The 49th state is a visit unlike any other states in the US. An outdoor enthusiasts dream awaits as you travel north. The fresh seafood, untamed wildlife or the mountains that make your jaw drop, are all just some of the things people come to experience in Alaska. This state has always been on my list to visit and it did not disappoint. Know that going into it ahead of time, you will not see everything! Alaska is as large as three of the largest states in the continental US. Pick some of the top things to do and make a trip out of it. Be careful to know which season is best for your experiences as each season is unique in the state. I have outlined my trip below to hopefully help you with an itinerary. It was nowhere a complete trip at the end of the fall, but I will say it was probably the prettiest state I’ve been to!
Top 5 Things To Do
- Fly Denali
- Northern Lights
- Denali National Park
- Fjords Glacier Tour
- Take a hike
Fly Denali: Mount Denali is the largest mountain peak in the United States, #3 in the world. 30% of visitors get the chance to see this behemoth without cloud cover. Many people come through and sadly miss the view. If you do, the view is epic! Luckily on our trip we had three days to experience this amazing view. The best view we had was from a plane. There are numerous flights you can take around the area, including from Talkeetna. We flew with K2 Aviation and they were spectacular. To fly over this range and get a better understanding for glaciers is one of my top vacation experiences over the years. It was the top thing we did while in Alaska, watch the video of our experience here. The price can be a bit high, but trust me it is well worth the price of admission!
Northern Lights: Scratch this one off the bucket list while you are here. The excitement of chasing the northern lights was great. We started in Fairbanks and luckily the skies finally opened up for us while in Talkeetna. The best thing to say on the northern lights is that you’ll see them when you aren’t expecting them! Don’t go into your trip with the intention of finding, because it can be a let down. Best time to see the northern lights is September through March. If you are traveling in the summer, scratch this one off the must do’s as it will be light out much of the day. If you are here for the fall through spring, this will definitely be a highlight if you see them. Proof that mother nature will always do it better than us!
Denali National Park: This is a massive park and has multiple ways to reach it. Driving down from Fairbanks or up from Anchorage is your choice. The view is spectacular all the way up! Take many overlook stops on the way for amazing views of Denali. While in the park, you can take a private vehicle (weather permitting) in for 17 miles. To get the full 90 miles of the park, you’ll need to get here in season for a bus ride. Even though we weren’t able to experience a lot of the hiking trails, because it was moose rutting season, we still got to enjoy the beauty with our drive. I would recommend seeing the park during the summer for the entire wildlife experience, but no matter what season, this park has beauty all around it!
Fjords Glacier Tour: Another must do while you are close to the sea in Alaska. Seward is known best for taking tours out to see the glaciers by water. This town is lively during tourist season and dies down quite a bit after September 15th. Tours out of the Seward port will surely not disappoint. Various lengths of time depending on how long you want to be on the sea, it will have something for everyone. Whether you are going for views of wildlife in the sea or just to watch a glacier calving, you will have a wonderful time. Take a view of our trip to sea!
Take a hike: If you are an avid hiker, I’m not sure if you can find a better location for your excursions! There are so many options throughout the state of Alaska to take a hike. There are plenty of things to prepare for before setting out, but the views will take your breath away. Pay attention to wildlife in the area along with restrictions if you are looking to hike near glaciers. On my trip we only did a couple of hikes, but there are so many options while you are here.
- Fairbanks Airport
- The Pump House Restaurant
- Chena Hot Springs Resort
- Chena Hot Springs
We started our flight in San Jose. Normally we would take SFO, but found a better deal in tickets for San Jose and it’s actually closer to us. The ride was spilt, with a layover in Seattle. A brief amount of time in Seattle and a quick meal, brought us finally to our destination of Fairbanks. As our plane started it’s descent, you saw mountains everywhere around you! Absolutely beautiful from the plane windows! Interesting enough, it was a very small airport and almost felt nostalgically homie in a way. Wooden panels for flooring on the center walk way, stuffed animals with Alaskan memorabilia all around you in the gift shops, and several bars to grab a quick beverage at. We quickly moved on to our baggage claim and picked up our rental car. The budget rental car center was packed. With only two agents, it took us some time to get our car. We got very lucky in getting a car, as I didn’t know in Fairbanks, if you are past two hours of a reservation, they will give your car away! The check out lady was extremely kind and we were on our way out of the airport. I would highly recommend booking your car plenty of time in advance as rental cars go quick. The last thing you need is to be stuck at your location you fly into!
