Alaska's Natural Wonders
Alaska’s Natural Wonders is a great option for your first trip to Alaska. Beginning in the State Capitol of Anchorage, this tour travels as far north as Denali National Park and the city of Fairbanks, from which you can choose to travel as far as the Arctic Circle. This tour also takes in Seward and the Kenai Fjords National Park as well as Alaska’s only resort hotel, in Girdwood, in the shadow of Mount Alyeska and the gold-mining ghost town of Kennicott and neighbouring McCarthy.
- Denali National Park
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and is a thriving metropolis amid a somewhat unlikely setting among the Chugach Mountains and the vast wilderness beyond. The city does, however boast many restaurants, art galleries and shopping opportunities as well as a growing arts and music scene. The Anchorage Museum and Alaska Native Heritage Centre showcase an impressive display depicting 10,000 years of Alaskan history and culture.
As you may expect in Alaska, away from the bustling city centre, the opportunities to view wildlife are plentiful. Make sure to visit the resident 1,000-strong moose population as well as Alaska Conservation Centre and Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary. You can also go fishing for world-famous Alaskan salmon at Ship Creek or go “skijording” (skiing whilst being towed by a dog!). Whilst here, don’t forget to take in the beautiful scenery of Chugach State Park from Flattop Mountain, pan for gold at Crow Creek Mine or take a day trip to Prince William Sound, a 3,125 square mile area of protected waterways, islands, fjords and glaciers. From here, you may be lucky enough to spot whales, sea otters or bears.
Situated on the Kenai Peninsula at the head of Resurrection Bay, Seward is a scenic and historic town with a lively harbour and unparalleled natural beauty. Take a wildlife and sightseeing cruise over to the Kenai Fjords National Park and witness calving glaciers and an abundance of wildlife, including wolves, black and brown bears, sea lions, otters and whales. As many as 191 species of birds have also been seen here. Snow and ice cover 60% of the park, and lining the edge is the vast Harding Icefield. From the massive icefield, countless tidewater glaciers pour down, carving valleys that fill with seawater to form stunning fjords and icebergs the size of small houses. Also make sure to visit Exit Glacier, a road-accessible glacier that offers an impressive up-close view as well as many hiking trails. In Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park, visitors can also go kayaking, fishing, hiking, biking, snowmobiling and dog-sledding; also worth a visit is the Alaska SeaLife Centre.
Girdwood is home to Alaska’s only resort, Alyeska. Ride the tram at the Resort to the top of Mount Alyeska. The fine dining restaurant and museum here overlook dramatic views of the Turnagain Arm and seven glaciers. In the winter, ski down or take an easy stroll to the bottom or take the tram.
The most impressive hike in the area is known as the Crow Pass Trail, a stunning alpine hike that features gold mining relics, a glacier and alpine lake; you can usually see Dall sheep grazing on the slopes above. You can also go mountain-biking, rock-climbing, para-gliding and dog-sledding, even in the summer.
Girdwood also hosts the annual Girdwood Forest Fair, a popular summer festival held the first weekend of July, which features crafts and artwork by the abundance of artists who live in the area as well as food, games and home-grown music.
Located in the Matanuska (Mat-Su) Valley, Talkeetna is a town not to miss. The town rests in the shadow of the mighty Mount Denali and was once a gold-mining centre. It has proudly held onto much of its authentic Alaskan ‘flavour’ from that time; Main Street, at the centre of town is the only paved street here!
Whilst in Talkeetna, keen hikers may want to take on the challenge of climbing the imposing Mount Denali. The history of Denali and the first brave enough to scale the peak are well preserved in the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum. You can also take the opportunity to take a “flight-seeing” tour from the local airstrip; these scenic flights of the mountain and the Alaska Range are awe-inspiring; many also offer glacier landings.
Whilst Denali is the areas’ biggest attraction, there are many other activities to tempt visitors, including boat tours up Talkeetna and Devils Canyon, fishing opportunities and horseback excursions along trails with fantastic views of the surrounding landscapes.
Denali National Park
This morning, make the drive to Denali National Park, comprising an area larger the entire state of Massachusetts, for what is sure to be a highlight of the trip. “Denali” is the Athabascan name for Mount McKinley, meaning “the high one”. There are so many opportunities for fun here, including hiking, rock- and ice-climbing, photography, wildlife viewing, nature walks, horseback treks and river excursions. During the winter, visitors can often also see the Northern Lights.
