Road trip to the wild Alaska
Alaska has been on my bucket list for years. I always thought of it as the wildest place on earth. And I wanted to experience the pristine wilderness, freshly caught fish, gold mines and glaciers in the northernmost state of America. Alaska turned out to be more than I expected. We hiked a glacier, saw humpback whales and wild bears, hang out with local fisherman and even tried to pan for some gold. If you are in for a unique adventure, Alaska is unlike any other place in the US you have ever visited.
Since we didn’t feel like being trapped on a cruise ship, so we opted for an Alaskan road trip. Renting a car is always an advantage and you can explore this wild and huge state on your own terms. While most of Alaska is made up of road-less areas, we chose a region that could be visited by car and plan an itinerary around it.
Alaska is the United State’s largest state and is over twice the size of Texas. Measuring from north to south the state is approximately 1,400 miles long and measuring from east to west it is 2,700 miles wide. No wonder Alaska has the largest areas of pristine wilderness in the United States. In the 10 days we spent in Alaska, we managed to see just a tiny little bit of this incredible land.
Here are our favorite places and top Alaskan experiences.
Our trip started in Anchorage. More than half of Alaska’s population is living in this city. It’s a great starting point for our Alaska road trip and the first city to enjoy all things Alaskan. It’s not uncommon to see Moose walking in the city or fishermen pulling salmon out of the downtown creek. And of course, Anchorage has some great dining options.
No matter how civilized Alaska can feel in Anchorage, the wilderness is never far away. You can see six mountain ranges from the city: The Chugach, Kenai, Talkeetna, Tordrillo, Alaska and Aleutian. We are ready to explore the nature. But before hitting the road we started the day in one of the Anchorage coffee shops with pancakes the size of a large plate with blueberries so big I have never seen before.
Denali National Park
Denali is one of the most popular attractions of Alaska. Great wildlife watching with a background of North Americas highest peak – Mt McKinley. Just to give you an idea of the vast spaces in Alaska, Denali Park is larger than the entire state of New Hampshire. We took the 8h tour to have more chances to spot wildlife. The Denali National Park bus trip takes you through the park that’s not open to private vehicles. It’s a great way how to keep the human impact low in the park. Along the way, you are almost ensured to encounter moose, grizzly, caribou and more animals. Even from the road, most people see more wildlife during their trip in Alaska then they do in a lifetime elsewhere.
We had just one day to spend in the park and we were lucky to see them all. More days you plan to spend in the park, more chances you will have to see wildlife. And as well the peak of Mt McKinley that is covered in clouds for most of the year. It was a rainy day upon our arrival and we knew we had a little hope to see the peak of Mt McKinley. But we were hoping to see at lease some grizzly and other animals. There is no “money back” policy if you don’t spot any wildlife and having just one day to spend in the park, we were anxiously scanning for everything that moved.
Lucky us! The highlight of the day was spotting a grizzly family eating berries from the bushes and gorgeous sceneries of misty mountains. Under most travel scenarios, seeing a bear in Alaska is equivalent to hitting the wildlife-viewing lottery. As an additional bonus on our way back to Anchorage, for a short minute, the clouds parted to give us a glimpse on the Mt McKinley. For more info on Denali National Park visit https://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm
Driving to Kenai Peninsula is a treat. Smooth; winding turns through mountains gives you so many photo opportunities. The 127 miles from Anchorage is all Scenic Byway. Once you have arrived in Seward, you will find an unpolished gem. A scenic town with a lively harbor and great access to mountains and sea.
This is the place to taste the fresh and wild Alaskan salmon. It’s bright orange in color and the meat is rich and oily. 137 million pounds or 90% of total USA’s total wild salmon harvest comes from Alaska. People here take fishing seriously. They drive cars with bumper stickers that say, “Friends don’t let friends eat farmed fish”.
Kenai Fjords Tours
Stunning Kenai Peninsula is like a postcard from an ice age. The best way to see Kenai Fjords National Park is on a day cruise. Take a day boat tour from Seward and you will see abundant wildlife, spectacular fjords and tidewater glaciers. Alaska has an estimated 100,000 glaciers, ranging from tiny cirque glaciers to huge valley glaciers. There are more active glaciers and ice fields in Alaska than in the rest of the inhabited world. Actually, glaciers cover five percent of the state’s territory. It was an incredible experience to see the Northwestern Glacier… falling. With thunder like sound, the glacier is cracking and then crashing into the sea.
While we are cruising past bunch of glaciers, there are plenty of opportunities to see mammals, birds, and fish. A half-hour into the trip we spotted a humpback whale blowing water from its blowhole. It was an amazing day filled with plenty of sea animal spotting: otters, sea lions, dolphins and even gray whales and lots of birds. It was so awesome to glimpse these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Just imagine a Grey Whale that reaches a length of 14.9 meters (49 ft), a weight of 40 tons, and lives between 50 and 70 years. Incredible sight. Book your tour here: http://www.kenaifjords.com/day-cruises/
Hike a glacier
If you still think that global warming is a myth, go visit Alaska. It has affected Alaska more than any other region in the United States. Alaska’s temperatures are rising and glaciers are melting at alarming rates. So hurry up and visit Alaska to hike a glacier before they melt.
We spent a day hiking Harding Ice Field, 8.2 miles hike that ended in 3482 feet elevation, the top of Exit Glacier. Fairly steep, roughly cut and slippery, it rewarded us with gorgeous panoramas of the glacier and the alpine valley around it. The top of the hill is covered in snow all year long and offers a real “Ice Age” views on the glacier.
Pan for gold
Want to discover the gold panning process? Hope is a small and cute Alaskan town with gold rush era history. It’s easy to miss the direction to here, but if you make it, it will reward you with no tourist crowds. Hope area offers numerous opportunities for amateur gold panners. The locals don’t mind showing visitors how to swirl the pan so you can experience the passion and excitement of the Alaska Gold Rush Days.
Whatever your passion, be it fishing, hiking, kayaking, sightseeing or exploring Alaska culture, you’ll find it all in Alaska.