This is, sadly, the last post in our Off to Alaska tour. There are two things we think you absolutely must do while in Alaska: one, take a bus tour through Denali National Park and two, take a boat tour through Kenai Fjords National Park.
We took a 9-hour tour, starting from the harbor heading about 75 miles to a glacier and back through Kenai Fjords National Park with Kenai Fjords Tours. The tour is $184 per person, including breakfast and lunch (surprisingly good), and was well worth the price. The captain was extremely knowledgeable, giving information throughout the tour, and I don’t know it if it was just luck, but we saw plenty of wild life, though my camera wasn’t that great at capturing it.
Before the tour
We saw some jellyfish, apparently there is an abundance of phytoplankton and zooplankton in the fjord estuary
Seagulls! Wow. But you can see some scale based on the size of them coming out of that cave
Looking out at distant glaciers
Hopefully the pictures speak for themselves. All in all, we highly recommended the Kenai Fjords Tour if you’re not used to seeing fjords, whales, sea lions, orcas, glaciers and puffins… which I think is many of us.
We had been planning on visiting Denali National Park once we made it to Anchorage, since it was an hour closer than Fairbanks. But, the dismal weather in Fairbanks had us itching for a change of scenery. On a whim, we decided to drive out and see what sort of magic Alaska had in store for us.
It turns out, it had a lot.
Rangers showing off the Denali huskies
Train tracks along the trail toward the Wilderness Access Center in Denali National Park
Under the train tracks along one of the trails near the visitor center
Over the creek
Salmon Bake – an awesome restaurant outside of Denali National Park
A view near the science center at Denali
Visit the huskies at the Denali Kennels
On our first visit to Denali, we took a hike on a couple of the trails near the Wilderness Access Center and the Visitor’s Center, and we scheduled a bus tour for the next day.
Before we left the park for the day, we heard there was going to be a demonstration of the Denali sled dogs given by the rangers, so we visited the kennels. There were husky puppies and we got to see the dogs pull a sled around in front of us! Such cute! Wow.
The next day, we got up around 3am to get to Denali National Park for our 6:15am, 11 hour bus tour. We managed to catch some aurora displays on the way (sorry for the crappy iPhone pics of it, but we didn’t have time to stop for pictures).
Needless to say, the views in the park were breathtaking. We highly recommend taking a tour farther into the park than you’re allowed to drive yourself because the mountain ranges become more spectacular with each mile. We saw tons of wildlife and had a great time!
Aurora borealis on our way to Denali
Morning sky from Fairbanks to Denali
Waiting for the bus before our bus tour
Mandy and John on the bus, REALLY early in the morning!
A moose and her baby that we saw pretty early on the bus tour
Dall’s Sheep – We never got to see them any closer than this
One of the many grizzly bears we saw from the safety of the tour bus
Two caribou seen from the tour bus
The views during the tour were amazing!
Wonder Lake, the farthest part we got into the park
The view from Wonder Lake
Arctic Ground Squirrel – so cute!
Mount Mckinley from the Mandy and John near the Eielson Visitor Center
John in front of yet another amazing view
Mandy and John on a trail in front of the Eielson Visitor Center
With Detours to Ruby Falls, The Meteor Crater, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest
The road trip from Orlando, Florida to the Grand Canyon that we took from September 26, 2011 to October 2, 2011 is something that we’ve mentioned in one of our first posts, and is still probably one of the most epic, fun, adventurous road trips that John and I have taken.
The Grand Canyon was actually never on either of our ‘lists of places to see’. A big hole in the ground didn’t really intrigued us. But road trips did. And a road trip out west really intrigued me.
We had a week of vacation coming up with no real plans and the Grand Canyon popped into my head. I looked up how long it would take to drive — 1 day and 8 hours. It would be a crazy road trip. We would have to drive almost straight through just to have a couple of days to explore the park. We’d have to sleep in the car! It would be epic, like those coming-of-age movies where friends have crazy road trips! (At least, that’s what I thought anyway.)
