If you’re staying on the road system, you can do it yourself more cheaply, and enjoy it far more, as well. I can give you specific suggestions on where to go (including Denali) and how to get there on day trips out of Anchorage, with perhaps one overnighter. All you need to to is rent a car and get a map.
While not required for short trips from a base, The Milepost will give you quite a bit of information about the area(s) you’re interested in. And maybe I’m weird (okay, strike the “maybe”), but I’ve found it a hell of an entertaining read just by its lonesome.
Yeah, it’s the bible for those driving the Alcan or up to Prudhoe. It’s grown tremendously over the years. We had one for our trip down the Alcan in 1959; it was about the size of a Readers’ Digest. It’s also useful in-state, if one’s not familiar with the admittedly small road system.
I’ve done it 3 times. Twice with family that we organized ourselves, once with the wife where we just bought a package, that I call the ‘old lady blue hair tour’.
Take the train from Anchorage to where Denali, spend more money and get the more expensive train car with the plexiglass roof. Or take the train south into Kenai peninsula
We flew to Fairbanks and canoed a week on Beaver Creek about 100 miles away from Fairbanks. My 73 year old mom paddled every mile of it. She’s awesome like that
You can rent a car, and do a bunch of driving, I think we drove to Homer, (“A quaint little drinking village with a small fishing problem”), and I think we also drove to Prince William Sound.
Whatever you do, do it right. It will be expensive
I’d amend the train to Denali to include taking the tour bus all the way in to Wonder Lake and then staying at the lodge overnight. This uses up two days of the seven, but it’s a great trip into the park.
I’d also amend the train to Kenai to include a Glacier Bay boat tour, then catch the train back on the same day.
For driving, I always recommend going north to the Matanuska Glacier and hike out onto the ice, then head back towards Anchorage and take the cutoff to Hatcher Pass, having lunch at the ski lodge at the top and tromping around the old Independence Gold Mine. Gorgeous views of the Matanuska Valley from up there.
You are correct. We did take the bus trip into Denali but didn’t spend the night. THe 8 hour bus trip was very good, but it was a bit long; so that might be a consideration. We also took the fjord glacier boat tour complete with a stop for a catered lunch. THat was great. While we were near the glacier they snagged a chunk floating in the sea and when I got a refill on my drink, I insisted i get a chunk of glacier instead of ice from their ice bin.
Also went kayaking out in the fjord.
My wife’s favorite was going out to bear watch. Not the bear watch itself, but going out there. We flew out in an Otter seaplane. Landing on the Kenai river was a pleasant surprise.
Also took another small plane ride around the mountains and glaciers.
In 2000 we took the land tour after our cruise, bus to Anchorage, train to Denali, then bus I think to Fairbanks which we left from. We saw some wildlife in the park at Denali, but that wasn’t our goal.
Probably overpriced but it was bubble money which would have vanished if we hadn’t spent it, so I don’t even remember how much it was.
But very simple since Princess dealt with your luggage each stop.
Denali is an easy drive from Anchorage, first on the Glen Highway, then north on the Parks Highway (you have the dubious pleasure of driving through Wasilla along the way). There are a couple of mountain viewing turnouts along the way.
At the park proper, you can only drive your car in to the Ranger station, about three miles. It’s not worth doing that. Tour buses have short and long tours, the short tour stopping at the Eielson Visitor Center. If you’re on a limited schedule, this is a good option. The full tour drive in is quite long, making a lot of stops along the way. Since it leaves early in the day, you would have to go up to the park area, stay in a hotel, then take the bus tour and probably spend another night before heading back. If the mountain is socked in, I wouldn’t bother.
The park is probably your best option for seeing and photographing wildlife along the Alaska road system. Animals in the park are quite habituated to the buses, and you’re likely to see Toklat grizzlies, moose, and possibly wolves. In general, wildlife viewing is far better in northwest Canada than it is in Alaska.
