Alaskan Light

Alaskan Light

Destinations  »  North America  »  USA

Destination: Anchorage &
Denali National Park, AK

Length of Stay: 7 Nights (June 2018)

Lodging: Airbnb ($61.42 - $83.23/night)

In a state of delirium and sleep deprivation, we sat on the front porch of our AirB&B simply staring at the horizon at 1:30am, wondering if the sun would ever truly set. That’s when a car pulled in the driveway, perhaps our host, we thought. A petite woman with long brown, wavy hair popped out of the little Saturn and almost squealed with excitement to meet us.

We sat on the porch for a long time, exchanging travel stories until it inevitably got too cold. We found our way to the living room couch and continued the conversation into the early morning hours. That’s one of our favorite things about traveling; the genuine human connection you find when you’re least expecting it. This early morning conversation evolved into a four day bender, rich with experiences in friendship and exploration. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, let us take you on this journey from the very beginning…

Destination: Anchorage &
Denali National Park, AK

Length of Stay: 7 Nights (June 2018)

Lodging: Airbnb ($61.42 - $83.23/night)

In a state of delirium and sleep deprivation, we sat on the front porch of our AirB&B simply staring at the horizon at 1:30am, wondering if the sun would ever truly set. That’s when a car pulled in the driveway, perhaps our host, we thought. A petite woman with long brown, wavy hair popped out of the little Saturn and almost squealed with excitement to meet us.

We sat on the porch for a long time, exchanging travel stories until it inevitably got too cold. We found our way to the living room couch and continued the conversation into the early morning hours. That’s one of our favorite things about traveling; the genuine human connection you find when you’re least expecting it. This early morning conversation evolved into a four day bender, rich with experiences in friendship and exploration. But let's not get ahead of ourselves, let us take you on this journey from the very beginning…

Curious about Denali?
Read about our day trip
See how this fits into the North American Road Trip:
Curious about Denali?
Read about our day trip
See how this fits into the North American Road Trip:

Getting to Anchorage

Landing

We flew into Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage from Calgary, Alberta in early June. 

When you get off the plane in Anchorage, there’s taxidermy in the airport - but none like you ever seen before. This isn’t like a walk through Bass Pro Shops with your mom, this is like a 7 foot tall moose staring back at you equip with a 9 foot tall grizzly bear seeing you out as you pickup your luggage.

Lodging

Cost: $61.42 - $83.23/night

We stayed outside the city with a rental car for 3 days, then returned the car and walked to Wanderer's Rest near downtown to met our incredible host, Holly.

She had so many good recommendations to help plan our entire trip. Linked here are her 2 AirB&B listings (Wanderer's Rest, Loft) in case you want to book a stay with her and meet her for yourself!  

Transport

Cost: $82.76/day (including insurance*)

We picked up our rental car from Dollar Rent A Car at the airport terminal and after bargaining for some insurance, we were on our way.

*Pro tip: Check to see if your current car insurance cover rental cars, it likely does. Unfortunately our car insurance didn't cover rentals. The cheapest car insurance offered to us costed MORE than the cost to rent the car. So it more than doubled what we anticipated spending. Keep that in mind! You will also pay about 12% more to pick up the rental car from the airport, so if you can find a rental place near the airport it might be worth it to see if Ubering or taking a Lyft to it is cheaper than renting at the airport.

Getting to Anchorage

Landing

We flew into Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage from Calgary, Alberta in early June. 

When you get off the plane in Anchorage, there’s taxidermy in the airport - but none like you ever seen before. This isn’t like a walk through Bass Pro Shops with your mom, this is like a 7 foot tall moose staring back at you equip with a 9 foot tall grizzly bear seeing you out as you pickup your luggage.

Lodging

Cost: $61.42 - $83.23/night

We stayed outside the city with a rental car for 3 days, then returned the car and walked to Wanderer's Rest near downtown to met our incredible host, Holly.

She had so many good recommendations to help plan our entire trip. Linked here are her 2 AirB&B listings (Wanderer's Rest, Loft) in case you want to book a stay with her and meet her for yourself!  

