There is no way for me to write about Alaska without coming off as a complete tourist. This blog is for those of you interested in being Alaska tourists like me, checking out the amazing parts of Alaska with a guide, on a tour, or by train. It is an amazing accessible version of Alaska, as it was enjoyed by our entire family. It was also the vacation that made me fall in love with Alaska.
During the height of the COVID lockdown this last winter, after holidays spent online instead of together, my husband’s family decided we needed to plan a family vacation. Vaccines were finally starting to come out, and we felt confident that by summer, we would be able to be together as a family again. We chose Anchorage, Alaska as our destination.
From the moment we left the airport, looking at the mountains around us as we drove north of Anchorage to our vacation rental, I was enamored. The mountains are everywhere! At our rental house, we looked over the Eagle River Valley and straight into the Chugach Mountains.
Our first adventure day was a guided ATV tour with Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours. We drove through forest, sand dunes, flats, and crossed water multiple times. For a bunch of people very new to ATV and side by side UTV, they made it simple and easy. They provided all the gear we needed, snacks and a hot lunch, and tour of absolutely beautiful country to the Knik glacier.
I had never seen a glacier in person. It was a sight to behold. Luckily for me, it was the first of many glaciers I would get to see on this vacation.
Our second adventure day was a full one! We had booked a train ride to Seward on the Alaska Railroad, and then a 5 hour boat tour of the Kenai Fjords. Waking teenagers up to be somewhere by 5:45 am is never fun, but especially not when on vacation.
The trip made up for it though! Our 4 hour train ride meandered along the coast, into mountain valleys with views of glaciers, waterfalls, and rivers. We saw moose, bear, and bald eagles.
After four leisurely hours on a train, we boarded a shuttle to rush to the Seward harbor, to then rush to find seats on the boat for the ocean part of our trip, to see yet another glacier!
I have never been a fan of open water, despite my love of paddle boarding. I paddle on flat lakes and relatively calm parts of rivers. An ocean vessel is a very different creature, especially one running a little late and hauling ass out to sea.
It didn’t take long for me to start feeling a little nauseated. I was encouraged to buy dramamine (smartly available from the ship’s galley) and it did the trick for me. It also made me very tired, so I spent quite a bit of time napping awkwardly against my oldest son’s shoulder. The more steel-stomached members of the family had a great time out on the deck, enjoying the ocean breeze and salty air. We were greeted by a family of orcas that played with us a while, we saw some long fin whales, watched sea lions bathing on the rocks, and puffins flying low above the water at what seemed to be amazingly fast speeds for their little wings.
We also got to see the Aialik glacier calving ice into the sea. The weather was wet and cold at the glacier, despite the day being mostly sunny for the rest of the trip. The mass of people on the crowded boat stepped out into the wet and cold for a viewing of this massive wall of ice.
Upon our return to the harbor, we hurried back to catch the train in time to spend another 4 hours ambling our way back to Anchorage. There were naps, lots of wonderful candy filled hot cocoa for the kids, and more viewing of anything we might have missed the first time. I would take that train ride over and over again if I could. I learned they also have a train to Denali, which I would love to check out another time.
Our days in town were spent doing the tourist shopping-and-eating thing. Like most tourist cities, there are lots of kitschy shops to waste your money for souvenirs. There are also multiple breweries in the downtown core to grab a bite and a brew. We enjoyed both 49th State Brewing and Glacier Brewhouse on our days downtown.
The place to not miss on a visit to Anchorage is the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. The Heritage Center gives just a glimpse into the historical and modern day cultural practices of Alaskan native tribal members. Learning about the different Alaskan Native tribes, experiencing their culture through their dances and song, was an honor. The village sites are an opportunity to learn of the traditional ways the different tribes lived their lives before colonization. Alaska’s frontier story is the white man’s version of history, and there is so much more to Alaska than this. The Heritage Center is true Alaska, run by tribal members, supporting the people and preserving their culture. There are Indigenous artisans at this location also, presenting an opportunity to support a local artist and bring home a one-of-a-kind item.
We have already planned another trip to Alaska in the winter months. My husband and I will be returning in March to experience the Fur Rendezvous (aka Fur Rondy) and watch the start of the Iditarod. Our hope is to get a fuller experience of Alaska aside from one week in the summer. Can’t wait to share those experiences with you all!