The pump house: As we drove away from the airport, it was very simple to find our way out. The small airport, does not take much maneuvering. We found a great recommendation for a restaurant in Fairbanks. The pump house had been around for some time and had historic significance. It sits on the Chena River and has a large bar and dining area. We ordered Halibut cheeks, oysters, scallops and reindeer meatballs. All were very good. The Halibut was our favorite. We came to find out on our stay, when halibut cheeks are on the menu, order them. They are great the texture of lobster, but fish. They were fantastic everywhere we went that had them. The place also has a large drink menu and we were very surprised by the amount of hard to find bourbon on their shelves. Blanton’s anyone? The restaurant has Alaskan memorabilia scattered across the ceiling and walls. A large sled dog team dances across the ceiling at the main entrance. In back, a shuffleboard table and games to play. You can say that there is plenty to do for everyone at this restaurant! The service was also great. We enjoyed our first meal in Alaska!
Chena Hot Springs resort: The drive out to the hot springs resort was very simple. Get out of Fairbanks and take the Chena Hot Springs road until the end. As you make your way to the end, you enter the area through a bridge and sign that says the resort name over it. The area is quite large with plenty to do. The parking was fine, but no assigned. Large buildings are scattered across the area. Greenhouses are on site for fresh vegetables. As we got in a bit late, we decided to not add too much to our plates after a long day of flying. We checked in for the night and made our way to the hot springs. Our room was pretty basic, but realistically if you stay here, it’s all about location! We were only a walk away from the hot springs!
Chena Hot Springs: The hot springs was quite an operation in itself. Starting with the check in area, you get your towels and proceed to the locker rooms. Male and female separated of course. You have to bring quarters for the lockers. The lockers do take a little bit of work to get quarters into, but there are plenty of people to help you figure it out! After we finally figured out (turns out it takes some brute force), we made our way to the springs. The area has an indoor pools and two hot tubs. There is also a hot tub outside and of course the hot springs. The hot springs themselves are amazing. Watch your footing as you enter as it’s a large cement slab that gradually takes you down. The water ranged from very hot to a perfect temp depending on your location in the water. Various rocks around the area can help you relax and removed yourself from the boiling temp at times. It felt so perfect on a cold night! It was fairly busy and plenty of younger people. After a good hour or so soak, we made our way out to get our towels. Of course our towels were taken! Luckily there is no issue going to to the front desk to get additional towels. They also recommend that you don’t take a shower afterwards to get all of the properties of the minerals. We went back to the room and had a great night sleep after a long first day.
- Chena Restaurant
- Monument Trail
- Ice Museum
- Chena Hot Springs
- Norther Lights Tour
Chena restaurant: Waking up in the morning, we made our way over to the only restaurant within the complex. Luckily there was no line this morning and they start breakfast at 7am. The night prior, the place was packed with a long wait to be seated. The challenge is that everyone that stays will eat here for the most part. It’s the only restaurant so you’re stuck. We were glad to see that our breakfast was good and the service was also kind hearted. We had the Chena starter, Belgium starter and Healthy starter. All simple, but good. We did have to come back for dinner being that it was the only place to eat. I would recommend bringing your own drinks and snacks for your room if you stay here. This restaurant was constantly busy after the morning rush. Many people were leaving upset not being able to eat!
Monument trail: Being that we didn’t want to drive too far from the resort for a hike. We decided on the Monument trail that starts right after you cross the bridge into the resort. We were the only people on the trail and could see nobody had traveled it since snow fall that day. It runs beside the creek and turns back and forth as it makes a loop around the resort. We were hoping to see wildlife, but no luck as we made our way. We did follow the pump system that they use for their geo thermal and it was cool to see how that played out. The hike itself is around 3 miles round trip, so pretty simple for anyone as a small stroll through the woods.
