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Alaskan Family Adventures, by PBaruch (June 2018) We had last been to Alaska years ago, when we visited Katmai National Park and Glacier Bay National Park.  Ever since, DW had been yearning to go back and as a present for her recent milestone birthday we booked a return trip.  We decided to visit Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park, with visits to other areas/attractions in between.  Special thanks to Something Fishy for help in planning this trip.

Part 1 - Planning and Preparation

We booked tickets on Alaska Airlines, which made the most sense for me as opposed to booking with other points or miles. I found availability at 50k pp rt (20/30) so for 250k total Alaska miles were we set.  Other options would have required more miles and would not have been worthwhile.  50k pp isn't a great deal but it was the best I could find on rather short notice.  Also, due to my Alaska MVP Gold 75k status, we received some nice perks and upgrades, which are discussed below.

For accommodation and transportation, we rented a 32 foot 7 inch long Thor Four Winds motorhome from Great Alaskan Holidays as we wanted a larger size motorhome for this trip.  This particular motorhome has 6 separate beds, although we only needed 4.  Information about Great Alaskan Holidays can be found here:

https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/?gclid=Cj0KCQjw1NzZBRCoARIsAIaMwuvcWK4dLoVODILsXmXH5kf07MyIpvlDtXjsNn8M9Kx8htEwoL6MlW4aAmu4EALw_wcB

Here is the floor plan for the Thor Four Winds 30D motorhome we rented:

https://www.greatalaskanholidays.com/alaska-rv-rentals/floorplans-photo-tours/

If anyone reading this decides to rent a motorhome from Great Alaskan Holidays, please send me a PM as they have a referral system and it would help us out quite a bit for a future planned rental.

Our itinerary was as follows:

Day 1 - Flight into Anchorage, pick up the motorhome, and drive to Seward with overnight at the Seward Waterfront Campground

Day 2 - Northwestern Fjord Cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park with second overnight at the Seward Waterfront Campground

Day 3 - Drive from Seward to Crow Creek Gold Mine outside Anchorage, Gold Panning at Crow Creek Gold Mine, then drive to Marriott near Chabad in Anchorage

Day 4 - Shabbos in Anchorage

Day 5 - Drive from Anchorage to Talkeetna, flightseeing and glacier landing flight with Talkeetna Air Taxi, then drive to Denali National Park with overnight at the Savage River Campground inside Denali NP

Day 6 - Bus trip to Wonder Lake in Denali National Park with overnight at the Wonder Lake Campground

Day 7 - Return bus trip from Wonder Lake to Denali National Park entrance with overnight at Savage River Campground inside Denali National Park

Day 8 - Drive from Denali National Park to Palmer, with a visit to the Musk Ox Farm and the Reindeer Farm, overnight at Big Bear Campground in Palmer

Day 9 - Return motorhome and flight home

Part 2 - Flight to Anchorage

At JFK, we visited the Alaska Lounge.  One of my friends gave me 4 lounge passes and even though we were 5, they let my little one in for free. 

Alaska Lounge JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_0824 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Cappuccino at Alaska Lounge JFK by P Bryan, on Flickr

After relaxing in the lounge, we were off for our flight.

JFK-SEA-ANC by P Bryan, on Flickr

As we were getting ready to settle into our seats for the first flight to Seattle (there was no direct from the New York area to Alaska), a flight attendant came over and offered us 2 upgrades to first class (due to my MVP Gold 75k status).  I didn't bother booking first class seats since they aren't lie flat but we gladly accepted the 2 upgrades.  I took one upgrade and my oldest took the other.  DW couldn't take the second upgrade because someone had to stay with my little guy.  Unfortunately, we didn't score any upgrades for the second flight from Seattle to Anchorage. 

Part 3 - Anchorage to Seward

Once we arrived at Anchorage, we called Great Alaskan Holidays for pickup by their free shuttle. Our orientation was scheduled for 6:00 pm and since we were early they weren't "ready" for us.  After about 30 minutes, we were ushered into a room to view an orientation video, followed by signing the necessary paperwork.  We were then given the keys to our motorhome and began the drive to Seward, Alaska.

Anchorage to Seward by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived in Seward after 11:00 p.m. and found a parking spot at the Seward Waterfront Campground.  Since we arrived so late in the day, all of the choice spots adjacent to the water were taken so we took a spot a bit farther away.  Seward Waterfront does not accept reservations (except for groups) so it is first come first serve.  We extended the two slides and I connected the motorhome to shore power but was too tired to hook up to the city water connection.  After our long day of travel, we were all exhausted and went to bed.

