Experience True Nature Alaska Wilderness Adventure Tours beyond Imagination



 

AK#04 Spirit of Alaska Self Drive Tour from | to Anchorage

No matter if you arrive by cruise ship or by flight - this land program provides an in depth view into the most beautiful scenery Alaska has to offer. Our one-week circle adventure tour features most of the sights and scenic wonders of Alaska’s great outdoors. Originating in Anchorage you’ll travel north to Talkeetna and Denali National Park. Here you spend an entire day inside the park observing grizzly bears and other wildlife. Enjoy the breathtaking scenery as you travel on the Denali Highway towards the Wrangell/St. Elias National Park. Another highlight is the overnight at the remote town of McCarthy/Kennicott. Explore the historic Kennicott Copper Mine and join a glacier hike on Root Glacier. From Valdez you take a scenic cruise onboard the Alaska Ferry through scenic Prince William Sound. The schedule leaves plenty of available time for side trips and outdoor activities such as river rafting, flightseeing, wildlife viewing, whale watching and short hiking trips. This tour is also available in reverse.

  • Tour Itinerary

  • Dates | Rates

  • Options | Extensions

  • Self Drive FAQ

  • Destination Info

Day
01

Anchorage - Talkeetna

Pick up your rental car in Anchorage. Enjoy sweeping views of snowcapped mountain peaks while traveling from Anchorage on the George Parks Highway via Wasilla (Iditarod Museum) to Talkeetna - the base for most climbing expeditions and spectacular glacier flightseeing activities within the Alaska Mountain Range. You can add on a flightseeing trip and have the option to land on a glacier at the base of Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). Experience the excitement of standing among the great peaks; the immense scale will astound you. Distance: 120 Miles | Overnight: Talkeetna


Day
02

Talkeetna - Denali National Park

Continue your journey along the Alaska Range across Denali State Park with countless wildlife viewing opportunities. Stopover at Byers Lake and rent a canoe or kayak. Arrive at Denali Village. Denali Park offers many activities for visitors: Join a ranger sled dog demonstration, raft of float down the Nenana River or visit Jeff King’s Sled Dog Kennel. Widely heralded as the most authentic and entertaining look into “bush Alaska” lifestyles, your visit includes holding Husky puppies, greeting more than sixty world-class sled dogs, and sharing twenty-five years of Alaskan tales of the trail. Enjoy the compelling stories and check out arctic survival gear, racing sleds and equipment used to traverse the 1100 mile long "Last Great Race on Earth". Distance: 110 Miles | Overnight: Denali National Park


Day
03

Denali National Park
 

Early departure (pre-reserved time) for a full day national park and wildlife observation tour within the shadows of 20.320 ft Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) to Eielson Visitor Center or scenic Wonder Lake with a immense (best) view of “ the Mountain”. Tour Included ! Watch for Grizzly Bears, Moose, Caribou, Wolf and Fox along the ridges and river beds or observe one of the 150 different bird species which inherit the park area. This trip offers some great hiking opportunities too. Return to the national park entrance anytime at your own pace. Optional: Exchange to the narrated Tundra Wilderness Tour or the Kantishna Roadhouse Adventure. This is a full day narrated tour along the Park Road to the Kantishna Roadhouse. This trip covers the entire length of the restricted 95-mile Denali Park Road to Kantishna in a private bus. A trained naturalist provides natural history interpretation and assists in search for wildlife while pointing out the regional biology and geology.


Day
04

Denali National Park - Denali Highway or Glenn Highway - Wrangell St Elias National Park
 

Today you have the choice to either travel on the Denali Highway - one of the last great wilderness gravel roads or take the scenic Glenn Highway. Both highways offer truly magnificent sceneries: stop at the Matanuska Glacier, visit the Musk Ox Farm, or explore the Tangle Lakes district with dense concentrations of archaeological resources. Once you have reached the Richardson Highway, you may get a breathtaking view of Mt. Deborah, Mt. Sanford and Mt. Drum. Watch native fishwheels turning at nearby Copper River bridge, home of the famous Copper River Red Salmon. Distance: 250 Miles (Denali Highway), 360 miles (Glenn Highway) | Overnight: Copper Center.


Day
05

Copper Center - Flight to Kennicott | McCarthy
 

Short drive to Chitina and park your car at the airport. From here take a scenic flightseeing trip (included) to Kennicott/McCarthy (departures 9:05 am or 2:45 pm). You will see the Kennicott Glacier as it winds its way 25 miles to the North where it tumbles off the South East face of Mt. Blackburn. The Root and Gates Glaciers flow from ridges of Mt. Regal to join the Kennicott forming one of the most spectacular vistas in the park. Check into your hotel. This afternoon join a guided glacier hike on the Root Glacier. After meeting your guide and getting fitted for crampons, you'll start out on the 1.8 mile hike to the "white ice" of the Root. Along the way your guide will share interesting details on the local natural and human history. Once on the ice you will explore other-worldly formations unlike anything else you have ever seen: blue pools, waterfalls, canyons, crevasses and moulin holes drilled hundreds of feet deep into the ice by the flowing meltwater. Overnight McCarthy / Kennicott


Day
06

Kennicott | McCarthy - Van Tour to Chitina - Valdez
 

Spend this morning to explore the area of Kennecott mine during a guided walking tour (included). The mine was abandoned in 1938 but many of the historic buildings still stand as they were on that last day, leaving a living history of those rugged days of high adventure. Return to Chitina onboard a comfortable passenger van on the 60-mile McCarthy Road. Optional: Return to Chitina by air. Follow the path of the Copper River & Northwestern Railway, nicknamed 'Can't Run and Never Will'. You will stop at the Kuskulana River, which is a 525' steel bridge built in 1911 that spans a 283 ft. gorge, and at the Gilahina River railroad wooden trestle.  Your van tour ends in Chitina where you left your car. Drive to the Richardson Highway and stopover at Worthington Glacier. Arrive in Valdez - often called “ the Switzerland of Alaska” and a gateway for salmon fishing trips and narrated cruises to the magnificent Columbia Glacier. Distance: 180 Miles | Overnight: Valdez


Day
07

Valdez - Prince William Sound | Ferry Trip - Seward
 

Scenic cruise across 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. Short trails lead to the face of Exit Glacier where you can climb on the surface of the glacier itself. Distance: 120 Miles + Ferry Trip | Overnight: Seward


Day
08

Seward - Anchorage
 

In the morning you have the choice to join a Kenai Fjords cruise tour boat (optional) for an exciting glacier and wildlife cruise into Aialik Bay with its calving glaciers and stunning scenery. (Departs 8 AM-2 PM) 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 or Holgate Glacier where guests witness calving - a process by which glaciers shed giant blocks and slabs of ancient ice. Return to Anchorage during the day and drop off your rental car at the airport. Distance: 130 Miles



AK#04 Spirit of Alaska Selfdrive Package - Superior Hotels
Rates in US $ / per Person Single      Double      Triple      Quad      Child     
May 23 - May 31 $ 2645.00 $ 1598.00 $ 1298.00 $ 1145.00 $ 530.00

June 01 - August 31 $ 3225.00 $ 1870.00 $ 1470.00 $ 1265.00 $ 530.00

September 01 - September 15 $ 2645.00 $ 1598.00 $ 1298.00 $ 1145.00 $ 530.00

 

AK#04 Spirit of Alaska Selfdrive Package - First Class Hotels
Rates in US $ / per Person Single      Double      Triple      Quad      Child     
May 23 - May 31 $ 2910.00 $ 1698.00 $ 1370.00 $ 1195.00 $ 550.00

June 01 - August 31 $ 3590.00 $ 2050.00 $ 1590.00 $ 1365.00 $ 550.00

September 01 - September 15 $ 2910.00 $ 1698.00 $ 1370.00 $ 1195.00 $ 550.00

 

Departure Days
Daily Departures from May 23 - September 15

 

