Exploring the Last Frontier – Alaska By Land

We love summer.  I grew up doing swim team, lifeguarding, and summer was always the time we got to take an awesome vacation.  The excitement of school being out, planning in the spring, reading the books – where are we going this year?   Well, this year, my kids were very fortunate to do two big trips way younger than I ever did in one summer – really, in one month.  The first was to Alaska on a Land & Sea tour with Princess Cruises. Their 70-something grandparents (my folks) generously agreed to treat us all on this adventure on their bucket list  (#onlychildperks) and it turned out to be an amazing adventure indeed. Mr. CainTravel & I had been to Alaska when we were first married on the sea, but never on land.  The first 4 days & nights of our trip gave me a new appreciation for the beautiful Last Frontier, and inspired us to return yet again someday to see even more of the largest state in our union.

In our time on land, we started in Anchorage, which is a fun little town with many life long residents, as well as many transplants.  Many “escape” to Alaska as a break from life, and as the place with the vast majority of the population, many of them end up here. This escape carefree mentality gives Anchorage the notoriety of “worst dressed place” in America.  Whatever, they’re friendly, I’ll take it! The Hotel Captain Cook was a charming abode to spend our first night, complete with reindeer sausage on the breakfast menu and convenient walking distance to sights and sounds.

We drove the next day to McKinley Princess Lodge on the south side of Denali, near Denali State Park, where we enjoyed beautiful landscapes and views of Mt. Denali herself (until recently known as McKinley).  While my dad and Mr. CainTravel did a fantastic night hike, the kids, my mom and I roasted marshmallows by the fire and chatted with fellow travelers.   The second day of our McKinley stay was set in lovely Talkeetna, where we visited the ranger station where all who climb the famous Denali must check in, and looked for “the mayor” of Talkeetna. We didn’t find him, but he happens to be a cat. 🙂

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Exploring beautiful McKinley Princess Lodge

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Lots to explore in the Talkeetna Ranger Station – Check in Point for all Denali climbers!

Days 3 and 4 were spent in Denali National Park, on the North Side of the mountain, perhaps one of the most peaceful and incredible places we have traveled.  The Denali Princess Lodge is huge and across from many shops and restaurants, in addition to what’s offered on property.  You can backpack or hike here where there are no trails and no cars (busses only except for one select day of the year when they give a lottery to allow locals vehicle access higher into the park) and literally no human has stepped before.  Mr.CainTravel is eagerly reviewing his backpacking gear to get back!   In our stay there, Mr. CT and my dad saw a moose on their photo tour, we saw another on our park tour, plus got to hear from a Native Athabaskan and see amazing wildflowers.  My son got a kick out of fresh grizzly bear fur on a tree, and finding the Alaskan Forget-Me-Not (he saw all of their state flowers, animals, etc on the trip!) as well.

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A female moose outside Denali National Park 

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Looking for wildflowers with our awesome Denali Guide 

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Bring your binoculars – lots to see in Denali! 

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We had an eye-opening talk from a Native Athabaskan Alaskan – will never use the term Eskimo now!  Very inspiring 

We ended our day with a fantastic and most memorable tour of the Husky Homestead, learning all about the Iditarod from champion Jeff King and this incredible Alaskan sport.  I have newfound respect for the role of dogsledding in the state, and hope to return someday to witness the awesome start to this race in snowy Anchorage.  You really can’t go wrong when you start an excursion holding puppies (as young as 12 days old!) and this was a hit for every member of our family young and old.

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Husky Homestead is the best for many reasons – #1 of which is puppies!

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These beautiful dogs LOVE what they do! 

Our last official day on land in Alaska was spent on a 9 hour train ride from Denali down to Whittier where we caught our cruise ship, the Coral Princess.  While this may sound like torture, especially with small children (tip – Imagine Ink, best addiction for 3 year olds ever, and even 6 year olds on occasion), it was one of the highlights of our trip. The dome cars and fantastic tour guide  (one per car) made the trip memorable, and we saw plenty of wild life and shots of Denali along the way.  Oh, and yes there was a bar. That always helps 🙂  As well as a full restaurant available downstairs!

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The dome car and viewing platform on the train from
Denali to Whittier were incredible! 

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One of my favorite shots from the trip – a perfectly clear view of Mt. Denali!  We were very blessed with good weather on the trip! 

I left part of my heart in Alaska. I can’t recommend enough to put this on a short list of “must visit” places, and to try and get inland as much as you can, not just on the water (which deserves its own post for its beauty and story) but inland to meet the people, touch the wilderness, and truly experience the Frontier field. We hope and pray we get to go back, and make it even further into this huge peace of land that was truly an unanticipated gift from Russia in the American history books.  Alaska is the key to inspiring any traveling heart – incredibly genuine people, an amazing history (Native and otherwise), unparalleled scenery and wildlife – I encourage all to have their own Alaskan Adventure in the Last Frontier.

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