Date of Trip: July 2007
We took a two-week trip to Alaska the second half of June 2007 to celebrate our 10 year wedding anniversary. Our first week was an independent road trip and the second week was a south-bound Inside Passage cruise on the Sapphire Princess. I thought I would just cover the road trip unless someone would like to hear about the cruise too. (Let me know.)
So – day 0, we flew into Anchorage from Minneapolis on 6/16 and stayed at the Homewood Suites for the first night just to catch up on sleep. It was a very nice hotel – although we didn’t sleep well since the curtains weren’t completely room darkening and we just couldn’t get used to seeing daylight at 10:00 that night. We were probably still in awe of the mountains too and couldn’t stop trying to get peeks at them.
The next morning we drove north towards Denali. The first sight we saw as we merged on to the Glenn Highway was a large dog riding on the back of a motorcycle with his own goggles on – we knew we were in Alaska! We made a quick pit stop at the Iditarod Headquarters in Wasilla. For anyone who’s fascinated by the Iditarod as I am this was a great stop. The best part was talking to Raymee Redington – the son of the Iditarod founder Joe Redington. He was there with some of his dogs and had some great stories to tell.
After leaving Wasilla, we drove up to the Denali River Cabins. They are located a few miles south of the main entrance to the park. We had a great cabin right on the river, which was running pretty well. The only negative was our cabin was right next to the highway bridge overpass, so it was a little noisy. Great little cabins though! And the food in their dining lodge was pretty good as well.
The next day we took the 13 hour Kantishna Wilderness Trails bus tour into Denali. This was a very good – but very long – adventure. We saw lots of wildlife – although at long distances. Binoculars definitely required. Lunch at the Kantishna Roadhouse was nice. On the way back, we encountered one of the rare thunderstorm/hail storms they have in Denali. We actually got caught in a rock slide on Polychrome Pass, along with two other buses. We had to stop on the pass and wait for the road grater to come and clear the rocks off the road. That turned our 13 hour trip into a 14 hour+ trip. We definitely don’t regret doing it, but I think next time I would choose a shorter tour.
Day 3 – We checked out of the River Cabins and headed up to Fairbanks. It was a two hour drive and we weren’t spending the night up there so we didn’t do a lot of the “touristy” things. We walked around the downtown area by the visitor center and grabbed lunch at a cute restaurant with a patio on the roof. Then, because we have two little girls who had stayed home with Grandma we made a quick stop at the North Pole so that we could take pictures and call our daughters to tell them we were at “Santa’s house.” After that we headed back south and drove down to the McKinley Princess Lodge on the south side of Denali Park.
McKinley was finally visible, so we had some terrific views of “the mountain” which thrilled us since it had been hidden by it’s own weather systems the previous two days. McKinley Princess Lodge is a great choice for an overnight stay. It’s kind of far away from the main attractions but the rooms are very nice and the grounds are beautiful.
On Day 4, we checked out and continued south with our final destination for that night being Soldotna on the Kenai Peninsula. We stopped in at Talkeetna for what we thought would be a quick breakfast and stroll through town. We ended up spending several hours there – I absolutely fell in love with this little town and the people that live there. We talked with several of the local residents, and grabbed a muffin from the Roadhouse and then later had lunch at Mountain Pizza. Because the weather was so clear that day, we also took a flight-seeing tour around McKinley with K2 Aviation. It was clear enough that we could even see Base Camp! So many wonderful memories.
So – about 3:00 we finally got out of there and continued our journey to Soldotna. We were awed by the scenery south of Anchorage along the Seward highway. We did run into some construction that had traffic stopped in each direction for about 15-20 minutes, but no big deal. In Soldotna, we stayed at the Alaska Mountain View Cabins owned by a private couple. The husband (Greg) built all of the cabins himself. It was a very private location, and all of the cabins had full kitchens and separate living rooms, etc. Very quaint.
The next morning we had a Salmon charter booked with EZ Limits fishing. We had a great time – I caught my 20 lb King within 10 minutes of the opening “bell.” So – once I decided to keep my fish the line came out of the water, but at least I had remembered to bring a book. My husband and the other two guys that were on the charter kept on fishing and we all had a great time! Greg Bush – the owner – was amazing and worked very hard to find us fish. That day happened to be our 10th anniversary as well so after our fishing adventure was over we went to a restaurant in Kenai called Lewie’s that was recommended by Greg and the other guys who had been to Soldotna before. We really enjoyed it – the food was great and the atmosphere was very “Alaskan.” Lots of taxidermy mounts of almost any animal that could be found in Alaska.
So – the next day was Friday and we needed to head back to Anchorage to return our car. As we sadly left the Kenai Peninsula, we passed a moose with his butt sticking out of the woods as he was eating his breakfast and lots (lots & lots) of salmon fishermen trying their luck in the Kenai river. In Anchorage we stayed at the Anchorage Grand which I highly recommend. Great people, excellent rooms, and fantastic location. After checking in, we walked down to Ship Creek to watch more fishermen, and then we walked back to downtown and found a pizza joint to grab a slice of pizza for dinner – I believe it was called Uncle Joes? Good pizza – and our first “cheap” meal of the week.
The next morning we had breakfast at the Sizzlin’ Cafe (compliments of the Anchorage Grand!) and then walked over to the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market. Enjoyed seeing the local artisans and their crafts. Picked up an Ulu knife with a Caribou antler handle. Using it lots! We had booked the Magic Bus for the trip over to Whittier. They included a pass to the Arts & History museum since they don’t leave until 3:00. We passed up the Arts floor, but the History floor was very interesting and we enjoyed learning more about the Native cultures and how Alaska has evolved over the last century. All in all – we had a great road trip and we can’t wait to go back someday.