Services included
  • 7 Nights Superior or First Class Hotel Accommodation
  • Hotel & State Tax
  • 8 Day Rental Car (Compact) - Upgrades available
  • Unlimited Free Mileage
  • Rental Car Licensing Fee
  • MOA / Vehicle State Tax 
  • Prince William Sound Ferry Valdez - Whittier (Passengers)
  • Prince William Sound Ferry Valdez - Whittier (Car)
  • Denali Shuttle Bus Ticket to Eielson Visitor Center
  • Denali National Park Fee
  • Kennicott: Half Day Root Glacier Hike
  • Kennecott Mill Town Walking Tour
  • Scenic Flight from Chitina to Kennicott/McCarthy
  • Van Tour from Kennicott/McCarthy to Chitina
  • Sightseeing Information & Tour Documentation



Flexible Tour Options - Upgrades & Sightseeing
Rates in US $ | per Person Adult
Talkeetna: Mt. Denali Flightseeing Tour + $85 Optional Glacier Landing
(includes 4 % Transportation Fee)
$ 218.00

Exchange Shuttle Bus to 8-Hour Tundra Wilderness Tour including Boxed Lunch $ 95.00

Exchange Shuttle Bus to 12-Hour Kantishna Wilderness Lodge Tour with Lunch,
Interpretive Program, Gold Panning, En-route Refreshments
Departure: 6:00 am / Return 6:00 pm
$ 130.00

Kennicott / McCarthy: Return by flight to Chitina $ 60.00

Seward: 6 hr Kenai Fjords Wildlife & Glacier Cruise including lunch, taxes $ 165.00

 

Rental Car - Upgrade
Rental Car Category Rental Car Type      Tour Upgrade      Additional Day     
Compact Car Chevrolet Aveo or similar Included $ 115.00
Mid Size Car Toyota Corolla or similar $ 55.00 $ 120.00
Full Size Car Chevrolet Malibu or similar $ 99.00 $ 125.00
Standard SUV Toyota Highlander or similar $ 520.00 $ 187.00
Premium SUV Chevrolet Suburban or similar $ 850.00 $ 250.00
Mini Van Toyota Sienna or similar $ 520.00 $ 187.00

Rates include Taxes, Unlimited Free Mileage

 

Additional Nights - Anchorage
Rates in US $ | per Person Hotel Category      Single      Double      Triple      Quad      Child     
May 15 - May 31 Superior Hotel $135.00 $68.00 $49.00 $40.00 $10.00
June 01 - August 31 Superior Hotel $160.00 $80.00 $55.00 $45.00 $10.00
September 01 - September 15 Superior Hotel $135.00 $68.00 $49.00 $40.00 $10.00

May 15 - May 31 First Class Hotel $170.00 $85.00 $65.00 $55.00 $10.00
June 01 - August 31 First Class Hotel $270.00 $135.00 $95.00 $78.00 $10.00
September 01 - September 15 First Class Hotel $170.00 $85.00 $65.00 $55.00 $10.00

 

Alaska Sightseeing Destinations

Anchorage

Fairbanks

Juneau

McCarthy

Homer

Seward

Cooper Landing

Talkeetna



Self Drive Tours Information - FAQ


  Q:
A:
I like to spend more time in a certain destination. Can I change the routing?
All of our tours are ”Flex Drives” and we can add, modify or exchange nights in destinations to suit your timetable and preferred routing. Thus, sometimes it will be necessary to observe ferry schedules, national park opening/closing dates etc to match certain dates and/or departures. Please check also each itinerary online.

  Q:
A:
What is the difference between single, double, triple and quad room?
Single: A room assigned to one person. May have one or more beds.
Double: A room assigned to two people. May have one or more beds.
Triple: A room assigned to three people. May have two or more beds.
Quad: A room assigned to four people. May have two or more beds.
The maximum occupancy per room is four.
We can arrange our self drive tours including 2 rooms and 1 rental car if your group is larger than 4.

