More often than not, travelers get introduced to Alaska when traveling on a cruise ship. There’s plenty of great reasons to explore Alaska on a cruise, but it’s not the only way. Being on the road offers its own advantages.
Denali National Park & Preserve being one of the big ones. Six million acres of wild, one road that goes for 92 miles, until you just reach the end and turn around. Cars are only allowed to mile 15, after that all travel has to be done by bus. (It’s essentially where the paved road ends.) The farther you go, the better your chances of spotting wildlife along the way. I went all the way to the end of the road in Kantishna. It took more than 12 hours to go out and back. It was a long day, but I lost count of bears; there were a handful of moose, caribou, and even a porcupine. If the weather cooperates, you also get plenty of opportunities to see Mount Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America.
The thought of a road trip in Alaska might seem overwhelming. You don’t have to do it on your own. Just like cruises ships get you from one destination to the next, there are a number of ground tours as well. I was traveling with John Hall’s Alaska. They took care of all of the logistics, from park and attraction entry fees to hotel check-ins.
All of your time on the ground in Alaska doesn’t necessarily have to be spent on the road. The Alaska Railroad is worth hopping aboard. With just shy of 500 miles of track, there are numerous stops, so you don’t have do the entire stretch. But on a clear day, the scenery can be pretty impressive. Every seat has a view, but I don’t think I ever sat down. I spent the entire few hours on an open air, outside area of the car.
We disembarked in the town of Talkeetna. I’m going to date myself, but this is the town that’s said to be the inspiration for the popular 90s television show “Northern Exposure. It’s got that flavor that I think many visitors envision when they think about Alaska. The sign that welcomes you to town is a handmade work of art. Main Street is brief and colorful with a few shops, restaurants, and a Roadhouse that’s said to have a sourdough starter that dates back to 1902. The hotcakes are bigger than the plates they are served on, and if you’re up for it, you can try reindeer sausage.
Just because you’re touring by land, doesn’t mean you won’t have the opportunity to do a little cruising. It’s a great way to see Kenai Fjords National Park. Along with mountains and glaciers, you just never know what kind of show the wildlife are going to put on. The day I was onboard, in addition to what was thought to be a super pod of orcas, there were otters, a humpback whale, sea lions, puffins, we even spotted a bear munching on berries along shore.
John Hall’s Denali Explorer land-only pricing is $4,849 per person.
Dana’s trip to Alaska was hosted by John Hall’s Alaska Cruises & Tours, but as always her thoughts and opinions are her own. All photos by Dana Rebmann.