Transport

Cost: $82.76/day (including insurance*)

We picked up our rental car from Dollar Rent A Car at the airport terminal and after bargaining for some insurance, we were on our way.

*Pro tip: Check to see if your current car insurance cover rental cars, it likely does. Unfortunately our car insurance didn't cover rentals. The cheapest car insurance offered to us costed MORE than the cost to rent the car. So it more than doubled what we anticipated spending. Keep that in mind! You will also pay about 12% more to pick up the rental car from the airport, so if you can find a rental place near the airport it might be worth it to see if Ubering or taking a Lyft to it is cheaper than renting at the airport.

Activities around Anchorage

Alaskan Wildlife Conservation

Cost: $10/person

At the cost of $10 a person, you can’t really beat the experience. The wildlife conservation center was way better than a zoo, and definitely more ethical too! All the animals in the center were rescued and will live out the remainder of their life in peace as they are cared for in the center. Interestingly enough, we had packed lunches for this day thinking that there wouldn’t be any food for sale BUT there was a coffee and BBQ stand selling - and here’s the kicker - reindeer dogs (yes, there were reindeer at the conservation).

Activities around Anchorage

Alaskan Wildlife Conservation

Cost: $10/person

At the cost of $10 a person, you can’t really beat the experience. The wildlife conservation center was way better than a zoo, and definitely more ethical too! All the animals in the center were rescued and will live out the remainder of their life in peace as they are cared for in the center. Interestingly enough, we had packed lunches for this day thinking that there wouldn’t be any food for sale BUT there was a coffee and BBQ stand selling - and here’s the kicker - reindeer dogs (yes, there were reindeer at the conservation).

Chugach State Park
img_5869___720_4x5
img_5829___720_4x5
img_5851___720_4x5

Bird Ridge TrailLiterally the hardest hike of my LIFE was here in Chugach State Park. Frankly, I’m lucky to be alive today typing this blog post. There was some moments where I feared the end was near. We did a trail called the Bird Ridge Trail which took you all the way from sea level up the mountain to the clouds at 3,600 feet elevation. It took us four hours to get to the top and two hours to get back down so if you plan on doing it, we suggest packing a lunch and leaving early. The views are UNREAL so it’s worth the workout and the 48 hours of soreness that will inevitably follow. Fun fact: Alaska is home to some of the world's oldest mountains, 400,000 years old also known as the “elder range.”

g3828800___720_4x5
img_5895___720_4x5

Flattop Mountain TrailAlthough we wished we were able to get to this one, our Airbnb host recommended it to us because apparently there are several trails that stem from the main loop. This hike is slightly easier than the Bird Ridge trail, so maybe it would have spared us some of the soreness!

Chugach State Park
img_5869___720_4x5
img_5829___720_4x5
img_5851___720_4x5

Bird Ridge TrailLiterally the hardest hike of my LIFE was here in Chugach State Park. Frankly, I’m lucky to be alive today typing this blog post. There was some moments where I feared the end was near. We did a trail called the Bird Ridge Trail which took you all the way from sea level up the mountain to the clouds at 3,600 feet elevation. It took us four hours to get to the top and two hours to get back down so if you plan on doing it, we suggest packing a lunch and leaving early. The views are UNREAL so it’s worth the workout and the 48 hours of soreness that will inevitably follow. Fun fact: Alaska is home to some of the world's oldest mountains, 400,000 years old also known as the “elder range.”

g3828800___720_4x5
img_5895___720_4x5

Flattop Mountain TrailAlthough we wished we were able to get to this one, our Airbnb host recommended it to us because apparently there are several trails that stem from the main loop. This hike is slightly easier than the Bird Ridge trail, so maybe it would have spared us some of the soreness!

Byron Glacier

Just an hour outside of Anchorage is Byron Glacier. It’s listed as a hike on All Trails but it’s more of a short walk, only about a mile out from the parking lot. It’s worth seeing!

