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Alaska in May

by kkashyap Online Now Apr 7, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Hi

We are planning to visit Alaska in mid May. Our itinerary is:
1. Fly to Anchorage, spend 2 days there
2. Drive to Denali & visit Denali Mt
3. Drive to Seward, Whittier, Kenai and Homer
4. Take the boat where necessary
5. Drive to Fairbanks, spend a few days.
6. Drive to Prudhoe Bay (if car rental company allows it)

I am thinking of 10-13 days for the whole trip.
If it is unrealistic, how many days would I need to it in a relaxed manner.
Will all the parks & facilities be open in mid May, specially hotels in Denali park.
Any suggestion welcome and I thank you in advance for your help.

Regards
Krishna

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15 Answers
  • grandmaR's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by grandmaR Online Now Apr 7, 2012 at 5:52 PM

    We did a cruise to Alaska from the 13th to the 27th. We went to Ketchican, Juneau, Anchorage, Homer, Kodiak, and Sitka. We were the first ship in to Homer, and the ferry service was just starting the next week to Seldovia. We took the first train of the season from Anchorage up to Grandview and we couldn't go all the way to the end of the tracks because a landslide had closed the tracks. Whet did get to Whittier.

    I do not know anything about driving in Alaska, except that it really isn't like driving in the lower 48. On the way to Whittier there was a one way tunnel - it was away from Anchorage at certain hours and the other direction other hours.

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  • glabah's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by glabah Online Now Apr 7, 2012 at 9:03 PM

    I think you may want to change your order a little bit. For example, Denali is on the way north to Fairbanks, so you should probably combine them into one trip.

    The road up to Prudhoe Bay is about 400 miles / 600 km of unpaved surface. You will definitely want to look closely at this road and the relative lack of facilities (fuel, restaurants, places to stay, cell phone service should you get into trouble) before driving it.

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  • worldtrekker's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by worldtrekker Online Now Apr 7, 2012 at 10:51 PM

    I agree with Glenn about changing the order to make better use of your time. Also with regard to the drive to Prudhoe Bay. I personally only drove as far as the Arctic Circle, and that bit wasn't very exciting. I mapped the route from Fairbanks with google maps and it puts the drive at 499 miles and 17 hr. 22 min. one way.

    You might want to consider flying up, or doing a flight-seeing tour from Fairbanks to above the Arctic Circle. That would save you a lot of time driving back and forth... I organized for 6 people from one of my tour groups last summer to fly up to Coldfoot where they had several hours on the ground and they met locals there. They raved about the experience. I booked it upon their request, so unfortunately I have not done this myself. I am pretty sure that the company I used was www.northernalaska.com You can check out their site and see if there is anything that interests you. It seems like they don't start doing their Arctic Circle Tour until June, so you'd need to contact them about your dates.

    Regarding Denali - you are allowed to drive yourself in only the first 11 miles. Past that you need to get on a shuttle bus which you need to reserve ahead of time. May is really the shoulder season and the buses are just starting to run May 20th if weather permits. Starting May 20th, the buses go only as far as Toklat, and then turn around. From June 1st on, the buses go as far as Eielson Visitor Center. This is a good day trip and as this is already an 11 hour day, I always recommended to my groups to make that their turn-around point. From June 8th until mid-September, the buses go to Wonder Lake and Kantishna. I wasn't sure about hotel availability near Denali in May and just searched May 19th on Orbitz to get an idea and there is some availability then. It probably wouldn't make sense to be there before the 19th, as May 20th is the first day for the shuttle buses... Denali (Mount McKinley) is not visible that often - averaging once every 3-4 days and then you might only see part of it. It may be possible to see the mountain above the clouds with a flight-seeing tour, even if it isn't visible from the ground.

