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Alaska questions
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Alaska questions

I had posted to the Nature and Wildlife forum in error rather than this forum. While I did get some great info, and refined our plans quite a bit based on that info, I am hoping I can get answers to specific questions here.

My wife has planned a three-generation family cruise of Alaska along the inside passage, up to Glacier Bay and back in September, 2018. Discussions led to agreement on several days on land, before or after the cruise (now determined to
be after), for her and I to do a land trip mostly geared to photography. My photographic interests are fairly heavily slanted to wildlife; maybe 75% wildlife, 1% 'macro' (extension tubes) and the rest landscapes.

Below is the tentative plan we have come up with (S 8 is September 8, 2018). As an aside, it is my hope in 5 to 10 years to drive the Alaska highway in a travel van. Don't know if that would change what you might think of what is below.

Please note that there is no flexibility on the front end of our trip because September 8th is the day we get off that cruise and there is no flexibility on the back end because my wife must be back at work on the 18th.

S 8: into Anchorage (2:45 PM; Saturday); get rental car and drive to Seward (~2.5 hrs)
S 9: Seward: Fjord cruise, explore Seward (no Alaska Sealife Center (closes at 5PM))
S 10: Seward - Soldotna - Lake Clark (~ 2 hr drive; 9AM flight to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge)
S 11: Lake Clark (Silver Salmon Creek Lodge)
S 12: Lake Clark - Soldotna - Talkeetna (9AM flight, 4.5 hr drive); stopping at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
S 13: Talkeetna to Denali (2.5 hrs to park entrance (45 min. to start of park; cruise George Park Highway and northward?))
S 14: Denali (park bus?)
S 15: morning in Denali (George Park?); drive to Anchorage in afternoon (4 hr drive); return car
S 16: home (home early AM on 17th)

General question: does anything in this plan strike you as a bad idea; either because of time of year or some other consideration? Do you see any issue with the 6AM - 8AM drive from Seward to Soldotna? I don't believe there are any tunnels to be concerned with.

We are considering Silver Salmon Creek Lodge for Lake Clark. We did look at Alaska Homestead Lodge, but its last day is September 6th. I also noticed Hallo Bay bear camp. An overnight stay with them doesn't seem to offer as much viewing time. Any notable benefit to them re quality of bear and other wildlife viewing, or the guides?

Glaciers and wildlife: my priority would be wildlife but interested in the glaciers as well. I get the impression that Seward is the better choice for wildlife and Whittier better for Glaciers. Would this be correct? So if Seward is the way to go for wildlife, just load up on motion sickness meds, slap on the sea bands and hope for calm to moderate seas?

How much time might I realistically expect to spend in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center? Just want to plan some time for this.

As always, much appreciation for those of you who 'donate' your valuable time to respond!

Jul 30, 2017 at 12:02 AM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Alaska questions

I can offer a few things (that you may already know). If you take the Kenai Fjords tour out of Seward that goes to Northwestern Fjord, then you will see both wildlife and glaciers (assuming that you can make it to NW Fjord (rough seas sometimes prevent that)). However, the glaciers of College Fjord in Prince William Sound (accessible via Whittier, if I remember correctly) are pretty numerous and impressive. And, of course, you will see plenty of wonderful glaciers in Glacier Bay! Please be sure to post some of your images once you get back. Have fun!
Keith W.

Jul 30, 2017 at 06:33 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Alaska questions

Replied by email.

Jul 30, 2017 at 09:18 AM
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Alaska questions

Sep 8 - do-able - you can get to Seward after a 245 PM arrival, but you won't have time to stop a lot.

Seward - look up Exit Glacier. It's easy to walk to and you can walk right up to the front face of the glacier - not a lot of places you can do that.

Kenai Fjords - a cruise from Seward will take you to the Holgate glacier, where the boat didn't get very close, and to the Aialik Glacier, where the boat stood in close to the face of the ice. That glacier went through a lot of calving (more than the on-board ranger had ever seen), with one calving large enough to cause the boat to make an urgent move away from the oncoming wave from the splash. Great stuff.

I haven't taken a Prince William Sound/College Fjord tour, so I can't compare them.

Motion sickness - a childhood problem I've never outgrown. If you have a choice, take a catamaran rather than a single hull boat. Waves will rock a single hull more than a double hull. When the boat stands in close to rocks (to see birds, etc), the waves get worse. Every wave rocks the boat twice, once as it passes the boat, and again as it returns having been reflected off the rocks.

Denali - your plan calls for 2 half days and one full day. In mid September, it will be either full fall color or past the peak color. Few tees in Denali (tee line is only 3,000 ft), but the park is awash in shrubbery that turns mostly red with some yellow in the 2nd half of August. The road in the park is paved for the 1st 15 miles, and only park vehicles and campers with reservations can go farther.

Denali offers tours on fairly nice buses, but they also have the Kantishna shuttle. It's a school bus ride from the visitor center to the end of the road in Kantishna. It's not especially comfortable (but adequate) and a long day (8 AM to 9AM on our trip), but you get to see the full length of the park in one day. Drivers are knowledgeable, and will stop when anyone sees an animal. You can shoot through the open windows, but hand-held will be your only real option - the bus doesn't shut off, so vibration makes a tripod or monopod a bad idea.

If you get the chance, go a mile north of the park entrance to the Gulch (local name) and find the fish and chips place on the right. They use fresh halibut - best fish and chips I've ever found.

