Wondering if I am going to write about the famous American reality TV show? Well, this is not about the Kilcher family; it is about the place where they had lived. ALASKA, the largest state of the United States, is nicknamed “The Last Frontier”. Many vehicle plates proudly sport the yellow and gold “Last Frontier”. Alaska is also nicknamed “The Land of the Midnight Sun”, which it shares with Norway.
As part of bi-yearly family holidays, we planned an Alaska visit. A visit to Alaska suggests a cruise holiday. Our plan started in a similar direction, but eventually we decided to opt for a road trip, there are many things to do in Alaska by road. This meant a whole lot of driving, a couple of thousand miles actually but we knew it would be thrilling.
As a travel explorer, I don't like to visit places when it is teeming with tourists. June to August is the tourist season in Alaska, mainly due to ideal weather, longer days and school vacations in the United States. I have heard from travelers who visited during this period that Alaska is teeming with people everywhere you go. Queues, traffic jams and exorbitant pricing is the norm during this time. Clearly, not what we had in mind for our holiday.
Most of Alaska is extremely cold and rainy even in the months of April and May, it even snows in April. The weather lightens up and roads, hotels, etc. start opening up in mid-May. There is a 15-day window to enjoy the Alaskan summer before the onset of tourists from June onwards. This is the best time to visit Alaska. There are many different ways to travel to Alaska. But we flew from Seattle to Anchorage in mid-May and then rented a car to visit Alaska.
Here I am all geared up and excited for the most incredible Alaska road trip
The usual trend is to go from north to south. We started our journey from south of Alaska to optimize our time and cover other destinations before heading to Denali National Park, 300 miles north of Anchorage. Denali National Park and Preserve opens around May 20 and this was one of the reasons we began from the south.
In mid-May, the weather is still cold and cloudy with snow ploughed on the sides of the road, and the sun playing peek-a-boo. The experience driving from Anchorage to Kenai was exhilarating with beautiful snowy mountains as far as the eyes can see. Driving was stress-free as the roads were almost empty and we got ample opportunities to stop and take pictures. Alaska does not have freeways barring Anchorage and adjacent towns. Majority of the highways are single lane on each side without the road divider with a passing lane at almost every 5 miles, restricting driving speed. The highways are perfectly planned with designated photography stops where you can pull up and enjoy the panoramic view as well as capture it on camera. It is one of the most enjoyable drives we have done; open roads, spectacular landscapes, snow-covered beaches, cool wind in our hair and a carefree spirit. Tank up on fuel, both for your car and your tummy before starting out as gas stations and restaurants are few and far between on the highway.
My first drive of an Alaska road trip and I am thrilled! Thank you, GoPro
The 150-mile drive from Anchorage to Kenai usually takes 3 hours but with multiple stopovers it took us a tad longer. The gorgeous coastal city of Kenai was our base for the next couple of days as there are many best places to visit in Alaska around Kenai. Homer and Seward are about 1.5 - 2 hours, which was ideal for our itinerary. We checked into our hotel which was pretty comfortable and reasonably priced. We had a kitchenette that was very useful as nearby eateries close at 6 pm. The only Walmart in the south is in Kenai. We wandered around the city which is surrounded by natural wonders. Majestic mountain ranges, stunning beaches and the stunning Kenai River made Kenai a beautiful stopover for us. Unfortunately, during our visit the beach was frozen.
Spectacular landscapes with snow-capped mountains - a perfect backdrop for a family photo en route to Kenai on Alaska tour
The next day we had planned a day trip to Homer in Alaska, a small city in Kenai Peninsula at the fag end of Sterling Highway. En route to Homer, we stopped at a beautiful viewpoint that offers a spectacular view of Kachemak Bay. Homer was the first major destination of our Alaska visit. There are a multitude of activities to choose from at Homer depending upon what time of the year you visit. Our first stop was at the Alaska Island and Ocean Visitor Center that is right on the highway. It is a state-of-the-art center explaining the history of Alaska and marine life. One can explore their interactive stations and exhibits for a stimulating journey through their wildlife. A fantastic movie on Alaska is also screened.
The mesmerizing view of Kachemak Bay at a viewpoint enroute to Homer had my daughter totally captivated
The friendly staff shared loads of information with us about sights and sounds of Alaska. They had a specific recommendation for us, which was to experience the Skyline drive of Homer Alaska. It is a circuit that starts and ends at the Ocean Visitor Center. The meandering roads took us through the most stunning landscape. The clouds hovering around made our drive dreamy. It was possibly the most beautiful drive that we experienced so far.
The Skyline drive of Homer Alaska is possibly the most alluring and stunningly beautiful drive in Alaska
The roads were bordered on one side with lush vegetation and on the other with Kachemak Bay State Park and the shimmering glaciers in the distance. While we made numerous pit stops along the drive, the highlight was Skyline Drive Outlook, a breathtaking viewpoint. From here we could see Homer, Kachemak Bay State Park and the Kenai Mountains. We made the most of these astounding views and took tons of photos. We were told at the Ocean Visitor Center that on a clear day one can see as far as Augustine Island Cape Douglas which are active volcanoes. We were unlucky as it was a very gloomy and rainy day. Nevertheless, the mind blowing vistas made the drive worth our while.
Panoramic view of Kachemak Bay from Homer Alaska Skyline drive
After the Homer skyline drive, we went on the trail behind the visitor center that offers a spectacular view of Kachemak Bay State Park. The trail and boardwalk goes down to Beluga Slough. As we walked through the trail, we experienced the village life of the locals and interacted with them. Summer is the most important time of the year for these people. We saw them setting up their tiny stalls with home grown stuff. They also indulge in fishing activities during summer. Besides the local experience, the views along the trail were awesome.
