Denali Highway and Valdez with Mitch

We love it when we have visitors on the road, and in this post, we’re excited to share our adventures with my cousin Mitch. He flew into Fairbanks just a day before Sam left us. Together we shared a great dinner and show at the Salmon Bake at Pioneer Park. We were sad to see Sam head south but so grateful for our time with him.

Dinner at the Pioneer Park Salmon Bake

With Mitch our first stop was the North Pole! It’s actually a big gift shop in a suburb of Fairbanks, and it was a great place to stock up on gifts and put in a few requests with Santa.

Catching up with Santa

After our visit with Santa and time to restock our provisions, we set out back towards Denali with a quick stop at the Magic Bus at the Denali Brewing Company and the National Park visitors center.

From there we began our trek across the Denali Highway, the 135-mile, mostly gravel route that was the original path to the park. Along the way we camped at two primitive campgrounds, took in the amazing views, and got in a little fishing. Mitch even caught his first fish with his new fly rod!

Our next stop was back to one of our favorite places from our time here in June. We stayed at the Salmon Grove Fish Camp, along the banks of the Klutina River. From here the guys went on a rafting trip down the river to catch the big ones: King Salmon. It was a long day but both were successful, and we’ve enjoyed some incredible dinners since! This was the first time for both guys to catch Kings so it was pretty exciting!

Copper Center is quiet little town, which we explored on foot in about 30 minutes!

Valdez was our next stop and the drive itself was spectacular! The road winds through Keystone Canyon, with waterfalls on both sides.

We were lucky to arrive in Valdez on a sunny day so that we could take in the snow-capped peaks.  We had just enough time to fit in a quick bike ride and check out the town. 

The next day Steve and Mitch went on another fishing charter, this time for Silver Salmon. They had sunny skies most of the day and each caught their limits.  What a haul! For those who are keeping track, we’ve now sent nearly 50 pounds of fish home, some of which has been shared with Mitch and Sam. 

After the successful fishing venture, the skies turned dark and the town was socked in with clouds for the remainder of our stay. They say it rains a lot in Valdez, and they aren’t kidding. But it wasn’t too cold and we were prepared, so the weather didn’t slow us down much. We unknowingly timed our visit to Valdez to coincide with the annual Gold Rush Days, a four day celebration of Valdez’s history. As part of the celebration, we participated in the Wine (and more) Walk through town, which gave us an opportunity to mingle with the locals, support local charities, and sample Valdez-brewed beer. Even in the rain it was fun!

A highlight of any trip to Valdez is going on one of the local tour boats to see wildlife and the nearby glaciers. We opted to go on the Lulubelle, and we weren’t disappointed. Granted, it was a L O N G day on a boat…almost 11 hours with a captain that did not stop talking the entire time!

However, we saw things we couldn’t have seen on other tours. The highlights of our day included humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, and puffin.

The most unique part of the excursion was slowly plowing through the thick ice field at the Columbia Glacier. Along the way we met nice people and enjoyed unbelievable views.

Valdez is a beautiful place. We were lucky to snag a campsite at the Bear Paw II RV Park, right alongside the boat harbor. We spent hours just watching boats of all sizes come in and out of the port. Surrounded by at least five glaciers, the port area is where the action is at in Valdez.

Across the harbor we visited the Solomon Gulch fish hatchery. Here, hundreds of thousands of silver salmon return to the hatchery each year. The mass of fish attract all kinds of other creatures including sea lions and bears. Watching this fat sea lion chow down on salmon was a highlight of our visit there.

Sea lion gorging on salmon

Mitch returned home safely, after a cancelled fight and quick change of travel plans. We loved having him with us and hope he has memories to last a lifetime. 

We’re now beginning our very slow trek south but still have some fun stops ahead. 

Spectacular Denali National Park

After our exploration of the Kenai Peninsula we traveled north with our sights set on Denali National Park. Home to North America’s tallest peak, Mt. Denali, this park is on every Alaska tourist’s checklist. Views, mountains, animals…Within our first 10 miles in the park we had to stop for a moose to cross the road.

On our way to Denali we stopped in the cute towns of Trapper Creek and Talkeetna for an overnight. Talkeetna is a common launch location for Denali climbs and flight seeing trips. We tried to get on one of those flight see planes to see the mountain up close, but unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. Instead we hit both sites of the local brewery and got some fun shots around town.

