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The Final Frontier – Part I

The Final Frontier – Part I

After months of researching and planning our trip to Alaska, the day had finally come! We spent a hot 24 hours in Portland and boarded our plane to Anchorage. Like two kids on Christmas Day, we were anxious to see what surprises awaited. 

Planning the trip was no easy task, it required a lot of research to nail down where to visit. We booked our flight for late June in early February; it took us about two more months to research and plan out the trip. During our initial research we decided to visit Anchorage, Homer, Seward and then Denali. However, after working some Google Maps magic, we quickly realized that we didn’t have enough time to visit all four cities – Homer did not make the cut this time around. Our itinerary was really packed so I’m breaking this trip up into two posts. Part I covers the first half of our trip in Anchorage and Seward/the Kenai Peninsula; Part II covers the second half of our trip mainly, Denali.

Arrival

When we booked our flights, we were surprised to learn that almost every flight arrived in Anchorage at 2:45AM or some other absurdly early (or late, depending on which way you look at it) time. Luckily, we found a flight from Portland that arrived at a more reasonable time – 11:45PM. We heard of the summer ‘Midnight Sun’, but even so, we didn’t expect it to look like it was 5PM outside when we arrived at almost midnight.

For purposes of our trip, Anchorage was generally a rest stop before starting our trip down to Seward and the Kenai Peninsula or a rest stop on our way up to Denali. We spent one night at a time in the Anchorage and it was perfectly sufficient, I would advise anyone planning a trip to Alaska to do the same.

Seward

Driving down to Seward – Day 1

We woke up early on the first day and had breakfast at the Snow City Cafe. This place is pretty no frills in terms of looks, but their breakfast was exactly what we wanted and needed to get the day started. With full stomachs, a coffee in one hand and our pecan sticky bun to snack on in the other (trust me, don’t pass on this, it’s worth the calories), we picked up our rental car and hit the road for Seward – which is about 2.5 hours south of Anchorage. The drive down was sunny and clear which, made it difficult for us to get down to Seward at a decent time because we kept stopping for pictures along the way.

Yeah, this view was literally off the side of the road.

Our only obligation was to be in Seward by 5PM for a pre-camping/kayaking meeting, other than that the day was pretty free. With such nice weather, we decided to stop at Byron glacier for an easy hike to stretch the legs and get some air.

This was probably one of the best days of our trip, weather-wise, that is. It was warm but, also pretty humid so, the mosquitos were out in SWARMS. After our quick break, it was time to get back on the road. Shortly before arriving into Seward, we made one last stop at Exit Glacier. Similar to Byron Glacier, this was a pretty easy walk. We didn’t have that much time so, we didn’t  get as close as we wanted, but the views were impressive nonetheless. Glaciers periodically grow and retreat, it was pretty astounding to see how far the glacier has retreated since 2005; nobody in Alaska wanted to say definitively whether or not it was due to global warming.

Even with people taking pictures, its still hard to convey the sheer size of Exit Glacier in a photo.

We arrived in Seward just in time for our pre-camping/kayaking meeting. We planned a one-night kayak and camping trip with Kayak Adventures Worldwide and required attendance the day before to make sure we all had the proper attire and discuss details for the next two days. After our meeting, we stumbled upon on restaurant called, “The Cookery” for dinner. It was our favorite restaurant in Seward – so much so, we had it twice during our stay in the town.

When we were booking hotels for our trip in February and March, we thought we were ahead of the game. Turns out we were wrong, very wrong. A lot of the places we wanted to stay at were sold out on one or both nights. We found out from other guests that they booked hotel rooms back in DECEMBER. When we found a room was available for a pretty reasonable price (~$170/night) at Resurrection Lodge on the Bay, we were skeptical, especially because there were no reviews on Booking.com.

We fell in love immediately upon arrival. It was so cute and the owners thought of pretty much everything. Our room had a cozy and warm feel in addition to the private deck with a heat lamp and a pair of Adirondack chairs looking out to the water and the mountains. We made ourselves some hot cocoa, grabbed a pair of binoculars from the dining area (there are plenty lining the window sills in the dining area) and enjoyed the sunset at 11:30PM.

