To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.
– John Muir
Denali: You cannot drive inside Denali National Park. You have to take a (paid) bus to go inside the National Park. Buses operate during Summer (late May to early September). There are 2 types of buses available (with and without narration) of various lengths inside the National Park. Details here: https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/visiting-denali.htm
Anchorage: Most flights out from Anchorage are LATE night red-eye flights. Factor that into your planning – you can use the last day for touristing, then watch a movie in Anchorage, before taking the late red-eye flight out.
Flightseeing: A helicopter tour will be a shorter flight than a fixed-wing airplane. Helicopters are much more expensive to operate than airplanes. If you do a glacier landing flight in a helicopter you most likely land at the toe of the glacier at a lower altitude. In a ski-plane you will land on the top of the glacier on the snow. If you do a helicopter glacier landing flight at Denali you will not land inside the park or anywhere near Denali. The Park Service does not allow helicopters to land in the park. But glacier landing tours in fixed-wing aircrafts are allowed to land inside the park – on the Ruth Glacier.
3 Must-Do Things around Anchorage:
- See glaciers from the air (“flightseeing”) and land on top of a glacier (“glacier landing”) ✓
- Hike the toe end of a glacier (“ice fall”) ✓
- Boat tour to see glaciers from the water ✓
- Arrive Anchorage
- Arrive Anchorage airport – most flights arrive late in the night. Pickup rental car.
- [Night in Anchorage]
- Anchorage to Talkeetna to Denali
- Visit Anchorage Museum – (6/10)
Visit the Musk Ox Farm in Palmer. SKIP – You will see Musk Ox at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Visit the Independence Mine State Historical Park (5/10)
- Drive toward Denali through Hatcher pass – the road is rough for a little bit after the Independence Mine, but it gets better soon.
- Drive to Talkeetna – do Denali Flightseeing and Glacier Landing ✓
- K2 Aviation ($315, 90 mins, 1pm, 3pm, 5pm)
- Talkeetna Air Taxi ($320, 90mins, 4pm)
- Denali has legendary weather – only 30% of people who go inside the park get to see the mountain. Don’t book the Denali flightseeing tour until 1-2 days out – keep checking the weather, and call an audible at the last moment. If you don’t do this tour due to bad weather, do the Harding Icefield flightseeing tour in Seward
- Drive to Denali hotel.
- Denali Bus Tour
- Drive to Wilderness Access Center (Denali Bus Depot)
- You can only drive the first few miles of the road that goes inside Denali NP. The only way to go inside Denali National Park is to take a bus. You can take shuttle as far inside the park as you want and return. It is recommended to go at least to the Eielson Visitor Center (8 hrs round trip). Shuttle buses operate through the second week after Labor Day each year (until the second weekend after Labor Day). It is recommended that you book your ticket in advance (and hope for good weather)
- Good food near the park entrance: Karstens Public House (7/10) and Prospectors Historic Pizzeria & Alehouse (7/10)
- [Night in Denali]
- Drive to Wilderness Access Center (Denali Bus Depot)
- Denali to Valdez Drive
- The drive on Denali highway (AK-8) between Cantwell and Paxson is a brutal gravel road – the views are good, but the maximum speed is only around 30mph for about 100 miles. Don’t do this drive unless you have a SUV or a truck.
- I would recommend going to Fairbanks on this day, explore Fairbanks for the rest of the day (night in Fairbanks), and then drive to Valdez the next day on AK-4 (which is a proper paved road)
- The drive from Glennallen to Valdez has excellent glacier and mountain views (8/10)
- Stop at Worthington Glacier State Recreation Site (61.163796, -145.706929). There is a trail that starts by the observation deck and goes up to the toe of the glacier. Hike this trail for good views of the toe of Worthington Glacier (7/10)
- [Night in Valdez]
- Matanuska Glacier Hike
- Drive Valdez to Glacier View (3h30)
- Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site (61.799927, -147.813741)
- Hike the Ice Falls of Matanuska Glacier ✓ (9/10)
- Hiking the ice falls area at the toe of Matanuska Glacier isn’t too challenging. If you have hiked on uneven ice before, buy or rent crampons and hike Matanuska yourself – use common sense and don’t do anything stupid. If you have never hiked a glacier, take a guided tour.
- Guided tour options –
- [Night in Glacier View]
- Tony Knowles Trail, Byron Glacier Hike, Alyeska Dinner
- Drive to Elderberry Park in Anchorage (2h)
- Walk the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. (5/10) You can rent bikes from Alaska Pablo’s Bicycle Rentals or Trek Bike Rentals
- Lunch in Anchorage.
- Drive by Cange Street to see a runway right in the middle of homes and small planes parked out in front of people’s home.
Take the Portage Glacier Cruise (1 hour, $39) (10:30, 12, 1:30, 3, 4:30)
- Hike the Byron Glacier Trail. (7/10). Trailhead is at (60.773651, -148.843775) – opportunity to see ice caves.
- Take the Alyeska Aerial Tram. Dinner at the Seven Glaciers Restaurant (Aerial tram ticket is free if you have a reservation at the restaurant). Food and service is OK. Views are good. Ask to be seated in the Glacier Room. Expect to pay ~$50 pp (7/10)
- [Night in Girdwood]
- Prince William Sound Cruise in Whittier
- Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) (7/10)
- Drive to Whittier. Do the Glacier Quest Cruise (7/10) ($109) (1:00 – 4:45 PM) or the 26 glacier cruise. No Seasickness Guaranteed for both!
- To go from Anchorage to Whittier, you have to cross the Anton Anderson Tunnel. The tunnel is 1-lane only, AND shared by cars and trains (Cars drives directly over the train tracks). The tunnel is open for traffic on a schedule.
- East toward Whittier: Cars leave on the half hour, from 5:30am to 10:30pm. You have to pay a toll of $13
- West from Whittier toward Girdwood: Cars leave on the hour, from 6am to 11pm.
- If you miss the tunnel opening window, your next option is 1 hour later.
- Drive to Seward (Scenic drive) (7/10)
- Total drive time from Anchorage to Seward with Whittier: 3h10
- [Night in Seward]
- Exit Glacier Hike, Harding Icefield Glacier Landing
- Hike Exit Glacier (AllTrails Link) (8/10)
- Take a Harding Icefield flightseeing tour with Glacier landing ✓
- The Bear Glacier Tour with Glacier Landing from AA Seward Air is the best option – $224, 30 minutes flying, 30 mins on the glacier. (10/10 – Highlight of the trip)
- Exit Glacier Guides – $300, includes hiking on Harding Icefield – but we did that already at Matanuska Glacier.
- Seward Helicopters ($199, 30mins, 9:15, 10:45, 1:30, 2:45, 4:15)
Visit the Alaska SeaLife CenterSKIP – Too expensive, not too exciting Alaska ZooSKIP. This is a bad zoo – poorly maintained, animal enclosures are tragically small, information signs are missing, many enclosures are simply unoccupied (with no animals in the enclosure and no signs) (3/10)
- Dinner and movie in Anchorage. Flights out of Anchorage are typically very late in the night.
- [Depart Anchorage]