Ultimate Alaska Photo Itinerary
Our Alaska photography adventure begins in Anchorage, the state’s largest city and main transportation hub. On the shores of Cook Inlet, Anchorage is surrounded by vast wild spaces and backdropped by the icy peaks of the Chugach Range. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening, and learn about the many exciting nature photo opportunities to come.
Day 2: Anchorage Heritage & Native Cultures / Talkeetna
Photograph highlights of Anchorage this morning, including Earthquake Park, a 134-acre nature site marking the place where an entire neighborhood slid into the sea during the infamous 9.2 earthquake that devastated the southcentral Alaska coast in 1964. Visit Lake Hood, the world’s busiest floatplane base, with more than 200 takeoffs and landings each day. We also focus on Alaska’s rich Native heritage with a privately guided tour of either the Alaska Native Heritage Center or the Anchorage Museum’s First Peoples of Alaska exhibit, depending on days of operation.
This afternoon, leave the city behind to enter the foothills of the Chugach Mountains, the northernmost of Alaska’s coastal ranges that create an icy barrier between the sea and the vast Interior. In Chugach State Park, we stop at Eklutna Lake, a turquoise jewel fed by the Eklutna Glacier. Here, we may get our first glimpse of a black bear or a moose, although the latter are commonly seen in the Anchorage city limits, too. Continuing north, follow the Susitna River into the boreal forest to reach Talkeetna. Dinner at our lodge this evening features a panorama of the Alaska Range through the picture windows, including Denali itself, weather permitting.
Day 3: Talkeetna—Private Denali Flightseeing
The rustic town of Talkeetna, founded a century ago as the district headquarters for the Alaska Territory’s new railroad, sits at the confluence of three rivers in view of Denali. An outdoor recreation mecca, Talkeetna's economy thrives on rafting, flightseeing, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, camping, fishing and hunting. Quaint and quirky, Talkeetna was designated a National Historic Site with its pioneer “downtown” dating to the early 1900s.
As the main base for climbing expeditions on Denali, Talkeetna has long been a takeoff point for fixed-wing flights to the mountain. We’ll partake in that adventure today with a scenic air tour to Denali—meaning “The Great One” in the Athabascan language. An aerial vantage on the park and peak offers thrilling photo opportunities, giving a sense of the vastness of 6-million-acre Denali National Park, one of the world’s great wilderness preserves. Its alpine tundra and taiga provide habitat for wolves, grizzlies, moose, caribou and Dall sheep, though with most of the park road inaccessible due to a landslide, our flight may offer the best opportunity to spot wildlife from the air. See famous Kahiltna Base Camp, Ruth Glacier and the massive sister peaks of Mount Foraker and Mount Hunter on our circuit to the mountain and back, with the added excitement of a glacier landing on Denali’s icy flank.
Please note: Flights and routings are always highly weather-dependent, and we must be prepared for contingencies. Should we not be able to fly, we will pursue other activities in and around the Talkeetna Mountains, with a chance to look for local wildlife.
Day 4: Musk Ox Farm Tour / Girdwood—Alyeska Resort
If by chance we were weathered out for our Denali flight yesterday, this morning offers one more chance. Then, leaving Talkeetna, we head south through thick forests of poplar, willow and spruce on our way back to the coast. En route, we stop at the Musk Ox Farm in the Matanuska Valley, the most fertile agricultural terrain in Alaska, for close-up photos of these shaggy ancient bovines. The farm is dedicated to the domestication of this Ice Age mammal that once roamed the earth alongside saber-tooth tigers and woolly mammoths. Called oomingmak in the Inupiaq language, which means “bearded one,” the musk ox produces an annual harvest of qiviut, the finest and softest wool in the world. On a private tour, learn how these shaggy Paleolithic ruminants were brought to Alaska in the 1930s, and touch the fiber from their coats that produces such exquisite yarn and woolen garments.
