Alaska is on everyone's bucket list... right? It's the floating 50th state that no one has ever actually been to. It's so big that you need at least a month to see the whole state. Actually, I've heard from locals that you can live there your whole life and never see the whole thing. So naturally, I had to go. This was probably one of the top 10 best decisions of my whole life.
It started with an August beach date with a total stranger I met on Bumble BFF. Weird start to this story, right? Lindsay and I went to the beach, instantly hit it off, and bonded over our mutual love for travel. She was just as crazy as I am, totally willing to travel in the middle of the pandemic, and we both agreed that Alaska was the coolest place we could think of that we were legally allowed to travel to that summer. We both love camping in vans, hiking and wildlife. So, we booked our flights for September 2nd.
The next time I saw Lindsay was in the airport for our flight to Alaska!
Day 1: As most people do, we flew into Anchorage. Such a cute airport, and easy to navigate. So far, not scary at all. I recommend looking up local Alaska Covid restrictions before you book your flight, and then again 2 weeks before you fly, because they change so often. We had to get tested 72 hours prior to our flight out, and upload our results onto Alaska's Covid Portal.
Our first night in the state we decided to snag a room at a local inn, take our last showers, and sleep off the jet lag so that we could pick up our van early the next morning.
Day 2: On our first morning in Alaska we went to the cutest breakfast place called Gwennie’s. I'd give the food a 6/10 but the decor and vibe was easily a 10/10. There was even a big dead stuffed bear wearing a mask. Gwennie's was about a 10 minute Uber from the van rental pick up, so we went straight there to grab our van around 10 am.
The rental company we used was called Northern Nomads. Clinton, the owner, met us outside and walked us through the whole van, inside and out. He gave us a ton of awesome suggestions and even told Lindsay she might be lucky enough to see a few moose right out on the street that the company is located on (even though Lindsay swears that the plural of moose should be meece). We didn't see any moose here, but we have a whole week in the wilderness for that! Lindsay put in a little prayer that we would see a moose on our travels, or maybe a momma and a baby moose. Is that too much to ask in Alaska?
We decided to start our trip out in a canvas tent for some photos for one of my clients, so our first stop was Sutton, AK. On our way we made some stops to stretch our legs and check out the landscape.
Friends of Eagle River Nature Center
Rodak Nature Loop
Twin Peaks Traill
Lower Reed Lake Trailhead
Gold Mint Trail
I think my personal favorite part of the day was the Twin Peaks hike we did. The hike was tricky, even though it was a pretty flat path, it was straight up hill. The views from the bottom were incredible, and even more stunning at the top. If you go, make sure you go at least to the first set of benches! We met some really great people at this point, and I'm planning to go out to Nebraska to visit them this summer! I got some really great product shots for Cool Gear + Columbia while we were up there too. Photos below!
Side note, when you do this hike, about a mile up on the left you'll see an old car down in the ditch. We climbed down to check it out and weren't disappointed! Some locals told us there's a myth that if you throw a rock from the main path and hit the car that it's good luck. I think it's true, because we hit it and had the best luck throughout our entire trip!
Twin Peaks Trail
The canvas tent we stayed at was run by MICA Guides and overlooking Matanuska Glacier. I cannot recommend this place enough! It was absolutely stunning and we met a ton of really cool people here. There was a common area with a kitchen, and the property manager cooks an amazing breakfast every morning. There's a fire pit and a hot tub over looking Matanuska Peak. We had a Mountain View tent. Waking up to the crisp mountain air and a view of a glacier was the most unreal experience. I got some amazing product shots for Tiki Brands + Elev8 here. So dreamy!
Day 3: Our night at Matanuska Glacier was amazing but we were ready to see the rest of the state. Day 3 was full of adventure, and just as much driving. Spoiler alert - Alaska is really big. We headed south to the Seward area and stopped at as many places on our way as we could.
Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward
Matanuska Glacier Scenic Turnout (27460 Glenn Hwy, Sutton, AK 99674)
Look for Dall Sheep (61.8024589, -147.67221)
Kenai Fjords National Park (wifi at visitor center)
Harding Icefield Trail Hike
Matanuska Glacier Scenic Turnout
View from the side of the highway heading from Matanuska Glacier to Seward
Pull off on Seward Highway
There are literally so many amazing sites to see on this drive. We kept stopping and would just stare off in awe. At the cliff that we were intending to see Dall Sheep on, we actually saw a Lynx in broad daylight! But still no moose. There's a more amazing view around every corner. Look at this insane rainbow we came across, just driving down a highway. Like, is this real life?
