Sample Two-Week Itinerary
Because I have spent a fair amount of time fishing, hiking and generally hanging out in Alaska, I find that people often ask me for ideas when they are planning vacations there. If you are reading this, there is a pretty good chance that you fall into that category. What follows are some of my personal thoughts for what to do if you have the good fortune to be heading north to Alaska, especially as a first-time visitor to the last frontier.
I assume that you are planning a family vacation, not a heavy-duty wilderness camping expedition, and would like to be supported by some creature comforts and a fairly high degree of infrastructure on your trip. My suggestions are eminently “do-able” for people, including families, spanning a wide range of ages and fitness levels. That said, the suggested activities are not geared toward those with significant physical handicaps or limitations on personal mobility. I also assume you are largely making your own arrangements and are not on an organized tour such as a cruise ship or a land extension of a cruise, in which case all the arrangements will be made for you.
This trip would take about two weeks. It includes Anchorage and Fairbanks, but really focuses on getting you out of the cities and into the maritime environment of Kachemak Bay as well as the sub-arctic ecosystem of Denali National Park. You will likely see many of the iconic animals that live in Alaska and will get a good taste for its diverse wilderness areas.
Many variations are possible, including reversing the order of the weeks and going north-to-south, or perhaps starting and ending in Fairbanks instead of Anchorage. Something along these lines would be a great introduction to Alaska, but don’t get too hung up on the details – the specific places I mention happen to be some that I have personally visited and enjoyed, but there are lots of other lodges, hotels and activities.
People from the Lower 48, or “Outside” as Alaskans say, often fail to grasp just how big a place it is. Alaska has a population of only about 700,000, half of whom live in or near Anchorage, but it accounts for 20% of the landmass of the United States. Mainland Alaska has more coastline than the 48 contiguous states combined. You can't "do" it all, so don't try.
Start your trip by flying to Anchorage and stay overnight at a downtown hotel. Consider spending an extra day to get acclimated to the time zone and ease your way into your Alaskan adventure by hiking the Coastal Trail or around Flattop Mountain in the Chugach. On day 2 or 3, drive to Homer, which is on the Kenai Peninsula’s Kachemak Bay.
Plan to spend the night near the main entrance to Denali National Park, which also has a train depot so you can arrive by rail from Anchorage or Fairbanks. The next morning, proceed to the park entrance to get picked up by the Camp Denali bus. To my mind, Camp Denali is quite possibly the single best place to go on your Alaska vacation.