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.