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Old 12-06-2012, 08:37 AM
 
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I'm considering flying up to Anchorage for an Alaskan vacation next summer, depending on if I can squeeze it into my budget. I've wanted to visit and see the Alaskan scenery forever. Any recomendations on what to see and do? I definately want to rent a car and head up toward Denali. Maybe go as far as Fairbanks. In the other direction, how is the Kenai peninsula? Any safety tips for a naive guy unaccustomed to driving in very remote places? How's the phone reception along the highways? I'm guessing that the severe winters do a number on the roads. Are they in good condition and will there be a lot of traffic/construction delays during the summer? I very much enjoy hiking and seeing nature, but draw the line at camping. At the end of the day, I need a real matress and some indoor plumbing :-) Thanks for all suggestions.
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Old 12-06-2012, 08:52 AM
 
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There's a joke in AK that there are two seasons in Alaska: Winter and Construction.

Also check out:

Alaska Forum, Travel Discussion for Alaska - TripAdvisor

There are lots of trip reports to give you ideas for your travels & folks to help you plan your itinerary.
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Old 12-06-2012, 09:12 AM
 
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Did that trip this past summer. Cell phone reception is fair, but much better than rural Canada and as longed you are on the paved main road you will have it most of the time. Venturing even slightly off the beaten path usually means no cell service.

We always found a place with a real mattress and indoor plumbing in AK to sleep. I never found a sub-$100 a night place though. However, rest areas usually are outhouse style and BYOTP. Bring your own toilet paper. Construction delays were not that bad. Roads were perfect compared to the Alaska and Taylor highway in Canada, but still worse than the roads I drive on daily down here.

Funny thing is that I was concerned about vehicle damage in Alaska and the damages I got were in Montana and Canada.... I rented a car and my insurance company ended up paying for a new windshield.
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Old 12-06-2012, 09:26 AM
 
Location: Deltana, AK
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A lot of people go to Denali National Park, and a lot of people leave mildly disappointed. The mountain itself is only visible maybe 1/3 of the summer due to cloud cover (best luck in early morning) and the 90 miles on a gravel road, crammed in with other tourists on an old bus is pretty cumbersome. The park entrance is a 240 mile drive from Anchorage. The one exceptional thing the national park offers is wildlife viewing. You'll have a very good chance of seeing grizzly bear, moose, caribou, and sheep, and some chance of seeing wolves. If you do decide to go that far, then you might as well do the whole big loop through Fairbanks and Glennallen. It's a great deal of driving, but will redefine your sense of wilderness.

Much depends on how long you're able to be here, and on whether there's anything specific you're dying to see - some type of landscape or wildlife you've seen photos of and has left a strong impression. If you have a month, then sure you can see a lot, including Denali, Fairbanks, Wrangell St. Elias, Valdez, etc. For a more normal 10 day - 2 week length vacation, I'd recommend something like this:

Show more

That'll give you a good cross section without getting too remote (keeping in mind, no camping). Highly recommended stuff to do and sideroads to see:
-getting on the water in Kachemak Bay (Homer) to Seldovia or Halibut Cove.
-Harding Icefield hike near Seward.
-activities and hiking around Girdwood.
-View and hiking from Glen Alps trailhead above Anchorage.
-Eagle River Road.
-Hatcher Pass Road near Palmer.
-Walk on the Matanuska Glacier.
-Hopefully see Denali from Talkeetna (the view is just about as good as in the national park).

Stuff that's really worth dropping some cash on:
-21 Glacier Cruise out of Whittier, $165.
-Flightseeing around Denali from Talkeetna, $250 (infinitely more spectacular than the park road - probably the most jaw dropping thing I've ever seen up here.

You'll find the best summer weather and conditions in June and July (some hiking trails don't melt out until July). The weather all summer is very unpredictable, but August tends to be rainier. September doesn't have the best weather, but there are fewer crowds, somewhat lower prices, and awesome fall colors. Hotels are very expensive in summer. If you're on a budget, consider hostels and bed n breakfast type places.
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Old 12-06-2012, 09:41 AM
 
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How much time do you have to spend visiting Alaska?

