To complement these fantastic destinations, this adventure offers a wonderful variety of easy travel modes to leave the beaten path and truly discover these lands, including light hiking and kayaking/canoeing, in addition to transport by van, marine vessel and train. Participants are not expected to be proficient in the particular sports, the only requirement beyond a moderate level of physical conditioning, is a distinguishing sense of adventure, with wilderness camps accompanied by stays in comfortable lodgings. This tour is for those that wish to experience the Far North intimately and in its full grandeur. These are lands that first were and are still, the domain of those possessing a certain adventurousness of spirit.
The afternoon is left unscheduled to allow for varying arrival times, with most guests arriving in the afternoon or early evening. A short taxi ride from the airport to your evening's accommodations near downtown, the Snowshoe Inn, will put you in striking distance of a number of attractions. If you want to stretch your traveling muscles, you're in short walking distance from the wonderful coastal trail along Cook Inlet; as well as the many shops, museums and attractions located a few blocks away in the downtown area. We'll drop off your "luggage" for the trip, a set of three dry bags with an explanation of what goes where at that time. A good night's sleep is in order as tomorrow it all begins.
Departure from Anchorage will be in the morning after breakfast, traveling the Glenn and Parks Highways for lunch in the charming village of Talkeetna. An old mining town, Talkeetna now serves as the principal staging point for expeditions to North America's highest peak, Mt. McKinley. Climbing parties from around the world can be seen preparing for and returning from one of mountaineering's greatest challenges, and the village airstrip buzzing with ski-equipped bush planes servicing the mountain's glacier base camps.
Excellent flightseeing trips of the mountain are also available, weather permitting. We'll then return to the Parks highway, entering into the great Alaska Range and heading toward Cantwell to camp at a beautiful and "secret" site on the banks of the Jack River.
As the vast interior of the Park is closed to private vehicles, we will take a Park Service shuttle bus from the Visitor Access Center to the Park’s center. The round trip is approximately eight hours with some of the most spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing known. Expect to see bears, caribou, moose, and possibly even wolves. Photography opportunities are excellent as the bus will stop at any desired location at the group's request. Lodging for the night is at the McKinley/Denali cabins just outside the Park. The evening's meal will be at a local salmon bake for a feast of halibut, salmon, chicken, ribs, sourdough.
After breakfast we'll set out by road to cross the Denali Highway, a 140 mile gravel road across wide valleys, alpine tundra and breathtaking scenery that is open only in the summer months and the only road through this remote area. We'll stop along the way for a short hike into the high country for some excellent views. Crossing glacial river and lake country, wildlife viewing opportunities abound in this large stretch of wilderness inhabited year-round only by the occasional trapper and wilderness hermit.
We'll stop along the way at a couple of the unique seasonal establishments to mingle with some of the locals in the heart of the Tangle Lakes Archaeological District, traditional hunting grounds since the time of those that crossed the Bering Land Bridge to people the Americas. After reaching Paxson, we will turn north on the Richardson Highway and travel a few miles to reach our camp at the base of the imposing Gulkana Glacier. For those inclined, there is an excellent hike up to the glacier, across a swinging bridge, for great views of Summit Lake and the mountains in the distance.
From Gulkana we will get an early start to continue north through the Alaska Range following the Delta River to Delta Junction, and then take the Alaska Highway to Tok. Here, we'll pick up the twisting gravel road to historic Eagle, home of the early Army outpost of Fort Egbert, the army's northernmost presence until World War II. Eagle has long served as the last supply post for the vast upper Yukon valley, providing the earliest miners and current wilderness dwellers with their link to mail delivery, telephones and the rest of the world. Its frontier nature hasn't changed much, as it is still cut off from the rest of the road system during the eight winter months of the year.
