Alaska, the last frontier! This gigantic chunk of land that's twice the size of Texas and far removed from the lower 48 should be near the top of your travel bucket list. The days are long in the summer, never really getting dark, the terrain is lush, the air is cool, and the people are so friendly!
It's a no-brainer. Make your plans to go. Hopefully our experience there will give you inspiration. Enjoy.
Truthfully Alaska was never on my destination list until the trip of a lifetime fell into my lap. Our friends Whitney and Eric moved up to Anchorage (not the capitol, but the biggest city and perfect place to base your adventures from) and talked us into visiting for the big Summer Solstice Skydiving event they were part of. Sold!
I won't talk much about our skydiving in this post except to mention that if you visit, you absolutely MUST see Alaska from the sky, whether that's in freefall or in a small plane. Just do it!
The weekend-only drop zone, Alaska Skydive Center, is located in Palmer, Alaska roughly an hour northeast of Anchorage. From the air you can see several glaciers and all the greenery that Alaska in the summer provides.
But what I really want to talk about are a few unique experiences you can have in Alaska. Here's how we spent a few days in and around Anchorage during the longest days of the year.
1. Seward Highway Scenic Drive
(Anchorage to Girdwood, along Turnagain Arm)
This is arguably one of the most beautiful drives in all of America, and it was the first thing we did on our first day in Anchorage. In our rental car, armed with Google Maps and our cameras, Nick and I, along with our friend Benjamin, took off for the afternoon driving south along Seward Highway.
On our right we were bombarded with the unimaginable beauty of Turnagain Arm, a finger of a waterway at the north end of Cook Inlet leading to the Gulf of Alaska.
The views here are simply breathtaking, so allow yourself a few hours to make stops, take photos, and revel in the reality that you are seeing Alaska's beauty with your own eyes.
2. Explore Matanuska Glacier
It's embarrassing to admit, but this California girl has spent 35 years not understanding what a glacier actually is. And it turns out, the ranger at Matanuska Glacier assured me I'm not alone. Glaciers are frozen rivers, formed over thousands of years, and they're constantly moving. Duh!
Matanuska Glacier is only a beautiful 2-hour drive north of Anchorage along Glenn Highway.
A few stats about this incredible natural wonder: it's about 10,000 years old, approximately 26 miles long, it's the largest glacier in Alaska that is accessible by vehicle, and it's easily experienced by a flat walking trail from where you park your car. In other words: don't miss this!
In order to get up close and personal with the glacier, we had to pay an entrance fee (worth it!) to the owner of the private park, as that's the only access point. The fee helps to keep the rangers there, and keep the area clean.
We lucked out and received a personal tour from a ranger who taught us everything we could ever want to know about glaciers and ice and the Matanuska Valley.
When Benji, Whitney, and I decided to venture further into the icy wonderland, Nick stopped to take a break and then turn back early without us. Once you get out there, the only place to sit is the ice.
For the more adventurous in spirit, there are a number of ice climbing opportunities here, and myriad professional guide companies to take people of all skill levels. We saw several groups learning to climb. I will be doing that next time for sure.
3. Hike To See Waterfalls
We only had time and energy to do one waterfall hike on this trip, but a few of our skydiving friends who were up there took full advantage of the long, sunny evenings by doing several local hikes.
Since hiking isn't exactly fun or practical for Nick, when we do it, we choose the easiest hikes with the maximum rewards. That's why we chose Thunderbird Falls, right off the Glenn Highway.
The beginning of the almost 2-mile roundtrip hike was a bit steep, so we took it slow which allowed us to savor the gorgeous day. To the left of the wide trail there were drop-offs and sometimes viewing decks giving way to Eklutna River in the canyon below.
But the reward was walking across the newly refurbished walkway onto the viewing deck to behold the gushing waterfall.
Near the observation deck the path splits and you can take a trail down to the base of the falls. It's steep, but if you're up for it, it's worth it. Whitney, Benjamin, and I went down there, and I took the time to sit and enjoy the peaceful creek as they wandered off.
I did not miss an opportunity to scare the crap out of Benjamin by jumping out from behind a tree. One of my favorite memories of the trip! I highly recommend it.
There are so many hiking trails near Anchorage, you really have your pick. Just get outside and do it!
4. Boat Tour of Prince William Sound
One of Alaska's must-see adventures is to take a boat out to see calving glaciers as they break off into the ocean into a thunderous roar. There were several options near to Anchorage, but due to time constraints and availability we choose to take the shortest drive and the shortest tour, and it did not disappoint.
Our tour was around 4 hours and took us to 4 different glaciers. The captain was very thorough to explain over the intercom what we were seeing, which gave the tour a bit of humor along with the depth of understanding more about the flora and fauna of Prince William Sound.
My favorite part of the entire tour was when the boat hands scooped glacial ice out of the water and took it to the indoor, heated bar area to make glacial ice margaritas!
The ice chunks that were floating around in the water were over 500 years old meaning they have no carbon footprint from modern day polution. It's the purest frozen water on the planet, and it made a damn good margarita!
Here are a few other pictures from our trip that make me smile and hopefully help to inspire anyone reading this to get up to Alaska!
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