If the last several months have left you feeling like life is passing you by, we get it. We’ve been feeling a sense of urgency as well; restlessness even, to get out and adventure, to make up for lost time. Too many hours at home have truly stoked our wanderlust and left us thumbing old atlases, zooming in on Google Maps, and daydreaming about our next trip. And our eyes and hearts keep pointing to Alaska; Denali National Park and Glacier Bay National Park to be specific.
Denali is, of course, home to the largest peak in North America, which on a clear day will rise above the clouds and inspire even the most seasoned traveler. It’s majestic, to say the least. It makes for an incredible photo, frame-worthy even, but be sure to put the camera down for a few moments so you can soak up the experience and revel in its sheer size.
All that being said, Denali National Park is so much more than just the peak itself. It’s a vast wilderness that offers you the chance to see a large number of plants and animals in their natural habitat, roaming free. For many people, taking the Tundra Wilderness bus tour along the Park Road will allow them to have their first sighting of a Dall sheep, grizzly bear, moose, bald eagle, and even caribou. Best of all, these wildlife viewing opportunities can be done from the safety of a climate-controlled bus operated by a highly skilled driver and with a Certified Interpretive Guide on board who will help you identify and make sense of all that you are sure to see along the way. Packing a journal is advised as the landscape is known to often inspire stories, poems, and good old-fashioned travel memoirs.
Oh, and in case you thought it was just about the park, getting to Denali is a worthy enterprise in and of itself. From Anchorage it’s between a 4 and 5-hour car ride, depending on how often you stop for photos. Talkeetna is a cool, little artsy town worth stopping in for lunch as well. If you’re landing in Fairbanks, it’s a little more than a two-hour drive to Denali National Park. And if neither of those options suits you, how about taking the Denali Star, a train that will literally guarantee you’re making the most of your journey by sending you speeding along the rails and into the park in a most unique way.
As there is not any NPS-operated lodging in Denali National Park, most visitors stay in one of the hotels that are located conveniently close to the park entrance. Enjoy the riverside setting and comfortable lodge rooms at Denali Park Village.
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Another destination worth the independent traveler’s consideration is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. There are 3.3 million acres to this park, plenty for the person who values not only solitude but beauty and natural diversity. Glacier Bay is a good fit for anyone who is ready to embark off the beaten path, loves the water (this is a marine park after all), wants to see the majestic beauty of a glacier up close, and is eager to learn about the local culture. (Upon your visit be sure to check with the lodge staff to see whether or not the nearby Huna Tribal House has any programming during your stay as it is a very special opportunity to learn about the Huna Tlingit people and their history and culture).
One of the must-do activities in Glacier Bay National Park is to take a day trip on a catamaran. You’ll depart from Glacier Bay Lodge on Bartlett Cove (which will fling open its doors to guests on May 28 and start running boat tours the very next day), and head up the West Arm. The stars of the show are the magnificent Margerie and Grand Pacific Glaciers but equally as impressive are the numerous birds and other animals you’re almost guaranteed to see along the way. It’s not unusual to spot bears, tufted puffins, Stellar sea lions, and more. Lunch and hot coffee and tea are provided with your trip ticket, so the only thing you need to do is make sure you’ve got enough batteries on you so that you can take as many photos as you want. Bonus: a National Park Service Ranger is on-board to narrate and answer any questions you might have.
If you’ve got additional time, pay a visit to Gustavus, the gateway town to Glacier Bay National Park. You can link up with fishing guides and fishing charters, kayak rental companies and tour guides, and even go whale watching. No trip to this part of the world is really complete until you’ve seen a whale breach so go ahead and add an extra day. Or three.
It’s no surprise that travelers have numerous destinations vying for their attention. But the typical vacation destinations will be there when you get back. This time around, treat yourself to something special. Book your ticket to a place that will not only inspire you but transport you, literally, to a place unlike any other in the world: Alaska.
Though large cruise ships aren’t currently pulling into any Alaskan ports, the Last Frontier is still open and awaiting intrepid travelers who are ready to heed the call for adventure and book an unforgettable trip of a lifetime.
Share the experience by bringing the family or a travel buddy. While these destinations are perfect for the solo traveler who wants to see things at their own pace and plot their own course, they can also be perfect for an all-ages vacation. And though you could surely visit Denali and then head to Glacier Bay (or vice versa) each of these places is worth traveling to on their own as individual destinations. For more information, please visit https://www.visitglacierbay.com/ and https://www.denaliparkvillage.com/