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  • Writer's pictureShayna Gaman-Bean

The Last Frontier: Alaska Road Trip

Updated: Oct 26, 2022

"Alaska isn't about who you were when you headed this way. It's about who you become." ~Kristin Hannah

Early 2021, when we were planning our next trip, we were planning an international trip. However, after a few months, it became clear we wouldn't be leaving the country. It just so happened that at about this time I had a conversation with someone who had just moved from Alaska and it hit me: we need to go to Alaska. None of us had been there, July would be a great time to go, and what a big adventure!

Trip Planning 101:

1. Plan ahead. At least 3 months, but even more time would be even better. A lot of the popular tours and hotels will be full within 3 months of travel, especially during peak tourist travel in July.

2. Rental cars are challenging to come by right now. I spent hours trying to find a mid-sized SUV for our family. Almost even canceled the trip because one car rental fell through. I eventually found a company Alaska Auto Rental. Great customer service and we had a great experience renting exactly what we wanted from them. We rented a Honda CRV which fit all 5 of us well and all 6 of our suitcases and 5 backpacks. It was about $2000 for a week rental, but obviously that will vary. We were very pleased with our experience!

3. Save up! Alaska travel is not the cheapest. A few tours are a must and they'll easily cost $500-$1000 per tour for a family of 5. Food and gas was also more expensive than we had anticipated.

4. Get bear spray and insect repellent after arriving (because you can't take them on the plane) and before doing any hiking and wear lighter color clothing. Our hotel offered bear spray for free so check with your hotel, but if not they sell it at many outdoorsy stores which are all over the place. Mosquitoes are bad there, although it varies, some areas there are none some areas they are just awful, so be prepared!

5. Although I like being spontaneous and it's also good to have a little down time, I would recommend to plan at least 2, if not 3, tours. I share more details of a couple of these below.

Our Itinerary:

Day 1:

Overnight flight. Not a fan of these, but leaving from Sacramento, they were pretty much our only option. And to save a little $$ we had a 6 hour layover in Phoenix. Fortunately, we have some good friends there who met up with us at a trampoline park and then we went out to dinner. It was actually an awesome layover!

Day 2:

We arrived just after midnight, found our rental car, checked into our hotel Hyatt House Anchorage (would recommend: close to airport, good pricing, nice rooms, suite with kitchen, good breakfast, good customer service) and then crashed by about 2am. Getting our luggage, finding our shuttle, getting our rental car, and checking into our hotel was a breeze.

We woke up around 7am because we were just so excited to be in Alaska! We got the hotel breakfast, which was actually pretty good (all sorts of things from eggs, bacon, french toast sticks to fruit and cereal) and headed out.

Our first stop this day was to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC). The drive there down Highway 1 was absolutely stunning. It is about a 1 hour drive along the water and through Chugach State Park and Chugach National Forest. There are beautiful views of snowcapped mountains and meadows.

At AWCC we had the best time! Things we did: Moose Encounter where we got to learn all about the moose and we even got to feed Arnold! We would have done the Bear Encounter, but it was not offered the day we were there. We visited all the animals: bear, moose, wood bison, musk ox, foxes, wolves, coyotes, owl, bald eagle, caribou, elk, deer, porcupine, just to name a few. We also explored the grounds which are beautiful and had lunch there (reindeer hot dogs - pretty good actually!).

After lunch we headed back to our hotel for naps, then after naps I was on a mission to find some delicious fresh caught salmon. We ended up at Simon & Seafort's Restaurant for a delicious dinner.

Unfortunately for us, our littlest got a stomach bug (likely something she ingested before the restaurant) and we were up all night tending to her.

Day 3:

As previously mentioned, our youngest was pretty sick so we were stuck in the hotel for the time being. We had to cancel a tour we had planned to Kenai Fjords (Boat Tour). I would highly recommend the tour despite us not being able to do it. I spoke with a family who had gone on the tour and they saw a beautiful family of orcas. I was thankful this company refunded us our money!

All morning we rested, but then in the afternoon, Mike, Aidan, and Camilla headed out to explore Kincaid Park. And apparently it was quite an adventure and they saw a bear and several moose! The park itself was beautiful and lead them to the water's edge:

The remainder of the day we relaxed and caught up on some sleep.

Day 4:

Thankfully, Kendall seemed to be doing better and none of the rest of us had any signs of illness, so we decided it was safe to move on with our trip. The next plan was to spend the day in Denali then head to our new hotel in Fairbanks.

