One week in Alaska - what to do?
May 10, 2016 6:55 PM   Subscribe

My Better Half and I are going to Alaska for a week during the 4th of July. Please give us your suggestions on where to go and what to do, see, and eat in this big state with limited time. Flying in and out of Anchorage.

About us: early 40's, Denver, CO residents, semi-athletic, outdoorsy. Better half hasn't been to Alaska. I've spent most of a year in Alaska when I was near penniless in my 20's, worked at Denali for a summer and went to school in Juneau for a semester.

Ideally, we want to see wildlife, glaciers, lakes, rivers, stream, ocean, mountains

Both of us like:
- animals
- hiking, sea kayaking
- drinking coffee, reading the newspaper
- hanging out with a view
- road trips but also prefer not to drive a ton
- spending two or three days in a few places instead of trying to see too much
- traveling by train or bus
- good food
- science, geek culture
- small towns and real people
- unique accommodations, AirBnB, VRBO

Better Half:
- birds
- tours. Ghost tours, any tour
- shopping at unique stores for fun stuff.
- wine

- long hikes
- good cheap food
- cheaper more rustic lodging. Not opposed to a yurt
- coffee shops

Currently, we are considering limiting ourselves to the Kenai Peninsula and Denali National Park or Talkeetna. Maybe just the Kenai Peninsula. What would you recommend for an itinerary?
posted by fieldtrip to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'm sure others will pop in with suggestons for Denali/Talkeetna and the Kenai, but I wanted to link you to the Anchorage ghost tour site. I've never done it but my history-buff husband has and enjoyed it. The timing might work for your last evening in Alaska if your flight out is a red-eye.
posted by charmcityblues at 7:15 PM on May 10, 2016

I live on the Kenai Peninsula. The drive from Anchorage around Turnagin Arm to the peninsula is gorgeous. There are several places to pull over enroute and take pictures or just watch for awhile. Keep an eye out for beluga whales in the water - we've occasionally seen as many as 50 or 60 at a time. If you time your travel right, you may be able to catch the bore tide as the tide turns and begins to rise inTurnagin Arm.

Unfortunately, no food is cheap here - you'll have sticker shock any place you eat. If you can buy groceries and do breakfast and lunch simply (like cereal and milk for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch), it will help.

In July, the Kenai Peninsula is all about sport fishing, both on the Kenai River and 'on the salt' (ocean). I don't see fishing on your 'to-do' list, so you'll have to be patient with the traffic, as it's bad in July everywhere on the peninsula.

Plan at least a day in Homer, maybe two because there are lots of shops and interesting things to see on a walk or short drive. Plan to be out on the Homer Spit in the afternoon when the boats come in - it's fun to see what people have caught on their fishing excursions. The farmer's market on Saturday morning is worth visiting., and there are a number of museums in Homer worth visiting.

You might enjoy another day in Seward. Take a boat tour, visit the Sea Life Center, lunch in one of the cafes there.

Enjoy your visit - we love having you here!
posted by summerstorm at 7:46 PM on May 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

I spent a week in Alaska, starting in Anchorage, and went down to Seward for two nights and then up to Denali for two nights and that worked well for me since I was also visiting a friend in Anchorage but if you are doing longer outdoor stuff you might want more nights in the Kenai Pennisula.

The beauty of the train ride from Anchorage to Seward haunts me to this day. So, so beautiful. Not cheap, but wow (and these don't even really fully capture it). One thing to keep in mind with planning is that July 4th is a pretty big deal in Seward since there is a big race (Mount Marathon) on that day every year. Also, if you do want to go to Denali you will probably want to book bus tickets and accommodations for the park as soon as you can.
posted by pie_seven at 8:06 PM on May 10, 2016

I spent a week in Alaska two years ago. The nicest hangouts with a view were at the Homer Inn and Spa, looking out on Kachemak Bay, sitting in the outdoor hot tub if you're into that. (They have a yurt, not one you can stay in iirc but I got a nice massage in it.) The best food I had was at the Saltry Restaurant in Halibut Cove, accessible by ferry from Homer.
posted by clavicle at 8:16 PM on May 10, 2016

I love Denali (spent a whole season there!), but with just a week I'm n'thing the Homer/Seward trip just for the drive and the opportunity to gawp at the way the land crashes into the sea. It's the height of the season so do book everything asap.
posted by mochapickle at 10:31 PM on May 10, 2016

Train travel out of Anchorage in pretty much any direction will be scenic as fuck. But, yes, book now. Trains will be packed because it's summer and because of state cutbacks.
posted by Foam Pants at 10:46 PM on May 10, 2016

I loved Hope- not too far, a world away.
posted by mrzz at 11:06 PM on May 10, 2016

I loved Seward, and especially the day-long glacier cruise. It included both lunch and a meal off the boat on Fox Island. We saw a lot of wildlife, including Orcas.