    For me personally, Fairbanks isn't worth a few days if you only have a limited time in Alaska. There isn't a whole lot going on there, but it depends on your interests... The University of Alaska Museum is definitely worth seeing. Pioneer Park has some historical buildings and more small museums. That could be worth a couple of hours if that sort of thing interests you. The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center opened in 2008 and has some really nice displays. The Riverboat Discovery is really popular with the big bus tours... I personally find it too touristy, but many like it... If you do this, I'd try to get on the smaller of the 2 boats - the larger takes about 800 people... early in the season though is perhaps not so bad. The Santa Claus House is in the North Pole 15 minutes south of Fairbanks - again very touristy. There's a Gold Dredge 8 that has a tour and I believe you can pan for gold. I haven't gone here, as on my tour, we went to a Dredge in Dawson City, Yukon.

    In Fairbanks, if you are into birding, check out Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. If you are interested in song bird banding, you can learn about this, and possibly see the birds up close if they have any on hand at their Bird Banding station: http://www.alaskabird.org/?page_id=227

    An hour drive north from Fairbanks is Chena Hot Springs Resort. I always see moose on the drive up and while at the hot springs. I always camped overnight there, so the time of day may have helped in sightings.

    Whittier itself doesn't have much to do, unless you are planning on doing a sightseeing cruise from there? On the other side of the tunnel from Whittier (Anchorage side) is Portage Glacier and there is a visitor center). There are also hiking trails here. The trail to Byron Glacier is easy and goes right to the foot of the glacier. If you want to do a hike here, I'd suggest that one.

    Another option you can consider is when you drive to or from Fairbanks, you can go via Valdez and Whittier (Alaska Marine Hwy: http://www.akmhs.com/ ). In this way you'd be doing a loop from Anchorage - via Denali in one direction and Valdez in the other. Valdez is very scenic - called Alaska's "little Switzerland". Depending on your interests, you might want to spend 2 nights here in order to give yourself a whole day - for sea kayaking to a glacier perhaps, hiking, going on a fishing charter... the terminus for the Alaska Pipeline is here if that interests you, although it is not accessible - you can see it.

    Seward has some great activities - you can go on the Kenai Fjords Tour - a boat trip to calving glaciers and great wildlife sighting opportunities. Also hiking up along Exit Glacier to the Harding Icefield is amazing - although you'd probably be hiking in snow once you get to a certain point if you're there in May. Keep in mind that this is an area that gets a lot of rain, as is most of Alaska.

    I've been through Kenai and to Homer once many years ago, so I can't give you much information about those areas.

    I'd suggest 2 weeks for this trip. Think about what you want to do, and spend more time in places that interest you most. Also keep in mind the driving times between places. I'd like to recommend a trip into Wrangell St Elias to McCarthy and Kennicott for a few nights, but your car rental company will for sure not let you drive in there. That would be a detour off the route from Fairbanks to Valdez, should you go that way.

    Good luck with your plans and enjoy your trip!

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  • kkashyap's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by kkashyap Online Now Apr 8, 2012 at 5:57 AM

    Thanks..I did not list the places in geographical order. Driving distances are
    OK and I do love driving long distances in wilderness !

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  • kkashyap's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by kkashyap Online Now Apr 8, 2012 at 6:12 AM

    Thanks Worldtrekker, for the detailed information you have provided. I have done the homework but was not sure of the starting date. I want to avoid the summer crowd but dont want to be too early and miss the sights that are possible only in June. I am not into Museum, song & dance etc (I can read about them). My main interest is to see Nature in all its splendour, just sit down & listen to the wind. My plan is to drive to key points and take the boat to go inland. I went to Yellowstone in May and didn't see any animals and dont want to be disappointed again in Alaska too.

    Cheers !

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  • PR-7's Profile Photo

    Alaska in May

    by PR-7 Online Now Apr 8, 2012 at 11:40 AM

    > I went to Yellowstone in May and didn't see any animals
    > and dont want to be disappointed again in Alaska too

    I went to Alaska in late May, early June. On June 1 at Denali I saw a moose, a porcupine, a grey fox, six bears, over fifteen caribou, and over 25 dall sheep. Note, however, that there are NO guarantees.

