Discover Alaska's Wonderland at your own pace. Our two-week circle adventure self drive tour features most of the highlights and scenic wonders of Alaska’s great outdoors. Originating in Anchorage you’ll travel to Denali National Park where you observe grizzly bears and a variety of wildlife, all in the shadow of towering Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) - the highest mountain in North-America. Continue to Fairbanks with its gold rush atmosphere, board the Alaska Ferry and explore scenic Prince William Sound with magnificent Columbia Glacier - the largest tidewater glacier in Alaska. It's time to visit the communities of the Kenai Peninsula - Seward, Homer, Soldovia and Kenai. It is your choice to try your luck fishing, go kayaking, join a wildlife cruise or visit a remote community. The schedule leaves plenty of time for side trips and outdoor activities such as river rafting, flightseeing, wildlife viewing, whale watching and short hiking trips.
Anchorage - Talkeetna
Pick up a rental car of your choice in Anchorage and travel north on the George Parks Highway towards the Alaska Range. Enjoy sweeping views of snowcapped mountain peaks while traveling from Anchorage via Wasilla - home of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race Museum - to Talkeetna, a base for most Mt.McKinley climbing expeditions. During the afternoon you may take a flightseeing tour to Mt. McKinley (optional). The magnificent flight takes you within 6-miles of Mt. McKinley's 20.230 ft summit. As your flight departs, you recognize how the last ice age has shaped the land. Moments later, you enter a world of rugged high mountain peaks and wide glacier filled valleys. See the Sheldon Amphitheater, beautiful Ruth Glacier, and the Great Gorge. Optional glacier landings available. A turn-of-the-20th-century gold-mining center, Talkeetna has retained much of its early Alaska flavor. Log cabins, a roadhouse and clapboard storefronts line the dirt streets. Distance: 120 Miles | Overnight: Talkeetna
Talkeetna - Denali National Park
Continue your journey along the Alaska Range through Denali State Park with countless wildlife viewing opportunities. Stopover at Byers Lake and rent a canoe or kayak. Denali State Park is home to both brown and black bears, moose and marmots. In the lower areas, visitors will encounter muskrats, beavers, possibly red foxes and porcupines, among other resident wildlife. On the east side of the park the Susitna and Chulitna rivers are home to Dolly Varden, Arctic grayling, rainbow trout and all five species of Pacific salmon. Small numbers of lake trout occur in Byers, Spink and Lucy lakes, and rainbow trout, grayling and Dolly Varden are found in Byers Lake and Troublesome and Little Coal creeks. After arriving at Denali Village check out the parks office which provides many informative ranger-naturalist programs, slide shows and sled dog demonstrations. Distance: 120 Miles | Overnight: Denali National Park
Denali National Park
Denali National Park offers excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and spectacular sceneries. In the morning drive to the Visitor Center where your wildlife tour begins. Pick up your pre-reserved tickets and explore the center if time allows. Board the bus, sit back and watch out for grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolf and fox moving along the ridges and river beds or observe one of the 150 different bird species which inherit the park area. Your driver informs you about the history of Denali National Park, its diverse wildlife and flora. Once a bear, caribou or another animal has been spotted the bus will stop that everyone can watch and take pictures. Your tour turns around at Eielson Visitor Center - a four hour drive. We can extend the bus tour to Wonder Lake or Kantishna Roadhouse. You can get off the bus anytime you wish and take a stroll, go hiking and enjoy the landscape. Return to the Denali Park entrance anytime during the day. Overnight: Denali National Park
Denali National Park - Fairbanks
Short drive via Nenana - known for the Alaska Ice Classics - to Fairbanks. Fairbanks, known as the Golden Heart City of Alaska, is the gateway to the interior and features almost 24 hours of daylight during the summer months. You are invited to explore the local gold rush history, its vibrant traditional native cultures as well as its abundant wildlife and fantastic scenery. Tucked into miles of unexplored wilderness only 120 miles from the Arctic Circle, Fairbanks offers excellent year-round outdoor recreational opportunities. This afternoon you may visit the renown Alaska University Museum featuring Alaska's natural history best collection, Alaskaland or take an authentic sternwheeler on a scenic 20-mile roundtrip cruise down the Chena and Tanana Rivers. Enjoy lively narration, stop at a reconstructed Athabascan Indian Village to learn about native hunting & fishing techniques and watch a dogsled demonstration. Distance: 120 Miles | Overnight: Fairbanks
In 1902, Felix Pedro found gold in the region and thousands of prospectors swarmed to the area in search of the “Mother lode.” Nearly a century later, Fairbanks is the trade and transportation center for Interior and Far North Alaska. From mid-May through July, visitors can enjoy more than 20 hours of sunlight a day. Today you have the unique chance to cross the Arctic Circle and to visit the vast interior. Join us on a guided van tour along the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle. En-route enjoy stunning views of the interior and the Trans-Alaska-Pipeline, put your hand in the Yukon River, travel through the wetlands and crest the high plateau of Finger Mountain looking out for wildlife. You can also join a bush mail plane flight and experience how the Gwich'in Athabascan Natives live in "Bush" Alaska. Another option is to drive along Chena Hot Springs road, go on a hiking trip and visit Chena Hot Springs Resort. Here you can relax in the large natural outdoor rock lake and visit the Aurora Ice Museum.
Fairbanks - Copper River | Wrangell-St. Elias Nat'l Park
Leave Fairbanks on the Richardson Highway for Delta Junction - a telegraph station established in 1904. The intersection, marked by an oversized white milepost for Mile 1422 of the Alaska - and Richardson Highway, is known as the Triangle. Delta Junction is also home to the 90,000-acre Delta Bison Sanctuary, which was created to contain a free-roaming herd of more than 500 animals. The area features spectacular views of the Alaska Range and the Delta River. On clear days the panoramas of Mount Hayes, Mount Moffit and other peaks are stunning. Continue to Paxson with it's many sled dog kennels and further on to Copper River area - known as a paradise for anglers and rafters searching for big fish and whitewater adventure. Gakona, Copper Center and Glenallen are great jump-off points during the famed Copper River Sockeye. For trout and grayling as well as salmon, try the Gulkana River nearby. Travel Distance: 260 Miles | Overnight: Copper Center
Wrangell St Elias National Park - Valdez
Stopover at Worthington Glacier with boardwalks leading to the face of the glacier. Drive through the scenic Keystone Canyon and arrive in Valdez - also known as “the Switzerland of Alaska” - and the gateway for salmon fishing trips and narrated cruises to magnificent Columbia Glacier. During the afternoon you have plenty of time to take a scenic cruise to this tidewater glacier. Enjoy the Sound's marine wildlife which included including Bull Head Sea Lions, Seals, Otters and Whales. You will learn about the mining, oilspil, earthquake, and fishing history and you will hear stories about the native people exploring Prince William Sound. Valdez’s darkest moment was the Good Friday Earthquake in 1964. The tsunami that followed the earthquake destroyed the entire historic town site of Valdez. The community was rebuilt on more stable bedrock four miles to the west and flourished during the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal in the 1970s. Distance: 100 Miles | Overnight: Valdez
Valdez - Prince William Sound | Ferry to Whittier - Seward
Time for a visit of the southern terminus of the Alaska Pipeline Terminal or enjoy some kayaking or a short hiking trip. The Prince William Sound is one of the few places left in the world where a concentration of glaciers can be found in such abundance. During the comfortable ferry trip you cruise throughout the Esther Passage, view majestic alpine and tidewater glaciers covered with ancient ice (Columbia Glacier) from the distance and may observe a large variety of marine wildlife. A US Forest Service ranger will point out interesting sites along the way. Watch for playful sea otters, harbor seals, kittiwakes, bears, whales or mountain goats. Drive from Whittier through the Anderson Memorial Tunnel and on the scenic Seward Highway towards Seward on the shores of the Gulf of Alaska and enjoy incomparable vistas of majestic fjords, glaciers and mountains. Evening at leisure for a nice seafood dinner on the harbor. Distance: 65 Miles + Ferry Trip | Overnight: Seward
Seward | Kenai Fjords National Park
Created in 1980, Kenai Fjords spreads over 587,000 acres and is crowned by the massive Harding Ice Field from which countless tidewater glaciers pour down into coastal fjords. The impressive landscape and an abundance of marine wildlife make the park a major tourist attraction. Our 110-mile long day cruise - hosted by a National Park Ranger who provides narration - takes you deep into Kenai Fjords National Park and to the Chiswell Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Wildlife is abundant throughout the National Park, and the tidewater glaciers are massive. You'll visit the mighty Holgate Glacier where guests often witness calving - a process by which the glacier sheds giant blocks and slabs of ancient ice - from a close distance. After you return you could visit another popular attraction - the Exit Glacier, which lies just north of town. This road-accessible glacier offers an impressive up-close view of the glacier along with information and hiking trails. Overnight: Seward
Seward – Homer
