, using local resources such as rye grasses or fragrant cedar trees. Each of Alaska's native groups is noted for particular skills. Inuit art includes ivory carvings, spirit masks, dance fans, baleen baskets, and jewelry. Also be on the lookout for mukluks (seal- or reindeer-skin boots). The Tlingit peoples of Southeast Alaska are known for their totem poles, as well as for baskets and hats woven from spruce root and cedar bark. Tsimshian Indians also work with spruce root and cedar bark, and Haida Indians are noted basket makers and carvers. Athabascans specialize in birch-bark creations, decorated fur garments, and beadwork. The Aleut, a maritime people dwelling in the southwest reaches of the state, make grass basketry that is considered among the best in the world.
Denali National Park: is one of the most popular and most visited destinations for a reason: the most accessible of Alaska's national parks and one of only three connected to the state of Alaska highway system. This is a spectacular and scenic 6-million-acre wilderness region offering views of mountains so big they seem like a wall on the horizon, endless wildlife from cinnamon-colored Toklat grizzlies to herds of caribou, to moose with antlers the size of coffee tables and glaciers with forests growing on them. All can be experienced by saddle safari, bus trip, or flightseeing tour. Hike, bike, stroll, or raft through it. Camp out, or bundle up in a cabin. The first 15 mi of the park road are paved, but after that there's just gravel. Visitors must ride on a bus or get off and see Denali on foot. No matter how you get there or which adventure you choose, Denali is truly a wonderful experience. When planning your trip consider whether you want to strike out on your own as a backcountry traveler, or to stay at a lodge nearby and enjoy Denali on day hikes and by shuttle bus. Either option requires some individual advance planning or simply contact us and book one of our package tours with hotel or backcountry lodge overnights, railroad transportation from Anchorage and sightseeing tours.
Talkeetna: For the ultimate mountain sightseeing adventure, take a flight from Talkeetna and land on a glacier—if you're early enough in the summer, you can fly onto the Kahiltna Glacier, where teams attempting to summit the mountain gather. Mount McKinley: There are a dozen places between Anchorage and Fairbanks that boast the best viewing of Mt. McKinley. At 20,320 feet, McKinley is the highest peak in North America, and just about any place within 100 mi can be deemed a good viewing area. The crown jewel of Alaska is often shrouded in clouds, but even a glimpse will reveal the sheer size of the snow-covered giantess.
If you don't arrive in Alaska by cruise ship, make a point of taking a ferry trip along the longest, deepest fjord in North America. Depending on which ferry you take, the trip from Juneau to Skagway can be two or six hours long. We recommend taking your time. In the summer the tall peaks surrounding the boats release hundreds of waterfalls from snow and glacial melt. If you're lucky, you'll see pods of orcas, humpbacks, and dolphins. Mt. Roberts, Juneau: The tram takes you up the mountain and, if the weather cooperates, offers great views of the area. It's another cruise-ship favorite, but at least you can have a quick beer as you soak in the scenery. Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau: This drive-up glacier comes complete with visitor center, educational exhibits, nature trails, and, when the cruise ships are in town, lots of bused-in tourists. Don't let the crush of visitors dissuade you from stopping by, though—it's a great resource for learning about glacier dynamics and the natural forces that have shaped Alaska. Glacier Bay National Park | Gustavus: Whether you view this natural wonder by air, boat, or on foot, Glacier Bay is well worth the effort and expense it takes to get there. Gustavus is the gateway to Glacier Bay, the place that the father of the national parks system, John Muir, called "unspeakably pure and sublime" in 1879. It is considered by many to be 70 mi of the finest sea kayaking in the world. The first 24 square mi comprise the Beardslee Islands, a complex system for kayakers who glide atop flat water between tides, enveloped in silence except for the sound of water slapping paddles, the soft spray from a nearby porpoise, and the howl of a wolf in the distance. And you'll likely be enjoying these sights with no other travelers nearby. Still, kayaking in this region presents challenges. There is a lively population of moose and bears on the islands, so it is imperative to choose wisely when setting up camp. Most visitors kayak only to the top of the Beardslees, which can take three to five days round-trip. Alaska Marine Highway System: The ferry provides access twice a week to Gustavus.
