Ultimate Alaska June Itinerary
Day 1: Fairbanks, Alaska
Our grand Alaska nature adventure begins in Fairbanks, Alaska's "Golden Heart City." Capital of the vast Interior, Fairbanks retains its frontier flavor with pioneer saloons, paddlewheelers and outlying mining camps. Fairbanks is also home to the flagship campus of the University of Alaska system, where the famous Geophysical Institute is headquartered, leading research in the study of permafrost, earthquakes, sea ice and the aurora borealis. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening, who offers an orientation to all the adventures to come.
Day 2: Denali National Park—Chartered Helicopter to Backcountry Lodge
This morning we drive south through boreal forest along the Nenana River to Denali National Park. At 6 million acres—larger than the state of Massachusetts—Denali is one of the world’s great wilderness preserves. The park's namesake is the highest peak in North America, towering 20,310 feet over alpine tundra and taiga that provide habitat for abundant wildlife. The mountain's name—Denali—means "The High One" in the Athabascan language.
Due to an extended road closure in the interior of Denali National Park as a result of a major landslide in 2021, access to the remote backcountry at the end of the 92-mile-long park road is now possible only by air. At the park entrance, we board a chartered helicopter for a spectacular aerial journey to Denali Backcountry Lodge, isolated in a vast expanse of wilderness. Spending two nights here is an exclusive experience very few visitors to Alaska get, even before the road was closed – and it's an even rarer opportunity now. As we fly over the tangled veins of glacier-fed rivers, broad valleys and steep mountainsides, look for wildlife along the edge of the spruce forest and on the braided gravel river bars—we could see moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzlies and occasionally wolves—“Alaska’s Big Five.”
Day 3: Exploring the Remote Denali Wilderness
From our base at Denali Backcountry Lodge, a host of activities offers a chance to learn about the natural and cultural history of our environs, including the wildlife that thrives here, the Athabascan people who lived off this land for 10,000 years, and the pioneers who mined for gold in nearby Kantishna at the turn of the 20th century. Take a hike in search of wildlife with our Expedition Leader and lodge naturalist guides. Paddle a kayak on Wonder Lake, offering the ironic postcard shot of Denali’s massive white hulk rising behind. Try your hand at fishing in Moose Creek. Ride a mountain bike. And just drink up the profound beauty and silence of wild country on a scale few people will experience in their lifetimes. At the end of our day of adventure, return to the lodge for a hearty dinner featuring fresh seasonal, regional fare spotlighted in every dish. Afterward, head to the campfire to roast marshmallows for s’mores.
Day 4: Denali / Talkeetna / Anchorage
After lunch, we depart our wilderness lodge and fly back to the park entrance via chartered helicopter. Weather permitting, we’ll have stunning eye-level views of the icy flanks of Denali en route. We disembark and board a spacious mini-bus for our journey south to Anchorage. Our route climbs above tree line over Broad Pass, then descends through taiga forest to reach the historic village of Talkeetna. This rustic town, founded a century ago as the district headquarters for the new Alaska Railroad, sits at the confluence of three rivers in view of Denali and adjacent Alaska Range peaks.
An outdoor recreation mecca, Talkeetna's economy today thrives on rafting, flightseeing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, and not least mountaineering, as it is the jumping-off point for climbing expeditions to Denali. We stop to discover the quaint and quirky hamlet, whose "downtown" dating to the early 1900s has been designated a National Historic Site. Then, continuing south, follow the Susitna River through thick stands of birch, balsam poplar, willow and spruce to reach Anchorage, where we spend the night at the venerable Captain Cook Hotel overlooking Cook Inlet and the Chugach Range.