  Q:
A:
I cannot find the list of hotels included?
Each tour includes a choice of pre-reserved superior hotels (*** category) or first class hotels (**** category). If you have any special requirements we can certainly customize any of the advertised tours. Please contact us for advice and applicable rates. Hotel accommodation does not include breakfast or other meals. Please Note: A large number clients and travel agencies are using our pages and travel ideas to plan their “own” customized tours. This is the reason why we do not publish the hotel names for each trip on top of all travel planning information already included on our pages. If you have any particular question about accommodation, please contact us.

  Q:
A:
Do you offer bed and breakfast accommodation
Yes, we can substitute our advertised hotel category with bed and breakfasts (B&B) accommodation (breakfast included) for any of the advertised itineraries. Please contact us for availability.

  Q:
A:
Do you have one-way rental cars or tours between Alaska and the Yukon/Canada?
No - we do not provide any one way rentals between Alaska (USA) and the Yukon Territory (Canada) Certain government and insurance regulations do not permit such rentals. We offer one way rentals to Skagway, Haines & Juneau.

  Q:
A:
Are Car Rental Charges Included?
Yes, the rental of a compact car (automatic) is always included in our flex drive tour packages. Additional rental days or upgrade details and rates for mid and full size car, passenger vans or a sport utility vehicle (4x4) are available on each self-drive page. All upgrade rates are per car and not per person. Our advertised rates include also local taxes, unlimited free mileage, airport concessionaire fees, licensing fees. Rental car insurance is optional. Many Americans have their own car insurance that also covers them with the rental cars. Please contact us if you require rental car insurance. We provide a complimentary transfer from your downtown hotel to the rental station.
A valid driver license and a valid major credit card are mandatory for all individual vehicle rentals and/or tour packages including vehicle rentals. Driving on gravel roads/highways is at own risk. The rental car insurance is void on the following highways Denali Highway, Dalton Highway, Top of the World Highway, Taylor Highway, McCarthy Road, Dempster Highway and all other gravel roads. You will be responsible for any damages. Drivers have to be more than 25 years of age and the drivers license has to be valid for more than 1 year. Contact us if you are below 25 years of age.

  Q:
A:
What if something unexpected goes wrong during the Tour?
We do not anticipate anything but you can contact us, the rental car company or any of the pre-reserved hotels for assistance. We have a 24 hr emergency help line available for our guests.

  Q:
A:
What type of Identification do I need to enter Canada and Alaska/USA
The Visa/entry requirements do change frequently. Please check requirements on the appropriate government pages. We are unable to take any responsibility for such information however you will definitely need your passport. Please ask us if your self drive tour enters Canada.

  Q:
A:
Which services are included in your Self Drive Tours
Please refer to the appropriate tour page for a listing of included services. Our service generally includes the rental car, accommodation, applicable local taxes, ferry trips as scheduled, sightseeing as per itinerary, a detailed tour description, highway or road logs. Not included are: Meals, highway tolls, gasoline, entrance fees, additional sightseeing tours.

  Q:
A:
What is the advantage of Self-Drive Tour -VS- Escorted Tour
This depends on your personal preference. Alaska and the Yukon are providing some good and scenic highway connections and driving is very easy. A rental car with individual pre-reserved hotels are an independent way to discover the beauty of the northern wilderness areas and national parks: You can stop were you want, you have plenty of time for sightseeing off the beaten path and you are very flexible. Escorted tours are usually limited in flexibility because you are traveling with a group and fixed departures and routings.

  Q:
A:
When should I book a tour
If you travel during the high season from the middle/end of June until the end of August we recommend to make a  reservation as early as possible to avoid disappointments with sold out situations in highly frequented national parks and destinations - because the northern tour season is very short. The same applies in/around national holidays. Any hotel accommodation, rentals cars and ferry space must be definitely booked well in advance. Thus, tour operator such as our company may still have space on a short notice. Accordingly it is well worth to contact us.

  Q:
A:
When should I Travel
May, June and September are perfect months for a vacation in the Land of the Midnight Sun. The weather is usually stable and sunny with almost 24 hours of daylight. July and August are prime travel months and are obviously very busy.