Following Turnagain Arm, look for beluga whales and keep an eye out for tidal bores that create waves big enough for local surfers to ride! At Girdwood, we reach Alyeska, Alaska’s premier ski and summer resort area. Set in a green glacial valley in the Chugach Range, Alyeska offers nature and luxury in tandem. We explore the northernmost temperate rain forest in North America, and an optional tram ride to the alpine summit offers panoramic photos of the ice-clad peaks and glacial-fed inlet far below.
Day 5: Alaska Railroad to Spencer Glacier / Placer River Float
Today we travel a section of the 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. We ride a small side section to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop, entering a lush tract of remote roadless wilderness. The 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 forests. Disembark to photograph the glittering tableau of Spencer Glacier, then board sturdy rafts for a float on the iceberg-choked lake followed by gentle trip down the Placer River, turbid with glacial silt, before returning to Girdwood late this afternoon. Dinner is not included this evening, to give you a chance to sample your choice of restaurants in the area.
Day 6: Alaska Railroad to Seward / Private Fox Island
This morning, board the train again for the scenic journey to the Kenai Peninsula. Revel in dramatic vistas as we cross Moose Pass en route to the fishing town and port of Seward. 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. From Seward’s small boat harbor, capture photos of sea otters frequently seen bobbing among the yachts and docks as we board a boat for the voyage across Resurrection Bay to Fox Island, a lushly forested private island on the edge of Kenai Fjords National Park. Our isolated location, fronting a wild pebble beach, reveals the pristine side of Alaska most visitors miss. The Kenai Fjords region is famed for its sea kayaking, and an optional paddling excursion is likely to reveal some of the area’s prolific marine life.
Day 7: Private Cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park
Iconic images of Alaska are on display from our private chartered boat as we cruise through a marine wonderland where vestiges of the Ice Age still linger. Our small vessel allows us to observe wildlife at close range, and Kenai Fjords National Park provides excellent opportunities to photograph humpback whales, orcas, Dall's porpoise, sea lions, sea otters and puffins. Weave among islands and rocky cliffs where seabirds nest, and look for bald eagles in the treetops. Ice rivers wind from jagged mountain heights to the sea, and, if we're lucky, we may capture shots of icebergs calving from a tidewater glacier's towering blue face. Following our all-day outing, return to our secluded lodge on Fox Island for another night of peace and solitude in the wilderness.
Day 8: Seward—SeaLife Center Private Tour / Anchorage
After a last morning on serene Fox Island, board our private boat for the return voyage to Seward, where we have lunch and a private tour of the Alaska SeaLife Center. Dedicated to marine research and education, the center features a public aquarium and is the only permanent marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation facility in the state. From Seward, we travel north by road, with the flexibility to stop for photos and exploration. The landscape inspires awe, with the mountain ranges of the Kenai Peninsula rising one after another, sourcing some of Alaska's richest salmon rivers. We reach Anchorage by late afternoon, with rest of the evening at leisure. Dinner is on your own, so you can try your choice of the many outstanding options available in the city. Local seafood is always a highlight! Tap your Expedition Leader for recommendations.
Days 9 & 10: King Salmon / Katmai National Park—Bear Photography
Fly across Cook Inlet to King Salmon and check in to our classic lodge on the Naknek River. Deluxe log cabins offer a comfortable base for wilderness bear-viewing in nearby Katmai National Park. We reach the park by floatplane, offering access to world-renowned Brooks Falls, one of the best places to photograph Alaskan 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 opportunities for close-up photos. From the safety of platforms built over world-famous Brooks Falls, capture images of 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. June and 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 to spend the night enjoying “rustic luxury” at our lodge.
Day 11: Katmai / King Salmon / Anchorage
After a last morning round of bear photography in Katmai, fly back to King Salmon, then on to Anchorage, where our Expedition Leader hosts a farewell dinner to celebrate our Alaskan adventures.
Day 12: Anchorage / Depart
Our grand Alaska photo safari comes to a close today as we transfer to the 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.
Have questions about this Alaska photography tour? Click here to view a list of Frequently Asked Questions about this adventure.