It might sound odd that for a nature lover like myself, Alaska NEVER once made my list. I guess somehow in my mind Alaska has always been such an extraterritorial land and getting there was out of the question. But this Summer a unique opportunity presented itself along with my FOMO knocking and I said sure! a week in Alaska, why not? And I could not be happier with my decision to partake in this trip.
Day 1: Arrive Anchorage at night
Day 2: Explore Anchorage: Market, Camping supplies, Flat Top Mountain
Day 3: Drive to Denali National Park + Hiking (stay outside of the park)
Day 4: Reenter the Park and go to wonder lake camp (stay at Wonder lake)
Day 5: Out of the park and drive straight to Seward
Day 6: Kayak trip
Day 7: Hike Harding ice-field
Day 8: Drive back to Anchorage to catch an evening flight
First thing first, Anchorage is nothing like I expected. Guess it’s my stupidity that led me to assume Anchorage to be a small little town in the woods or something because in the back of my mind Alaska is a wild wild place. Walking through the big airport that was filled with people made me realized I was wrong. The city is a normal, typical modern mid sized American town. I don’t know why I expected Alaska to be a low key tourist destination but DAMNNNN!! so many tourists. This is where outdoor people congregate! My people! Already on the flight I noticed a number people wearing hiking shoes, a number of fishing rods and rifles cases which terrified me.
We decided to spend first day exploring Anchorage and to buy camping supplies.
We visited a farmer’s market and shopped for some camping supplies and had the Kaladi’s brother coffee :) We chatted with some locals who told us we should go to flattop mountain for a nice view of Anchorage. So we did. Let me tell you…the name ‘Flat Top Mountain’ is VERY accurate. The only flat part of this trail exists only at the very top. The way up there is nothing but steep steep climb. At one point the trail disappears and in front of you is nothing but piles of rock that you have to literally climb up with both hands. It was quite a challenge but we made it! The view is amazing, you can see Anchorage city and the ocean. The good thing about Alaska in the summer is that the day light doesn’t disappear until after midnight and operating hours of trails and parks are set accordingly. So hiking can be done til very late :) We were at the top at 9 pm I think and people were still coming in when we were on our way out.
*fun fact: no tax in Anchorage
DENALI NATIONAL PARK
It took us around 4 hours (add more for photo stops) to drive from Anchorage to Denali National Park. There was just one highway and it was really easy to drive. Just go straight. I have never been on the road where everything outside looks like photographer’s dreams.
The park is huge! There are a few main facilities/buildings you need to go to for information. We went to the visitor center to look for a trail to hike for the day and decided to go for the strenuous Mt. Healy overlooking trail, one of the steepest trails in the National park.
With a small bell attached to our backpacks and a bottle of bear spray we hiked. It was a very hot afternoon and I struggled (I learned that, despite being from Bangkok living in the average climate of around 30–33 Celsius year round, I am a noob when it comes to the heat in the States -see my Arizona post). I had never drunk so much water when I go hiking but here I finished all I had. After maybe 2.5 hours we reached the top and it what was right in front of us was so worthwhile. Sitting there overlooking the entrance area of the national park already filled me up with excitement of what’s coming when we actually are inside this park!!
Comes the camping time. The next morning we took a camper bus to get us all the way into the park (park bus is the only way to get inside the park). We aimed to camp at the furthest campsite of the park located at the 85th mile called ‘Wonder Lake’. The whole ride in the park was nothing short of magnificent! The beautiful view and the wild animals we spotted. We saw so many grizzlies, moose, mountain goat, caribous, and many random smaller animals. The most special thing about that day was that the sky was so clear and we were greeted by the full frontal view of Mt. Denali (AKA Mt.Mckinley) which only 30% of park visitors get to see. We were among the lucky 30 percent! And wow it was majestically picturesque.
After 5 hours of joyride, we arrived the campsite. It is the most beautiful camp site I have ever seen. I mean look!
