I had the opportunity to visit ‘The Last Frontier’ recently and was blown away by the shear beauty of Alaska. I have cruised Alaska many times, both the inside passage and the one way Gulf cruises, but have never really had the option of traveling into the interior of the state. Just the vastness of the wilderness was enough to make you catch your breath. I’ve always known that Alaska is the largest state in size, but when you visualize that it is still larger than the next three largest states (Texas, California, and Montana) combined it is overwhelming. We started our journey by flying into Anchorage and overnighting before heading off to Denali the next day.
We were able to travel on Holland America’s McKinley Explorer glass dome train from Anchorage to Denali taking about 8 hours. The train is beautiful. You are up high and surrounded by glass on the sides and roof of the train. The scenery is spectacular, crossing over rivers and looking for wildlife along the way. We were lucky to see quite a few moose along the tracks. While onboard we enjoyed a very nice lunch in the dining car. No one was in a hurry and it was a very relaxing trip.
We stayed at the Mt. McKinley Chalet in Denali for two nights. The accommodations were lovely in a type of cabin feel room with a separate living room overlooking a rushing river. No air conditioning, but you didn’t need it with the breeze from the river coming through to cool things off. While there we took a 5 hour Tundra/Wilderness tour inside Denali National Park. We were lucky enough to see Caribou, Dall Sheep, and a Grizzly. I would highly recommend this longer tour going deeper into the park. The weather was perfect so we had beautiful views of the mountain itself.
From Denali we boarded a very nice Holland America coach and took the 3 hour drive north to Fairbanks. We stayed at the Westmark Fairbanks Hotel, which was situated conveniently near downtown. We were able to take the Riverboat Discovery paddle-wheeler cruise on the Chena river. I thought this was a really nice excursion. The boat passes some gorgeous homes and an indigenous village. The highlight for me was stopping at Trail Breaker Dog Kennels that was started by Susan Butcher and her husband. Susan was the 4 time Iditarod Champion who passed away in 2006 from cancer. It is still run by her husband and two daughters. It was great that he came out and talked to us and gave us a mushing demonstration.
The next day in Fairbanks was open, so a couple of us took a free city bus at to North Pole, Alaska. It is only about a 30 minute ride and while there we visited The Santa Claus House and even had lunch at “The best Chinese restaurant in Alaska”. It has even been featured on Diner’s, Drive Ins and Dives. All in all, I had a fabulous time and would definitely visit the areas again. I would also recommend to my clients that if they are going to take the North or South bound Alaska cruise to add on a land portion either pre or post. The interior is so different than just seeing glaciers. If you have the time to add the land you are definitely getting the best of both worlds.