2018 August

Our Alaska Family Adventure

About a year ago our family voted and decided that Alaska would be our big summer trip. At the time our plan was to take a cruise, but after talking to some friends, we changed course. While a cruise ship can help you see more of the coastline and ports, they also come with huge crowds. Instead, we opted for an eight-day adventure, beginning and ending in Anchorage.

Planning this trip was intense. It wasn’t as simple as settling on a destination and getting a hotel for a week. In total, I spent over three months researching and sketching out the plan. I talked to friends, read a few travel books (Fodor’s Alaska and Moon Anchorage, Denali), and poured over blogs.

Before you get overwhelmed with the work involved in a trip like this, take a look at this video. Alaska is unlike any place I’ve ever visited and somewhere everyone should see. Hopefully, this will give you a spark of motivation to plan something similar.

Amazing, right?

Seeing Alaska is a bucket list trip no matter how you do it. This was an adventure that none of us will ever forget.

The landscape was like nothing we’ve ever seen. The closest thing I can compare it to is Hawaii, just with snow and glaciers. Everywhere you look there is wildlife, on land or sea.

The place is huge. It’s our largest state in the country, but one of the least populated. It’s a chance to see nature unspoiled. Given the small population and limited workforce, most of the people we met were just there for the summer. And everyone in this group had a fascinating story to share.

This was our itinerary for the trip. We packed in multiple destinations and a lot of activities, but looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.

Day 1: Austin – Seattle

This was mostly a travel day for us. We decided to stop over in Seattle to visit family but you could always push through and get to Anchorage in one day. I was shocked by how long it took to fly to Alaska. It was almost eight hours of total flying time.

Day 2: Seattle – Anchorage

We landed in Anchorage around 3 o’clock on day two. We didn’t have a lot of time in town but we were able to squeeze in a bike ride on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

From the Sheraton Downtown, it was a short walk to Downtown Bike Rentals. They got us set up with our gear, including a great tandem bike, and we were on our way.

Before hitting the trail we stopped for dinner at a famous seafood restaurant a few blocks from the start of the trail. Once you’re on the trail you can spend an hour or four riding along the coast. The views are amazing and it’s a pretty easy ride.

View from Tony Knowles Trail
View from Tony Knowles Trail

If you have more time in Anchorage you could also check out the Alaska Native Cultural Center, Point Woronzof Park (this is supposed to be a great place to see Moose in the wild), or the Alaska Zoo.

There are a lot of restaurants to choose from in downtown Anchorage. We ate at Simon & Seafort’s but also wanted to check out Gwennies Old Alaska Restaurant. One thing to note is the fish in Alaska is unlike anything I’ve ever had. I’m not really a big seafood guy but after I got my first taste, I ordered it at every meal.

Day 3: Anchorage – Talkeetna

We got started early on day three. After a short Uber to the train station, we hopped on the Alaska Railroad. We reserved seats on one of the double-decker dome cars. Not only does it give you a great vantage point to see the Alaskan countryside, but you also have an open-air observation deck on the back. These cars also come with a restaurant on the first floor, which everyone loved.

An average view from the train
An average view from the train

The three-hour ride up to Talkeetna was phenomenal. No one in the family got bored looking at the mountains, rivers or wildlife. Once we arrived, the owner of the Denali Fireside Cabins came to pick us up. He drove us through town and shared some unbelievable stories from his time growing up there.

Once we dropped our bags, we headed out for a quick bite to eat. Then it was off to Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures. They use specially designed boats to zip up one of the three major rivers flowing through this part of Alaska. We stopped at a replica fur trader camp and learned a lot about this way of life. They offer a few different tour lengths. We decided on the shortest one and it was the perfect amount of time. After dinner on the main drag, we headed back for some rest at the cabin.

Day 4: Talkeetna – Anchorage

The following morning we were scheduled for a flightseeing tour of Denali. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and they canceled the trip. With the morning free, we signed up for an ATV tour instead.

You’ll drive across the railroad bridge to a paved trail that takes you through the countryside. Eventually, you’ll turn off and head to the homestead of one of the local residents. We stopped here to warm up and hear stories about the property. After a short visit, we headed back.

A fun but rainy ATV tour
A fun but rainy ATV tour

The train out doesn’t leave until five so we packed up and walked back into town. We stopped by the Susitna Salmon Center, the local Ranger Station and a ton of great little shops. Before long it was time to head back to Anchorage.

For food, I’d recommend Mountain High Pizza Pie (the kids loved this place), Latitude 62 (right next to Denali Fireside), the Talkeetna Roadhouse (their pancakes don’t even fit on the places), and the Wildfire Café (a great dinner spot).

Day 5: Anchorage – Seward

After another short stay in Anchorage, we packed our bags. A few blocks from the hotel is an Enterprise rent-a-car. I picked up an SUV and we started our drive down to Seward.

The Seward Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the country. Ten minutes out of Anchorage and you’ll see nothing but nature. While it’s only a few hour stretch, the best way to experience this is to make a lot of stops along the way.

The first one is the Potter Marsh Boardwalk. You can spend as little or as much time as you want, exploring the marsh, looking for wildlife. Another fifteen minutes down the road is the Indian Valley Gold Mine. You’ll learn a lot about gold mining and the kids will love panning for their own gold.

Next up is the Beluga Point Lookout. It is a beautiful turnout and a great picture spot. Out in the middle of the bay, you should see a bunch of Beluga whales.

