Ultimate Alaska Photo Itinerary
Our Alaska photography adventure begins in Fairbanks, Alaska's "Golden Heart City" that retains its frontier flavor with pioneer saloons,
Days 2 & 3: Denali National Park
Travel south through boreal forest and 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, a coveted if elusive prize for photographers. Formerly known as Mt. McKinley, the mountain's Athabascan Native name—Denali—means "The Great One," an apt moniker for this immense bulk of rock and ice towering 20,310 feet over the tundra and taiga that provide habitat for wolves, grizzlies, moose, caribou and Dall sheep. Our drive, which takes us far deeper into the park's wild recesses than most visitors ever get, offers a host of potential wildlife photography opportunities. It's important to remember, however, that the climate and environment of Alaska's interior at this latitude are harsh much of the year, and it takes a vast amount of habitat to sustain animals. Wildlife encounters thus tend to be fleeting and often at a distance—bring your telephoto lens! Once we reach our remote base 90 miles inside the park, we have time and space to encounter genuine wilderness. Hiking, nature walks, mountain biking, fishing and optional flightseeing over the glaciers of Denali are available, as well as a chance to photograph a working sled dog team in action. At night, soak up the silence of the wild on a scale few are privileged to experience.
Day 4: Denali / Alaska Railroad / Talkeetna
Depart for the park entrance by road this morning, keeping an eye out for wildlife roaming the tundra and eagles overhead. At midday, board an Alaska Railroad dome car for a classic train journey through Alaska's rugged Interior. Our route through the Alaska Range climbs above tree line over Broad Pass, then descends to follow the Susitna River to the historic village of Talkeetna, where we disembark for the night. The rustic town, founded a century ago as the district headquarters for the new railroad, sits at the confluence of three rivers and enjoys a striking panorama of Denali and adjacent peaks. An outdoor recreation mecca, Talkeetna's economy today thrives on rafting, flightseeing, mountain biking, hiking, camping, fishing and hunting, and it is also the main base for climbing expeditions on Denali. Enjoy dinner at the lodge this evening with a panorama of the Alaska Range on display through the picture windows, including Denali itself, weather permitting. The expansive outdoor terrace is the perfect platform for photos when the peaks emerge from the clouds.
Day 5: Talkeetna / Alyeska
The quaint and quirky town of Talkeetna offers appealing photography subjects this morning, with a "downtown" full of early 1900s pioneer buildings collectively designated a National Historic Site. Continuing south by road, we travel through forested terrain thick with poplar, willow and spruce, eventually reaching the coast along Cook Inlet. Passing through Anchorage, follow Turnagain Arm to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. Alyeska is Alaska’s premier ski area, where a host of summer activities is also available. Set in a lush glacial valley in the Chugach Range southeast of Anchorage, Alyeska offers nature and luxury in tandem. Explore the northernmost temperate rain forest in North America that surrounds our deluxe accommodations at the Hotel Alyeska, or choose an optional tram ride to the alpine summit, with phenomenal photo prospects of ice-clad peaks and the glacial-fed inlet far below.
Day 6: Spencer Glacier / Placer River Float
Today we board the Alaska Railroad once more, riding the train to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop to enter a lush tract of remote roadless wilderness. Created in partnership with the Chugach National Forest, this rail spur expands access to some of Southcentral Alaska's most beautiful coastal mountain terrain, with views of valley glaciers, waterfalls, deep canyons and dense deciduous forest on either side. Disembark to photograph the sparkling tableau of iceberg-choked Spencer Lake, then board sturdy rafts for a gentle float trip down the Placer River, turbid with glacial silt, before returning to Girdwood late this afternoon. Dinner is not included this evening, in order to give you a chance to sample your choice of restaurants in the Alyeska/Girdwood area.
