Alaska the Magnificent - one perfect trip
We landed in Anchorage Alaska in August 2017 when the sun was shining and the air was cool. Our family of 6 took 2 taxis to get to the Walmart where we had arranged to meet the family renting us the 28 feet RV or motor home via Outdoorsy. Alaska is practically made for RV travels. The tourist population in the summer months is triple that of Alaska residents so there aren't enough hotels and motels or even private homes to accommodate this influx. But there are plenty of lands to set up RV parking spaces and the higher-end RV parks often have hookups for water, electricity, and sewage. Many people don't know this, but Walmart is one of the places where you can find reliable parking for RV's when you travel across the United States, especially within the cities where parking spaces are small and difficult to find. It was a convenient meeting place too because, after the quick orientation, instructions, and paperwork, we were able to stock our refrigerator and pantry with all the usual necessities with a quick trip to Walmart. Then off we go, to America's last great frontier. We drove south on Highway 1 heading for the Kenai peninsula. Our first stop was an RV park in Cooper Landing inside the Chugach National Forest. After a quick dinner in the RV with spaghetti, we had plenty of daylight to hike down to the river even at 9 pm. The Park had a stock of walking sticks at the beginning of the hike that the children thought was cool. The next morning, on day 2, we stopped a bit further down the road for a hike to the Russian River Falls where we watched the salmons jump the falls. Some of the fishermen further downstream told us you don't want to catch salmon too far upstream because salmons don't eat as they travel upstream and their meat turns to mush as they use up their fat and muscle for their last hurrah.
We couldn't fish anyway since we didn't have a net or license but my son Eric was able to catch a salmon with his bare hands in one of the dead-end pools on the sides of the river and release it in the main river stream. We drove on to Seward, Alaska, and reserved an RV parking space in town before driving to the Kenai Fjord National Park visitor center in the city which was next to the harbor. We went shopping at the harbor and watched the charter fishing boats come in to weigh, measure and process their catch.
As I wandered around watching all the activities going on, I asked one of the people fileting salmons for tourists to bring home "What do you do with all the salmon eggs?" And the lady replied "Nothing, we throw them away. Do you want them?" She grabbed a zip lock bag and tossed several sacs of salmon eggs in and gave them to me. We had dinner in town. I brought the eggs back to the RV where I cleaned the eggs out of their sacs, mixed in some salt, and refrigerated them.
The next morning we drove to the Kenai Fjord National Park Exit Glacier entrance to view the retreating glacier and had salmon caviar with cream cheese and toast for brunch.
Went back into town to visit the Sealife Center and had dinner in Seward. We then retraced our steps back north on Highway 1 past Anchorage and turned left up Highway 3 to stay the night in Willow. The RV park had tons of large rabbits running around the campsites and sleeping under the parked RV'S as well as a potbelly pig for a park pet.
The next morning we drove through Denali state park to get to Talkeetna. On the way, we saw people stopping by the road and wandering through the tundra so we pulled over to see what's going on. Stepping out of the RV, it was evident that the tundra was filled with wild blueberries as far as the eyes can see. We all got off the RV and picked blueberries. I separated the harvest into two batches, one for eating fresh and making blueberry juice, and one for making pies and crumbles later on. After getting back on the road we drove no more than 5 minutes before seeing a black bear picking blueberries by the road just like we were doing.
We walked around Talkeetna and had a hefty lunch at the Roadhouse cafe where we discovered the great Athabascan hot sauce. The RV parks in Talkeetna were full so we stayed the night at Trapper Creek, squeezing our RV in between 2 watermelon-berry bushes. Our RV park had a convenience store so we picked up something for dinner there.
The next morning we drove to Denali National Park visitor center to purchase tickets for the bus tour the next day, shopped around the Mercantile Exchange, and checked into our reserved parking spot in the park. We had dinner in the RV but pulled out the folding chairs from under the RV for roasting marshmallows around the campfire.
