Ultimate Alaska Photo Itinerary
Day 1: Fairbanks, Alaska
Our Alaska photography adventure begins in Fairbanks, Alaska's "Golden Heart City" and capital of the vast Interior, which retains its frontier flavor with pioneer saloons, paddlewheelers and outlying mining camps. At a welcome dinner this evening, get to you know your Expedition Leader, who is not only an expert naturalist but an accomplished professional photographer specializing in wildlife and landscapes.
Day 2: Large Animal Research Station / Denali National Park
This morning we tour the Large Animal Research Station at the University of Alaska. This 134-acre homestead site was deeded to the university in 1963 to further the establishment of a domestic muskox herd. These shaggy bovines, a relic of the Ice Age, have wandered the planet's most northerly latitudes for 600,000 years, roaming the tundra with sabertooth tigers and woolly mammoths.While today about 3,500 muskoxen live in Alaska, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, they were descended from a herd of 31 animals transplanted from Greenland to Nunivak Island off the Yukon River Delta in 1930. The project sought to return muskoxen to Alaska after they disappeared by the late 19th century, and biologists intent on expanding their range brought them from Nunivak to Fairbanks for closer study. Caribou and domestic reindeer were later added as the research project grew to investigate the adaptations of other large Arctic mammals to their northern environment. The reserve, a mix of open pasture and boreal forest, provides ideal conditions for these herds of ungulates. The station also serves as an education and outreach facility for wildlife research.
Before we leave Fairbanks, we’ll take a close-up look at the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, which carries crude oil from Prudhoe Bay on the North Slope 800 miles to the port of Valdez, as we learn more about conservation concerns on Alaska’s North Slope. Then we drive 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, towering 20,310 feet over alpine tundra and taiga that provide habitat for wolves, grizzlies, moose, caribou and Dall sheep. The mountain's Indigenous name—Denali—means "The Great One" in the Athabascan language. This afternoon, a guided hike offers a closer look at portion of the park ecosystem as we explore trails along spruce forest and braided rivers.
Day 3: Denali Park Tour
Due to extended road closures in the interior of Denali National Park as a result of a landslide, access to the remote backcountry is restricted, but we’ll go as far as we can today on a park bus tour. Following the single park road, look for wildlife along the edge of the spruce forest and on the braided river bars—we often have chances to see and photograph moose, caribou and occasionally grizzly bears. 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! On our tour, we’ll learn in detail about the natural and cultural history of our environs, including Denali's legendary wildlife, the Athabascan people who lived off this land for 10,000 years, and the pioneers who mined for gold in Kantishna.
Please note: Our tour takes place on the park's public bus system— the only transport mode currently available for exploring the park’s the vast terrain. Tour times and seats are allocated by the park and are not at our discretion.
Day 4: Sled Dog Kennel Tour / Alaska Railroad Dome Car to Talkeetna
This morning we visit a sled dog kennel to learn about raising, training and racing these working huskies that have long been a part of Alaskan culture. On a tour of the dog yard, we'll learn about the attributes of the Alaskan Husky—a mixed breed—and what makes it so well suited to the northern climate and running long distances. Enjoy photographing the dogs, and if we're lucky to visit when puppies are present, we'll get to cuddle the newest team members. Sled dogs have played an important role in Denali National Park for a century, with backcountry rangers using dog teams for winter patrols in the park since 1922. Hardy huskies are still an important means for getting around the park interior once the landscape is snowbound.
At midday, board an Alaska Railroad dome car for a classic train journey through the rugged Alaska Range. For decades, this was the only way to access Denali National Park, which was established in 1917. Six years later, the Alaska Railroad was completed, and it wasn’t possible to drive to the park until the George Parks Highway was finished in 1971. Our rail route climbs above tree line over Broad Pass, then descends to follow the Susitna River to the historic village of Talkeetna, where we disembark to spend the night. This rustic town, founded a century ago as the district headquarters for the new railroad, sits at the confluence of three rivers in view of Denali and adjacent peaks. An outdoor recreation mecca, Talkeetna's economy today thrives on rafting, flightseeing, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, camping, fishing and hunting. Dinner at the lodge this evening features a panorama of the Alaska Range 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 / Denali Glacier Landing Flight / Alyeska
Discover the quaint and quirky town of Talkeetna this morning, whose "downtown" dating to the early 1900s has been designated a National Historic Site. As the main base for climbing expeditions on Denali, Talkeetna has long been a takeoff point for fixed-wing flights to the mountain, including scenic excursions. We’ll partake in that adventure today with a morning air tour, which, weather permitting, includes a glacier landing on Denali’s flank. Photograph famous Kahiltna Base Camp, Ruth Glacier and the massive sister peaks of Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter on our circuit to the Great One and back. As always, however, flights, routings and photo opportunities are weather-dependent.
After lunch, continue south by road, traveling through thick forests of poplar, willow and spruce, eventually reaching the coast along Cook Inlet. Passing through Anchorage, we follow Turnagain Arm to Girdwood and Alyeska Resort. Alyeska is Alaska’s premier ski area, with a host of summer activities also available. Set in a verdant 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 for 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 glittering 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, anticipate more dramatic photography opportunities 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 chances to photograph 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 excellent 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—Bear Photography at 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 Katmai Accommodations:
For 2022 travelers, 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. Brooks Lodge accommodations will no longer be offered after the 2022 season concludes.
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
From $9495 (+air)
Limited to 8 Travelers
Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness