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Alaska Trip 2013

Knoxville, Tennessee
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Alaska Trip 2013

I'm just beginning to plan a trip to Alaska for 2013. Never been there before. I'll have 13 days, possibly more, total including days flying to and from Seattle. Thinking about taking a cruise from Seattle or Vancouver. Would like to take a day trip to Brooks River Falls to see the bears. Would also like to see wildlife and landscapes in Denali as well as whales (not in Denali :) ) . I'll be traveling solo and I would like to do as much photography as possible. Open to suggestions regarding time of year, specific cruises, places to see, places to eat, and even train rides. In general, I like to travel after Labor Day, but the criteria above is more important.

I'll start doing my research and thanks for your replies. Tripadvisor has always been a great resource for planning my previous trips.

Edited: 2:42 am, December 12, 2012
Greater Sydney...
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1. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

G'day Gary,

While others sleep I will advise that if you do consider a cruise that would have to be from Vancouver as only round trip Inside Passage sailings leave from Seattle. No big deal though as I understand that the Amtrak trip between Seattle and Vancouver is very scenic and would, I think, be a bit cheaper than flying into Vancouver from where you are located. For a one-way cruise I think that both Princess and HAL have the best itineraries.

I do not have first hand knowledge of south central Alaska but am sure that others will be along tomorrow with advice.

WestSlope,CO
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2. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

I know that cruises have their fans, and they can be cost effective, but I think you'll make the best use of your time by planning your own itinerary. We had about the same amount of time when we visited and were well pleased with the itinerary we planned with the help of the great folks on the Alaska forum.

fti
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3. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

July and September are best for Brooks though in September you wont see the fish jumping.

I would probably start the trip the last week of August or earlier. Tourist activities in Alaska start winding down after Labor Day.

Cruising can be a cost effective way to see SE Alaska as well as southcentral Alaska.

Edited: 10:07 am, December 12, 2012
Knoxville, Tennessee
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4. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

Thanks for the replies. Hello missp. Good to hear from you. You were very helpful when I was planning my trip to Colorado which was great. I owe you and the others who were so helpful a trip report.

USA
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5. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

In fall the tundra is a glorious patchwork of colors.

Most of us on here would say that it is best to plan your own land trip into Denali & such after the cruise.

We have a Top Question for Alaska regarding planning acruise portion:

tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g28923-i349-k38186…

Another option is to fly into Anchorage, then take day cruises for sea life, glaciers, etc.

haines, alaska
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6. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

If this will be your first trip to Alaska, a cruise is an excellent and affordable orientation, especially if traveling solo.........one word of caution if you do decide to take a cruise after Labor Day.....the weather will be much chillier and there is a greater chance of rain and wind here in SE Alaska.....

Interior Alaska as Coalminer pointed out will be stunning after Labor Day......

If you cruise, study the itineraries of each one you are interested in, make sure they include the longest amount of time in each port and try to find one that also includes Glacier Bay........

oh, and I would be remiss by not mentioning that a port stop here in Haines would be highly recommended :>)

......we have some wonderful scenery and wildlife viewing along with the guarantee of being the only ship in town when you dock here !!

Anchorage, Alaska
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7. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

When planning your trip keep in mind that services in Denali National Park completely shut down by about September 20th. You may want to consider flying to Alaska first, doing your land portion first and then cruising southbound to Vancouver. September is a great time to see Denali as the colors are beautiful but the weather is fickle. Last year the tours were shortened due to snow on September 9th but two years ago I was at Eielson Visitor Center inside the park on September 16th and it was clear and 60 degrees.

One good point about traveling in September is that the prices do go down on some activities including the price to travel by rail. I would definitely travel to Denali by rail. Once you are in Denali you can get just about everywhere by shuttle bus. Tours (rafting, flightseeing, etc.) will also pick you up from your hotel. The rail trip is beautiful but takes eight hours. I would recommend taking The Park Connection bus back to Anchorage - it will get you back to Anchorage a lot quicker than the train.

