Alaska is amazing. Everything you’re heard and then some. My visit to Alaska was my last state in the US (50/50). For that reason alone I was excited to visit. I was debating doing a cruise from Seattle or from Vancouver, Canada but ultimately decided on a flight to Anchorage. It took me by surprise when I was trying to figure out what I should do with my Alaska Miles. I had 45,000 miles and after my move to Salt Lake City, I found my miles were going to expire. What I discovered in my searches, I could fly from SLC to anywhere in Alaska even as far as Borrow, AK for 25,000 round trip. That’s not the same case with Hawaii. It was 40,000 round trip, but flying from Salt Lake City to Boise Idaho was the same number of miles. At first I was thinking I should go with a friend to Alaska, but my wife expressed interest, and getting a multi day baby sitter to watch my 3 boys has never been easy, and they are all great travelers. Then I was talking to my parents, and they expressed interest. At first I thought I could go with my dad, but then my mom wanted to go as well. Why not make this a super family trip? With the partnership with Alaska I found a direct Delta flight from SLC to ANC (Anchorage.) I had to check to see how much the Delta points were for this same flight. 25,000 miles! With this discovery I decided to book 5 award tickets on Delta in addition to the 2 on Alaska. I even ended up buying 5,000 miles to make up the difference.
Alaska/Delta miles let you book a flight to Alaska for the same price as a domestic (48 states) ticket – (Best Deal was 25,000 Award Miles)
Same number of miles for adjoining cities as it is for Miami to Alaska
One other thing that came in looking at the best way to book Alaska was in discovering that an Alaska Cruise would ultimately mean getting on a smaller boat to see the glaciers and getting closer to the wild life ultimately. I did find that both food and hotels are pricey in Alaska. So that was definitely points toward cruise, but I used some tricks to find a hotel in Anchorage for less than $100 using Priceline.com. Food was a different challenge. Most meals were about $5 more than in the states. The 2 for 20 deal at Chilis was 2 for $25. A large bowl of Pho soup was $12 in contrast to 6 or $7 in UT or WA. The IHOP average meal was around $12 vs. 7 as well. At fast food places, the $1 menu was $2. Anchorage did have a lot of choices for food, and out in the smaller cities the deli’s and sandwich shoppes could get you a meal.
Some of my best advice for the adventure traveler is to think outside the box. There are hostels that have much better rates, but also consider camping and cabins, some of the best deals and most flexible options are in this area.
5 MUST DO ACTIVITIES IN ALASKA
1. Glaciers and Fjords – The Glaciers and Fjords in Alaska are simply amazing. The size and scale of these things dwarf most things on earth. They sure seem like they are alive. Calving, Moving, Groaning, Shrinking, Growing, Cracking, Carving… There are multiple ways of reaching these amazing beauties.
The best way is to get right up to the Fjords of Kenai by cruise. Right out of Seward there are multiple cruise companies with multiple cruise options. I took the 10am Kenai Fjords Cruise with Salmon Bake Dinner on the island. I have no regrets. It was a great cruise, we saw a couple of Fjords up close, but also amazing wild life. I’ll talk about that later.
As well, you can hike up to the Glaciers. Exit Glacier has a great hike that starts with a flat handicap accessible viewpoint within a mile, or add another mile and hike up the mountain to view them up closer, and add another mile to touch the glacier, or add another few miles and you can hike up the largest snow field in the US.
or even Sea Kayak to the Fjords, not too close because these things are very active and can create amazing tides. I’m sure you could even dog sled in the winter. There are options to take a sled with wheels to help the dogs practice for the Iditarod.
2. Whale Watching – Some of the best viewing of whales in the world is right here in Alaska. On this short 8 hour Fjords and Nature cruise of the Kenai peninsula, Kenai National Park from the water, we saw a half dozen hump backs, a couple of pods of Orcas with many individuals covering a large distance, half dozen porpoises, hundreds of seals and sea lion and dozens of sea otters. Such a great feeling when you see these gigantic creatures of the sea. It’s not the same as watching National Geographic, because you’re seeing it and experiencing it first hand. I can imagine whale watching in a kayak or small boat would also be quite “wild.”
Orcas, Hump Backs, and Belugas are all within reach, I saw a couple of pods of Belugas driving along the Arm headed to Seward. I’m sure the population increases and changes based on the seasons, but the Orcas and Hump Backs and the Belugas all call it home. I’m sure they have additional whale friends who come and visit. I’m also sure it’s a different experience every time, but reading the reviews from the Kenai Fjords Cruise, I think you’ll be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t think it was incredible.
As a photographer, catching the tale of the whale, or the even more rare breach of a hump back whale is beyond exhilarating. These are wildlife memories that will ruin any future visits to sea world, or at least remind me when I saw it IN THE WILD.
While seeing large groups of seals and sea lions and the like, I am reminded of a number of encounters the docks in San Francisco or Seal Beach California, the docks in Ensenada or the elephant seals on the beach in Antarctica, but seeing them in their native habitat on rocks away from people is pretty darn cool. I can’t tire of seeing these amazing animals.
3. Encounter the Animals of the Forrest – With more than 3 types of Bears, and some of the densest and largest populations of large land mammals, Alaska is the best place to find bears, moose, elk, caribou and more in their natural habitat. You can go flight seeing and bear viewing they’ll take you right to where they are dinning on salmon. We saw a little brown bear chewing on a carcass on the side of the road.
While I can’t guarantee you will see a moose or bear while simply driving. There are plenty of signs to watch for moose. That’s a big concern. They are big animals and cause serious damage to your vehicle if you hit one.
If you are looking for guaranteed great sightings, I won’t send you to the Anchorage zoo which does have them, I would suggest going to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center which has decent rates (carpool for even better rates). You can definitely get up and close. With a simple fence separating you. While you don’t feed them, you can visit the Musk Ox or Reindeer center in Palmer (close to Anchorage) for even closer encounters. The good news is the money goes to rehabilitating animals and reintroducing and strengthening the population of endangered animals.
Baby Musk Ox
Huge Herd of Wood Bison
4. It’s a Birders Paradise – Eagles, Swans, Cormerans, Puffins, and way more. If you love birds, you’re in paradise. Even if you aren’t you’re going to see some amazing examples of some of the most beautiful birds. Below this is one example. We’re watching this elk herd and noticed a bald eagle in the tree nearby. Incredible.
This pair of swans was swimming with their three ugly duckling swan babies in a pond just outside of Seward.
Seems like every where you turn, there’s some amazing majestic bird watching.
On our cruise we saw the funniest little puffins. The rare crested puffins, and the more common puffin were so funny to watch trying to take flight. Seeing them on their terms in these huge rock fortresses which seem designed for birds.
5. It’s a Fisherman’s Paradise – Every where we went people asked if we were doing a charter. No, we were there to observe, and observe we did. We started stopping at the streams to see the salmon. Amazing salmon jumping up their fish ladders and making their way to spawn. Huge fish, many with their humps out of the water, finding their way upstream. The rivers were teaming with life.
In addition as a sportsman’s paradise it wasn’t hard to find huge halibut and a variety of fish on the walls, and in boxes being shipped home. Lots of great finishing and amazing catches.
After such an amazing trip, I can’t answer why it took Alaska so long to get on my list. Amazing place… Highly Recommended. Yes, it does rain and it get’s cold in the winter and dark 22 hours of darkness, but in the summer you get 16 hours of light, and 2 months without much rain in June and July. Rain starts back up in August. While I didn’t see the Aurora Borealis, I can see reasons why the time of year has it’s benefits. It’s a different place with different experiences. Do you’re research and consider Alaska a great destination to make the most of your miles.