Ice museum: Getting back, it was our time to see what the ice museum was made of. Reservations need to be made at the activity center so make sure to do this when you get to the resort. They take small groups in each time to prevent overpacking and better serve. You get an option to have an apple martini in an ice martini glass if you’re interested. We chose to just get one glass as an apple martini is a bit too sweet for all of us. The museum opens to a couple of people shaving out the ice martini glasses, which is neat to see how they are made. Several sculptures line the area of the museum. Beautifully displayed across the floor. There are also several rooms to go into to take pictures with ice furniture. The bar is in the middle of the museum. You sit down and the bartender places your ice glass in front of you. He then proceeds to pour his concoction in the glass. The drink was just as expected, too sweet. The good thing is that you get to keep the glass and I used it for some nice neat Buffalo trace after we left the museum. We overall enjoyed the museum and had fun walking through to see the beautiful sculptures.
Hot springs: In the daylight, the hot springs were a bit different. A bit less people but still somewhat busy. I would recommend going to the hot springs both in the day and night as they are different experiences. Especially since if you are staying at the resort, you get the hot springs for free so you might as well take advantage!
The Aorora Borealis is a weather phenomenon that takes place when the sun meets our atmosphere. The light is drawn magnetically so it’s better to see the lights at the opposite poles. The lights meet with oxygen or nitrogen and that’s when you see these patterns across the sky form. They are happening all the time, it’s just that you can only see them in pitch black. That’s why it’s so tough to see them in the summer time of Alaska when they have the midnight sky.
Northern Lights Tour: We met at the activity center at 9:30 and it went until 3:00am. They take you up to the top of Charlie’s dome. The vehicles that bring you up are slow and have large tracks on them to get through the snow in the thick of the winter. The ride up and down were both pretty bumpy, but nothing too overwhelming. When you get to the top of the dome, they have yurts that are nice and warm and refreshments for you to enjoy as you wait for the northern lights to show. Our night was sadly a bit cloudy so we were only able to the see the lights through a camera lens. The beautiful green ribbons ever so gently intertwined with the clouds in the sky. A fire was made to keep everyone warm. Even though it wasn’t our perfect scenario of the northern lights screaming through sky at us, it was still pretty cool to see them. Even if it was only through the lens of a camera! It was a great trip and we would recommend it, just hope that you get the weather to cooperate with you!
- North Pole Crepery
- Santa Claus House
- Hoo Doo Brewery
- Museum of the North
- Lavelle’s Bistro
Starting our last day out in the Fairbanks area, we awoke to more snow coming down from the sky! The roads looked like they were becoming a bit worse so we headed out to our next venture. Saying goodbye to our wonderful time at the hot springs. Our first stop on the drive was to visit the town of North Pole.
North Pole Crapery: Stopping in for breakfast, we came to a highly rated crapery. It looked family owned and they were decently busy for being a small town. Over 30 types of crepes were on their menu. Sweet, savory, pizza style were all appealing to the eye. They make the crepes right in front of you, which is always fun to watch. I had the Greek and it was delicious and extremely filling. My family members had a pizza style and a couple of the breakfast crepes. The service was good and the food was also. A good stop for breakfast or lunch while in the North Pole area.
Santa Claus House: The next stop was to visit the famous Santa Claus at his house. We were pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t a complete tourist trap. Yes the gift shop was littered with different things to take back from the North Pole, which we expected. It was neat to see Santa and Mrs. Claus tucked inside a corner of the house, taking videos and photos with people. They did such a wonderful job and we were very impressed with the memory of Santa as he went through good wishes to families across the world. There is also an antler academy outside to see reindeer and the largest Santa Claus statue in the world. It’s a pretty massive feature! It was a fun experience. We had some great videos to send back to family members and also some letters to send back postmarked the North Pole.
Hoo Doo Brewery: Leaving the North Pole, we made our way back to Fairbanks as we flew out the next morning. Being that I always love to try the breweries in the area, we decided to grab a beer at a local brewery. The reviews were great for Hoo Doo so we stopped in. What you’ll find is a German themed brewery with a wide variety of beers to choose from. If you’re into sweets, you’ll also find cupcakes being sold in the back part of the bar area. Outside there is a fire pit and pretty large area to gather with seating and tables. I had a flight that included an IPA, lager, sour and Octoberfest. The Octoberfest was probably their best beer in the mix. I would recommend this brewery in the area.
Museum of the North: After we had our fill of beer, it was time to make our way over to the museum. It’s located on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. It’s a beautiful campus and the drive up to the museum is fairly easy along with parking. It’s a small fee for the museum. The museum itself had a large variety of information on Alaska and the area. It goes through Alaskan history, artwork, wildlife and the significance of the indigenous people. The museum will probably take you 1-3 hours to go through depending on how much time you want to spend going through the information. We enjoyed the museum and came out much more knowledgeable about Alaska.
Lavelle’s Bistro: we finished our night off at a restaurant in the Main Street of Fairbanks. They are located in the Marriott hotel. There is beautiful art across all of the walls of the place. They have plenty of dinner options and a pretty good appetizer menu if that’s what you’re looking for. I had an Aperol spritz, chili rubbed ahi, lobster cakes, calamari and lemon scallops and spinach. Overall the food was good, the chili rubbed ahi was fantastic. Sadly the calamari missed the mark and was rubbery and tasted more like batter than anything else. There were several other dishes that were good, so I would recommend the location while in the area.
- Denali National Park
- Denali Brewing Company
The morning came early for us as we got ready for our flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage. The challenge we faced with the itinerary was that car rental companies charge a pretty hefty fee for picking up a car and dropping off at a different location. We found flights were very cheap in Alaska so we decided to drop our car off and pick another one up in Anchorage. We were so surprised at the amount of open seats on our flight. We had maybe a total of 20 people flying in a fairly large plane. A member of our party joked with the stewardess that she was doing a private safety briefing for our group! The ride was quick and simple going from one area to the next. Also the fact that it was 50 dollars worked out for everyone!
Drive to Denali: As we got into Anchorage, we quickly moved to getting our car from the rental office. Not many people around at 6am! It was also a pretty easy process and we were on the road with our car in no time. The Anchorage airport is a bit bigger than Fairbanks as it’s the largest city in Alaska, but still a pretty small airport. As we left Anchorage, we continued to see moose signs all over by the sides of the road. Sadly we only saw a handful of moose on our entire vacation. Later we found that the moose population has gotten a bit smaller over the last couple of years.
The ride outside of Anchorage was stunning. The ride through Wasilla and then Talkeetna brought huge mountain ranges that surrounded us. People everywhere were stopping to take photos of the beauty. The great thing was that it was also a clear day. We continued our drive and got closer to Denali. One of our first stops in the Denali national park was the north outlook of the mountain range. Being a clear day, we got an amazing view of the entire range of mountains! An easy hike from the parking lot brings you to one overlook and then another small hike higher gives an even better view. The valley below also had glacier underneath. The glacier ran so deep that it was deeper than the Grand Canyon! You just couldn’t see it with a river running over it! We continued on and made our way into the park and then out of the park briefly. Kind of strange, but it was good, as we got a chance to stop at the only restaurant open in late September.
Jam Jam: A local Jamaican sandwich shop is right before you enter the park for the second time coming from the South. They had various forms of “samiches” and salads. The food was good and all made by hand. The shop was very small and only had seating for maybe 15-20 people. Not sure how it would be in the busy season, but we easily got seats. I had the jerk chicken samich and a cup of their beef vegetable soup. Both were pretty good and it seemed like the rest of my party enjoyed theirs as well. After this shop, during the slow season, there really isn’t anything else before getting into the main park. If you’re hungry, I would suggest stopping.
Denali National Park: The main entrance to the park has a perfect place for you to stop off first to take photos with the sign. We had many people all stopping to take photos in front of it. As you drive in, you come across the visitors center and the kennel for the sled dogs. The visitor center was only open until middle of September so it was closed when we first got there. There was a park ranger giving information if you wanted. If not, do as we did and just continue on into the park. You can drive 19 miles into the park with your personal car (weather permitting). After that you’re required to take one of the buses (they run through the summer up to sept. 15) the rest of the way. Sadly we were too late for the busses, but still made the best of our car ride through the park.
It was exciting to slowly drive through looking for moose and other forms of wildlife. It was a bit late in the season for bears and the moose had only left us tracks. We were fortunate enough to capture a lynx as it walked past us. Which is actually quite rare in comparison to all of the other animals we could have seen in the park. Yet it was the only one we saw! It scurried across the road and made its way up into the mountains without a care in the world. It was pretty neat to see!
