Toklat River Hike
From the Denali Access Centre at the Park Entrance, the shuttle bus drive to Toklat takes about 3 hours one-way. As the first busses leave around 9:00 a.m., that means it will be around midday when you reach Toklat bus stop. That makes Toklat a good destination for day hikes, as you have 3-4 hours of hiking and still plenty of time to catch a bus on the way back. if you go further - for example Wonder Lake - the bus drive alone will not leave much time for hiking.
You can simply hike from the Ranger Station in either direction paralell to the river on a gravel bed. We saw Caribous there, and on the hills close to the bridge Dall Sheep are often spotted.
scenic Seward Highway
If you travel in Alaska, you can`t avoid driving on the Seward Highway which connects Anchorage and Seward on a distance of ca. 127 miles (about three hours driving time).
It is one of the most beautiful roads in the world, so take your time and stop along the way often. Among its main attractions are
- the Turmagain Arm Fjord - roughly between Anchorage and Girdwood. Plenty of viewing points here, for example Bird Point (Milepost 96)
- Potters March (wetland bird reserve / elevated boardwalk) - at milepost 117
- the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center - at milepost 79
- hiking paths and viewpoints all along, especially closer to Seward: Ptarmigan Lake, Grayling Lake, Carter & Crescent Lake, Lost Lake
- views of Kenai Lake along the southern part of the highway
Homer has probaly the most beautiful location in all of Alaska, virtually at the end of the world at the southwestern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, with great views on the surrounding mountains across the water. It is worthwhile exploring in itself, especially the Homer Spit stretch, a long causeway with shops and restaurants along the road, also good for jogging and cycling. Homer has an idyllic small-boat harbour, and Bald Eagles are frequently seen within the city limits. It is also a great base for Bear Flightseeing trips into Katmai or Lake Clark National Park (only accessible by plane). There are plenty of interesting art galleries around (most of them in the business district of Homer). A nice photo opportunity is the boat graveyard - about halfway on the Homer Spit, to the left.
Native Heritage Center Anchorage
The Native Heritage Center of Anchorage is a great place to be introduced into the culture of Alaskas Native People. At regular times, performances of music, dance and native sports take place, as well as guided tours through a small but beautiful open-air museum around a lake, with native huts and houses from different areas of Alaska. A complimentary guided tour through the open-air museum is recommended, but you can also explore the area at your own pace.
Ninilchik is a small village halfway between Soldotna and Homer (between mile 134 and 138 on Sterling Highway), with an Orthodox Church with a rather picturesque graveyard. The church is not a remnant of the Russian rule in Alaska till 1867 but was built in 1901 by locals of Russian descent. Not sure if it can be visited outside mass times - it was closed when we arrived. Worth a stop and a picturesque photo opportunity.
Seward - at the end of the Seward Highway, and the southeastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula - is a very likeable small town and a good base for outdoor activities. One of the distinctive features of Seward are the colourful murals which depict natural scenes or important historic and cultural events. Kenai Fjord day-cruises leave from Seward Harbour and are great for marine wildlife viewing. The Sealife Aquarium gives a great introduction into Alaskan marine life. Exit Glacier Visitor Centre is a 15-minutes drive from the town centre away. A couple of hiking paths start along the Seward Highway and are easily accessible from here, for example Lost Lake, Carter & Crescent Lake, Grayling Lake, and Ptarmigan Lake. The Resurrect Cafe - in a former church - is a great place to read a book or review your photos.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre
About 45 minutes south of Anchorage on the Seward Highway the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center is a great way to meet the Alaskan wildlife in a "controlled environment". The conservation center cares for hurt or sick wild animals which are kept in spacious enclosures. The species here include Moose, Elk, Caribou, Musk Ox, Porcupine, Lynx, Fox, Black Bear, Brown Bear, and a huge herd of Wood Bison, which is earmarked to be released into the wild again. You can either hike around the centre or take your car and stop at the different enclosures.
Alaska Bear Adventures Flightseeing
A couple of operators offer Plane trips into Katmai or Lake Clark National Park from Anchorage or Homer (Kenai Peninsula). We went with Alaska Bear Adventures, and were very happy with them. Alaska Bear Adventures does not offer tours to the classic Brooks Falls location where Brown Bears fish for jumping salmon (which is rather crowded) but takes customers to the coastal areas of either Lake Clark or Katmai National Park where many brown bears congregate for fishing and grazing. Both parks are only accessible by plane, not by car. They only take a limited number of visitors per trip, accompanied by a guide, which makes the expedition more intimate but still safe and secure as the local Brown Bears will ignore groups. The experience was amazing - some bears came up quite close. The average cost of a flight trip will be ca. 600 - 700 $ - not cheap, but well worth the money. Keep in mind that the decision if they go to Katmai or to Lake Clark is often made just before the flight, depending on weather conditions and previous bear sightings. Apart from the bear watching, the flight in itself is spectacular.