Visit the renowned Alaska SeaLife Center - the first cold water marine search institute in the world. Another option may be a self-guided hike to along the Exit Glacier. Continue your self drive journey and follow the Sterling Highway - a designated scenic highway covering miles of spectacular landscape with snowcapped mountains and it's many active volcanoes known as the "Ring of Fire" with Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Augustine, deep ocean bluffs, excellent salmon fishing opportunities along the Kenai River and a magnificent coastline. Homer is blessed with a view to the south that is stunning in its beauty and grandeur. The rugged Kenai Mountains are spreading across the sparkling waters of Kachemak Bay. Homer is also known as a great fishing hole. King Salmon may be caught here from May to June, while Silver Salmon run during August. Halibut - large as a barn size door are available from May - Sept. Distance: 170 Miles | Overnight: Homer
Homer aka: “Halibut Capital of the World” provides you with truly incredible panoramic views of mountain ranges, white peaks, glaciers and the famous Homer Spit - a long strip of land that stretches into the beautiful deep blue colored Katchemal Bay. It is a community that tempts you to stay for a while. Between the excellent museum, restaurants and art galleries, great scenery and interesting side trips to the other side of Kachemak Bay or to Seldovia you could easily spend a week here. Use the day to explore the area - kayak to a remote cove, take a scenic cruise and spot wildlife including whales, seals, sea otters and many shorebirds. If you prefer to observe grizzly bears up close, take a scenic flightseeing tour to the Katmai Coast. Take a evening cruise to Halibut Cove (optional) and enjoy a dinner at the famous Saltry Restaurant and a walk to renowned artist galleries along the picturesque boardwalks. Overnight: Homer
Homer – Cooper Landing
Leave Homer for a scenic drive to Ninilchik - the oldest settlement on the Kenai Peninsula. The Russian-American Company established Ninilchik in the 1820s for its elderly and disabled employees, who could not endure the long journey back to Russia. Other Russian settlers soon congregated there, and in 1901, the settlers constructed the community’s Russian Orthodox Church. Continue to Cooper Landing - located at the world famous Kenai and Russian River. Take a (optional) 1/2 day guided fishing trip for King or Sockeye Salmon. Your fishing guide is expert in spinning, casting and fly fishing techniques on these waters. Or better, join us (optional) for a guided Kenai Canyon rafting trip. Start with a scenic float searching for moose, bald eagles and salmon, then ride the Class II+ spirited rapids through the Kenai River Canyon. The tour ends on the shores of a glacier-carved lake within the heart of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Distance: 170 Miles | Overnight: Cooper Landing
Cooper Landing – Anchorage
Leave Kenai Peninsula and drive north through the Chugach National Forest to Portage Glacier - one of Alaska’s most visited attractions. The Portage Glacier Access Road winds about five miles from the highway and ends at the impressive Begich, Boggs Visitor Center. Portage Glacier is in retreat, and not visible from the center’s observation decks and telescopes, but the center is still an interesting stop thanks to exhibits that let visitors walk through a simulated ice cave, view live ice worms or touch an iceberg. To get up very close to the glacier, take an hour-long sightseeing boat cruise on Portage Lake, or hike on one of a number of foot trails that lead to the glacier. Short drive to the Girdwood / Alyeska Ski Resort. If time allows take the tram on top Alyeska mountain offering scenic views of Turnagain Arm. Follow the Seward Highway along salt water bays, ice blue glaciers and alpine valleys and look for bear, moose or dall sheep. Distance: 100 Miles | Overnight: Anchorage
Spend some time at Native Heritage Center: the The Gathering Place is center stage for Alaska Native dancing, compelling Native Games demonstrations and intriguing storytelling. The Hall of Cultures features exhibits and demonstrating Alaska Native artists. Visitors discover more about each of the five major culture groups through engaging exhibits. Alaska Native craft activities will keep the children entertained. The Theatre hosts a variety of movies all day, including the Heritage Center produced film, “Stories Given, Stories Shared.” Guests stroll through six authentic life-sized Native dwellings around beautiful Lake Tiulana and are introduced to the traditional life ways of the Athabascan, Inupiaq/St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yup’ik/Cup’ik, Aleut, Alutiiq, and the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples. Each village site has a traditional structure along with artifacts that each group used in their daily lives. Check out of your hotel. Your vacation ends with the return of your rental car.