There are many spots to turn off and look for wildlife or just enjoy the surroundings. There are so many amazing views that you could get out and easily spend a full day just gazing. We of course got to see Denali in all its beauty as we drove through. Getting to the end of the road, there is a pretty river to stop at. When you reach the bridge, it’s the end of the line for personal vehicles. Some people got out and did small hikes at the river and there is a restroom for you if needed. Most of the way through you weren’t allowed to stop and go off path because moose were in rutting season. Which meant they were a bit more aggressive than normal.
Making our way out of the park, we were a bit disappointed with only seeing one lynx, but the views of the mountain ranges were spectacular and we still had a fun experience. We were surprised that there was also no entrance fee for the park.
Denali Brewing Company: Making our way back to Talkeetna for the night, we decided to stop in for a beer and a meal at the Denali brewing company. Being that it is a pretty large brewery that distributes beer all across the state, the building of pretty large. It actually dwarfed many of the older buildings in the tiny town. There is outside seating with warmers if you want to dine outside, along with a fire pit for drinks only. We ate inside as it was a little chilly out that evening. The service was good and the food was pretty delicious for a brewery. There were around 15 types of beers to choose from. I got a flight and found many beers that were pretty good. I had fried halibut and it was very good. Overall the restaurant was a nice setting and a perfect stop to eat and drink, especially for any beer lovers!
Airbnb: we made our way back to our Airbnb and were so surprised by the stunning location. Our porch opened up to an amazing view of Denali. It was a cabin feel with paraphernalia from the location owner. The owner was obviously a go getter! She had her artwork framed throughout the house and also many pictures of her on her climbing expeditions in the area. I’m not sure we honestly could have found a better location to see for the couple of nights in Talkeetna. You can find the place here for booking.
- Fly Denali
Fly Denali: We woke up the next morning to perfectly clear skies. I honestly don’t think we could have asked for a better day to fly over Denali. We flew with K2 aviation and they were fantastic to deal with. It was a quick drive to the airfield of Talkeetna from our Airbnb. The building is right out front and it’s a quick registration process. Make sure to bring a great camera, go pro and some sunglasses if bright.
We made our way onto a beautiful airplane that was actually designed to be used in WWII. The pilot was amazing to deal with and gave us plenty of information before boarding the plane and let us know of our surroundings at all times. As we traveled past the airfield and into the air, we had amazing views of the area. As we got deeper into the mountain range, our pilot gave great info about the glaciers and mountains we were seeing. The perfectly clear skies gave us perfect views of everything. You also have an option of landing on a glacier. After doing the trip, we all agreed that we should have paid a bit more and did the landing. Either way we were extremely happy with the flight. I have posted a video of the flight that you can find here that will give you a wonderful example of what the tour brings.
Talkeetna: After leaving the airfield we decided to take a walk through the small town of Talkeetna. There are various gift shops to stop into and a local trading post for supplies. We stopped at a restaurant just outside of town that was pretty mediocre with food. We looked back and would probably have ate at the brewery again if we did the trip another time. We also stopped into a local cheese shop called Mimi’s haus of cheese and the family was so kind as we entered. We would recommend supporting them for their kindness alone! Other than that, it’s a one street town and a perfect base for your Denali side trips.
Northern Lights: That night we made our way back to the Airbnb. With the clear nights, we were expecting a great northern lights show. As it turned 10pm, we were all very tired and we didn’t see any signs of the lights so we went to bed. Around 3am we woke to a grey stream in the sky! We got a wonderful view of the northern lights and got some wonderful photos. I also spoke a bit more about it in my blog called Chasing Aurora Borealis if you want to check it out.
- National Forest Scenic Byway
- Kenai Lake
- Mermaid Grotto Cafe
National Forest Scenic Byway: We woke up a bit late after staying up for the northern lights the night before. We made a small breakfast at the Airbnb before taking off for the day.
The trip to Seward was beautiful. Just like the trip up to Denali. This time we made our way down through Anchorage and made several stops along the way. A good stop during the summer would be at Beluga point. During the summer, Beluga whales can be seen playing in the surf. During the fall and winter months, they move on to deeper waters. Still it was a neat stop to make to look at the amazing views of Turnagain arm.
