A little less than a month ago, I embarked on a week-long trip to Alaska. For anybody who loves nature a sliver as much as me, Alaska is the place to be. I figured it would be beneficial to others to share my experience and exactly what we did along with my thoughts and recommendations. This is fairly comprehensive in my opinion, but if you have any questions, feel free to ask!
- June 7, 2022 through June 15, 2022
- Flight from Houston to Anchorage.
- Coach bus from Anchorage to Denali, 6:30am-12:30pm.
- Hiking, in the afternoon.
- ATV Wilderness Adventure, 7pm-9:30pm.
- Hiking, in the morning.
- Tundra Wilderness Tour, in the afternoon. Times for trips are not released until a couple days prior to the tour.
- Hiking, in the morning.
- Wilderness Express train from Denali to Talkeetna, 12:30pm-4:40pm.
- Talkeetna Air Mountain Voyager, 6:30pm-8:15pm.
- Explore Talkeetna, late morning and all afternoon.
- Wilderness Express train from Talkeetna to Anchorage, 5pm-8pm.
- Reservation at Simon & Seaforts, 8:45pm.
- Coach bus from Anchorage to Seward, 7am-9:45am.
- Kenai Fjords Glacier & Wildlife Cruise, 11:30am-6pm.
- Bear Glacier Kayaks, 8am-1:30pm.
- Explore Seward, in the afternoon. This includes the Sea Life Conservation Center.
- Alaska Railroad from Seward to Anchorage, 6pm-10pm.
- Explore Anchorage, all day.
- Flight from Anchorage back home to Houston.
In Anchorage, we stayed in multiple different hotels. We stayed in Anchorage a total of three separate times, so we typically booked hotels which utilized points or were most convenient in terms of vicinity to the bus stop or the train depot (depending upon which mode of transport we’d be using next). I believe we stayed at Marriott, Hilton, and Sheraton. All three hotels consisted of an enjoyable experience - they were all accommodating and well kept.
In Denali, we stayed at the Denali Bluffs lodge about a mile from the national park entrance. The lodge itself was pretty neat; it had a café and restaurant, along with a top-notch view of the mountains. The other amenity the lodge had was a shuttle service to move travelers to and from the park. This was essential as we avoided renting a car throughout this entire trip. When it comes to the room itself, however, it was a bit pitiful. I didn’t expect luxury as it was a cabin, but the door had no seal and there was loads of wasted space. The bathroom was cramped and there was constant congestion with just my parents and I.
In Talkeetna, we stayed at the Denali Fireside Cabin and Suites. It was a small, family run business and overall left a good impression on me. The main owner was personable and uber-accommodating, driving us to and from the train depot rather than letting us walk. My only complaint would be that our cabin could have used a bit of repair work. This may be unique to the cabin we were assigned, but our thermostat didn’t work and the toilet had a leak. Overall though, I would recommend staying here if you ever find yourself in Talkeetna.
In Seward, we stayed at the Gateway Hotel. It was in-town, updated, and very accommodating. This was probably my favorite stay on the trip. When we arrived the morning of our marine tour, they had breakfast out and were more than happy to hold our bags for us while we took the tour. When we had extenuating circumstances the next morning, they extended our checkout time free of charge. The rooms themselves were spacious and clean. Overall, wonderful experience.
For our trip to Alaska, my parents elected to bypass renting a car and to rely on public transport options instead. This meant getting around by coach bus and train. Overall, I think this was a good decision and would recommend other travelers to do the same. It can be a slight hassle at times, but it is cost effective and you don’t miss anything by going carless.
In the instances we traveled by bus, we used Alaska Coach. Riding the bus, your expectations are not that of comfort and splendor - you expect efficiency. Alaska Coach provided just that. There were plenty of windows to gaze out of, and space to lean back and take a nap if desired. They were on time both instances we used them, and the drivers were kind in helping with luggage and giving local recommendations.
The first train company we traveled with in Alaska was Wilderness Express. I cannot say enough good things about this train! From the moment you get onboard to the second you get off, it is more than just getting from Point A to Point B; it is an entire experience. The crew is super friendly, the seats are comfortable, the views from the glass roof are spectacular, and the food and espresso is legit. I would, without a doubt, rank this as my favorite way to travel in Alaska. Of course, this is also the most expensive way to travel (funny how that works).