Anchorage: Is by far Alaska's largest and most sophisticated city, Anchorage is situated in a truly spectacular location. The permanently snow-covered peaks and volcanoes of the Alaska Range lie to the west of the city, part of the craggy Chugach Range is actually within the eastern edge of the municipality, and the Talkeetna and Kenai ranges are visible to the north and south. On clear days Mt. McKinley looms on the northern horizon, and two arms of Cook Inlet embrace the town's western and southern borders. The Native Heritage Center: There are more than 200 Native tribal entities in Alaska. At the Heritage Center, experience the lifestyles and traditions of these Native cultures through art and artifact displays and activities like blanket tossing, parka sewing, and drumming. Portage Glacier: This glacier has been receding rapidly, but you can ride the tour boat Ptarmigan across the lake to view its face. Keep an eye out for office building-size chunks of ice falling into the water. Flattop Mountain: Drive to the Glen Alps parking lot in Chugach State Park and take the short walk west to a scenic overlook on a clear day the view sweeps from Denali south along the Alaska Range past several active volcanoes on the other side of Cook Inlet. Or follow the hikers to the top of the mountain for even more stunning scenery. Native Crafts: Alaska's rich Native culture is reflected in its abundance of craft traditions, from totem poles to intricate baskets and detailed carvings. Many of the native crafts you'll see across the state are results of generations of traditions passed down among tribes; the craft process is usually labor-intensive, using local resources such as rye grasses or fragrant cedar trees. Each of Alaska's native groups is noted for particular skills. Inuit art includes ivory carvings, spirit masks, dance fans, baleen baskets, and jewelry. Also be on the lookout for mukluks (seal- or reindeer-skin boots). The Tlingit peoples of Southeast Alaska are known for their totem poles, as well as for baskets and hats woven from spruce root and cedar bark. Tsimshian Indians also work with spruce root and cedar bark, and Haida Indians are noted basket makers and carvers. Athabascans specialize in birch-bark creations, decorated fur garments, and beadwork. The Aleut, a maritime people dwelling in the southwest reaches of the state, make grass basketry that is considered among the best in the world.
Denali National Park: is one of the most popular and most visited destinations for a reason: the most accessible of Alaska's national parks and one of only three connected to the state of Alaska highway system. This is a spectacular and scenic 6-million-acre wilderness region offering views of mountains so big they seem like a wall on the horizon, endless wildlife from cinnamon-colored Toklat grizzlies to herds of caribou, to moose with antlers the size of coffee tables and glaciers with forests growing on them. All can be experienced by saddle safari, bus trip, or flightseeing tour. Hike, bike, stroll, or raft through it. Camp out, or bundle up in a cabin. The first 15 mi of the park road are paved, but after that there's just gravel. Visitors must ride on a bus or get off and see Denali on foot. No matter how you get there or which adventure you choose, Denali is truly a wonderful experience. When planning your trip consider whether you want to strike out on your own as a backcountry traveler, or to stay at a lodge nearby and enjoy Denali on day hikes and by shuttle bus. Either option requires some individual advance planning or simply contact us and book one of our package tours with hotel or backcountry lodge overnights, railroad transportation from Anchorage and sightseeing tours.
Talkeetna: For the ultimate mountain sightseeing adventure, take a flight from Talkeetna and land on a glacier—if you're early enough in the summer, you can fly onto the Kahiltna Glacier, where teams attempting to summit the mountain gather. Mount McKinley: There are a dozen places between Anchorage and Fairbanks that boast the best viewing of Mt. McKinley. At 20,320 feet, McKinley is the highest peak in North America, and just about any place within 100 mi can be deemed a good viewing area. The crown jewel of Alaska is often shrouded in clouds, but even a glimpse will reveal the sheer size of the snow-covered giantess.
