Since we had a sick traveller, we took it a little easier this morning. Also, Raptors had won the championship and back in Toronto, they were hosting the huge parade so we all tuned in for that.
We took our time and slowly made our way back to Healy. We stopped by Roadhouse in downtown Talkeetna for breakfast – no tipping required as the fee is included in the fee. I got the biscuit and gravy. We shared a nutty cinnamon bun. Great assortment of baked goods and each meal comes with 2 drinks.
We walked around the general area and ended up going to the Talkeetna Historical Society – $5 to go through the museum that is located in an old schoolhouse. We stayed around to listen to one of the guys who have climbed Mount Denali. The talk went on for about 40 minutes and then we decided it was time to leave and begin our long trek back in the direction of the previous day.
We drove an hour and half north to check out Hurricane Gulch viewpoint. Then onto Denali North Viewpoint – You can definitely skip this lookout point as Denali Viewpoint South is much worthwhile. The rain was on and off during our drive. I feel like this drive in particular was too arduous especially for the views. We spent a lot of time in a car and pretty much just backtracked. We already made the decision not to do big hiking back at Denali especially with one of our people feeling under the weather.
Drove back down to Talkeetna and was trying to get to XY Lake (pass flying squirrel and turn right). We missed it the first time around and ended up at Christensen lake. We dropped off Merle and Kenny back at the cabin as both were now feeling under the weather. We ventured back and found the right entrance to XY Lakes. Once you turn onto the street, the entrance will be on the immediate right side and you follow down the path. The longest of hikes is 5.2 miles around XY lakes.
Once we finished the hike, we went back for Merle & Kenny and went back to downtown Talkeetna for dinner at Denali Brewpub. I got the Belgian beer then split fish and chips with sweet potato wedges as well as a sirloin pretzel dip sandwich with Ryan. The Fish & Chips was better than the sirloin pretzel dip sandwich.
After dinner, we walked over to Fairview Inn which was literally in eye sight distance. They had karaoke that night and Kushaan sang Backstreet Boys. We also were able to play some shuffle board and ping pong before calling it a night.
Since we stayed up late the previous night, we had a late start on our final day. The group went for coffee and tea and spoke with Todd who gave us recommendations for our route back to Anchorage. We took the Hatcher’s Pass route that would take us through the mountains before bringing us back to to the highway that would eventually bring us back to Anchorage. This detoured route took us off-road and it was quite nice to see that hidden route. It did get quite intense though as we started to get higher in elevation and Ryan was driving us into the clouds. It was a literal sheet of white that surrounded us and it didn’t help that the roads were narrow and hard to see metres in front as we ascended. We did see a few people on motorbikes pass up coming from above. We made it to the top of Summit Lake which was 3500+ft above sea level. It would’ve been a beautiful view if the clouds and mist had lifted but the eeriness of the fog made the experience pretty cool on its own.
At this point of the trip, 3 of 5 were sick. We all have been in tight quarters of the car for the week and that cough just started to spread.
Since the detour was a lot slower than we thought, we stopped in Palmer to get the infamous Taco Bell we had been talking about before hitting the road again. Since the weather was much colder than Denali and we had sick people, we continued past Reflection Lake, Mirror Lake and Thunderbird Trail which are apparently great little trails and stops right off the highway.
When we reached Anchorage, we decided to spend the day indoors at the Anchorage Museum. It was such a beautiful Museum with great exhibits. We pitched in $5 extra for the special exhibit – Frozen in Time (Not worth it). The collection of art and the dedication to spotlight Alaskan history was very informative especially coming into Alaska not really knowing anything. Alaska is actually quite the melting pot. Besides the Native Americans that lived there before, there were people from Sudan, Russia, Philippines, Japan, and so on and so forth.
We would have loved to stay longer however we needed to get Ryan to the airport by 630PM and we still had one more place to go before we dropped him off. We went to Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria which apparently has been known to be the #1 pizza in America and we had to try it out. The place is pretty cool. You can sit down and eat, order out and there is also a beer garden area where you can sit in a courtyard and drink and if you do takeout, you can eat there as well. We (Ryan, Kenny, Kushaan and myself) shared the Forager – Mushroom & spinach white pizza – not bad but also not the best pizza I’ve eaten.
Kenny ended off our final meal with a gratitude and appreciation circle where everyone went around our group and you had to name at least one thing you appreciate and/or a funny moment that each person brought to the group. It was a great way to end the trip and made us feel closer especially for strangers coming together in a timespan of 6-7 days from different walks of life to experience Alaska together.