A Random Stop We Made Closer to Exit Glacier
The main attraction for the day was Exit Glacier. This hike was unreal. We did the first half of the Harding Icefield Trail, but we didn't have time to finish because it was getting dark. We heard that the rest of the trail is even better than the first half though, so if you do this, make sure you have time for the whole thing. Lindsay and I even saw a baby bear! Of course, it was the first time we forgot to carry bear spray. We are very lucky there was no momma bear following!
The hike up was stunning. Here are the photos from the actual hike portion. Photos from the top of the hike are below!
We headed to Miller’s Landing North Campground for the night, but didn't get there until after dark, and when we got there we found out that the campground was full. We were pretty bummed because we had done a lot of research on this place and were dying to camp on the water. The staff told us that they just opened up a new campground right down the road, Silver Salmon Campground, so we sadly accepted that this was our only option and we headed over there. To our surprise, this place was even better than our original plan! We got the most amazing spot right on Spruce Creek, and there were only a few other campers in the lot, so we basically felt like we were boon docking. We made a fire and enjoyed the location and chance to relax after a long day. Check out the photos we got at this amazing place!
Day 4: We woke up to the most amazing sunrise and made breakfast with views of the mountain, Resurrection Bay... and Bald Eagle friends! We cooked breakfast in the van and washed our dishes in the creek. I don't think my fingers have ever been so cold in my life, and I was in marching band in high school, so that's saying a lot.
We were sad to head out from this stunning camping spot, but we were Denali bound! So we packed up and started to drive. We stopped at the cutest coffee place called SeaBean in Seward on our way out. We stopped at the following places on our way.
Upper Trail Rest Area
Milepost 30 Seward Highway
Horsetail Falls Hike
Russian River Falls Hike
Downtown Seward is so cute!
Stopped to do a few product shots at Byers Lake
Fun Fact, Lindsay was driving and we ended up getting pulled over on the main highway for going a fewwww miles over the speed limit.... the police who pulled us over was probably the nicest person we had met on our whole trip. He told us how lucky we were to see Denali - she was out from behind the clouds as clear as could be! I think
we were speeding because we were so in awe of how beautiful she was, even from the highway!
View from the Highway... it only gets better!
Once we got into the Denali area, it was game over. We stopped every 5 minutes to take photos. At one point we stopped on the side of the highway in Denali State Park and I decided it was a good idea to take out my drone and fly it over the park. Something happened when I had it a few miles out though, and it randomly started losing height. I tried to fly it back as quickly as I could, but it turned off and dropped from the sky. The last thing on the camera was a really tall tree right in front of it. Obviously I had a panic attack because it had all of my video footage from the entire trip on it! I told Lindsay to watch for bears and to call 911 if I wasn't back in 20 minutes, and I RAN through the state park. The only problem is, in order to get to where I thought the drone might have landed, I had to wade through 2 feet of swamp, thorns, bushes and mud (and maybe snakes) - miles out into the wilderness. It was probably the scariest thing I've ever done. Thinking back to it, I probably shouldn't have done it. It took me a while but by some miracle I found the tallest tree, searched around it, and my drone was there! She still flies just fine too. Didn't even break a propellor. I was totally shocked. When I got out, my shins were all scraped up and bleeding, my shoes and pants were soaked, but I was a pretty happy girl.
This is where I lost my drone. Waaaay out there in the trees.
Denali State Highway
Views from Denali Overlook
We stayed in the Riley Campground inside Denali National Park that night, it was cute and secluded. No views but trees, but it was a great place for a fire and some relaxing.
Day 5 + 6: We got up early to explore the park and do some hiking both days. You need at least 2 full days in Denali National Park to really enjoy it. You can take a bus all the way to Mt. Denali too, but we opted not to this time because we didn't have the extra time. I would definitely add on a day next time I go back though, because I've heard amazing things about that end of the park. You can't drive there on your own, so the bus is your only option, and it's a 6 hour drive round trip. So plan accordingly! We did find some awesome trails on the public side of the park, amazing bridges and cute little cabins for product photos, though!