Photographs of the Seward Waterfront Campground:

Seward Waterfront Campground (DSC_0842) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Our motorhome was parked one row away from the water:

Seward Waterfront Campground (DSC_0848) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Old school bus converted into a motorhome:

Old school bus converted into a motorhome, Seward Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 4 - Kenai Fjords Cruise

There are two large companies that offer cruises in Kenai Fjords National Park - Major Marine Tours and Kenai Fjords Tours.  There are other small boat options as well.  We chose Kenai Fjords Tours because they were slightly cheaper than Major Marine and offered a slightly longer tour.  From the reviews I read online, it appears that Major Marine has better food, which didn't matter to us anyway.  We booked online in advance and received a 10% discount on our tour.  Information about Kenai Fjords Tours can be found here:

https://www.alaskacollection.com/day-tours/kenai-fjords-tours/kenai-fjords-national-park-tour/

We booked the Northwestern Fjord Tour, which is the longest tour they offer, information about which can be found here:

https://www.alaskacollection.com/day-tours/kenai-fjords-tours/northwestern-fjord-tour/

Travel Deep Into Kenai Fjords With the Northwestern Fjord Tour by P Bryan, on Flickr

The weather was cold and rainy so taking photographs was a challenge. 

Kenai Fjords Tours Tickets, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken during the cruise:

Sea Lions

Sea Lions in Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0879) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sea Lions, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0890) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sea Lions, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1192) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Puffin

Puffin, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1146) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Seal floating on ice

Seal in Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0939) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Glacier

Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_0953) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1008) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waterfalls

Waterfalls in Kenai NP (DSC_1051) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Waterfall in Kenai NP (DSC_1063) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Humpback Whales

Humpback Whale, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1262) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Humback Whale, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1267) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Humpback Whale, Kenai Fjords NP (DSC_1270) by P Bryan, on Flickr

During the cruise, and while we were near the glacier, I asked one of the crew members if he could scoop up a piece of glacial ice for something that I had been meaning to do since our Iceland trip - have a bit of whiskey with glacial ice.  The crew were more than happy to oblige.

Scooping up glacial ice (DSC_0992) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Whiskey with glacial ice

Whiskey with glacial ice by P Bryan, on Flickr

Nap time

Taking a nap by P Bryan, on Flickr

And now I'm ready to play

IMG_20180621_141606 by P Bryan, on Flickr

After the tour, we returned to our motorhome at the Seward Waterfront Campground.  I attempted to make an outside bbq, but it started raining soon after the fire started so that was a bust.  The fire only looked like this for a short period of time before it went out.  We ended up cooking inside the motorhome.

Seward Waterfront Campground, Seward Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 5 - Panning for Gold

The following day, we packed out of the Seward Waterfront Campground and made our way back to Anchorage, with a stop at the Crow Creek Gold Mine.  We booked a private tour which included a demonstration and instructions on how to pan for gold.  We highly recommend booking a private tour as you will not likely be able to do it on your own, at least not the first time.

Seward  to Crow Creek Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the way to Crow Creek Gold Mine, we stopped off at Bear Creek Weir to view salmon jumping over a small waterfall. 

Bear Creek Weir, Seward Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Information about Crow Creek Gold Mine can be found here:

http://www.crowcreekmine.com/

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We learned about the history of the mine and were given a tour of several historic structures.

DSC_1315_blurred by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1314) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Water cannon at Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1320) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1325) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Learning how to pan for gold:

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1344) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold, Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 1 - filling up bucket with gold bearing soil:

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1364) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 2 - classifying the soil  (sifting large rocks from soil we dug up):

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1370) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1374) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 3 - pouring watery soil into the sluice box to filter out the gold from the soil:

Crow Creek Gold Mine (DSC_1380) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Step 4 - cleaning out the sluice box and panning the remnants of soil for gold:

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Panning for Gold at Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we cleaned out the sluice box into a bucket and panned the remnants of soil, we struck it rich:

Crow Creek Gold Mine, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 6 - Alaska Native Heritage Center, Capt. Cook Monument, and Shabbos in Anchorage

After visiting the gold mine, we drove to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where the most exciting thing that happened was a Code B alert (meaning bear running loose on the grounds).  Most of the folks working at the center appeared to be unhappy and/or unenthusiastic teenagers.  I'm not sure if my perception of their unhappiness was a cultural misunderstanding or if they were truly unhappy.  Either way, it certainly wasn't the most exciting part of our visit.

Afterwards, we stopped off at the Anchorage Capt. Cook Monument.  We were excited to learn that there was a Capt. Cook Monument in Anchorage, as we had visited the Capt. Cook Monument on Hawaii Island several times.