So on the morning of September 26, 2011, we set out with adventure on our mind.
So, if you can’t tell from our last posts, Oregon is super pretty.
Like, super-duper pretty.
The last time that Mandy and I were on the Pacific Coast, we had really wanted to check out Crater Lake but because of the season, most of the roads were closed down and covered in snow. We decided to hang a little closer to where we were staying, which at that point was San Fransisco, and do some sight-seeing there.
Our main attraction to northern California was the redwoods, but we noticed as we were planning that Lassen Volcanic National Park wasn’t too far. We decided to stay near Mount Shasta and take a day trip out to Lassen Volcanic National Park while we were there.
We only spent about four hours at the park, but it seemed like you could spend a few days. The park was huge and offered scenic drives, hikes, and some awesome geothermal activity.
As I had posted in my personal blog last year, I had always wanted to see the redwoods in California. I remember flipping through this old travel book my parents had; I was always amazed at the pictures of tiny people next to massive, living, towering trees.
Having been born in California while my parents were in the Navy, I’d actually been to see the redwoods when I was a little baby. My mom always talked about them fondly, saying they were amazing and bigger than you can imagine.
When people say things are more than you can imagine, you still try to imagine them. You might even think that you’ve successfully imagined the awe inspiring feeling you’d get from looking at the redwoods… but you haven’t.
We drove from Crescent City down to San Francisco in November of 2013 on Highway 101. It was a 6.5 hour drive. Honestly, a bit short by our normal standards of driving 12+ hours per day. We even stayed in Fort Bragg for a couple nights in the middle of the drive. This gave us plenty of time to see the northern Californian coast.
The redwoods thrive and are able to grow so tall because of the fog on the west coast. John and I had never seen fog quite so thick or expansive. If I remember correctly, we were either driving through, towards, or around fog for 2-3 hours of our morning drive.
The smallest redwoods we saw were at least 2 times the size of the largest pine trees we’ve seen in Florida. In areas with older groves that weren’t bothered by loggers, looking up towards the top of the trees reminded me of looking up at the buildings in New York City. Nothing has ever made me feel smaller or more in awe of our planet.
Endert’s Beach Overlook
This was a little park near Crescent City. It has hiking trails and we took a short 30 minute hike that reminded us of something from Jurassic Park.
It was extremely foggy and wet, but we got to experience some coastal hiking and even saw one of those huge banana slugs.
The overlook was nice even if we couldn’t see much. We had initially stopped there in hopes of seeing a whale but we could barely see the water below.
Cathedral Trees Trail
We stopped at the Cathedral Trees Trail in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. This park had one of the first really large redwoods we had the opportunity to stand next to.
Meet the Big Tree:
This was a really lovely hike. I noticed that everywhere that we hiked in California, it was very quiet. Maybe it was the time of year (mid-November), but everything seemed very peaceful.
Lady Bird Johnson Grove
The Lady Bird Johnson Grove was a really short hike on a lot of boardwalks. We were here around 2pm and the sun came through the trees beautifully. I guess all of the moisture in the air gives the light a lot to play off of.
Fern Canyon was a really fun and easy hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. We got a little wet walking in the creek between the fern walls and saw so many different types of mushrooms.
Avenue of the Giants
Before we started driving through the Avenue of the Giants, I had it in my head that it couldn’t possibly be that great to drive through the redwoods. We had been driving through the redwoods along 101 all day, so what could be so different?
The redwoods along the Avenue of the Giants are bigger, better, and some are so close to the road you feel like you want to fold in the side-view mirrors to keep them from flying off.
The only problem is that because the trees are so enormous and not a lot of light gets through to the road, I couldn’t take good photos without stopping the car.
I often wondered if people who live near the redwoods get used to seeing them on the side of the road. I was just in awe for the entire drive, especially on the Avenue of the Giants, gasping every 10-20 minutes as we passed by another tree trunk that was at least 6 feet in diameter.
The redwoods are something everyone should see at least once in their life. Standing next to one is so humbling.
Travel Blog: A couple in search of exploration points