Don't let all those great summertime adventures slip past you! No matter which way you look, there are great opportunities for you, your family and your visiting friends and relatives. Let's take a look at some of my favorites.
Girdwood, Portage and Whittier
My family knows this route as "Tour A". There are enough day-long activities to keep you busy in this area all week, including:
-- Alyeska Resort. Whether it's live music outside under the tent, a tram ride up the mountain or a cinnamon roll from the Bake Shop--there's plenty to see and do at Alyeska. New this summer: take your mountain bike up on the lift and scream down the hill!
-- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Located on the Seward Highway just before the Whittier cut-off, the center is host to a menagerie of Alaska animals: bison, musk ox, moose -- even a famous porcupine who thinks he's a puppy! With more than 200 acres, there's plenty of room for the animals to move around. This is a wise stop for those with kids.
-- Spencer Glacier railroad trip. Ride the mighty Alaska Railroad from Portage up to Spencer Glacier for a great hike. This is another fun family adventure, since the kids can get out and run around. You also can get the package that includes a float back down the river. On the way back, the train stops and picks you up while the guides load the rafts into the baggage car.
-- Glacier cruises in Whittier. Whether it's a 26 Glaciers cruise or one of the other scenic glacier/wildlife cruises, Whittier is a great gateway to Prince William Sound.
Of course, Seward just hosted a jillion people over the July 4 weekend, but this town has staying power all summer long.
-- Kenai Fjords National Park cruises. Both Major Marine and Kenai Fjords Tours offer a host of cruises to get out on the water and see the glaciers and wildlife. Go ahead -- take the long cruises into the national park. See whales, sea lions, big glaciers, and more.
-- Alaska Sealife Center. This is a must-see location in Seward. The floor-to-ceiling aquariums are enchanting. But the kids love the touch-pools and the aviary, where they can get up-close to a puffin.
-- Exit Glacier. This is just a short drive from downtown and is a great trail that leads up right up to the glacier.
This is a great daytrip into the shadow of Denali. Take a jetboat ride with Mahay's Riverboat Service up the Susitna River. Or, go flightseeing with K2, Talkeetna Aero Services or Talkeetna Air Taxi. I love the trips that feature a glacier landing, but there are a variety of flightsee-only trips, including some that go up over the top of the mountain (with oxygen masks!). If you're there for breakfast, feast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse. For pizza, look no further than Mountain High Pizza (epic!!).
The Golden Circle
This is a great multi-day road trip. Head up the Matanuska River valley. It's hard not to stop several times for photos. But one obligatory stop is at the Sheep Mountain Lodge (milepost 113.5 on the Glenn Highway) for dessert. Just a little something to keep you going--strawberry rhubarb pie or the oh-so-famous glacier cookie! If you get a late start, overnight at the Copper River Princess, just about 15 miles south of Glennallen on the Richardson Highway. Otherwise, push on through to Chitina Airport, where you can catch a flight on Wrangell Mountain Air back to McCarthy. If you don't mind driving on gravel roads at 35 miles per hour, go ahead and drive back to McCarthy, in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Spend the night at Kennicott Glacier Lodge, in the midst of the ghost town that once hosted the world's largest copper mine. Now, it's a great hub for adventure. Hike up on the Root Glacier. Explore the old mine buildings, and hike up to the old bunkhouses in the hills overlooking the town. Spend a couple of days exploring this incredible area.
Continue your trip south to Valdez. Stop along the way at Worthington Glacier (you can't miss it from the road). Head over Thompson Pass and head downhill into Valdez. But don't miss the waterfalls along the way: Horsetail Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. They're both beautiful -- reminders that you're in a rain forest!
In Valdez, plan on sailing with Stan Stephens over to Columbia Glacier. You might consider a sea kayak trip, too. We went with "Pangaea" over to Shoup Glacier for a day-long paddle!
Spend the night in Valdez and board the Alaska Marine Highway the next morning for the trip across Prince William Sound to Whittier.
I think you should take the Alaska Railroad on this trip. Head north from Anchorage early in the morning for the trip to Denali National Park. You'll get there mid-afternoon, so there's still time to go rafting on the Nenana River with one of the operators there at the park.
Spend the night, then get up early for the drive into the park. I recommend the long bus ride, the "Tundra Wilderness Tour," for seeing the wildlife. If you're lucky, you'll get some good shots of the mountain as well. If you really want to see the park, you can take the shuttle from the park entrance back to Kantishna at the end of the road. You can turn around there and come back -- but that's tough duty. You can spend the night at one of the pricey lodges, or you can fly back to the park entrance with Kantishna Air Taxi.
Head north to Fairbanks on the railroad. Play tourist once you arrive in Fairbanks. Go on the Riverboat Discovery for a paddlewheel cruise on the Chena and Tanana Rivers. Visit the El Dorado Gold Mine. Check out the Fountainhead Antique Car Museum. And visit the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska campus. Then fly back to Anchorage!
There are dozens of other trips and itineraries for Alaska -- but this is a good place to start. It's time to grab a cup of coffee and hit the road!
Scott McMurren is an Anchorage-based travel marketing consultant who has lived in Alaska for three decades, spending much of that time traveling the far-flung corners of the state. Visit his website at www.alaskatravelgram.com.