    > Drive to Prudhoe Bay (if car rental company allows it)

    First off, read the following URL:
    fairbanks-alaska.com/dalton-...'
    and note the words on your idea: "Not recommended"

    Then read this review:
    frommers.com/destinations/th...
    with the words, "Frankly, I can't recommend spending the time and expense required for a Prudhoe tour"

    I can almost guarantee that the car rental company will NOT allow you to drive on this road. Even though I myself drove a rental car on the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Circle, I do not recommend doing so unless you fell REALLY lucky. There are companies that permit such drives
    arctic-outfitters.com/auto-r...
    fairbanks-alaska.com/car-ren...
    the rates for these companies are MUCH higher than those in Anchorage --200 a day versus30 a day.

    What you might want to do is rent a car in Anchorage and see the sight in and south of Anchorage. Then take the train to Denali, stay near the rail station, and ride the shuttle bus just like you would do if you were renting a car. Then continue on the train to Fairbanks and rent a Dalton Highway vehicle there for two days. And finally return to Anchorage on the train.

    Or you may find it cheaper to park the Anchorage rental car at the same time you have rented the Dalton Highway car.

    Note that, ultimately, you will have to visit the oil fields as part of a tour; and, not surprisingly, you won't get to see a lot. I've not been able to determine where you would arrange a tour once you get to Deadhorse -- it used to be at the Arctic Caribou Inn, but their site is not operating. It may turn out that you'll have to sign up for your tour -- and pay for the transport, meals, and lodging -- from a company that starts its tours in Fairbanks.

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  • worldtrekker's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by worldtrekker Online Now Apr 8, 2012 at 12:29 PM

    Sorry to hear you didn't have luck with wildlife in Yellowstone in May. That's one of my favorite times to go there, and I've always had great sightings that time of year. I do tend to spend a week or more there, so my chances of seeing wildlife go up a lot. But I'm surprised that you didn't even see bison or elk....

    As far as wildlife sightings in Alaska, the most reliable places for me on my tours have been in Denali and in Kenai Fjords, and years ago in Chena Hot Springs. As PR-7 said, sightings aren't guaranteed.

    In Denali wildlife can be seen on the road if you're lucky, or very far away in the distance. If you're taking photos, you'd want as long a lens as possible, and even then, that is not always enough. If seeing wildlife is a main attraction for you, you might want to consider staying a few days in Denali - either camping, or at the North Face Lodge if there is availability: http://www.campdenali.com/ You'd have to contact them about when they open, and about availability. There are also other camping options in the park. If you camp, or stay at the North Face Lodge, you would avoid a lot of the crowds anyway. Most people do the day trips in with the shuttles and don't get the time to really go exploring. Even if Denali is visible, you will not be able to see it from the park entrance. It is first visible once you get about 10 miles into the park and then you are still about 70 miles away. Staying at the lodge near Wonder Lake, puts you within about 20 miles of the mountain. If it becomes visible, you will already be there which maximizes your chances of seeing it. Be aware that mosquitoes can be fierce in the Wonder Lake area in June. Every year is different though.

    Since you are not into museums at all and want to concentrate on nature, there's no need for you to really stay in Fairbanks. I did find the bird banding very interesting at the sanctuary I mentioned earlier. If that interests you, you might want to consider that as they band every morning if weather permits (call to be sure). Fairbanks is a good place to stock up on supplies as well - Fred Meyer, etc. From there, you could spend a night at Chena Hot Springs perhaps?

    Honestly, I would also skip the drive to Prudhoe Bay. You won't be guaranteed wildlife sightings on the drive although they are possible... It's possible to see moose and bears on the roadsides just about anywhere you drive in Alaska, although again it's always chance. Moose and bears are seen regularly in parts of Anchorage. I think that the time driving up to Prudhoe could be better spent doing something else. If you plan to go on an unpaved road, I think the trip into McCarthy and Kennicott in Wrangell St Elias would be much more interesting. You could also drive the Denali Hwy from south of the Denali NP entrance from Cantwell to Paxson (also unpaved) and avoid the Fairbanks area all together... There's still the possibility of flying up to the Arctic Circle - my guests said flying over the Brooks Range was impressive.