If you don't arrive in Alaska by cruise ship, make a point of taking a ferry trip along the longest, deepest fjord in North America. Depending on which ferry you take, the trip from Juneau to Skagway can be two or six hours long. We recommend taking your time. In the summer the tall peaks surrounding the boats release hundreds of waterfalls from snow and glacial melt. If you're lucky, you'll see pods of orcas, humpbacks, and dolphins. Mt. Roberts, Juneau: The tram takes you up the mountain and, if the weather cooperates, offers great views of the area. It's another cruise-ship favorite, but at least you can have a quick beer as you soak in the scenery. Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau: This drive-up glacier comes complete with visitor center, educational exhibits, nature trails, and, when the cruise ships are in town, lots of bused-in tourists. Don't let the crush of visitors dissuade you from stopping by, though—it's a great resource for learning about glacier dynamics and the natural forces that have shaped Alaska. Glacier Bay National Park | Gustavus: Whether you view this natural wonder by air, boat, or on foot, Glacier Bay is well worth the effort and expense it takes to get there. Gustavus is the gateway to Glacier Bay, the place that the father of the national parks system, John Muir, called "unspeakably pure and sublime" in 1879. It is considered by many to be 70 mi of the finest sea kayaking in the world. The first 24 square mi comprise the Beardslee Islands, a complex system for kayakers who glide atop flat water between tides, enveloped in silence except for the sound of water slapping paddles, the soft spray from a nearby porpoise, and the howl of a wolf in the distance. And you'll likely be enjoying these sights with no other travelers nearby. Still, kayaking in this region presents challenges. There is a lively population of moose and bears on the islands, so it is imperative to choose wisely when setting up camp. Most visitors kayak only to the top of the Beardslees, which can take three to five days round-trip. Alaska Marine Highway System: The ferry provides access twice a week to Gustavus.
Kenai Fjords National Park: Photogenic Seward is the gateway to the 670,000-acre Kenai Fjords National Park. This is spectacular coastal parkland incised with sheer, dark, slate cliffs rising from the sea, ribboned with white waterfalls, and tufted with deep-green spruce. Kenai Fjords presents a rare opportunity for an up-close view of blue tidewater glaciers as well as some remarkable ocean wildlife. Seward, Exit Glacier: You can take a short, easy walk to view this glacier, or if you're in the mood for a challenge, hike the steep trail onto the enormous Harding Icefield. Scan the nearby cliffs for mountain goats and watch for bears. Seward Sea-Life Center: Spend an afternoon at the Alaska SeaLife Center, with massive cold-water tanks and outdoor viewing decks as well as interactive displays of cold-water fish, seabirds, and marine mammals, including harbor seals and a 2,000-pound sea lion. A research center as well as visitor center, it also rehabilitates injured marine wildlife and provides educational experiences for the general public. Appropriately, the center was partially funded with reparations money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Films, hands-on activities, a gift shop, and behind-the-scenes tours ($12 and up) complete the offerings. Homer: at the southern end of the Sterling Highway lies the city of Homer, at the base of a narrow spit that juts 4 mi into beautiful Kachemak Bay. Glaciers and snowcapped mountains form a dramatic backdrop across the water. Protruding into Kachemak Bay, Homer Spit provides a sandy focal point for visitors and locals. A paved path stretches most of the 4 mi and is great for biking or walking. A commercial-fishing-boat harbor at the end of the path has restaurants, hotels, charter-fishing businesses, sea-kayaking outfitters, art galleries, and on-the-beach camping spots. Fly a kite, walk the beaches, drop a line in the Fishing Hole, or just wander through the shops looking for something interesting; this is one of Alaska's favorite summertime destinations.Kachemak Bay: abounds with wildlife, including a large population of puffins and eagles. Tour operators take you past bird rookeries or across the bay to gravel beaches for clam digging. Most fishing charters include an opportunity to view whales, seals, porpoises, and birds close up. At the end of the day, walk along the docks on Homer Spit and watch commercial fishing boats and charter boats unload their catch. Halibut Cove: Directly across from the end of Homer Spit is Halibut Cove, a small artists' community. Spend a relaxing afternoon or evening meandering along the boardwalk and visiting galleries. The cove is lovely, especially during salmon runs, when fish leap and splash in the clear water. Several lodges are on this side of the bay, on pristine coves away from summer crowds. The Danny J ferries people across from Homer Spit, with a stop at the rookery at Gull Island and two or three hours to walk around Halibut Cove. The ferry makes two trips daily: the first leaves Homer at 12:00 pm and returns at 5:00 pm, and the second leaves at 5:00 pm and returns at 10:00 pm.
