Questions and Answers
Suggestions for family of 4 on Alaska vacation?
I’m hoping for itinerary review & suggestions from locals.We are flying into Anchorage for an 8-day early July vacation for my wife and I and two daughters (old enough for moderate hikes). This is part of our quest to visit each of America’s national parks.
About us: Most commercial vacation packages don’t fit our interests or budget. We are “outdoorsy” and are okay with tents, backpacks, and rustic accommodations (provided they don’t smell bad). Aiming for scenic nature and great memories.
Denali is our top destination and here’s a summary of interests & disinterests:
===== First, our “DIS-interests” list =====
* cruises, bling, casino glitz
* feeling “herded” by group tours
* shopping and city life
* museums (Okay, but won’t travel far to see them.)
* rafting in cold water
====== Are more interested in ======
* Backpacking (we will be equipped for tent camping)
* 1 rail trip (I read that “Adventurer” class is fine since even without the glass roof you see the same stuff for 1/2 the cost.)
* Bus ride to the end of the Denali road (Shuttle, not narrated — 1/3 of the price and the drivers talk the whole time anyway.)
* See sled dogs
* Horseback ride?
* Kid fun: gold panning, sing-alongs, etc. (Ideas anyone?)
* Casual mountain biking
* Hot springs (if we get within 1 hr drive)
Original plan was to tent camp 5 nights in Denali. Someone said our kids would be bored & miserable by the end of Day 2. True? Non-stop cold rain would suck.
How easy/practical is it to get around or visit other places with Denali as a starting point if we have no vehicle?
ITINERARY (* means “official” (dash) – means “undecided”)
* Arrive ANC airport early afternoon.
* $15 Taxi to off-airport rental car place
* 1 night at B&B in Anchorage (airbnb)
– Train ride at 7:30a to Denali
– drive the car to Denali instead of returning it and take a shorter train ride from Denali to somewhere and back (Key is: must do train during trip).
– 5 days 4 nights tent camping in Denali (or should we split the trip and try another place for variety?)
– head back to Anchorage (or train or bus if I don’t take the car).
the day before flight home. Maybe head south toward Seward during that day.
* Midnight flight out of Anchorage
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Denali is on the main train route
the train goes from seward to fairbanks, with stops in anchorage, whittier, denali and other places
however a summer fare per person is about the same as a weekly car rental – bothin the $400 to $500 range
alaska is bustling with camping spots all along the major highways; we just throw a tent and sleeping bag in the trunk and camp as we go.
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I used a guide called the Alaska Milepost
It lists every campground and sight on the major highways. I think you can order it online.
Anchorage has a couple of interesting museums. First is the main history museum downtown. Then a Native Peoples Museum on the north side. I tried the Earthquake Walk one trip. But most of the destruction from 50 years ago is pretty much gone.
An idea for the extra Anchorage day is to drive down to Whittier and take a boat trip. You will see lots of birds and marine wildlife and some glaciers. Seward has better boat trips. But that is too far enough away to be too long for a day trip.
Figuring out the Alaska vacation itinerary. Good to know there are places to camp along the road. That adds flexibility.
The original plan was for the 4 of us to ride the train from Anchorage to Denali and rely entirely on trains, shuttles, taxis, & feet. A travel book said that most people at Denali don’t bring a vehicle. Perhaps most people don’t camp and are there with organized tours and don’t need one.
At first planned to snag a rental car for the last day to make sure we make it to the airport without depending on a midnight taxi. Instead I went ahead and expanded the reservation for the entire 9 days knowing it could be changed later. Now I think we SHOULD KEEP the rental car for the whole trip. Is long-term parking free while camping?
My wife saw somewhere that said people can ride one of the trains for free. Whatever she read said that since it stops for every passenger along the rail it takes a long time to get from one place to another, but it’s available for anybody to hop on and off at not cost. True?
The “big picture” itinerary so far looks like this:
* Arrive ANC in afternoon
* Get rental car
* Putz around in Anchorage
* Sleep at the B&B in Anchorage
* Leave early and drive to Denali
* Catch afternoon shuttle (camper bus?) to Wonder Lake
– Either camp at Wonder Lake or ride back to one of the other campsites.
DAY 3, 4, 5
* Stay at the campsite for 2 or 3 nights
– If the weather really sucks, catch a shuttle back to the car and sleep in it (oh joy). Without advance reservations getting a room near Denali might be next to impossible if the weather turns bad.
DAY 5 or 6
* Take train somewhere & let wife & kids do air tour. I’m staying grounded and putting my portion of the budget toward having them do a glacier landing.
* Ride back to Denali where the car is parked and camp at a different campsite
DAY 6 & 7
* camp somewhere
* Drive back to Anchorage
* Stay around Anchorage for afternoon/evening?
* B&B or hotel in or near Anchorage
* Waking in Anchorage
* Drive south?
* Airport @midnight
Opinions / ideas?
You may have to stay at entrance campground first night depending on timing of train & buses; probably need to reserve for that Riley campground; everything in the summer needs reserved
there is a little town just outside the entrance to putter around in the evening
call the ranger about parking; I recall some extra spots for overnight parking in Riley
I recall the park buses are almost as good as the tour buses; on the way the park bus drivers explain the sights; they make a couple of bathroom stops; the tour buses do a little more.
Day trip from Anchorage?
Taking a short boat trip sounds good. How’s this for a family day trip south of Anchorage:
– AK Wildlife Preserve (2 hours?)
– Lunch somewhere (30 mins)
– short boat ride from Whittier (2 hours)
– Tram ride (1.5 hrs)
– R/T Driving time for this itinerary: 3 hours
And is there a specific boat/cruise company you suggest?
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Spent my first summer working outside Denali National Park
Yes, the bus ride into park is great
We saw bears from the bus, they were slowly walking across the road
I wouldn’t camp that many nights in the park, when there’s so much else to see in Alaska
I’d suggest drive Turnagain Arm south out of Anchorage gorgeous drive
Head down to Seward or Homer and go see glaciers and hike/camp near one
I spent one summer in Seward and going on my third in Homer
Do far more than just Denali
Get some Alaska books and see all the other options.
< GreatDadIndy >
Our trip plans so far
I’m taking the advice of not planning to stay so long at DNP. We are going to start by heading south to Seward for a couple days, then head north to see Taketna and do zip line, then up to Denali & do a Jeep thing. Camp in the park 3 nights, then maybe catch a campsite for a night on the way back to Anchorage. Do a day tour of Anchorage before our midnight flight.
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Suggest you get camping reservation for Denali
I’m not sure but am thinking they might fill up.
< GreatDadIndy >
Getting campsite reservations
Good advice about reserving campsites. I’m almost ready to finalize plans and will be sure to call to reserve spots.