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  • grandmaR's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by grandmaR Online Now Apr 8, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    We went to Yellowstone at the beginning of June and saw plenty of bison, and elk, plus a raven, swan, blue bird etc. But we were primarily interested in the thermal features more than the wildlife. My daughter went two years prior and she saw black and grisly bears, pronghorn antelope, elk, moose, deer, and I think a fox.

    We were in Alaska in May, and we did not see many land animals except Dall sheep from a distance, but we saw plenty of bald eagles, otters, whales, sea lions, puffins, gulls, kittiwakes, terns, cormorants, ducks, geese and even some starfish. Some people did see moose, but we didn't and we didn't see any bears.

    So it is partly luck and possibly also who you go with and how well they know the area to tell you where to look.

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  • glabah's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by glabah Online Now Apr 8, 2012 at 10:27 PM

    If you want to see wildlife and want to get up north to do it, it seems to me the place to start would be one of the tour companies that is allowed to operate excursions into the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. However, the way I understand it those trips are very limited and are only offered on a waiting list. There are no facilities at all inside the refuge, so that means serious roughing-it type camping while you are there - but then you might wind up having to do that along the road to Prudhoe Bay anyway due to the lack of overnight facilities over much of the length of the road.

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  • kkashyap's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by kkashyap Online Now Apr 9, 2012 at 3:30 PM

    Hi PR-7, Worldtrekker, Glabah & Grandma

    We spent 5 days in Yellowstone and saw plenty of Bison no doubt, but you get tired of them after a while. We saw a lovely Fox & just one single Moose that was sick with reduced mobility.

    I thank you immensely for your valueable suggestions and am almost on the verge of dropping Far North and instead go to Kodiak. I am firming up the route and let you know so you can offer me some tips.

    Once again thanks for your help

    Cheers !

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  • RickinDutch's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by RickinDutch Online Now Apr 10, 2012 at 5:44 PM

    You've received some excellent tips.
    I agree, the only thing you'll bring back from a drive up the North Haul Road is a 1,000 yard stare and bragging rights.
    Don't tell my Fairbanks friends I said this, but I wouldn't veture north of Denali. Unless you want to go all out and drive up to Dawson City in the YT. Better yet, just drive to Talkeetna and hope it's a clear enough day to see Denali. Denali Park in the summer is as crowded as Yellowstone. North of Valdez is Wrangell St. Elias National Park. McCarthy is now a ghost town but there are places to stay close by and the park had twice the wildlife that Denali has.
    Kenai and Homer are pleasant places to visit. Kayaking in Homer, Valdez or Seldovia are great experiences.

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  • alapah's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by alapah Online Now Apr 14, 2012 at 9:23 AM

    I think with the limited time you have that you should not bother with the Haul Road portion. Most car rental companies won't allow you to travel that road and it's gravel so you can't drive 60mph - you must drive according to the conditions. I've seen pick-up trucks in the tundra that have departed the road. When it's ungraded and "washboard" it can be pretty nasty. I've driven it many times, but not in recent years. I did once drive at the end of May and due to ice melt, sections of the road were experiencing overflow and washouts. There were closures in some sections for portions of a day or so while they replaced culverts. The furthest north the public can go is Deadhorse, not Prudhoe itself.

    Although I lived in Fairbanks for many years, I kind of agree with the above poster about skipping points north of Denali, given your limited time. The range of places on your original itinerary would give you very little time to actually stop and do anything of note, such as take hikes, Kenai Fjords cruise, bus trip into Denali, etc. Do you really want to spend your vacation careening down roads just looking out the windows? I love to drive too, and I have done trips like that, but I gather from your post that you want to be active as well.