The only negative thing about this particular camp site is the mosquito and fly infestation. Yes, ‘infestation.’ as in millions of them hanging around making more babies. They didn’t bite or anything, they just like to fly around your face. We were warned beforehand so we brought along head net and wore it most of the time. We looked absolutely ridiculous. But the view is so breathtakingly beautiful the bugs couldn’t ruin that for us.
Apart from the joy of camping and being surrounded by exquisite nature, there are hiking trails around the campsite. In Denali you can hike on your own or you can sign up for organized hikes with park rangers but need 24 hour notice in advance for the latter option and the trails they offer are scheduled by the park. We wanted to hike on our own — more excited that way so that’s what we did. Wandered around the park visiting the wonderful Wonder Lake and the reflection pond (too bad by the time we arrived reflection pond we couldn’t see the reflection of Denali in the pond as the clouds were now covering the mountain). Apart from the noise from the bell attached to our backpacks and occasionally birds chirping, the whole park was really quiet. And I really enjoyed that. Denali is definitely a place for nature lover. I wish I would have more time to spend here. A week of camping in here would have been awesome.
In hindsight, driving directly from Denali to Seward might not have been the greatest idea but that’s what we did. Super exhausted, we checked into our overpriced hotel and fell asleep.
Seward is so different from Anchorage and Denali. There was no sun, no light, it was raining the whole time we were there except for the day we left (of course) . It’s what most people would imagine Alaska to be. But I still really enjoyed it a lot especially when we went to the Kenai Fjord to have a closer look at the Aialik glacier. This day holds a special place in my heart. It was a 3 hour boat ride through the cold rain. Along the way we saw sea otters, eagles, a bunch of puffins, seals, and seagulls and a HUMPBACK WHALE (on the way back) It was a fun and worthy boat ride :)
We arrived at the bay and from there we all got into a sea kayak and paddled into the bay where the majestic glacier lies. We occasionally heard thunder-like sounds but it’s not thunder, it’s the glacier crumbling. It was melting and we witnessed big pieces of glacier falling into the sea quite a few times. It was astounding. I didn’t even care about how it was raining and how I was freezing to death. The whole experience washed those feelings away and replaced them with a big fat fascination. I was flabbergasted.
The journey back to land was super rocky but we all happily made it with zero person throwing up :) Close call though. 400+ bucks a pop is really pricey but I would recommend anyone traveling to Seward to do this day trip.
Can’t leave Seward without one more hike!
Harding Ice field Trail is one of the greatest and most rewarding hikes I have ever done! At the end of the trail you get to stand on top of the mountain looking over the massive 1,813 square kilometers worth of ice-field. Despite the rain, we hiked up there. It is a 13 Kilometer hike (round trip) so it’s a day hike type activity. The trail starts in a forest and it leads you to a beautiful meadow overlooking the exit glacier at half way. Some people choose to stop here and walk back down. The rest hike further, way up! The top of this trail is covered by snow so waterproof hiking boots are preferred. Note that you need to check the condition of the trail beforehand as conditions up there can drastically change with no warning. When we got up there it was still bright out and we could see the ice-filed stretching miles and miles away. Then within half an hour we could not see what was in front of us. The fog came out of nowhere so we had to leave abruptly. Looking for the trail signage on the snow was really hard with the fog!! Once we found the trail we kept walking and the rain started to pour.
By the end of the hike we were soaked! We spotted a mama grizzly and 2 cubs up on the waterfall maybe 100 meters away from us on the way down and it was really cool! I caught a cold that lasted a bit over a week from this hike but it was so worth it.
My Alaskan experience was a very positive one and it finally made my list. The state is so big and there are several interesting places I would like to see with my own eyes. I want to visit a little charming fishing town called Homer, wanna see grizzly bears catching salmon in Katmai National Reserve, visiting more glacier in Valdez, visiting Alaskan capital Juneau, hiking the infamous Stempede trail, and seeing beautiful Northern light in Fairbanks….ahhhhh one can dream.
Til we meet again Alaska.
Tuesday, March 28, 2023 12:06 PM