Kenai Fjords National Park: Photogenic Seward is the gateway to the 670,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park. This is spectacular coastal parkland incised with sheer, dark, slate cliffs rising from the sea, ribboned with white waterfalls, and tufted with deep-green spruce. Kenai Fjords presents a rare opportunity for an up-close view of blue tidewater glaciers as well as some remarkable ocean wildlife. Seward, Exit Glacier: You can take a short, easy walk to view this glacier, or if you're in the mood for a challenge, hike the steep trail onto the enormous Harding Icefield. Scan the nearby cliffs for mountain goats and watch for bears. Seward Sea-Life Center: Spend an afternoon at the Alaska SeaLife Center, with massive cold-water tanks and outdoor viewing decks as well as interactive displays of cold-water fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, including harbor seals and a 2,000-pound sea lion. A research center as well as visitor center, it also rehabilitates injured marine wildlife and provides educational experiences for the general public. Appropriately, the center was partially funded with reparations money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Films, hands-on activities, a gift shop, and behind-the-scenes tours ($12 and up) complete the offerings. Homer: at the southern end of the Sterling Highway lies the city of Homer, at the base of a narrow spit that juts 4 mi into beautiful Kachemak Bay. Glaciers and snowcapped mountains form a dramatic backdrop across the water. Protruding into Kachemak Bay, Homer Spit provides a sandy focal point for visitors and locals. A paved path stretches most of the 4 mi and is great for biking or walking. A commercial-fishing-boat harbor at the end of the path has restaurants, hotels, charter-fishing businesses, sea-kayaking outfitters, art galleries, and on-the-beach camping spots. Fly a kite, walk the beaches, drop a line in the Fishing Hole, or just wander through the shops looking for something interesting; this is one of Alaska's favorite summertime destinations.Kachemak Bay: abounds with wildlife, including a large population of puffins and eagles. Tour operators take you past bird rookeries or across the bay to gravel beaches for clam digging. Most fishing charters include an opportunity to view whales, seals, porpoises, and birds close up. At the end of the day, walk along the docks on Homer Spit and watch commercial fishing boats and charter boats unload their catch. Halibut Cove: Directly across from the end of Homer Spit is Halibut Cove, a small artists' community. Spend a relaxing afternoon or evening meandering along the boardwalk and visiting galleries. The cove is lovely, especially during salmon runs, when fish leap and splash in the clear water. Several lodges are on this side of the bay, on pristine coves away from summer crowds. The Danny J ferries people across from Homer Spit, with a stop at the rookery at Gull Island and two or three hours to walk around Halibut Cove. The ferry makes two trips daily: the first leaves Homer at 12:00 pm and returns at 5:00 pm, and the second leaves at 5:00 pm and returns at 10:00 pm.
Sea Kayaking is big among Alaskans. It was the Aleuts who invented the kayak (or bidarka) for fishing and hunting marine mammals. When early explorers encountered the Aleuts, they compared them to sea creatures, so at home did they appear on their small ocean craft. Kayaks have the great advantage of portability. More stable than canoes, they also give you a feel for the water and a view from water level. Oceangoing kayakers will find plenty of offshore Alaska adventures, especially in the protected waters of the Southeast, Prince William Sound, and Kenai Fjords National Park. The variety of Alaska marine life that you can view from a sea kayak is astonishing. It's possible to see whales, seals, sea lions, and sea otters, as well as bird species too numerous to list. Although caution is required when dealing with large stretches of open water, the truly Alaskan experience of self-propelled boating in a pristine ocean environment can be a life-changing thrill. The Fishing: In summer salmon fill the rivers, which you can fish with a guide, from your own boat, or from the bank. Fishing for halibut and rockfish is also possible from charter boats out of Homer or Seward.
The most popular attraction in the wintertime doesn't charge admission or have set viewing times. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) seem to appear without rhyme or reason. There is a science to it, but explanations are still hotly debated by meteorologists, astronomers, and pretty-color enthusiasts. Seeing the northern lights requires that there be no nearby city light, very little moonlight, the cold fall and winter months, and a lot of luck. Hot springs outside Fairbanks keep the hopeful warm while they watch the skies. There is something about the incongruous number of hours of sunlight and darkness Alaska gets that makes Alaskans yearn to break the rules of time. When you arrive in Alaska you may feel inclined to do the same. In many parts of the state bars still stay open all night long, fishermen can be sitting on the ice all hours of the night, and some people ski best when the witching hour strikes. At Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, skiers can take the lift and bite the powder under the stars. On weekends this popular ski resort offers night skiing, and afterwards, in the bar, rewards its visitors with live, high-energy, danceable music. This provides a good look at local Alaskan culture, as it caters to tourists and residents alike.
Katmai National Park | Brooks River: When people come to Alaska they want to see bears. Yet most visitors never get a glimpse, because bears prefer their privacy. But at Katmai National Park, which boasts the largest brown bear population in the world, you're almost guaranteed a photograph of bears doing bear things. Remember, although they look cute, their teeth and claws are still mighty sharp.
