As promised, I put together my travel highlights from my trip to Alaska. After screening all 1,962 images, it was pretty tough to pick my top four. The state is just so incredibly beautiful. You can tour a whole year through Alaska and still wouldn’t be able to see everything. Just three words: magical, endless and adventurous.
My personal Alaska highlights
Just a little side note before I put together my highlights. Alaska is worth a trip for you if you love the great outdoors, are up for adventures and have some camping experience, not being afraid of the wilderness. If you are looking for a wellness destination or some nice city trips, this is nothing for you.
Denali National Park
Well, this one is obvious. One of the most magical places. However, there are several ways you can explore Denali: by a touristy bus tour, staying at a cottage and going for daily hikes or by camping.
There are soooo many cruise tourists coming to this place, it can be pretty annoying. Thus, I would recommend to explore Denali on your own. Take the train from Anchorage to Denali: it is a beautiful 8-hour train ride through the whole state where you can spot wildlife and get to learn about the history of the state, exploring some of the most magical spots. But only take a one-way ticket. Either finish your trip at Denali or go to Fairbanks afterwards. But don’t book a tour where you have to take the train both ways only staying for one or two nights. You should schedule in at least five days for Denali – in my opinion. It’s a real paradise for outdoor lovers. Also, make sure to compare prices. Sometimes you find cheaper tickets with Gray LineAlaska or when you buy a coupon book at the visitor center so that you get a 2 for one train ticket special. You can save up to 150 bucks.
If you are not much into camping or backpacking and prefer to stay at a little cottage, just going on daily hikes, I can recommend the McKinley Chalet Resort. From there you have some pretty cool bike and hiking trails directly into the park.
You should definitely check out the Visitor Center at the park to get an idea of all your options. Whether you are looking for trail recommendations, wanna join a guided tour or need a permit for the backcountry – this is your place to go to.
IF you wanna explore the backcountry going backpacking, then you do need a permit. You have to get a proper briefing from one of the rangers, they need to make sure you are prepared for the wilderness. But, I need to be honest: only do it when you have some camping & outdoor experience.
You need to have good outdoor equipment, you need to be prepared that it can snow at any time. It gets really cold at night. You will see wild animals: bears, wolves, moose, maybe even a lynx.
They do show you a safety video and tell you what to do when you see a bear or a moose, but there is just so much more to it. AND: don’t do it alone. Just don’t do it like Christopher McCandless! Be prepared and be aware of your surroundings and changing weather conditions.
Check out the offical park site for more specs. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the famous bus from “Into the Wild” – there was no way I could cross the river and the weather conditions didn’t allow it. But that was okay. It was still one of the most magical places.
Alaska is a paradise for mountain bikers. BUT: things are different over here. Don’t expect these awesome prepared trails you know from Bavaria, Austria or Switzerland. Alaska is WILD – so are many trails.
For Downhill & Bike Park fans, I can recommend Alyeska. If you need a rental bike, check out the Trek Store in Anchorage. They have the latest bikes and can help you out with almost anything.
One of the most magical trails that are all in good shape: Flattop Mountain Trail, Powerline Pass Ride and Kincaid Park – all Intermediate and near Anchorage. Beginners can check out the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage. Probably the sweetest single trail would be along the Lost Lake Trail. Simply awesome!
Whatever you pick, even if you wanna explore the wilderness on your own, just like I did – you will never forget these rides. Just one little tip: be prepared to get muddy, especially in September. I totally LOVED it.
Heli Fat Biking
If you are up for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, save some money and book a heli fat biking tour. Don’t book it in advance because you won’t be able to cancel it last-minute. Contact the local aviation services two to three days before you wanna do it. Either call or send them an email with your date options. Since the weather conditions need to be pretty good to fly out on a glacier, you do need to be flexible.
I personally can recommend Alpha Aviation. If they cannot help you, they can hook you up with other local services. Just don’t make the mistake and book the first package you find online or at the visitor center. Make sure to compare prices. Flightseeing experiences vary from 150 bucks to 450 bucks. So, here it is worth to make some research. Also, if you meet other bikers or backpackers, ask them, if they would be interested as well. Sometimes it gets cheaper when you have a little group of three or four.
Honestly, I wish they would offer it in Switzerland. Heli fat biking in Switzerland must be so freaking awesome.
Knik River Lodge
I admit after spending a lot of time out in the wilderness and doing lots of biking, hiking and exploring, you should definitely schedule in some time to relax and unwind. But don’t do it in a hotel or at some touristy location. Either book a nice cottage via Airbnb or pick a location far out where you have everything you need: a nice little cottage with a fireplace, access to food and water and then nothing but the wilderness. Just like the Knik River Lodge.
I loved watching the helicopters come and go from the Knik glacier, checked out the nearby trails as well as the river and could have just sat there for hours, simply reading my books and enjoying the most magical views. Their Perch Restaurant is a little food heaven: traditional burgers, parmesan fries, fresh scallops, really good craft beer and excellent wine – literally 7th heaven. An excellent place to refuel your energy.
My recommendation: stay there for three nights, then your chances are also pretty good you will get to see the aurora borealis.
What else have I learned
Well, as I mentioned earlier, there is no way you can see it all in such a short period of time. Plan at least three weeks to explore this state and pick a focus. Make sure to enjoy the highlights and don’t try to rush through everything just like these crazy cruise tourists. Also, don’t book a package. Travel on your own. This way you are far more flexible. Here are more things I will remember:
- Anchorage (as well as other cities): totally overrated. You feel like you are stuck in a time capsule. In 1964 Alaska was hit by a major earthquake. This explains the landslide, the peculiar ripping hills and slumping effects in some areas. Naturewise, pretty impressive. But regarding infrastructure and architecture, you feel like you are stuck in the ’60s or ’70s. Only schedule in an overnight stay if you need it, but don’t spend more than one day in any of the cities. Anchorage itself has some pretty mountain views as well as beautiful views of the ocean, but the city is extremely ugly. And not safe between 11 pm till 6 am. NOT SAFE at night! So, if you wanna travel the country on your own, rather stay in little cottages in between your stops than in the major cities. Not worth it.
- Wilderness: They teach you what to do when to see a bear and how to hide behind a tree when you see a moose, but that’s about it. But there is so much more. Make sure to learn about animal tracks, how to react when seeing a lynx or meeting wolves a night. What fish are safe to eat, what river areas are safe and how you can protect yourself. I am honest: when traveling through the wilderness, you should consider taking along a hunting weapon. There were two situations where I would have felt safer. And, to be honest: don’t travel alone. Just don’t.
- Weather: Yes, Alaska is a wild and rough state. Bad wild fires, extreme heat, heavy rain showers and snow. I saw it all. Always be aware of your surroundings and the changing weather conditions.
- Moose steak and reindeer burger: The meat over there is delicious. Go to local farmer markets and always buy local food or eat at restaurants where they serve local food. You should definitely try moose and reindeer. Sooo good.
- Wednesdays and Fridays are usually cruiseship days: make sure to plan your touristy activities around these two dates. Believe me, you will regret it, if you don’t.
- Alone as a woman: Well, as I already mentioned several times, Alaska is rough and old-school. And for a woman, it can be dangerous. There are areas that are not safe. When traveling the state, you mostly meet animals, but there are occasions where you meet other people. And believe me, sometimes people are more threatening and frightening. Once I took a wrong turn and ended up on a private ground near the river. Wow, they immediately chased me through the woods. Literally! Not fun at all. So, again, always be aware of your surroundings and not too trustworthy.
- Don’t make too many plans: Alaska is the largest state in the USA. Hence, don’t make too many plans in advance. Take it easy, enjoy life and simply go with the flow day after day.
- Glaciers: Yes, there are many glaciers and many excursions. They are all impressive: Knik Glacier, Portage Glacier, check out my list of recommendations.
Well, I hope this gives you a little overview of my adventures. If you wanna know more, just drop me an email or DM on my social channels. You will also find more images on my Facebook page.
photo credits: Munich Mountain Rebel, Alpha Aviation