What should I do in Alaska?

A friend and I are planning a trip to Alaska this summer (end of June, beginning of July). The basic plan is to fly to Anchorage, rent a big SUV, and ad lib for about two weeks or so. I’ve been told that I have to go halibut fishing out of Homer, so that’s in the play book. I also understand that the state park service has cabins that you can rent for around $25-$50 per night, so we’ll probably check at least one of those out for a night or two. I’m a woodsy kinda guy, what else should I do? I still have about ten days to fill up with relatively inexpensive Alaskan experiences.

Don’t know the price, but I plan to get a bushpilot to take me over (and through) a glacier. I hear doing hammerhead (?) turns out of the great splits in the ice and diving back into them is a thrill not to be missed… Fly straight for the end of the split, climb up suddenly, tip over sideways and dive back in going out the way you came in… I’m looking forward to that one, myself (world’s biggest roller coaster). Great if you have a steady stomach, that is.

And, um, please don’t park your SUV (overnight) just anywhere. A lot of people aren’t real happy with you parking on their ‘yard’ - even if you can’t see the house from your car. I’ll trust you not to cop an attitude with the residents, too (some people act like the whole state is an amusement park - they paid to get in, they’ll do any damn thing they like while they’re there).

I’ll check with my sister. She’s in the Big Lake/Wasilla area (not too far out of Anchorage), but she’s been in AK for years, so should know some things to do. And what to skip, too.

When in Alaska, do as the Alaskans do.

:smiley: Couldn’t help myself.

Lowellster, what’s your goal in visiting AK? Fishing, wildlife viewing, anything goes?

If you haven’t made those cabin reservations, you might want to hop on it… here are some links:

BTW, you’ll be travelling in the Chugach State Park and the Chugach National Forest (all around Anchorage and into the Kenai Peninsula (south, where Homer is)), and in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley if you go north.

State Parks & Cabins

Federal Parks Reservation Service

Seward is the place to be on the 4th of July: the Mount Marathon Run (up a mountain and back down again!) and other big celebrations & fun.

The Kenai River, which you’ll see on your way to Homer, has awesome King and Red Salmon fishing.

You can even stay at Lowell Point (out of Seward) and kayak in Resurrection Bay if that’s your thing.

I am “travel agent” for my whole extended family - been in AK for about 23 yrs - I’d be glad to give you any more info you might need, or point you to some resources (and no, I’m not really a travel agent, I just love it here and do a lot of travelling myself!).

I’ll also recommend Seward on 4th of July. In years past it was always one huge drunken rage with several hundreds of people camping on the beach partying all night long. The town has tried to discourage a lot of the public drinking and merriment the last two years to try and make the place more “family friendly”.

The place to camp though is on the beach on the other side of the bay. No crowds. Signs say it’s illegal to camp on the beach, but Seward’s 6 full time cops have their hands full dealing with the crowds back in town. Its about a 20 minute drive from downtown Seward, at the end of a dead-end road right next to a maximum security prison at the base of the mountains. No joke. It is undoubtedly the prison with the best view in the Western Hemisphere.

When returning to Anchorage from Seward, swing by the Girdwood Forest Fair the same weekend. Girdwood is a small community between Seward and Anchorage, about an hour away from Anchorage. Situated in a small valley, it is in a Northern Rain Forest. It’s a ski resort and often thought of as an “artists community”. The fair consists of mostly crafts people selling their wares. Paintings, carvings, weavings, stained glass, woodwork, beadwork, tons of food and live music - mandolins are mandatory. The fair attracts the new-age crowd and the young hippie wannabe’s. The best one sentence description for the people you’ll see there: Guys with dredlocks and women with no bras. Good vibes.

And for fishing, skip the Russian and Kenai rivers on your way back from Homer. When the salmon are in, it is total combat fishing. People standing shoulder to shoulder in the water and on the bank casting lures into the water. Not for the weak. Spend some money on a fly-in fishing charter. Flying out of Anchorage, they can outfit you with gear and fly you to rivers 45 minutes away into the middle-of-f___ing-nowhere. And they know where the fish are. You can do day trips or over night trips, whatever suits you.

Sadly, that’s all the fun stuff I can come up with right now. I’ve been in Alaska for many years, so I tend to forget all the things visitors find so amazing.

Sadly,

recommendations from my sister for new visitors:

  1. Last year’s salmon runs were scary-bad, so if they are bad again, fishing for salmon won’t be much fun. Won’t know until they start, though. Don’t plan on it, but ask when you get there.