Day 5: Alaska Railroad Dome Car to Seward / Private Fox Island—Kayaking
Today we travel the most scenic section of the historic Alaska Railroad, built in the early 20th century. The state-owned railroad’s mainline is 470 miles long, connecting Seward in the south with Fairbanks up north. From our private dome car, enjoy a classic train journey along Turnagain Arm as we look for beluga whales and keep an eye out for tidal bores that create waves big enough for local surfers to ride! To the north lie the ice-clad peaks and lush glacial valleys of the Chugach Range, harboring the northernmost temperate rain forest in North America. The corridor we follow winds through the Kenai Mountains–Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area, a designation that recognizes the area's unique cultural, geographic and historical features. Once we cross Moose Pass, the rail line drops back to the coast, ending at its southern terminus, the Port of Seward on Resurrection Bay.
In Seward's small boat harbor, look for sea otters frequently seen bobbing among the yachts and docks. Here, we board a boat for the voyage to private Fox Island on the edge of Kenai Fjords National Park. Our isolated location, fronting a wild pebble beach backdropped by steep forested mountains, reveals the pristine side of Alaska most visitors miss. The Kenai Fjords region is famed for its sea kayaking, and an optional paddling excursion late this afternoon is likely to reveal some of the area’s prolific marine life.
Day 6: Private Wildlife Cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park / Fox Island
Iconic images of Alaska are on display today from our private chartered boat as we explore a marine realm where vestiges of the Ice Age linger. Our small vessel allows us to approach wildlife at close range, and Kenai Fjords National Park provides excellent opportunities for viewing humpback whales, orcas, Dall's porpoise, sea lions, sea otters and bobbing puffins. Weave among islands and rocky cliffs where seabirds nest, and look for bald eagles in the treetops above. Jagged glaciers wind from the mountain heights to the sea, and we may observe icebergs calving with a thunderous crash from a glacier's towering blue face. Following our all-day outing, our boat returns us to our secluded lodge on Fox Island for another night of peace and solitude in the coastal wilderness.
Day 7: Fox Island / Seward—SeaLife Center / Homer
After a last morning on serene Fox Island, board our private boat for the return journey up Resurrection Bay to Seward, where we have lunch on the harbor and visit the Alaska SeaLife Center. Primarily dedicated to marine research and education, the renowned center also features a public aquarium and is the only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation facility in the state.
From Seward, we head south on the spectacular drive to Homer, following the route along turquoise Skilak Lake. The mountain ranges of the Kenai Peninsula rise one after another, sourcing some of Alaska's richest salmon rivers. Ultimately we reach Homer, a picturesque fishing town on Kachemak Bay that’s known as “the End of the Road,” the most southerly point on Alaska’s contiguous highway system. We spend the next two nights at its very end, on the tip of Homer Spit, a long gravel bar that extends into the bay. This spot is also known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” and we may see fishermen unloading their catch—the biggest halibut can be eight feet long and up to 500 pounds! While halibut are one of Alaska’s most valuable fisheries, Homer also offers excellent fishing for several salmon species, lingcod and rockfish. The town is surrounded by 280 acres of protected state land, critical wildlife habitat that sustains more than 100 bird species and a large local moose population.
Day 8: Private Flight to Katmai Coast—Bear Viewing / Homer
Is it possible to say we’ve saved the best for last? Well, it all depends on how you weigh the wonders of Alaska, but our bear adventures begin today and will surely be a highlight of your journey. This morning we fly southwest via private chartered bush plane across the mouth of Cook Inlet to reach the roadless wilderness along the 485-mile-long Pacific coastline of Katmai National Park. While people here are virtually nil, the same can’t be said of bears: They congregate here in the summertime, fattening up on sedges and digging clams on the beach before the salmon runs of late summer arrive.
After a bear safety briefing, we step out on foot with our expert bear guides for a wildlife encounter that is simply peerless! These bears have never encountered cars, hunters, garbage or wayward tourists, and as a result, they are comfortable in our presence, nonchalant even, as we stand in their habitat observing their natural behaviors. Time seems to stand still as we watch them, feeling the extraordinary privilege of being welcomed into their pristine wild world. Ultimately, it’s time to fly back to Homer, but we don’t regret it too much, knowing more exhilarating bear viewing lies ahead.
