The Great Alaska Tour
The Great Alaska Tour is what visitors come to expect when thinking of this most unchartered of lands. 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 the coastal town of Valdez on Prince William Sound.
- 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.
Homer remains a hidden treasure until the very last moment, when the road into the town curves along the bluffs overlooking Kachemak Bay; a truly incredible panorama of mountains topped with white peaks, glaciers and the famous Homer Split that stretches into the Bay beyond. Homer’s position means it is protected to the north and east by the Kenai Mountains and is rewarded with an exceptionally mild climate and is a great place to spend some time on your Alaskan adventure.
Homer is often regarded as the cultural capital of Southcentral Alaska. It has a wide range of restaurants and many art galleries and museums as well as a live theatre and music venues. You may also opt to take a water taxi across the bay to Kachemak Bay State Park, a 350,000-acre paradise of glaciers, mountains and protected coves for paddling or kayaking. The Homer Spit is a hive of activity during summer; take a boat trip to catch record-breaking halibut, go fishing for salmon from the Fishing Hole or watch for bald eagles from the beach.
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.
The town of Wasilla is best known as the headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and most recently gained attention following Sarah Palin’s involvement in the 2008 Presidential Election. The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race Headquarters, outside of Wasilla, is a log cabin museum featuring video exhibits displays and race paraphernalia. The Knik Museum & Sled Dog Musher's Hall of Fame is also worth a visit. Many Iditarod racers offer tours of their kennels and mushing demonstrations during the summer. Wasilla also serves as a gateway to the alpine adventure and beauty of Hatcher Pass. At 3,886 feet in elevation, the pass is above the tree line and a popular destination for its views of the stunning Talkeetna Mountains and Independence Mine State Historical Park.
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.
The town of Valdez is located in the heart of Prince William Sound and is surrounded by the world’s tallest coastal mountains; an outdoor lovers’ paradise. The areas is filled with glaciers, stunning mountain scenery, many opportunities to view marine wildlife as well as outdoor activities such as fishing and kayaking among the icebergs and seals.
Take the Mineral Creek Trail up into the mountains to see mining ruins from days gone by or the Shoup Bay Trail follows Port Valdez round to views of glaciers. You could also take a day-cruise 25 miles west to Columbia Glacier, the second-largest tidewater glacier in North America, with a face as high as a football field. Daredevils can also go white-water rafting on the Lowe River through the impressive Keystone Canyon in the summer and heli-skiing or ice climbing in winter.
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!
Denali National Park
Today, 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. Another option could be to travel onwards from Fairbanks aboard the ‘Denali Star’ train.
“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.
Today, make your way back towards Anchorage for your onward flight tomorrow. If you opted to travel to Denali by train, you will have the luxury of travelling the final leg of your trip relaxing on-board. Travelling by train allows 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.
- 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 May to September.