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Alaska vacations: From Kodiak to Wasilla | Travel Talk

By JERRY VAUGHN, TRAVEL TALK

Last time, I presented some fairly standard and popular options for an Alaska vacation.

While those will work well for most people, it occurred to me that there may be a lot of people who have already done an Inside Passage or Gulf of Alaska cruise and are looking for something a little different. Others may not really be into cruising and may want more land and less sea. The great thing about Alaska is that it offers a myriad of choices in the ways you can see it.

For those who want less cruise and more land sightseeing, the Klondike and Yukon explorer tours are good options. They usually start or end with a three- or four-day cruise allowing you to see Glacier Bay, then depending on whether you are sailing northbound or southbound, Ketchikan or Juneau and Skagway. That allows you to see the best of southeastern Alaska without spending too much time on a ship.

In Skagway, you’ll begin your land journey following the trail of the great Gold Rush. You’ll travel aboard the White Pass Scenic Railway over White Pass following the Chilkoot trail, one of the two main routes the miners followed to the Klondike.

You’ll be treated to spectacular scenery and get a real sense of the hardships the miners faced in their trek to find riches. You may also come to appreciate how smart Levi Strauss was as well. He went north to find his riches, and when he saw the tattered clothes many of the miners were wearing that were unsuited for the rugged terrain, he promptly went back to San Francisco, and began producing Levi’s jeans. He got rich while most of those who endured the difficult trails, inhospitable weather and, more often than not, disappointment at not finding the mother lode came back flat broke. It serves to remind us that sometimes it’s better to be the one who supplies those pursuing things than those doing the pursuing.

Your journey will continue by motorcoach taking you to Kluane National Park, Whitehorse, Dawson City, Eagle and Tok. You’ll float down 100 miles of the Eagle River in the most pristine environment you can imagine. You’ll traverse along the Alaska pipeline and into Fairbanks for a day or two of exploring to give you a view of the history of the area.

From there you’ll head south to Denali National Park for a few days visiting this national treasure. I always recommend that your tour include the Deep Tundra Wildlife tour, which is a little over seven hours long and takes you 53 miles into the park. You are much more likely to see a variety of wildlife and get a feel for this magnificent place.

Many tour operators are offering what is called the natural history tour, which is three hours long and only goes 15 miles into the park. It is a poor use of time and money, in my opinion, and your chances of seeing much wildlife are pretty slim. From Denali, you will head south to Talkeetna, a quirky but really neat little place where if Mother Nature cooperates, you will be treated to some outstanding views of the majestic 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley.

If you are really adventuresome, take the flightseeing tour of Mt. McKinley in a small fixed-wing aircraft. I did the summit trip and I am totally convinced I never need to climb it. I saw its spectacular beauty up close and personal and did it all in a few hours, rather than the days it takes to hike it. For me, that works.

After leaving Talkeetna, you’ll end your journey in Anchorage and fly home from there after enjoying a day or two in Alaska’s biggest city, which incidentally is just a little over twice the size of Federal Way. If you are traveling by motorcoach, a high point of your trip may be as you go through the now famous thriving metropolis of Wasilla, which incidentally is less than one-fifteenth the size of Federal Way. At least you will be able to say you were there.

Another great option for those looking for something different in a visit to Alaska is the Voyage of the Bering Sea. This cruise by small ship from Anchorage to Nome takes you on an incredible 2,000-mile journey that includes Kodiak Island, Katmai National Park, Dutch Harbor, the Shumagin and Pribilof Islands, two ports of call in Russia and ending in Nome. You’ll travel in the wake of Danish explorer Vitus Bering, to some of the most remote and spectacular islands on Earth.

Every place you go is rarely, if ever, visited by other cruise ships. You’ll experience sights, sounds and people you’ll remember the rest of your life, whether it’s the white bones of a whale bone repository on the dark tundra, native cultures who still rely on seal skin kayaks or wildlife in abundance. You’ll spot a myriad of seabirds as well as larger animals such as fur seals, sea lions, brown bears, perhaps even polar bears and walruses.

The remote islands of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge are thinly settled by people — but they absolutely abound in wildlife. The cliffs, pinnacles and rocky shorelines of the Pribilof Islands and St. Matthew are home to walruses, fur seals and millions of seabirds. To the southeast, you’ll see brown or Kodiak bears by Zodiac at Geographic Harbor in Katmai National Park. Rare seabirds float above, gray whales frolic in the sea, great heaps of sea lions bellowing on the rocks. No two port calls are alike.

Homer is an artists’ colony in a breathtakingly beautiful setting. Kodiak is a hard-working timber and Coast Guard town, and Dutch Harbor is home to the Bering Sea fishing fleet. Then you get truly remote — St. Paul in the Pribilofs, the Chukchi community of Yanrakynnot in Russia and Little Diomede. This is truly a journey of a lifetime and you will see a part of Alaska very few will ever see.

Federal Way resident Jerry Vaughn is president of World Voyager Vacations. Contact: jvaughn@worldvoyagervacations.com

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