Days 9: Homer / Private Flight to Nat Hab’s Alaska Bear Camp
This morning we depart on a chartered flight across Cook Inlet once more, this time to Nat Hab's own Alaska Bear Camp, where we spend two nights. The view from our private plane is staggering as we pass snow-clad volcanoes and glaciers pouring down from icefields on high. The terrain below us, where the Aleutian and Alaska ranges meet, comprises Lake Clark National Park, some of the world's most critical brown bear habitat. Look for bears in the meadows and along the shoreline as we come in for a landing, taxiing down the beach. Bear Camp is located on a historic homestead, a private inholding of coastal land surrounded by Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. These 4 million protected acres of wilderness are the ancestral homelands of the Dena'ina people, preserving an intact ecosystem at the headwaters of the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. Accessible only by plane or boat, Bear Camp offers an unparalleled immersion in pristine brown bear habitat.
From our weatherproof tent cabins, we have immediate access to some of the best, most consistent bear viewing anywhere in Alaska, due to the season-long availability of food. In late spring, protein-rich sedge grass supports rapid growth, and bears are often seen browsing in the meadow behind camp, as well as digging clams from the beach. Accustomed to our non-threatening presence, they see us humans merely as part of the scenery, allowing us to move safely in their midst on guided outings, at times observing them from just a few yards away. Two viewing platforms, one elevated for a territorial view, enable us to see bears nearby and at a distance. And we often watch them right from camp, which is surrounded by electrified wires, ensuring our safety on site. After an exciting day, gather in the dining tent for dinner. Fresh local fare is always on the menu, including abundant Alaskan seafood.
Day 10: Bear Viewing in Lake Clark National Park
There's simply no wildlife encounter to match being at close range among bears them in their wild home. Against a backdrop of sheer-sided peaks rising above the green valley floor, the bears are sometimes near enough that we can hear them chewing their food and communicating with one another in woofs, purrs and growls. Alaska's mighty brown bears—the coastal version of the interior grizzly bear (which is the same species, Ursus arctos)—are the largest land predators in North America. Adult males can weigh up to 1,500 pounds!
While the bear activity we witness can vary according to seasonal and weather conditions, there's always something interesting going on. And while bears are usually plentiful right in the vicinity of camp, we also go into adjacent Lake Clark National Park for added variety. At every turn, we explore the area in the careful company of our seasoned bear naturalists who offer thorough coaching in respectful "bear etiquette.” Our low-impact presence ensures that we never disturb the bears, and they in turn grant us comfortable access to watch them go about their daily routines.
Day 11: Bear Viewing / Private Flight to Homer—Evening Boat Cruise
We have one last chance this morning to marvel at the bears, admiring their majesty and whimsy alike. Few travelers have such an encounter with the raw beauty and profound silence of a landscape this size—these things alone would make for a life-transforming experience. But the chance to watch Alaskan brown bears, incomparable icons of the wild, on their turf, their terms...it's a wonder to have bears welcome us into their world. All too soon it's time to leave Bear Camp behind as we board our small bush plane to return to Homer. But we depart as ambassadors for the bears, our time among them leaving an indelible mark on us, inspiring us to do all we can to protect them.
Once we return to Homer, explore the abundant waters and striking scenery of Kachemak Bay on a private boat cruise this afternoon. The bay is transformed daily by some of the largest tidal fluctuations in the world, and it's home not only to coveted sport fish but other plentiful marine life. Sea otters, seals, porpoises, sea lions and whales are common sightings. A highlight of our cruise is the Gull Island rookery, home to 10,000 nesting seabirds, with a chance to view puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, murres and more. Along the way, we’ll cruise past the picturesque community of Halibut Cove, then celebrate our adventures at a festive farewell dinner.
Day 12: Homer / Depart
Our Alaska adventure comes to a close today as we transfer to the Homer airport for onward flights.
Physical Rating: Moderate
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