Our private deck!
We got lucky with the vacancy and this view – it’s the hotel’s first season open for business.

Camping & Kayaking – Day 2 & 3

We woke up early, grabbed some breakfast and a sea taxi picked us for our two day kayaking adventure. The campsite was about 2.5 hours away from Seward; during the trip out, we saw seals, puffins, sea otters and a whale (sadly, only Will saw the whale, I was in the bathroom).

We got to our site, had some lunch and set up our tents with the four other campers and our guide, Bobby. The first lagoon we kayaked to is called Pederson Lagoon. It can only be accessed during high tide, so you need to time it out correctly. Getting into the lagoon was hard as the tide’s current pulled us another way, but leaving was even more challenging. It felt like we were paddling upstream and going nowhere. With that said, paddling around the lagoon and the glacier was special; on our way out, we even saw a black bear hanging out on the shoreline.

When we got back to the campsite, we had a little bit of time to rest before dinner. Aialik Glacier was not far from our sight (pun intended) – we could not only see it from our tents, but could hear it calving throughout the night; our guide called it “white thunder.” By the end of dinner, we saw some fairly big pieces of ice that had floated to our shore after calving off earlier in the day. We ended the night with a hot cocoa and whiskey night cap, we were so tired we didn’t need our eye covers to combat the midnight sun.

Home sweet home for the night; Aialik Glacier is in the upper right.
This large chunk of ice calved off of the glacier earlier in the day – it was about the size of a refrigerator.

The next morning, Bobby made us another wonderful meal – sausage and chocolate chip pancakes with bananas and coconut shavings. We packed our dry bags with water, trail mix and cameras then set out for our second day of kayaking. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t as nice as the day before.

The Kenai Peninsula is known for its tropical climate in terms of precipitation and that day we fully experienced how wet it can get. Rain or shine, we would be paddling to Aialik Glacier. This glacier wasn’t as challenging to paddle out to and we didn’t need to time it with the tide. We constantly saw curious seals and sea otters swimming near the kayaks. It was crazy paddling out around icebergs and small chunks of ice. Bobby said “anything smaller than a manhole is safe to paddle by but, let’s steer clear of anything bigger than a refrigerator.”

Our awesome guide, Bobby.

We paddled within half a mile of the glacier. This may still seem kind of far, but when it is actively calving, it can create some waves. Even from half a mile out, we felt the waves as we were sitting out there and just taking it all in.

The rain got progressively heavier, so we paddled back and packed everything up before the sea taxi arrived. Apparently we were lucky, a big storm was scheduled to arrive the next day – the next group of campers would need to reschedule or cancel their trip. Unfortunately for us, the incoming storm produced 6 to 8 foot waves on our way back to Seward. Thank goodness for dramamine – I just ended up falling asleep on the boat; other passengers were not as lucky.

Warm, dry, and trying not to think about the 6 – 8 foot waves.

When we got back to shore, we had another meal at The Cookery because it was across the street from our hotel and because it was so darn good the first time we had it. We did make sure we ordered something different this time though.

Fishing for Salmon – Day 4

Our last full day in Seward was spent in Cooper Landing doing some fishing for salmon, more specifically, Chinook. After doing some research, we learned the difference between ‘float and fish’ and ‘combat fishing’. We opted for the float and fish, while slightly more expensive, it was a far more pleasant experience than lining up along the shore with 25+ strangers all fishing for the same thing.

Unfortunately, we were on the tail end of the first run, so it wasn’t quite as easy as “shooting fish in a barrel”. I hooked three during the day but, wasn’t able to bring any in. Luckily, Will was able to catch us some fish to send back home.

We were pretty beat after a long day of fishing and were ready for dinner by the time we got back to Seward. We got a couple recommendations for Chinooks, so we went there for a burger and some fish and chips and the view of the marina. It was great, highly recommend this restaurant as well.

Our first four days in Alaska were extremely memorable and we were looking forward to how Denali would compare. If you enjoyed this post and/or found it informative, make sure you check out Part II for the second half of our Final Frontier trip – it covers a couple smaller hikes on our drive up to Denali and our time spent in Denali.

Thanks again for visiting!

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