Hope, Alaska

Alaksa, The Trip of a Lifetime

I went on an 8-day adventure to Alaska. And had a blast.  As most of you know I was born and raised in Florida, so Alaska is the great white north to me.  But I am at a point in my life where I want to see places and experience how others live.  And my day-to-day life this year has had way too much drama in it.  So, I wanted to get away somewhere peaceful and with fewer people.  I found this tour on the G Adventures website, and I just couldn’t resist. Alaska for less than $3000. (2023) (https://www.gadventures.com/trips/alaska-kenai-denali-adventure/9293/) Wow!

Two tours interested me.  One was to Costa Rica and one to Alaska.  But I knew that by the end of summer camp, I would want to go someplace cooler.  So, Alaska won out.

I am also very cheap so price plays a factor in my decision.  The Costa Rica trip and the Alaska trip were comparable.  I wanted a great vacation for a very reasonable amount.  But don’t we all?

Booking the tour through the G Adventures website was super easy.  This was my first tour that I had booked myself and I was a little worried that I would wind up in some dump of a hotel or God Knows what.  But G Adventures had all kinds of information, and the customer service was wonderful.  They made it super easy and helped relieve my fear of the unknown.

On the first day of the tour, our small group of 13 people met at the 4 points by Sheraton Hotel in Anchorage. We all got together for the welcome dinner and had a few drinks.  That was a great way to break the ice and get everyone talking. And we got to meet our CEO, (Chief Experience Officer). Megan.

The next morning, we boarded a brand-new Mercedes bus and set off to Seward.  Seward is a small town on the Kenai Peninsula in southcentral Alaska. It is known as the “Gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park.  Seward was named after Secretary of State William Seward, who negotiated the Alaska Purchase.   Seward is a major fishing port, and home to many commercial fishing companies. It is also a popular destination for people like me who like to hike. There are several historical and cultural attractions.  I saw none of those mainly because I can read all about it on the internet. I wanted to explore.  

On the way from Anchorage to Seward we traveled down the Turnagain Bay highway.  This is one of the most scenic drives in Alaska.  The mountains on the left are right up to the side of the road and offer spectacular 3000-foot views.   Just off the right of the road is Turnagain Arm.  At low tide, the Turnagain arm is like a mud flat that in parts is 4 miles wide.  The mudflats are very dangerous because the tide comes in so quickly that people have been known to get stuck in the mud and drown.  Like quicksand, you used to read about in comic books. This is because of the Bore tides that happen in Turnagain Arm.  A bore tide creates a wave that runs for miles and has been known to have a 5-to-10-foot face.  I was told that some of the locals surf the bore tide.  I didn’t get to see that, but it would be amazing to ride a wave for 5 miles.

We stopped for a short walk outside of Hope, where we walked from the scenic overlook down the Canyon Creek and back.   Canyon Creek becomes part of the Six Mile Creek which is known for some of the best white-water rafting in North America.  During our visit, the water levels were lower, and the flow seemed very quiet.  But it was not hard to imagine rafting through those rapids.  I will save that for the next trip.

We then headed to Exit Glacier for our daily exercise.  Exit Glacier had a nice welcoming center with information about the local wildlife and information about how fast the Glacier is melting.  Throughout the park, there are signs identifying where the glacier was that year.  This was a little scar to see how fast it is melting.  But also really amazing to see how fast the vegetation grows after being covered with ice.

There are 3 different trail options:  the first is a leisurely walk on smooth gavel paved pathways.  The second is a little more strenuous involving smaller unpaved pathways and rocks.  This option takes a couple of hours.  The third, known as hard icefield, is beautiful but challenging.  The hard icefield trail is 5 miles round trip which doesn’t sound like a lot.  But there is a difference between walking 5 miles in Florida and climbing 5 miles in Alaska.  And some parts were steep and will get your heart rate up to speed.  But it was so worth it, as it puts you right at the top of the glacier.  And the further away from people you are the more likely you will see wildlife.  

After Exit Glacier we made our final descent into Seward and got settled into our hotel.  From the hotel, Seward was a very walkable place.  There is a free Shuttle if you don’t want to walk, but a short 10-minute walk gets you from one end of town to the other.  Please note, that a 10-minute walk does not include the time it takes to stop by the local breweries.  And one should always visit local breweries.  What better way to get to know the culture than to share a pint or two with the local brewmasters?

