Newcomers Guide to the Great Out West: Summer in Alaska.

You’ve been thinking about for a long time. Maybe you’ve seen the shows, watched the movies, heard the tales. What’s stopping you? 

People have a way of ruining things. Don’t think they call it The LAST Frontier for no reason. If you want to see Alaska before those greedy land-grabbers get ahold of it, you better stop spinning your wheels and get on with it. Here are six bits of local advice to help you spend your next summer vacation in the land of the midnight sun.

1. ALASKA is big. 

You’re not going to see it all. You won’t even get an idea. Every region is dramatically different. There’s the vast white tundras of the North, the wild and rugged Interior, the wildlife river deltas of the West, the nearly tropical lush green islands of the Panhandle and the explosively volcanic southwest, and the and hip urban center – Alaska’s Southcentral hub.

The vast majority of the State is inaccessible to the average traveler. There are roads connecting all of the smaller towns in Southcentral Alaska to Anchorage – which is Alaska’s only true “city”.  To get any further, you will need to charter an airplane, buy a boat, or learn to run dogs.

2. BUY a Ticket!

This is where most people get stuck. They think to themselves “maybe Alaska”, but then they panic. It’s so far away! I could never afford it! Before you give up, take a look.

Travel to and from Anchorage has gotten remarkably affordable in the last couple of years. Since Jet Blue started flying to Alaska in 2009, prices have been cut in half.

I’ve bought one-way tickets from New York City (JFK) for $250, and and from Long Beach, California (LGB) for $151. A lot of the cheaper flight sell out months in advance, so why not get yours now?

3. Where do I STAY? 

Since nearly every flight to Alaska go to Anchorage, we will start here. Since we’re all young and broke, I’ll assume you don’t have a couple thousand dollars to spend on hotels while you’re visiting.

Tourism is one of Alaska’s main industries, and in the summer Anchorage hotels can average around $200 a night for a junky room near the airport. Though we do have a handful of high-class luxury hotels for a special occasion, you can easily read about those in travel magazines and blogs. Expect to pay around $350 – $400/ night.

Anchorage does have a number of youth hostels that charge around $25/night for a dormitory style bed. These are great places to catch up on sleep and showers if you don’t know anybody in town.

But really, you are coming to Alaska! The best and only true way to see the state is to camp. Hands down, this is the most fun and most affordable way to see the area. Don’t feel the need to plan ahead too much. There are campsites every three miles, and a million other unofficial vistas to lay your head as well. You can rent or buy used camping gear when you get here, and speak with a local expert about what you will need. Save your money on hotel, and invest instead in a good size, 4-wheel drive rental car with room enough to sleep if it rains. For a decent price, you can also rent a small camper trailer to tow if you are going to be staying more than a week, or if you don’t feel safe in a tent.

Another option is to get together a group of friends and rent an RV. These usually cost $100 – $150/day in the summer, and can sleep 6-8 people. This is the deluxe life in Alaska. You’ll see them parked along highways, rivers, and lakes all across southcentral AK.

4. What do I DO? 

Plan a few days (at least) to experience Anchorage. She really is a gem of a city. Tightly nestled between the Chugach mountains and the Prince William Sound, with Alaska’s only two highways cutting through her, Anchorage is a true gateway drug. You’ll be lured by the untouched wilderness just outside of city limits, and summoned back home by the roasting crab legs and local brews.

There is no way I can explain how much there is to do in and around Anchorage alone – but here’s short list of my favorites.

Eating & Drinking

Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria (with their own exceptional house brews)

Bear Tooth Grill & Movie Theatre (with $3 movies!)

Glacier Brewhouse (you can watch them brewing while you eat).

La Hacienda Mexican (margaritas… and 2 for 1 entrees)

Silvertip Grill (30 minute drive to Girdwood. Worth it for the breakfast.)

Drinking & Dancing  

Buckaroo Club (cheap drinks, shuffleboard, pool, and a stellar food truck out back)

Cabin Tavern (locals only. Come every day for 30 years and get your name on the bar).

Humpy’s Great Alaskan Alehouse  (with live music every night)

Taproot Restaurant and Bar (for the cool kids)

Hiking 

Indian Valley Trail 

Bird Ridge 

Flat Top & Blueberry Ridge (everyone and their mom does it for a reason)

Biking 

Resurrection Pass (20 breathtaking miles)

Anchorage Coastal Trail (easy breezy)

 

 

Kayaking

Eklutna Lake 

Kenai River

 

 

Fishing 

Russian River Fly-fishing (hundreds of salmon!)

Yukon River Set Netting  (thousands of salmon! if you can get there)

Kenia River Dip Netting (KING salmon runs end of July)

5. WHEN should I go? 

For your first trip to Alaska, unless you are an avid skier or snowboarder, you’re going to want to visit in the summer. Anytime between Memorial Day and Labor Day is nice, though July and August will probably promise the best weather. The summer solstice (the longest day of the year) is also a really fun time to be around. That’s June 21st, rain or shine. Though this is peak season, don’t worry about crowds. Alaska is big enough for all of us. You will find as much solitude as you seek.

If you want to be around good people, I can personally recommend a few local music festivals that attract a winning crowd of regulars from around the area. Some tourists do attend, but these remain largely down-home, true Alaskan hoedowns. A guaranteed good time for anyone who thinks singing in the mountain air with a stout beer and sturdy boots is a great way to pass the night.

Girdwood Forest Fair (Girdwood, Alaska)  Check website for details. This year the festival was from July 6 – 8, 2012.

Anderson Bluegrass Festival (Anderson, Alaska, Mile 283). Check website for details. This year the festival was from July 27 – 29.

Salmonstock Festival (Ninilchick, Alaska). Check website for details. This year the festival was August 3 – 5, 2012.


6. Should I take a CRUISE? 

Would you like to take a cruise to the Caribbean? If your idea of a good time is being trapped on a slow moving boat with a bunch of nervous, grumpy, overweight, middle-aged Americans in gift shop t-shirts who wear their glasses and their cameras around their necks, then maybe you should go on the cruise. If you would like to see very nice photos of wildlife hanging in the on-deck bar next to the smudged window where disappointed children drool and scratch their ankles…you would like the cruise.

If you would rather get off the boat and go meet life on the ground, maybe skip the cruise, and do that instead.

safe travels.
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~ by Vy on August 11, 2012.

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