It was about a 4 hour drive to Denali from Anchorage and I would actually recommend stopping at the South and North viewpoints over an hour away from the park. That is where we were actually able to see the peak. Here are a list of places to see the Denali peak. Lucky for us it cleared just enough to see the peak peering through the top of the clouds:

We then headed on to Denali State Park and then Denali National Park. It was an overcast but warm day with temperatures over 70 degrees. Since our youngest was still recovering and not able to walk much, we decided to drive as much of the park as we could. That actually takes you 15 miles into the park to the Savage River. It's another beautiful drive. We chatted with a park ranger and discovered there was a caribou in the river nearby so we decided to check it out. So we hiked part of the Savage Alpine trail and found the caribou cooling off in the river.

The river and wildflowers were so beautiful we decided to hike a little further:

After our hike we headed onward to Fairbanks. We arrived in Fairbanks around dinner time and it was a little challenging finding a restaurant, but we happened upon a great place Lavelles Bistro Restaurant. The service and food were awesome and it was kid friendly.

Lastly, we finally checked into our new hotel Hyatt Place Fairbanks. Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this hotel as the rooms were too small, the walls were paper thin, and the breakfast was not good.

Day 5:

This was one of the days I was most excited about! A trip to North Pole, Alaska!!!

It's just a quick 15 minute drive to The Santa Claus House and it is so worth it! It has just about everything Christmas and most importantly SANTA!!

After seeing Santa and doing a little shopping, we went to feed the reindeer, another fun experience.

At this point it started to rain quite heavily so we headed to lunch and then back to our hotel.

That afternoon we decided to check out Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary.

We did the whole 2 mile hike around the lake. The hike and lake are beautiful and we saw lots of birds, but the mosquitoes were particularly bad this day.

The walk caused us to work up quite an appetite and we stumbled upon Geraldo's Italian Restaurant. Again we were happy with the service, food, and it was kid friendly.

Day 6:

This was our longest day yet: our trip to the ARCTIC!! We used Northern Alaska Tour Company and I would highly recommend this company to book your arctic tour. I would also recommend the bus tour (rather than the flight) because a huge part of the arctic tour is the journey there and everything you learn and see along the way. But it is a loooong day. You arrive at 6am, depart at 6:30am and return sometime between 10:30pm-11:30pm. I loved it though. Here are some highlights:

The Dalton Highway:

Alaska Pipeline:

Yukon River:

Finger Mountain:

We made it!!!

We slept most of the ride back to civilization and arrived back to our hotel around 11pm and crashed hard.

Day 7:

This day started with a yummy breakfast at Cookie Jar Restaurant. Absolutely delicious breakfast (I had a skillet, but the pancakes and french toast were also amazing).

Time to head back to Anchorage, but since Kendall was feeling better, we decided to stop back in Denali and hike some more and boy are we glad we did that!!

We saw a bunch of moose as we headed into the park. It was a much cooler day so the animals (who thrive in -20-0 degree weather) were out and about:

Then we headed back to the Savage Alpine trail, but we hiked a different section this time.

We hiked a couple miles and then decided to head on to Anchorage and back to our hotel.

Beautiful drive back to Anchorage:

Roadtripping Tip: One thing to note, there are not a lot of services on the drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and lots of snacks. One restaurant we found not too far from Anchorage and was pretty darn good was Denali Family Restaurant. Food was delish, service was great and it was very family friendly.

Day 8:

For our last full day we hadn't previously prepared anything and were thinking we'd check out the zoo, but since we missed out on our Kenai Fjords boat trip, we decided to spend the day in Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park.

It's about a 2 hour drive from Anchorage, but again the drive was so beautiful and definitely worth it.

We made it to Kenai Fjords National Park Exit Glacier at about 10am which was great because by 10:30am the parking lot was full!

No way we were going to make the full 8 mile loop through the Harding Ice Trail, so we just did part of it, enough to get close to the glacier. I highly recommend. It's about 1.8 miles round trip with some challenging parts, but the view of the glacier is spectacular.

After exploring the park for a while we headed to an early dinner at Chattermark Restaurant. The burgers and wings were deelish! Also great service and family friendly.

And just like that it was time to head back to pack for our overnight flight home....

Thank you Alaska! We will definitely be back for another visit!!



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