Travel Spotlight: Alaska

As you may or may not know (depending on if you follow me on Instagram), I recently went on vacation to Alaska! I decided to take a COMPLETE break from work for the week that I was away. I had prepared content for my fitness page, I had a blog post ready to go, but my gut was telling me to take a break. And I’m so glad I did.

I disconnected myself from everything work-related. I didn’t even check my email. I feel like this allowed me to enjoy and take in the beauty of Alaska in a way I couldn’t have done if I was stressed about posting stuff or checking in at work.

Vacations are an amazing way to find clarity. Let’s just say that after the blissful, stress-free week I had, I will definitely be making some changes in the near future. Stay tuned 😉

But for now, let me tell you about my amazing trip!!

The Decision

Tim and I try to go on vacation every year, and we have a knack for knowing people in great places. Last year we went to Ireland and stayed with my BFF Nikki. This year, we decided on Alaska because Tim’s aunt, uncle, and cousins live there. I’ll be perfectly honest with you…at first I was skeptical. I had never really wanted to visit Alaska. When I was younger my parents talked about going but we never did. I consider myself outdoorsy in the “chill on the beach and go to outdoor bars” type of way. I was nervous about the weather, the hiking, and if we’d even have enough to do for 8 days. April is considered the “shoulder season” for Alaska…most of the winter activities are over and the spring/summer ones don’t start until May. We did have some issues finding things to do, but we ended up filling our days. I didn’t have anything to worry about at all. Another plus, Tim’s two friends, Bill and Josh, came with us, which was so fun and it was really nice to have a larger group for some activities!

Where We Stayed

Tim’s aunt and uncle live in Anchorage, and also have a house in Girdwood, AK, right next to Alyeska Mountain, where their two young kids ski basically every weekend, which is where we stayed. We are SO appreciative and thankful to them for letting us stay there!! It was an amazing house in a perfect location-just 45 min south of Anchorage. The hot tub was a huge plus (we used it every night). Also, we got SO lucky with weather. It was 50 and sunny every day except one. I wore my ugg boots and a giant fuzzy sweatshirt on the plane. When we landed, all the locals were in shorts, tshirts, and sandals! Boy did I feel silly!

Saturday, 4/14

We arrived at about 2:30pm. We left Boston at 7:30am, so it seems like a short trip but you have to remember that Alaska is 4 hours  behind us….so it was really like a 10-11 hour trip! We picked up our rental car and Bill (he flew a different airline but landed around the same time as us), and headed out! We stopped at Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage for a quick lunch before heading down to Girdwood, where Tim’s aunt and one of his cousins were waiting for us at the house. To get there, we drove down the beautiful Turnagain Arm Pass from Anchorage. We kept stopping along the way to take pictures. It was better than I ever could have imagined. My favorite place was Beluga Point, which was the first stop we made along the route. Apparently, in the summer, you can see belugas swimming around in the ocean below! The house was located right next to Alyeska Mountain and Resort. That night, we had dinner at Jack Sprat, one of the restaurants overlooking the mountain.

Sunday, 4/15

Josh was set to arrive late Sunday night, and Tim really wanted to ski Alyeska. So Sunday morning, we all headed out to the mountain. Tim rented skis for the day, and Bill and I went on a nice walk around the area and to the Hotel Alyeska (about a mile down the road from the mountain). We both purchased Dine and Ride tickets for the scenic tram, which included $20 credit to the Bore Tide Deli at the top of the tram. That weekend was the Spring Carnival at the mountain, so we headed back there around midday to catch the “Dummy Downhill”….an event where teams built dummies and sent them flying down the mountain. It was pretty entertaining!! After that, we headed over to the tram. Tim took a few more runs down the mountain and then met us at the restaurant at the top of the tram. WHAT A VIEW!! We stayed up there for 3 hours, at least. We had lunch with our dine and ride credit, got a couple of drinks, and hung out on the deck overlooking the mountains. It was pretty amazing, and it was only day 1! After that, we headed back to the house for some hot tub time, then out to dinner at one of the restaurants at the mountain. Overall, a pretty great start to our trip.