Byron Glacier

Just an hour outside of Anchorage is Byron Glacier. It’s listed as a hike on All Trails but it’s more of a short walk, only about a mile out from the parking lot. It’s worth seeing!

National Park Guide:

Denali National Park

National Park Guide:

Denali National Park

Denali is a whopping 6 million acre National Park and Preserve located about 4 - 4.5 hours north of Anchorage, AK. The park's only road is the 91 mile Denali Park Road which allows visitors to drive personal vehicles up to mile 15. If you want to go deep into Denali, you will need to book a bus tour (which is absolutely worth it)

This park truly is a special place because it possesses an 'intact ecosystem', which means the National Parks Service has never had to reintroduce animal or plant species into the ecosystem. There are 60 different species of mammals in Denali, the largest being the moose. Denali is home to about 350 grizzly bears. Grizzlies can run faster than a human, about 40 mph. They also have eye sight equivalent to ours but we definitely can’t match their scent - grizzlies can smell the birth of a Moose calf up to three miles away!

We also were fortunate enough to experience “ecotone” which is a transition from one ecosystem to another as you venture deeper and deeper into the park. As you continue driving, you move through the Tiaga Forrest ecosystem and then up into the Tundra as you reach higher elevations. As you continue up and into the mountains, you’ll notice the rock color changing from brown to red due to iron oxidization.

 

Bus Tours

Length: 7-8 hours (65 miles one way)

Cost: $50* (includes the $10 NPS entrance fee)  *$80 Annual NPS pass will give you a refund for the park entrance fee included in the ticket, so only $40 for the tour.

There are two main bus tours available: Guided and Unguided tours. Both of these types have tours of varying lengths into the park, however, the unguided tours are less expensive and you essentially get the same amenities/experience. We did the unguided bus tour to Eielson Visitor Center through Aramark for $50/person which includes the $10 National Park entrance fee. However, if you have the Annual National Parks Pass, the $10 entrance fee is refunded to you. The bus wasn’t anything glamorous but our drive Chavez gave us a complimentary guided tour at no additional charge, and the bus stopped at a rest area every 1 - 1.5 hours, so bathroom breaks are not an issue. These tours fill up super quickly though, so book early!

Denali Fun Facts:

  • Mt. McKinley was renamed to Mt. Denali in 2015 (Thanks, Obama!)
  • Mt. Denali It is the tallest peak in North America at 20,310'
  • Denali can be seen around mile 9, and is only visible about 25% of the time due to fog/clouds.

Eielson Visitor Center

Eielson Visitor Center

Denali is a whopping 6 million acre National Park and Preserve located about 4 - 4.5 hours north of Anchorage, AK. The park's only road is the 91 mile Denali Park Road which allows visitors to drive personal vehicles up to mile 15. If you want to go deep into Denali, you will need to book a bus tour (which is absolutely worth it)

This park truly is a special place because it possesses an 'intact ecosystem', which means the National Parks Service has never had to reintroduce animal or plant species into the ecosystem. There are 60 different species of mammals in Denali, the largest being the moose. Denali is home to about 350 grizzly bears. Grizzlies can run faster than a human, about 40 mph. They also have eye sight equivalent to ours but we definitely can’t match their scent - grizzlies can smell the birth of a Moose calf up to three miles away!

We also were fortunate enough to experience “ecotone” which is a transition from one ecosystem to another as you venture deeper and deeper into the park. As you continue driving, you move through the Tiaga Forrest ecosystem and then up into the Tundra as you reach higher elevations. As you continue up and into the mountains, you’ll notice the rock color changing from brown to red due to iron oxidization.

 

Bus Tours

Length: 7-8 hours (65 miles one way)

Cost: $50* (includes the $10 NPS entrance fee)  *$80 Annual NPS pass will give you a refund for the park entrance fee included in the ticket, so only $40 for the tour.