In Denali National Park we were lucky to score a three night stay at the Teklanika campground. This campground is as far into the park as we could get with our RV, at about 29 miles down the Park Road. Being here gave us an intimate look at the landscape and access to the “end of the road,” which is at mile 43.

Normally the Park Road goes on much further, but in 2021 a large portion of the road collapsed under a rock glacier. There is no time estimate on when the road will be repaired. So, we went as far as we could, first on a bus and then by foot, to see the rockslide and the magnificent valley below. Along our two mile walk we watched two grizzly bears traversing the riverbed below. It was quite a show. 

They say only about 30% of visitors ever see Mt. Denali. To increase our chances we stayed in the area for a longer time than most. We caught a glimpse of the majestic peak several times during our stay, between cloudy and rainy days. We considered ourselves very lucky!

After a three night stay in Teklanika Campground we ventured out of the park to empty our tanks and re-provision. A night in Healy, Alaska led us to the 49th State Brewery for dinner and a little tasting.

A big attraction here is a replica of the bus that is featured in the book/movie, “Into the Wild.” We both read the book, about a guy who enters the Denali wilderness with little preparation, only to perish. The story is outlined inside the bus with actual photos from the ordeal. If you know the story, this bus is very cool.

Properly refreshed we re-entered the park for another four night stay at the Savage River Campground. Situated along the Savage River, this area has been a tourist camp since the park’s founding. From here we could hike along the river, into the tundra, and up in the hills overlooking the valley.

Almost daily we had wildlife sightings…from caribou to moose to eagles, this area is rich with fauna. We had one rainy day but otherwise were able to get out and really enjoy.

Denali National Park is unique in that they have the only sled dog rangers in the national park system. Established 100 years ago, the Denali sled dogs help human rangers reach the backcountry during the winter. The large kennel is open to the public so we checked it out. Luckily we met the newest five members to the team…five week old puppies that are already in training! 

Denali is a special place and we only scratched the surface. One day, if the road is ever rebuilt, we’d love to venture deeper into the park to see even more of its wonders.

Enjoying our Time in and around Homer

We were so lucky, again this summer, to be visited by our neighbors and friends, Dave and Peggy Armstrong. They visited us in Montana last summer and in Homer this summer. While they had family and friends to visit, we still got to spend quite a bit of time together.  Between fish frys at the RV park and a contribution to the legendary Salty Dawg Saloon, we explored the town of Homer from top to bottom. 

One day we all took the ferry to the cute village of Seldovia. Located across Kachemak Bay, Seldovia is advertised as “Alaska’s Best Kept Secret.” There is no road system connecting the town to other communities, so all travel is by boat or plane.

The small seaside town boasts dozens of wood carvings and was brimming with flowers. This place oozed Alaska charm.

If you have Homer on your itinerary we highly recommend a day trip to Seldovia!

On another day, Peggy, Sam, and I set out on a small boat across the Bay to the trailhead for the Glacier Lake, Grewingk Tram, and Saddle Trails. We weren’t really sure what we were in for but…wow!

First we hiked to the tram, which is used to transport hikers across the roaring river. The tram is operated by hand and thank goodness we had Sam to help us pull ourselves across. Peggy and I each went out over the water, but Sam passed on that adventure. 

Next we continued our hike to the Grewingk Glacier Lake, which is fed by the Grewingk Glacier.   The lake is filled with large chunks of ice which have broken off the glacier. The floating ice along the shore were an extraordinary sight!

We finished our 8.5 mile hike at the beach in Halibut Cove where our boat picked us up and took us back to Homer. What a fun day!

While we focused on hiking, Steve and Dave got in some halibut and salmon fishing. On two separate days they got out on the water. One trip was highly successful with each guy catching their limit of sockeye salmon.

The fish has already made it back to AZ and is in our freezer awaiting our return!

Steve continues to capture the amazing array of wildflowers that bloom across Alaska in the summertime. We don’t know the names of them all, but they sure are pretty.

Summer is certainly a beautiful time to be exploring Alaska. It’s hard to imagine what it’s like here in the winter, but we’re certainly enjoying the season.