Behind the Ocean Visitor Center is this exquisite trail that offers the most sublime vistas
Then we drove to Homer Spit, a 4.5 miles long thin sliver of land jutting into the middle of Kachemak Bay. We thought that the Homer Skyline Drive was most beautiful until we drove from the visitor center to Homer Spit. Now, we felt this is the most beautiful drive we experienced on an Alaska road trip. The beautiful roads were bordered by the Kachemak Bay with the mesmerizing snow-capped mountains and glaciers in the distance. The closer we came to Homer Spit, the better the view of the mountains and glaciers were.
Snow-capped mountains and glistening glaciers as far as the eyes can see with hues of green and brown. The drive to Homer Spit is a visual extravagance!
Homer Spit is a small town named after Homer Pennock, a gold mining company promoter, who settled here with his crew in 1896. As we drove into this quaint town, we noticed that the roads were lined with rows of restaurants and shops on either side. Some restaurants faced the harbor while others faced the stunning snow-capped mountains and glaciers. We stopped at one of these restaurants to have a scrumptious meal while enjoying the view. Homer boat tours are available here.
A million shades of blue - the view of Kachemak Bay with majestic snow-covered mountains from Homer Spit
Our next Alaska adventure was the Kenai Fjord Wildlife Cruise in Seward. Since there were minimal accommodation options and not much to do in Seward besides the wildlife cruise, we decided to stay midway at Cooper Landing. A place famous for Kenai river fishing, Cooper Landing had many fishing tours that led to lots of visitors. The place is also famous for dry cabins that are commonly used by visitors who come on the fishing tours. We decided to experience this type of accommodation and stayed in the dry cabin at Gwin's Lodge & Roadhouse.
Gwin's Lodge & Roadhouse, a rustic warm cabin that was our home for a couple of days at Cooper Landing bypass road
Behind the cabins was the backdrop of snow-capped mountains and across the road was a sparkling Kenai River. The surroundings were indescribable and we wandered around in awe of the place. We were warned by the owner to be cautious as the Kenai River had plenty of fish which attracted bears.
The stunning wilderness surrounding Gwin's Lodge and Roadhouse offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience
The next day, a 1-hour scenic drive took us from Cooper Landing to Seward for the most anticipated Kenai Fjord Wildlife Cruise. Seward is a port city on an inlet of Kenai Peninsula and is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. There were several things we had to factor in while planning for this cruise. We had signed up with Marine Motor Tours and were instructed to report at their office one hour prior to cruise departure. Parking is a challenge in this place so we reached Seward much ahead of time. Still, we had to park quite a distance away and walk for almost 15 minutes to reach the departure location. Ensure you utilize paid parking as car thefts are common in this area.
Mesmerizing view of glaciers melting into waterfalls during the Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise
A group of Sea lions spotted while on the Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise, one of the many things to see in Alaska
The next day, we had another fantastic experience planned, the 26 Glacier Cruise in Whittier. It is the most visited gateway to Prince William Sound. Most cruise lines break journey here and passengers de-board for a day and some end their cruise here and take the train to Anchorage. Whittier is famous for the daylong Alaska glacier cruises. Reaching Whittier required some strategic planning and time management since Anderson Tunnel is the only way to reach there. It is the longest one-way combined rail and highway tunnel of North America, 2.5 miles long. It takes about 10 minutes to pass through the Whittier Alaska Tunnel, which opens every half an hour to divert the traffic from either side. Match your Alaska glacier tour timing with the Whittier Alaska Tunnel schedule to ensure that you do not miss your cruise.
Driving through this tunnel to Whittier was a unique and exciting experience
It was a once in a lifetime experience for us to see millions of years old glaciers in close proximity. Glacier calving is a summer activity and is a marvelous sight on a clear, sunny day. Such days are hard to come by as Whittier has the rainforest owing to which it rains almost always. We arrived much ahead of time because of the Whittier Alaska Tunnel. Here, parking is not a problem and paid parking is available. We wandered around Whittier which is a beautiful place and took pictures before boarding the daylong Alaska glacier cruise ship.
Alaska glacier experience cruise is a truly humbling experience. The cruise offers some of the most breathtaking sights of Blackstone Glacier
We booked with Philips Cruise Company who operates 26 Glacier Cruise (5+ hours) and Glacier Quest Cruise (3.45 hours). These cruises have a complimentary meal as part of the package, which is a bonus. We had to pre-book our meal preference. The Alaska glacier tour is one of the most incredible experiences we had in Alaska. We were awe-struck by the sheer enormity of the Alaska glaciers. We saw many glaciers in very close proximity. Whittier is a rainforest so it was cloudy with mild rains. We were lucky to see glacier calving and pieces of glacier ice everywhere as we approached the glacier. This is the sight that will remain with us for a very long time. We also spotted a lot of wildlife like Sea Otters, Sea Lions, Mountain Goats and many species of birds etc.
Blackstone Glacier calving as the summer nears. Come and get'em while they are still here
It was an exhilarating experience, one that we will never forget. So far our Alaska road trip was exceptional with unique experiences. We had covered only a part of our itinerary. There were so many things to see in Alaska and much more to experience and explore. If you feel this was exciting, read Denali: The Incredible Wilderness and Hike to Matanuska Glacier to indulge in more adrenaline rush and enjoyment experienced in this "Great Land".
Which is the best month to visit Alaska?
May and September is the shoulder season in Alaska. Perfect time to beat the summer tourist flow and experience the flair of Alaskan winter. October and November are the best months to view the magical Aurora Borealis.
Is Alaska safe for tourists?
Alaska is a fairly safe place for the tourists. However, beware of the Moose! They outnumber bears and are the cause for many fatal accidents. Injury and death rate by Moose is higher than grizzly bear and black bear attacks combined.
What should you avoid in Alaska?