A Quick Do It On Your Own Guide to Alaska

 

There is now denying it, Alaska is one big honkin' place. The state is full of bears, moose and other animals you really don’t want to tangle with. Add extreme weather to that and you have Alaska. There is no coincidence that there are reality shows that feature the dangerous, remote and weird side of Alaska. It is not totally beyond our imagination that there are so many travelers preferring  a middleman to sort things out. Choose an inexpensive cruise or an outrageously extravagant fishing trip. Have your hand held or blow a bunch of cash. Travel professionals are standing by. Anyone with a bit of common sense (and maybe a bit of water-resistant gear) can easily sling together a great first time visit to the 49th state on their own. Here’s how you do it.

 

 

Over 50% of Alaska’s population is in or around Anchorage. Anchorage (ANC) is an easy flight from most West North America gateways and a not-so-bad connection from many more larger population centers in what Alaskans refer to as “the lower 48.” When you land, rent a car and point it toward your hotel, just like any other city. There are no truly great places to stay in Anchorage. Go with your gut and choose what gives you the best value for your money. A select group of properties in the Midtown area, such as the Sockeye Inn offer FREE WiFi, FREE laundry, parking, larger rooms and suites with kitchenettes — perfect for your family.

 

 

Alaskans who do not live in Anchorage have a saying that they are very fond of saying over and over again and again, "Anchorage is just thirty minutes away from Alaska." Dumb joke? Yes. Strangely, it is a statement of fact. The vast variety of adventures right at the city’s doorstep is mind-boggling. Do you have to leave Anchorage to get your nature on? No. If you cycle you will see plenty of wildlife on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This is a paved, 11-mile cycle path leading out from the center of town and down along Turnagain Arm, which is a gigantic body of water that halts the city in its tracks on three sides. Rent some wheels (Trek Store — in Midtown, next to the Embassy Suites — is the real deal) and go. For the more adventurous, Flattop Mountain (elevation 1070 Meters) is a popular spot for a wee bit of exercise. You end up rock scrambling by the end with winds that can whip up so fast on the treeless peak, that you may have to squat to keep from being blown away. When it has all been said and done you may feel a little like Shackelton. To many Alaskans, this 1.5-mile clamber is a just pleasant, quiet stroll in the park.

 

 

Are feeling adventurous? According to Alaskans, Flattop is nothing. To really up your street cred, hike a glacier. There is nothing much of anything needed. Drag yourself out of bed. Score a coffee at one of Anchorage’s many fine caffeine shops (Kaladi Brothers Coffee, Dark Horse Coffee Company or Black Cup are at the top of the heap of beans). Drive about 2 hours north along Glenn Highway, past the town of Palmer, toward Matanuska Glacier. A lot of people drive to the beach in the summer... well, Alaskans drive/walk/cycle/jog/? to their local glacier. All you need is the proper foot-gear and the admission fee (it is usually around $20 per person, which is well worth it) and you are all set to rock and roll. This is not essential to your glacier trekking, but outfitters near the glacier will get you all geared up with crampons, helmet and trekking pole. For a lighter hiking experience, head about 2.5 hours south of town to Kenai Fjords National Park. There you are able to view Exit Glacier via a tame, one-mile loop from the visitors center.

 

 

Can you follow up your glacier hike with a walk in a rain forest? YES. In the winter, the town of Girdwood, about half an hour from Anchorage, is ski heaven. In the summer, you come for the unbelievable hiking. A five-mile loop through Winner Creek Gorge takes you into a coastal rain forest that will have you feeling as if you have stepped into a temperate Jurassic Park. All you have to do is substitute bears for dinosaurs. Would you prefer a guided tour? The Ascending Path will take you out on a fun, two to three hour excursion for a mere $69. 

 

 

Ok... you have hiked a glacier. You have hiked through a temperate rain forest. Now what? To top your day off, take a lazy, relaxing float down the Upper Kenai River. For a mere $59 you get 2 hours of R and R with the tour company Alaska River Trips. Are you feeling a little more river adventurous? How about a little white water? For this, you should look into the challenging Six Mile Creek white water adventure in the Chugach National Forest. It comprises of a glorious half day excursion down Class 1V-V rapids (formidable) and costs anywhere from $99 to $149. The guides do all the heavy rapid thinking for you by supplying all the needed gear and guidance. There is yet another upside to all this fun you are having. Bonus time... if it is warm enough, you are able to go swimming before and/or after your river outings. Both of these river events are easily accessible and a reasonable drive from Anchorage.

 

 

Have you ever seen those pictures of people out on the deck of a cruise ship having a look at glaciers? Then you think to yourself how nice it would be to just cruise past a bunch of those glaciers and gawk yourself? To view the really spectacular glaciers you have to get off the big ship and on to a smaller ship. Why not just book the smaller ship yourself? One of the best glacier gawking areas is Prince William Sound. Phillips Cruises & Tours operates a cruise out of the town of Whittier to Prince William Sound. Whittier is about an hour and a half from Anchorage. They offer two cruises. They are $99 and $149. The $149 cruise takes in a whopping 26 glaciers during the five-hour sailing. Either tour gives you the opportunity to view some of the most incredible wonders of the last frontier on the planet.

 

 

 
There are plenty of things to do in Anchorage that do not involve nature. After all, it is a real city, a fun city, with festivals and farmers markets crowding the summer months. Eating and drinking in Anchorage can also be a lot of fun. Go on down to the mostly, currently tourist-free Midnight SunBrewing Company for good craft beers and beer eats. If beer is not your fancy, check out the Anchorage Museum, with its David Chipperfield-Designed expansion. Add to that a large collection of Alaskan art and artifacts, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and a great planetarium. These may offer you a reasonable alternative to the great outdoors... if that is what you really want.
 

Enjoy Alaska.

 

 

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Best regards,

Gary Small

 

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