Alaska may be my new favorite place to visit! I started planning our trip a few weeks ahead of time. I used Google maps, Trip Advisor, and a few webpages that were results of Google searches. I also asked for recommendations on my Facebook page, which proved to be very helpful.
Anchorage became our launching point for this trip, and next time we’ll fly into Juneau. The south-central area of Alaska has plenty to offer! The three main areas we decided to visit outside of the city were: Girdwood/Alyeska, Cooper Landing, and Seward. We also did a quick day up to the Matanuska Glacier.
Girdwood is a small resort town and is the home to Alyeska ski resort. We still had a great time watching the surfers and Stand up paddle boarders ride the bore tide along the northern shore of Turnagain Arm as we drove into town. We stayed at Ski Inn, a small recently remodeled hostel-style motel. It was great! We had planned to go for a helicopter tour out to Price William Sound with Alpine Air, but the weather didn’t let up while we were in that area. It ended up raining three days in a row. But there was still plenty to do in the rain. Hiking up Crow Creek and crossing the river using the hand cart was a fun and unique experience. The water at the confluence is so vibrant and beautiful. One of my favorite things in the area to see was the mossy forest floor lining the open sections of trees, it so vibrant green! Being from Utah, which is a desert state, it was cool to see such a lush vibrant forest. I brought my drone (DJI Inspire 1) along with us and took the opportunity between rain showers to get it up in the air to get some fun aerial photos. It was cool to fly through the low hanging clouds up the canyon trying to spot wildlife. Apparently a bear had killed a moose in the area the day before and was recently seen by hikers. We didn’t end up seeing any bear or moose in this area however.
Cooper Landing is a small town strewn out along the Kenai River and is known for it’s salmon fishing. Since neither of us are into fishing we decided to do a scenic river rafting trip with Alaska River Adventures. It’s all mellow water with only a couple small rapids so we felt comfortable taking Annie with us. She was a champion too! It ended up raining for most of the 13 miles 4 hours on the water. We were all dressed warm and had our rainsuits on so it wasn’t an issue, but it definitely was as fun as we were hoping. The scenery is fine, but the river runs along the road and ends up not really being a scenic or wild as we hoped. The pictures in the advertisements were of bears and eagles and was a little deceiving. None-the-less we’re glad we did it, otherwise we probably would have just been driving around in the rain. We did get to see a few eagles perched up in the trees along the way and the was cool. Along with rafting we did a short drive up to Skilak Lake. Just on the side of the road we spotted a black bear family, mama and two cubs. That was definitely the highlight of this area. We pulled over (at a safe distance) and watched them foliage around for food. After just a minute or so they scuttled off one the ridgeline back into the forest. I managed to get my camera and big lens together for just a couple pictures before they were gone.
Seward is a port town at the top of Resurection Bay on the north end of the Gulf of Alaska. The main industries are fishing and tourism. The train runs from Anchorage to Seward if you’re looking for a unique way to get there. We opted to drive and stop along the way, but the train apparently will stop too if they see wildlife or scenic photo opportunities. We stayed at Harbor View Inn, a small clean motel in town. Seward is situated along the water at the base of several beautiful mountains and near both Bear and Exit glaciers, both great for hiking along. Bear Glacier drops down to a lake, separately from the ocean by a narrow strip of land. The glacier calves into the lake and so there are often several large icebergs floating in the lake. Both Exit and Bear glaciers are part of the Harding Icefield and are both located inside the Kenai Fjords National Park. We booked tickets on the 8 hour whale watching tour through Kenai Fjords Tours, part of the Alaska Collection tour company. The tour takes you south down Resurection Bay around the Ailik Peninsula, wondering through clusters of small islands, past several bays and coves, and passages. These areas are were we saw the bulk of wildlife and I could have hung out here all day. We saw two different humpback whales, several hauled-out sea lions and seals, a pod of three orcas, a couple sea otters, and a bloom of jellies. The whales and jellyfish were the coolest to see, although I loved it all. The bloom consisted of hundreds of clear/white jellyfish and created such a pretty image just under the surface of the water. Watching the humpback whales blow, and surface, then dip and tail slap was a first for me and so cool! The orcas were moving fast so we only caught a short glimpse of them surfacing a couple times. Definitely worth our time and something I’d like to do a again. Next time however I’ll charted my own smaller boat and maybe a captain if we decide to venture very far. Of course, I’d only do that in good weather because I can see how it could get gnarly pretty quickly out of the open water.
Matanuska Glacier is about a two hour drive north from Anchorage. There are some beautiful view along the Knik Arm on the way to Palmer. From there you head into the Matanuska River Valley and become engulfed by the giant mountains rising up from either side. The mountain peaks are breathtaking and there are several places along the road you can pullout and take pictures. Once at the Glacier exit, you drive down a steep and seemingly hazardous road into the river valley and across some rickety bridges to the private property of the Matanuska Glacier Guides company. Stop inside to pay the $30/person fee and they will open the gate and let you pass. It’s a short bumpy ride to a small parking area and “trailhead.” There are cones that mark the way through the bog and across the glacial runoff to the base of the ice. From there it’s not recommended to go any further, assuming without a guide and proper gear. Makes sense as the ice is of course very hard and slippery. We had Annie so we didn’t hire a guide or rent gear, we just walked out on the rocky section of ice and got the best views we could. Definitely a unique and fun experience.