Project Alaska (Part II): Choosing your Base Camp
The ParkChasers are heading to Alaska! This is the second installment in a series on how to prepare for an unforgettable Alaskan vacation. Check out our first post on choosing the dates for your trip. With millions of acres of national parks to explore, follow along with us as we plan our next adventure!
Here are the hard facts:
- At just over 663,000 square miles Alaska is twice the size of Texas, Montana and California combined.
- Alaska is 1420 miles from its farthest point North to South and 2500 miles east to west.
- Alaska has 19 peaks higher than 14,000 feet. 17 of the 20 highest mountains in the United States are in Alaska.
- Alaska has 6,640 miles of coastline. Including all of its islands, there are more than 33,900 miles of shoreline, which is double the amount in the Lower 48 states.
- Where the ParkChasers live in Minnesota we are very proud to be the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” Alaska has over 3 million lakes. Yes, 3 million lakes.
We typically see Alaska on a map smashed somewhere between San Diego and the bottom of the page or right next to a box with tiny Hawaii. But Alaska is HUGE. There’s no way to see everything in a 14 day trip and some tough choices about what to see when we get there will have to be made. We got started with a geography lesson:
Base Camp Regions in Alaska
Alaska has 5 (or 6) different regions depending on your source:
- Far North – most of the area north of the Arctic Circle
- Interior – Fairbanks and the surrounding area
- Southwest – Aleutian Islands and Dutch Harbor (Some split this area into the Western and Southwestern for the 6th region)
- South Central – Anchorage and surrounding area
- Southeast – Juneau and the rest of the lower “tail” of Alaska
Each region has distinct land and water environments and its own collection of national parks. Choosing which regions to travel to is just as important as deciding when to go to Alaska. Knowing a bit about each region will help you decide what fits best with your vacation.
Use the best flights to decide
For Parkchasers, we looked at where we could get a reasonably priced flights in June and July. In Alaska the largest airports are located in the three largest cities, Fairbanks (Interior), Anchorage (South Central), and Juneau (Southeast). Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Juneau all have at least 30,000 people and each are close to several national park units. Choosing one of these cities to be our base camp region (and then taking multi-day excursions from there) seemed to be our best and most affordable option.
From St. Paul, ParkChasers is able to get a direct flight into Anchorage. One or two stops if we fly to Juneau or Fairbanks. While we’re willing to take longer for travel time on the front end, the appeal of a non-stop flight back home has us leaning towards splitting our time between one region and then ending our trip in the South Central region to fly from Anchorage.
Use your Alaskan activities list to decide
In our first post we decided what dates to travel based on the things we wanted to do on vacation. While we want to chase as many parks as possible, hiking a glacier, salmon fishing, and venturing north of the Arctic Circle are also on our list. The South Central and Interior regions have two of the top three and many of the outfitters for Far North trips fly from Fairbanks and Anchorage anyway.
Once the flights were scouted and the activities list planned, we had a clearer route for not one but two base camps for our 14 day trip. Fairbanks and Anchorage are a 6-hour drive from each other (with Denali National Park in the middle). Fairbanks will serve as our base camp for our Far North and Denali visit. Anchorage will be our base camp for salmon fishing, glacier tours and visits to Kenai Fjords, Lake Clark, and Katmai National Parks. Splitting the time between the two areas maximizes the number of park service units we can see in one trip but keeps the costs and time of traveling low.
Now we’ve got a rough route it’s time to start sketching out a day by day itinerary!