  2. Libby Riddles (among other mushers) does sled-dog rides out on the glaciers (she’s in Homer in the summer). She’s the first woman to win the Iditarod, BTW. Other mushers will do rides on or off glaciers (kind of ‘cart’ rides, instead of ‘sled’ rides). Hey, they have to keep the dogs fit anyway, paying passengers are no biggie.

  3. Boat tours of Kenai Fjords are supposed to be cool. (also out of Homer) You may be able to see glaciers calving, up close.

  4. Hiking Denali. No guarantees on seeing wildlife there, though. Fly out somewhere to get better chances at wildlife viewing. (She reports ‘getting skunked on wildlife on the Mountain’ fairly often.)

  5. Talkeetna Bluegrass Festival is fun if you like hippie-stuff, but she can’t remember when it is. Talkeetna is the jump-off for assaults on Denali, and is apparently a fun little town even without festival.

  6. Anchorage: Native Heritage Center is interesting.

  7. Palmer: Musk Ox farm (gives tours, but don’t know when).

  8. Fairbanks: Moose-dropping festival (no, not dropping moose from airplanes), but probably will be before you get there, though.

  9. If you want a glimpse of local life: Fly-by-night club (Anchorage?? didn’t say) has great comedy shows about Alaskan life. Per my sister: “hysterically funny, but they will need tickets as it’s usually jammed. Has lots of Alaskana in it; not sure if it’d translate 100% to an Outsider, but most of it ought to. I loved it. Mucho entertaining jokes and music about duct tape, spam, mud, ice, various frozen items, etc. I think most of it would be funny to anyone, and it does sort of give a look into Alaskan life.”

  10. Much hiking and camping - what do you want to see or do? Check the tourism agencies/sites, they’ll know. (or be specific here, and someone will tell you - both Lost and honkytonkwillie sound like they should know.)

  11. Don’t try to take the car to everything. Fly. You’ll see more places, do more interesting stuff, be more out in the wilds. Pilots are all pretty good, she hasn’t heard of a crash since she’s been there, and she’s pretty hooked into the pilot community (dated a few). Of course, that also means she has no idea what flying costs, since she usually flies free.

She also votes for the forest fair. Great crafts.

<<I got a 404 msg when I tried to post this a minute ago, so if I inadvertently double-posted…sue me!>>

I spent the summer of '96 working at the Icicle Fish Plant in Seward (If any of you are thinking about doing it–DON’T!!! It’s 90 hour weeks and guaranteed carpel tunnel–and that on the fresh side. The canery side is hell on earth.) I spent five months in the state. I shared a tent with a local much of the time and learned a bunch. It was a terrific adventure.

The 4th of July was, indeed, great. Try climbing the greased pole but go after everyone else has removed most of the grease. Seward is small–nay–tiny. The best place to party is the biker bar. I forget the name but you won’t have trouble finding it; you can see the whole town in 10 minutes. There is a Fred Meyers (think Kmart) there for all your needs. When shopping elsewhere watch the expiration dates on food. Fresh food is expensive: $1.61 a pound for cantalope.

I spent a week camping on the shore of the bay before the season started. It was cheap and legal (at least then) but windy and a bit rocky. Daily I was treated to bald eagles and once a whale wandered by. Then I moved to a very thick grove of belt-high ferns behind the town a week before the fishing season started when I moved into the company’s campground. If you are interested it should be easy to find. Look for a few other tents. It was free, if a bit damp. Temps in low 40s, YRMV. I enjoyed the bay cruise, go on a sunny day.

There are public showers in town for a buck in quarters. Go early and they will be cleaner. In the summer the place is a mecca for salmon fishermen (and a port for the Princess cruise ships). They come from around the world. They use a large, bare, three-prong hook–just cast and snag. I caught one beauty bare handed!

Just how woodsy are you? I lived in Yosemite for three years and in Yellowstone for a summer; they are girl scout camps in comparason. This is the genuine wilderness and you can get into major trouble just five minutes out of town.

Don’t get lost.

You won’t find cute, timid, brown bears here. You will find huge, hungry grizz twelve feet tall!! Don’t even THINK of fooling around with them. They smell 1000 times better than you do (and more keenly too) and even the odor of food on the clothes you cook in will be enough to attrack one. They will open your car like a bag of chips if they see or smell munchies. Moose can be dangerous too.

<sidebar>
I rose from my tent the first day I was in the ferns and went outside to “water the plants.” I was feeling like John Wayne, more alive than I had been in many years. I stood there, firehose in hand and surveyed my kingdom. Suddenly (and quite silently), a bull moose raised his head above the ferns and blocked out the sun.

