Day 1 Our first day will begin at 8 AM, meeting downtown with pickups at previously arranged locations. We’ll head northward rounding Knik Arm and stop at the headquarters for the 1000 mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The displays and short video here give a good insight into dog mushing in general, as well as the lifestyle and the commitment that it takes to train for and run the Iditarod itself. Before pushing northwards, we’ll have lunch in the old Teeland’s Department Store building, sitting on what was the center of Wasilla in the settlement days. We’ll then return to the Parks highway, entering the great Alaska Range of mountains and on to Denali National Park. Flightseeing tours of the mountain are available just outside of the Park and are very highly recommended (cost approx. $300-400/person) –sliding between towering peaks and over monstrous glaciers, this is an indescribable glimpse of a world that few experience. If the weather isn’t cooperative, we’ll have another equally good opportunity on Day 3. Dinner and lodging are just outside the entrance of Denali National Park.
Day 2 After an early breakfast, we’ll take the park’s shuttle bus deep into the interior of spectacular Denali National Park and Preserve. With terrain of spruce forest, tundra and glaciers, the Park is home to wildlife including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep. Following our adventures in the Park, we turn south toward the western entrance of the beautiful Denali Highway. A 135-mile mostly gravel road across wide valleys, alpine tundra and breathtaking scenery, the Denali “Highway” is open only during the summer months and is the only road through this remote area. As we cross glacial rivers and lake country, wildlife viewing opportunities abound in this large stretch of wilderness inhabited year-round only by the occasional trapper and wilderness hermit. We’ll stop at an old homestead famous for its old goldminer’s bar The Sluice Box. After crossing the Susitna River, we follow the winding road over ancient glacial landscapes. Tonight we lodge at a remote homestead high on the Alaskan Tundra.
Day 3 Today we will climb toward the MacLaren Summit (elev. 4082 ft), the second highest point on the Alaska road system, stopping for photos as weather permits. We then travel through the Tangle Lakes Archeological District, thought to be the principal corridor through which the earliest peoples arrived from Eastern Asia after making their way over the Bering land bridge. Past Paxson we find the Richardson Highway which follows the old Valdez-Eagle Trail and leads us southward through Glennallen and Copper Center. We’ll stop at the new Visitor’s Center of our nation’s largest national park, Wrangell-St. Elias, for an introduction to this un-commercialized jewel more than twice the size of Denali. The scenic Edgerton Highway leads from here to the old railroad town of Chitina at the confluence of the Copper and Chitina rivers from which we will travel the tortuous abandoned railroad grade 60 miles through the mountains back to the tiny town of McCarthy in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias. At the end of the gravel road we’ll grab our overnight bags and leave the van. We’ll cross two forks of the Kennicott River by footbridge to reach the near ghost town of McCarthy. Weather permitting, excellent flightseeing tours of the area will be available to give a birds-eye view of this breathtaking region ($250-350/person). After an optional short hike onto the glacial moraine, and poking around the picturesque town of McCarthy, we’ll enjoy dinner Downtown. Overnight in local lodgings.
Day 4 A local shuttle trip up the last four miles of the road takes us to the abandoned company town of Kennicott. Walking allows an almost unbelievable exploration of an entire town sitting much the way it was when the mine closed in 1938. The Park Service has been busy for the last several years, renovating, shoring and adding interpretive displays to the historic buildings, as well as the incredible 14-story mill building itself. Kennicott is truly a ghost town without equal, due to its remoteness and fortunate lack of vandalism. A couple mile hike to the Root Glacier allows those interested to clamber onto the face of an active glacier. Others might choose the optional tour of the Mill building (surprisingly fascinating). We’ll enjoy lunch overlooking all this spectacular scenery before our shuttle back to McCarthy. We again cross the footbridge to our van for the beautiful trip to Valdez across Thompson Pass. Stopping at the Worthington Glacier, we’ll climb toward the pass where it’s been known to snow almost a thousand inches in the winter. It’s quite breathtaking in summer too. Descending through Keystone Canyon, a dramatic waterfall-filled passage to the ocean, the challenge of the terrain shows why the route took many years to discover and pioneer. In the evening, we’ll have an opportunity to stroll the streets and enjoy the bustling harbor of Valdez. Dinner will be on the town in Valdez with accommodations downtown.
Day 5 An early start to the day. We board the Alaska State Ferry for the beautiful ride across Prince William Sound. Opportunities abound to see glaciers, sea otters, bald eagles and maybe even humpback whales as we weave amongst the many islands of the Sound before reaching Whittier. Here we will be reunited with our van and drive 2.5 miles through the Whittier Tunnel (the longest highway tunnel and the only one combining both rail and vehicle use in North America) which connects Whittier with the 1964 earthquake-destroyed community of Portage. From here we will head through the Kenai Mountains to the tiny end-of-the-road frontier town of Hope on Cook Inlet. Far older than Anchorage, this first gold rush community in Southcentral Alaska is still a place of log buildings and an atmosphere that can only be experienced. Lodging is in cozy accommodations in Hope.
Day 6 We head down the road to Seward and board the tour boat to head out into the Gulf of Alaska for the spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park, passing through the Chiswell Islands Refuge. Here we will view calving glaciers up very close in our small vessel and cruise the rugged coastline to view a tremendous concentration of wildlife including orcas and humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, porpoises, eagles, and many different kinds of sea birds. Returning late afternoon we’ll head north through the mountain lake community of Moose Pass and back to Hope. If inclined after dinner, we’ll have a walk to the historic Seaview Bar down on the waterfront to meet some of the local “wildlife”. Or, you might just like to poke around the old settlement and see the magnificent views of the mountains bordering Cook Inlet. Second night in Hope.
Day 7 After a leisurely breakfast, we might try our luck at gold panning, and visit the Hope Historical Museum. Then it’s on to the small town of Girdwood, home of the Alyeska Ski Resort. Here there is an option to take the tram ride to the summit if the clouds permit for a spectacular view of the surrounding Chugach Range and Cook Inlet, while others might opt for a short hike through the rainforest (yes, rainforest) after having lunch at the locally famous bakery. Depending on the day’s activities, we’ll return to Anchorage in late afternoon and officially end seven incomparable days on the Last Frontier…