After we dropped off Ryan, the rest of us besides Kenny had a few hours to spare before we also had to get dropped off at the hostel. Once again, the light messed with our sense of time as it was already 7-8PM and we were trying to kill time but majority of establishments were already closed. We went to the park by the Airport where we saw what sort of looked like what I’d imagine a sunset would look like at this time of year. We still had time to kill and found a place called Boba Tree and got a little taste of boba before getting dropped off. I got the Banana & avocado smoothie – $5USD.
The route home such as the route getting to Alaska took us from Anchorage to Seattle to Vancouver before reaching Toronto. It just so happened when we landed in Seattle, I messaged my friend Jenn (who is also a mutual friend with Kenny) just so happen to be flying out that same morning. I caught her for a split second before she had to board her plane enroute to Montreal.
A transit day consisting of a 6-hour drive north from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We started off the morning going at Black Cup Coffee before heading to the Anchorage Saturday Market. Kenny had told us he was chatting with a girl named Michelle who just so happens to have landed in Alaska the night before and was also just travelling through the states (making Alaska her 50th state as well) documenting her own project called American Happiness. She met us at the Market and did a little interview with Kenny and we ate with her before dropping her off for her sea bus tour of Denali.
We then hopped back onto the road and started our trek to Fairbanks, which is 6 hours from Anchorage. We stopped along the way and took in the sights from Denali Viewpoint South. When you come to this lookout point, there is a tree in the middle. Look at where that tree is and look directly past it and there you will locate the top of Denali Mountain.
The weather got much warmer further inland we went. It was a long and gruelling drive but we made it in with a little rain. There definitely are more stops to make along the way. Around Denali National Park entrance is where we saw the most touristy of areas.
Originally, my plan was to reach Fairbanks around 2PM so we had ample time to explore and relax but I am glad we were able to check out the Anchorage Saturday Market and make a new friend. I wanted to check out the Chena Hot Springs but by the time we hit the road, we wouldn’t have made it in time. We mapped out the route to the hot springs from our Airbnb location in Fairbanks and that would require another hour drive – not worth it.
We made it to our Airbnb in Fairbanks where we met Kushaan. Kushaan was our final traveller who greeted us at the door but it got sticky and we got locked out. Luckily, the host was upstairs and opened the door for us. The day before, we had challenged Kushaan to greet us with a dance challenge or he couldn’t get in the car. He stepped up. Once we all got settled, we decided to leave the car behind and walk to dinner.
We went to Brewster’s for dinner. Steak bits, Popcorn Shrimp & Hoodoo German beer made up my meal for the evening – $35USD after tip.
We walked home to our delight feeling as if it was 630PM and getting that little bit of golden light but really, it was 1130PM.
With such a short period of time in Fairbanks, we drove a few streets to get the lay of the land and stopped by the infamous Antler Arch. Stopped by Alaska Roasting Coffee Co – Reindeer pockets for breakfast and off we went. A 2-hour drive south from Fairbanks to Healy where Denali National Park is located.
When we arrived at Denali National Park – Visitor Centre – You show your annual park pass (if you have one OR you pay your admission) and get your ticket to place into your car. Unlike other parks, the season pass covers 1 car but if not in the car, it covers the holder plus 4 people. It costs $15USD/pp if not.
We watched the video and then got ready to go on our first hike. We were told by the ranger to leave our car parked by the visitor centre as parking is atrocious everywhere else along the way (although there was parking and for a matter of fact empty spots). We hopped on the free shuttle bus that goes through the park and drops you off and comes around every hour on the hour. From the visitor centre, the bus leaves every :40. The bus was super slow but if you want to get further than the 18-mile marker, you require the bus.
We took the Savage River bus to the very end of the loop where personal vehicles are allowed – #18 and hopped off to do our first hike of the day – Savage River trail loop. The Loop was very easy and about an hour roundabout. We spotted a few caribou’s just hanging around by the bridge.
Once we finished that hike, we hopped back on the bus and got off at the Sled Dog Kennel. I thought we had more of a chance to play with the dogs but they are all on leashes near their dog houses. There is a sign that shows the behaviour of the dogs and yes you can pet them. There are a few dogs in the fenced off area who are off limits to play with.
We left before the demonstration and made it back to the visitor centre area to add more clothing layers before we headed to our final hike of the day – Mt Healy Overview Trail – one of the steepest hikes in the park. I brought a rainjacket and wore it for approximately 10 minutes before it got too hot. The trail itself is a steady incline – at the beginning not a huge incline but it’s a constant one.
There definitely are points where it is a consistent incline and then there are stairs. Once you’ve hit the stairs area, you are almost at the top. There are temperature air pockets along the way making it really hot then much cooler. Stop when you need to and take a moment to take in the views but don’t wait too long as the bugs start to bite.
