We had the most amazing time and learned so much about the majestically beautiful state of Alaska in the summer of 2016. There were so many wonderful people and breathtaking sights. This is one trip you absolutely must do at least once in your life. Take a look at our journal of each day and just remember, you can always contact us to reserve your spot for your trip to the great white north.
Day 1: Fairbanks
We arrived on an early morning flight from Seattle into Fairbanks on a very pleasant and sunny June day. The sun is high in the air and we had some great views of the mountains as we were flying in. We are greeted by our bus driver and get checked in with the cruise line. We did our cruise tour with Princess based on their being named #1 Best Cruise Line in Alaska for 9 consecutive years. Our bus driver was discussing with us on the way from the airport to the lodge all of the different tour options and was asking us what we booked. My mother-in-law, my wife, and I, booked the Riverboat Discovery Cruise, rated the highest out of all experiences in Fairbanks from all of our clients. I would have to agree, it was a great experience. We meet at the gift shop/ dining hall/ dock for our multi deck paddle wheel boat where we are treated to a hearty meal.
After we’ve had lunch, there was some time to browse the gift shop for any knick-knacks or some of the canned smoked salmon my wife is modeling here along with a moose hat. The salmon makes a fantastic dip that you’ll get to sample on the cruise. After boarding the boat you’ll get to see a lot of the local riverfront real estate along the Chena and Tanana Rivers. Some of the homes range from glorified outhouses with no utilities at all, to others being palatial log cabins with all of the luxuries and comforts of the modern world. Along the river we stopped next to one of the kennels owned and operated by famed Iditarod champion Dave Monson and Susan Butcher where you’ll get to see some of the training in action of the famous sled dogs. Next we visited a recreation of a typical Athabaskan village with instructional lectures given by local indigenous people explaining many of the ways the original settlers of Alaska survived the harsh winters. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who is wanting to learn more about the history of Fairbanks and its people. For dinner, we took a taxi out to a restaurant we saw while on our riverboat tour called the Pump House Restaurant and Saloon. The food was absolutely amazing. The menu was great and the view from the porch where we ate was so peaceful. We ate a fantastic meal and enjoyed the peaceful tranquility of watching the river roll on by.
Day 2: Denali State Park
The next morning, we awoke to a wonderful hearty breakfast and boarded our bus bound for the Denali Wilderness Lodge in the Denali State Park. The bus driver was awesome as he was able to recite some poetry from “The Bard of the North” Robert Service as well as offer many insights to the small towns we were driving passed. We had a small rest stop in Nenana, known for its famous Ice Classic, a lottery based upon a guess for when the ice will break on the Tanana River. It’s a very small town but the stop had hot coffee and some picturesque views of the bridge crossing the Nenana River. After our stop we continued on towards the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, finally arriving at around lunch time. Our entire group set out for what I thought was the best time we had the whole trip, an ATV experience, through some back trails near the only golf course around for hundreds of miles.
The staff was unbelievably awesome, and despite the rainy conditions that day, we all enjoyed riding through some of the puddles and bumps on the trail. I would say it was great for the whole family, though children below 18, have to share a ride with an adult. After riding for about an hour or so, our guide lead us to a back-country cabin for an exquisite lunch. From there, after our food settled a bit, we rode our way back toward the start of our ATV adventure. A little wet and a little cold we all were but we had smiles all across our faces from the amazing experience we all shared. After we returned back to the Denali Wilderness Lodge, we set about to some of the local shops in the area. We stopped for dinner at a nearby pizza place called Prospector’s Historic Pizzeria and Alehouse. The pizza was fantastic, and they had a great selection of Alaskan micro-brews to choose from. I would highly recommend visiting if you’re ever in the area.
Day 3: Talkeetna/Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge
We awoke early and headed down to the lodge dining hall for some breakfast. It was served buffet style with the usual fixings available. The cheesy potatoes were out of this world good. Seriously, if you’re staying at the Denali Princess Lodge, try the cheesy breakfast potatoes. After our hearty breakfast, our group boarded a bus headed to the local train station as our journey to our next destination would be on the Alaska Rail System.
The train had a domed glass ceiling enabling all the passengers to enjoy the panoramic views of the spectacular Alaskan landscape as you travel. The trip took about four hours as our train conductor pointed out some of the highlights of our journey as we passed points of interest. The wait staff on the train was awesome and were always there to make sure my glass was full. There were a few opportunities to head down to the caboose and step outside for an unobstructed view and to take some pictures. We unfortunately didn’t spot much wildlife, other than a moose way off in the distance, and lots and lots of bald eagles. We arrived in Talkeetna right around lunch time on a perfect day sunny day. Some of our group headed out to zip line which I heard was an amazing experience, while the rest of us set out to sample some of the local cuisine. Me being a big eater I tried to conquer “Seward’s Folly” at the West End Pub and Grill. “Seward’s Folly” for those of you not in the know is, 2 lbs of caribou, ½ lb of smoked ham, 12 strips of bacon, 6 oz of Swiss cheese, 6 oz of American cheese all packed into a bun and served with 1 lb of fries. If you finish all of that in an hour, you get a free t-shirt. So yeah... I didn’t finish it. After our meal, we set about for a stroll through the quaint little town visiting the little shops and talking with the locals. Talkeetna made headlines not too long ago, when the residents elected Stubbs, a 16-year-old cat, as their mayor. After a nice walk through town and some window shopping, we boarded our bus for the 45-minute transit to the Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The lodge is awesome, set high in the mountains and on a clear day you can get lucky see the summit of Denali (formerly Mount McKinley) from one of the outlooks. There are a few hiking trails that take you on a short walk through some of the forest and have some terrific photo opportunities for the local flora and fauna as well as the aforementioned, Denali.
Day 4: Voyage to Whittier and Embarkation
Our last day visiting the interior, we boarded a charter bus at the McKinley Lodge after a hearty breakfast and headed south to Whittier. It was a long drive, but our driver was fantastic and full of great little tidbits of information as we passed through small quaint towns on our way down. We did have a couple of stops so we could stretch our legs and grab a few snacks. We stopped at a gas station in Willow where the shop owners have a great little ice cream stand as well as lots of bathrooms. Our next stop was in Anchorage where we had lunch at our choice of restaurants. My group chose the Glacier Brewhouse for lunch where the food and the in-house beers were excellent. After lunch, we boarded the bus and continued our drive down the Kenai Peninsula and enjoyed some amazing views of the snow-capped peaks and trickling waterfalls along the way. There were numerous bald eagle sightings and even a piebald sheep. We stopped one last time right before the tunnel to Whittier for one last stretch.
The tunnel to Whittier is an experience. The bus drives onto a train car and shuts off the engine. There didn’t appear to be much clearance on either side and it was pitch black save the light at the end of the tunnel. The passage through only took about 10 minutes so if you’re claustrophobic, fear not, as it is a short lived trip through the tunnel. Once in Whittier, we boarded the Coral Princess and that afternoon after a few cocktails and meeting up with the last few members of our group who were doing the cruise only option, we set sail for Glacier Bay and our week-long cruise to Vancouver.