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Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

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Sugar Land, Texas
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Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

Hi! My fiance and I are eloping to Alaska in two weeks (!!!) and we couldn't be more excited! Neither of us has ever been there before, and the only thing we really have set in stone at the moment is that our ceremony will be held in Girdwood on the second to last day of our trip. We also have a rental car booked. We both love being outside, canoeing and kayaking, moderate hiking, taking photos, once-in-a-lifetime sorts of activities, and beautiful drives. We are young and physically fit and, while we aim to be relatively frugal most of the time, don't mind splurging once or twice on really fantastic things.

Our general plan is to drive a loop from Anchorage to Glennallen, to Fairbanks, to Denali, and back down to the Kenai Peninsula. We just aren't sure how to spend our time in each place, or even if it's worth it to head all the way up to Fairbanks. As of right now, there isn't really much that appeals to us in that area (though we just might not have read enough about it yet) aside from the decent possibility of aurora viewing (very high on our list!). Is the drive up there from Glennallen pretty? Also, is it worth it to go to Valdez? We read that there was a pretty falls and a gorgeous mountainous pass in that area. We just don't want to spread ourselves too thin!

While we're looking forward to Denali (hoping to spend two days there), we're most excited about the Kenai Peninsula and Prince William Sound. We were hoping to make arrangements with a tour boat group where we might be able to see whales, glaciers, beautiful views, etc. for a few hours. Any recommendations for ports, tours, or companies?

Lastly, we are planning on having a morning ceremony in Girdwood but aren't sure how to spend the rest of our day. Any suggestions? We'd be happy to throw on jeans and do something fun in the area or up to a couple hours away. Also - does anyone have any recommendations for a charming bed and breakfast we can stay at in this area, or a place I can get my hair done?

Here is our proposed itinerary. Would love to hear your opinions and advice!

Day 1: Arrive late in Anchorage. Find simple, inexpensive accommodations and sleep.

Day 2: Head east on the Glenn Highway, enjoy some short hikes along the way, and stay in Glenallen for the evening.

Day 3: Make our way up to Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway. Spend the night there with an eye out for the aurora.

Day 4: Head to Denali first thing in the morning. Spend the night in Healy.

Day 5: All day in Denali, night in Healy.

Day 6: Make our way down to Seward, explore the area, spend the night there.

Day 7: Go on a boat tour, explore more of the peninsula, spend the night in Homer.

Day 8: Explore more of the peninsula and head back up to Anchorage in the late evening to pick up our friend from the airport. Spend the night in Anchorage or, ideally, Girdwood.

Day 9: Wedding day! Ceremony in Girdwood and then hopefully some fun and memory-making. What should we do?

Day 10: Last day in Alaska. What should we do? Have to be at the airport by 3 PM.

Any recommendations for things to do, places to go, places to eat at, and accommodations (charming bed and breakfasts or cabins are ideal!) along the proposed loop route? We're open to anything, but don't have heaps of wilderness or survival skills so nothing too rugged, please. What should we splurge on? What hikes should we take? Where can we find some calm waters to row on? Where and how can we best see whales and the aurora? How can we make our wedding day in Alaska unforgettable???

Thanks in advance!!!!

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1. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

Congratulations on the upcoming wedding & welcome to TA!

Shuttle buses into Denali end Sept 12. What is your exact date of arrival in Alaska?

You need reservations for your lodging, especially for when you arrive in Anchorage, rather than "find simple, inexpensive accommodations and sleep"

If the aurora is active one might see it from Healy near Denali.

Healy to Seward is a too long day without time to enjoy all the stops along the Turnagain.

Are you taking the tram ride up Alyeska for the wedding?

Edited: 9:44 am, August 24, 2013
Sugar Land, Texas
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2. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

Thank you! We are flying in late this Thursday (the 29th) and leaving early on Sunday, September 8, so we should be alright as far as shuttle bus availability goes in Denali. We do need to reserve our places on these buses in advance, correct? We do intend on arranging our accommodations in advance, I should have mentioned that. For the night we get in, I think we're looking at staying at a local hostel (hoping to finalize that and other lodging ASAP).

Do you think we should go to Fairbanks? All we really want to do up that way is see the aurora, if possible. If we can see it from Healy, is it worth making the whole loop?

Can you recommend a good stopping place in between Healy and Seward?

And yes, we definitely plan to take the tram up Alyeska! Looking so forward to it! We're still not sure about a precise ceremony location, though. Any suggestions?

Edited: 12:18 pm, August 24, 2013
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3. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

Just know that that time of year is known as state fair weather pattern in southcentral.... code for rain.

I have gone to 2 delightful weddings near Girdwood that time of year and 1 was in the rain. It was fun. The one we hiked to & a friend married them, which one can arrange in AK. The other with the rain had a beautiful log lodge with in which to run after the ceremony.

Plan on rain for the wedding & then it will be thrilling if the sun is out!