The third day of our journey was all about glaciers and whales.  We got up early to take a boat tour on the Orca Song.  Our trip started in Resurrection Bay and at the time the crew was telling everyone that the seas were going to be rough.  They encouraged everyone to take Dramamine.  Most did.  But it was difficult to convince all of the passengers because in the bay the waters were quiet.  Our tour was scheduled to be 6 hours.  We got to see more glaciers up close.  We also saw sea otters, puffins, bald eagles, and a pod of Orca Whales.  The Orca whales were so cool.  They were just playing at the mouth of Resurrection Bay.  We guessed there to be 5 mature whales and 3 babies. And of course, the captain took the time to educate passengers of the different kinds of orcas and the pod structure.  It was just amazing to watch how graceful they were in the water.  The tour was to continue to Glacier Bay but by that time the seas had changed, and we were dealing with 7-to-9-foot swells.  So, Glacier Bay was out of the question. The captain turned the boat around and headed back to port.  It was s shortened trip but still worth it.  The scenery was amazing and those who had never experienced the power of the ocean had a new appreciation.  And those of us who took the Dramamine were very thankful we did.  

The next stop of our tour was Talkeetna: A Charming Alaskan Town at the Foot of Denali.  Talkeetna was founded in 1916 by gold miners. It grew rapidly during World War I when it served as a supply depot for the military. Talkeetna is a charming town with a unique character.  Today the town is all about tourism, with lots of shops.  The cool thing about even tourist shops in Alaska is the stuff is not from China.  There were lots of beadwork by indigenous people, and local artist.  And of course, there are a couple of local breweries.  And the beer is cold. 

We were scheduled to go on another hike in Talkeetna, but it had been raining all day, so we opted for an ATV tour instead.  I had the best time.  As some of you may know I am an old adrenaline junky.  So, an ATV trip is right up my alley.  The ATV tour crossed the river on the side railroad bridge, like don’t put your toe out or it will be gone. And off we went.  We spent about an hour where there were no roads.  We passed an old cabin that had been built by a homesteading family in the early 1900s.  I tried to imagine living in Alaska in the winter.  That blew my mind.  But imagine living in Alaska in the winter, in a house with no central heat and no road to get there.  No need for a car, no electric bill.  Yeah, the cheapy in me was smiling.  But the Florida girl was horrified.  We did see a modern-day log cabin that was cool.  But still no roads.  It was made from logs that were taken off the same property where it stood.  In the winter it was only accessible with a snowmobile and in the summer the gas for the generator was brought in by ATV.  I have friends who think I live too far out and won’t come see me. I wonder what they would think about this place. 

The next two days were spent in Denali National Park: The Crown Jewel of Alaska.  Two days were not enough!  The first day we hiked ALL day and still just barely got away from the visitor’s center.  But when you are talking about 6 million acres you could spend your life hiking there and never see it all.  We stayed on the paths of the horseshoe lake. The park information said it was about a 3-hour hike.  It took us about 4 hours, but we stopped in several places just to take in the views and take pictures.  This path was a nice walk and relatively easy for even a beginner hiker.  It was enough to get your heart racing, but the best part was the views.  We didn’t see much wildlife; I don’t count squirrels as wildlife.  And even if you do, we only saw 5 or six of those.  Of course, every hike must be followed by a sampling of the local beer.  There is not a brewery at the visitor’s center, but there should be.  We made do with a canned beer from an Alaskan brewery in the cafeteria. 

While in Denali National Park we went on a bus tour into the center of the park.  The bus takes you into areas where cars are not allowed.  You are allowed to hike on this road but not allowed to get off of the road and it is strongly suggested that you take bear spray.  Bears and I don’t want to meet so I stayed on the bus.   We were hoping to see Denali, but only 30 percent of all visitors ever get to see the great one.  It is always shrouded by clouds.  However, we did get to see 3 bears, one black bear and 2 grizzlies, 3 moose, and a bunch of caribou.  

In the afternoon, we when ziplining and that was just what the adrenaline junky in me needed.  I have been trying to talk friends into going zip-lining with me in Florida for a long time. But to do it in Alaska.  WOW!

Every night of the trip we ate at local restaurants.  I think local restaurants and breweries are the best way to get to know the local culture. On this trip, I ate more seafood than I thought possible. Salmon or halibut are on every menu. And local chefs know how to prepare it.  On our first day exploring Denali we ate at the Creekside Café and Bakery.  I ordered the Salmon special.  My plate looked like it had been prepared for a magazine.  And the flavor did not disappoint.  This was the best Salmon of the trip. Even after hiking all day, there was more than enough food for two meals.  And you must save room for dessert, I mean who walks away from fresh homemade apple pie, or carrot cake?  Find the room because they are worth it.  

This trip was amazing.  I met some wonderful friends and we have planned the get together again.  For me, it was a bucket list check-off and memories I will cherish.  I would highly recommend it to anyone.  Where you are an experienced hiker and just out for a walk the options are available, and you will not be disappointed.