We'll bunk for the evening in historic cabins overlooking the Yukon. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the cabins are where the famous Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen "wintered", after arriving in December of 1905 from mushing by dog team from his ship locked in the ice 1000 miles to the north. It was by telegraph from Eagle that he was able to notify the world of his success in finding the long sought Northwest Passage, after three years with no communication.
After a morning historic tour of old Eagle and Ft. Egbert we'll load up the canoes and kayaks and head down the road toward Dawson City via the "Top of The World Highway". The road follows magnificent ridge lines and descends through many old mining camps from days gone by, including the tiny outposts of Chicken and Boundary, Alaska.
After crossing the Canadian border, the road descends into the Yukon River Valley and to the goal of all the Stampeders of the Great Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Dawson City. Dawson is still a frontier town with plenty of its history evident in the old structures and dirt streets. That afternoon will be left open to those that would like to explore on their own or get cleaned up before dinner on the town. Lodging will be in the White Ram Bed & Breakfast near downtown, after sampling a bit of the nightlife.
After breakfast, an excellent recitation of famous works at the cabin of the poet laureate of the north Robert Service, is optional but highly recommended with the rest of the morning open for prowling around, shopping, and visiting the museums. We'll meet for lunch and then have some more free time for a last taste of "civilization", as the guide ready the equipment for us to set out on the mighty Yukon River in kayaks and canoes in mid-afternoon.
First we will float past a steamboat graveyard a short ways downstream, and from here continue on past the Native village of Moosehide for a three hour paddle/float past rock bluffs and waterfalls to a creek side camp on the river.
Slipping into our boats after breakfast we will continue downriver to explore the abandoned homestead of Percy "Iron Man" DeWolfe, who ran the mail up and down the Yukon between Eagle and Dawson by boat in summer and by dog team during the harsh winter months, until he was well into his seventies and was forcibly replaced by the airplane. Percy's presence is still felt in the many items of his life hidden in the overgrowth and wild raspberries that have claimed the site since.
An afternoon stop at the wilderness homestead of Cor Guimand will give an idea of what it's like to live in the wilderness year-round, hunting and trapping with his dog team and leading a subsistence lifestyle. The evening’s camp will be at the remote abandoned gold rush town of Forty Mile with many structures still standing; including a church, store, and the log cabin headquarters of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. A prowl through this ghostly presence is mandatory.
Another day on the river past many islands, drainage and cliff walls dropping directly into the river, before lunch at Old Woman’s and Old Man’s Rock. We'll see if we can pick out any of the wood camps that supplied fuel to the hundreds of steam boats that used to ply the river until roads were built opening up the great river valleys to more economical vehicle traffic in the 1950’s. Camp for the evening will most likely be just shy of the US border on an island. The views are magnificent.
An early morning departure will have us paddling back across the U.S. border and into Eagle around noon for lunch at the riverbank cafe. In the early afternoon we are solidly back on "terra firma" and those opting can stretch their legs with a short but vigorous hike to the top of Eagle Bluff, long a landmark to river travelers. The history is so palpable in Eagle, you'll probably want to spend a few hours just strolling about, maybe talking with the locals about how and why they might live in such a remote outpost with road access only a few months a year. After a sumptuous dinner, we'll again spend the night in the cabins by the river.
After breakfast we climb out of the valley of the Yukon, back to the road through "downtown" Chicken and on to Tok. This time we'll turn south on the Tok Cut-off, through Mentasta Pass and a valley of small lakes and streams, great for spotting moose before, breaking out into the great basin of the Copper River. Long a corridor for game and hence migrating peoples, our route follows the border of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, our nation's largest. Passing through Slana and the old mining community of Chistochina, we'll continue southward, stopping just before the junction with the Richardson Highway that follows the old Valdez-Eagle Trail.
Camp for the evening will be on a wonderful bluff overlooking the Copper River, as it winds its way around the imposing snow capped volcanoes of Mt. Sanford and Mt. Drum across the broad valley. It's an exquisite place just to sit and "glass" with binoculars for wildlife below. Legs needing stretched might try finding a way down the bluff to the river.