Capt Cook Monument, Anchorage Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then checked into a one bedroom suite at the Marriott near Chabad for Shabbos (booked with points) as staying in the motorhome would have been too complicated for Shabbos.  We couldn't daven and eat with Chabad on Friday night because services and the meal were at the Rabbi's house a 20 minute walk away and we didn't think my little one would be up for it.  Little did I know that while my little guy stayed up after we checked into the Marriott, I quickly passed out from exhaustion.  On Shabbos day, we davened and ate with Chabad with a mix of locals and tourists from all over the world.  Steve Bunin, who used to be a sportscaster for ESPN was the "guest speaker" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Bunin).  After the meal, we returned to the hotel to rest and relax.  Since Shabbos was over at around 2:00 am, we did go a bit stir crazy towards the end. 

We went to sleep before Shabbos was over and woke up after 3:00 a.m.  I did several loads of laundry and we packed out at about 6:00 a.m. for the drive to Talkeetna on the way to Denali National Park.

Anchorage to Talkeetna, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 7 - Flightseeing Tour and Glacier Landing with Talkeetna Air Taxi

We booked the Grand Denali with Glacier Landing Tour.  Information about Talkeetna Air Taxi can be found here:

http://www.talkeetnaair.com/

Information about the Grand Denali with Glacier Landing Tour can be found here:

http://www.talkeetnaair.com/flights/grand-denali-w-glacier-landing

We chose this particular tour because it was the best tour we were able to take our little one on, as the summit landing tour has a minimum age requirement of 12.  I called Talkeetna Air Taxi in advance and was told they have a coupon in the Northern Lights coupon book (there are other brand coupon books as well), which saved us some money on this tour.  We also used coupons in this book at three other places we visited, so it was well worth the cost of $55.00 plus shipping.  Information about the Northern Lights Coupon book can be found here:

http://www.alaska-discounts.com/

Flight route (from Talkeetna Air Taxi Website):

Grand Denali w Glacier Landing by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken during our flight:

IMG_20180624_130819 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1427 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1441 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1462 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1474 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1502 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1643 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Landing on Ruth Glacier:

DSC_1595 by P Bryan, on Flickr

DSC_1604 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Ruth Glacier, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180624_124525 by P Bryan, on Flickr

IMG_20180624_124539 by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 8 - Denali National Park

After the flight, we continued on to Denali National Park, where we stayed at the Savage River Campground inside the park.

Talkeetna to Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Savage River Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

That evening, we made a BBQ at our campsite:

BBQ at Savage River Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Camp Stove Cooking, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Camping at Savage River Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We also roasted marshmallows:

Roasting Marshmallows at Savage River Campground by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following morning we drove back towards the entrance of Denali and parked our motorhome by the Riley Creek overflow lot, where overnight parking is permitted.  On the way, we saw a mother moose and two babies:

Moose in Denali NP (DSC_1701) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Moose in Denali NP (DSC_1714) by P Bryan, on Flickr

After we arrived at Riley Creek, we parked the motorhome and waited for the camper bus to take us to Wonder Lake Campground.   Since you are only allowed to drive your own vehicle a few miles into Denali, the only way to see the park is to take one of the Denali shuttle buses.  (You can also hike into the park or ride a bicycle along the road).  We booked tickets on the camper bus, which transports campers and their luggage to the Wonder Lake Campground.

Denali Park Entrance to Wonder Lake Campground by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake Camper Bus, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the camper bus, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

On the camper bus, we bumped into a young Israeli tourist, Yoav G., who remembered me from Chabad.  Since we had booked two campsites at Wonder Lake for the night, we offered Yoav the use of our second campsite, which he gladly accepted.  Yoav had obtained a backcountry camping permit for two nights so he would not have otherwise been able to camp at the campground.  We booked two campsites because they officially only allow a maximum of 4 people per campsite.  However, when we arrived, the park ranger told us he doesn't enforce that rule.  Nevertheless, if Yoav hadn't used our second reserved (and prepaid) campsite, it would have been empty.

Photographs taken along the road to Wonder Lake:

Dall Sheep

Dall Sheep, Denali NP (DSC_1779) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dall Sheep, Denali NP (DSC_1979) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Dall Sheep, Denali NP (DSC_1992) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Caribou

Caribou in Denali NP (DSC_1812) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Caribou in Denal NP (DSC_1828) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Caribou in Denali NP (DSC_1961) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Alaskan Brown Bears

Brown Bears, Denali NP (DSC_1925) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Brown Bear Cub, Denali NP (DSC_1931) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Seen along the road

Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We arrived at Wonder Lake Campground in the early evening and set up our tent:

Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Camping at Wonder Lake Campground (DSC_1858) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

As soon as the camper bus arrived at Wonder Lake, we were inundated by mosquitoes.  Since we had experience with mosquitoes last time we were in Alaska, we bought mosquito head nets for everyone at the Riley Creek Mercantile Store.  What we didn't expect, however, was that the mosquitoes were able to bite right through our clothing.  At some point we ran out of bug spray, which just added to the misery.  We weren't even able to eat without the headnets:

 Eating at Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

The kids asked Yoav how to say the word of the day, "mosquito" in Hebrew, and got a kick out of the answer, "yatush."

