This was my first visit to Alaska and the aim of my trip was to understand Alaska as a destination. The sheer size of the state makes it difficult to comprehend fully the travelling distances and what each place has to offer.
On arrival into Anchorage I travelled 45 minutes south to Girdwood to stay at the Aleyska Resort. A ski resort in winter, the hotel offers a good alternative to staying in the city itself and also provides a good base to see the Kenai Fiords on a day excursion. I had the most scrumptious dinner at Seven Glaciers, a fine dining restaurant located at the top of the ski hill, accessed by gondola ride. Every table offers panoramic glacier views for a truly unique Alaskan dining experience with the freshest seafood.
The following morning I headed to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre to see some authentic Alaskan animals in rehabilitation. I then drove to Whittier via the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel to embark on a scenic ferry ride through the Prince William Sounds to Valdez where I visited the local museum to learn about the history of the area. The great Alaskan earthquake in 1964 and subsequent Tsunami meant Valdez was devastated although nowadays, it is best known as the southern terminus for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. It is also a prime outdoor destination for tourists. I visited a salmon farm where I saw seals and sea lions devouring Alaskan salmon so red it looked like blood in their mouths. The experience was amazing- so many salmon the water looked like it was moving, and you could lean down and pick one straight out of the water!
The next morning I embarked on a Columbia Glacier cruise and saw an abundance of wildlife including whales, seals, sea otters, puffins and bald eagles. Passing by cascading waterfalls, glaciers, towering mountains and floating icebergs we reached the spectacular Columbia Glacier and were lucky enough to see the ice calving. The sound of roaring thunder, followed by a dramatic crash as the ice hit the water, was a genuinely awe-inspiring moment. Another popular activity from Valdez is kayaking among thousands of icebergs with marine wildlife popping their heads and tails up around you.
The next day I drove to Chitina for a short flight to McCarthy for a fabulous glacier hike. For those who struggle on rough, loose rock terrain I would recommend perhaps doing a heli- hike instead as it cuts out the descent onto the glacier itself. After a picnic on the ice I headed back to the town of Kennicott to learn about the history of the copper mine and walk through the Kennicott mill. Back in Chitina, I checked into The Copper Princess Wilderness Lodge in Copper Centre, a hotel with panoramic views of Mount McCarthy and a very comfortable base, with many hiking trails right off the property. They also offer Northern lights’ wake up calls!
The weather had completely changed the following morning and was foggy and wet. I drove to Talkeetna where I was due to take a scenic flight over Mount McKinley but sadly it was cancelled so I headed to the nearby town of Wasilla. I visited the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog museum to learn about the history of the dogs and the mushers. I had and a short ride myself and even got to hold a puppy before travelling back to Talkeetna to look around the small town and quaint shops.
The next morning after a hearty Alaskan breakfast at the Talkeetna roundhouse I visited Walter Harper Talkeetna Rangers Station which is home to Denali’s mountaineering rangers. Everyone embarking on climbing expeditions to Denali and Mount Foraker must stop here to get their climbing permit and have a mountain orientation class.
Back on the road again I drove 100 miles north to the gate entrance of Denali National Park to catch the Park’s bus to Kantishna in the heart of Denali National Park. The 7 hour drive to The Denali Back Country Lodge involved many wildlife encounters and exciting stories from the guide/driver of previous wildlife sightings. The most extraordinary for me was the brown bear foraging for berries under rocks in the grassland 10 metres from the bus, an unforgettable memory. Another remarkable sight was a moose on the road right in front of the bus.
On arrival at the Backcountry Lodge I ate another beautifully cooked fresh fish supper before settling into my cosy rustic log cabin for the evening in the middle of this pristine wilderness. Next highlight was a scenic train ride to Anchorage in Goldstar class. Similar to the Goldleaf service on the Canadian Rocky Mountaineer train, the Goldstar carriage features a glass dome roof to allow for 360 degree panoramic views of the stunning snow capped mountains and valleys below. An outside observation area is located to the rear of the carriage and lunch and dinner are eaten downstairs in the dining carriage. The 7 hour journey is a wonderful way of viewing the spectacular scenery in a relaxing, luxurious environment.
On arrival into Anchorage I checked into the Voyager Inn, the newly owned sister property to The Captain Cook hotel which is the most upmarket property in Anchorage. All rooms are newly renovated to a good standard and include a kitchen.
Time for adventure! The next morning I went on a thrilling ATV ride around Eklutna Lake and stopped for a salmon BBQ halfway through. I never knew that quad biking could be so much fun- splashing through muddy puddles at speed alongside the clear turquoise waters of Eklutna Lake with the Eklutna glacier in the backdrop. I would highly recommend this excursion for people of all ages and different levels of rides are offered; for the more adventurous the Knik Glacier tour is definitely the one to do!
Back in the city, my final day was spent visiting the Anchorage Museum and Alaska Native Heritage Centre to learn more about the history and culture in Alaska including how the Indigenous people settled there and the traditions in which they live their lives. I also hired a bike and cycled part of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, an 11 mile path from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park offering scenic views of downtown and the Clugach Mountains. After hanging up my bike helmet my time in Alaska had regrettably come to an end and it was time to head off to Anchorage International airport.
What an epic adventure I had experienced with mesmerising scenery, authentic wildlife experiences and exhilarating activities. You really do have to come and see it with your own eyes to fully discover the true Alaska, as the pictures just cannot even begin to do it justice. I have only covered a small snapshot of this vast magical wilderness destination but feel I now have a real insight into what Alaska has to offer and cannot wait to return to experience more!