SDAN13 The Great Alaska Explorer Self Drive Tour

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Discover Alaska at your own pace. Our two-week circle adventure self drive tour features most of the highlights and scenic wonders of Alaska’s great outdoors. Originating in Anchorage you’ll travel to Denali National Park where you observe grizzly bears and a variety of wildlife, all in the shadow of towering Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) - the highest mountain in North-America. Continue to Fairbanks with its gold rush atmosphere, board the Alaska Ferry and explore scenic Prince William Sound with magnificent Columbia Glacier - the largest tidewater glacier in Alaska. It's time to visit the communities of the Kenai Peninsula - Seward, Homer, Soldovia and Kenai. It is your choice to try your luck fishing, go kayaking, join a wildlife cruise or visit a remote community. The schedule leaves plenty of time for side trips and outdoor activities such as river rafting, flightseeing, wildlife viewing, whale watching and short hiking trips.

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Itinerary

Anchorage ( Overnight: Anchorage )

Arrive in Anchorage during the day. Transfer to your hotel and pick up your rental car. Nestled along the Chugach Mountains, the coastal city of Anchorage is not the frozen tundra of Alaska you might imagine. You will find it’s brimming with activities for the outdoorsy and adventurous. Being the largest city in Alaska, it is rich in indigenous culture; spend your day enjoying the Alaska Native Heritage Center, visiting the Anchorage Museum, or browsing through the Saturday Market. Visit the Lake Hood Floatplane base, go for a walk along the Coastal Train and try out one of Anchorage popular seafood restaurants. With so much of variety of things, for a first time visitor to Alaska or a seasoned traveller, Anchorage has more to offer and is the perfect starting point for your journey into Alaska .

Anchorage – Talkeetna ( Driving Distance: 115 miles | Overnight: Talkeetna )

It is a treat to watch the mountain peaks of the Alaska Range crowned with snow caps in the distance while traveling from Anchorage on the George Parks Highway to Talkeetna. On the way you travel across the fertile Matanuska Valley. Because of the immense amount of summer sunlight, vegetables grow to incredible sizes. Stopover at Eklutna Indian village on your way to Talkeetna. While at Talkeetna, the must-do activity is the flightseeing tour to the summit of Mt. Denali. Get a picture perfect view of the Kahiltna and Ruth Glacier with its Great Gorge - over 9.000 ft deep - as well as magnificent ice-falls. You'll also see the Sheldon Amphitheatre - the largest of its kind in the world. Highlight of the flight will be an adventurous glacier landing. Included: Mt. Denali Flightseeing Tour

Talkeetna - Denali National Park ( Driving Distance: 150 miles | Overnight: Denali Village )

The journey from Talkeetna to Denali National Park offers a lot of possibilities of wildlife sightings. Even if you are not eagle eyed, a few cars stopped over somewhere means that there could be a possibility of wildlife spotting! Byers Lake on the way offers visitors the choice to rent a canoe or kayak. Once you cross Denali State Park, you'll arrive at Denali Village. The Denali Park office is your rich information chase and it provides details on ranger-naturalist programs, slide shows and sled dog demonstrations. Jeff King’s Husky Homestead Kennel is a very popular choice for a personal tour with four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King and his sled dogs. Visitors can also choose a rafting trip on the Nenana River as well as an ATV Tour in the backcountry adjacent to Denali National Park.

