Lambert’s Corner on really seeing Alaska!

Lambert Hazelaar Out in Alaska

Hello to all of you that are looking to come to Alaska.

My wife Marnie and I first moved to Alaska in 1972 and have lived in the state in various areas for most of that time… Wasilla, Homer, Palmer, Anchorage and, of course, Fairbanks. We have traveled the state both in the winter and the summer seasons, from one end to the other. Over the years we have developed a good sense of what there is to see or not to see. This summer will be our 20th summer of serving guests from all over the world. I have approximated that we serve about 4,000 folks each year that stay with us. We’ve heard the great stories and the horror stories, the woes and the “yippeee’s!”.

One of the mistakes that I see a lot of folks do in planning their trip to Alaska is they try to take in too large of an area in too short a time. The wife wants to go to Barrow and the husband wants to go deep sea fishing in Homer, not understanding that the distance, mostly traveled on two lane roads (with the exception of Barrow where you have to fly) taking a lot of time. Trying to do too much will leave you missing quite a bit in between. If there is anything I can pass on to you it would be how to see and do the most, without spending all of your time traveling in a car! Slow down enough so you can let Alaska come to you and have time enough to smell the Sitka roses.

It might be taking an extra half hour at the breakfast table chatting with guests, stopping long enough to study or smell the abundant flowers, or take in the beauty of a mountain or valley.

Here are some of the problems that have faced travelers I’ve met:

  • You do not have as much time as you think. A 14 day trip usually comes down to an actual 11-12 days of actual days to do things in between arrival and departure.
  • Most people start in Anchorage because it’s the largest city in Alaska, thinking it’s the one that is going to have the most activities. This is not necessarily true!
  • Too many things to choose from in a large geographic area.
  • Not having much experience in traveling and how to go about it. Didn’t spend enough time in reading and research.
  • Getting caught up in the “Tourist” venues and missing the wonderful gems in areas off the beaten path.
  • Not realizing how much $$$$ things cost and having to cut corners.

What I would like to do here is give you some suggestions that will help you accomplish most of the things on your list in the time that you have available. It might even be best to take an extra year to save and research about where you want to go, then you will be able to do all the things that you would like to do without having to say no to yourselves. For most this is a “once-in-a-life-time” trip, so get to know yourself, what will make you happy and then plan accordingly. Learn to negotiate with your partner before you arrive in Alaska and that way you will have thought it out and taken the time to discuss with each other the things each is interested in. I know what you will say about this one, fellows, how does it go… “YES HONEY, WHAT EVER YOU WANT!” Just kidding ladies!!

So pull out your map and follow along…Please take the time to click on the various web links, read each one and at the end of our journey together I think you’ll have a feel for what I’m suggesting. As you read through our suggestions, take notes and feel free to email me any questions that you might have. So let’s get started.

