It doesn’t take long once someone finds out that I am a born and bred Alaskan for their eyes light up and start talking about how Alaska is on their bucket list of places to visit.
They follow up that statement quickly with asking where am I from? Where do I suggest visiting? Best places to see? I always answer the same way, there is only one route that you should take to truly SEE Alaska and it goes something like this…
- Make sure that you do your maintenance on your vehicle – you are going to need it
- Book a one way ticket on the Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham, Wash. to Whitter, AK. There are other ports you can take, obviously, however I think that taking the ferry in and out of Whitter is one of the most picturesque ports to start your adventure…on land.
- The reason why this is the best is because you are able to take the route through the entire inside passage of Alaska and if you time this right you will be able to see all of the marine life! While you are on the ferry you will stop at several ports, Sitka, Ketchikan and Juneau. These port visits are worth the trip alone.
- When you make port in Whitter you will enjoy a drive through one of the most interesting passages you might ever take, Wh itter has one road in, one road out and that road is through the mountain over the railway tracks. How cool is that?
- Once you make it through the mountain you will drive along a strip of road that is unlike any other road you will travel! A little FYI – if you talk to an Alaskan you won’t ever get a number on a road every road has a name and we use the names. But for any non-Alaskan taking this route you will be traveling up AK-1, or the Seward Highway, from Whitter to Anchorage.
- Once you make it to Anchorage you will need to decide if you want to stay in Anchorage for a few days and explore Alaska’s largest city in the state. There is a lot to see so you won’t be bored and the food! Oh man the food is amazing! If you don’t have salmon at least once while you are on the coastline, you are missing out! This is the freshest seafood you might ever taste, all from local fishermen and normally caught that same morning.
- After you decide that you have had your fill of Anchorage it is time to continue your way North. You could take a week making this drive when in reality it only takes six-ish hours…depending on RV traffic. The next stop that is an absolutely must before you reach Alaska’s Golden Heart is Denali! I know there was an up rise a few years ago from the name being changed from Mt. McKinley to Mt. Denali but to be honest…if you asked an Alaskan it was always Mt. Denali.
- I would suggest staying in Denali for the night, I suggest camping but there are hotels there too. There is so much to see, white water rafting, hiking, driving through the National Park, and there is nothing like watching the sun “set” while having dinner on a patio in the canyon and watching the water from the Nenana river drift below you (if you go between the 3rd week in May and the 2nd week in July the sun never truly sets)
- Once you have awoken from your slumber, which is hopefully was a good one, it is time to hit the road again! Continuing your travels north. There are several little towns along the Parks Highway, but most of them have been built up to sustain the hoard of semi traffic along the Alaskan highways and bi-ways.
- Now to my bread and butter…Fairbanks! Since this is where I grew up I know all the spots to visit around the area. I suggest getting a hotel in one of the hotels close to the river. There are a lot of hotels in the downtown area but those usually are more pricey and filled with businessmen, same thing with the airport but you can usually find a deal. If you want a hotel with a little Alaskan flavor to it I would suggest the Aurora Express Bed and Breakfast. It is a bed and breakfast that was made in several retired Alaskan Railroad cars, each bedroom has a different theme that ties into Alaskan history, talk about some local culture!
- Next talk a stroll through “Pioneer Park”, once again if you are asking an Alaskan on where to go we will call it “Alaska Land” (they changed the name a few years ago but the name stuck with us) There is a lot of history, some good local food vendors and there are a lot of Alaskan artists on display as well. It only takes a few hours to go through but I would highly suggest staying for dinner, the Alaskan Salmon Bake is an all you can eat Alaskan delicacy. It is a little pricey but you are getting a lot of food for your money.
- Now if you can bare to get back into your car for a day trip take a cruise up Chena Hot Springs Rd and you guessed it this road leads right up to Chena Hot Springs. It is time to soak off the wear from the road and the natural springs is the way to do it. There is also a great way to cool off after you get out of the hot springs, in the parking lot there is a year-round Ice Hotel where (if you are 21+) you can drink a martini from an ice glass and the entire hotel is made of ice! It is beautiful, absolutely breath taking, something you will never expect.
- If you are feeling particularly adventurous another fun adventure to get to know the Alaskan culture a little more, once you get back to Fairbanks, it is time to float down the Chena river on the River Boat Discovery. Here you will watch bush plane pilots take off from the river, a husky training camp for dog sled teams, walk among a traditional salmon camp.
- After you are ready to hit the road again it is time to head back home, but this time you aren’t taking the water out. Be sure you packed your passport for this, you are going to take the ALCAN (Alaskan-Canadian) highway back to the lower 48. It’ll take you by way of Tok, fill up on gas! You will see lots of signs to remind you so you won’t forget because you don’t want to try and make the drive without a full tank…you won’t make it.
- Lastly, take your time and enjoy the ride! It will take you a few days to get through Canada but the scenery is well worth the time, follow the path down to Vancouver and then jump the border (not literally of course the Mounties won’t like you very much if you do) to Washington and before you know it you will be back in Seattle. From there wayward roads and follow wanderlust to where ever you call home, but this trip will change your life.
Traveling Photographer Out!