Alaska by land is a unforgettable.
I recommending skipping the cruise and exploring on your own.
My love and I had an opportunity to visit Alaska but only about seven days to do it, including travel days. I once thought of Alaska as a bucket-list item, and now I plan to go back every few years.
This article takes you on a Brewery, B&B and Excursion Tour with beautiful Alaska as a back drop. This article will take you through the Anchorage, Denali National Park and Kenai Peninsula regions.
Arrival Day 1
Fly into Anchorage happens anytime of the day or night. With the time differential, like Vegas, travelers come in throughout the day and night and the airport is ready to receive you. Restaurants and gift shops are open, cabs are abundant and car rentals counters stay open late. I suggest an SUV or greater, our Honda Accord was great on mileage but we often find ourselves in rough country. If you want to stand out like a tourist, get a sedan or economy size car. If you arrive before 7pm, pick up your car rental and get on your way. Otherwise, I suggest a chain hotel (perhaps on your reward points) and an opportunity to visit the Visitor center and if earlier enough the Anchorage Museum. There is a lot of history about Alaska that is important to our American Culture and you will appreciate you stay even further if you brush up on our history before your adventure.
Day 2 – The southern end of Mt. McKinley
If you arrive earlier in the afternoon, take a drive through downtown Anchorage and stop first at a Visitor Center to arm yourself with brochures, maps and suggestions. Your next chance for light groceries will be in Wasilla, after you have made it around the first mountain pass. I suggest visiting the northern sites first. Plan to go up to Denali National Park as a major destination, but it is a major destination and a five-hour drive from Anchorage, so we have some recommendations for respite and recreation along the way.
To start your vacation off well, set the stage with the drive through Hatcher Pass. Hatcher pass is a 45-mile drive through the Denali National Forest. Look for the Hatcher Pass signs near Palmer. The landscape will lead you through beautiful brooks and a falls area. The hills transcend vertically in a breathtaking manner, and it reminds of what I think Scotland would look like. Plan to have lunch at the Lodge, to experience deli sandwiches with organically grown ingredients. Near the lodge enter the gravel road into Hatcher Pass. Don’t get deterred by the rough gravely road. Walk up the pass up to the Lake and experience the breathtaking vastness of your surroundings. As you wind down the mountain switchbacks, you will travel along a forested road, and may experience for the first time ever, a water body that is a clear, crisp and pristine.
As you head your way up north on Highway 1, check into your first B&B, the Alaskan Host. You will be the guests of Jackie and Jim Houston, a gracious and friendly couple, where you will be welcomed in their home by them and their dog. Willow is a good halfway point between Anchorage and Denali national park.
Take the afternoon to travel up to Talkeetna. Talkeetna is a touristy town with gift shots and pub eateries. Plan on about an hour; I suggest an outside seat at the west Pub and Grille. And experience your first Brew. The outside deck is mostly shaded and pleasant. Book a flight with Talkeetna Air Taxi for your first Fearless/Fearful adventure, a flight seeing tour of Mt. McKinley. This may be your one and only shot to see “Denali”, as the natives call Mt. McKinley, as viewing is often limited by cloud coverage. The 6:30 flight will last about an hour and forty-five minutes. You can be on your way and back to the Alaskan Host by 9pm.
Day 3 – Denali National Park, north of Mt. McKinney
Take an extra cup of coffee back up to your room, and enjoy the back patio view of the pond with the evergreen backdrop. In the morning, take the time to enjoy the conversation and delicious breakfast with Jackie and Jim.
Today is your day to visit Denali National Park. I suggest the 2pm Tundra Wilderness tour. It will be about a three and a half hour drive, so you need to leave by 9 am. When you arrive at the park entrance, you can stop into the Morino Grille for lunch, and still have plenty of time to exchange your reservation for a bus ticket. The tour will last approximately 8 hours. With the changes in scenery, and interesting narrator /bus driver the wildlife settings and well=timed bathroom breaks, the ride will go by quickly. The bus is the only way other than by foot into the National Park system (there are some exceptions for inside park lodging and special RV parking, but it is very limited).
You will be tired but now well acquainted to the beauty of Alaska at the end of your first two days. Accommodations our tough to find here, look around, call ahead.
Day 4 – Heading South, back to Anchorage
This will be an extensive travel day, so best get a head start. Alaska is so vast and there is so much to see, your drive today will be like going from Cleveland, Ohio to Louisville, KY. Buck up and get it done. However, we have some check in points along the way that will make it help to break up the day. Personally, we didn’t come to see the city. When you come from an urban dense population, Anchorage will look like a major suburb of a big city. Make it a goal to be back in Anchorage about 1pm, and time for a sampling at the Anchorage Brewery Company. The Anchorage Museum and the Railroad company blah. I suggest booking a two-day stay at the Inn at Tern Lake, about an hour south of Anchorage. The Inn is at the junction of Highways One and Nine, and it is a good base location for many activities.
Day 5 – Moose Pass and Coopers Landing
From here head west to with a goal of Coopers Landing. Along the way, you will travel through Highway One heading to Soldotna, and pass Kenai Like and the Russian River. This area is known for their fishing, in the rushing rivers and streams. The winding road will be dotted with RV and anglers coming to fish. The establishments in this stretch on rustic and redneck. I suggest making a photo stop at Cooper Landing, the Russian River. Adventure 3 – AT Cooper Landing, you can book a Kayak or raft trip down the turquoise river. Gwinn’s lodge is a great hamburger joint that offers about five taps.
Here you have choices you can head back to the Inn to enjoy the beauty of the grounds and the Inn and make this your mid-trip rest day. There is a common area space with great views to hang out in, read or catch up on emails.
If you aren’t in the mood for kayaking or fishing, if you are ambitious enough for a drive, continue westbound into Soldotna and have dinner on to St. Elias Brewery. I suggest sitting at the beautifully etched stone bar. The wood-fired pizza and a pint are a must. Enjoy the one-hour ride back to Inn at Tern Lake.
Day 6 – Seward Peninsula, Hiking and Boating
If you have time to continue your journey, head south with Seward as your destination. Stop on the way and hike at Tonsita Point. I also recommend taking this opportunity to get out on the water. You can take a four or eight hour boat tour of the Fjords, and see from the water some of the most dramatic glaciers with plenty of picture taking opportunities. Kenai Fjords boat tour was reliable, organized and with good navigators and narrators. That night, stay near Seward and the incredibly well done Bell in the Woods. Your hosts will make you feel quite special with their high attention to detail. The rooms are cozy, and the in-room showers are amazing.
Day 7– Last hike
Day Seven may be time to head back to anchorage, but you can make a couple of stops on the way, such as the Art Gallery in Seward, or an up close and personal hike amidst the Exit Glacier. Do the extra sightseeing of the small town of Seward. If you have time to kill in Anchorage, visit the Mountain High brewery.
Head to the airport, full of great memories, and dream about them on a redeye home!