National Park Counter: 5
SUPER AWESOME TRIP. This was my first “major” trip: furthest I have ever been away from home base, longest ever flight, probably the most different spot I have been to, and the place with the most “things” I have ever done on a vacation. This is a lengthy post, and I apologize for those reading it, but there were lots of things on this trip to document!
Firstly, it was myself, my best, Nicki, another great friend, Katie, and two other pals, Bob and Lori. Nicki, Katie, and I flew together and arrived in Anchorage in the evening, maybe 8 or 9ish. Nicki mistakenly thought I would be blitzed from the travel day. That’s not how I work! I figure when traveling do as much as possible and recover when back home! So we landed, got the rental pickup, checked into the hotel and went for downtown. We found a cool spot called Humpy’s. I had a great Rudolph Burger and my first (of many) Alaskan beer. It was June 17th, and wouldn’t you know it, we found a damn SOLSTICE Party and partied until 1 or 2! And guess what!? STILL LIGHT OUTSIDE. I can see why alcohol is a problem in Alaska (it is, especially in the villages) – it’s either depressingly dark for long swathes of time, or the nighttime drive to go to bed doesn’t exist because it’s so light out the rest of the time!
The next morning the 3 of us met up with the other 2 and made our way to Girdwood, a bit southeast of Anchorage, along the Seward Highway. The highway itself is quite scenic and parallels a river/glacier spillway/inlet. Girdwood is gorgeous! There is a ski resort there on Mt. Aleyeska. From there one can take a tram up a couple thousand feet to a delicious restaurant called Seven Glaciers. Super tasty food but its expensive, but oh soooo good!! I also found a trail at the end of a road in the town called Virgin Creek Falls. This is a pretty simple trail, short, but has a neat waterfall with both a pool at the bottom and higher vantage point above. Neat little rainforest trail! We also encountered a black bear that had broken into the local bar. But the highlight of Girdwood was the adventure that Katie found for her, Nicki, and I with an Iditarod dog musher. We got to have an adventure just the three of us with dog musher Nick Petit. This was SUPER FUN and probably one of the coolest things I have ever done! The drive up to his spot was neat enough, going through the Alaska rainforest into the area between all these mountains where he and his dogs were. There was no snow but he had them pull us on a sleigh with wheels through and abandoned gold mine. How cool!
The next day the entire crew went further down the road to Seward to catch a whale watching cruise. That was a pretty neat experience as well! Seward seems like a pretty cool place to return to! There is a national park there as well, Kenai Fjords, which I was unaware of at the time. Oops. I will be back. Anyway, the cruise was definitely neat. There was a lunch stopover on an island, lots of golden seal viewing, and then, after a bit, THAR BE WHALES HERE!
After a quick return to Anchorage to swap out the truck for a proper RV, it was off to Denali National Park. The drive up took a few hours and was very scenic. We had reserved a campground spot in Riley Campground and basically did some glamping for several days. We did some hiking around the campground, The McKinley Station Trail, around a lake called Horseshoe Lake, took the tour bus over Polychrome Pass and the 60 miles to Eielson Center to get a good view of Denali…if it weren’t hidden in the clouds! We did get a quick peek at some point, but the mountain was mainly shrouded in clouds. Additionally I went on my first ever white water rafting trip! Not too bad for the first trip, on the Nenana River in Alaska! We also saw some kitschy dinner theatre shows at the Alaska Cabin Nite and also the Music of Denali. My friend Nicki used to actually work there back in the day! A couple other noteworthy spots: The Salmon Bake, which is a must visit for food, drinks, and some late night partying, Lynx Creek Pizza for some great pies and another great pizza place but has the pizza bar tap I think I had ever seen, of all Alaskan beer is Prospectors Pizzeria and Alehouse.
When we finally departed Denali we were not actually done with Denali! We saddled that big ole RV into a spot in Talkeetna for a couple nights. When we got there Katie, Nicki, and I headed to the airport and got on a bush plane through K2 Aviation to fly and land on a glacier right below Denali. That was super cool, too!
At long last we headed back to Anchorage and ate at a local mainstay, the Moosestooth (great pizza and beer!) and the next morning back to Florida!
Overall impressions: Pros include stunning scenery, great views, many things to do, wide open spaces, a different take on life (it really seems different up there) . Cons: pretty much the only con to this is the distance to travel the dollars to spend!
The Adventurer Final Word:
Five Stars, everything. It was all great and worth doing more than once!