(July 30th – August 8th)
Finally the day was here when we flew to Alaska. My mom told me about our upcoming Alaska trip about two months ago. I was very excited and was eagerly waiting for our trips … counting days.
One Saturday morning, we woke up really early in the morning and headed for airport. We flew to Chicago to my cousin’s house. Spent the night there and boarded another flight to Anchorage, Alaska next morning.
It took us about 6 hours to reach Anchorage from Chicago. The view of Alaska from the airplane was just awesome. Snow covered mountains was peeking from between clouds.
At the airport we got our rental cars and headed directly for lunch (we all were very very hungry). We went to this amazing Pita place called “Pita Pit”. Food was awesome and staff were very friendly. We kids had Quesapita (it’s quesadilla on pita pocket), it was pretty good. Grown ups had Falafel Pita loaded with vegetables. They seemed to enjoy it very much.
After hearty meal, we headed towards Alyeska Aerial Tramway. On the way, we stopped at a few scenic places and took pictures. We even spotted a few dall sheep on the mountains. Here is a glimpse of the scenic view I captured in my camera…
We took the tram to the top of Mt. Alyeska. At the Upper Tram Terminal, there is an observation deck providing breath-taking panoramic views of majestic mountains, up to seven hanging glaciers, sparkling streams, towering spruce, and an array of wildlife.
This was one of the trams.
And this was the observation deck at the upper tram terminal.
After enjoying Mt. Alyeska, we had dinner at an amazing Pizza place. Then we headed towards Homer, our first vacation rental in Alaska. We kids fell asleep in the car only. Dad told me in the morning that we reached Homer at midnight and they carried all the kids to bed .. :).
Next day we woke up refreshed and ready to go out and explore. We had yummy breakfast prepared by my mom and aunt at the vacation rental. After breakfast, we got ready and headed towards Homer. On the way we stopped at a few scenic places to take picture.
Homer is “The Halibut Fishing Capital of the World”.
Homer is at the end of the Sterling Highway, 200 miles south of Anchorage, surrounded by wilderness and ocean.
The Homer Spit (“spit” is a geological landform) features the longest road into ocean waters in the world, and was named one of the best 100 beaches in the United States for its incredible views and variety of wildlife along the 4.5 mile multi-use trail that runs from its base to its tip – the true end of the road on Alaska’s Highway 1.
After enjoying the beautiful beaches of Homer, we had lunch at a local restaurant. Then started driving back to our vacation rental.
Next day after breakfast, we headed towards Russian River Falls to see Salmon run. The trail to the falls was about 2.3 miles hike.
Before heading for the hike, we needed to do a little bit of preparation because where the fishes are, bears will follow. Our parents read about bear safety rules (you can find it here – Bear Safety Rules ). We also bought some bells (my sister and cousin had tied them around their wrists) and bear spray, just in case. Equipped with the knowledge and materials, we started our hike.
The hike itself was mostly plain with only a few elevations here and there. But with little kids, it took us almost 2 hours to reach the falls. It was a nice view of the falls from top of the bridge. We then hiked down to get closer to the falls. We spotted hundreds of green-headed, red-bodied sockeye salmon . Some of them were trying to swim upstream. It was quite a show. Below is a view of the falls from down.
After spending some time at the falls and clicking hundreds of pictures, we started our hike back to our car. After a quick dinner of cheese quesadilla, we started driving towards Seward. And by now you must have guessed that we kids fell asleep even before my dad could start driving .. :).
We reached Seward at night. It was almost 11 pm but there was still some daylight. In Alaska, the sun sets really late at night. We checked into our hotel and went straight to the bed.
Seward is known as “Gateway to Kenai Fjord National Park”. The park got it’s name from the many fjords carved by glaciers moving down the mountains from the ice field. (Just in case if you are wondering, a fjord is a long narrow inlet with steep sides created by glacial erosion.) The Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park is the source of more than 35 named glaciers, Holgate Glacier, Aialik Glacier, Bear Glacier, Godwin Glacier, Porcupine Glacier – just to name a few.
The Day started with clouds and some drizzling here and there. We had a quick breakfast of pancakes and scrambled egg. Also packed our lunch from Subway. We boarded the cruise ship and got settled down.
The cruise started and the park ranger on board the cruise ship distributed booklets containing tasks for various age groups. He informed us, upon successful completion of the task, a Junior Ranger awards ceremony will be held at the conclusion of the cruise in which each new Junior Ranger will receive a participation badge from the National Park Ranger. I immediately started doing my task. My dad helped my sister with her task.
By this time we were cruising on the open water. Weather turned bad and it started raining heavily. Many people on board the cruise ship started feeling sea sick. My dad got some sea sickness medicine (Dramamine Tablet) and gave it to all of us. Surprisingly I was fine and did not feel sea sick.
We spotted many marine life on the way, most important was Orca whale. Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphin family and one of the world’s most powerful predators. They are known to feast on marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales. They have very sharp and long teeth up to four inches long. They also eat fish, squid, and seabirds. Among other marine life that we spotted during our cruise are steller sea lion, harbor seals, sea otter and jellyfish.
When we reached the Holgate glacier, the crew fished a big block of ice from the ocean for people to take picture. My parents took picture holding the big block of ice but it was too heavy for me to pick up. I thought to myself, may be when I grow up, I will come back…
Below is a closer look at one of the glaciers, I think it is the Holgate glacier :
As promised, at the conclusion of the cruise, an award ceremony was held for the junior rangers and we all received a participation badge from the National Park Ranger.
Finally we disembarked from the cruise, went to our hotel room for a quick wash, had pizza for dinner and started for Exit Glacier. The Exit Glacier area is the only part of the park accessible by road.
From our hotel, the drive to Exit Glacier parking lot was about half an hour. From there, we took about one mile trail to take a closer look at the glacier. Since the trail was not suitable for strollers, even my 2 year old cousin walked the whole distance (of course with some help from his dad). The view at the end of the trail was spectacular. We clicked many pictures and spent some time there.
See how much it has receded since 2010. This is all because of global warming. Who know if there will be any glaciers left when we grow up, unless we do something about it now.
Finally we returned back to the parking lot and headed back to our hotel. I dozed off wondering what is in store for tomorrow.
Next day we got ready, loaded our car, checked out of the hotel. Then we had a heavy breakfast consisting of waffle and pancakes with maple syrup, Egg sandwich on a croissant with house fries and huevos rancheros (I found the name of this dish to be very interesting).
After breakfast, we started driving towards Denali. On the way, we stopped by at a few scenic places to click more photos.
Then we stopped by at a Thai Restaurant for lunch. When the appetizer came, my 2 year old cousin started screaming “fire” (his word for flower). We ordered spring rolls for appetizer. The presentation was so beautiful that it looked like a flower.
After lunch, again we started driving. It started raining heavily. So we kids had nothing else to do but take a nap.
It took us almost 10 hours to reach Denali. By the time we reached Denali, it was almost evening. We checked into our lodge. It was a beautiful wooden lodge on the mountains. In front of the lodge, there was a sign of mosquito carrying a baby. I found it to be very funny.
After settling down in our room, we went for dinner. We kids had mac n’ cheese and pizza with a side of fruits. After dinner, it was time to take a quick shower and crash for the night. Papa told me tomorrow we are going to take a bus ride to see Mount Denali. I dozed off dreaming about Mount Denali.
Next morning after a quick breakfast of oatmeal and banana at the hotel room, we packed subway for lunch and headed towards the Wilderness Access Center to take a transit bus to Mount Denali (formerly know as Mt. McKinley), North America’s highest peak.
We reached the bus stop just in time for the last shuttle. We all boarded the bus and settled down. These buses are supposed to be non-narrated, meaning the driver usually does not narrate while driving. But we were lucky enough to have a lady who was driving the bus and narrating interesting facts all along. She was pretty amazing lady. She drove the bus on such mountain roads for almost 12-13 hours with a smile on her face. She also helped us spot many wild life along the way.
(Oh! another difference between the narrated tour busses and non-narrated transit shuttle that I noticed is, narrated tour buses are tan in color whereas the non-narrated buses are green color).