My firehose withered like a baloon with a gaping tear and I realized I could very easily be somebody’s lunch.
<end of sidebar>

The weather can be an unpredictable as the wildlife. Take spare parts and extra gas. Prepare for the cold. The locals are friendly enough, but resources are scarce and nobody will want to GIVE you anything. I met a couple who lived in camper shells along the highway. We are talking primitive conditions, here.

Alaska is gigantic! The damn ants are as big as your thumb!! Cut the state in two and Texas would drop to the third largest state! Travel times seemed longer–per mile–than in the lower-48 and there are great distances between what passes for civilization.

If you want to meet some very interesting, party-loving folk, stop by the nightly bon-fire beyond the fish plant after the shift is over–about midnight. BYOB. You will find locals and some very adventureous college kids from across the country. I think of my visit to Alaska as a cross between M.A.S.H., Animal House and a trek on Voyager.

One day we processed a boat load of halibut. It was delivered in the back of a pick-up truck. Two of these monsters filled the bed and dropped the truck to its axles. The locals begged the boss for the cheeks from the heads we removed. They were exceedingly excited about this and I found out why.

We took a foot-locker full of hockey-puck-sized cheeks back to camp after work. The three “hoods” in our camp each cooked the cheeks differently. The hispanics used salsa, which I thought was over-kill. The college kids tried to be gormet, but simple is better. The locals just simmered the them in a ton of butter and garlic and it was one of the best meals I have had to date. The night turned into quite a fiesta!

FYI: there are 10 men to every woman in Alaska, less if you subtract those married. STDs are r-a-m-p-a-n-t and our 50th state has one of the highest AIDs rates in the world. A local told me the Eskimo women were a real gamble.

<another sidebar>
One day a local told the boss that he had to pass up a chance to get laid to get back to work on time. The boss yelled at him: “Are you crazy! You can work any time! Never pass up a chance to get laid!”
<end of sidebar>

Denali (Mt. McKinley) is under the clouds like 75% of the time so I did not go. I heard there wasn’t much going on there. Glacier Bay is the place to go.

You will have a great time! Wildlife is everywhere and you have never breathed air so pure and refreshing–just remember to pack your brain and use it regularly.

If you remember only one thing, remember this: don’t lend money to Inuits!

Happy trails!

Myself

I have not experience up in Anchorage as I spent all of my time around Sitka. If the salmon are running definetly go salmon fishing. It is nothing like fishing in the lower 48, it is hundreds of 6-10 pound fish just lined up at the entrance of a stream, just amazing. I liked it better than halibut fishing which in my experience was like hauling up an anchor from the bottom, you don’t get alot of play or fight, they are just incredibly big and strong. Glacier Bay is awesome, whales, seals, otters all around the glacier itself is awesome, just don’t get too close. In July the weather is good and nightfall is like at 10 pm. Great place to visit.

Well, I always visit my parents when I’m back in Fairbanks, look up some old college buddies, and hang out.

Oh, try going out to Chena or Circle Hot Springs. Nothing like soaking outside when its 20 below…

I visited AK for about 3 weeks last summer so here’s my advice,
For fishing:

  1. Halibut fishing is usually an all day affair and runs about 150-175. Homer is the Halibut capital of the world. Halibut fishing is pretty damn boring though. You drag the bottom all day and when one bites it feels like dead weight. I caught an 80 pounder and it felt like lugging a weight into the boat. Limit is 2 BTW. You will have no way to take the fish home (shipping is muy expensive).
  2. I went pink salmon fishing around the beginning of July. It was AWESOME. I was in Valdez (pretty uninspiring town otherwise) and fished in PW Sound. Pink Salmon fishing is usually half-day. Limit is 6. They varied but weighed 4-6lbs on average. I probably caught 15. They fight big time for their size. My captain was real cool and let me release, some won’t do this and will cut you off when you reach your limit. I think this trip was $75.
  3. Everyone told me that the best time to fly fish was late summer. By then the salmon have all spawned and the trout are gorging. I was told an trip in early July is usually not that successful. These trips typically run 150 but much more if you have to take a plane. If you don’t already know how to fly-fish forget it, it’s a waste of money.
  4. Salmon run at different times. Get local information. Local guides are happy to take your money any time of the year.