We also stopped on the way at a random location on Kenai lake outside of Moose pass. Going through a small trail down a pretty steep hill, it opens to an amazing view of the mountains and gorgeous lake below. The lake was probably the prettiest lake I’ve ever seen in my life. The crystal clear glacier water was so still that you could see the entire reflection of the mountains in it. It was well worth a stop for a quick thirty minutes.
As you make your way into the Seward area, it’s a cute port town. Plenty of things to do during the summer months, but we found it challenging to find many things that were open after mid September. If it wasn’t for an amazing Airbnb, we probably would have stayed one less day just based on very little being open at the time.
Mermaid Grotto Cafe: we walked through the port area that evening and found this restaurant open until 6pm for food. We had a quick bite right before they stopped serving meals. All of us had beer and the bulgagi bowl, which was actually really good. The grotto is actually split between a coffee shop, gift shop and then restaurant upstairs. It’s a pretty neat stop to eat at and you also get a great view of the port area.
Airbnb: Our Airbnb for the three days was stunning. Located on Lowell Point, it’s a little community in itself. The view was unreal of resurrection bay and the mountains. The location was all brand new and you could tell. They also had a fire pit outside, grill and they even allowed you to have a fire on the beach at low tide. We highly recommend the fire on the beach as this was very cool to do one morning while we made breakfast!
- Fjords Glacier Tour
Fjords Glacier Tour: For some reason I always start humming the theme to gilligans island before boarding a boat. Probably not the best, but it hasn’t failed me yet! The cruise was a 6 hour in total length taking us from the port of Seward to several glaciers in the Fjords national park. We started off boarding and going through instructions. Our boat was the Orca explorer and it gave plenty of options to sit inside or outside at the back of the boat. There were plenty of areas for viewing all along the boat. Inside there was a bar for drinks or small snacks. It was a bit chilly sitting outside as we watched the boat sail away from the dock, but still not bad for the end of September! We were the only cruise ship on the ocean for the day.
We made several stops along the way for rock formations. As we made our way out, we did see some wildlife to start. Sea otters playing in the water forming a raft. Sea lions enjoying the sunshine on the rocks outside of the park. Dall Dolphins frolicking in the sea enjoying the day. Plenty of sea life, sadly no whales this late in the season. By the time we were out for a bit, lunch was served. Chicken wraps, chips and a granola bar. The food was ok, but glad to get something in our stomachs. Some people didn’t do well with keeping it down on the rougher waters though!
As we traveled on, we got to two glaciers. Holgate and Aialik were the two that we got to see. Holgate was the first and it was the smaller of the two. We then traveled over to Aialik and looked up at this behemoth. We saw multiple times where calving was taking place. Calving is when the glacier grows and splits off sever chunks of ice, which make a loud splash into the water. It’s very neat to see and hear the process, one I won’t forget. The sound as the ice hits the water is loud and makes quite a rumble as it falls. Definitely an experience not to miss while you are in Alaska.
Making our way back, we did see several other structures. Some dating back to WWII and others built recently. As we were about to say goodbye, we took one last lap around the bay and got a glance at mountain goats coming down the mountain to feed and more sea lions basking. We passed by Fox island which has a ghost forest on it. The ghost forest was formed by the earthquake in the 60’s. The island shifted lower into the sea and the trees soaked up the salt water into their trunks which has left them in a “frozen in time” moment. It’s neat to hear about the process and still see these trees unchanged from that long ago. As we docked the ship, it was a great experience and even though we didn’t see all of the wildlife we wanted, we would highly recommend.
- Exit Glacier
- Glacier Overlook Trail
- Harding Ice Field Trail
Fjords National Park: Waking up early the next morning, we decided that the weather was perfect to go on a little hike. The drive out to the Fjords national park took about 30 minutes. Very simple with signing all along the way. As you get to the final stretch of the drive, you start seeing dates back to the 1800’s along the road. These dates are showing where the exit glacier sat each year before receding. To see the difference in the years as you make your way up is so hard to fathom. Even getting into the last ten years as you make your way up, it’s a huge difference! We parked our car in the parking area in front of the visitors center. Sadly the center was not open anymore for the season. There are different hikes based on your experience level. There are simple hikes like the glacier view and overlook and much more strenuous like the Harding ice field trail, which takes you to the top overlook of the ice field.
