Sure, we're still "Wild About Winter" here in Alaska. With a brave face, we're skiing, biking, mushing and motoring our way through the massive snow drifts that have this season changed the landscape of Alaska's largest city and its most-populated region.
But after being blinded by the blazing noonday sun and long sunsets for the past week or so, it's hard to deny it: summer's coming. I can't wait to get out and start exploring the state. Most of these adventures require some planning, which is a great excuse not to shovel snow. HA. Let's take a look at the Alaska Travel Top 10 List:
10. Brooks Camp. Smack in the middle of Katmai National Park, Brooks is a naturalist's paradise. If you plan far enough ahead, you can rent one of the on-site cabins. The rest of us get to camp inside the electric fence at night. There are covered areas to prepare your food -- and you can always eat at the lodge. Bring your camera for the bears, which wander around on their way to the Brooks River. Bring your fly rod if you want to fish the Brooks River.
And don't go out there without committing an extra day to go to the Valley of the 10,000 Smokes. It's a full-day excursion which leaves each morning from the lodge. The camp has a special bus that's jacked up high enough to cross two creeks on the way to the visitor's center overlooking the valley. You'll get there in time for your box lunch. The view over the pumice-covered valley is incredible, as is the hike down to the valley floor. The Ukak River cuts through the pumice with a vengeance. Have your camera ready for the high cliffs and the raging stream below. Details here.
9. Lake Clark National Park. Even though it's just a one-hour flight from Anchorage, the park is very remote. Alaska Alpine Adventures leads a variety of trips all year long, including backpacking, hiking and rafting trips. In fact, National Geographic has recognized the company's "Twin Lakes Paddle" as one of the "Tours of a Lifetime" in 2010. Owner Dan Oberlatz has a collection of collapsible kayaks that make it easy to access some of the remote lakes in the park. Your trip starts and ends at Merrill Field in Anchorage, where you catch your flight out to Port Alsworth on the east side of Lake Clark. All meals and accommodations (tent or otherwise!) are included. Learn more.
8. Izembek Lodge in Cold Bay. Whether you're a hunter or a fisherman, Cold Bay is a sportsman's paradise. One of the most entertaining events is the Russell Creek Salmon Derby over Labor Day. There's no shortage of silver salmon -- and most of the town shows up to wet a line. You can hike up nearby Mt. Frosty and hunt for ptarmigan in the meadows. They're everywhere. In the nearby Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, there are Canadian Geese, Pacific Black Brant, puddle ducks and sea ducks. Al and Barb Spalinger operate the Izembek Lodge starting in August to accommodate upland bird hunters -- and stick around until November for the duck hunters. Al built the lodge after working in the area for years as a biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Because creeks, lagoons and mountains are all close, it's easy to go fishing in the morning and hunting in the afternoon -- or vice versa. We did it. You can, too! More info.
7. Alaska Marine Highway between Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. People talk about cruising in Alaska -- but most of them have never considered this trip on the M/V Tustumena. The "Trusty Tusty" sails the route twice each month starting on May 2. Ports of call include Chignik, Sand Point, King Cove, Cold Bay, False Pass, Akutan and Dutch Harbor. If you plan far enough in advance, you can book a cabin, but I'll be happy just to grab a chaise lounge in the solarium -- or pitch a tent on the deck. On arrival in Dutch Harbor, I'll check in to the Grand Aleutian Hotel and feast on some fresh crab in the dining room. Then, I'll fly PenAir back home to Anchorage, using my Alaska Airlines points. Learn more.
6. Bettles Lodge. I keep coming back to the awesome national parks in Alaska. Bettles Lodge is just outside the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Depending on the time of year, you can get the lodge's air taxi to take you into the park to do some exploring. This time of year, owner Lynda Klaes is set up for viewing the northern lights, dogsledding, flightseeing and snowmachine trips.
With any of Lynda's packages, roundtrip air fare from Fairbanks to the lodge is included.
In the summertime, you can count on a float trip on the Koyukuk River, a visit to the ghost town of "Old Bettles," built during the Gold Rush of 1898, and a host of other activities: fishing, gold panning and more. Details.
5. Tutka Bay Lodge. I've known Carl and Kirsten Dixon since before they owned their very first lodge on the Yentna River. Carl is a great adventurer -- having climbed both Denali and Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in South America. Kirsten is a gracious hostess and a fabulous chef. Together, they offer their guests a great experience in some of the world's most unique settings. Tutka Bay, across from the Homer Spit, is well-situated for saltwater anglers, kayakers, hikers and for folks who enjoy a really good meal. In fact, Kirsten also has an adjacent cooking school to give folks some ideas on preparing the wonderful seafood from the local waters. Tutka Bay Lodge.
4. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. This is one of my favorite areas of Alaska. The town of McCarthy is set about 60 miles from Chitina in the shadow of what once was the world's largest copper mine. Kennicott Glacier Lodge is situated on "Main Street" of what's left of the company town -- where they processed the ore and loaded it onto the train for shipment to Cordova.
These days, we don't mine for copper. Rather, we walk up to the nearby glacier for hiking and ice climbing. Or we take a day hike up from the lodge to the mountain peaks where the old mine bunkhouses still stand. Or, we fly with Wrangell Mountain Air from McCarthy on an adventure deep into the park. This is a remote national park that you can drive to! More information.
3. Float the Copper River. My friends Gaia and Wayne Marrs own St. Elias Alpine Guides. Recently, they've started offering float trips down the Copper River. This is a trip I've always wanted to do. I've hiked on the glacier with these folks and flown out to do remote adventures. Their guides are knowledgeable and capable of accommodating fair-weather adventurers like me. Although I've visited Cordova and seen some of the glaciers near the Copper River delta, I'm anxious to float the river itself. My friends say it's exceptional. Copper River floats.
2. The Pribilof Islands. Many of my friends have visited the remote islands of St. Paul and St. George off of Alaska's western coast. The islands have been dubbed "The Galapagos of the North" because of the incredible wildlife, including more than 240 species of birds, fur seals, fox and reindeer. I've always wanted to visit -- and perhaps this will be the year. TDX Corp. offers a variety of tours that include accommodations. Flights are available on PenAir.
Some friends have visited St. George Island as well. St. George Tanaq Corp. operates the St. George Hotel, which hosts up to 18 visitors. The island has six different fur seal rookeries, in addition to a large bird population.
1. The top Alaska trip? Well, I'm still working on it. Frankly, it's hard to narrow it down. My eldest son encouraged me to apply for a caribou tag -- and we got one. So perhaps we'll have the chance to spend some time along the scenic Denali Highway between Cantwell and Paxon this fall. Or, maybe we'll opt for a float trip on a wilderness river. Of course, "Top 10" really doesn't cover it when you're working in Alaska. But it's a start.