You are going to Denali peak tundra fall colors time- so get a shuttle bus reservation to Wonder Lake- you can always get off at Eielson if the weather is bad.

If it were I, I would spend another night in Healy & look for the northern lights there since that's the only reason you were going to Fairbanks.

Healy, Alaska
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4. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

I wouldn't do the Richardson - if you want to see a bit of that area, just drive as far as the Matanuska Glacier - you could stay night in that area, or drive back and head towards Talkeetna. I wouldn't overnight in Glennallen. I think you are driving more than seeing, so I would nip out some of that.

You really need to have your shuttle bus tickets reserved and ALL of your lodging - even hostels get full in the summer. If you need help with this, do post back. I am always happy to make recommendations in my local area - list your nightly budget & amenities you want/need. Good luck with the rest of your planning! :)

Sugar Land, Texas
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5. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

denalicat, I think we will do just that! So excited about the colors in Denali. Also, we are certainly planning for rain and clouds - would be lovely if the sun came out, but I'm sure it will be enchanting either way!

coalminer, we definitely don't have to do the Richardson. To clarify, you would recommend taking the Glenn Highway from Anchorage to the Matanuska Glacier area and then heading back? Maybe from there we could head up to Denali and then down to the Kenai Peninsula for the last half of our trip or so. If you have any lodging recommendations in these areas, we would gladly welcome them! Ideally we'd like to stay in a mix of places - we don't mind spending a couple nights in standard inns/hostels/hotels for as cheaply as possible (having a private bathroom would be nice). This would help us offset other nights where it might be nice to stay in a cabin (would have to be furnished) and/or bed and breakfasts (the more charm, the better). We'd be willing to pay around $150 a night for these. As for the evening of our wedding, we're still not sure where we'll end up - probably somewhere in Girdwood, Seward, or in between - and we'd be willing to pay about $250 or for accommodations there. A kitchen or kitchenette would be lovely for at least one of our stays. Hope this is helpful. Thanks for the assistance! MUCH appreciated!

Also, I keep reading about the Milepost. It looks like it would be tremendously useful to us, but there probably isn't enough time for us to order it and receive it before we leave. Can it be picked up in a book shop in Alaska?

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6. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

Coalminer should have a handle living up there as to the fall colors right now. You might want to go to Denali first to get the fall colors.

Alyeska Hotel is pretty plush for honeymoon night. Might want to research that.

fti
MN
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7. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

I agree with coalminer to maybe go to Matanuska Glacier then head back to the Parks Highway to drive to Denali. Day 2 could be to Matanuska Glacier, do a glacier hike for 2-3 hours, then drive on Day 2 to Palmer or Wasilla for the overnight. That will make your drive to Denali a bit shorter on Day 3.

I think you are trying to go to WAY too many places in way too short of a time. I would break up the Denali to Seward drive - that drive could take 8 hours with straight driving and no breaks of 12+ hours with traffic, road constructions, bathroom, meal and gas stops, etc. I would also skip Homer. If it were me I would do something like this:

Day 1 Aug 29 arrive Anchorage (what time?)

Day 2 Aug 30 drive to Matanuska Glacier, glacier hike, drive to Palmer or Wasilla for overnight

Day 3 Aug 31 to Denali, buy groceries for the time in Denali, entrance-area activities

Day 4 Sep 1 book shuttle bus to Wonder Lake (maybe get off at Eielson if the weather is not great)

Day 5 Sep 2 to Girdwood, spend time along Turnagain Arm (Potter Marsh, gold panning, Wildlife Conservation Center and more)

Day 6 Sep 3 to Seward, take 11.30am Kenai Fjords tour

Day 7 Sep 4 explore more in/near Seward - hiking, Sealife Center, Exit Glacier, Harding Icefield Trail and more

Day 8 Sep 5 morning drive to Whittier, take Prince William Sound glacier cruise, 6pm tunnel out of Whittier, in Anchorage about 7.30pm (is this early enough to pick up your friend?)

Day 9 Sep 6 Wedding day! Ceremony in Girdwood and then hopefully some fun and memory-making. What should we do?

Day 10 Sep 7 Last day in Alaska. What should we do? Have to be at the airport by 3 PM.

You mentioned your dates as Aug 29 to Sep 8 but then you had a 10 day trip. Something doesn't seem to jive correctly since I put dates on your days and you are a day short. Please explain.

Sugar Land, Texas
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8. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

Hi, fti! Thanks for the itinerary ideas! To clarify about the dates, I do apologize, we arrive in Anchorage on Thursday, the 29th, around midnight so our first full day is August 30. Our last full day is September 7, and we leave (basically that evening) around 1AM Sunday, September 8. So technically the trip works out to include eleven days, but we only count nine full days (my mistake) since the arrival and departure dates are negligible. Hope this makes sense.

Here is what we're thinking now.

August 29 - Arrive late into Anchorage, check in to accommodations, sleep.