Monday, 4/16

Josh’s flights ended up being delayed and he didn’t get in until 2am Monday morning. We headed out around 6am to pick him up at the airport, then set out to Seward, AK for a whale watch through Kenai Fjords Tours! Seward was about 2.5  hours south from Anchorage. We had another scenic drive, stopping along the way to take pictures (this is why we left early for everything). Seward is the cutest little town right on the ocean. We had some time to kill before our whale watch, so we drove around and went into some shops. Unfortunately, a lot of places were closed for the season…definitely a place to come back to in the summer! Our whale watch took off at 12pm. While we didn’t see many whales (maybe 5), we did see a ton of wildlife-otters, porpoises, mountain goats, sea lions, eagles, and many types of birds! The cruise went through Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay. It was all really beautiful! We were pretty tired after the cruise, so we headed home. One regret is not going to the Sea Life Center in Seward…definitely on the list for next time!

Tuesday, 4/17

This was probably one of my favorite days that we had. Tuesday morning, we drove 2.5 hours north to Matanuska Glacier for a guided glacier  hike. It was another beautiful, sunny day-perfect for being outdoors all day! We hiked about 3 miles around, over, and through the glacier. We went inside ice caves, got glacial facials, ate glacier icicles, crawled under giant blocks of ice, and got to go right up to the base of the glacier. It was awesome. After the hike, we had lunch at a restaurant called Long Rifle Lodge that overlooked the glacier. The restaurant was filled with giant taxidermy animals. It was a little creepy at first but hey, we were in Alaska!! After lunch, we drove back down and decided to spend some time in Anchorage. Along the way, we stopped in Palmer at a cute little brewery called Arkose. Once in Anchorage, we went to a few bars we’d heard we good, then had dinner at a place called The Peanut Farm. It’s located right on a little creek, and an otter swam by while we were eating! After that, we visited Tim’s aunt and uncle at their home in Anchorage. Tim’s uncle flies planes for a living, and his cousins do ski jumping and racing, so we watched some pretty cool videos!

Wednesday, 4/18

It was a little rainy when we got up on Wednesday, and this was the first day that we didn’t really have anything planned. We decided to go to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which was only about 20  minutes away. This is a pretty cool place, where they rehabilitate injured animals from the wild. There were bison, reindeer, bears, eagles, wolves, foxes, moose, and more. It was cool to see these animals up close! Unfortunately, the bears were hiding away in their dens, but we did get to see a cute black bear cub named Kobuk! After the wildlife center, we did a short hike near our house to a small but beautiful waterfall. It was called Virgin Creek, so we got a few LOLs out of it.

At this point, we hadn’t made any plans for the rest of the week, but we wanted to see Talkeetna and possibly Denali. Tim looked at the weather up north and saw that is was going to be sunny and clear until Friday. We made the extremely last minute decision to make the 6-hour trek to Denali, stopping in Talkeetna for a night along the way. Within half an hour, we booked hotels in Talkeetna and Denali (grand total $65 per person for both place combined), booked an ATV tour in Denali for Thursday morning, and were out of the house by 6pm. We stopped in Anchorage for a quick dinner at Moose’s Tooth (ranked 3rd best pizza in the country!) then continued on for about 2.5 hours to Talkeetna. We arrived in Talkeetna around 10pm to the cutest little cabin right on the Susitna River (Susitna River Lodges). We arrived just as the sun was setting and got to see the most beautiful sunset!

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Thursday, 4/19

We got up early to continue our drive out to Denali, which was another 3 hours north. We were on the fence about visiting Denali, because we had heard that nothing was open in the winter. While this was true (more on this in a second), we managed to find a hotel that was open (Aurora Denali Lodge) and the same people who owned the hotel owned an ATV tour company. While they weren’t *technically* open, they did a special tour just for us! I was nervous, but it was pretty cool! You can’t actually drive ATVs in Denali National Park, so we were just outside the park near Mt. Healy, which still had awesome views of the park. Shoutout to Black Diamond ATV and Igor for being the best tour guide!!

After the ATV tour, we decided to venture into the park and try some hiking. There’s a road that you can drive up the mountain, and it was only cleared until mile 12. There was a trail at the top and a few at the bottom that we wanted to try. We drove up the mountain road, stopping to see the sled dogs along the way. These sled dogs were so cute and so chill! They were all just laying on top of their little dog houses soaking up the sun. Fun fact: Denali National Park is the only national park to have a working sled dog team! The ranger working at the sled dog kennel told us that only 1 in 3 people who visit the park actually see the peak of Denali. Mt. Denali (previously Mt. McKinley) is the highest mountain in North America, and it has it’s own weather! DNP is 6.8 million acres, and the mountain was miles away from us, but it was a clear day so we were hopeful we’d catch a glimpse! AND WE DID! We drove another 10 miles as far as we could up the mountain road and got a great view of the mountain. We were so lucky!!! Here, we did a short hike before getting back in the car to drive back down. Yes, we met a few moose along the way….thankfully no bears! We hiked another short trail at the bottom of the road before heading back to our hotel.