Denali National Park - This is a truly awesome place but here’s some info:

  1. Mosquitos, Mosquitos, Mosquitos
  2. See #1
  3. Take a bus tour through the park and back before you decide on backpacking. This will give you an idea of the terrain you are going to face and where you might want to go.
  4. The park service cuts Denali into sections and restricts how many people can camp in a section at any one time. If you have any sense you will want to follow a creek along the gravel bars. Most of these sections are taken. You can only reserve a permit for a spot one day in advance from when you are leaving. BUT, if you are planning a multinight affair you must tell them where you are going to be on each night, so in essense you can reserve in advance. Here is a good strategy to use assuming you are going to be there for a few days:
    Immediately after seeing the park decide where you want to backpack (we’ll call this zone A). The area will probably be taken for the night. Tell the guy (or woman) you are going to camp in zone B (a hellish section near Zone A) that night and will be in zone A the next night. Get your permit for 2 days camping and go on your way. Camp outside the park on the first night. Then take the bus in the next day, get off, and go backpacking where you wanted to be in the first place. Probably doesn’t make sense to you now but try to remember.
  5. Rafting the river outside of Denali was pretty fun. The water is sooooo cold (32.1 degrees). Class 3 rapids (ignore the signs that say class 4, they bypass those rapids for insurance reasons).

I could write about other experiences but others have pretty much touched on them. I will say that the average age of Alaskan tourists seems to be about 60.

grrrr.

Hey, thanks for all the suggestions so far! Exactly the kind of ideas I was hoping for. Fourth of July in Seward sounds like a go!

I’m from northern Minnesota, so I’m acclimated to mosquitoes, cold, Spam, woods, moose, and cute little black bears (had one in my camper last summer, although I was not in with it). Moose don’t really scare me although I understand that males during the rutting season can get pretty pissy, but I must confess that grizzly bears make me a teensy bit nervous. Even so, I had not even considered taking any sort of a “bear gun” until a friend brought it up. This guy is on the “very afraid of bears” end of the spectrum, largely due to waking up with one in his tent next to him a while back. He says I’m crazy if I don’t take a gun; I say I’m perfectly sane. Who’s right? And if he is, how do I get one a)onto an airplane?, and b)through Canada?

Thanks again for the advice, both past and forthcoming.

Lowell

Great thread! i’ve always wanted to visit Alaska, and hope to do so one day.
A question: I saw a videotape of Alaska, and understand that there is a public beach in Anchorage! Do people REALLY swim in the Gulf of Alaska?
-I went to seattle a few years back, and the beaches were gorgeous-but NOBODY was EVER in the water!

From what I hear, shooting at grizzlies is just going to make for madder grizzlies. Unless you are good at it. Very VERY good at it. If you are used to packing with a gun, and you are a good shot, maybe… if not, then don’t give yourself a reason to stand there rummaging in your backpack with a pissed-off grizzly nearby. And listen when the parks people give you tips on how to survive an encounter - the most-survivable response to grizzlies and black bears is very different, IIRC.

Guess I should clarify a bit. Unless someone talks me into it, at this point I’m not planning on packin’ heat (heheh always wanted to say that in reference to myself). Even if I do, it would only be used if a bear were actually in the process of eating me, so it wouldn’t make a lot of difference whether it was hungry and pissed off, or just hungry. In light of the fact that I would not be firing at anything more than about eight inches away, I think I could be pretty accurate. Better hope I’m wearing my brown pants, though.

I have shared territory with grizzlies before, in Glacier National Park, and didn’t find it all that terrifying. Saw a lot of them (19 in one night), but they were all rather far away. Hiked well over 120 miles, much of it by myself, but never walked right up to one.

I’m really thinking my best bet is to wear my running shoes, since the friend I’m going with has bad lungs. All I really need to do is be able to outrun him, and I’m safe.

Again, at this point I’m not planning on taking a bear gun. I could be talked into it by the teeming dozens of Alaska experts though.

As a previous poster mentioned a gun is not going to do you alot of good unless it is a really big gun and carrying a really big gun around while hiking could get old real fast. There is a product on the market that is similar to pepper spray and is for use against bear attacks if you are concerned.

Cripes! I forgot to mention my favorite way to travel: State Ferry!

One of my fav trips is from either Whittier (which you can now drive through the mountain to, or Seward - ferrying to Valdez, then driving either up to Fairbanks & down to Anchorage, or driving to Glenallen, Paxson, across the Denali Highway (dirt road) and then down to Anchorage. The whole trip is great, the ferry part is really relaxing. It travels across Prince William Sound, and there’s usually lots of wildlife to see.

I am a gun owner, but I don’t recommend you bringing one unless you are specifically going where there is generally no human traffic. If you’re on the road system, or on marked trails, just make noise and use caution. It sounds like you already know what you’re doing. Don’t wear dinner bells :slight_smile:

Alaska Marine Highway aka Ferry System