Even in this most unusual summer, time marches on and our summer days get shorter and shorter. Here we are in the middle of August, with just a few weeks to make the most of our staycation summer.
Most of the activities and accommodations open to us this summer have some sort of special price for Alaska residents. Some of those specials are much better than others.
To take advantage of the best offers, the first step is to load up your car or camper and point it toward one of the national parks that you can drive to.
Heading to Denali National Park and Preserve is different this year. Lots of the shops, hotels and attractions are closed. A few buses are running each day from the park entrance out to Eielson Visitor Center at Mile 66. Make reservations online. If you want to go all the way to the end of the road at Kantishna, check out the Denali Backcountry Adventure tour. This is an all-day bus ride, complete with a meal at the end of the road. There are plenty of stops, especially if someone spots wildlife. The cost is $199 per person and there’s a 30% discount for Alaska residents through Sept. 13.
Hotels near the park entrance offer discounted rates through mid-September. A stay at Denali Bluffs Hotel costs $199 per night. McKinley Creekside Cabins offers a 30% discount, and Denali Cabins has rooms starting at $129 per night.
Heading south from Anchorage to Kenai Fjords National Park and Preserve, you can drive or take the train. The Alaska Railroad is offering 20% off both for Adventure Class (coach) and Gold Star (first class). Also, kids under 12 ride for free (one free child per paying adult).
Once you get to Seward, both of the major boat tour companies are offering big discounts. Kenai Fjords Tours is offering 40% off their National Park Tours. Use promo code “KFT40” and sail for as little as $112. The same company owns the Seward Windsong Lodge, which offers rooms for $129 per night. Use promo code “Alaska129.”
Major Marine Tours offers a 30% discount on Resurrection Bay cruises and the longer National Park Cruise. The company also offers a 30% discount on the hotel and cruise package at the Harbor 360 Hotel, located by the small boat harbor. Overnight accommodations and a National Park Cruise adds up to $206 per person, double occupancy.
Although it’s a longer drive, a vacation to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is worth the trek. It’s a five-hour drive from Anchorage to the Chitina Airport, where you can catch a flight on Wrangell Mountain Air, avoiding the 60-mile McCarthy Road. In addition to a swift ride, the flight goes over incredible mountain passes and across awesome glaciers.
Otherwise, plan on driving 35 miles per hour on the road to McCarthy. It’s a beautiful drive, as long as you have the patience.
You can’t drive into the town of McCarthy. Park your car by the bridge. If you’re staying at a hotel, they will come and get you on the other side of the bridge. Ma Johnson’s Historical Hotel is right in the middle of town, which is about three blocks long. You can get a taste of what McCarthy used to be like just by looking around the hotel, which used to be a boarding house. Enjoy a nice meal across the street at the Salmon & Bear Restaurant. Stay the first night at Ma Johnson’s for $249 per room. The next night is half-price, $125.
Five miles up the road from McCarthy is the site of the old Kennicott Mine. The National Park Service has done an incredible job restoring many of the old buildings — you’ll learn what life was like at the world’s largest copper mine 100 years ago.
The Kennicott Glacier Lodge is located right on Main Street in Kennicott. You’re just steps away from the mill building, the power plant and other restored buildings. But look over the roofs of the buildings to the massive glaciers beyond. Tours are available to several of the refurbished buildings with St. Elias Alpine Guides. The glacier is walking distance from the lodge. Go with a guide up on the glacier — either for a walk or for some ice climbing.
Kennicott Glacier Lodge is offering a 20% discount for Alaska residents.
Brooks Lodge, in the heart of Katmai National Park and Preserve, got off to a late start this year. So they’re offering a 25% discount at the lodge for travel between now and Aug. 30. To get there, fly Alaska Airlines to King Salmon, then fly Katmai Air for the short hop up to Brooks Camp. Everyone who arrives at Brooks has to go to “Bear School.” It’s not unusual to see one or two bears on the beach as your floatplane pulls up on the beach.
In addition to watching the bears at Brooks Falls, the fishing on the Brooks River is fabulous for rainbow trout. It’s all catch and release, fly only. In a pinch, you can rent gear from the on-site trading post. The adjacent campground is closed for the season.
The best staycation deals are not limited to the national parks, but they’re a great place to start. The Alaska Travel Industry Association has a long list of other activities and accommodations, including fishing trips, RV rentals, kayak excursions and unique experiences.
So get out and enjoy the last days of summer. This year we have more of the state to ourselves — don’t miss it.
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