Sea Kayaking is big among Alaskans. It was the Aleuts who invented the kayak (or bidarka) for fishing and hunting marine mammals. When early explorers encountered the Aleuts, they compared them to sea creatures, so at home did they appear on their small ocean craft. Kayaks have the great advantage of portability. More stable than canoes, they also give you a feel for the water and a view from water level. Oceangoing kayakers will find plenty of offshore Alaska adventures, especially in the protected waters of the Southeast, Prince William Sound, and Kenai Fjords National Park. The variety of Alaska marine life that you can view from a sea kayak is astonishing. It's possible to see whales, seals, sea lions, and sea otters, as well as bird species too numerous to list. Although caution is required when dealing with large stretches of open water, the truly Alaskan experience of self-propelled boating in a pristine ocean environment can be a life-changing thrill. The Fishing: In summer salmon fill the rivers, which you can fish with a guide, from your own boat, or from the bank. Fishing for halibut and rockfish is also possible from charter boats out of Homer or Seward.
The most popular attraction in the wintertime doesn't charge admission or have set viewing times. The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) seem to appear without rhyme or reason. There is a science to it, but explanations are still hotly debated by meteorologists, astronomers, and pretty-color enthusiasts. Seeing the northern lights requires that there be no nearby city light, very little moonlight, the cold fall and winter months, and a lot of luck. Hot springs outside Fairbanks keep the hopeful warm while they watch the skies. There is something about the incongruous number of hours of sunlight and darkness Alaska gets that makes Alaskans yearn to break the rules of time. When you arrive in Alaska you may feel inclined to do the same. In many parts of the state bars still stay open all night long, fishermen can be sitting on the ice all hours of the night, and some people ski best when the witching hour strikes. At Alyeska Ski Resort in Girdwood, skiers can take the lift and bite the powder under the stars. On weekends this popular ski resort offers night skiing, and afterwards, in the bar, rewards its visitors with live, high-energy, danceable music. This provides a good look at local Alaskan culture, as it caters to tourists and residents alike.
Katmai National Park | Brooks River: When people come to Alaska they want to see bears. Yet most visitors never get a glimpse, because bears prefer their privacy. But at Katmai National Park, which boasts the largest brown bear population in the world, you're almost guaranteed a photograph of bears doing bear things. Remember, although they look cute, their teeth and claws are still mighty sharp.
Kodiak Island: The 1.9-million-acre Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge lies mostly on Kodiak Island and neighboring Afognak and Uganik islands, in the Gulf of Alaska. All are part of the Kodiak Archipelago, separated from Alaska's mainland by the stormy Shelikof Strait. Within the refuge are rugged mountains, tundra meadows and lowlands, thickly forested hills that are enough different shades of green to make a leprechaun cry, plus lakes, marshes, and hundreds of miles of pristine coastland. No place in the refuge is more than 15 mi from the ocean. The weather here is generally wet and cool, and storms born in the North Pacific often bring heavy rains. Dozens of species of birds flock to the refuge each spring and summer, including Aleutian terns, horned puffins, black oystercatchers, ravens, ptarmigan, and chickadees. At least 600 pairs of bald eagles live on the islands, building the world's largest bird nests on shoreline cliffs and in tall trees. Seeing the Kodiak brown bears alone is worth the trip to this rugged country. When they emerge from their dens in spring, the bears chow down on some skunk cabbage to wake their stomachs up, have a few extra salads of sedges and grasses, and then feast on the endless supply of fish when salmon return. About the time they start thinking about hibernating again the berries are ripe (they may eat 2,000 or more berries a day). Kodiak brown bears, the biggest brown bears anywhere, sometimes topping out at more than 1,500 pounds, share the refuge with only a few other land mammals: red foxes, river otters, short-tailed weasels, and tundra voles. Six species of Pacific salmon - chums, kings, pinks, silvers, sockeyes, and steelhead—return to Kodiak's waters from May to October. Other resident species include rainbow trout, Dolly Varden (an anadromous trout waiting for promotion to salmon), and arctic char. The abundance of fish and bears makes the refuge popular with anglers, hunters, and wildlife-watchers.