August 30 (Day 1) - Check on our marriage license in Anchorage, stock up on food, drive up to Denali (there was a recommendation to see this first for the fall colors), overnight in Healy.

August 31 (Day 2) - All day in Denali, Wonder Lake if the weather permits. Overnight in Healy.

September 1 (Day 3) - All day in Denali. (We were thinking we'd like to spend at least two days here. Is this time better spent on the Kenai Peninsula?)

September 2 (Day 4) - Leave Denali early, drive to Palmer/Wasilla/Anchorage (any recommendations for which to overnight in?), possibly squeeze in the trip to Matanuska Glacier. Long day is okay, but would, of course, like to be realistic about it.

September 3 (Day 5) - Beluga Point by Anchorage, continue on to Seward, Exit Glacier, Sealife Center, Harding Icefield Trail, etc. Overnight in Seward, hopefully at a b&b.

September 4 (Day 6) - 1130 AM Seward Fjords Tour (!!!), explore more of the Kenai Peninsula. We read nice things about Homer and might consider still checking it out, but would our time be better spent in and around Seward? We're mostly excited about Kenai Fjords NP, so maybe we should stick around here another day and find some hiking instead of Homer? Thoughts?

September 5 (Day 7) - Morning drive to Whittier, Prince William Sound glacier cruise. (We'd love some more info on this. Can someone kindly point us in a good direction? We'll have a rental car, too - do we ferry it through the tunnel? Not sure how this would work.) Our friend gets into Anchorage at 1145 PM, so we have all day! Overnight in either Anchorage or Girdwood. Late night. Whew.

September 6 (Day 8) - Wedding Day! Get to Girdwood (if we're not there already), get ready (is there a hair salon here? Anyone want to come do my hair?? Just loose waves - easy peasy!), ceremony somewhere, tram up to Alyeska, photos, explore area, hike maybe, spend time along Turnagain Arm (Potter Marsh, gold panning, Wildlife Conservation Center, etc.). Overnight in a b&b? Possibly Alyeska Hotel but we are all about a sweet Girdwood b&b if possible!

September 7 (Day 9) - We have to drop off our friend at the airport around 4PM. Maybe save this day for something we didn't have time to do before. Dinner somewhere nice. Turn in our rental car and head for the airport ourselves around 1030 PM.

Would love thoughts/opinions/advice on this update. Thanks so much for all of your help so far!

Edited: 9:19 pm, August 24, 2013
fti
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9. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

It helps to put dates to itineraries vs. "days" so thanks for the clarification.

I think Denali first is wise - you never know when the fall colors will peak. Be sure to reserve your shuttle bus tickets in advance. I would definitely book two days of shuttle buses if you are interested in scenery, wildlife and fall colors. I will be spending 6 nights in the park starting early September, but I am an exception I know!

>>September 2 (Day 4) - Leave Denali early, drive to Palmer/Wasilla/Anchorage (any recommendations for which to overnight in?), possibly squeeze in the trip to Matanuska Glacier. Long day is okay, but would, of course, like to be realistic about it.

It will be a +-5-6 hour drive to Matanuska Glacier depending on traffic, etc. I think it would be a nice stop if you are interested in hiking on a glacier. After that you can drive to Eagle River or Anchorage (2 hours) for an overnight.

Honestly I don't see the value of spending 8 hours to get from Seward to Homer and back (or 7 hours Seward to Homer to the junction road back to Anchorage). If you want to see the Alaskan roads during your trip, be my guest. I much prefer to do activities like the Kenai Fjords tour, hiking, etc and plant myself in one place for multiple nights. If you go to Homer, it looks like you would be a single night three or four nights in a row - Sep 2-3-4-5. Not my idea of seeing Alaska.

For Prince William Sound, you have a choice of two companies - Major Marine and Phillips (26 Glaciers). You drive through a +-4 mile tunnel to Whittier (open once an hour in each direction for 15 minutes). The glacier tours are pretty much all in the afternoon. With your friend getting into Anchorage at 11.45pm I would probably just stay in Anchorage. You won't get out of the airport until at least 12.30am with luggage retrieval, etc.

On Sep 7 you want to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight departure time. The airport in Anchorage is very busy in the summer.

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10. Re: Eloping and Road Tripping in Alaska this September!

There is Girdwood Salon.

Lots of B&B's in Girdwood. HIdden Creek B&B gets good reviews. Lots of other choices:

http://www.gbba.org/bedandbreakfast.html

Seward B&Bs:

…seward.com/list/category/bed-breakfast-8

Healy B&Bs:

tripadvisor.com/Hotels-g31007-Healy_Alaska-H…

August 29 is this week ...eek! So better jump on lodging reservations!

You could take the tram up the mountain & get married up there I would think but you might want to check with Alyeska. On a clear day the view is tremendous!

Edited: 9:44 pm, August 24, 2013