Oh, Alaska. My favorite state…
Alaska is notorious for being an amazing wonderland full of beautiful landscapes and impressive wildlife. So many people talk about wanting to visit The Last Frontier.…but it seems that finances keep a lot of people away. Don’t get me wrong, you can spend a LOT of money in Alaska. The state is huge and many places can’t be reached by car, so you end up spending a lot of money on private flights to remote locations. These flights and private tours can easily add up and cost a pretty penny… but there is a cheaper way to see Alaska… and it involves staying on the ground.
Last year I provided you guys with a small handful of road trips to get us all traveling again after being trapped in our homes for a good long time. These were road trips based out of Ohio and Michigan and took you to places like Badlands, Yellowstone and Grand Tetons along with closer options that took you east or took you south. I also have shared with you my itinerary from when I saw 6 national parks in California in 6 days. So if you haven’t caught onto the theme… I like road trips. Our Alaska trip was an ideal road trip. Here is what we did… so you can do it too:
Day 1: Fly into Anchorage
Today was a long day of travel for us so our plan was to head to our hostel Base Camp Anchorage and then find food. Luckily the location of this hostel is totally perfect and within walking distance of a lot of great things. What you SHOULD do this evening is eat at Bear Tooth Grill. This is about 5 minutes walking distance from the hostel and has great beer and food. It’s part of a whole group of…..tooth places. Moose’s Tooth pizza, Broken Tooth Brewing and Bear Tooth Theatrepub. Lots of teeth going on… but you can go to the grill and eat the pizza and drink the beer in one location. It’s fantastic.
After you are full of food you can roll your way out of that place and head immediately to the weirdest bar you’ll ever visit: Chilkoot Charlie’s… or better known as just Koots. This place has 10 different bars inside of one strange building with weird little cubbies and a slightly collapsed room fully covered in underwear. It is also directly down the street from the hostel and we went there every night we stayed in Anchorage.
Day 2: Flat Top Mountain and Talkeetna
Start this day out early and head to the nearby trail, Flat Top Mountain. This is a 3.3 mile hike that starts off slow but ends with rock scrambling and IT. WAS. FUN. You’ll have to push yourself at the end there, and you might have to literally fight against some insane wind, but getting to the top is awesome.
You can feed yourself some fancy food at Glacier Brewhouse afterwards before driving north to Talkeetna. OR you can head straight to Talkeetna. Its only a little bit over 2 hours from Anchorage and I wish we would have spent more time in this town because I totally loved the vibe. Find your way to ‘downtown’ Talkeetna and just walk and explore.
While staying in Talkeetna we stayed in a perfect Airbnb log cabin that fit all 10 of us. There were a lot of other Airbnb options in this area that were all priced pretty good for what you get… so give it a look-see and find your best fit.
Day 3: Denali
Honestly you could spend an entire trip to Alaska JUST in Denali. This park is massive and gorgeous. But lemme give you some facts about it:
-You can only access the first 15 miles of this park by personal car. The rest of the park you can only access via an organized bus (or win the lotto in the off season). My original plan was to spend this entire day on the green bus and take it to the Eielson Visitor Center, about 66 miles into the park. THESE TICKETS SELL FAST. I tried to book them about 4 months before our trip and they were all sold out for the entire week. Plan accordingly.
-If you can book the bus into the actual park the drive to the Eielson Visitor Center is about 4 hours. You’ll want to hike and explore a little at the visitor center so plan on this being a VERY long day with about 10-12 hours spent in the park alone. If you’re lodging in Talkeetna that’s also going to be a long drive… so overall just plan for a very long day. BUT IT’LL BE GORGEOUS!
-Although Denali is a massive outdoor wonderland, there are minimal marked trails. Within the first 15 miles of the park there are a small handful of trails… but since these are the only marked trails you might have a lot of people on them with you. We didn’t really see many people, but we were there the week before everything shut down for the winter.
-There is a good chance you won’t actually see Denali. This mountain is big. Like…. Really big. It is the highest peak in North America standing at 20,310 feet. The weather changes at the drop of a hat and if the weather isn’t perfect… you will not see this mountain. We were insanely lucky. It rained the entire drive to Denali and I swore we weren’t going to see it and then BOOM. Perfect view.
-You have to eat at the restaurant Moose-AKa’s. This Serbian restaurant was perhaps one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had and I cannot recommend them enough. It is a little bit outside of Denali and 110% worth the visit.
