The Last Frontier Made a Lasting Impression

Alaska never fails to charm visitors

From the undisturbed wildlife to towering mountains, to the remote wilderness, it’s no wonder Alaska is known as the Last Frontier.  I recently arrived back from a very special bucket-list trip to Alaska.  We toured the great state on a six-night land, seven-night cruise package. When traveling to Alaska, I always encourage clients to book a Cruisetour—the land portion holds some very special features that you cannot experience with the cruise-only options. But any way you choose to travel, visiting Alaska is sure to be an unforgettable experience.

Fairbanks

An Alaskan Native exhibits traditional Athabascan garments
We started our journey in Fairbanks, Alaska with a self-guided city tour. Afterward, we dove deeper into Interior Alaska’s land, people and culture at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.  On day two, we boarded the Discovery II Sternwheeler and sailed on the Chena River—it was an amazing opportunity to see Fairbanks up close.  Along the route, we stopped at the Athabascan Indian Village to discover the culture and heritage of the Athabascan Indian tribe.  From there we sailed to Susan Butcher’s home—a former American dog musher and iconic winner of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Her legacy speaks for itself; she was the second woman to win the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in 1986, the second four-time winner in 1990, and the first person to win four out of five sequential years. Sadly Susan Butcher passed away in 2003, but her family continues the tradition of training dogs for this noteworthy race. We were honored to learn how sled dogs are trained for this historical race at her home.

Denali

Our next adventure took us to the Denali area. Formerly known as Mt. McKinley, Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America. Our group was lucky enough to join the “30 percent club” and view the The Great One in all its splendor. Only 30 percent of travelers have the opportunity to see the mountain, because it’s almost constantly covered by fog. But the day dawned with beautiful sunshine, and we were so fortunate to see Denali.


One of my favorite adventures in Denali was white water rafting on the Nenana River.  The Nenana River is a glacial river that forms the Eastern boundary of Denali National Park, and is the most popular river rafting destination in Alaska.  In 35-degree water temperatures, our group bundled up and paddled along the Nenana River Gorge. It was 11 miles of solid Class 4 rapids between steep canyon walls that is also home to wild sheep and nesting golden eagles.

The next day was quite the wilderness experience. We stopped at Mt. McKinley Wilderness Lodge, located south of Denali National Park.  On a four-hour Natural History tour into the park and we were greeted by a few big-game friends: moose and Caribou.  The next group actually saw a bear and three cubs.

Alaskan Railway

Our Alaskan journey was filled with so many other unforgettable moments. We rode on the Alaskan railway from Talkeetna to Whittier on our way to the cruise ship. Along the way, we saw the famous Marjorie Glacier and scenic Glacier Bay.  We traveled into Skagway, which is famous for the Klondike Gold Rush and the White Pass Railroad.  We took an amazing four-hour rail ride up the famously steep Chilkoot trail. Inside a vintage locomotive, we were able to see sweeping mountain views as we climbed towards Canada. In Juneau, we took a boat tour to Auke Bay in search of humpback whales. Not only did we spot several whales, but we even saw Orcas, bald eagles and sea lions.

Here’s a travel tip: on the return trip back to the ship don’t forget to take the Mt. Roberts Tramway—it offers unbelievable views of the area.  Our last day in Ketchikan was spent relaxing and enjoying this small town, which is famous for their display of Native American totem poles throughout the town. Finally, we boarded our floating home, the Island Princess, for the next seven nights.

Ketchikan waterside
If you love the outdoors and experiencing new cultures, Alaska is the perfect destination for your next vacation. Discover Alaska from July 17-29, 2020 on our 2020 AAA Member Appreciation Cruisetour. Contact your local travel agent to book passage or to learn more about this amazing experience.

Mary Jo Bumbico is a Journey Manager at AAA Ohio.

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