Ultimate Alaska Itinerary
Our Alaska nature 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. Meet your Expedition Leader at a welcome dinner this evening.
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 800 miles to the port of Valdez, as we learn more about conservation concerns on Alaska’s North Slope. Then it's time to 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 a portion of the park ecosystem as we explore trails along spruce forest and braided rivers.
Day 3: Denali National Park
Due to extended road closures in the interior of Denali National Park as a result of a major 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 see moose and caribou in this area. We’ll learn in detail 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 Kantishna.
Please note: Our tour takes place on the park's public bus system— the only transport mode currently available for exploring Denali's vast terrain. Tour times and seats are allocated by the park and are not at our discretion, although each experience is sure to offer a gratifying encounter with a slice of this legendary national park.
Day 4: Sled Dog Kennel Visit / 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 meeting the dogs individually, 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.
Day 5: Talkeetna / Denali Flightseeing / Alyeska
Discover the quaint and quirky town of Talkeetna, 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 includes a glacier landing on Denali’s flank. See 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, flights and routings 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 on offer. 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 vistas of the ice-clad peaks and 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 explore 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, 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, look for sea otters that are frequently seen bobbing 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.
Day 8: Kenai Fjords National Park—Private Cruise
Iconic images of Alaska are on display today from our private chartered boat as we cruise through 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 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. Glaciers wind from the jagged mountain heights into the sea, and we may observe icebergs calving with a thundrous 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 wilderness.
Day 9: Seward / Anchorage
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 retrace our route northward, 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 not included so you can select your choice of the many outstanding offerings available in Alaska's largest city. Local seafood is always a highlight! Tap your Expedition Leader for recommendations.
Days 10 & 11: King Salmon / Katmai National Park—Brooks Falls
Fly southwest to King Salmon this morning, then by floatplane to Katmai National Park and world-renowned Brooks Falls, one of the best places to view giant Alaskan brown bears in their natural habitat. Katmai is home to the world’s largest population of these enormous coastal grizzlies, 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 for these magnificent carnivores.
Within Katmai's protected bounds, scientists study bears in their natural environs, visitors have unparalleled viewing opportunities, and the bears live largely undisturbed. Nurturing this delicate relationship between people and bears is the key to Katmai's success, making it the world's preeminent place to observe brown bears in the wild. From the safety of platforms built over Brooks Falls, we get a close look at one of the world's most iconic wildlife spectacles, which few visitors to Alaska have the privilege to witness: at close range, watch bears stand in the rushing whitewater, jaws gaping, trying to catch the salmon that leap up the falls once spawning season starts. Our June and July departures will have 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 bears in the vicinity, wandering up and down the Brooks River. 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 a last round of bear viewing 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 13: Anchorage / Depart
Our Alaska wildlife 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
Important Note on Katmai Accommodations:
For 2022 travelers, depending on your departure date you will overnight on Days 10 and 11 at either Alaska's Gold Creek Lodge or Brooks Lodge. See Dates & Prices page for more details. Brooks Lodge is a more rustic accommodation located inside the park, within walking distance of the viewing platforms over the falls, and offering round-the-clock proximity to the bears. Alaska's Gold Creek Lodge is a deluxe fly-in wilderness lodge near King Salmon, from which we make a scenic round-trip floatplane ride (20 minutes one way) to reach Brooks Falls. Talk with an Adventure Specialist for more details about these two very different accommodation options, each with their own unique advantages. Brooks Lodge accommodations will no longer be offered after the 2022 season concludes.
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Wild Alaska Grizzly Encounter
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Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness