Although it has been months since we went to Alaska, I was recently inspired to write about our winter trip after seeing Stephanie’s blog post about her summer visit! I surprised my mom with a trip to Alaska for her 60th Birthday with the intentions of crossing it off her bucket list and seeing some spectacular things along the way!
I began by making her an itinerary of which the both of us could use to keep track of the trip.
We landed in Anchorage on January 4th after 3 long flights and stayed in Anchorage for 2 nights. We were staying at the Dimond Center Hotel and had a great experience…that is before the car accident in their parking lot.
January 5th. We traveled to Matanuska Glacier, we caught a couple of pictures on the way but when we arrived at the tourist desk we found out the only way to see the glacier was to pay a ridiculous amount of money, so we just decided to turn back and drive around the area. Not a great start to the trip!
Once we had gotten back to Anchorage we decided to go out for some dinner. The Glacier Brewhouse was recommended by a few people so we decided to try it out, it was fantastic! I honestly don’t remmeber what we ate but this drink was absolutely amazing, some sort of bourbon mule, and our waitress was super nice and very informative about the area and things to do, since a lot of things are closed in the winter months in Alaska.
After dinner we headed back to the hotel. Something many people may not know about Alaska is that they don’t salt their roads, so when it gets extremely cold and the roads freeze, instead of laying down salt to melt the ice, they lay down sand. This may work and be helpful for the people who have lived there for their whole lives but for my mother and I, from Buffalo–used to salt on the roads, it was still slick. Luckily she was the one driving and she is a very careful driver but that doesn’t stop others from hitting us! We were right behind our hotel and stopped at a stop sign when the other driver’s car started sliding towards us and hit us on the front corner. We called the rental car service and they brought us a replacement care overnight! Talk about service! Anyway, onto the next day…
January 6th. We left Anchorage and headed east stopping at Portage Glacier and Kenai Fjords National park. Although we didnt take the (very expensive) tour at Portage glacier we decided it would be worth it to just drive around some roads and get an outside view of the glacier and the park. We also got to drive through Chugach National Forest.
We stayed at the Ski Inn in Girdwood and took the local bus they have that runs on tips to the local restaurants. This was the best thing ever! Even though we had to wait for the bus to come around at a regularly scheduled time, we got to get a “free” ride. We ended up eating at Jack Sprat which was a kind of fancy dinner but more or less for price not attire since it is next to a ski resort. The food was great though!
January 7th. We woke up and stopped at The Grind, I got a latte and it was delicious (had to fit that in there)! We then traveled to Winner creek. Then began to drive to Talkeetna. We took the Seward Highway and stopped at a few photo stops along the way.
After the stop at Winner creek, any Bills fans know we made it into the playoffs so it was a very big deal. In lieu of the Bills playing momma and I decided to take an obligatory Bills fan picture all the way from Alaska!
We stayed at the Chinook Wind Cabins which were really nice, and the town of Talkeetna is the cutest little town ever! We went out to eat at a local restaurant called the Denali Brewpub and (of course) got the Alaskan Cod. The fish they serve up there is no joke! I’ll add a picture to show you just how HUGE these pieces of fish are! The people in this bar were (mostly) all locals and so friendly! The next morning we ended up going to a nearby breakfast place called Talkeetna Roadhouse, which was also amazing, ate pancakes bigger than the plate and filled ourselves up for a long day ahead.
January 8th. This was the day that we were supposed to go flight seeing. Now, let me remind you all that I planned this whole trip, no travel agent helping me at all, just me expedia and about 5 sheets of paper with chicken scratch all over them.
This is where it pays to have a travel agent. I had booked the flight seeing with K2 avation, they are located in Talkeetna but we booked through them to fly out of Anchorage. We were easily an hour and a half away from where we needed to be **in thirty minutes** to catch the flight. Needless to say, I called and panic set in and I honestly began to cry because it was the one thing I wanted to do for my mom that she would have never chosen to do on her own, because she is afraid of heights. I just knew it would be worth it and here I was ruining (or so I thought) our trip. Luckily, as I re-checked and re-checked the reciept I had saved in my “Alaska” folder, I ended up realizing that I had put in the incorrect credit card information, the expiration date said 2012 instead of 2021. Thank GOD because I would have been charged since it was so close to the tour. Needless to say, my mom was not upset one bit, because she is the most understanding and perfect mom in the entire world, I cleared up my tears and we decided to make a tourist day out of it and take our time getting to the next stop!
Once we left Talkeetna we were headed to Healy, the closest we would get to Denali. We stopped a few times along the highway to take pictures of what seemed to be spectacular views! As the locals say in Alaska, the weather changes every 5 minutes that you continue to drive down the highway, which was so true! One minute it would be sunny then the next rainy…so strange.
We stayed in an adorable B&B which was made from someone’s house. We were the only guests the night we stayed there but the hostess said that when its hunting season and the “on” season in the summer, the house is packed! Which I can totally believe! Once we arrived at the B&B and unloaded all our stuff we decided we needed food and ASAP! So we went down the street to a little bar that also served food and hung out with all the locals! This was by far one of my most favorite parts of the trip. When you get to interact with people like this, it’s so special. One of the men we were talking to was talking about how he used to live up in Juno and it was completely dark for about a month in the winter! NO LIGHT! So crazy to think about! He decided to move to healy because it was just more logical and he could find work. He did maintenance for an oil company, quite populat around Alaska since their largest business is oil! The bartender met her boyfriend and decided to move to Alaska and was just filling in bartending for a friend that was on vacation, she bartended years prior and just decided to “hop in” because thats how small towns work! I loved the feel of this place and the people it was definitely a part of the trip I will never forget!
January 9th. We wanted to go for a hike in Denali so bad! We got our hot hands and feet all set up and headed out! We drove to the area that they made the information center for the winter months. Once we arrived mom and I began putting on our snow pants and jackets to prep for our treck ahead, as we were changing a moose and her baby came casually strolling by eating the trees right in front of our vehicle. My tourist mother wanted to take pictures and I knew from people telling me, when you see a mother moose with her baby, BE CAREFUL! They will do anything to protect their young!
Once we had seen this we went into the information center and got a quick rundown of the land, we met a father and daughter exploring and she had been living in Alaska working with dog sledding dogs and volunteering with a family. They were from the Boston area and ironically, we would see them more than just here in Denali!
We had decided to venture to the sled dogs of Denali and get a good look at the pups for our first “hike”. It was -24ºF that day and within 20 minutes even with my Sorel boots on, my toes were frozen! I had heard that they weren’t the best boots for super cold temperatures but figured that they would be worth it in winters back home and this was a good first test for them! Anyway, we got to the dogs and they were CUTE! There were some puppies training too and they were all chained up and we were allowed to pet them but the owners were strict with letting them jump, you had to back away and not give them attention if they were jumping. This was extremely hard for me to do because they were all so cute and how can you say no to faces like these?! The girl from Massachusettes area was telling us that real dog sled dogs were much more lean than this and these dogs were what you see in movies, the huskies pulling dog sleds around, which are not the ones used in real life!
After meeting these perfect pups we decided we had enough of the cold (if only I took a picture of the FROST that had built up on their whiskers and our hair and eyelashes!!) It was so cold that we decided to head back to the car and drive on!
We left Denali and drove to Fairbanks where we would be staying for the next few nights. It was even less hours of daylight (not differing by much) and colder!
I think I have decided to make this a two-part post because we went for TEN WHOLE DAYS! So I will finish and post the second half of our trip soon! If you have been reading along this whole time thank you and I hope you enjoyed so far! This trip was one for the books and something I’ll remember for a lifetime to come!
Until next time.