Seward is a great destination for whales and glaciers. If you are limited on time you can do this as a day trip from Anchorage - rail to Seward, Major Marines glacier cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park and then the bus back to Anchorage. It is a long day but well worth it. I think the rail trip between Anchorage and Seward is the most spectacular portion of the Alaska Railroad.

fti
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8. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

I wouldn't quite say that Denali National Park "completely shuts down." The shuttle buses will stop operating on Sep 12, and the road lottery goes Sep 13-16. Normally one can drive the first 29 miles of the road into the park after that until snow closes the road. Anyone with a sense of adventure and proper equipment could access the park after that on skis, snowshoes or even dogsled team. I say this not to counteract what you said, but to more fully explain to other readers who might think that the park indeed closes in the winter, which it doesn't.

Also, the issue with snow that closed the road on Sep 9 was a very short term event. The camper bus in the late afternoon on Sep 9 still made its run and the shuttles were back to almost normal on Sep 10 (the first few ran a little late due to morning frost). I was on a camper bus Sep 10 and was in the park until the day the buses stopped operating. It was certainly cool that week, but great weather for hiking during the day.

Knoxville, Tennessee
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9. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

Thanks again for the replies. I still trying to get up to speed on what's available. Lots to learn. :)

WestSlope,CO
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10. Re: Alaska Trip 2013

Hi, Gary! Thanks for the kind words. You're very welcome to any help I can provide. It is overwhelming to plan an Alaska trip! But the AK folks on Trip Advisor are great! So much knowledge, so generous with their time! Our trip to Alaska was my introduction to Trip Advisor! It took me several months before I got up the nerve to post a question. And I was so new to Trip Advisor that I didn't even think to do a trip report, so I'll try to post one here in case it might be of some help to you or others.

I think I still have my itinerary somewhere, but I wouldn't recommend you (or anyone) follow it exactly as you'll have your own "must do" list. I'll try to reconstruct the basic plan from memory. We went the last week of May and the first week of June, and were very well pleased with the trip. If (WHEN!!!) we go back, it will probably be at a different time because my husband really wants to catch a king salmon so our next trip will be planned with that in mind, plus I want to do a bear viewing trip. Another Trip Advisor buddy showed me photos of their Denali trip the first or second week of September and the colors were amazing, so I think the advice to you to go the last week of August and first week of Sept is good, but the 1st 2 weeks of Sept would probably be fine, too. I'll have to bow to the AK experts' experience there.

What you might do is decide on a "bucket list" for your trip. If Brooks Falls is #1 on your list and an absolute must-do, then I think you should plan around that and get your reservations for that as soon as possible for whenever the experts say is the very best time. I haven't been there, so can't help with that part. It's on my bucket list, too.

Then make car reservations, getting the best rate you can, but make them through someplace you can cancel without penalty if you find a better rate. As is the case in Denver, off-airport is often much cheaper but it is certainly convenient just to pick up at the airport.

Then determine which other things on your list are specific locations and which can be done several places, kinda like I usually advise on the Colorado forums.

You're going to love Alaska. It is just so vast! As I mentioned, I know that cruises have their fans, and can be very cost effective and time-efficient way to see a little bit of several ports, particularly in SE AK. We may even do one sometime, but we don't care for crowds much. We felt that we didn't want to spend our time trooping on and off a huge ship with a couple thousand other folks. Instead, we took several trips on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry. We LOVED it, and thought it was a more "Alaska" experience. But I also know lots of people who have loved their cruises, especially when combined with a land tour to Denali NP.

One thing you MUST do is to get up into the air at least once in a small plane, and preferably a couple of times, so that one of those trips can be in a float plane. We took a small plane from Juneau to Skagway, and it served double duty as flightseeing and transportation. The "classic" flightseeing is Mt. McKinley, but we decided against that one. I'm not sure I remember why except the cost. We also took a combination bear viewing/fishing/float plane trip to Wolverine Creek and it was the absolute highlight of our trip, even though we didn't catch any fish because we were there at the very beginning of the salmon run. I guess there can be lots of fishermen/small boats there at the peak of the runs. Did you want to do any fishing? Or mainly just sightseeing and photography? We did the combination trip because it seemed to be a cost effective way to fish/fly in a float plane/and possibly see bears, which we did! If I had it to do over, I'd just bite the bullet on the cost and go on one of the full day bear viewing trips, as you are planning. Or what I'd really like to do is go on one of the overnights, something you might consider. The other things we didn't do that I'd suggest are a float trip in or near Denali, maybe from Talkeetna, and one of the glacier or glacier/wildlife cruise trips from Seward or Whittier. Again, I haven't done them so can't really give specific recommendations. We took the ferry from Valdez to Whittier, and I thought that would be another "double-duty" trip. It was, to a certain extent, but the smaller boats focus on getting you up as close as is safe to the glaciers and wildlife, whereas the ferry's main job is transportation, although they do have very helpful park rangers/naturalists on board.