Denali National Park ( Overnight: Denali Village )

Denali National Park offers excellent wildlife viewing and spectacular sceneries. Pick up your tickets, board the bus and watch out for grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolf and fox moving along the ridges and river beds. Your driver informs about the history of Denali National Park, its diverse wildlife and flora. Once an animal has been spotted the bus will stop that everyone can watch and take pictures. The bus turns around at Eielson Visitor Center - 66 miles one way/8 hours round trip. You can get off the bus anytime to go for a hike. Return to the Denali Park entrance anytime during the day. Optional: We can extend the transit bus tour to Wonder Lake or exchange to the Tundra Wilderness Tour, Kantishna Wilderness Trails or Backcountry Lodge Tour. Included: Denali Transit Bus to Eielson Center

Denali National Park - Fairbanks ( Driving Distance: 130 miles | Overnight: Fairbanks )

Join this morning the sled dog demonstration hosted by Denali Park Rangers or hike around the Denali Visitor Center. Start your drive on the Richardson Highway and stopover at Nenana. Residents of Nenana sponsor the Nenana Ice Classic, a nature-based lottery. It is a fundraising event in which individuals attempt to guess the exact time the Tanana River ice will break up. Once you get to dig into it more interesting details emerge! Arrive in Fairbanks, the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska, which enjoys 24 hr of daylight during summer. This afternoon board the authentic Riverboat Discovery sternwheeler for a cruise along the Chena and Tanana rivers. Highlight is stopover at an Athabascan Indian Village, Susan Butcher's sled dog kennel and a floatplane take off & land.

Fairbanks ( Overnight: Fairbanks )

The allure of crossing the Arctic Circle becomes a possibility once you reach Fairbanks. Guided van tours along the Dalton Highway or flight tours to the Arctic Circle and Yukon River is a super popular choice. Join a bushplane flight to Fort Yukon to understand as well as experience how the Gwich'in Athabascan Natives live in "Bush" Alaska. As mentioned earlier Fairbanks becomes a hub for very many activities and the list keeps going on. Visiting Chena Hot Springs Resort can be added to the 'To-Do' List! Chena Hot Springs Resort offers a large indoor heated pool and a natural outdoor rock lake for relaxation. The on-site Aurora Ice Museum is a special attraction and was created from over 1,000 tons of ice and snow, all harvested at the resort.

Fairbanks - Valdez ( Driving Distance: 360 miles | Overnight: Valdez )

Heading south, the Richardson Highway passes through stands of white birch and black spruce, often photogenically close to the Tanana River. Soak up the raw beauty of the drive into the central Alaska Range, often paralleled by the Alaska pipeline. Visit the historic roadhouse in Copper Center before the Washington Glacier peeks into view. Stopover at Worthington Glacier with boardwalks leading to the face of the glacier. Drive through the scenic Keystone Canyon, take pictures at the "Bridal Veil Falls" and arrive in Valdez - also known as “the Switzerland of Alaska” - and the gateway for salmon fishing trips and narrated cruises to magnificent Columbia Glacier.

Valdez - Alaska Ferry Transfer to Whittier - Seward ( Driving Distance: 90 miles | Overnight: Seward )

Scenic cruise across Prince William Sound onboard the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry. Prince William Sound is an area famous for its scenery and wildlife. Dotted with islands, this 70-mile-wide gulf extends 30 miles north and west from the Gulf of Alaska to the Kenai Peninsula, bounded to the southeast by Montague and Hinchinbrook islands. To the north: a rugged, glaciated coastline and the Chugach Mountains. Watch out for whales, bald eagles, sea lions and other marine wildlife. Arrive in Whittier and drive to Portage Glacier. After a stop at the visitor center continue to Seward, a small fishing town at the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Spend some time to visit Exit Glacier. Short trails lead to the edge of the glacier where you can take a good photo in front of glacier ice.

Seward ( Overnight: Seward )

This morning board the stable catamaran for a spectacular cruise deep into Kenai Fjords National Park with actively "calving" glaciers and magnificent scenery. Covering 110-miles, the trip is narrated by a National Park Ranger, who is highly adept at spotting wildlife and pointing out the many sights. Kenai Fjords showcase the best of Alaska’s marine world in a compact package. Sea otters float belly-up eating mussels while Harbor seals haul out on icebergs off Aialik and Northwestern Glacier. Look out for Steller sea lions on Chiswell Island as well as Humpback and killer whales. After reaching the tidewater glacier, guests witness "glacier calving" a process by which glaciers shed giant slabs of ancient ice. Included: Kenai Fjords Glacier & Wildlife Cruise