Our first stop was Toklat River. After a short break we started on our journey. We spotted a few caribous on the way. They look kind of cool.
Next stop was Eielson Visitor Center. The weather was beautiful and sunny. After another break of about 30 min and many more pictures, we started our journey onwards. We spotted some brown bears on the way. Everyone was so excited on the bus to see the bears. It was a mommy bear with a cub. The cub was very naughty, always trying to run away from mommy bear… ha ha ha!
Can you spot the bear and the cub?
Finally we got a glimpse of Mount Denali. The sun rays were bouncing off the snow covered mountain peak, the view was simply spectacular.
Next stop was Wonder lake. Our bus driver informed us that on a beautiful, calm day, you get a reflection of Mt Denali in the Reflection Pond. Professional photographers visit this place for days together to get a good picture of Mt. Denali and Reflection Pond. That day it was a bit windy, so we did not get a good reflection. This is the what we got :
After another short break here, we continued our journey towards Kantishna. This was the last stop of our bus tour. We saw a few small planes there. There is a small airstrip nearby, and people can fly there instead of taking a bus.
Finally we started our journey back to the base. On the way we spotted few more wild life and took exact same stops as our onward journey.
After reaching the base, we had dinner at this amazing pizza place. We also ordered some sides of mushroom fries and onion ring tower.
Finally after a quick shower, we crashed down for the night wondering what is in store for tomorrow.
Next morning we got ready and checked out of our hotel. Then we had yummiest breakfast in the Black Bear Café. Their avocado basil pesto toast was pretty awesome. My sister liked it sooooo much that she asked my mom to make it everyday at home for her. Pancake and other stuff were also very good. After the hearty breakfast, we started driving towards Fairbanks.
In Fairbanks, we first went to an ice museum. At the beginning, they play a short movie explaining many interesting facts about ice sculpting like how they started to do the ice art, where the huge ice blocks gets exported to, international ice carving competition, etc. After the movie, we went inside the museum. They provide jackets and let you go in and take pictures with all the ice sculptures. They had many structures made of ice, carvings of Eskimos, dog sleds, a mini cabin, bar etc. and a real slide for us to slide down. I had fun on the slide and went on it couple of times.
After this, it was lunch time. We had sweet and savory crepes for lunch and falafel wrap. Yum yum yum…
Our next stop was North Pole. We took pictures on Santa Clause lane and in front of Santa Clause house. The house itself is a gift shop filled with lots of Christmas stuff and souvenirs. My mom got busy shopping for gifts. I was a little disappointed that we did not meet Santa Clause and Mrs. Clause. But then my dad bought us some candy canes for all the kids and I forgot about my disappointment.
Then we headed back to Anchorage. On the way back, we stopped by at the same Black Bear Café and had our dinner.
On the way to Anchorage, we made a stop at Talkeetna, a small picturesque town at the base of Mount Denali. We clicked many pictures as the sun was setting down for the night.
Finally it was time to return to Anchorage to take rest for the night. We booked a vacation rental in Anchorage.
Next morning, we got ready and had breakfast at our vacation rental. Then we headed for Whittier to take another day cruise. It was a bright sunny day. Weather was very beautiful.
The total drive from Anchorage to Whittier was about an hour. We went through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel—the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America. You can find more information about the tunnel and it’s schedule here. The drive through the tunnel was about 10-15 min. My mom recorded the entire ride while me and my sister enjoyed the drive through the dimly lit tunnel from the back seat of our car.
We took the Surprise Glacier Cruise operated by Major Marine Cruise from Whittier. The cruise started around 11 am. Just like the other cruise, this one also has a Uniformed National Forest Service Rangers on board who tells the rich natural and cultural history of the area (they also do the “Junior Ranger” program for kids);. In addition, we got to be a helper showcasing various things to the other passengers on board.
We got a glimpse of many glaciers on the way. Unlike the other cruise, this cruise was totally calm so no one felt sea sick. Here is a glimpse of up-close view of Surprise Glacier :
Other than glaciers, we also saw waterfalls, bird rookeries, a salmon hatchery, whale, sea otters etc.