Like I mentioned above, nothing in Denali was open, including restaurants. Every shop was boarded up…it was actually kinda eerie! We ended up having to go to a grocery store to grab snacks for dinner. Our hotel didn’t have a microwave either, so we really felt like we were roughing it! We snacked for a few hours and played cards before heading back out to Denali around 11:30pm to see if we could catch the Northern Lights. Seeing these has always been a dream of mine. Although it was getting to be a little late in the season, I had been watching the Aurora forecast all day and it said they would be “active” that night. It wasn’t getting fully dark until about midnight. We drove back up the 12 mile road, arriving at about midnight. It was freezing, and so, so quiet. We took turns jumping out of the car to see if we could see anything. We were just about to give up when, at about 12:45am, the lights started coming out! They were really faint at first, then all of a sudden one patch turned bright green and started moving! It was so cool! I tried to get pictures but they just weren’t bright enough. We ended up staying out there until 1:00am, but they never got any brighter. Still, so cool!! Another thing checked off my bucket list!!

Friday, 4/20

We got up early to start the nearly 6-hour trek back home. We wanted to get an early start, because there was snow in forecast for Denali. We ended up getting caught in some pretty heavy snow for about 2 hours at the beginning of our drive. Once we got out of the mountains, it stopped, but it was kinda cool to experience snow falling in Alaska! We also saw a bunch of reindeer on the side of the highway! When we got back to Girdwood, we relaxed for awhile (hot tubbin) then went to check out Girdwood Brewing, which was within walking distance to our house. I can’t drink beer because of the gluten, but this place had root beer on tap! If you don’t know, root beer is probably my favorite type of soda, so I was a happy gal. After that, we headed out to Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ for dinner. We had driven by this place a bunch of times throughout the week, so we wanted to try it out! It was pretty good, and had awesome views of the mountains!

Saturday, 4/21

This was our last day in Alaska, and we were all pretty bummed out. Our flights were leaving around 9pm, so we wanted to make the most of our last day. While Josh and Bill were packing up and getting in one last hot tub session, Tim and I took a drive down to Portage Glacier and Whittier. To get to Whittier, you have to drive through a one-way tunnel. The tunnel switches directions every half hour, so we had to time it right. I had heard that Whittier was a really cute town, but it was pouring rain and most of the shops were closed for the season. We drove around a bit, then headed back out the tunnel. Another place to visit in the summer!! That afternoon, we met up with Tim’s aunt, uncle, and cousins for lunch. We got a surprise-Scott (Tim’s uncle) had flown his plane into Girdwood that morning and could take us flying before we had to head back to Anchorage to get to the airport!! We were SO EXCITED-we had been wanting to fly with him all week and thought that we might not be able to. He could only take two of us at a time. Tim and I went first. We flew around for about 15-20 minutes, flying by the mountains and a huge, beautiful glacier. At one point, Scott tried to land but we ended up just doing a touch and go on the ice in front of the glacier. It was definitely an awesome way to end our trip, and so cool to see Alaska and that glacier from above! After our flight, Josh and Bill went up and Scott flew them back to Anchorage while Tim and I took one last drive up Turnagain Arm to meet them. We still had a few hours to kill before we needed to be at the airport, so we went to a sports  bar to catch the end of the Bruins game then headed to the airport.

We flew overnight out of Alaska to Minneapolis, then had another short layover in NYC-LaGuardia before finally arriving home Sunday afternoon. It was truly an amazing, once in a lifetime trip. It’s a different world up there in the last frontier…so much less stress and worry. Everyone was so nice and so eager to point us towards fun things to do. I’m so glad we decided to take this trip. Even though we drove a lot (almost 1600 miles on the rental car), every drive was so scenic and beautiful that it didn’t even feel like a long drive. I took a ton of pictures, but honestly pictures do not do it justice. You really just have to experience it! I’ve linked everything we did in case you are planning a trip and need some ideas!!

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Even if you never really thought you wanted to visit Alaska, I can’t suggest it enough. I could sit here and write for days about how amazing it was, but you really just need to experience it for yourself! I already can’t wait to go bAK!!!

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