After catching a connecting flight in Seattle from Las Vegas, we eventually landed in Anchorage, Alaska at 03:00 A.M on 22 June.
The first thing we realised was how bright it was. It literally could have been the middle of the day. It turns out, Alaska never goes dark for six months of the year due to its location on the globe.
Feeling very weary, we arrived at the Ramada Hotel at 04:00 A.M – our accommodation for tonight and for the start of the Grand Alaska tour. This has got to be the worst hotel I have ever stayed at.
We expected to be able to check in and go straight to bed and for the same room to be followed over the following day…but this wasn’t the case.
Firstly, our room wasn’t ready and when we eventually got our keys half an hour later, the room stank of cigarettes and hadn’t been cleaned.
The next day, we had to check out at 11 A.M. and check back in at 4 P.M. despite staying here again tonight. It was then that we discovered that some of the camping equipment we had ordered from Walmart to the hotel had been stolen.
Thankfully, the hotel manager did re-compensate us by going to buy new equipment, but it was an afternoon of waiting around.
Every other member of the group shared similar experiences and it soon became a running joke. Not the bestest of starts to our time in Alaska!
Later in the evening, after meeting Danielle, Daniella, Melissa, Mohammed, Simon and Chris our tour guide, we went out for tea at a nearby restaurant, which was a really good way of breaking the ice and getting to know one another.
Emily and I knew beforehand that this particular tour wouldn’t be like the previous tour we did of Canada and the Rockies and the majority of other traditional Contiki big coach road trips.
If you’d like to read about our time in Canada, you can do so by clicking here.
Day Two – Grizzly Bear Campground
We left early the next day desperate to get away from the Ramada. Along the way, we stopped off for groceries, snacks and more importantly alcohol in Wasilla before having lunch in Talkeetna.
The rest of the group then went on a Free Time Add On bush plane experience (not included in the tour price) for $329 p/p where they got to land on a Glacier.
The pictures looked amazing but Em and I decided against it as we had already been on two helicopter tours over New York and Niagara Falls already on our travels!
We arrived at our accommodation for the next three nights – the Grizzly Bear Campground later in the afternoon.
I was looking forward to coming to Alaska but I knew it would push me out of my comfort zone as I have only ever camped once before. For me personally, I’d rather stay in a fancy five star hotel! Emily, however, was used to camping and loved doing so as a child. I, on the other hand, had no idea how to pitch a tent!
It was here that we got our first taster of how bad the mosquitos can be in Alaska. They were a bloody pain throughout the trip. Bug repellent was needed at all times.
For the rest of the day, we shared stories getting to know one another better. In the evening, we all chipped in helping to make tomato pasta and meatballs for tea. (This is what happened every evening, so I won’t keep boring you with the fine details)!
Day Three – Denali National Park
Alaska is a state with very few connecting roads and only 12 highways. Only 20% is accessible on land, with the rest having to be accessed via bush plane.
Our campground was situated just off the main highway to Fairbanks 127 miles to the North and of Anchorage 231 miles to the South.
There was roadwork directly outside, which meant the sounds of frequent HGV’s made it feel like we were about to be run over at any minute throughout the night. There is only so much that noise cancellation earplugs can do!
Collectively, we all bemoaned the nights sleep we had, but we refused to let it dampen our spirits – we were in Alaska after all!
Today, we headed for Denali National Park just six miles away.
Unfortunately, we were not able to get the shuttle bus fully into Denali because a large area of the National Park was inaccessible due to a landslide that had happened only a month or so prior.
Nonetheless, we spent two hours sightseeing for wildlife and saw caribou, moose and a black bear. We then got off the bus at the furthest point before going on a four-mile hike to see the landslide, which also had some amazing views of the National Park.
Day Four – White Water Rafting
I had never been White Water Rafting before, but we jumped at the chance when we learnt we could do so with New Wave Adventures near Denali National Park. We originally wanted to do this on our previous Contiki tour in Canada, but unfortunately because of the time of year, we weren’t able to.
Danielle and Mohammed joined us whilst the others headed back into Denali to do the Dog Sled Tour and to go on another hike. Later on they told us that they were chased away by a cow – (female moose) who was protecting her calf!
We were all a little apprehensive due to the Grade being between III and IV in level, but that didn’t put us off.
Our guide, Sam helped us all into drysuits and then gave us and four others joining us on our voyage, the obligatory health and safety details about the possibility of flipping the boat and what to do if this happened.
Thankfully, in the end, there was nothing to worry about…apart from seeing a moose carcass being scavenged.
As a team, we mastered the 11-miles along the Nenana River conquering the Razorback, Royal Flush, The Knife, Trainwreck, and Coffee Grinder rapids without any major hitches, whilst also taking in the sights of Mount Healy and Sugarloaf Mountain.
Day Five – Camping at Maclaren Riverside Lodge
We left the Grizzly Bear Campground early the next morning and headed for Maclaren River Lodge 113 miles away, stopping off along the way to replenish our supplies.
Tonight, we camped at their Glacier Camp 10 miles up the Maclaren River in the Alaska Range. It was the first time on the tour that there were no shower facilities and only a basic drop toilet.
We caught a boat down to the already established base-camp with canvas tents and spent the evening chilling out whilst taking in the sensational backdrop of the nearby glacier.
The views were simply stunning. You couldn’t wish to have spend the night in a more picturesque location. In the evening, we toasted marshmallows on the campfire and had S’mores.
Day Six – Canoeing and chilling out
The next morning, we canoed our way back down the river downstream to the Riverside Lodge, which took a little under two hours.
I was particularly nervous about doing this after my struggles in Canada, but this time was much easier as Em and I went with our guide.
For the rest of the day, we chilled out, played pool and board games and later watched The Proposal in a cosy, warm environment inside the Lodge.
In my next blog post, we complete our tour by travelling to Wrangell–St Elias National Park, Valdez and Anchorage.
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Thanks for stopping by, until the next time…