Travelers are ready to roll on any in-state vacation they can get.
But the waiting game continues, while parks and recreation sites spool up to new cleaning protocols, reduced capacity and getting staff trained.
Denice Swanke is Denali National Park’s acting superintendent. We talked last week about plans to open up the park road to private vehicles a few days during the summer.
“We will have a limited number of days where visitors can drive their own cars into the park,” she said. These weekend dates are in addition to the end-of-season road lotteries.
Dates when you can drive all the way to the Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66 are July 10-12, July 24-26, Aug. 7-9, Aug. 21-23 and Sept. 4-6. You have to make your reservations within 14 days of departure. Space is limited. Other restrictions apply.
The park’s visitor center is set to open on July 1. But during the month of June, you can get a permit to drive to the Teklanika River at Mile 30. Vehicle permits are $55 and are available at recreation.gov.
Tony Beckerley runs the Tundra Wilderness Tour into the park. These bus tours will start on July 1 and cost $162.50 per adult. Reservations are available online. This is the tour most visitors take for an up-close view of the park’s wildlife, and full-on views of Denali itself. Beckerley added that there also will be an Eielson shuttle for campers and hikers.
For a ride to the end of the park road in Kantishna, at Mile 92, take the Denali Backcountry Adventure bus tour. There are plenty of stops along the way, but it’s about seven hours in each direction. You’ll get lunch at the end of the road in Kantishna. Cost is $199 per person. These tours start on June 13.
Some travelers, after enduring the road trip in one direction, would seek out Kantishna Air Service for a flight back to the park entrance. Unfortunately, their planes are not operating this summer.
Alyeska Resort is getting ready to reopen June 12. The hotel, the tram and some of the restaurants are set to open with reduced capacity and new safety protocols. The pool, the gym, the Sitzmark and Seven Glaciers Restaurant will not open yet.
Alaska residents can trim 30% off the room rates, bringing them as low as $137 per night. The “LOCALS” discount is available between June 12 and Aug. 31.
Alyeska’s lift-assisted bike park is scheduled to open on July 3. They have bikes for rent, plus all the protective gear and helmets.
Other tour companies are doing a soft open, offering only private group travel to stay within safety guidelines. There’s still a lot of uncertainty about travel, as the state replaces its mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers from out of state with a requirement that they be tested within 72 hours of boarding a plane to Alaska, starting June 5.
That uncertainty is affecting air carriers differently.
Allegiant Air never announced that they weren’t coming back with nonstops from Anchorage to Bellingham. They just pulled the flights. So did Air Canada. Both of these carriers get most of their traffic from Vancouver, B.C., which is in Canada. We can’t go there … and they can’t come here.
Condor Airlines will not be flying nonstop from Anchorage to Frankfurt this summer, amid uncertainty over travel bans between Europe and the U.S., as well as overarching COVID-19 anxiety.
Icelandair pulled their flights early this month from Anchorage to Reykjavik.
That leaves Yakutia Air as Anchorage’s only international carrier, offering weekly nonstop service from Anchorage to Patropavlovsk-Kamchatsky on Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula. Yakutia’s flights leave each Monday at 7:30 a.m. between July 13 and Sept. 14.
The nonstop flights (4.5 hours) are not cheap. Tickets range from $1,200-$1,900 round trip. Most of the travelers on the flight are anglers who are hunting for giant salmon and steelhead in Kamchatka’s wilderness rivers. Other passengers include hikers and photographers — and anyone who likes to fly around in Russian helicopters. Aside from the few roads on the peninsula, the giant Mi-8 helicopters are the backbone of the transportation infrastructure.
Domestic airlines flying from Anchorage are working hard to woo travelers back onto planes. Delta has blocked all the middle seats until July 6. Alaska Airlines is not guaranteeing an empty middle seat.
All the airlines have stepped up their cleaning regimen and are asking travelers to wear masks.
When and where the planes are flying is something of a moving target. The number of flights between Anchorage and Seattle seems to change every day. A couple of weeks ago, there were five nonstops. On Saturday, Alaska Air scheduled seven nonstop flights to Seattle and Delta had two.
Alaska Airlines usually flies a couple of nonstops year-round from Anchorage to Portland. Not this year. They’ve been bumped back to start up on July 1.
Flights from Anchorage to Chicago usually are running full speed ahead by now. But there are no nonstops from Anchorage until July 1, when Alaska starts a daily flight. By July 7, both American and United also will offer nonstops. That competition is keeping the price down to $122 each way.
Anchorage-Los Angeles nonstops have stopped until Alaska resumes them on June 8. Then, on July 6, United starts a nonstop flight, too. Again, the competition is keeping prices to $122 each way.
Alaska Airlines’ nonstop flight to San Francisco was supposed to start on April 21, but has been pushed back to June 8. United starts flying the route on July 6. Prices are cheap: $142 one way.
American Airlines pushed its Dallas nonstop back to July 1. Delta is delaying its Anchorage-Minneapolis nonstop until July 2 (although Sun Country is flying the route now). Delta will start its Anchorage-Atlanta nonstop late, on July 2. United it delaying both its Anchorage-Newark nonstop and its Anchorage-Houston nonstop until July 6.
The takeaway message for travelers is this: Airlines, faced with low demand, are cutting or delaying flights all the time. Don’t wait for the airline to call you. If you’re traveling soon, take a moment to double-check that your flight is operating on schedule.
In the meantime, maybe this is the year you’ll get to drive the road in Denali National Park.
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