The second train company we traveled with in Alaska was Alaska Railroad. This is the main railroad in Alaska that runs from Seward, all the way up to Fairbanks, some 400 miles North. I enjoyed this train ride, but it just wasn’t the same experience as Wilderness Express. Nonetheless, if you enjoy traveling by train, by all means necessary take the Alaska Railroad. It will still be plenty enjoyable, if for nothing else but the views.
Denali ATV Wilderness Adventures
The first real tour we did on our trip to Alaska was an ATV tour of the land surrounding Denali National Park. We used Denali ATV Adventures and opted for the 2.5 hour tour. It was not a super technical ride; the main focus was taking in all the gorgeous nature around you. So, if you have any concerns about the tour being too intensive, rest assured that will not be an issue. The machines were new, the tour guide was amazing, and the views were unmatched. One warning I will give though: prepare to be caked in dust by the time you’re finished. If you go at a time when it is particularly dry, there is loads of dust to contend with. It doesn’t inhibit the experience in the slightest, but you’ll definitely come out looking like you got a bad spray tan!
Tundra Wilderness Tour
The other tour we did in Denali was the Tundra Wilderness Tour. This tour takes you around 40 miles into the park, as far as you can physically go at this point due to a severe landslide in 2016. The tour constitutes the only means for seeing this far into the park, so if seeing the wonders of Denali National Park is high on your priority list, I would highly recommend it! We went in the afternoon and the company provided boxed lunches, a nice extra touch. Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, and we got to see lots of wildlife including moose, caribou, and dall sheep. Unfortunately, no bears. Of course, what you see is left up to chance, but the tour is really cool either way!
Talkeetna Air - Mountain Voyager Tour
The lone tour we took in Talkeetna was the Mountain Voyager Tour, organized through Talkeetna Air. I have to say, without a doubt, this was the coolest part of the entire trip! This is the number one experience I would recommend everybody to do if they have the chance in Alaska. It’s pricy, but well worth every penny. The air taxi takes off in Talkeetna and flies you up into the Alaskan Mountain Range. It’s a prime opportunity to see the peak of Mount Denali and to marvel at the snow-capped glory of the Alaskan Range. It gives you immense perspective into how big the mountains are and into how powerful nature is. In addition to all that good stuff, the tour lands on a glacier within the mountains. I’m telling you, it’s unbelievable. I cannot say enough about this tour, or even put into words how surreal it was. Take it if given the opportunity!
Major Marine - Kenai Fjords Glacier and Wildlife Cruise
Once we got down to Seward, the first tour we took was the Kenai Fjords Glacier and Wildlife Cruise, organized by Major Marine. We opted for the tour which runs approximately 6 hours; there are both shorter and longer options, all of which are slight variations of each other. The tour includes up-close views of glaciers, uninhibited views of the mountains, and most importantly the opportunity to see whales. A big draw of this tour is the whale-watching aspect, and it did not disappoint! We saw a couple humpback whales, a fin whale, and a pack of orcas as well. We also saw numerous other animals like sea otters and seals. The crew was pleasant, so I would definitely recommend Major Marine if you want to do some whale watching amongst other things. I will caution you though, take some motion sickness medicine prior to onboarding the ship. It can be choppy, and it’s always best to be a step ahead.
Liquid Adventures - Bear Glacier Kayak
The fifth and final tour we squeezed into our Alaskan adventure was the Bear Glacier Kayak tour, outfitted by Liquid Adventures. This tour is a close second to the air taxi, which is high praise! The tour gets you all suited up in your wetsuits, and then you leave the harbor by small boat and travel some 15 miles down the shoreline from Seward. Once you reach the glacier, there is a little inlet where the kayak cache is located and which leads into the lagoon. From there, you’re on the water! Our tour guide was phenomenal in terms of being personable and having good tips for kayaking, so although he emphasized the possible dangers of kayaking near the icebergs, I felt totally safe. The lagoon is majestical; it is filled with icebergs of all different kinds which have broken off of the Bear Glacier that borders the lagoon from the mountains. Some icebergs are white, some are black with sediment, and the fresh ones are a vibrant shade of blue. It is kayaking, so it requires a bit of physical activity but nothing overly strenuous. Highly recommend!
- Spinach Bread (Talkeetna)
- Denali Pub (Talkeetna)
- Mountain High Pizza Pie (Talkeetna)
- Simon & Seaforts (Anchorage)
- Snow City Cafe (Anchorage)
- Glacier Brewhaus (Anchorage)
- 49th Street Brewery (Anchorage)
- Red’s Burgers (Seward)