There are two main bus tours available: Guided and Unguided tours. Both of these types have tours of varying lengths into the park, however, the unguided tours are less expensive and you essentially get the same amenities/experience. We did the unguided bus tour to Eielson Visitor Center through Aramark for $50/person which includes the $10 National Park entrance fee. However, if you have the Annual National Parks Pass, the $10 entrance fee is refunded to you. The bus wasn’t anything glamorous but our drive Chavez gave us a complimentary guided tour at no additional charge, and the bus stopped at a rest area every 1 - 1.5 hours, so bathroom breaks are not an issue. These tours fill up super quickly though, so book early!

Denali Fun Facts:

  • Mt. McKinley was renamed to Mt. Denali in 2015 (Thanks, Obama!)
  • Mt. Denali It is the tallest peak in North America at 20,310'
  • Denali can be seen around mile 9, and is only visible about 25% of the time due to fog/clouds.

Eielson Visitor Center

Eielson Visitor Center

Back to USA >>

North America: Best Road Trips in USA and Canada

October 2, 2018

Zion National Park, UT

September 5, 2018

Ontario

May 14, 2018

Self Guided Tour of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

March 19, 2019

Montréal, QC

May 11, 2018

San Francisco, CA

August 6, 2018

National Park Guide: Day Trip to Torres del Paine

November 18, 2018

Glacier National Park, MT

June 13, 2018

Tijuana, MX

August 28, 2018

Newport, RI

May 2, 2018

Horseshoe Bend, AZ

July 24, 2017

Yellowstone National Park, WY

June 16, 2018

Arches National Park, UT

September 15, 2018

Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park, UT

September 10, 2018

Acadia National Park, ME

May 5, 2018

Big Sur, CA

August 10, 2018

Avenue of the Giants, CA

August 2, 2018

Banff National Park, AB

May 25, 2018

Olympic National Park, WA

July 26, 2018

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

September 7, 2018

Victoria, BC

July 27, 2018

Day Trip Guide to Killarney National Park

April 17, 2019

Utah

September 2, 2018

Salvation Mountain, CA

August 29, 2018

Joshua Tree Nat’l Park, CA

September 1, 2018

Portland, OR

July 31, 2018

Monument Valley, UT

September 13, 2018

San Diego, CA

August 20, 2018

Confusion Hill vs. Mystery Spot

August 8, 2018

California

August 2, 2018

Santa Barbara, CA

August 11, 2018

Alaska

June 4, 2018

Mt. Rushmore, SD

June 22, 2018

Los Angeles, CA

August 15, 2018

Olympic National Park, WA

July 26, 2018

Monument Valley, UT

September 13, 2018

Alaska

June 4, 2018

Big Sur, CA

August 10, 2018

Utah

September 2, 2018

Pink Coral Sand Dunes State Park, UT

September 10, 2018

Glacier National Park, MT

June 13, 2018

San Diego, CA

August 20, 2018

Avenue of the Giants, CA

August 2, 2018

Mt. Rushmore, SD

June 22, 2018

Salvation Mountain, CA

August 29, 2018

Santa Barbara, CA

August 11, 2018

Portland, OR

July 31, 2018

Banff National Park, AB

May 25, 2018

Day Trip Guide to Killarney National Park

April 17, 2019

Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

September 7, 2018

Montréal, QC

May 11, 2018

Victoria, BC

July 27, 2018

Zion National Park, UT

September 5, 2018

Arches National Park, UT

September 15, 2018

Ontario

May 14, 2018

Self Guided Tour of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park

March 19, 2019

Joshua Tree Nat’l Park, CA

September 1, 2018

San Francisco, CA

August 6, 2018

California

August 2, 2018

Confusion Hill vs. Mystery Spot

August 8, 2018

National Park Guide: Day Trip to Torres del Paine

November 18, 2018

Horseshoe Bend, AZ

July 24, 2017

Tijuana, MX

August 28, 2018

Acadia National Park, ME

May 5, 2018

Yellowstone National Park, WY

June 16, 2018

Los Angeles, CA

August 15, 2018

Newport, RI

May 2, 2018