Continuing on through Glenallen and Copper Center, we will take the scenic Edgerton Highway to reach the old railroad town of Chitina at the confluence of the Copper and Chitina rivers. From here a one-lane abandoned railroad grade 60 miles through the mountains leads us back to the tiny town of McCarthy, situated in the heart of the Wrangell-St. Elias, but on the other side of the mountains and in a totally different environment. At the end of the railroad grade we leave the van and have the pleasure of crossing two forks of the Kennicott River to reach the near-ghost town McCarthy on the other side, the only means of surface access in the summer months when the river isn't frozen.
Excellent flightseeing tours of the area are also available from the McCarthy airstrip if not inclined to accompany us on the guided afternoon hike over the glacial moraine. After exploring about the old buildings and having dinner at the town’s Old McCarthy Lodge, the night will be spent in the tiny Ma Johnson Hotel, the only lodging available in McCarthy and reputed to have been quite a place of "business" in the old mining days.
A post breakfast trip up the remainder of the road four miles to the abandoned company town of Kennicott overlooking a great glacier, allows an almost unbelievable exploration of an entire town sitting much the way it was when the mine closed in 1938. Kennicott is truly a ghost town without equal, due to its remoteness and fortunate lack of vandalism. For those inclined, a great hike is up to even onto the face of the Root Glacier for some unforgettable photos. Lunch will be overlooking the glacier.
We'll then descend back down to McCarthy and set out back over the rivers to take the road to Valdez across Thompson Pass and through the Keystone Canyon. Enroute we'll stop at the Worthington Glacier before continuing on to Valdez for dinner. And of course Valdez does have a nightlife, with bed & breakfast accommodations close by to allow an early morning trip to the ferry terminal.
Boarding the ferry will be at 6:15 AM for the seven hour ride across spectacular Prince William Sound and a detour to the Columbia Glacier with its calving icebergs and numerous harbor seals. There is a good chance of seeing humpback and maybe even killer whales as well as porpoises as we weave amongst the many islands of the Sound before reaching the small land-locked town of Whittier, accessible only by water and rail.
Here we will take the train ride through mountain tunnels to reach the highway at Portage, which will lead us through the Kenai Mountains to the tiny end-of-the-road frontier town of Hope on Cook Inlet. Far older than Anchorage, this first gold rush community in Alaska is still a place of log buildings and an atmosphere that can only be experienced. Lodging for the evening is in log cabins on the edge of rushing Bear Creek.
Bright and early we'll head down the road to Seward and board the tour boat to head out into the Gulf of Alaska for the spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park, passing through the Chiswell Islands Refuge. Here we will view calving glaciers up very close in our small vessel and cruise the rugged coastline to view a tremendous concentration of wildlife including killer and humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, porpoises, eagles, and many different kinds of sea birds.
Returning in mid afternoon we'll take a look around Seward before heading north through the mountain lake community of Moose Pass and back to Hope for a barbecue on the deck. If the weather's conducive we'll have a campfire and contemplate a walk to the historic Seaview Bar down on the waterfront to meet some of the local "wildlife". Or, you might just like to poke around the old settlement and see the magnificent views of the mountains bordering Cook Inlet. Lodging again for the night is along Bear Creek at Discovery Cabins.
After breakfast at the Discovery Cafe, the social crossroads of quiet Hope and principal commercial establishment (seats for 16), we will follow the road to the small town of Girdwood, home of the world-class Alyeska Ski Resort. Here there is an option to take the tram ride to the summit if the clouds permit for a spectacular view of the surrounding Chugach Range and Cook Inlet, while others might opt for a short hike through the rainforest before having lunch at the locally famous bakery. We'll return to Anchorage in late afternoon and officially end our incomparable journey on the Last Frontier and now is the true test of, the Spell of the Yukon.
This itinerary has 4 separate departures each season.
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