Travel

Seward, Talkeetna and the Denali area offer plenty to see and do in Alaska’s snowy spring

Things are changing for travelers. Whether you’re planning a journey around Alaska or you have your sights further afield, the landscape is changing.

March always is an exciting month in Alaska. Fur Rondy and the Iditarod are happening the first week of the month — and people are excited to be outside. There’s still plenty of snow on the ground, so skiers can take to the mountain at Alyeska Resort and on Anchorage’s extensive network of Nordic ski trails.

But down in Seward, they already have boats ready to go see the whales. Starting March 10, Kenai Fjords Tours will launch its annual Gray Whale Watch tour. The boat leaves Seward’s small boat harbor at noon and the cruise in Resurrection Bay is four hours long.

You might see some gray whales. You might not. But you’re likely to see some otters, eagles, glaciers and other incredible scenery along the way. I’ve seen moose, sheep and sea lions from the boat. Kenai Fjords Tours offers 30% off all its tours this weekend. The Presidents Day sale brings the price down to $63 per adult when you use the promo code “PREZ” online.

Major Marine Tours starts their spring wildlife tours a little earlier, on March 5. Take 20% off the package price, including overnight accommodations at the Harbor 360 Hotel. Major Marine’s tours start a little later at 12:30 p.m., returning at 4:30 p.m.

If you stay the night, you’ll have time to visit the Alaska Sealife Center the next day. The center is limiting the number of guests, so you’re encouraged to book your admission ahead of time online at alaskasealife.org.

Talkeetna is almost as far north from Anchorage as Seward is south. Fernando Salvador runs the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, and he’s shoveling quite a bit of snow to get ready for a March 4 opening.

“I think we’ve had 20 inches of snow in the last four days,” he said. “That’s great for the Oosik Ski Race on March 12.”

In addition to the ski race, there are special events at the lodge most evenings. “Tuesday is trivia night,” said Salvador. “On Wednesday, we serve barbecue. On Thursdays, it’s ‘tastings night’ and on Friday we have live music.”

The first weekend is sold out, said Salvador. But the lodge is open through March 21.

Farther north toward Denali, things don’t start hopping until May or June unless you’re riding a snowmachine. Claude Bondy and his family run the Alpine Creek Lodge at Mile 67 on the Denali Highway. Don’t bother driving — the road is closed. This is snowmachine country in the winter.

“I’ve got 20 or 30 snowmachines parked outside right now,” said Bondy.

Alpine Creek Lodge is in the middle of the Denali Highway, between Cantwell and Paxson. If you go to the website, there’s a beautiful video of a northern lights display right above the lodge.

The lodge is open in the summer too. And this season, they’ll be getting some more visitors, since the Denali Park Road is closed after Mile 42.

The Denali Backcountry Adventure tour usually goes each day from the entrance to Denali National Park and Preserve all the way to the end of the park road, ending at Denali Backcountry Lodge.

But since the road is closed while the park service is building a bridge, this year the tour will leave from Denali Cabins at Mile 229 on the George Parks Highway. The bus will head south to Cantwell, then take a left on the Denali Highway.

“There are incredible views on the highway,” said Salvador, whose company also runs the backcountry tour and the lodge at the end of the road. “We’ll be showing people the other side of the Alaska Range, including Mount Deborah and Mount Hayes.”

Salvador and his team are scouting the best views of Denali from the highway, as well as strategic stops along the way for views and photos.

Guests on the tour arrive at the Alpine Creek Lodge for lunch. There’s time for gold panning, for a dog sled demonstration or for a hike up to an overlook.

Salvador expects the Denali Highway tour still will be offered even after the park road reopens.

Since the park road is closed this year, the lodges at the end of the road in Kantishna had to switch things up. According to its website, the Kantishna Roadhouse is closed for the season. The same is true for Kantishna Air, the air taxi based at the end of the road.

Camp Denali plans to offer its scheduled season for three-, four- or seven-night stays starting June 3. Guests will fly from the park entrance for the next two years. Camp Denali specializes in learning adventures and hiking vacations for active travelers, according to its website. The lodge also hosts special programs on birds, story telling, cultural geography and conservation.

Denali Backcountry Lodge, which is the turnaround point for Denali Backcountry Adventures in Kantishna, also made some big changes. “We’ve reduced capacity from 42 to just 12 cabins,” said Salvador.

All guests will be flown in by helicopter from Healy.

“With the small number of guests and new offerings, the lodge gives travelers a very intimate perspective of Denali and the park,” said Salvador.

“In addition to our guided hikes, we’ll offer kayaks and paddleboards on Wonder Lake. Plus we have new saunas and hot tubs on-site.”

Alaska Airlines’ new ‘Flight Pass’

Alaska Airlines plans to fly nonstop from Anchorage to more destinations than ever this summer: Minneapolis, Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas, among others.

Down in California, where the airline is beefing up its schedule, Alaska is offering a new program: air travel by subscription. The Flight Pass plan allows travelers to fly once or twice each month between California airports, Las Vegas, Phoenix or Reno. California airports stretch from San Diego in the south to Sonoma County and Sacramento in the north.

If you choose the cheapest plan, you pay $49 per month and you can take one flight every other month, booked at least 14 days in advance. Pay an extra $50 per month ($99 per month total) and you can take one flight each month. Pay $189 per month and you can take two flights each month.

For immediate gratification, choose the “pro” plan. You can book your flight right up to departure time. Spend between $199 and $749 per month for ultimate flexibility.

In addition to the month subscription fee (between $49 and $749 per month), travelers still must pay the government taxes on each flight. That amount varies.

The airline has no plans to introduce this plan in Alaska. “Alaska Airlines is a company that tries different things in different markets,” said Scott Habberstad, director of sales and community marketing for the airline. “In Alaska, we’ve got the Club 49 plan, which allows for two free checked bags. So we’re going to try this in California and see if it works.”

In the meantime, Alaska continues to offer cheap fares between Anchorage and the Lower 48. Fly from Anchorage to New York City for $126 one-way, traveling between March 11 and May 12.

Scott McMurren

Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based marketing consultant, serving clients in the transportation, hospitality, media and specialty destination sectors, among others. Contact him by email at zoom907@me.com. You can follow him on Twitter (@alaskatravelGRM) and alaskatravelgram.com. For more information, visit alaskatravelgram.com/about.

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