DAYS 35 – 58: ALASKA
Crossing over the Yukon River on a short ferry ride you will then drive the “Top of the World Highway”. As you make your way to the town of Tok, there are many remnants of old mining sites throughout these wooded areas. As you reach the highway’s apex, Poker Creek border crossing awaits you. This is the most northerly land border in the USA, and it is an experience that few have had the pleasure of! Then it’s down the hill to Chicken, Alaska. Chicken, Alaska?? Why would they call it that? You’ll just have to visit to find out!
The next day a beautiful drive surrounded by the Wrangell and Chugach Mountains and the Matanuska Glacier will take you to Anchorage where you will stay for three nights. Anchorage is a lively city that houses almost 50% of Alaska’s population of 730,000. Although it is the most populous city in Alaska, it isn’t the capital (that would be Juneau). Throughout the summer there are multiple festivals and nightly live music, and there is plenty to do in Anchorage including city tours, museums, the Coastal Trail bike ride, hiking Flattop Mountain and much more! This is a city unlike most others, it is located right in the heart of the wilderness, and over 1,000 moose, 250 black bears and 100 grizzly bears also call the city their home!
From Anchorage your overland tour turns south, heading for the Kenai Peninsula, and the town of Seward which is a half-day drive from Anchorage. After you arrive in Seward you will have the afternoon free to explore the town’s scenic waterfront. The next day you will experience the beautiful Kenai Fjords National Park by boat, cruising for 6 hours among glaciers and wildlife. After hopefully spotting as much wildlife as possible, including orcas, humpback whales and sea lions, you will see a calving glacier!
A visit to Seward would not be complete without hiking alongside the picturesque Exit Glacier with a high probability of seeing a few of the local black bear feeding on some berries. The 8.2 mile / 13km round trip up to the Harding Icefield is a spectacular day hike. Starting on the valley floor, the trail winds through cottonwood and alder forests, passes through heather-filled meadows and ultimately climbs well above the tree line to a breath-taking view of the Harding Icefield. The top of the trail is a window to past ice ages – a horizon of ice and snow that stretches as far as the eye can see. If you don’t feel prepared to do the full hike, there are shorter options with equally breath-taking views.
From Seward you head across to the western side of the Kenai Peninsula to the town of Homer, on the shores of Kachemak Bay. En route you will stop off for some scenic photo stops and short hikes. Depending on the time of year you might stop to watch the salmon running up Russian River or visit one of the Orthodox churches overlooking the volcanoes on the other side of the bay.
Homer is the launch point for your 2-night Adventure Camp, but this artist-inspired town is also a great place to explore with its many galleries. You will be arriving quite early so you will have enough time to explore the picturesque fishing town including the Salty Dawg Saloon’s lighthouse which is a great place to sit belly-up to the bar along with posting your dollar bill on the ceiling or wall so that your friend, who will be by later, will have a drink on you.
Your 2-night Adventure Camp starts with a boat ride from Homer to Seldovia, landing on a lovely and relatively untouched beach of the peninsula. Camping is done in canvas tents with beds and all the amenities you’ll need. There is a beautiful main house where meals, comfortable chairs, coffee and tea are always on tap. From there, venture out into the pristine wilderness and explore the many coves and trails. The next day you’ll have a half-day of sea kayaking around Seldovia Bay, frequently visited by sea otters and harbour seals, and watched overhead by bald and golden eagles. One of the evenings, the owner Tony, will be serving his famous salmon dinner for you!
On your final morning at the Adventure Camp you can either go on the optional flight to Katmai National Park / Lake Clark to see the famous grizzly bears, or take the water taxi back to Homer to have a few hours in the town before heading off to Hope. Hope is a quaint little town overlooking Cook Inlet / Turnagain Arm, yet there is still plenty to do here from gold panning to hiking and bird watching. On summer weekends there might be some live concerts going on in the local fisherman’s bar. You will camp for the night on the edge of Cook Inlet.
It’s only a short drive from Hope around the Turnagain Arm back to Anchorage. En route you will stop at the famous Beluga Point where, if you are lucky, you will get the chance to see Beluga Whales or Dall Sheep. In the afternoon you will have time to explore downtown Anchorage.
From Anchorage your North American overland tour once again turns north, this time heading for Denali National Park. Whether it’s flora or fauna you came to see, this is the place to fulfil your hopes of seeing large and small wild animals living as they have for ages. After setting up camp you will have two full days to have the opportunity to take the bus ride through the national park along its only road and hopefully spot bears, moose, caribou or wolves. For those wanting a heart pounding and more strenuous adventure, you’ll have the opportunity for trailblazing through the park’s 6 million acres. No trip would be complete without adding the optional activity of flying over Denali National Park and around Mt Denali (20,320 feet / 6,194m). Enjoy evenings around the campfire listening to the sounds of the night and telling your adventures of the day.
From Denali you drive the lightly travelled Denali Highway. First opened in 1957, this dirt road was the first to access Denali National Park (then known as Mt McKinley National Park). Located in the Maclaren River valley, you traverse through high alpine country on the state’s second highest highway pass. Here lies the Maclaren River Lodge run by Alan & Susie who are fantastic hosts that will take you on a boat ride up to “the Glacier Camp”. Now your group is out in the wilderness on your own, with no mobile phone reception and no roads! Here you’ll stay overnight exploring and camping out underneath the stars. The next morning you’ll take a casual canoe trip back down the river and enjoy a night at this beautifully situated lodge.
Leaving the lodge behind you will visit the largest national park in the United States, Wrangell / St Elias National Park. Here you will camp at the “End of the Road” campground, literally at the end of the McCarthy Road. These 60 miles of gravel road were built along the old Copper River and Northwestern railways. Most remnants left of this once thriving area were a part of the copper mines, but most people forget this was where the last great gold rush happened in Alaska. There are many optional activities like hiking, ice climbing, glacier walks, guided mine tours, rafting and scenic flights around 16,000ft peaks, 25-mile long glaciers and massive icefalls, so you have two full days of free time here to decide what to do: take the historical tour and get carried away by the gold rush, hike on your own in the beautiful surroundings, or try some crazy outdoor stuff like ice climbing, guided glacier hikes or white water rafting.
From the national park your overland tour turns south-west as you travel to Valdez. This is the terminus of the 800-mile trans-Alaskan pipeline that begins in Prudhoe Bay in the Arctic Circle on Alaska’s north coast. Valdez is an important gateway to the interior of Alaska. The town was brought to the forefront of international media in March 1989 when the Exxon Valdez ran aground causing an 11-million gallon oil spill. For many years, flora and fauna were devastated by this environmental catastrophe. Thankfully order has been restored and the Chugach Mountains set a gorgeous backdrop to this quaint little town. On the first afternoon when you arrive you will find fantastic hiking opportunities just a short walk from town, or if you have had enough hiking for now, there is enough to explore in the history-filled town. The next day is focussed on optional activities. Highly recommended is the Columbia Glacier sea kayaking where you will find beautiful scenery, mammoth icebergs and the possibility of spotting all kinds of wildlife. In the evenings you will venture out to see if you can find some bears feeding on salmon as Valdez is well known for visiting bears who come to the local salmon fish hatchery and the surrounding creeks.
From Valdez you will embark on your final drive of this epic North American overland tour. After crossing the Thompson Pass with stunning views of the Worthington Glacier, and stopping off at Matanuska Glacier for lunch, you will return to Anchorage in the late afternoon where your tour ends.