The ParkChasers are heading to Alaska! This is the third installment in a series on how to prepare for an unforgettable Alaskan vacation. Check out our first two posts on choosing the dates for your trip and choosing a base camp for your adventure. With millions of acres of national parks to explore, follow along with us as we plan our next adventure!
Since the beginning of our Alaska planning, we have been tossing around a trip to parks above the Arctic Circle. In the past few weeks it’s become a little more official. We’re definitely heading to the region known as the “Far North” and have been reviewing the options to get there.
North of the Arctic Circle – Travel Plan A:
One idea is to fly into Kotzebue, Alaska and go on a flightseeing tour of the 5 National Park sites in the western half of the Far North region. We would cross off these park units from our list: Bering Land Bridge National Park and Preserve, Cape Krusenstern National Monument, Kobuk Valley National Park and Preserve, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, and Noatak National Preserve. We would also visit the Northwest Arctic Heritage Center to collect the passport stamps for each of these parks.
There are a few different companies offering these National Park flightseeing tours. If we choose this option though, we are limited to approximately 30 minutes on the ground to take some pictures and see what is in the immediate area. Most of the sightseeing will be out the window of the plane and we would get to spend very little time in the park hiking or sightseeing, which is how we typically like to spend our time getting to learn about the area. Weather is also notoriously tricky in this area even in the summer months. We would have to build some extra time in our stay in Kotzebue to make sure we were able to get off the ground, and even then there are no guarantees.
Plan A Details:
- Fly from Anchorage to Kotzebue.
- Arrange a National Park Flightseeing tour across 2 days.
- Visits to 5 park units, weather depending.
- 2017 estimated cost: ~$300 per night for lodging; $4000-5000 total for flights to and from Koztebue and the chartered flight depending on route and if we shared the plane with any other passengers.
North of the Arctic Circle – Travel Plan B:
The second option we’ve researched departs from Fairbanks. In this plan, we spend a day at the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve, including some time to hike and hopefully check in at the Anaktuvuk Pass Ranger Station. Then we would follow up with a night in Barrow, Alaska. Barrow is the northernmost city in the United States and frequently called the “Top of the World.”
In Barrow, the sun does not set from May 10th to August 2nd – an experience you can’t have just anywhere! While the total number of parks we will visit is reduced, we do have the benefit of spending more time in Gates of the Arctic. The trip to Barrow also lets us see more of what life is really like in Alaska. No roads lead to the town and many changes are happening as a result of climate change. Lastly, Travel Plan B gives us a sense of how much time we would really like to spend in the other parks north of the Arctic Circle. We’ve never travelled to places this remote. Hard to know if we’d be satisfied seeing these parks on a flightseeing trip or we’d rather spend a week backpacking or take a rafting tour through each one!
Plan B Details:
- Fly from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Fairbanks
- Arrange a full-day flightseeing tour to Gates of the Arctic National Park.
- Visits to 1 park unit, but for a longer time.
- Fly from Fairbanks to Barrow for 1 night
- 2017 estimated cost: ~$300 per night for lodging in Fairbanks and Barrow; ~$800 per person for 8 hour flight seeing tour to Gates of the Arctic; ~$350 for commercial flight from Fairbanks to Barrow
Questions to Answer:
Some of the things we have left to answer before we finalize our North of the Arctic excursion:
- Cost of the options? – While the flights from Kotzebue are pricey, we could find some others to share the plane and reduce the per person cost to see all of the parks.
- Time commitment required? – We only have a limited amount of time in Alaska and some tours are only offered on certain days of the week. Considering the weather, we have to build in extra time to make sure our flight seeing tours can get off the ground. Is this longer than we would prefer?
- Availability of flights and timing? – There is only one commercial flight a day to and from Kotzebue, and only a few daily options from Fairbanks to Barrow. If the timing on when our tours are scheduled to depart isn’t quite right, how much extra time (and money on hotel rooms) will we need to spend?
- What is better, fewer parks but more time or more parks and less time? These two options are very different. One gives us a full day in one spot, the other lets us see some of the best of what Alaska has to offer. Weighing these options seems to be the most difficult part of whether Plan A or Plan B is best for us.
For now…we’re planning on following this advice: