A few months ago I wrote about the various itineraries for seeing Alaska with an escorted land tour. But maybe you are one of those people who would rather not see the same 40 or so faces on a bus every day. As I explained, an escorted tour is a good value because you have the advantage of group pricing for hotels and attractions, plus the convenience of a guide and driver. But if you want to see Alaska on your own schedule, we can help you plan a vacation that puts you in the driver’s seat. From a completely customized vacation to a yachting tour, to an RV tour, to bear camps, to fishing lodges, we are your Alaska experts.
One thing that is hard for us who live in the lower 48 to understand is the sheer size of Alaska, and what that means for the time needed to travel from one place to another.
Most flights come into Anchorage, and that is a good hub to use for exploring the rest of the state.
Heading north from Anchorage, the first place of interest is Talkeetna, 113 miles away. Next is Denali National Park, 154 miles north of Talkeetna, and finally Fairbanks, which is 125 miles north of Denali, or roughly 358 miles from Anchorage. It is possible to drive from Fairbanks through Coldfoot and on to Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope, but the road is not completely paved (some rental car firms make you sign a contract that you will not drive to Prudhoe Bay with their vehicle) and you don’t even want to know how far it is. Going south from Anchorage, you can drive to Seward, 125 miles, and on to Homer, 167 miles from Seward, at the end of the Kenai Peninsula. Skagway and Haines can also be reached by car, but the route is round about. First you need to get to Whitehorse in Canada, 724 miles from Anchorage, then turn south.
So you can see that a lot of time is spent just getting from one attraction to another. The Alaska Railroad is an option, but their route generally follows the highways, with the exception of a wilderness route from Talkeetna to Hurricane Gulch. The Alaska Marine Highway, the state ferry system, is another option for getting to ports that have no road access, but their timetables may not always fit your schedule; in other words, if you take the ferry to Kodiak or Sitka, you may need to spend a few nights there before going on to your next planned stop.
Self-drive tours allow you the flexibility of spending more time at an attraction that is of interest to you, and possibly skipping another that does not interest you. The providers we work with offer several different self-drive itineraries, which include the car rental and hotels. For example one itinerary features a round trip to Anchorage, seven days and six nights, with hotels in Anchorage, Denali, Talkeetna, Fairbanks and Anchorage again. Cost for peak season (June-August) is $1,399 per person, plus taxes and fees, based on double occupancy. Included in the above price are a jet boat ride, a salmon dinner, and a sternwheeler river ride. Other self-drive itineraries are eight days from Anchorage to Homer, including a half-day halibut fishing excursion or a whale watching cruise across Kachemak Bay, the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, a cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park, and a float trip on the Spencer River. Or a 10-day self-drive tour from Anchorage that goes to both Denali and Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks, Valdez, and includes a ferry ride to Whittier, and a cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park.
These self-drive vacations are great for families with young children, who would not do well on an escorted bus trip. Again, any tour can be customized to suit your desires. As I tell customers, anything is possible in the travel business; it just comes down to how much you are willing to spend.
There are winter tours that include the Northern Lights and Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race start and restart. There are several fishing excursions for halibut, salmon, that include a guide, equipment, cleaning and freezing of your catch. There’s a van trip from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay with a flight to Barrow, the northern most city in the U.S., and also a flight trip just to Barrow. On this “top of the world” tour you will join a traditional Eskimo blanket toss and witness their ceremonial dances. Or you can enjoy a flight trip to Nome, the end point of the Iditarod race and home of one of Alaska’s gold rushes. Even Wyatt Earp came to Nome in 1897 and found his “gold mine” operating a saloon during the height of the Nome gold rush where you could pick up gold off the beach. If you are really adventurous, take a flight to a bear camp for a full day of guided bear viewing. If you want to be a little safer, take a 200-mile all day flight in Katmai National Preserve or Lake Clark Wilderness Preserve to view bear from the air as they fish for salmon or roam the coast.
Of course, tours to Dawson City, the Yukon Territory, Victoria and Vancouver, and the Canadian Rockies are also available. There’s a self-drive tour from Calgary to Banff, where you board the Rocky Mountaineer train to Vancouver, or escorted tours from Vancouver to Jasper that include a Rocky Mountaineer train ride and a Sno-coach ice field excursion.
Visit our office at 900 West Driftwood Drive in Payson for help in planning your unique vacation to the “last frontier” and look for an Alaska theme article every month in The Rim Review. Previous articles can be viewed on our Web site “blog spot” at www.travelpayson.com.