Alaska is close enough to Canada to almost be part of it, so when I was invited to visit, pretty much back-to-back after a visit to the Yukon – the two destinations are a great combination! – I couldn’t say no.
Despite having little more than 48 hours in the UK after my Yukon visit, the adrenalin was definitely flowing when I boarded my Icelandair flight from Heathrow to Anchorage, via Reykjavik, which all added to my personal adventure, new airline and new destinations.
After the comfortable flights, I was only in Anchorage briefly at that stage for a quite wonderful meal in South, a restaurant in, believe it or not, South Anchorage. Great venue and food and needed for the 2.5 hour bus journey to Talkeetna, for a brief overnight stay ahead of a full day in Denali National Park.
A 6am start didn’t diminish the excitement and Denali proved to be well worth the long backcountry adventure. The old school bus tour takes you in to the park and is an amazing experience. Lots of wildlife and fabulous scenery to savour and you can then stay in the park, in incredibly comfortable wilderness. Sadly, my brief visit didn’t allow for the (highly recommended) overnight but I did get to fly out of the park – wow, what a treat that was! The view are spectacular and it just completed the day perfectly.
Instead of staying in the park, our overnight was at the Denali Cabins, about 10 minutes from the park entrance where I had a very cosy cabin where I was very pleased to eventually get some sleep.
Another must-do experience is a visit to the Husky Homestead where the 2.5 hour experience gives you the chance to meet (and pet!) the adorable husky puppies and learn about how they train to be sled dogs for the famous Iditarod.
We were checked carefully after we headed to the train station to make sure we left the lovely puppies behind and checked in to our Gold Star carriages on the Alaska Railroad for the journey back to Talkeetna. The gold star ticket includes a meal (lunch in my case) with two alcoholic drinks as well as tea, coffee etc and the 4-hour journey was spent in assigned seats in the dome car for quite wonderful views. The open vestibule is great for pictures too, and the best spots are announced so you can head out with your camera..
This trip was definitely planes, trains and automobiles as on arrival, I got to do another flightseeing trip over the surrounding glaciers and mountains and the views were almost indescribable. The real highlight was getting an astonishing view of Mount Denali; only 30% of visitors get to see it, so I felt very fortunate indeed.
The town of Talkeetna is quite unique and such a real, small-town place, full of character. We had the most amazing breakfast at the Roadhouse – packed with locals and tourists alike – with traditional Alaskan fare and a great fun vibe. The complementary shops, bars and other cafes make it a very special place.
After a 3.5 hour drive to Anchorage, we checked in to the Hilton and then had a great dinner at the 49th State restaurant ahead of another early start; had to be up at 5am for the 645 train to Seward, where I got to sample breakfast this time. The four-hour journey passed quickly and comfortably and the next vessel was waiting our arrival.
The Kenai Fjords national park tour by catamaran is a 6-hour trip which goes out to the glaciers and the open seas with a friendly and knowledgeable crew. We were close enough to the glacier and iceberg to hear cracks and were lucky enough to see otters, eagles, puffins, sea lions and even orcas.
My final night was at the lovely Seward Windsong Lodge, about 10 minutes from the downtown area, where I stayed in a very comfortable duplex cabin-like building. The lodge is close to Exit Glacier where we did a short hike after breakfast, to stretch our legs ahead of the flights back to the UK.
Condensing a visit to this vast land is probably not the most sensible thing I have ever done, but it has definitely whetted my appetite for a longer visit next time round.