Jul 31, 2017 at 04:09 AM

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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Alaska questions

As far as the Glaciers go...

The one huge standout on my 4 day trip that was way too packed was the flight from Talkeetna to Ruth Glacier. We landed on the glacier itself, you are surrounded by the mountains.

There Is Nothing Like It Period. It's like being dropped into National Geographic magazine. The experience, for me, was incredible, and one of the few memories I have that gives me goose bumps every single time I recall it.


I think this was the company we used. If you have the money and the time, this should be on everyone's bucket list. Photo's you take don't look real, and won't do it justice, but missing this would be a shame, IMHO. Have a great time on your trip.

Aug 01, 2017 at 02:23 PM
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Alaska questions

Dates S8-S12 are do-able. I have driven to Seward from Anchorage (check out the designated times for the one-way tunnel) which could cause some waiting delay. In Seward, a nice cruise around Resurrection Bay and the fiords are worth it. You will likely see whales and porpoises/dolphins. The bay is pretty protected so I rule out motion sickness.

Driving through Kenai peninsula is a great experience with lots of stops for photo op. It's a beautiful peninsula. Check out the (receding) Exit glacier and drive on to the Russian river and see wall-to-wall fishermen perhaps fishing close by brown bears coming to of the woods for salmon. Soldotna is a nice place and you can go down to the boardwalk along the river for some nice landscape shots. You will very likely see all kinds of wildlife along the drive to Soldotna, which is one of the jumping off points to the Katmai area.

South east Alaska, being what it is, be prepared for wet weather and so have appropriate weather protection for yourself and the photo equipment. Could be nippy cold in late September too. Check Anchorage daily temperature tables.

Aug 05, 2017 at 04:31 AM
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Alaska questions

The more I think about your trip I might suggest skipping the boat ride. I think the puffins will probably be gone by the time you get there. I would add the extra time some place else. Exit Glacier is a great hike.
Add the time from the boat ride to Lake Clark. Prime time to see bears and salmon.

Aug 12, 2017 at 03:11 AM

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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Alaska questions

EverLearning: I just returned from our fifth trip to Alaska. I can report from first hand knowledge that your driving time estimates are somewhat understated. I just completed driving some 1700 miles from Anchorage to Denali to Seward to Homer and to Anchorage with numerous stops and tangents along the way. All things would have to go perfect for you to reach the goals you have outlined. Given the time you have I would make the following suggestions that might give you a better bang for your time and buck in Alaska.

I am in complete agreement with the above suggestion of taking a flight out of Talkeetna and actually land on the glacier below the Mt. Denali summit. It is worth every penny and time invested. The images of the ragged snow capped mountains as far as the eye can see will never be forgotten and can only be seen, let alone appreciated from the air. Also, given the proximity of Talkeetna to Anchorage, you could use Anchorage as a home base for the first two nights and save changing hotels. Skip visiting Denali on this trip. We have done the park road in our own vehicle and there are a few nice hikes and a chance to see some wildlife. However it is by 'chance' only that you will see, let alone have close access to significant wildlife. The bus tours are long and ultimately will require a minimum of two, if not the better part of three days to pull off. Denali is so far out there an overnight somewhere in the vicinity is pretty much a necessity, thus a minmum of two days.

Use the next day to traverse to the Seward area and take advantage of the numerous stops available along Turnagain Arm. Views, wildlife, water falls, glaciers, are all availble with mostly easy access with pull outs and short turn outs. All of this is directly on the way with almost no wasted driving time. A few possible stop suggestions would be Potters Marsh, Windy Point, Beluga Point, Portage Glacier, numerous salmon viewing board walks and I would strongly recommend a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at the end of Turnagain Arm before entering the Seward Highway.

Taking a boat tour out of Seward can be nice and there are some nice hiking opportunities in that area including Exit Glacier. This is a very doable hike to reach the first set of overlooks. It can be made more challenging by continuing on to the Harding Icefields. Two full days here would pretty much do it. Go to the Salmon Bake restaurant for a good meal at reasonable prices. Ask about breakfast in a retired Alaskan railway road car right at the harbor.

Lastly, I would strongly suggest moving towards Homer and taking advantage of all of the opportunities that this part of the Kenai peninsula offers. There are many touring opportunities here with more variety than in Seward. Plane, boat, boat taxis to various islands and hiking scenarios await you here. Also, there is a lot of history here to explore regarding the Russian time period. Ninilchek is one of the those Russian communities that you should make a stop to see the onion domed church, cemetery, and spectacular volcanoe views. There are four active volcanoes that can be seen on a clear day along the Sterling Highway to Homer. Planes to Katmai, Kodiak, Lake Clark, Halo Bay, and other places are easily accessed in Homer. Bald eagles, Golden Eagles and various hawks are a given at the Anchor Point boat service area. This is something to see as no dock or wharf is allowed here. All boats are pushed into and pulled from the ocean by large bulldozer like machines. The fishermen discard all of the throw away fish parts right on the beach and thus the birds are there almost nonstop.

The tides here are the second most severe in North America and when the tide is out, one can literally walk at least a quarter mile into Katchemak Bay.

Regarding food, there is no end to all of the eating establishments in Homer, the 'halibut capital of the world' as their sign indicates.

Hope this helps in your trip planning.


Aug 12, 2017 at 06:44 PM

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