The group flight usually arrives into Anchorage this evening and clients will be transferred to the centrally located start hotel. Those on Land Only arrangements should make their way to the start hotel.
Leaving Anchorage, we enjoy an incredible walk at the Flattop Mountain area where on a clear day, you can enjoy 360° views of the Alaska Range, Chugach Range, Cook Inlet and of course Anchorage. This explains why Flattop Mountain is one of the most accessible and popular peaks in Alaska. If you prefer to take it easier on day 1 you have the option of completing the first half of the walk only. The full trail is a 5km roundtrip, approx. 2 hours walking with a 380m elevation gain.
En route to Denali we stop at Talkeetna for the opportunity to try a local snack, Reindeer Sausage. Denali National Park is home to the highest mountain in North America, the legendary Mt McKinley (6,194m). It covers 6 million acres and houses some of the most unspoilt wilderness and spectacular scenery in the whole of Alaska. Unlike most national parks, visitors are encouraged to get off the beaten track and leave the trails. Within the park there's a huge diversity of wildlife including birds, caribou, Dall's sheep, moose, Grizzly bears and wolves.
We have two days scenic bus-pass to explore the park with drivers making regular stops to hit the trails and explore for wildlife. There will be plenty of opportunities to take short walks (of approx. 2 - 4 hours duration, 5-10km) for the best views - there are no marked walking trails once the bus gets further into the park, so the opportunity for shorter/longer walks is quite flexible. As the wildlife is fairly habituated to park buses, we should be able to see moose and bear near to the roadside and Dall's sheep on the mountain slopes. In the middle of the park is the snow-clad Mt. McKinley - on a clear day we are likely to have excellent views.
For our second day in the Denali area, there are various optional walks and activities. The leader will usually organise a morning walk from the Denali Visitors Centre that will follow the Mt Healy Overlook Trail, a 7.3km loop of approx. 3 - 4 hours duration with dramatic views. Please note the leader cannot walk with you due to park regulations.
We head into the heart of the Alaska mountain range where we then spend the night in rustic cabins. Here we experience the quiet lakes of the tundra and look out for grazing caribous. This is a birder's paradise with many species often sighted and there is a chance to experience excellent fishing for grayling. This range is actually the highest mountain range in North America and includes Mount McKinley - the highest peak in North America. Tonight's accommodation is in cabin lodges with multi-share rooms.
We drive to McCarthy, a historic town at the centre of this mass of mountains, glaciers and wilderness. Our route passes through some amazing scenery, including the dramatic Copper River Valley, so there are plenty of opportunities for photo stops. We'll also stop en route for a short walk on the Liberty Falls Trail, just off the Edgerton Highway (moderate 4km round trip, approx. 1.5 - 2 hours duration). The last part of the journey is the 96km gravel road to the small town of McCarthy (population 40 in the summer, rest of the year 17!). This quaint town will be our base for the next two nights. The leader cannot walk with the group on the Liberty Falls Hike as is against park regulations.
The Wrangell-St Elias Park and Preserve contains nine of the sixteen highest peaks in the United States, including the second highest, Mt. St. Elias (5,488m) and is the most glaciated region in the North American continent. An imposing area of glaciers, mountains, forest and wilderness, with wonderful wildlife viewing opportunities - Dall's sheep, mountain goats, caribou, moose, Grizzly and Black bears are just some of the parks inhabitants. We spend the day walking in the mountains and valleys of this beautiful area on the Bonanza Mine Trail (approx. walk of 6-8 hours in duration, 6.6 miles- strenuous).
Our journey continues towards Valdez, passing through the Chugach Range of mountains. En route we'll stop at the famous Worthington Glacier, adjacent to the Thompson Pass, where we'll have a short walk (approx. 2 hours, 3.5km). This area holds all of Alaska's snowfall records! On the rivers, fish wheels have been built to catch salmon migrating up-stream to spawn. We plan to arrive in Valdez in the late afternoon.
We have a full day to explore the seaside town of Valdez, a return to civilisation after the mountainous isolation of McCarthy. Valdez is a new town, a major earthquake having destroyed the old one in 1964. It is a busy port where the Trans Alaska Pipeline ends and oil is thereafter transported by ship. A large oil spill occurred in 1989, but fortunately virtually no signs of this disaster remain. There are various walking trails in and around Valdez for optional walks (the 6 hour/16km Mineral Creek Trail or the 2 hour/4km Keystone Canyon Pack Trail are both popular), or you can visit the historical museum and learn about the Native Culture, gold rush history and the pipeline. There is also an optional sea kayaking excursion available today or you can book a half or full day salmon or halibut fishing charter.
