Okay, so this is a part of the road trip, but we aren’t in the van. We debated a long time about driving or flying to Alaska and our final decision to fly was influenced by a few things. The drive to Alaska is about 39 hours on rough road, that was likely to destroy our car. Because of COVID-19 we are not able to cross the border into Canada right now. And last but not least, I’d take a 3 hour flight over a 39 hour drive any day! So we flew there. We rented a super small Honda, shoved all our stuff in it, and stayed in some unique places in Seward and just outside Denali. It was perfect for us!
Our flight was late Saturday night and we knew we would be too tired to drive anywhere so we booked a cheap hotel near the airport via Hotwire. I think both Scott and I forgot that this time of year Alaska basically has 24 hours of daylight, so it was a bit of a shock landing at midnight and being able to see all the snowy mountains. We even saw a bunch of moose by a pond. I knew right away we were going to love it here.
The next thing that we noticed immediately about Alaska was how expensive it was (a jar of smuckers jam cost $8). We knew we weren’t going to be able to afford eating out so we stopped at Walmart and picked up groceries for the week. We lived off of PB&Js, instant ramen, and oatmeal. Not unusual for traveling on a budget, and the sights we got to see were well worth it! Another small thing to note is that mosquitos in Alaska during this time of year are BAD, also if you didn’t know, they have the largest population of bears in the world. Things I would recommend picking up before you journey around are bear spray and the highest percentage deet mosquito spray you can get.
In hopes of not seeing a bear in the wild (though Scott was determined) we started our drive from Anchorage to Seward by stopping at a Wildlife Conservatory. There we were able to see all of Alaska native animals, bears, deer, caribou, reindeer, wolves, bison, all being taken care of since they were unable to survive in the wild alone.
We continued our drive down to Seward, stopping several times to take pictures. The mountain ranges in Alaska are unreal, they are hard to describe because they are so massive and pristine, it’s close to what we had seen in New Zealand, but more dramatic. We stopped at Portage glacier and did a short hike right up to a stream, snow, and a good view of the glacier. Just a few minutes down the road we were able to do a somewhat challenging hike called Portage Pass, the only challenging part being a straight up incline for ¾ of a mile, and boy am I out of shape! I have to say the views at the top were well worth it. We were able to see the glacier feeding into a lake on one side, and a massive lake with a small town on the other.
After that we headed to a small fishing village basically at a dead-end called Whittier. There we splurged on our one meal out and got fish and shrimp fresh caught in the lake next to us. It was divine and a good change up from our PB&J, ramen combo. We have been all about being on the move so we finally made our way to Seward, another small fishing town, where we would stay for the next two nights.
Our accommodation for Seward was a dry tiny home, meaning there is no running water, meaning NO TOILET OR SHOWER. The toilet instead, was a compostable one, and we went into town to shower at the public showers at a campground. Not a problem, I just waited until we were in town to use the restroom. Scott however, ventured to use the compostable toilet and it was definitely hilarious.
The next day we set off to do two hikes that were close by. The first was a short 2 miles to Exit Glacier. I think the most interesting part about the glacier is that as we were driving, we saw signs as to where the glacier had been 100 years ago, then 50, 20, 10, 5, and so on. Though interesting, it was quite sad to see how quickly this glacier was receding.
Our next hike was 12 miles into the mountains. Scott and I both agree that it was probably the most beautiful hike we had ever done in our lives. It was called Lost Lake and we couldn’t get enough of it. Every part of the climb there was a better few of the snowy, pristine mountains, waterfalls, and tree lines. We could not believe how wonderful it was. I’m a huge fan of wildflowers and this was like wildflower haven. There was basically no one on the trail, which made it even more special. We stopped at the top for a snack and some pictures and then headed down, clapping, and trying to be as loud as possible, because remember we were deep in bear country with few people around. We were confident we had something following us in the bushes for a while, but we’ll never know for sure!
The next morning we left super early to get to Denali at a decent time (and have time to stop at a few places on the way). These drives were long, but it didn’t seem like it because of how beautiful the scenery was throughout. Every mile it seemed like there was something different to look at, and we were always keeping our eyes peeled for some sort of wildlife. We took a small detour to a dead-end town called Talkeetna. There we were able to go to the famous Denali Brewing Company. The town was adorable but catered towards tourists. It was sad how deserted it seemed. Many of the places in Alaska thrive off tourism and will not survive this season without it. We drank some mead and beer, walked through the shops that were open, and then continued our way to Denali.
Our Air B&B was called the Runway House, and was just outside Denali National Park, in a small city called Cantwell. The host was a lively lady who was a little scattered but had a huge heart. She told us of all the places to go to and gave us free range to her kitchen. The house was unique in that it was a double wide trailer on an active runway, that the host lived in, a friend lived in, and a construction worker. We enjoyed chatting with everyone and getting to know what it is like to be a local in Alaska. Since it is light all the time this time of year, we decided that we would check out the park even though it was 6pm.
Driving into Denali is a bit eerie right now because there is absolutely no one. Most of the hikes and roads are closed, and parking lots usually filled with tour buses are empty. We drove as far as we could into the park (only 16 miles) and took in as much beauty as we could. The best part was we got to see Caribou drinking from a lake, and moose wandering around the park freely. Because there has been such a small human presence lately, the animals have been moving in closer to where people can see them. So close, that the lady who were staying with said a 7-foot-tall grizzly had been walking through her neighborhood the last few days! Throughout this road trip, I see there being a trend of things being closed and us saying we will have to come back someday.
Our next day in Denali was uneventful. The weather was not great, so we could not see the mountains, and we did not really want to be out hiking in the rain if we could help it. We drove around, saw the touristy part of the park called glitter gulch (filled with tourist trap trinkets and so on), and saw a moose on the side of the highway. I think going non-stop caught up to us and we decided to take a nice rest and have a productive last day in Alaska the following day.
As always (mostly thanks to Scott) we were up early and headed toward Anchorage the next day. On our way out we decided to do a hike in Denali State Park called Curry Ridge. It was a short 6 miles roundtrip and throughout the whole hike we got lucky enough to see Denali and the range around it in its entirety. We had been told it was rare to see the tallest peak in North America without cloud cover, and there it was! For the whole six miles we stared at the peak in disbelief that we got to enjoy this moment with zero people around. Though sad circumstances for the Alaskan tourism economy, we were feeling lucky to be there on this rare occasion.
We enjoyed our last meal of ramen in Alaska and got ready for our early morning flight the next day! I ended up enjoying Alaska much more than I thought I would. It is definitely a top 5 place we have been to in the world and we can’t wait to go back!