Monday, September 13, 2021

An Alaskan Adventure - My 50th State

More of my best Alaskan scenic photos 👉 link here!

Man posing in Alaska near forest and mountains
Along Glenn Highway between Anchorage and McCarthy

The idea of an Alaskan vacation can be daunting. How much warm clothing to bring? Will I need to know how to build an igloo or forage for food? Will I get eaten by bears? Typical.

Alaska is one of those destinations that if you overthink it, you may never go. Sure, planning is essential, as you don't want to be hunting for hotels and tours last minute. There are a variety of activities from sea life viewing to hiking to culinary and craft beer enjoyment. There is something for everyone from the rugged adventurer to the family of four. The important thing is to think ahead, choose your own adventure, and just go.


Sunrise in Alaska over train station
Early morning walk to the Anchorage train depot 
Supposing you fly in, your adventure launch point may likely be the city of Anchorage. To allay some of your packing concerns, if you find yourself lacking anything, it is likely you will find it here. There is an array of dining and lodging options, and it is very convenient to rent a car, access intrastate flights, or board a scenic train ride. While not terribly exciting in itself, Anchorage is a great base of operations and complete with most comforts you might expect to find in modern civilization. Try Kriner's Diner for biscuits and gravy - where locals go and service is friendly.

Kim from the Philippines reading newspaper in Anchorage Alaska

Ride the Train

Photographer tourist on rear of train in Alaska
Alaska has its own railroad, and it is a magnificent way of taking in optimal scenic beauty per minute by way of icy blue rivers, lush green forests and majestic mountains. We chose the trip to Seward in a railcar that surrounds you with large windows to take in all the views. The premier class serves a meal in the dining car and offers an open-air deck to feel the wind in your hair and get all the great photos as you zip through the countryside.
train along river forest and mountains in Alaska

Seward Sea Life

mountain range from the water at Kenai Fjords
Your plans really should include going out on the water in some fashion. We chose Major Marine Tours' three-hour cruise that took us out on Resurrection Bay where we were pleased to see many animals in their natural habitat up-close, such as bald eagles, puffins, sea lions, and humpback whales. The town is small enough to explore on foot.

Humpback whale tale out of water
Seeking out a delicious seafood dinner at one of the various restaurants, we walked past the marina and witnessed some salmon swimming up a nearby stream. Seeing the few campers nestled along the picturesque shore, we imagined a perfect evening might just be cooking up our own fish over one of the nearby fire pits.

Girdwood and Flightseeing

Scenic river through the trees
Along the same train route back to Anchorage is the town of Girdwood. While we could have planned to make that a rail visit, we instead rented a car for the day after returning to Anchorage. This allowed us to make various stops along the way, such as Beluga Point to do some light rock climbing and whale viewing. Also we made a quick excursion to beautiful Portage Lake before our dinner at Double Musky Inn - a local favorite that fills up upon opening at 5pm, serving New Orleans-inspired meats and seafood complemented by an extensive wine list.
Cloudy mountains and glacier at lake
Portage Glacier and Portage Lake

However, the primary purpose of our Girdwood visit was a ninety-minute Alpine Air helicopter flight which lands on a glacier high up in the mountains. Do this! The chopper was big enough only for a pilot and three passengers and provides an unforgettable journey through the clouds, over peaks and valleys to a giant piece of ice that looked a bit like Superman's home. Looking around we were in awe of the glistening bright whites and blues under our feet and streams of water carving their way around us. The trip may seem a bit pricey in planning, but if you can fit it in your budget, it will be sure to be a highlight and one of your best trip decisions.
Helicopter view of Alaska through the clouds

Couple with helicopter on snowy glacier in Alaska

Snowy glacier among mountains and clouds

Road Trip to McCarthy

Old mining buildings among trees along rocky creek

On the advice from my friend Carrie, we rented a car and drove out to an old copper mining community at Kennicott and McCarthy. You should budget a whole day of driving each way from Anchorage and have a rugged vehicle to navigate the bumpy and gravelly McCarthy Road. In fact, national brand car rental companies do not allow their vehicles to be driven on this and several other unpaved roads in the state. There are other rental agencies that specialize in 4x4 vehicles, but require that you have your own primary insurance. I suggest staying at the peaceful and cozy Wrangell Mountain Lodge along McCarthy Road - log cabins on the edge of Chokosna River in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve. While there are many activities and tours in and around McCarthy, we chose a self-guided tour of Kennicott and were quite content to stroll around the old mining town (in the rain) and dip into the various buildings showcasing displays of life there in the early 20th Century. Luckily for us, it looks like the miners left here like Joe Biden left Afghanistan, so there I still a lot left to see from that operation.

We found a really cool spot for an early dinner at The Potato in McCarthy, which had a live band, delicious food (smoked salmon mac 'n cheese!) and a craft beer list into which I would have loved to delve further into had we not a substantial drive ahead of us.
smoked salmon mac and cheese
Smoked salmon mac 'n cheese (The Potato)

Craft Beer in Alaska

glass of hazy beer on dinner table in restaurant
Double Musky Inn serves local Girdwood Brewing

We were excited to see that Alaska is home to some great small breweries! For our last dinner of vacation we visited the very popular Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage for Alaskan alder grilled salmon and herb-crusted Alaskan halibut with both the Tangerine and Blackberry IPAs. However the brewery highlights of the evening were at Midnight Sun Brewing Company with their "I Said Never, But..." pale stout and the "Panty Peeler" Belgian tripel; also a nightcap of "Passionfruit Permafrost Pucker" sour at 49th State Brewing was a fantastic last beer of the trip. In Girdwood, we visited Girdwood Brewing for a flight and great conversation with a couple from Utah visiting for a wedding. Favorites from there were the "No Woman No Cryo" Northeastern IPA and the "Hippie Speedball" oatmeal coffee stout.

Craft beer enthusiast showing a tasting sampler
Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Loft

Thanks, Alaska! It was a great birthday celebration exploration! I hope we meet again.
man at river among forest of trees with cloudy mountain background

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