Not far from Seward is the Exit glacier.
posted by bricksNmortar at 6:26 AM on May 11, 2016

A bit more ('twas late for me!)... Okay we were there at the same time with family and did some great things and some really ungreat things. Here's what I think...

* frankly didn't care for staying in Anchorage, *except* for eating at the Marx Brothers Cafe. Pricey as all get out but downright magical and a great way to become slightly accustomed to the continual energy feed you receive when it's light out at 11:00pm.

* we stayed in Gridwood, which again I wouldn't recommend, but if you're there getting up early, going up Crow pass trail, and then off-roading at the pass in to the untroubled upper draws me over mountains was simply spectacular - unfortunately it takes a long time to get up to the real cool stuff and the trail gets really really crowded on the way down (go early- early). And then top it off at the Double Muskgee or whatever it's called and eat that peppercorn steak like you need to replace the 4000 calories you just expended.

* Hiked Carter Lake which was a nice,not too long, hike.

* I didn't like the Seward feel -too many folks, cruise ships. We kayaked there but it didn't really feel much like getting out and about when you can see a cruise ship hanging out at port.

* We stayed in Sunrise on the Hope Hwy at someone's little 2nd house we stumbled across and it was fantastic. Only thing I remember about the place was the pup named Guthrie who would keep the Browns at bay.

* We'd head in to Hope for meals at the Cafe and those were simply amazing- what a great little town and a beautiful place. That time of year the sun actually make an appearance at sunset (10:30 or something) and it's just magical. Great hikes around there too, but pretty remote.

* We ratted the SixMile and that was a lot of fun, but with only 2 you might be stuck in a raft with nitwits. Our outfitter was the one where you have to swim in SixMile and eddy out before you head in to the canyon- I really liked them.

More if I can remember/find the time.
posted by mrzz at 7:33 AM on May 11, 2016

Lots of good suggestions here. Driving to Whittier is pretty cool too; lots of history behind that town, and it's on the way if you're headed south. Don't forget to look at distances; seeing AK up in the corner of your maps makes it look smallish, but Anchorage to Fairbanks is 6+ hours, and if you superimpose AK on the lower 48 it takes up more space than you might think.
posted by craven_morhead at 7:51 AM on May 11, 2016

I spent a week in Alaska last summer. We flew into Anchorage and drove up to Fairbanks, stopping in Denali for a few days. Our trip was designed to maximize land-based activities. One day in Fairbanks we took a shuttle up to the Arctic Circle. The drive was right along the oil pipeline and our driver was super informative. This was in May so our tour only had ~6 people on it. It may be a different experience with July crowds.

The Denali shuttles are a wonderful service. Get on the earliest one and take it as far as you can. You can bring camping gear or I think there was a hotel at one of the very far stops. Or don't go in as far and have a nice day trip! The views are out of control and we saw lots of wildlife (like a grizzly bear & cubs less than 100 feet away). We took the bus as far as it went so early in the season, hiked around for a few hours, then took the bus back.

It was important to my traveling companion to see Denali the mountain, not just the park, and we were lucky to see it every day we were in the area. People kept saying that was remarkable as it's not always visible. If that's important to you, it may be worth extra time in the Denali area (think, like, 100 miles on the road in either direction- it's a freakin' huge mountain) to make sure you see it.

While exploring Denali, we stayed in Healy. For some reason, we couldn't drink the water. It might have been a health thing or it might have tasted bad. Gallon jugs of water were very expensive and the small liquor/convenience store in Healy only had one in stock. I recommend buying some gallon jugs on your way out of Anchorage.

If (when) I go again, I would spend time on the Kenai and get out on the water. I'd love to fly up to Barrow, too.

FYI: Bring insect repellant.
posted by thewestinggame at 8:32 AM on May 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Amazingly I think here's where we stayed in Sunrise:
While we had provisioned ourselves for food pretty well out of Girdwood, basically we spent a good day or two simply enjoying Hope and the Seaview Cafe. We could have spent another day or two just enjoying the Seaview and the view and the flats just beyond the parking area. There is a small general store in Hope but IIRC it wasn't very good.

Also it's fun to park along the Hope highway and take trails down to view the SixMile - it has great rapids and there are lots of trails that the outfitter photogs have created to see awesome views.
posted by mrzz at 10:52 AM on May 12, 2016

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