Ultimate Alaska Photo Itinerary
Day 1: Fairbanks, Alaska
Our grand Alaska photography 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 photo opportunities 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 currently possible only by air. At the park entrance, 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: Wilderness Photography in Denali National Park
Our base at Denali Backcountry Lodge provides exceptional access for intimate nature photography. Choose among a host of activities that offer 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 to get the ironic postcard shot of Denali’s 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, depart our wilderness lodge and fly back to the park entrance via chartered helicopter. Weather permitting, you’ll have a chance to get stunning eye-level photos 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 photograph rustic scenes in this quaint and quirky hamlet, whose "downtown" dating to the early 1900s has been designated a National Historic Site. Continuing south, follow the Susitna River through thick stands of birch, balsam poplar, willow and spruce to reach Anchorage on Cook Inlet, backdropped by the glacier-crowned peaks of 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 to photograph, and keep an eye out for tidal bores that create waves big enough for local surfers to ride! We skirt the ice-clad peaks and lush glacial valleys of the Chugach Range, harboring the northernmost temperate rain forest in North America, then turn south to follow the rail corridor winding 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 the fishing town, port and southern terminus of Seward on Resurrection Bay.
In Seward's small boat harbor, expect to capture charming shots of sea otters 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: Kenai Fjords National Park—Private Wildlife Cruise
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 photographing 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 capture shots of 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'll have lunch 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. Homer is called “the End of the Road” in Alaska, and we spend the next two nights on the very tip of Homer Spit. This spot is also known as the “Halibut Fishing Capital of the World,” and we may get photos of 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.
Day 8: Homer—Private Kachemak Bay Boat Cruise to Seldovia
Photograph the abundant marine life and striking scenery of Kachemak Bay on a private boat cruise today. 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 also sea otters, seals, porpoises, sea lions, orcas, whales, bald eagles and puffins. We cross the bay to Seldovia, south of Homer, and go ashore for lunch and a walk around this tiny town that can only be reached by boat or air, since it not connected to a wider road system. Alaska Natives have a long history in the region, and we'll hope to meet with a member of the Seldovia Tribe to learn about its unique culture, which brings together Aleut, Yupik, Alutiiq and Athabascan peoples. One of the oldest settlements in the Cook Inlet region, Seldovia also reflects its early Russian colonial heritage, shaped by fur traders and Russian Orthodox missionaries who had an influential presence here in the 19th century. In the early 20th century, Scandinavian immigrants developed a booming herring fishery, and salmon canneries dominated the town's economy until they were destroyed in the 1964 earthquake. Late this afternoon, return by boat to Homer to enjoy some free time for browsing on the spit. The marina, a site of busy fishing boat traffic, offers some appealing photo opportunities.
Days 9 & 10: King Salmon / Katmai National Park—Bear Photoraphy on the Brooks River
From Homer, fly across Cook Inlet to King Salmon, then continue to our classic Alaskan lodge on the Naknek River. Deluxe log cabins offer a comfortable base for wilderness bear-viewing in nearby Katmai National Park. After we drop our bags off, we reach the park by floatplane, offering access to world-renowned Brooks Falls, one of the best places to photograph brown bears in their natural habitat. Katmai is home to the world’s largest population of these enormous omnivores, with some 2,200 individuals inside the park. As many bear populations around the world decline, Katmai's 4 million acres of wilderness provides some of the last pristine habitat to sustain them.
Within Katmai's protected bounds, bears live largely undisturbed, and visitors have unparalleled photography opportunities. From the safety of platforms built over world-famous Brooks Falls, we get a close angle on one of the world's most iconic wildlife spectacles: bears standing in the rushing whitewater, jaws gaping, trying to catch the salmon that leap up the falls once spawning season starts. July departures offer a good chance to see fishing bears, since this is when the salmon are running, but viewing is excellent in August and September, too, with even more (and fatter!) bears in the vicinity, wandering up and down the Brooks River. Each day, we break for lunch at Brooks Lodge, an easy walk from the falls. In the evenings, shuttle back to King Salmon by floatplane or water taxi to spend the night enjoying “rustic luxury” at Gold Creek Lodge.
Day 11: Katmai Bear Photography / King Salmon / Homer
After a last round of photographing bears in the Brooks Falls region, fly once more to King Salmon, then back to Homer this afternoon. This evening, we celebrate our adventures at a festive farewell dinner.
Day 12: Homer / Depart
Our grand Alaska photo safari comes to a close today as we transfer to the Homer airport for homeward flights, or ongoing travel for those who have booked extensions.
Important Note on Bear Viewing:
Bears are attracted to the Brooks River at multiple times during the summer, and their precise location varies depending on seasonal elements including weather and fish movements. More intimate experiences with bears (due to fewer tourists) tend to happen in late August and September (versus late June and July), when bears are found throughout the area, rather than primarily fishing atop the falls.
Physical Rating: Moderate to Difficult
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