    Most tourist related services in Alaska are up and running by May 15th. Booking ahead for accommodations in places like Denali is wise. Booking the bus into the park is also wise. This can be done online. Check the park website at www.nps.gov/dena for details.

    Keep in mind that driving can be slow in areas because of construction (we only have summer to get repairs done), most of our highways are one lane in each direction, there are animals on or near roads at times, and there are a lot of people on the roads, some driving slowly and admiring the scenery. On weekends a lot of people flock to the Kenai Peninsula to fish, though May is probably not going to be a busy time for that.

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  • MTrav's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by MTrav Online Now Apr 14, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    Hi Krishna

    I like your plans and while they are ambitious, they are do-able. I agree with Rick n Dutch except that I like Fairbanks. But it isn't for everyone.
    I attempted a drive up the Dalton a few years ago in mid May. It is a loooong drive and most of it is kind of flat and boring, but you might see some Caribou or Grizzlies. If you do it I would make a few calls or emails to determine exactly how far you can go on the road (the last few miles to the Beaufort Sea might require a permit), and also find your fuel stops on google and verify that they are open for business, or just carry a lot of fuel with you. Coldfoot will always have fuel, but anything else is seasonal and/or variable. There was a station near the Yukon River that was opening the day we drove through, and we had to help them setup the pump for an hour or so before we could get fuel.

    As previously mentioned, there are air tours available but they are$. If you want to experience some local culture on the "slope", consider flying to Barrow or Kaktovik.

    It was recently possible to 'legally' rent a car and drive it up the Dalton. I found one place in Fairbanks who would rent vehicles without the typical restrictions, but it was expensive. And on the Dalton there is a very high probability that the windshield will get damaged, since many miles are gravel, and the opposing traffic is often an 18-wheeler going fast and kicking up rocks.

    I think Denali NP is great early in the season, but check on the National Park website to make sure the road is open on the dates you plan to go. For part of May there are only a few miles of road available. Regardless of season, you can drive 12 miles or so into the park but after that you have to take a bus. You can also hike or bicycle the road.

    Overall, late May and Early September are, in my opinion, the best times of the year to be in the interior of Alaska. Great weather, less crowds and traffic.

    Good luck and have a fun trip!
    Mike

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  • kkashyap's Profile Photo

    Re: Alaska in May

    by kkashyap Online Now Apr 21, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Hello All

    Thanks for all your tips and it will definitely guid me. Here is my drive path:

    Option 1. Anchorage-Cantwell-Paxson-Rt 1-Tok-Delta Jnc-Fairbanks-Denali-
    Anchorage-Glen Allen-Valdez-Boat to Whittier-Seward-Homer-Anchorage

    --Delta Jnc-Glenallen-Tok is a trinagle. Is there anything worth seeing in this
    area excluding Wrangel-St Elias Nat'l Park.

    Option 2. Anchorage-Cantwell-Paxson-Delta Jnc-Fairbanks-Denali-Anchorage-
    -Glen Allen-Valdez-Boat to Whittier-Seward-Homer-Anchorage

    There is a little bit of retracing my path but cant avoid it if I want to go everywhere.
    I have about 12-14 days planned for this drive thru Alaska !

    Now, I am looking for my shield before the Arrows rain In !

    Thanks in advance for your help & guidance.

    Regards
    Krishna

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  • Re: Alaska in May

    by goa2010 Online Now Sep 25, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Hi Krishna,

    I think you are very comfortable regarding the number of days your spending there. We stayed at the denalirivercabins.com/denali...
    You can check with them regarding the opening dates of the hotel. Since i am not sure.

    nps.gov\denali may have details to your questions regarding if the parks will be open. You can check there.

    I have put up all the details on my blog. savsmich.com/2012/09/alaska....
    and pictures on my facebook page too. Have a look at it.https://www.facebook.com/savsmich

    Michelle

    www.savsmich.com

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