I think many visitors are surprised by the size of Alaska, the distance between towns, and the fact that there's a lot of nothing between towns. It's not like there's off ramps on the highway. Denali is about 6 hours from Anchorage, Seward is three, Kenai is about 3 also, depending on how many motor homes are in front of you. You can spend a lot of each day just driving to places.

My suggestions for first time visitors, in no particular order:
1) Denali (kind of touristy, but still worth the visit. If they still have the shuttle buses, take one of those into the park instead of taking one of the tour buses)
2) McCarthy/Kennicott (if you have time)
3) Homer
4) Seward
5) Valdez (If you have time)
6) Kenai/Soldotna
7) Eagle River Nature Center (or whatever it's called now). Great hiking trails and incredible scenery, just a short drive from Anchorage.

Plan for rain and mosquitoes. Also be aware that you're never very far from true wilderness. There aren't many places where you don't have to be alert for bears. Not trying to scare you and sound overly dramatic, but that's just the fact. People get into trouble when they think they can just go wander off and "commune with nature."

There are few places on earth as beautiful as Alaska. If you can swing it, do it! You'll need to make a decision pretty soon because depending on the time of year, you may have trouble getting reservations at a hotel and getting a rental car lined up.
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Old 12-06-2012, 11:20 AM
 
Location: Wasilla, AK
2,553 posts, read 3,917,257 times
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In addition to the information you'll receive here, I also recommend some time on the Trip Advisor forums: Alaska Forum, Travel Discussion for Alaska - TripAdvisor

Some key questions: what month are you planning this trip and how long do you plan to be here? Late May to early September are the traditional tourist months. That's when most of the visitor activities & tours are available. You'll want to plan on renting a car for the most flexibility and the sooner you reserve the cheaper it'll be. Most people on a 7 to 10 day time frame do Denali & Seward. Alaska is a large state and things are spread out, so there's travel time.

The major paved highways are in fairly good shape; and yes, you will encounter road construction. I always recommend having a copy of The MILEPOST: Alaska Travel Guide and Trip Planner as your guide to the roads. If you buy the most current addition that comes out each March, it'll have warnings about the major construction projects.
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Old 12-06-2012, 11:41 AM
 
287 posts, read 482,848 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bongo View Post
There's a joke in AK that there are two seasons in Alaska: Winter and Construction.
LOL - that's funny right there.

Go whale watching on the coast... take the train.
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Old 12-06-2012, 12:34 PM
 
Location: Anchorage
96 posts, read 177,411 times
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I would also suggest Valdez, and would go there over Homer. I love Valdez and I think the scenery is amazing. On the Kenai I find the drive to Seward to be nicer than the drive to Homer. Although you really can't go wrong no matter where you go. How much time you have is the biggest factor to making a good itinerary (as well as what you want to do - fish?).
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Old 12-06-2012, 02:51 PM
 
1,380 posts, read 1,770,998 times
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I would LOVE to do a full month, but don't think it'd be at all realistic. 10-14 days would be much more feasible. Flightseeing around Denali sounds spectacular. I'm gonna have to google that one. Whalewatching sounds amazing. I'm very hesistant to go in June because I went to Glacier Park in MT a couple of years back in June and the Going to the Sun road through the park had not yet been opened for the Summer. Major disappointment! I've found that late August is a good time to travel because, while things are still warm in the mountains, many kids are back in school already, so there are fewer folks at attractions and flights are often cheaper. How about the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks? Anything worthwhile for the tourist there? Thanks again for all the tips!
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Old 12-06-2012, 05:46 PM
 
Location: Wasilla, AK
2,553 posts, read 3,917,257 times
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For most people, Anchorage & Fairbanks is just a gateway point to the rest of Alaska. There's museums, etc... But I wouldn't spend much time in either place.
I want to again recommend the Trip Advisor site: Alaska Forum, Travel Discussion for Alaska - TripAdvisor You'll find a ton of suggested itineraries there and trip reports from other travelers.

Unless you are going to Southeast, which is only reachable via plane or boat, whale watching is hit or miss on seeing anything. Late August/Early September is a good time to visit for the fall colors.
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