We attended a ranger talk about Fannie Quigley and finding gold at Kantishna (at the end of the park road), and then walked over to Wonder Lake, a short distance away from the campground:

Wonder Lake, Denali NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake, Denali NP by P Bryan, on Flickr

Wonder Lake, Denali NP (DSC_1887) by P Bryan, on Flickr

When we awoke the next morning, my oldest asked DW to take a head count.  However, since we didn't see any gaping holes in the tent and didn't hear any screams in the night, everything was ok.  It was raining that morning and our tent was all wet. 

Wonder Lake Campground, Denali NP, Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Despite the rain, the mosquitoes were still out in full force.

We packed out and took the 8:00 a.m. camper bus back towards the park entrance.  We arrived at the park entrance in the early afternoon and had time to attend a sled dog demonstration:

Sled Dogs, Denali NP (DSC_1998) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sled Dog, Denali NP (DSC_2014) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Sled Dog Demonstration, Denali NP Alaska (DSC_2022) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then returned to the Savage River Campground, where we made another evening BBQ:

Savage River Campground, Denali NP Alaska (DSC_2063) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Savage River Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

BBQ at Savage River Campground, Denali NP Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 9 - The Musk Ox Farm and The Reindeer Farm

The following morning, we packed out for our drive back towards Anchorage.  We drove towards Palmer, and first visited the Musk Ox Farm.  We used one of the coupons from the Northern Lights Coupon Book at this farm.  The Musk Ox Farm was a bit disappointing as we weren't able to touch the animals at all.  It was somewhat interesting but I wouldn't go back.

Savage River Campground to Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Photographs taken at the Musk Ox Farm:

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2069) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2098) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2111) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Musk Ox Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2073) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We then visited the Reindeer Farm, where we used another coupon from the Northern Lights Coupon Book.  Unlike the Musk Ox Farm, the Reindeer Farm was hands on and we all had lots of fun.  For those who have kids and like animals, it's a great place to visit.  Information about the Reindeer Farm can be found here:

https://www.reindeerfarm.com/

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2201) by P Bryan, on Flickr

We were able to touch and feed adult and baby reindeer:

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2144) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2148) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

We had a chance to pet and feed a Rocky Mountain Elk, which are not native to Alaska:

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2179) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska (DSC_2195) by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Reindeer Farm, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

Part 10 - Way Home

After the Reindeer Farm, we made our way to the nearby Big Bear RV Park and Campground.  We made our last BBQ and saved the best for last:

BBQ at Big Bear Campground, Palmer Alaska by P Bryan, on Flickr

The following day we drove from Palmer to Anchorage and returned the motorhome. 

Palmer to Anchorage by P Bryan, on Flickr

We were then shuttled back to the airport for our flight home.  For the return flight, I received one confirmed first class upgrade.  Although I tried for a second one, I was told none were available.  I took the first class seat for the flight from Anchorage to Seattle, while DW took the first class seat from Seattle to JFK. 

Since we had a four hour layover in Seattle, we relaxed at the Alaska Airlines lounge.  Again, I only had four passes but they looked the other way and let my little one in for free.  We were all quite hungry so DW called Pabla Indian Cuisine (http://www.pablaindian.com/) to see if they would deliver food to the airport.  We were told that their delivery service does not deliver to the airport (even though they are only 15 minutes away) so we placed an order over the phone and DW took a taxi to pick it up and bring it back to the airport.  We had eaten twice at Pabla last summer during out Washington State motorhome trip (https://forums.dansdeals.com/index.php?topic=81754.0) and it quickly became DW's and my older kids favorite restaurant.  When DW walked back to the Alaska lounge with the food, we were told that they didn't allow outside food into the lounge.  Their solution, however, was to give us a free conference room to eat our food (due to my MVP 75k status).  The conference room is normally $50 per hour.

While my older kids kvetched quite a bit during the trip, they were all smiles when we arrived home and we all can't wait for the chance to return to Alaska.

Thanks for reading and we hope you enjoyed this trip report.

July 05, 2018, 12:51:42 PM
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