Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Alaska: Day 1 (Anchorage to Denali)

I think it was in mid-June that my friend was lamenting that she was about to max out on vacation, and I realized that (as usual) I had way more vacation than D again. We started to brainstorm trip ideas, and quickly settled on Alaska.

I know lots of people who have been on Alaska cruises, but those never sounded that interesting to me. I dislike cruises as a rule (hours stuck on the boat...so boring!) and the Skagway/Ketchikan/Juneau stops didn't sound that exciting either. However, I had heard good things from the two friends that had recently (and separately) gone to Denali National Park, so I decided to plan our trip around a visit there.

At first I'd wanted to plan for mid-September, as August was a minefield of weddings, but I quickly discovered that Alaska pretty much shuts down by then. The Denali hiker shuttle stops running, the direct flights from SFO<->ANC stop, the hotels start closing, and the temporary workers leave, leaving some cities (like Seward) with less than half their summer population. We finally decided on the last week of August, which worked with my friend's project deadlines and fit nicely between two weddings for me.

After putting together a tentative itinerary, we sent it around to some other friends (Google Docs whee!) and eventually recruited two others to join us. Somehow it became an all-girls trip, although I swear that was not the original intent. In the end we spent a day in Anchorage, two full days in Denali National Park, one day driving from Denali to Seward (the last bit is a gorgeous drive), and two full days around Seward (mostly in the Kenai Fjords National Park).

The four of us left on a Friday evening and arrived in Anchorage before midnight. After staying overnight at the Motel 6 (plenty clean and functional for our purposes) we got brunch at the highly recommended Snow City Cafe. The food was all pretty good, but the "Crabby Omelet" made with fresh snow crab was amazing.

We then hit up a Safeway (aka Carr's in Alaska) and bought enough groceries for three days of breakfasts and hiking lunches. From there it turned out to be about four hours to the McKinley Creekside Cabins, where we stayed for the next three nights. Upon arrival the manager upgraded us from a two-bed room in a shared building to a three-bed standalone cabin. I'm sure that their summer traffic was starting to slow already, but it was still really awesome of them to do that. The cabins are located about 13 miles (twenty minutes' drive) from the park entrance. Overall we had a great stay there; the staff was friendly and helpful, there was wi-fi in the lobby, and the kitchenette (w/ extra sink, microwave, and fridge) was really useful for eating breakfast and packing lunch.

For dinner we ate at the Salmon Bake restaurant, located in the (somewhat derisively named) Glitter Gulch, near all the touristy hotels. The king crab was pretty good but otherwise I was not super impressed, especially for the price. We did get some good deals in the neighboring souvenir shop; they had discounted all of their clothing by 50% since it was the end of the summer season, and we ended up buying a bunch of $5 and $7 T-shirts.

It was a pretty low-key evening...after dinner we packed our gear and we were in bed shortly after 10pm, having set a 5am alarm to catch the 6:30am shuttle bus out of the Wilderness Access Center (WAC) the next morning.

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