…..okay so if you weren’t able to book a bus ticket you can still experience Denali within the first 15 miles. The drive alone is breathtaking and you can head to these trails:
Horseshoe Lake Trail (3 miles) : The highlight of this trail is seeing the MASSIVE beaver dams
Savage River Loop (2.1 miles) : This is at the very end of the public road. I think it kind of gives a good feel of being ‘out there’ without actually being ‘out there’ (did that make sense?)
Overall, I loved Denali and I’ll probably go back one day (once I get all the other parks checked off my list).
Day 4: Portage Pass Trail
This day you’re going to head back down towards Anchorage. We hung out in Talkeetna for a little bit in the morning before heading south. Once you get to Anchorage it’ll probably be lunch time and I cannot recommend 49th State Brewing enough. Their beer, Arctic Painkiller, is hands down my favorite beer of all time. Even if I drank way too much of it and had many headaches from it…. It is still my favorite. Give it a try.
After stocking up on Arctic Painkiller, head to the Portage Pass Trail (4.2 miles). This one will wear you out… we lost a couple people on this hike but those of us that made it to the end thoroughly enjoyed it. You end at a glacial lake. It’s fantastic.
…oh it also was pouring rain the entire time we hiked this so we were cold, wet and a little drunk by the time we got to the glacier. But the hike back UP sobered us up (and almost killed us). Good times.
You can head back to Anchorage and stay another night at Base Camp Hostel. And (of course) go to Koots.
Day 5: Seward
The biggest highlight of this day is the drive itself. You’ll be heading down on the Seward Highway, seeing some of the most amazing views ever. This area really reminded me of the South Island in New Zealand (one of my favorite places).
You have a chance to see beluga whales off the side of the road too! There is a text alert system to keep you informed on where the belugas are spotted. Text “beluga” to 833-541-0408 and you will get notifications if they are spotted in the Cook Inlet. Head to Alaska Wildlife Alliance to learn more about this text alert system and about the endangered belugas in the area. We did not see them on our drive, but we did get a text alert later on (when we were about 4 hours away from where they were spotted).
Along your drive you’ll be able to hike onto an actual glacier called Byron Glacier. This trail is about 3.2 miles long (depending on how much climbing you’ll want to do). It is a really simple trail to get to the glacier itself, and even if you don’t want to climb up on the glacier its totally worth checking out.
Also bring some simple ice cleats if you want to wander up onto it.
If you have our luck, you’ll be soaking wet after this hike (it rained a whole lot while we were there but it never held us back), so you’ll want to head to your lodging to get dry and cozy. We found another very adorable Airbnb cottage that was perfect for us.
Day 6: Whales!
The best way to see Kenai Fjords National Park is on the water. We used Major Marine Tours which is conveniently located right in downtown Seward and has beautiful boats for cruising (with a bar on board). We were on the water for about 6 hours and it was pretty damn majestic. We got to see a transient orca pod called the Kodiak Killers and visited huge glaciers and drank margaritas with glacier ice in them (nevermind all the seals that probably pooped on the ice, totally worth it).
Day 7: Hiking?? Or recovery…
This day we had plans to hike the 8.2 mile trail called the Harding Ice Field Trail. Instead… we slowly emerged from our cottage and ate a delicious breakfast and sat in the sun on our back porch like 10 little sleepy kittens and talked about everything for hours. When we finally decided to leave the cottage we ended up just doing the shorter trail option to view Exit Glacier. You could also use this day to visit the Alaska Sealife Center or to explore Seward some more. Whatever you decide to do… you’re in Alaska… so it’s gonna be great.
Day 8: Starting the journey home
This day we got a slow start to the day and started heading back to anchorage. You could toss some shorter hikes in on this day along the drive… or you can schedule to get yourself tattoos at Rebirth Tattoo in Anchorage, like we all did. In either case your goal destination is a lodging in Anchorage so you can be closer to the airport. Maybe get one last night in at Koot’s.
Day 9: Get yo ass home
This will be your travel day home. You’re going to be tired. And probably sad that you’re leaving Alaska. I can’t help you with that.
And that’s it. An easy land-based itinerary to see two of Alaska’s national parks. If you love the outdoors and don’t mind being a little rugged… please make time to visit Alaska. It’ll be at the top of your list of favorite places, I guarantee it.
Look forward to another blog on Alaska as I travel back this summer to visit Wrangell- St. Elias National Park and do some good ol’ ice climbing on huge glaciers.