They say Alaska is the state that is always trying to kill you. It’s vast and wild and filled with big animals and tough people. Only 20% of Alaska is accessible by roads and less than 1% of Alaska is inhabited (source). Alaska takes you from sea level to North America’s tallest peak, Mt. Denali (20,310 ft.), and contains more than half of the world’s glaciers. Alaska has many climates from arctic coastal plains (the tundra) to vast rocky mountains and temperate rainforests (source). Home to about 32,000 grizzlies, 100,000 black bears and 200,000 moose, Alaska is tough and wild and unpredictable and all of that makes it the most amazing place to cautiously explore.
I have to admit, I was a little weary when I first came here. Seeing a grizzly and other large animals while hiking never really excited me but regardless I was really excited to explore new terrain, and, I ended up getting over my nerves pretty quickly the more time we spent on the trail.
Luke and I planned a 10 day trip around South Central Alaska to explore various towns and terrains. Our whole trip was planned to spend full days outside, soaking up the summertime day’s 20 hours of light. The weather turned out to be a consistent light to medium rain with heavy clouds that broke in the late afternoons, but that didn’t stop us. Over 10 days, we hiked 26 miles with over 7,000 ft of elevation gain, visited 10 towns, saw tons of glaciers, kayaked in Prince William Sound, fished for halibut, visited an animal sanctuary, drank lots of coffee and took in the most beautiful views. We moved from Anchorage to Palmer, east to Copper Center, down to Valdez, ferried to Whittier, drove to Girdwood, up to Talkeetna and then on to the Kenai, Soldotna and Deep Creek. All of that is within a 200 mile radius of Anchorage which means we actually only saw the tiniest amount of this huge state. We just dipped our toes in to all that Alaska has to offer and we were blown away.
We love jam packed days when we travel to experience as much as we can in the short time we have. Since we did and experienced so much, I want to talk about my absolute favorite parts and some things you can’t miss should you travel to South Central Alaska.
I’ll start with Valdez (pronounced val-deez, I said it wrong almost the entire time we were there!). Valdez is a beautiful little coastal town in Alaska that sits on the shores of Prince William Sound and is widely known for being the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Valdez offers great hiking trails, incredible waterfalls (they’re everywhere you look), loads of glaciers, and various ocean excursion activities. This town gets a bajillion inches of rain a year which is why it’s so green but also is something to be prepared for. While we were there our favorite things we did were:
- Glacier hikes: Valdez Glacier Lake was so majestic, Worthington Glacier let you get close.
- Ocean kayaking: Pangea Adventures led us on an amazing adventure across the ocean to a hike to see a waterfall where we had lunch. Of course you saw ocean wildlife along the way!
- Eating: The Potato is a must try! They are known for everything french fry.
- Meeting other tourists and locals alike: Valdez was such a friendly town with so many unique stories to hear.
- Hanging out by the pier spotting tons of bald eagles. You can’t miss them!
My personal favorite town happened to be Girdwood. Sitting only about 45 minutes outside Anchorage, it’s Anchorage’s playground. Girdwood is also a hikers dream and is a resort town in the winter that is home to Alyeska ski resort. Skiing and hiking happen to be my two favorite things so I am obviously very bias towards the town. There was a long list of trails I wanted to complete in Girdwood but since we were only there for a day and a half, I had to narrow it down to two. Also the hotel and brewery we stayed at there were my favorite! See below for some recs!
- Portage Pass Trail: You can find this trail on your drive from Whittier to Girdwood and it is a must do. This trail takes you through beautiful terrain filled with wildflowers in the summer and leads you to Portage Lake which is at the foot of Portage glacier. Luke and I loved this hike, even in the rain.
- Crow Pass, Crystal Lake & Barnes Mountain Trail: Crow Pass is a 26 mile trail that takes you from Girdwood to Eagle River. It’s a popular backpacking trail but we opted for the 6.2 mile route that stopped at Crystal Lake. The scenery throughout the entire hike is jaw dropping. I can’t say enough great things about this trail, just do it!
- Girdwood Brewing: I think this is where all the young people in Alaska hang out! The brewery sits right at the base of a mountain. We ate here and had some after hike beers (one of our favorite things to do!). I’m a pretty tough critic when it comes to beer but every one I tried here was pretty good. The atmosphere and tasteful building design/decor was everything I look for in a brewery. They also have rotating food trucks and a great outdoor seating set up. I would absolutely go back!
- The Ski Inn: Last but not least, the Ski Inn was a gem of a bed and breakfast to stay at right in downtown Girdwood. It’s recently been renovated and is very cute and cozy! We had a room with a shared bathroom (shared bathrooms are very common in Alaska hotels) but they also have rooms with private bathrooms. It felt so homey I wanted to stay for a few more days. The provided breakfast was perfect to fuel us for a day on the trail too!
There’s so much more that we did and loved but that’s a tale for another time. I also didn’t discuss what we did to be safe on the trail to help build our confidence in bear country but that’s another post for another day, too! I firmly believe your attitude and who you surround yourself with dictates your experiences in, and therefore feelings towards new places you visit. I’m so lucky to have such an adventurous, fun loving travel buddy that keeps me great company. I hope when you travel, you have the same!
Until the next tale… Happy trails.