Take a guided tour into the park’s wilderness, on the 91-mile scenic road through the park you’ll have the opportunity to see the beautiful views surrounding Wonder Lake, Savage River, Polychrome Pass, the Outer Range, Sanctuary River and Muldrow Glacier. You could also choose to walk or bike or take a bus through the park but the park is closed to private vehicles. Whilst travelling, look out for some of the 37 species of mammals found in the park, including lynx and showshoe hares. If you see wolves, grizzly and brown bears, caribou and moose during your trip, you’ll have scored a “Denali Slam” of the top five animals to see in the park. Up to 130 different bird species can also be found here throughout the year including bald eagles, great-horned owls and ptarmigan. Make sure visit the Eielson Visitor Centre to learn about the cultural and natural resources of the area; with viewing areas, exhibits and interpretive displays, a stop here would greatly enhance your visit.
Fairbanks is Alaska’s second largest city and is known for its extremes of light, warmth, dark and cold. Temperatures as low as -52°c have been recorded here in the winter months. In the summer, temperatures as high as 27°c are possible. Fairbanks also enjoys up to 22 hours of sunlight per day in the summer. The city offers much for visitors to see and do throughout the year, from watching spectacular Northern Lights to going rafting down the meandering Chena River. Make sure to visit Pioneer Park, celebrating the area’s gold-mining history and the University of Alaska Museum of the North, widely regarded as one of the best museums in the state.
As it is further north, Fairbanks also acts as a gateway to the Interior of Alaska and the Arctic. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is accessible by small plane and any trip along the famous Dalton Highway to Prudhoe Bay – also known as the “Haul Road” – begins here. This road is one of the most challenging roads in Alaska but if you choose to brave it, you will be rewarded with several exciting sites along the way, including crossing the Yukon River and the Arctic Circle. The Chena River State Recreation Area is a great place to hike, eight miles from the park, hikers will find Chena Hot Springs Resort, where you can rest tired feet!
Kennicott and McCarthy are located deep within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve and are a 30 minute flight from Chitina, which has a small airport ready to ferry you to experience a true taste of Alaska’s historic mining era. After copper was discovered here in 1900, the Kennecott Copper Corporation was formed and headquartered here. If Kennicott was the town where employees worked, McCarthy was sent up as the town where they could play. Today, Kennicott is a ghost town frozen in time; when the Corporation abruptly left the town in 1938, they left behind their equipment, buildings and personal belongings. See what it is like to live and work in this remote wilderness as you tour the town-site.
Ice climbing is also possible here, the Root Glacier within the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park offers the perfect venue for people of all ages and skill levels to participate in this exhilarating sport. There are several hiking trails which lead from the mine ruins, including the Root Glacier Trail and the Old Mine Trail, a challenging four-mile hike straight up the side up the side of mountain.
The town of Palmer, fourteen miles east of Wasilla, is known as Alaska’s ‘bread-basket’ and produces up to 75% of the state’s total agricultural output. The area has the striking appearance of a Midwestern farming community juxtaposed with alpine paradise. The downtown area of Palmer is very much still in keeping with its 1930s origins; the Colony House Museum is an original farmhouse from the time and is still decorated as it was. To the south of Palmer is the Knik Glacier, which is best experienced on a day trip on an airboat up the Knik River. Many visitors also like to cruise Palmer's back roads past original colony farms. Begin by heading nine miles northeast on the Glenn Highway and then hop on Farm Loop Road and, if it’s mid- to late summer, keep an eye out for roadside vegetable stands.
Today, make your way back towards Anchorage. A great way to travel this last leg of your journey is by train, allowing you to make the most of the stunning Alaskan scenery you pass. The Denali Star, Alaska Railroad’s flagship train, links Anchorage in the south to Denali National Park and Fairbanks further north. The train departs Denali at 12:30 and arrives in Anchorage at 20:00 that evening, making stops in Hurricane, Talkeetna and Wasilla along the way.
Why not treat yourself and upgrade to GoldStar Service, which features a glass-roof, upper-level open air platform; the first of its kind on any rail service in the world. You can enjoy upper level dome car seating and a private outdoor viewing deck. The entire roof of the rail car is curved glass to nearly waist height, giving you unparalleled views of the landscape as you pass. All GoldStar rail cars are also accompanied by a knowledgeable Alaskan tour guide for the duration of your trip. GoldStar Service also includes both lunch and dinner to all passengers.
Once back into Anchorage, make sure to check out any of the exciting attractions you may have missed when you arrived and make the most of your final two nights in Alaska before your flight home.
- International flights from London (please ask if regional airports are required)
- 14 nights’ accommodation and room tax
- Fully insured compact car hire (larger vehicles are available)
- A detailed and comprehensive travel pack with driving instructions and maps
Daily Departures from 15 May to 15 September.