Today we board the Alaska State ferry, leaving Valdez behind and crossing Prince William Sound to reach Whittier. Prince William Sound is undoubtedly one of the highlights of any visit to Alaska; the views of the mountains, bays, fjords, islands and glaciers as we travel across the Sound are unforgettable. The water is home to a unique array of marine life and harbour seals, sea otters and sea lions, as well as plenty of sea birds have been spotted on previous trips. From Whittier we drive to Seward, passing the Portage Glacier. There will be a chance to explore the small fishing town of Seward and its busy port before we head to our campsite.
At 10am we join a full day (8.5 hour) wildlife cruise around Resurrection Bay and the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. With the help of an excellent onboard wildlife guide, it's possible that we'll see Stellar sea lions, otters, Dall's porpoise and an endless variety of seabirds including puffins and eagles in this area. Orcas are often spotted and if we are lucky, Humpback whales could even make an appearance! We'll stop at Fox Island for a National Park Ranger presentation and a salmon and prime rib dinner (included, vegetarian options available).
The staggeringly beautiful Kenai Fjords National Park offers wonderful wildlife and bird watching opportunities amidst dramatic fjords and glaciers. Within the park is the huge Harding Icefield, claiming 300 square miles in its entirety. Exit Glacier is one of the 30 frozen rivers flowing off the icefield. If weather conditions permit, we'll do a spectacular walk from Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield. The full walk, known as the Harding Icefield Trail (total walking distance approx. 6-8 hours round trip, 12km) gives views of deep crevasses and huge seracs on the glacier, and takes us 900m up to a lookout point over the icefield. This walk is strenuous and entirely dependent on weather conditions; if there is too much snow and ice on the trail, it may be impassable. If the weather conditions are not good or the group doesn't want to do the full hike, there's an easier option available today, using an accessible trail to reach a different viewpoint of the glacier (approx. 1.5 hour round trip). If the full hike isn't possible or the group splits in two, the leader will normally join the short walk and then return to Seward, returning later to collect those doing the full hike. For those with some free time in Seward it's possible to visit the impressive Sea Life Centre, which houses a remarkable public aquarium and ocean wildlife rescue centre.
This morning we drive to Soldotna, our launch site for the bear float plane activity. Float planes are a way of life for many of the more remote Alaskan communities, particularly those who still have no road access and too little wealth or space amongst the mountains to build runways. Float planes generally seat 10 max, we may need to split into two groups for the flight) and take to the air for a beautiful flight across the Cook Inlet.
We will land in the Big River Lakes area and transfer to the waiting boats to explore the river and lake system keeping our eyes open for bears. The chance of sightings is excellent and we can usually see Brown (Grizzly) or Black bears. The lakes are just on the fringe of the Lake Clarke Park & Wilderness Reserve but a long way from any roads and civilisation. Perhaps this is the quintessential Alaska - almost completely untouched wilderness with ice-clad mountains and active volcanoes as the backdrop. We may see thousands of salmon pushing up stream to spawn and if lucky we'll see bears catching and feeding upon them. The guides who are local fisherman can give you an insight into the local area; feel free to ask them questions as they know the area. Please note, due to the nature of wildlife this excursion involves waiting for the bear and wildlife to turn up, and being a remote location toilet facilities are non-existent. The bear-watching excursion will take about 5 hours and we will return to the planes in the afternoon.
After packing up camp and having breakfast, we drive for a couple of hours to Alyeska in the Chugach Mountain Range which is ideal for a final walk (approx. 3-4 hours, 4km). We will then continue to the state's capital, Anchorage. Containing around half the population of the state, Anchorage in some ways looks just like any other sprawling American town and after nearly two weeks in the small towns and villages it will likely feel busy and bustling. There are points of interest, including several art galleries and craft shops where you can see the beautiful Eskimo handicrafts being made. The National Parks Centre also has some excellent displays
The tour ends for Land Only bookings upon arrival in to Anchorage at approx. 17:00. Flight Inclusive bookings have an extra night in Achorage included (no guide). If you are booking Land Only and plan on flying out tonight, then please don't book a flight before 21:00
Passengers with flight inclusive bookings will depart for airport.