Glacier overlook trail: We started by taking the Glacier Overlook Trail. It’s paved for a bit and then a small hike up rock formations. It’s around a mile round trip. Not too difficult and can be hiked without hiking gear. It’s heavily trafficked at most times because of the ease. The top of the trail is a nice overlook of the Exit Glacier. It also shows where the glacier sat in 2010, which is pretty crazy to imagine. You’ll experience a wind while you are close as glaciers have their own weather systems around them. The deep blue of the ice gives a small eerie feeling as you stare at it. You aren’t able to get too close to the glacier as this could be an extreme hazard. As you turn around, you will also see some wonderful views of the mountains and valley below you. If you don’t have the time for one of the harder trails, I would recommend at least doing this one.
Harding Ice Field Trail: This trail has three parts to it and you can make it as long or short as you want based on time and difficulty. To get to the end of the trail, it can take you close to 6 hours and expect over a 3,000 elevation change over 4 miles. The next is the top overlook that sits at around 3 miles up. The first one is the stop at Marmot Meadows, which is about 1.5 miles up.
Rain was expected on our visit so we didn’t do the full trail. We stopped at Marmot Meadows, which was still a beautiful hike. The hike starts by going through the forest floor. Draped with leaves and trees, the elevation gain starts with some slick rocks to traverse as you climb. As you get about half way, you’ll come to a waterfall. A great view and place to stop and watch the water trickle down. As you cross the bridge, you start climbing in elevation again. Making your way higher in elevation as you get some wonderful views as you make your way up. We saw numerous large waterfalls in the distance as we worked our way up. We didn’t get to see any wildlife for the most part, some unique birds but none of the mammals we hoped to see. As the clearing came and we saw the sign for Marmot Meadows, it didn’t look overly significant. Luckily we passed someone on the way that told us to take a trail to the left when we got to the sign. It was a quick 5 minutes before we got to a beautiful view of the exit glacier before us. We sat and ate our sandwiches before heading back down. The hike back to the parking lot took us about 45 minutes and was much quicker because of it mostly being downhill. Overall we enjoyed the hike and it was around 3 miles round trip.
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- 49th State Brewery
- Downtown Anchorage
- Hotel Captain Cook
- Sushi & Sushi
Drive to Anchorage: The drive to Anchorage took a turn on us as the snow got pretty heavy as we left from Seward. The road conditions became slick as we moved forward. Getting to the Alaska Wildlife conservation center, the weather had started to lighten up a bit.
I also want to put an asterisk on Anchorage. The travel took a bit of a toll on us, probably more than we originally expected. That being said, there were several things that I would recommend doing in Anchorage that we weren’t able to experience. The following are all experiences that we were not able to do:
- Anchorage Museum
- Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
- Thunder Bird Falls Hike
- Moose Tooth Pizza (We just weren’t in the mood for pizza)
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center: The park gave us a better chance to see some of the native wildlife for Alaska. Being that the fall season was a bit harder to see some of these animals in the wild, it was a good chance to get up close and personal. The admission is pretty low at 15-17 dollars a person. There are also two options you can take to go through the park. You can drive the entire park or park and walk it. Being that it was still raining pretty good out, we opted to drive through most of the park. You pass by bears, moose, caribou, elk and more in the areas. The habitats are actually pretty large for the animals, but also don’t take away from your ability to see them. We were surprised that we saw every animal for the most. Being that these are rescued animals, it’s great to support a center like this. It shouldn’t take you more than 1-2 hours to go through the park. There is even an observation deck during the summer months that you can walk and see beluga whales in the bay. Being that it was getting closer to winter, the whales were not present. I would recommend the AWCC to anyone in the area though.