Skilak Loop Road
The Skilak Loop Road is an (unpaved) road on the highway between Coopers Landing and Soldotna between milepost 58 (western junction) and 75 (eastern junction). You don`t need a 4XWheeler for this gravel road - a regular car can easily do it - but you should drive very slowly as there are plenty of potholes.
It is the access point to many interesting hiking paths in the Kenai River area and to several scenic viewpoints. Hiking Paths I would recommend in this area include the Lower Kenai River Hike and the Seven Lakes Hike. As it goes through a wild animal recovery area, the chances of spotting wildlife in this area are not too bad either. Bears are often sighted in the Hidden Creek area.
Denali State Park
Denali State Park is not equivalent to the Denali National Park but rather a protected area to the south of the national park along the Anchorage-Fairbanks Highway. Most people just pass through, although there are also hiking possibilities (for example Kesugi Ridge) in the area. One of the best features of Denali State Park is the Denali South Viewpoint on milepost 135,2 on the George Parks Highway between Anchorage and Fairbanks. (The Denali North Viewpoint was closed in 2013). On fine weather, you will have a brilliant view of the Denali/Mount Mc Kinley Range from here! When it is raining, like it often does, you`ll see nothing at all. While driving through the state park, there are many more scenic viewpoints along the route that invite for a short stop and a couple of photos.
Half an hour north of Anchorage, Eklutna Historical Park makes for a very interesting destination. The area has two Orthodox churches and a very unusual graveyard. The Orthodox missionaries were rather tolerant when the local Athapascan Indians combined their traditional beliefs with their new faith after conversion. One of the peculiar native traditions was to add a small wooden structure ("Spirit House") to the funeral place of their dead, as they believed the spirit of the dead still lingers on earth for a year after death and needs accomodation. Personal items related to the deceased are placed inside the spirit house. The colourful houses are allowed to rot so that with time, they simply disappear.
Check for the current opening times before the visit.
Murals in Seward
Seward is a tiny fishing port at the south-eastern tip of the Kenai Peninsula, also an ideal base for hiking and cruises into the Kenai Fjords. The town center is compact and easily walkabe, and it has very interesting murals at several locations which are unmissable as Seward is small anyway. There are murals dedicated to marine wildlife, wildflowers, the Itidarod Sleddog Race, Seward History, native American legends, Alaskan statehood, the Mount Marathon Race and other topics.
The surest way to see a Grizzly bear in Alaska would be to take a flight trip to either Katmai or Lake Clark National Park, where sightings are almost guaranteed in summer. If you go to Denali National Park, it is very likely to encounter bears along the park road feeding on berries or grazing.
Don`t get paranoid because you might see a bear while hiking. Consider that despite thousands of tourists visiting national parks and hike in the USA and Kanada, on average only one fatal bear attack is recorded per year. Grizzlies are not agressive and - in general - try to avoid human contact, which makes it advisable not to hike alone and make noise/speak/jingle bear-bells as you go. If by chance you stumble upon a bear while hiking, don`t run, back slowly away while speaking to the bear. Buying Bear Spray (enhanced pepper spray repellent) as an ultima ratio to defend against an attacking bear is a wise investment; have it accessible at your belt, not in your back pack.
In the very unlikely case of a real bear attack (not a bluff charge), get down, make yourself small, protect neck and heads with your hands/arms and pray that the bear will leave you alone after realizing you are not a threat. PS.: Do not forget to change your underwear once the bear has left.
Anchorage - the largest city in Alaska, but not the capital (which is Juneau) - was the logical starting point for our Alaska roadtrip as Juneau is rather isolated and requires a ferry or airplane transfer from the panhandle to the greater Alaska area. Anchorage is a convenient hub for travelling in Alaska, but not such an interesting city in my opinion.
Still, its location is marvelously embedded within great natural surroundings. The Alaska Museum and the Native Heritage Center are two first-class cultural sights within the city limits. Anchorage is criss-crossed by many cycling paths. Many hiking opportunities are close, like Flattop Mountain, Potter`s March and Eagle River, and extensive parks within the city (for example Kincaid Park) allow for hiking, cycling and big game spotting.
A possible itinerary could be to visit the Native Heritage Center and the Museum on day one and hike Flattop Mountain, visit Potter`s March and Eagle River on day two.
Anchorage Museum & Gallery of the North
The Anchorage Museum is a superb attraction in many ways. Its exhibition focuses mainly on the history of Alaska, the indigenous cultures and - in the fantastic Gallery of the North - on Alaska-related paintings. A visit to this museum is a great start to immerse yourself into the unique Alaskan culture and history, which is quite different from the way "mainland" USA went. I would recommend to reserve half a day to visit this museum if you don`t want to rush through the exhibits.Related to:
- Historical Travel
- Museum Visits
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