Pretty much as soon as we got home from our 2015 trip to Hawaii, we started joking that Alaska was next on the bucket list. However, the distance involved, and the fact that everyone we know who has visited encouraged us to take a cruise, meant that it was very much on the “one day” end of the spectrum. Fast forward to a quiet weekend in autumn 2016 – we were idly wondering just how much a cruise might cost, decided to look it up, discovered an affordable option in early September 2017, and booked it on the spot.
Since the cruise was a week-long voyage from Anchorage (well, Whittier) south to Vancouver, we decided to arrive early and spend some time in Alaska before boarding the ship, which quickly turned into a fairly epic trip – we flew into Anchorage and spent a day there, rented a car and drove up to Denali national park for a couple of days hiking and enjoying the wilderness, headed to Palmer for the Alaska state fair, and then ended up back in Anchorage to return the car before setting sail.
Alaska is four hours behind New York, so despite arriving at our hotel well after midnight Eastern time, we felt it wise to head out to a local bar to help us adjust to the time difference. This turned out to be a great decision, not only for adjustment purposes but because our bartender gave us some excellent recommendations for places to eat in Anchorage, and we started the next morning with brunch at one of them – the lovely Red Chair cafe. Suitably fortified we spent the day exploring Anchorage, spending time learning about the state’s indigenous peoples and colonial populations in the Anchorage museum, and enjoying some fresh air and views of the Cook inlet along the Tony Knowles coastal trail.
An early dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse was followed the next morning with breakfast at Snow City cafe – another recommendation, and we particularly appreciated the advice to arrive early, as by the time we left the queue for tables was out of the door. Then it was off to collect our car and get into the wilderness – destination Denali National Park, via stops en route in Wasilla for outdoorsy supplies, and at the Kahiltna Birchworks to learn about birch syrup. It turns out this is produced in much the same way as maple syrup – basically, the birch trees are tapped in spring, the sap is collected and boiled to make syrup. It has a more molasses kind of flavour than maple, and it was interesting to test several different varieties (like maple, the various grades are more or less pronounced in taste).
Driving through Denali State Park it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and we caught glimpses of the mountain through the trees – had we realised just how rare this was we might have stopped at one of the viewpoints, but instead pushed on to make it to the NP visitor centre before it closed. Apparently only 30% of visitors get to see the mountain, but we are definitely counting it even though the only photo we took just shows a segment through the clouds – I saw a lot more of it in the rear-view mirror but thought it wise not to try and take that shot!
Denali activities duly booked, we had just a little further to go along the main road (no accommodation within the park apart from camping) to find our lodging – a cabin perched on the hill up a rather hair-raising gravel drive, above the (apparently) legendary Denali Park Salmon Bake. It was cute, and affordable, and we enjoyed sitting outside for a picnic supper with some spectacular views before the rising wind and dropping temperatures drove us inside.
To be continued….
Though I say it myself, I have done an excellent job editing down the photos of the trip (of course, if I didn’t take so many in the first place it would be much easier, but never mind…!) You can find the full album over on Flickr.
And, finally, since I usually forget to do this and it annoys me later on, the dates of our Alaska trip were Saturday August 26th to Saturday September 9th, 2017, with the cruise part beginning on September 2nd.