49th state brewing: Making our way into Anchorage, we decided we needed to stop at a brewery. 49th state brewery has a fairy large restaurant area both on the 1st and 2nd floors. A wide array on the menu that we never really had a bad dish from. We had jalapeño poppers stuffed with crab that were fantastic. Grilled cheese with crab, Buffalo cauliflower bites and a couple of fish dishes. All were delicious. Of course there is also the beer. On our visit Octoberfest was going on so they had a deal for you to spend 10 dollars and get a liter Stein full of beer and you also get to keep the Stein. I also had a flight with several other beers that they make. A stout, porter, lager, sours and some IPA’s. All were pretty good overall.
Walk downtown: The downtown area of Anchorage is pretty simple. Tourist shops, restaurants fill the main streets with parks surrounding. There are plenty of options for hotels in the area. Also the Anchorage museum, mall and several other indoor activities are available, especially since it rains here quite often! It’s fun to walk around and get a scale of the land. I would always recommend this when coming into a new city. You never know what you might find as you walk around.
Hotel Captain Cook: This hotel is located in the thick of it downtown. It’s also had some very famous people stay here while in Anchorage. President Obama even stayed while here! We were surprised at the low cost in comparison when we got here. It has many shops, several restaurants, different spa clubs and so much more inside! The staff was wonderful while we stayed and we had a great view from our room looking out over the bay. We stayed two nights and it provided a perfect central location, but we also spent some downtime at the club area.
Sushi & Sushi: We took an Uber to the location as it was a bit out of the downtown area. A decent size location and a fair amount of seating. We had a lot of sushi during our visit and found that most of the rolls were fantastic. The server was also so kind and gave us an extra treat at the end of the meal. It has really high ratings from most people that have ate here. If you love sushi and are feeling the need to get some in on the trip, stop in at Sushi & sushi.
- Leroy’s Family Restaurant
- Hotel Captain Cook Spa Day
- Midnight Sun Brewery
- Simon & Seafort’s Restaurant
Leroy’s Family Restaurant: A small family owned restaurant right outside of the downtown area. It’s a simple restaurant with some great food. The breakfast items are simple, but delicious. The look of the restaurant is just what you would picture in a local restaurant and that’s mostly what you will see when you come in. The diner has very simple decor all around it, but is packed quite often.
Hotel Captain Cook Spa Day: Being that we did have a very long trip so far, we decided to take a day and use it more as a spa day. The hotel has separate spa areas for men and women, but a wide variety of things to do. There is a sauna, gym equipment, coffee room and more at both locations. There is also a swimming pool that is co-ed that is in the middle of both spa areas. There are a lot of people that come and join in on the spa at various times. We loved the sauna location that was fairly large and had adirondack chairs for people to sit in and sweat. We went back and forth between here and the pool mixing in heat with cold. It left us feeling very relaxed for the day.
Midnight Sun Brewery: After a day of relaxation, I think everyone needs a beer right? This brewery is located a distance from the area, but has some very tasty beers. Midnight sun will probably be seen often on your trip at different restaurants. I enjoyed a flight of their beers and they had some pretty creative ones, along with many staples for a brewery. It’s located in a warehouse area like many breweries are anymore so don’t be surprised at the interesting area or think that you aren’t going in the right direction. They also have several food items on their menu that look delicious. We chose to wait and eat, but their food did look good.
Simon & Seafort’s Restaurant: We waited to eat for a reason, we had this great location lined up for the evening. You do have to make a reservation as this restaurant gets pretty busy also. It’s located downtown close to the hotel captain hook on the water. It’s also a business building so you could miss the small sign for it if you aren’t looking. Entering in you have the restaurant or you have the saloon. We got right in so we didn’t have a chance to experience the saloon but it looked pretty neat. The view is great overlooking the bay. All of our dishes we ordered were extremely good and the drinks were also well made. Again I will say that the halibut cheeks are a must in Alaska and they were no exception here. Probably the best cheeks that we had on our trip.
Alaska was a wonderful experience for us, but the state is much bigger than you could ever expect. We went from the interior to the lower central area and feel like we only visited 1/5 of the state if that! There are plenty of other areas like Kodiak island, Juneau, Homer and more. 10 days is probably the least amount of time I would recommend in trying to see some of the state. Either way, what was wonderful was that everywhere you look, you see amazing views. It’s probably one of the prettiest states I have ever visited. Just be careful in how much you try to fit into your trip and leave some days to relax.
*Top people watching spot