Personally, I thought this trail was a little harder than Kenai Fjords – Harding Exit Glacier Trail. We got up pretty quick and even quicker going down. There are other points of Mt Healy that are higher but we chose a medium difficult hike route. The view is stunning from above. The best thing about hiking in Alaska in summer is that you don’t ever need to worry about it getting dark.
A 2-hour drive South to Talkeetna was to come right after the arduous hike and with so much light out, we didn’t realize that we would arrive to Talkeetna around 10PM and there weren’t many places we could find food for dinner. We had looked up all the restaurants and they all closed by 10PM but we did just barely make it in time for Subway. We arrived at 10PM but it still felt like it was 7PM with sunlight. The temperature did dip to the cooler side.
We stayed at an Airbnb Cabin – Talkeetna Wilderness Lodge. Cute little property with our cabin having a full kitchen and bathroom but also a communal fire pit.
Unfortunately from all this up and down weather especially from Kenai Fjords, Kenny ended up catching a fever and his bronchitis, asthma and whatnot was all becoming more intense.
To start off this trip, we had to fly to Toronto to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle before we made our way to Anchorage. I guess there are more direct flights out of Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. We arrived around 1030PM where Kenny and Ryan were waiting for us. We walked out to arrivals and found a SUV that had the We the North flag hanging from it (Raptors won the Championship in Game 7!).
We went to the hostel – Arctic Adventure Hostel – to drop off our things and headed to Walmart (open 24hr) to stock up on sustenance for the next few days before finding a late night place to eat and have a drink. We ended up at 49th State Brewing Co. 49th State Brewing sits on a corner of a sloped street that also has 2 levels of outdoor patio with heaters and a beautiful uninterrupted view of the waters. We got a table with a live fire going to keep us warm but also in visible sight of the beautiful sun “setting”. Since Kenny and Ryan had arrived earlier, Merle and myself ate while we all drank some local beer and cheers to arriving to Alaska, the start of our adventure and Kenny reaching his 50th state.
I ordered the Baked Alaska Ale and the Elk Crossing 10” pizza (Elk Meatballs) – roughly $24USD (after tax & tip). We left the bar around 130AM and the sun was pleasantly still up as we drove home. Surprisingly, many people were still out and about. Summer is similar to Iceland where the sun rises at 430AM and “sets” (really just sits on the horizon) at 1130PM.
Since we were all coming from different parts of North America, we decided to sleep in a bit and start our day later. I routinely keep waking up for 7/8AM Toronto time so even though we went to bed around 230AM Alaskan time, I still awoke at 4AM. We ended up leaving around 930-10AM. First stop, Kaladi Brothers – We got reindeer breakfast burritos and they got cold brew coffee. According to many blogs I read, the highway going to Seward is the #1 scenic highway in USA. It definitely had some beautiful spots but I wouldn’t quite say it was the best I’ve seen in my travels. It was a pleasant drive nonetheless.
One of Kenny’s friends mentioned detouring to a small town called Whittier. Whittier has the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. This tunnel lets to a small inlet town of Prince William Sound. This tunnel is a one-way tunnel that is shared by both cars and trains. It costs $13USD to go through and there are scheduled release times to allow traffic to go through smoothly. There are also restrooms available as you wait for your number to get the go ahead to go through.
One the other side in is Prince William Sound, a small inlet. There are a few waterfalls and also a bunker that use to hold many things. It was an interesting experience but if you have little time, I would suggest skipping it.
After this detour, we finally made it back on the road and enroute to Seward – Kenai Fjords National Park to do the Harding Icefield Trail. Parking is free and the visitor centre was open and restrooms available. The map shows you the trails you can take and also helpful tips if you were to interact with wildlife such as bears or moose. BUG SPRAY IS KEY!
We started our hike of the Harding Icefield Trail at the Exit Glacier. If you want to complete the entire trail to the top, it will be roughly a 6-8 hour hike. We arrived around 3-330PM and decided to hike to Marmot Meadows viewpoint. Reading all the comments of this hike, it was highly recommended to get hiking poles. The 3 of them had hiking poles but I decided to opt out of them. There are parts where it gets a little steep but for the most part, I was ok without them. I have to note as well that I guess I am slightly more athletic than the average person so if in doubt, get poles if you worry. Marmot Meadows viewpoint was a stunner. You get a good look at the glacier and the valley. The next point after Marmot Meadows, we attempted to goto since it would only be about an hour and we had made good time however, it got to the point where the trail was just covered in snow and me without poles, wasn’t the safest of options. Ryan and Kenny continued up while Merle and myself wait at Marmot Meadows for them. The hike down was rather quick (at least for me). I do recommend trying to go further if you can, the view just 10 minutes past Marmot Meadows I think has a better view than what you see at the Marmot Meadows lookout.
