After completing our half marathon we decided to spend three days just driving around Anchorage. Due to the timeframe we had to pick whether to go North or go South. It just wasn’t realistic to do both. So how did we decide?
South of Anchorage we had the option to take a cruise to visit glaciers and spot wildlife. For this option there is a tunnel that you must take which is only one-way so make sure to time carefully. Honestly, we had to forfeit this option due to the cost of the cruise and the unreliability of the timeframe to get there (we were going to try and squeeze it in the day before or the day of the race).
North of Anchorage is Mt McKinley, Matanuska Glacier and Denali National Park. You can also continue further to ‘The North Pole’ and plenty of other national wonders but it is quite a drive. On this trip we stayed at Mt McKinley and then spent a day visiting Denali National Park. We also stopped at the lookout at Matanuska Glacier on the way and also found a hidden abandon mine at the end of a beautiful drive.
We use AVIS car rental in from Anchorage Downtown. We walked to the office after our race as it was located conveniently in downtown. The car yard is on a main road with a small office at the front. We had no problem with pick-up or drop-off. We had it booked from 12PM Saturday to 5PM Monday.
There are no weird laws in Alaska. The roads are well paved and signed. Outside of Anchorage the roads are one-lane highways that wind in and out of the mountains.
There are plenty of spots to pull over for photos but make sure you are off the highway. The roads are pretty empty and there were no speed cameras that we saw.
The main thing is to be aware of your surroundings and look out for wildlife, as Moose will step out onto the highway and take their time crossing.
We followed highway 1 north east along the Matanuska River. There were a few opportunities to pull over and take pictures (not many cars) but of course with a landscape like this we could have been clicking away all day.
The many spectacular views along Highway 1.
We also saw 1 male moose as we were leaving Anchorage and then a mother and her calf crossed the road in front of the car in front of us and while the mother just easily stepped over the road barrier the calf came running out and jumped over.
MATANUSKA GLACIER STATE RECREATIONAL SITE
We drove for 156km (2hours) to get to Matanuska Glacier(http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aspunits/matsu/matsuglsrs.htm). There are not many places to stop with virtually no towns and gas stations far and in between.
Once we arrive at the side take in the views of the glacier and learn a bit about glaciers too. There are tours where you can walk on the glaciers but for this trip we didn’t have the time or money.
INDEPENDENCE MINE STATE HISTORICAL PARK
We turned around and went 111km (1.5hours) back along highway 1 but taking the fishhook-willow rd exit to head north. We passed through Hatcher Pass Public Use Area to get to Independence Mine State Historical Park. We arrived around 7:45pm and staying for 45mins.
The views were breathtaking on the drive here. We weren’t sure if it was even going to be open but the boom gates were up!
We parked at the visitor centre where there were bathrooms and only a handful of visitors and their dogs around walking the hills.
We walked up the the site, there were no employees but the gates were open so we followed the path to explore this abandoned mine.
The view from the top is absolutely amazing. And this is about 11pm at night!
There is also equipment that has just been left here that you can look at, touch or climb on.
MT MCKINLEY PRINCESS WILDERNESS LODGE
We headed south back through Hatcher Pass Public Use Area but these time veered right and took Wasilla-Fishhook rd to Wasilla and then turned right to head north (there was an option going straight west but the roads were closed). Our destination tonight was Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge where we were staying for the night ($136.44). There is not much competition or options for accommodation here so this was our best option. The drive was 112km and took about 2hours. We arrived about 10:30pm. Loving all this daylight!
We had brunch at the hotel breakfast and there was also a bald eagle demonstration.
DENALI PARK VILLAGE
Drove 160km (1.5hr) to Denali Park Village ($180.83) where we are staying the night and dropped off the car and our stuff. Then caught the free connecting shuttle to the Wilderness Access Center to book a walkin spot on one of the tours. Everyone was also pay a $10 entrance fee to the park.
DENALI WILDERNESS ACCESS CENTER
Denali National Park is an absolute must see. One of the easiest ways to explore the park is via one of the park tours. There were two types of buses:
We decided on the 4pm [Toklat River](http://www.reservedenali.com/tours-shuttles/shuttles/toklat-river/) **Shuttle Bus** for $26.50 each plus entrance. It would take us to Mile 53 and take 6hours. For us this was the best value for money as the most similar tour was the Tundra Wilderness Tour to mile 63 for 7 hours at $130.25 each.
The tour buses promoted that you were paying extra for narration but our bus driver was fantastic! There was only one other group of 4 on our bus so we got to pick whatever seats we wanted and could move around when the bus was stopped for different views. It stopped at a few places along the way and at one we saw the ‘tour’ buses and they were packed.
The bus driver pointed out any interesting animals, pulled over if he saw something and was super friendly. We got lucky with animals we saw mountain goat (in the way distance), baby birds learning to fly and a grizzly bear with her 2 cubs.
At Toklat River the bus stopped for 45minutes at a large tented area with publications and gift wear. There were also antlers (Moose and Deer) that you could pick up and look at.
On return the bus ended up taking about 6 hours but we stopped plenty of times. The best stop was Polychrome Pass.
It’s alot to take it so by the time we got back at 9:30pm we felt satisfied with what we had seen. Of course mile 53 is only half of the road and the park is huge with the ability to backpack, camp and photograph so much!
49TH STATE BREWING COMPANY
Had delicious burgers here at 10pm. There was live acoustic music playing and despite being so late and in the middle of nowhere the pub was packed. The décor is amazing inside and we loved the atmosphere.
Today we head back to Anchorage. The total drive back to Anchorage (inc. Talkeetna) is 416 km and takes about 4.5 hours.
On the way back we stop to walk around Talkeetna. It’s easy to see why this is a popular vacation stop. There are lots of cute little boutique stores, cafes and a museum.
There is also a grass runway right next to the village.