Lake Clark National Park | Redoubt Bay When the weather is good, an idyllic choice beyond the Mat-Su Valley is the 3.4-million-acre Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, on the Alaska Peninsula and a short flight from Anchorage or Kenai and Soldotna. The parklands stretch from the coast to the heights of two grand volcanoes: Mt. Iliamna and Mt. Redoubt (which made headlines in 2009 when it erupted, sending ash floating over the region), both topping out above 10,000 feet. The country in between holds glaciers, waterfalls, and turquoise-tinted lakes. The 50-mi-long Lake Clark, filled by runoff waters from the mountains that surround it, is an important spawning ground for thousands of red (sockeye) salmon. The river-running is superb in this park. You can make your way through dark forests of spruce and balsam poplars or hike over the high, easy-to-travel tundra. The animal life is profuse: look for bears, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, wolverines, foxes, beavers, and mink on land; seals, sea otters, and white (or beluga) whales offshore. Wildflowers embroider the meadows and tundra in spring, and wild roses bloom in the shadows of the forests. Plan your trip to Lake Clark for the end of June or early July, when the insects may be less plentiful. Or consider late August or early September, when the tundra glows with fall colors.
In a land of many grand and spectacularly beautiful mountains, those in the 9.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve are possibly the finest of them all. This extraordinarily compact cluster of immense peaks belongs to four different mountain ranges. Rising through many ecozones, the Wrangell-St. Elias Park and Preserve is largely undeveloped wilderness parkland on a grand scale. The area is perfect mountain-biking and primitive-hiking terrain, and the rivers invite rafting for those with expedition experience. The mountains attract climbers from around the world; most of them fly in from Glennallen or Yakutat. The nearby abandoned Kennicott Mine is one of the park's main visitor attractions. The open pit mine is reminiscent of ancient Greek amphitheatres, and the abandoned structures are as impressive as the mountains they stand against.
Tucked into the east side of the Kenai Peninsula, the sound is a peaceful escape from the throngs of people congesting the towns and highways. Enhanced with steep fjords, green enshrouded waterfalls, and calving tidewater glaciers, Prince William Sound is a stunning arena. It has a convoluted coastline, in that it is riddled with islands, which makes it hard to discern just how vast the area is. The sound covers almost 15,000 square mi—more than 12 times the size of Rhode Island—and is home to more than 150 glaciers. The sound is vibrantly alive with all manner of marine life, including salmon, halibut, humpback and orca whales, sea otters, sea lions, and porpoises. Bald eagles are easily seen soaring above, and often brown and black bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, and gray wolves can be spotted on the shore.
Unfortunately, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 heavily damaged parts of the sound, and oil still washes up on shore after high tides and storms. The original spill had a devastating effect on both animal and human lives. What lasting effect this lurking oil will have on the area is still being studied and remains a topic of much debate. Bring your rain gear, Prince William Sound receives more than 150 inches of rain per year. The sound is best explored by charter boat or guided excursion out of Whittier, Cordova, or Valdez. Even though the waters are mostly protected, open stretches are common, and the fickle Alaska weather can fool even experienced boaters. From the road system, Whittier and Valdez are your best bets for finding charter outfits.
A visit to Columbia Glacier, which flows from the surrounding Chugach Mountains, should certainly be on your Valdez agenda. Its deep aquamarine face is 5 mi across, and it calves icebergs with resounding cannonades. This glacier is one of the largest and most readily accessible of Alaska's coastal glaciers. The state ferry travels past the face of the glacier, and scheduled tours of the glaciers and the rest of the sound are available by boat and aircraft from Valdez, Cordova, and Whittier.
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