Day 7: Kenai Peninsula / Private Fox Island
This morning, revel in more dramatic scenery as we drive south to the Kenai Peninsula, crossing Moose Pass en route to the fishing town and port of Seward. The road 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 reach Seward's small boat harbor, keep your camera handy to capture photos of the sea otters often seen floating among the yachts and docks. Here, we board a boat for the voyage to Fox Island, a lushly forested private island in Resurrection Bay 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. During paddling breaks, we may find opportunities to photograph Steller sea lions, sea otters and harbor seals poking their noses above the waterline.
Day 8: Kenai Fjords National Park—Private Cruise
Iconic Alaska photography subjects are on display today from our private chartered boat as we cruise into a realm where vestiges of the Ice Age still linger. Our small vessel allows us to approach wildlife at close range, and Kenai Fjords National Park provides excellent opportunities for photographing humpback and orca whales, porpoises, sea otters and bobbing puffins. Weave among islands and rocky cliffs where seabirds nest, and look for bald eagles in the treetops above. Glaciers pour from the jagged mountain heights into the sea, and if we're lucky, we may even capture a shot of an iceberg 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 one more night of peaceful solitude in this marine wilderness.
Day 9: Seward / Anchorage
After a last morning on serene Fox Island, board our private boat to cruise past icy peaks en route back 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 retrace our route northward, with the mountain ranges of the Kenai Peninsula rising one after another, sourcing some of Alaska's richest salmon rivers. Reaching Anchorage by late afternoon, we have the evening at leisure. We've opted not to include dinner so you can choose among the many outstanding restaurants and brewpubs in Alaska's largest city. Local seafood is always a highlight! Check with your Expedition Leader for suggestions.
Days 10 & 11: King Salmon / Katmai National Park—Brooks Falls
It's hard to imagine anything could top all we've experienced so far, but for most wildlife photographers, today is the ultimate highlight of our Alaskan adventure—and perhaps of your entire nature photography adventures thus far. Katmai National Park is home to the world’s largest population of brown bears, with some 2,200 bears within its 4 million acres, and it takes some effort to get here. We first fly southwest from Anchorage to King Salmon, then by floatplane to Brooks Falls, one of the very best places to view these coastal grizzlies in their natural habitat. Inside the park, get close-up photos of the classic wildlife spectacle of fishing bears from platforms built over Brooks Falls. On our June and July departures, when the salmon are running upstream to spawn, we may get photos of bears vigorously fishing, attempting to catch salmon as they leap from the boiling falls into gaping jaws. Later in the summer, we're likely to see even more bears in the area and all along the Brooks River, though not primarily in the falls catching fish. During each full day with the bears, we break to have lunch at world-famous Brooks Lodge, an easy walk from the falls.
Day 12: Katmai / King Salmon / Anchorage
After one more opportunity to photograph the celebrated brown bears of Katmai, we fly back to Anchorage via King Salmon, arriving in the late afternoon. At a farewell dinner this evening, join our Expedition Leader to celebrate our Alaskan adventures.
Day 13: Anchorage / Depart
Our Alaska photo safari comes to a close this morning as we transfer to the airport for homeward flights.
Important Note on Bear Viewing:
Bears are attracted to the Brooks River at various times during the summer, and their precise location depends on seasonal movements. More bears (and fewer tourists) tend to be on view in late August and September than in late June and July, and they are found throughout the area rather than primarily atop the falls, where they congregate earlier in the summer.
Important Note on 2020 Katmai Accommodations:
Depending on your departure date, you will overnight on Days 10 and 11 either at Alaska's Gold Creek Lodge or Brooks Lodge. See Dates & Prices page for more details. Alaska's Gold Creek Lodge, a fly-in wilderness lodge near King Salmon, offers deluxe accommodations and includes a scenic 20-minute floatplane ride to reach Brooks Falls. Brooks Lodge is a more rustic accommodation located inside the park, within walking distance of the viewing platforms over the falls. Talk with an Adventure Specialist for more details about these two very different accommodation options.
Have questions about this Alaska photography tour? Click here to view a list of Frequently Asked Questions about this adventure.
Wild Alaska Grizzly Encounter
Photo departures available