Okay... On to our itinerary, as best I can remember.

Flew to Anchorage. Spent the night, then rented an RV, can't remember where we spent the first night in the RV. We drove the Glenn Highway to Glenallen, then south to Valdez. This is a beautiful drive and you get views of the mountains in the Wrangell-St Elias NP, plus glaciers, and the AK pipeline. Valdez is a lovely place, and I'd like to spend more time there someday... but if you follow a similar itinerary, this is the part of the trip I'd say to skip if you are short on time, and spend more time at Denali, maybe in SE AK (exploring some of the small communities along the ferry routes or Juneau/Haines area) and the Kenai Peninsula and wherever you're bear viewing.

Valdez to Whittier on the ferry, then Whittier to Seward. I wish we'd had more time here.

Seward to Soldotna. Stayed the night, then took the float plane trip with High Adventure Air.

Soldotna to Homer. Explored Homer, stayed two or three nights. Went halibut fishing. Was supposed to be halibut/ocean salmon combo, but it is pretty darn hard to catch ocean salmon, apparently. We did catch halibut and shipped it home...it lasted us for about three years and we enjoyed it tremendously.

Homer back to Anchorage to turn in RV. Flew to Juneau, but didn't spend much time there. It was a jumping off place for Wrangell and Scagway. If I were doing it again, I might visit Haines instead of Skagway, and I'd take Harv & Marv's whale watch out of Juneau. We flew in a small plane (just 2 passengers plus pilot and copilot, and they included some flightseeing) to Skagway, then took the White Pass bus tour to Carcross. This was very "touristy" but for good reason...it was very enjoyable and packed lots of activities in a short period of time, designed as a cruise ship excursion. Lots of history, and we got to visit a sled dog kennel, pan for gold, and see the interesting Yukon Wildlife Museum, plus we saw several black bears along the way and the bus driver stopped several times to allow photographs. Flew back to Juneau.

Juneau to Wrangell on ferry. This route is too shallow for the big cruise ships, goes past Petersburg, a lighthouse, lots of eagles along the shore. Awesome! In Wrangell we visited Petroglyph Beach, saw totems, and took a jetboat ride on the Stikene River. That was a great trip, too! We went with Eric of Breakaway Adventures. Hiked to a garnet mine, visited a wilderness hot tub, saw moose, eagles and glaciers. I wish that we had visited Anan Creek bear observatory. If you want to do that, check the best dates and get your reservations early. Some day I hope to stay at the forest service cabin there. http://www.wrangellalaska.org/ http://www.breakawayadventures.com/

From Wrangell we flew back to Anchorage and rented a car. I can't remember the time frame here..I don't think we spent the night in Anchorage but headed out to Talkeetna & Denali. We stopped at an overlook where you can see McKinley, and the mountain was out, giving us the best view we saw. Looked around Talkeetna, had lunch, then drove on to our cabin, checked in, then went to the park visitor center. Take everyone's advice and book the shuttle bus instead of paying for a tour. We did one of the tours, and liked it very much, but all the experts say the shuttle bus drivers do a great job of watching for wildlife, too, and you can get on and off. We only stayed one day. I'd say to allow at least two--or three if you can spare the time. We did not go on to Fairbanks, but wish we had. But we had to pick and choose, so chose to go to Valdez and spend some time in SE AK. We were early in the season so put Denali at the end of our itinerary so the road would be open.

We stayed two nights, so had one full day in the park. As I said, if we were doing it again, I'd plan two full days at the very minimum. We saw a mama bear right by the road, with two tiny cubs up in a tree almost at our eye level in the bus. We saw caribou, moose, ptarmigan, other birds, and a wolf! We had no idea how lucky we were that day!

Drove back to Anchorage. We had a very late flight so had most of the day to explore.

Have fun planning!