I’d recommend driving the Seward Highway, south from Anchorage; it’s a beautifully scenic road, winding along the mountain range and following the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet. There are pullouts along the highway where you have a chance to see Dall sheep up on the mountains or even near the road, and there are often beluga whales seen from Beluga Point turnout (depending on time of year). There are trail heads along this highway, and a bike/hiking path that can take you clear out to Girdwood, about 40 miles from Anchorage. A note about trails going up the mountainside: there are grizzlies in this area, and people have been attacked in years past.
Girdwood is home to the Mt. Alyeska Ski Resort and the Crow Creek Gold Mine, which is inactive, but is now a tourist attraction. Further down the highway is the cutoff to Portage Glacier. Along that road you can see hanging glaciers. Portage Glacier is no longer visible from the visitor center, but there are boat tours to take you out to it. When I was a kid, it was very close. All of those things can be done in one day trip. If you continue past Portage, you start to climb up into Turnagain Pass, which is scenic, and then eventually descend the other side onto the Kenai Peninsula, with a choice to either go to the towns of Kenai and Homer, or to the town of Seward. There are attractions at both. The Kenai Peninsula is a day drive down and back; if you leave good and early, you can take in one of the boat tours mentioned above and still get back to Anchorage that day.
I alluded to another day trip out of Anchorage earlier. This is about 90 miles one way, and easily done in a day trip. The Glenn Highway runs north from Anchorage. You pass by the military bases, the town of Eagle River, and the Native village of Eklutna on the way to the Matanuska Valley. Instead of taking the Parks Highway cutoff to Denali, you continue to the farming town of Palmer. You can stop there, but there’s not much for tourists. After passing through Palmer, you climb a hill, and just after the top of the grade, there is a road to the left that takes you out to Hatcher Pass. This is a very scenic drive along the Little Susitna River, and is now paved all the way up to the old Independence Mine (not an improvement, IMO). If you elect to continue to the road’s summit, it will be on a dirt and rock surface, but it’s doable. The ski resort has pretty good food, and may be a choice for lunch. HOWEVER: do this side trip on the way back, not on the way out.
Continue past this road on the Glenn Highway for about another 30 or 40 miles and you’ll come to the Long Rifle Lodge, which also has a restaurant. The view of Matanuska Glacier from the dining room is spectacular, should you decide to stop there for lunch. Not to far past this lodge is a dirt road off to the right that takes you down into the river valley. Don’t worry, the bridge is safe to drive on. You’ll come to a gift store where you have to pay an entry fee to continue on the road out to the glacier.
The narrow road winds along and suddenly you’re in a parking lot at the terminal moraine of a stunning glacier. Exit your car and follow the path out onto the moraine. The people who manage this area place traffic cones on the rock and ice to help guide you. I don’t recommend that you deviate from the designated path too much. This is not an amusement park, but a living glacier with all the danger that can be associated with it. After you pick you way through the the rock and scree, you’ll find yourself actually standing on said glacier ice. Smile, shiver, and take photos of each other that will be the envy of all your non-glacier walking friends.
On the way back to Anchorage, stop at the muskox farm to see the furry critters, and take the side trip up to Hatcher Pass, mentioned above.
One thing I haven’t mentioned in all this: dress appropriately and wear shoes or boots with good hiking soles. People tend to treat Alaska as some sort of benign amusement park, but you can find yourself in trouble very quickly once you leave the road. Electronic devices are fairly useless once you leave populated areas.
Saving money: probably not. The advantage to a self tour is that you can go where YOU want to go and take side trips that a tour bus won’t take. The tour will be more efficient in covering ground, since you’re unfamiliar with the place. Have fun, whichever way you go.
July is usually the driest month, which is especially important if you’re trying to see Denali, a mountain that actually has its own weather system. August is usually wet; June can go either way. But it’s a crap shoot, really.
As an Alaskan I would suggest getting the Milepost before making a decision as previously suggested. Planning your own trip might be cheaper but it will still be spendy and I would suggest you book your rooms as early as possible. I’d also recommend buying bug dope since these crazy winters have had an impact on our bugs.
All of our towns are easy to get to through the highway system but my Father spent some time up here and he loved the railroad tours.