By the time we made it to the bottom, we did the smaller viewpoint loop to the bottom of the glacier.
We left the park and decided to look for dinner in town before driving back to Anchorage. We found a cool little place called Thorn’s Showcase Lounge. We all ordered a cup of seafood or clam chowder and shared some halibut butts (bites) and 2lb steamer clams in garlic butter. Delicious!
The good thing about this time of year is that the sun was still up and bright as we drove back and by the time we arrive back around 1230AM, they sun was right on the horizon and calming.
Back in November 2018, I applied for this travel experiment called Yuujou. It was an open call to people from all over the world. I made top 10 out of 30 000 applicants however top 5 were chosen to go on this 100 day adventure. Yuujou is a travel experiment that would push the limits of 6 travellers by making real life connections. Starting out in Berlin, the 6 travellers (split into 2 groups of 3) have 100 days to get to Tokyo but only travelling through friends of friends.
The best thing about going through this whole Yuujou process were the friendships I made. Yes, the connections for the most part are digital but they have expanded into the real world. On my last trip to Turkey, I was able to meet a new friend Jide in Istanbul who is apart of the Yuujou community.
This Alaska trip was an idea that was sparked between myself and 2 other Yuujou friends. Kenny from Wisconsin and Kat from Rhode Island who became my friends early on in the application process and we had supported each other to the very end. Since none of us got chosen for the Yuujou adventure, we all had other plans for the rest of the year. Kenny decided to start his own documentary journey. Kenny embarked on a 5-month road trip through a big portion of the United States. During our exchanges of updates on life, he told us that Alaska would be his 50th state to visit and both Kat and myself jumped at the idea that we join him and do our own Yuujou adventure. This idea became a reality but unfortunately, Kat was unable to join us. We opened up this trip to our network of friends and for this 6-day adventure. We tried very hard to accommodate everyone’s schedules but in the end, had a pretty good mix of 5 people coming together to explore Alaska.
Kenny’s friends Kushaan from San Francisco, Ryan from Toronto and my friend and old Varsity Badminton teammate Merle from Toronto (who I had only seen once or twice in 12 years prior to this trip).
Many people who go to Alaska tend to do Alaskan cruises but we opted to inland. Our original itinerary consisted of meeting in Anchorage (4 of us) and driving south to Seward to hike at Kenai Fjords, then driving North to Fairbanks and spending 2 days exploring and hiking Denali National Park. Obviously plans change so this itinerary reflects the original plans. If I could change the itinerary after going on this trip, I would have taken out visiting Fairbanks and spent more time exploring Seward and that area. We spent way too much time in the car for my liking.
Alaska is the place where retirees go to experience the outdoors outside (aurora borealis, fishing, nature, hiking, glaciers) unlike Florida where people go to retire on a beach.
-Note that for the month of June in Alaska, the sunrises at 430AM and sets at 1130PM which means tons of light but unfortunately no sights of the Aurora Borealis.
-With the extended hours of light, you don’t have to worry about hiking in the dark however, keep note of the timing especially if you have a lot of driving to do or looking for dinner options as many places close at 10PM or earlier on weekends.
-The temperature for the most part was a low of 8-11C with a high of 18-26C.
-When it says it will rain, we found that it would be sporadic and not last too long. Wait 15 minutes and the weather changes. I brought my rain jacket and wore it for a total of 10 minutes before I got too hot while hiking.
-The weather gets more warm the further inland you go.
-Tons of Mosquitoes – DEET UP!
There are tons of drive-through container coffee/espresso stalls all over Alaska – in town and also on the side of the highways.
Alaska is quite the melting pot of cultures that spans decades. Russian, Japanese, African, Chinese,Filipino etc.
– Hiking poles can come in handy – you can buy at Walmart for $20 or check out Goodwill/Salvation Army. They are not accepted as carry-on items.
– Bear Spray – If you are hiking, it is recommended to carry bear spray – $30USD – can be bought at Walmart but also know it cannot be returned. Make sure to cut off the yellow tie on it. We originally decided against it but another customer in the store suggested it. If you don’t use it and it can’t be returned, you can donate it to your hostel or to Park Rangers.
-Another technique we saw was that people would wear bells to make a discreet noise while they hiked.
*Remember – Black bears – try to be loud and talk them down and run.
Brown bears – play dead
-Reindeer is very popular meat being served.
Now onto the itinerary!
This is the itinerary I had going into the trip. As trips go, they never go as planned.