And the best part was me and my sister got a special invitation to visit the Captain’s cabin where he was kind enough to answer all our questions and also allowed us to take pictures with him. Awesome!!!
At the conclusion of the cruise, we were given Junior Ranger badge in an award ceremony.
After getting down from the cruise we went towards a stationary Alaskan rail. The crew on board were kind enough to let us board the empty section of the train and get a close view of the rail from inside.
After this, it was time to head back to Anchorage (via the same tunnel). We picked up dinner from an Indian restaurant (my favorite paneer tikka masala and naan). After shower and dinner, I had a sleepover with my cousin on a bunk bed.
Finally the day came for us to say goodbye to Alaska. But before we leave, we had more fun in store for the day.
On this very day, we had a very important festival. It is called as “Raksha Bandhan”. On this auspicious day, sisters tie a sacred thread (Rakhi) around brothers wrist and pray to God to protect their brother from all evil.. The brothers make a promise to their sisters to protect them from all harms and troubles. My sister tied the rakhi on all three of us. We gave her gifts and the ritual was complete with sweets ofcourse.
After breakfast, we packed our luggage, loaded our car and checked out of vacation rental. Then we headed towards Gridwood, Alaska for… guess what .. Gold panning, ofcourse.
From Anchorage to Gridwood, the drive was about 45 min. After reaching there, we parked our car in the parking lot of Crow Creek Mine. The mine is set in a picturesque valley high in the Chugach Mountains, the site is like a beautiful outdoor museum, with original buildings. For more information click here.
My dad got the tickets and panning tools for all of us. One of the employees gave us a quick demo of how to do the panning and some tricks and tips. Then equipped with shovels and pan and few prepackaged dirt (which is guaranteed to have gold flakes), we headed towards the creek. The setting was beautiful.
As soon as we reached the creek, we got back to work. Everyone started panning. Eagerly we were sifting through the dirt in the hope of seeing atleast a few shiny, glittery metal but all our efforts were in vain. After about 10-15 minutes, we decided to open our prepackaged bag of dirt. And guess what, finally we found a few gold flakes.. I was so so so excited to see them. We collected them in a bottle (which came with the kit). The little kids were having fun throwing rocks in the water.
After gold panning adventure, we headed back towards Anchorage. Now it was time for us to buy souvenirs. My mom dad let me pick a shiny piece of crystal whereas my sister picked a bracelet and a colorful stone. My mom picked magnets and photoframes and few other gifts.
After shopping it was time for dinner. We went to the same “Pita Pit” where we went for lunch after landing in Alaska. What a tasty way to end our Alaska tour.
Finally it was time to say good bye to Alaska. With a heavy heart we boarded our flight. I was looking forward to be back home and meet my friends. Couldn’t wait to tell my friends about my amazing experience and show them the awesome pictures that I clicked.
I hope you enjoy reading about our awesome Alaska trip as much as we had fun writing about it.
As they say in Alaskan native language…
“Q’u, q’u yet dahdi nuntghesht’ih yida.” – Goodbye, see you later.
Tips on packing for Alaska. In Alaska, weather changes drastically, on a single day sometimes. So, dress up in layers like onion. So that you can remove each later (like an onion) or put on as and when required. A fleece jacket, a water proof outer shell, gloves or mittens, winter hats, a pair of good water proof hiking shoes, emergency ponchos, sunscreen and lots of mosquito repellents should be good enough along with a few short sleeve t shirts, shorts, a few full sleeve t shirts, a good pair of jeans. The mosquito head net is not mandatory unless you are going into deep woods for hiking. I wouldn’t recommend the hat with attached net. A head net (as shown in list of Essentials below) should be good enough along with your regular sun hat. The Dramamine tablet is another essential thing if you plan on going on day cruises.
I would recommend carrying a good pair of binocular. They provide one during cruises but other excursions like Denali bus tour, hikes you need to carry your own. You don’t want to miss a bit when you are in the wild. Last but not the least, carry a good camera to capture the beauty of Alaska. You will cherish the memories for ever.
List of Things we bought before going on vacation :
Shoes and Jackets :
Travel Accessories :
Resources and References :