Kodiak Island: The 1.9-million-acre Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge lies mostly on Kodiak Island and neighboring Afognak and Uganik islands, in the Gulf of Alaska. All are part of the Kodiak Archipelago, separated from Alaska's mainland by the stormy Shelikof Strait. Within the refuge are rugged mountains, tundra meadows and lowlands, thickly forested hills that are enough different shades of green to make a leprechaun cry, plus lakes, marshes, and hundreds of miles of pristine coastland. No place in the refuge is more than 15 mi from the ocean. The weather here is generally wet and cool, and storms born in the North Pacific often bring heavy rains. Dozens of species of birds flock to the refuge each spring and summer, including Aleutian terns, horned puffins, black oystercatchers, ravens, ptarmigan, and chickadees. At least 600 pairs of bald eagles live on the islands, building the world's largest bird nests on shoreline cliffs and in tall trees. Seeing the Kodiak brown bears alone is worth the trip to this rugged country. When they emerge from their dens in spring, the bears chow down on some skunk cabbage to wake their stomachs up, have a few extra salads of sedges and grasses, and then feast on the endless supply of fish when salmon return. About the time they start thinking about hibernating again the berries are ripe (they may eat 2,000 or more berries a day). Kodiak brown bears, the biggest brown bears anywhere, sometimes topping out at more than 1,500 pounds, share the refuge with only a few other land mammals: red foxes, river otters, short-tailed weasels, and tundra voles. Six species of Pacific salmon - chums, kings, pinks, silvers, sockeyes, and steelhead—return to Kodiak's waters from May to October. Other resident species include rainbow trout, Dolly Varden (an anadromous trout waiting for promotion to salmon), and arctic char. The abundance of fish and bears makes the refuge popular with anglers, hunters, and wildlife-watchers.
Lake Clark National Park | Redoubt Bay When the weather is good, an idyllic choice beyond the Mat-Su Valley is the 3.4-million-acre Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, on the Alaska Peninsula and a short flight from Anchorage or Kenai and Soldotna. The parklands stretch from the coast to the heights of two grand volcanoes: Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt (which made headlines in 2009 when it erupted, sending ash floating over the region), both topping out above 10,000 feet. The country in between holds glaciers, waterfalls, and turquoise-tinted lakes. The 50-mi-long Lake Clark, filled by runoff waters from the mountains that surround it, is an important spawning ground for thousands of red (sockeye) salmon. The river-running is superb in this park. You can make your way through dark forests of spruce and balsam poplars or hike over the high, easy-to-travel tundra. The animal life is profuse: look for bears, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, wolverines, foxes, beavers, and mink on land; seals, sea otters, and white (or beluga) whales offshore. Wildflowers embroider the meadows and tundra in spring, and wild roses bloom in the shadows of the forests. Plan your trip to Lake Clark for the end of June or early July, when the insects may be less plentiful. Or consider late August or early September, when the tundra glows with fall colors.
In a land of many grand and spectacularly beautiful mountains, those in the 9.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve are possibly the finest of them all. This extraordinarily compact cluster of immense peaks belongs to four different mountain ranges. Rising through many ecozones, the Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve is largely undeveloped wilderness parkland on a grand scale. The area is perfect mountain-biking and primitive-hiking terrain, and the rivers invite rafting for those with expedition experience. The mountains attract climbers from around the world; most of them fly in from Glennallen or Yakutat. The nearby abandoned Kennicott Mine is one of the park's main visitor attractions. The open pit mine is reminiscent of ancient Greek amphitheatres, and the abandoned structures are as impressive as the mountains they stand against.
Tucked into the east side of the Kenai Peninsula, the sound is a peaceful escape from the throngs of people congesting the towns and highways. Enhanced with steep fjords, green enshrouded waterfalls, and calving tidewater glaciers, Prince William Sound is a stunning arena. It has a convoluted coastline, in that it is riddled with islands, which makes it hard to discern just how vast the area is. The sound covers almost 15,000 square mi—more than 12 times the size of Rhode Island—and is home to more than 150 glaciers. The sound is vibrantly alive with all manner of marine life, including salmon, halibut, humpback and orca whales, sea otters, sea lions, and porpoises. Bald eagles are easily seen soaring above, and often brown and black bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, and gray wolves can be spotted on the shore.
Unfortunately, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 heavily damaged parts of the sound, and oil still washes up on shore after high tides and storms. The original spill had a devastating effect on both animal and human lives. What lasting effect this lurking oil will have on the area is still being studied and remains a topic of much debate. Bring your rain gear, Prince William Sound receives more than 150 inches of rain per year. The sound is best explored by charter boat or guided excursion out of Whittier, Cordova, or Valdez. Even though the waters are mostly protected, open stretches are common, and the fickle Alaska weather can fool even experienced boaters. From the road system, Whittier and Valdez are your best bets for finding charter outfits.
A visit to Columbia Glacier, which flows from the surrounding Chugach Mountains, should certainly be on your Valdez agenda. Its deep aquamarine face is 5 mi across, and it calves icebergs with resounding cannonades. This glacier is one of the largest and most readily accessible of Alaska's coastal glaciers. The state ferry travels past the face of the glacier, and scheduled tours of the glaciers and the rest of the sound are available by boat and aircraft from Valdez, Cordova, and Whittier.
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