Alaska travel plan in progress – thinking out loud

The cruise to Alaska was a good introduction to the largest US state, but I realized that if you want to increase your chances of seeing the most interesting wildlife you need to stay in each place more than a few hours.

We did see a few whales while on the cruise ship, including one that was playing around for a good 15 minutes or so – slapping water with its tail, jumping, blowing water – basically putting on a great show. We also saw some eagles on some shore excursion. But there’s a lot more we could have seen if we had spent more time on the land and less time on the boat.

So I figured I’d start working on a travel plan. Then I found this little tool and decided to check it out. If you just want to do some reading it’s OK, but I didn’t find it real helpful – I thought it was an interactive thing that could recommend a vacation itinerary based on my interests. I guess I’m on my own. Here’s a rough draft, just a few ideas I’m working with:

1. Cruise the inside passage – this was very cool on the cruise ship. I’m sure a smaller ship that could get in closer would be even cooler.

2. Mendenhall Glacier hike – while we were on the Mendenhall Glacier River float shore excursion, the guide told us that his favorite thing in Alaska was hiking on the glacier because he knew some caves and other cool things. I’d like to go back there and skip the river float but explore the glacier.

3. Bear watching. We didn’t see any bears but we saw signs and heard stories. My wife really wants to see some.

4. Wolf howls. One of my best experiences was listening to wolves howl in the Singapore Zoo Night Safari. Alaska has wolves. I’d love to see something like this live:

So those are the activities I need to include in the travel plan. Let’s see if I can make an itinerary. Someone on youtube asked where the video was shot but that hasn’t been answered. I haven’t tracked down any good leads on wolf tourism in Alaska yet. Maybe my search engine skills are failing. I did find this: “Would you be interested in an adventure in Alaska? The International Wolf Center sure is! If you’re serious about such a trip, please email Jess Edberg, Information Services Director at and let her know.”

I guess I can’t do too much planning until I know where the wolf tourism spots are. For bears, it seems like there are many options, possibly the best is Katmai National Park, the largest grizzly preserve in the world. It seems that fitting in a bear tour will be pretty easy as long as you go at the right time. I noticed in the cruise excursion book that there were bear tours starting in late July (our cruise was early July). I think that was in Juneau.

It seems that Katmai has no road access a flight from Anchorage is probably the way to go.

That means we’ll probably be starting and ending the itinerary in Anchorage. Now there is a Wolf Song of Alaska in Anchorage but I’m not sure that they offer tours – I have sent them an email.

Anchorage is not close to the Inside Passage, so I may end up scrapping that part of the plan. However, it is possible to take cruises from Whittier (62 miles from Anchorage) to Vancouver that go through the Inside Passage. They seem to stop in Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau – 3 places my NCL cruise stopped. I could live without returning to those places, especially since I need more time in Juneau for the Mendenhall Glacier.

Clearly the big decision facing this travel plan is do we stick around the Anchorage area or do we also try to do Juneau and the Inside Passage? I’m not sure yet…

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  1. Linda Bator says:

    Hi, James! If I were you, I’d skip the inside passage – even though the smaller ships do get in to the smaller coves and such, you already sailed that stretch on your cruise, and I think you’d find more interest heading a bit north of there. I’d start with a short stay in Juneau, so you can trek the Mendenhall glacier, and even go dog sledding if you’d like. From there you could head up to Anchorage for a short stay, and fly over to Katmai for the bear viewing. Staying a couple nights on the island gives you a great opportunity to enjoy these beauties in their natural habitat. Then I’d fly you back to Anchorage, and have you hop the train to Denali. Its one of the best areas to spot wolves, as well as a plethora of other wildlife, and a couple of days in the park would be a great way to experience all that. Then the train back to Anchorage, and after maybe another day or two to relax and enjoy this city, back home again. That way you can stretch the vacation from as short as a week, to as long as 3 quite easily, depending on how much time you want to stay in each place.

  2. I do love cruising Alaska, however, my favorite part of the trip is the land tour part. I enjoy Denali, which is a great place to see both wolves and bear….a good option for you. Katmai is probably the best location to view bear later in the summer. If you don’t want to do Denali Natl. Park, then the Kenai area is real good for bear viewing, which is close to where the ships embark for the inside passage…Seward or Whittier.

    I escort groups to Alaska every year, and enjoy the changing scenery and wildlife, too!

    Have fun!


  3. Amy Newman says:

    You could always take the Alaska Marine Highway, departing from Bellingham. It cruises up the Inside Passage. Depending on the route, you could make stops in Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell, Sitka and Juneau. The schedule is often sketchy, but you can plan and try to spend a night or two in different cities. Then you can fly up to Anchorage; there’s also a ferry that goes from somewhere in Southeast (I’ve never done it so don’t pay much attention) up to Seward, and then drive to Anchorage.

    If you wanted to stick entirely on the Inside Passage, there are lots of bears on Admiralty Island, right outside Juneau. I’ve taken a float plane tour and we were able to see several bears.

  4. Etta says:

    We took a cruisetour in May on Princess cruise lines. Our land tour was magnificent. We spent one full day in Denali Park and took many pictures of wild animals. We did see the grizzlies with cubs, but my favorites were the cotton tail bunnies scurring throughout the park. We watched a red fox grab one in mid air. I recommend a land tour to Denali Park in May. Perfect weather.

  5. cath says:

    The train trip from the cruise port to Anchorage is spectacular and not to be missed.

    I am told where the two seas meet the water stands up when the tides meet.

  6. James Trotta says:

    Denali sounds good – I’ll be back after I do a bit more research… Thanks for all the comments!

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