Project Alaska (Part 7): The Final Itinerary

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The Park Chasers are heading to Alaska! This is the seventh installment in the “Project Alaska” series on how to prepare for an unforgettable Alaskan vacation. Check out our first few posts on choosing dates for your trip, selecting a base camp, traveling North of the Arctic Circle, Visiting Gates of the Arctic National Park, and Denali National Park.   With millions of acres of national parks to explore, follow along with us as we plan our next Park Chasing adventure. 

This week marks 80 days before we leave on our summer Alaskan vacation. We’ve been steadily checking things off our planning checklist, including booking camping reservations and planning day hikes.  In our last updates, we shared plans for visits to Gates of the Arctic National Park and Denali National Park.  Since then, we’ve added Wrangell-St. Elias and Kenai Fjords National Parks to the list.  We’ve also added a glacier hike, bush plane flight, and plenty of day hikes.

While our itinerary is subject to change (flexibility is a must when in Alaska!), today we’re sharing our final route.  We hope it will be helpful for anyone planning a future Alaska vacation.  We also hope that anyone with Alaskan experience can help us fill in any gaps.

 Project Alaska 2017:  The Final Itinerary

Day One: MSP > FAIRBANKS

  • Depart Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport for Fairbanks, AK.
  • Arrive in the evening and head to the campground for our first night of vacation!

Day Two:  FAIRBANKS > GATES

  • Weather permitting, we’ll take a chartered flight seeing tour from Fairbanks to Gates of the Arctic National Park.  It’s the northernmost park in the National Park Service and the second largest.  We’re hoping to have lunch near the Gates themselves, see one of the six Wild and Scenic Rivers in the park, and potentially the migrating caribou heard that frequents the park.
  • Afternoon visit to The Alaska Public Lands Information Center in Fairbanks for #parkstamps and hiking recommendations.

Day Three:  FAIRBANKS

  • Morning to explore Fairbanks, including the Farmers’ Market and Pioneer Park.
  • Afternoon Riverboat Discovery Tour  along the Chena River.  The Chena has been a critical waterway throughout Alaskan history.

Day Four:  FAIRBANKS

  • “Buffer” Day if our flightseeing tour is not possible on Day Two. Most tour operators recommend at least 1-2 flexible days in your schedule for when the unpredictable Alaskan weather prevents flying.
  •  Options on our buffer day:  University of Alaska’s Museum of the North, photo ops with the Trans Alaska pipeline, hiking near the Chena hot springs

Day Five:  FAIRBANKS > DENALI

  • Depart Fairbanks for Denali National Park.  Set up camp at the Riley Creek Campground.
  • Pick up #parkstamps at the Visitor’s Center and check out the famous Sled dog kennels.
  • Afternoon hike around one of the self-guided trails near the entrance.

Day Six:  DENALI

  • Wake up at 5 AM for the Kantishna bus experience.  While the National Park Service offers several bus tours, this 11-12 hour bus ride is the only one to travel the entire length of the Denali park road.  We’ll travel the 92 miles to the end of the road, stopping for hiking and photos before returning late in the day.

Day Seven:  DENALI

  • Hiking. Hiking. And more hiking in Denali.

Day Eight: DENALI > WRANGELL ST. ELIAS

  • Pack up camp and drive south towards Copper Center and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.  This is the largest national park in the National Park Service.
  • Hiking in Denali State Park and stops in Wasilla, AK and Willow, AK along the way.
  • Arrive at Wrangell St. Elias in the late afternoon and stop at the visitor’s center for #parkstamps and hiking information.
  • Spend the night in the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge in Copper Center.

Day Nine:  WRANGELL ST. ELIAS > ANCHORAGE

  • Early morning hike in Wrangell St. Elias National Park or drive to the Chitna Ranger Station.
  • Depart late morning for an afternoon glacier trek on the Matanuska Glacier.  The Matanuska Glacier is the largest glacier accessible by car in North America.  We’ve hired a guide to take us on a 3.5 hour hike to explore the crevasses and ice formations.
  • Arrive at AirBNB in Anchorage for our first night in a bed in 9 days!

Day Ten: ANCHORAGE

  • “Buffer” Day to catch up on laundry, re-stock our groceries and catch our breath for the second half of the trip.  It will be near the 4th of July by this day so we’ll also be checking out a midnight baseball game and fireworks in Anchorage.
  • If we’re feeling ambitious, we have three day-hike options within a 20 minute drive of Anchorage.
  • Night in AirBNB in Anchorage.

Day Eleven:  ANCHORAGE > KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK

  • Pack up early for our drive to Kenai Fjords National Park and the Kenai Peninsula. Hike near the Byron Glacier along the way.
  • Drive the longest tunnel in North America, the Whittier Tunnel.
  • Arrive in Kenai Fjords and visit the park headquarters to collect our #parkstamps.
  • Check into AirBnB cabin in Seward.

Day Twelve:  KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK

  • Glacier boat tour with a National Park Service ranger.  Hoping for some whale watching and glacier calving on our 7.5 hour boat ride around Resurrection Bay.
  • Early bedtime at the cabin – the alarm rings early in the morning!

Day Thirteen:  KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK

  • Wake up 4 AM to arrive at our chartered salmon fishing boat by 5 AM.  The salmon will be in-between runs at this time so we’ll either be fishing the Kenai River or out in Resurrection Bay.

Day Fourteen:  KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK

  • Our last full day in Alaska will end with our most anticipated hike.  The Harding Ice Field is one of the most well-known hikes in Kenai Fjords National Park.  It’s a strenuous 6-8 hour day, but hikers are rewarded with stunning views of the Exit Glacier and the entire Kenai Peninsula.
  • Afternoon in Seward for last-minute souvenirs and packing.

Day Fifteen:  KENAI > ANC > MSP

  • Leave Seward by 8 AM to travel back to Anchorage.
  • Depart Anchorage for Minnesota!

 

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