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Smoking Alaska travel deals for thrifty adventurers in April, May

Scott McMurren
Early-season travelers can fly into Ruth Glacier on Mount McKinley for much less than it costs in mid-summer. Loren Holmes photo

As promised, there is another crop of early-season discounts in full bloom. 

With the sun ablaze and temperatures rising, I cannot think of a single reason not to plan a getaway in April or May. Check out some of the best deals:

1) Princess’s rail/lodging combo packages. Choose from several early-season deals, starting May 14. There are one-night packages to the McKinley Princess Lodge near Talkeetna and to the Denali Princess Lodge, as well as packages that include one night at each lodge. But I prefer the three-day/two-night options at one lodge the best. 

Princess’s private rail cars -- pulled behind regular Alaska Railroad cars -- feature full-dome seating on the top deck, with a restaurant down below. That way, everyone gets the stunning view on the ride north. 

Your package includes roundtrip rail, plus coach transfer to the lodge. The ride from Talkeetna to the Mt. McKinley Princess takes about an hour, since the lodge is closer to Trapper Creek on the shores of the Chulitna River. The Denali Princess is closer to the train station -- and the transfer takes just a few minutes. 

From Anchorage, ride on Princess’s private rail car -- pulled by the Alaska Railroad -- to Talkeetna. From there, a Princess bus will take you up to the lodge. Prices start at $229 per person, double occupancy. For the trip to Denali, the cost is $339 per person, double occupancy. 

More information is hereor call 800-426-0500.

The three-day/two-night stay at Denali offers you enough time on the ground to take the long bus ride back into the park. I recommend the Tundra Wilderness Tour

2) K2 Aviation. If you travel to Talkeetna, take advantage of K2’s early-season flightseeing discount of 25 percent. The discount applies between now and May 31 as long as at least one person is an Alaska resident (ID required). In addition to flightseeing around Denali, K2 offers a glacier landing option. Don’t miss it. Often, K2’s pilots will land in the Ruth Amphitheater -- it’s an awesome spectacle. But there are several other landing options, depending on the weather.  Information: 800-764-2291.

3) Ninilchik Charters offers an early-season deal from May 1 to June 10. Usually, a one-day charter fishing trip costs about $245 per person. The early-season deal includes one night’s accommodations at the company’s cabins in Ninilchik, as well as a full-day halibut/king salmon combo charter. Vacuum-pack equipment and freezers are available for anglers to use in preparing their catch for transport. Information: 800-973-4742.

4) Brooks Lodge in Katmai National Park, has a special June 1-22. Purchase the one-night air/lodging package and get a second night free. The one-night package is $1,006 per person, double occupancy and includes roundtrip air fare from Anchorage to King Salmon on PenAir. From there, fly Katmai Air to Brooks Camp. The cabin-style accommodations can hold up to four people. If you and three friends want to go, it’s $856 per person. Meals are not included. You are just steps away from the famous Brooks River, which can be teeming with bears and fish. Make plans in advance to take the all-day tour to Valley of the 10,000 Smokes. You’ll see a valley completely covered in volcanic ash. Plus, the Ukak River cuts a deep valley through the pumice. Be sure and walk to the valley floor. Information: 800-544-0551.

5) Knik River Lodge is just an hour and 15 minutes from Anchorage, but it’s tucked away in the wilderness at the end of the road. With a collection of cabins that face the river, guests can hike the area or go for a jetboat ride up to the face of the glacier. Innkeeper Peter Schadee is offering an early-season special of $94 per night (for two people), which includes overnight accommodations in the cabins and a $10 per person restaurant voucher to use for breakfast or dinner. At least one person must have Alaska ID to get the discount, which is available May 15-June 14. 

When you drive up to the lodge, you’ll see a pair of gleaming R-44 helicopters on the lawn. Since the lodge is so close to the glacier, Schadee offers helicopter tours, including a glacier landing. The early-season discount is $195 per person (regularly $335 per person). The discount is available May 15-June 14 and at least one person must have an Alaska ID. Call 877-745-4575.