  1. Alaska_MapFly into Fairbanks… start your trip here!! Yes, we are partial to our hometown, but we honestly believe that the interior of the state is the best starting point when you have a limited amount of time to see everything you’re interested in. Try to fly in early enough to do something on the day of your arrival. If that can’t be arranged, start the next day. We have a list of local things to do on our Summer Activities page on this web site. Plan on taking at least 3 days to see and do everything in the interior area. Add a day to go to Barrow and/or a day to fly or drive to the Arctic Circle if those are some things you really want to do. www.explorefairbanks.com
  2. After your time in the Fairbanks / Interior area, travel down Highway #2 (Richardson Hwy.) The Richardson is the original road built into the Interior of Alaska, begun in 1898. www.nps.gov/archive/wrst/valdeztrail 90 miles from Fairbanks is Rika’s Roadhouse, which is before you get to Delta, be sure to stop in there. It is now a State Park. At the south end of Delta Junction is the visitors center and a "Y" in the road where the Richardson Hwy. turns into Highway #4 and heads towards Valdez. Your destination is Copper Center and you should give yourself a full day to travel there. www.nps.gov/archive/wrst/virtualtour/coppercenter This is where the Klutina River is, where I caught a 64 pound King Salmon! You can fish off the bank or get a charter. The charter company I used was Groves Camp Grounds and Guide Service.
  3. The next day, take a drive on Highway #10, or fly, into the St. Elias National Park, the worlds largest protected sanctuary. This was one of the largest copper mines in the world. After it was abandoned the State eventually made it into a park. Tours are available at the actual mine area. The road is gravel (*see note about vehicle rentals and gravel roads) and you are driving on an old rail bed. There is a wonderful rustic hotel in the park that has good accommodations. The hotel and park office overlook a large glacier that is breathtaking, to say the least! www.traveltoalaska.com/McCarthy-Kennicott
  4. The next day go to Valdez and spend a couple of days there. (If you would rather spend more time in Seward than Valdez that can work also since they have similar activities available.) There are some glacier cruises (Columbia and Meires Glaciers), kayaking and hiking. Make sure you go to the Tsunami Center and learn the history from the 1962 earthquake. Valdez is well known for it’s awesome halibut and salmon fishing.
  5. From Valdez take the ferry www.akferry.org to Whittier, an 6.5 hour trip. For the 2006 season the only day the ferry did not run was Tuesday. The ferry is called the Aurora and the cost of this for a car under 21 feet and two adults is about $325.00.
  6. Drive out of Whittier to Portage Glacier. After you view the glacier, go to the Big Game Wildlife Center www.farthernorth.com/biggamealaska/index , which is fairly close. Then drive to Girdwood, the home of the Alyeska Resort, and stay a couple of nights. The next morning, take the spectacular train ride to Seward, which leaves from the Girdwood station at about 8:00 a.m. You can leave your car there at the station. If you didn’t spend time in Valdez stay for a couple of days in Sewardwww.alaska.org/seward/seward . You can take a day long glacier trip or hang around town and go to the Sea-Life Centerwww.alaskasealife.org Every year on the 4th of July the city of approximately 4000 people increases to about 25,000 for the Mt. Marathon Marathon, the second oldest footrace in America. Fishing is also great here with numerous charters available
  7. The return train leaves Seward at about 6:00 p.m. and arrives back to the station about 9:00 p.m., so staying another night at Girdwood would be my choice. The next day travel along the Turnagain Arm (Hwy. #1). If you see cars stopped along the road it is probably a good place for viewing the Dahl Sheep that make their home on the cliffs above the road.
  8. Make your first stop in the Anchorage area at the Native Heritage Center www.alaskanative.net . Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska, has an area population of over 300,000. The entire State of Alaska only has 600,000 people! For the rest of your day, go to the Anchorage Museum. Also in the down town area is the IMAX Theater www.alaskaexperiencetheatre.com and the museumwww.anchoragemuseum.org . For a larger list of activities in the Anchorage area, go to this site: www.alaskajourney.com/anchorage . Spend the night in Anchorage with some fine dining and night life.
  9. From there continue your travel on Hwy #1. The Matanuska Valley is populated by the cities of Palmer and Wasilla. Hatcher Pass / Independence Mine is well worth a side trip before you head to Anchorage. Take the Glenn Highway from Anchorage. Two miles past the city of Palmer, turn left on Palmer-Fishhook Road, which becomes the Hatcher Pass Road. The Hatcher Pass Management Area is 10 miles from downtown Palmer; Independence Mine is 18 miles from Palmer.
  10. At the Wasilla exit you will be turning on Hwy. #3 and from there make your way on to Talkeetna www.alaska.org/talkeetna to spend the night. You can do some of the best fishing on a river-run trip that you’ve ever done, the scenery is incredible, and the history of the town…fascinating!! Travel time from Anchorage to Talkeetna is about 2.5 hours, so depending on what you want to do to fill your day, there will be a lot of different choices at this point of your trip. If you e-mail me with your questions on what to do I will be more than happy to help you out.
  11. Next, on towards Denali Park. Plan on spending 2 nights there in order to take a tour into the park. Because of how large the mountain is, it seems to have its own weather patterns, so do not be disappointed if you don’t see the mountain. This is where your patience comes into practice. The viewing of wildlife, such as grizzly bears, dahl sheep, fox, wolves, caribou and much more, is exciting. But be reminded…the day to day activities of these animals are not on your schedule! Denali Park www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm can be one of the most special trips you take, but if you go with too high of an expectation you may leave a little disappointed. This is very true for all of Alaska, the greatness is so spectacular, but she only reveals herself when ever she wants to, not when you want her to! So patience needs to become a great friend while you travel this land. If you get too anxious there is a good chance you’ll miss the moment that was designed just for you.
  12. Now backtrack a half hour to Cantwell and take the Denali Hwy (#8), which is also a gravel road (*see note). This is one of the most spectacular and scenic roads in Alaska, and the majority of people don’t take the opportunity to go on it. This highway comes out at Paxton on the Richardson Hwy. For a great guide, you can purchase one through the BLM site listed – www.blm.gov/ak/gdo/publication.htm So then head back north through Delta Junction again to Fairbanks. Once you leave Paxton coming north, this will be the only part of road that you will have been on before.

* Most auto rental companies do not want their cars to be driven on gravel roads, only paved, and will not allow you to rent from them if they know you will be traveling to the Kennecott Mine, on the Denali Highway or the Elliot Highway (going to Arctic Circle, Coldfoot and Prudhoe Bay).

 

I hope this has been a helpful tool in your planning and please feel free to pick and choose according to your own interests. You can email me at:

lambert@minniestreetbandb.com

and tell me how your trip went, especially the do’s and the don’ts so I can pass this information on to others. Have a wonderful trip. If you’re traveling up here for the winter, March is the time I would suggest. Fairbanks starts coming out of hibernation then!! For a list of links of activities in March, check out our Activities page.
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