  Q:
A:
When is the best time so see the Northern Lights
Due to the long daylight hours (up to 24-hours) during the summertime, it is impossible to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) from approximately mid May until the middle of August. Northern Lights are occuring mainly during the fall/winter months from end of August until the beginning of April. For further information please refer to our winter tour program.

  Q:
A:
What’s about sightseeing options during cruises and self-drives
We provide a choice of optional sightseeing adventures and activities such as wildlife viewing, rafting, self drive tours, flightseeing, hiking, rafting and day cruises. If you book these tours with us in advance - instead of onboard the cruise ships or locally - you will save a significant amount of money.

  Q:
A:
Should I compare rates & services on the Internet
Yes definitely. You notice sooner or later who actually provides the best services, rates and most affordable or specialized tour program because at these days almost everyone within the industry provides similar statements. Thus, you may also notice that some of the competitors web sites are completely outdated, terms & conditions are not published and that some of these people don’t even know the State – actually they are not even located within the USA or Canada. When you compare rates and services look for hidden charges such as reservation fees or ticketing fees, inclusion of taxes (up to 11 %), the exact service description, hotel categories, rental car standards etc and than make your decision.

  Q:
A:
Could I organize the same tour package by myself for less money
Probably not - because tour operator and corporate identities with a high volume of clients and revenue receive much lower rates than an individual person or a travel agent with a few reservations per year. In addition be prepared for: (1) a significant amount of time to find and identify the right products and destinations (2) to contact the different suppliers may be multiple times and wait for their response (3) exchanging continuously sensitive personal Information over the phone/internet (4) getting professional assistance and advise for the entire tour package - which usually includes a variety of tour components. Virtually impossible ! You can certainly book your hotels through Travelocity, Expedia or other global players – but this does not guarantee any savings either or the success of your vacation. PS: we do not even markup reservations for sightseeing tours. So you'll get always the current original rate when booking with us.

  Q:
A:
How can I get to Alaska or the Yukon Territory
Seattle is a major Alaska Airlines hub with multiple daily flight connections between the lower 48's and Alaska. In addition Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and San Francisco are alternative gateways with non-stop flights on Alaska Airlines, United, American Airlines and Delta to/from Anchorage and other destinations within Alaska. Clients from Europe may check Condor Airlines with it's non-stop flights between Frankfurt and Whitehorse, Fairbanks or Anchorage. You can fly to the Yukon Territory (Whitehorse) from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton with Air Canada.

  Q:
A:
Do you offer railroad tours between Canada and Alaska
No, because there is no railroad access or any connection between Canada and Alaska.

  Q:
A:
How about traveling by ferry
Bellingham (USA) and Prince Rupert (Canada) are the main gateways for Alaska Marine Highway Ferry trips throughout the extremely scenic Inside Passage in southeast Alaska. Port of calls are: Ketchikan, Wrangell, Juneau, Sidka, the Glacier Bay, Skagway and Haines. If you plan to travel to Alaska by ferry please check our website for departures, fares, rates and reservations.

  Q:
A:
Should I purchase travel insurance ?
We strongly encourage you to purchase travel insurance to cover: cancellation fees associated with an outing as well as airfare or other nonrefundable expense in the event you need to cancel a trip; medical expenses incurred on a trip; and the cost of a possible medical evacuation from a trip. We have made arrangements with Allianz Travel Insurance Services for you to purchase a comprehensive travel insurance plan. Feel free to contact Allianz if you have questions on this policy or its coverage as we are not equipped to provide specific answers to questions on the insurance program.



Staff Travel Picks and Destination Roundup

Anchorage

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.


Talkeetna | Denali National Park

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.


The Inside Passage | Juneau | Glacier Bay National Park

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.


The Kenai Peninsula - Alaska‘s Playground

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 Winter Wonderland | Aurora Viewing | Skiing | Dog Mushing

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.


Alaska's Top Bear Viewing Destinations

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.


Wrangell St. Elias National Park

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.


Prince William Sound

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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