Sunday, March 6, 2011

Alaska Summer Vacation for Ordinary People

People often ask me whether it is possible (=easy) to tour in Alaska if one is not an extreme traveler. Well - look at my photo on the left: do I look like an extreme traveler?!? I may have gone to some remote places, I may have kayaked on freezing water, I may have been too close to a Grizzly bear - but still!

The truth is, Alaska is an easy and wonderful place to spend your summer vacation at, and now is a good time to start planning. People travel to Alaska in two main ways: aboard a cruise ship, or by air, train, and car. I will focus on the latter this time.

In this post, I will give you some guidelines for a self-planned two week vacation in this wonderful state, focusing on Denali National Park, and then show some pictures so you know what awaits you. Denali  should not be missed, halfway between Anchorage (where most commercial flights arrive from the US) and Fairbanks. Denali is an amazing place to visit and can be very easily reached. It is most known for Mt. McKinley which dominates the scene at the park. Mt. McKinley is a prime climbing location and is very imposing with its sheer size - It is the highest mountain peak in North America.

In postcards, the mountain is always covered in snow under clear, blue skies. In reality, it can only be clearly seen a few days a year. The rest of the time, you'll see something closer to this, as the mountain is covered by clouds much of the time. Click on any photo to enlarge it

Most people rent a car in Anchorage and enjoy the 4.5 hour ride up north to the gate of the park. Some people take the Alaska Railroad train all the way to the park entrance. There, you can stay at one of a number of hotels overlooking the park from the main highway, or brave up and camp at one of several campgrounds within the park, being close to nature. Bring your tent or RV!

The only way to tour Denali is on board a bus operated by the park service, or on private tour buses. The park service tours are much less expensive and usually the drivers are very knowledgeable and talkative, so you get a free guide this way. They will also stop for many photo ops of scenery and wildlife. The drive itself, on the only road in the park (as seen in the photo above) is beautiful. Every day, you take the bus to a different location. You can get off the bus anywhere you want, hike for a bit, get back to the road and catch the next bus. These bus rides, along with the hikes you should not hesitate to take, will help you experience this sub-Arctic location, and see its wonders with no need for a zoom lens...

There are, of course, the wild animals that show up only when you ride the bus and not when you hike!

(Yes, it's a gray wolf)
And look at this bear - it has finally lost its hair and has to grow it real fast before the short summer is over and it's (-40) out there!

On a second thought, I wouldn't want to spoil your positive image of bears! So here is a picture I really like - I took it in Denali, in late season, when the sun was low on the horizon. I like the combination of loneliness and strength I find in it. Do you?

Finally, after several rewarding days in Denali, when you miss the pulse of downtown city life and the intensity it brings with it, you can always head down to Portage, Alaska!

To prepare for your next vacation, read my post about books to read before a trip Up North

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