We grabbed lunch in Girdwood and then made our way to the Portage Glacier. Stop in the visitor center to get a map and some directions. You’ll need to drive through a 2.5-mile tunnel to get to Whittier. After going through the tunnel there is a turnout that takes you to the trailhead. The hike itself is a mile, straight up. It will take two hours, but the view is absolutely worth it.

The Portage Glacier – view from the top of the hike
The Portage Glacier – view from the top of the hike

If you have time, grab a coffee in Whittier but don’t miss your chance to get back through the tunnel. They open up each side every thirty minutes. It’s a unique system and experience.

I had wanted to visit the Kenai Lake Viewpoint but everyone was wiped out. Instead, we headed straight to Seward and got settled into an amazing cabin.

Day 6: Seward

Our day got started early with a sea kayaking tour. Kayak Adventures Worldwide offers a private guide for small families. We spent about three hours on Resurrection Bay and managed to see Harbor Porpusises, Bald Eagles and a bunch of Salmon running upstream. Floating on the water is an amazing way to experience the beauty of this place. It’s almost sensory overload.

Sea Kayaking on Resurrection Bay
Sea Kayaking on Resurrection Bay

After we got back, we grabbed a bite to eat and then walked through the Alaska SeaLife Center. There is plenty to see and do along the waterfront but by now we were all spent and headed back to the cabin.

Seward offers some great food options. We had lunch at Zudy’s Café, dinner at the Resurrection Roadhouse and The Cookery. This place is very popular so plan on getting there early to get a spot.

Day 7: Seward

One of the best ways to see this part of Alaska is by boat. We scheduled an all-day Glacier and Wildlife Tour. We set off at 8 AM and immediately spotted wildlife. From sea otters to sea lions, to Humpback and Orca whales, we saw it all.

We spent a fair amount of time at the Aialik Glacier as well. Right when we pulled up the glacier started calving for us. It’s an unbelievable sight and experience.

Aialik Glacier
Aialik Glacier

There are a lot of tour boats to choose from but we opted for one of the smaller options. It worked out great because there was only one other group joining us. This is a way better option than the boats carrying over a hundred people all trying to get a spot to see something.

Day 8: Seward – Anchorage

We started our last day in Seward by walking the beach on Lowell Point. Next, we headed over to the Exit Glacier. This is just outside of town and offers a pretty easy hike. As you enter the park and continue with the hike, you’ll see year markers showing the glacier recession over the years.

After lunch, we got back on the road. We had reservations at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The tour was educational and interesting. We got to see a ton of wildlife up close and the kids even got to feed a few animals. You can spend as much time as you want here but plan for at least two hours.

For dinner, we wanted to eat at Seven Glaciers. It is part of the Alyeska Resort and sits on top of the mountain. Unfortunately, we didn’t make reservations and couldn’t get in. Instead, we found a nice spot down the street in Girdwood. After dinner, we made the drive back up to Anchorage and got settled into the hotel for our last night.

Day 9 and 10: Anchorage – Seattle

We stopped over in Seattle on the way back. With one full day in Seattle, we decided to do the Seattle Underground Tour. It’s about 75 minutes and it’s both hilarious and informative. Everyone in the family enjoyed it.

Next, it was off to the Amazon Go Store. We were all fascinated by how the store worked. There are no checkout counters. You simply grab what you want off the shelf and the store knows exactly who you are and what you bought. It’s very cool!

For our last stop, we headed over to Discovery Park. There is a great mile-long hike that borders the Puget Sound and eventually ends at a small lighthouse. They do have a shuttle service that runs every thirty minutes if you don’t want to hike back.

Packing List for Your Trip to Alaska

In terms of packing for a trip like this, my first recommendation is to pack light. Try to get everything in a carry-on. If you follow a schedule like ours, you’ll be glad you did.

Don’t worry about dressing up. We never went anywhere that required anything but casual clothes. The whole state is pretty laid back.

In terms of specific items to bring. Here are the top items you’ll need.

  • Layers, layers, layers – The weather can change in an instant. Pack layers and you’ll be fine.

  • Rain gear – It rains. A lot. Grab a good rain jacket and rain pants. Most of the activities in Alaska run rain or shine.

  • Waterproof shoes – Did I mention it rains a lot? We grabbed waterproof sneakers and wore them the entire trip.

  • Bug spray – The mosquitoes weren’t terrible during our trip, but you will want to have some spray handy.

  • CamelBak – Between bike rides and hikes, you will want lots of water.

  • Small backpack – You’ll need a place to store your layers, snacks for the kids and bug spray.

  • Wicking pants – Try to wear pants that will shed light rain. I had some golf and hiking pants that were great whenever the rain moved in. For the real wet activities, like sea kayaking, we all wore full rain gear.

  • Warm socks – Grab some medium duty hiking socks to give you a little extra cushion and warmth.

  • Dramamine – We did a few water activities, but luckily no one got sick. Depending on the weather you may need these pills.

  • Cash – You end up tipping quite a few folks during the trip. Have some money handy, or you’ll find yourself searching for ATMs.

  • Sunscreen and sunglasses – When it’s not raining it is pretty darn sunny.

That covers it. I hope this helps inspire your own trip and makes the planning a little easier. If you have any questions please reach out. I'd be happy to help.

Our Alaska Family Adventure

One of the most beautiful states in the country!

8/15/20189 min read