Seward – Homer ( Driving Distance: 160 miles | Overnight: Homer )

Visit the renowned Alaska SeaLife Center or spend some time at Exit Glacier. Continue your self drive journey and follow the Sterling Highway - a designated scenic highway covering miles of spectacular landscape with snowcapped mountains and many active volcanoes known as the "Ring of Fire" with Mt. Iliamna, Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Augustine, excellent salmon fishing along the Kenai & Russian River and a magnificent coastline. Homer is blessed with a view to the south that is stunning in its beauty and grandeur. The rugged Kenai Mountains are spreading across the sparkling waters of Kachemak Bay. Homer is known as the “Halibut Capital of the World”. King Salmon are caught here from May to June, while Silver Salmon run during August. Halibut - large as a barn size door are available from May - Sept.

Homer ( Overnight: Homer )

Homer offers incredible panoramic views of mountain ranges, glaciers and famous Homer Spit - a long strip of land that stretches into pristine Kachemak Bay. Use the day to explore the area - kayak to a remote cove, go hiking or fishing. Homer is just a short flight away from Katmai National Park and Lake Clark, one of the most densely populated brown bear areas in the world. A picture-perfect flightseeing trip takes you over Cook Inlet to Katmai Coast. Watch bears digging for clams, wandering the sedge grass, or nursing their young. Another option is the day trip to iconic Brooks Falls in the middle of Katmai, famous for bears swatting at Salmon making their way upstream. In the evening join a cruise to Halibut Cove, have dinner at the "Saltry" and visit art galleries along the boardwalk.

Homer – Kenai / Cooper Landing ( Driving Distance: 120 miles | Overnight: Cooper Landing )

Scenic drive to Ninilchik - the oldest settlement on the Kenai Peninsula. In 1901 settlers constructed the community’s Russian Orthodox Church. Continue to Cooper Landing - located at the world famous Kenai and Russian River. You may want to try your luck fishing for the famous Kenai King or Sockeye Salmon. Included is a two hour scenic float trip along the Upper Kenai River. Watch out for moose, eagles, Dall sheep, salmon, waterfowl, beavers and bears as your guide navigates you through snow-capped mountain scenery. If you are more adventurous, join the thrilling Six-Mile Creek rafting tour instead. Prepare to get wet as the river runs thru three consecutive canyons; each more beautiful and more challenging than the last. Included: Kenai River Float Trip

Cooper Landing – Anchorage ( Driving Distance: 110 miles | Overnight: Anchorage )

Drive north through the Chugach National Forest to Portage Glacier. The Portage Glacier Access Road winds about five miles from the highway and ends at the Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Portage Glacier is in retreat and not visible from the center, but it is still an interesting stop thanks to exhibits that let visitors walk through a simulated ice cave, view live ice worms or touch an iceberg. To get up close to the glacier, take an hour-long sightseeing boat cruise or hike on one of a number of foot trails that lead to the glacier. Short drive to Girdwood / Alyeska Ski Resort. If time allows take the tram on top Alyeska mountain offering scenic views of Turnagain Arm. Follow the Seward Highway along salt water bays, ice blue glaciers and alpine valleys and look for bear, moose or dall sheep.

Anchorage

Spend some time at the Alaska Native Heritage Center: the Gathering Place is center stage for Alaska Native dancing, compelling Native Games demonstrations and intriguing storytelling. The Hall of Cultures features exhibits and demonstrating Alaska Native artists. Visitors discover more about each of the five major culture groups through engaging exhibits. The Theatre hosts a variety of movies all day, including the Heritage Center produced film, “Stories Given, Stories Shared.” Guests stroll through six authentic life-sized Native dwellings around beautiful Lake Tiulana and are introduced to the traditional life ways of the native people. Your vacation ends with the return of your rental car at the airport or downtown Anchorage.