Some of the hikes we did included:
Mt. Healy Overlook Trail
Triple Lakes Trail (Hard - Lakes at first 4m)
Sugar Loaf Ridge (Hard - 4m)
Jonesville Trail (Easy - 1m)
Horseshoe Lake Trail (Easy - 2m)
McKinley Station Trail (Easy - 2m)
West Fork Glaciar
We headed out in the late afternoon to look for a campsite for the night and stumbled upon this really cool old building off the side of the highway. We ran into a guy here who told us it was supposed to be a hotel, but the owners ran out of funding years ago and just left it there. It's not legal to go into, so I don't recommend it, but if you do... the views from the top of the inside are unreal. But I didn't go in there, so I wouldn't know. O:)
The best part about Alaska is that you can literally just pull off anywhere on the side of the road to camp. You can only make a fire in an existing fire ring, but they seem to be everywhere already. Lindsay and I decided to drive as far as we could before dusk to make better time for the morning. We saw some great spots on our way back but Lindsay remembered a pull off right off the highway that she had seen on our way in. We ended up finding it and there was a sign that said "Private Property - Cash Camping". I am so glad we waited and she had remembered this spot! It was probably the best place to camp north of Anchorage. There was only one other van there, about a quarter mile away from us but divided by a stream, and we got the perfect spot on the edge of a cliff over looking Sustina River.
We set up camp as quickly as we could and got some incredible photos for Tiki Brands and Igloo before getting to relax with another perfect Alaskan view. Check out the campsite below!
Day 7: After another van-cooked breakfast, we headed out to Anchorage for our last day. We decided it was time to shower before we got on a plane (every campground shower was closed due to Covid... so no, we didn't shower all week. No idea how Lindsay still likes me after sleeping in a van with me, un-showered, for so many nights) and the only shower we could find was in a truck stop off the highway. We thought it was going to be gross. Turns out, it was the best shower I have ever taken in my life.
Once we were clean, we finished our drive to Anchorage. We had to get Covid tested to get back on our flight home, and luckily Alaska has a ton of spots to get tested without even needing an appointment. We found one in a parking lot in Anchorage, drove right in with no wait, and were out within 5 minutes. Plus, it was a painless throat swab! No need to have someone dig into your brains through your nose. No wonder they have been doing so great with their low Covid numbers!
We met some human friends in town, and of course furry friends too! One friend we met on our journey was an Anchorage Local, and he took us to visit Kincaid Sand Dudes Park. It was so windy I couldn't even take my camera out for the sand dunes, but the trails were beautiful! I look forward to going back there someday when the weather is nicer. Then we went to the Anchorage Overlook trail. The views of the city with the mountains in the background were amazing. We decided to skip the Flat Top hike, but again, I wish we had an extra day to do some more hiking around Anchorage. We did have time to explore downtown Anchorage though, and we grabbed pizza at the Mooses Tooth. 10/10, highly recommend. What a cute spot! We mostly like the name of it. But Lindsay, once again, says it should be the Meeces Teeth.
Kincaid Sand Dunes Park
We had to drop our van off by 4, and as we drove onto the street that the van company is located on, Lindsay reminded me that the owner said there were often moose sitings on the side of that road. We laughed about how funny it would be to see a moose here, in the middle of Anchorage, when we had been all over the state in the middle of the wilderness.
And guess what?
Not only did we finally see a moose, but we saw a momma and baby moose, just like Lindsay had prayed for when we picked up our van on day 2! It definitely made us feel better. Almost like closure that the trip was ending.
We had some friends we had made on the trip pick us up after we dropped off the van, and headed to Anchorage Brewing Company for a few drinks. Kyle, Nick and Jacob had been out in Alaska doing exactly what Lindsay and I were doing, just driving around and taking photos. So it made for a great last night! We drove around in their Volkswagen Westie van and hit up a few final spots for photos before our flight home. Of course I wanted to utilize this amazing van for some client photos! The guys made alright models too.
The boys dropped us off at the airport late that night and we took a red eye home. I think over all this trip was like a dream come true. I had wanted to visit Alaska for SO long. Going in the fall was an amazing decision, because the weather was cool for hiking, there was minimal snow on the ground but enough on the mountains to make it Alaska. The trees were brilliant inside Denali State and National Parks. The nights were cold but bearable with enough blankets and the warmth of a van. The only things I'd change would be that we should have gone for longer, and I wish we had visited the hot springs! If you've been thinking about going to Alaska... don't think. Just go. It's an experience you need to have.