The fourth day was booked for a 12 hour narrated Kantishna experience bus tour into the park. As we got started the bus driver warned us that 30% of the time Denali is not visible due to clouds and fog and she asked us to holler should we see any wildlife. And boy, did we holler. We saw ptarmigans just sitting on the roadside in a flock, a grizzly bear with 2 cubs climbing a hill, and caribous of all shapes and sizes, one that literally meanders the length of the bus when we stopped. Then, as she rounded the corner, she announced "We've got a beautiful, clear view of Denali". We stopped for pictures and lunch at several stops along the way. And the view was always gorgeous.
The next day was our driving day. To get to our next destination Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Chitina entrance, we could drive all the way north to Fairbanks and loop back down, drive all the way south almost to Anchorage and head East on paved highways or we can (supposedly, per Google) save 1-2 hours of driving and take the unpaved Denali Highway across the middle of Alaska. We had asked the RV owners if they think it's doable and they said absolutely, everybody does it all the time. What they didn't mention was that it was so rough and bumpy that we had to slow down to almost 15-20 miles an hour so our brains don't rattle and our teeth don't chatter, so the time was doubled what Google estimated. We stopped to help another RV change their flat tire only to develop our own flat tire 20 miles later. It was the inside tire on the double-bogey rear tire of the RV so we didn't know how nor had the tools to change it. Luckily, we had just passed the only flat tire place on the road at the MacLaren River Lodge so I hitched a ride back to the lodge to see if they could come out or tow us in. They said no, we'd have to drive in. It turns out that the bracket holding the spare tire was also broken and we needed that to be fixed as well. We ended up having dinner at the lodge waiting for the welding guy and I bought a caribou hide from their gift shop since the price was much better than ones that I had seen elsewhere. This makes sense since you can see hunter camps scattered along the entire stretch of this highway. It was wide open country and you can see mountains and rivers and glaciers practically all along the drive.
We finally left the Denali Highway at 11 pm as the sun was setting and drove into our RV park at Copper Center just past midnight when it was pitch black. We walked around with flashlights looking for our parking space and went to bed.
In the morning, we paid a visit to the Chitina Ranger station and bought tickets for our bus tour to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park the next day, then had lunch at the historic Hotel Chitina. We drove along the Copper River looking at salmon fish traps and anglers netting salmons, then moved our RV to an RV park near the Chitina Airport for easy access to the bus tour the next day.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park was even more beautiful and breathtaking than Denali NP. My husband was happy that we chose to go in by bus rather than drive our RV in when he saw that the bus had to cross a couple of shallow streams. We saw a moose munching on grass in a pond almost immediately after the bus started into the park from Chitina.
Beyond the small town of McCarty, there is an old mining town Kennecott that has been partially restored and is used by the National Park Service as a visitor center. The red and white buildings were just so pretty up against the black and white mountains and glaciers. From Kennecott, we were able to hike through a waterfall, up to the glaciers, and walked all along the frozen river for miles. There were other visitors in the park but once you started hiking, most of the time, we were the only ones there. We didn't even realize it, but the river of dirt we were walking alongside in the town is a terminal moraine, which is just a glacier that has been covered by a million-year of dirt, rocks, and debris.
We had lunch at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge before taking the bus back out to Chitina. Just an absolutely wonderful day. All hiking, good food, with no sweats, no bugs.
Since we had to take the flight out of Anchorage the next day and since we had plenty of daylight even after getting back to our RV at 6 pm, we decided to drive halfway back to Anchorage to stay the night at Grand View Cafe and RV park in Glacier View.
Bruce and I woke up at 8 am the next day for a quick walk around the area. Then it was time to head back to the Airport. All around us, every 15 minutes, there would be a mist-shrouded mountain, a river-fed valley, or a meandering glacier. By this time, though, the kids have grown jaded. So that after I called out "Look at that gorgeous view !!", my kids wouldn't even look up from their Nintendo DS games. My son even called back "It's Alaska, ma. There are gorgeous views everywhere, every day."
And you know what? He's absolutely right.