Alaska Destination Blog


Anchorage | Winter

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The Fur Rondy Festival is a significant part of the history and tradition of Anchorage. In the mid 1930's, Anchorage was just a small town of about 3,000 people that stretched between Park Strip and Ship Creek. There were no televisions, malls or movie theaters, no video games, ipods or computers, not even an Iditarod! Winters were brutal and stoking fires, shoveling snow and surviving the elements was the basic daily pastime in those days.

Vern Johnson, the father of the Fur Rendezvous, was a likeable, outgoing Anchorage citizen with a keen understanding of social conditions. He and his friends decided to establish a 3-day Festival to coincide with the time that the miners and trappers came to town with their winter's yield. It began as a three-day sports tournament on February 15, 16 and 17, 1935 and featured skiing, hockey, basketball, boxing and a children's sled dog race down Fourth Avenue. Nearly the entire population of Anchorage turned out for the bonfire and torchlight parade.

Since then, the Fur Rendezvous has earned national and international notoriety, and visitors from throughout the world descend on Anchorage every February.

Despite the passage of time and a multitude of modern diversions, Fur Rendezvous remains a highly anticipated time of year. There are still many Fur Rendezvous events that have withstood the test of time and continue to maintain their unique character. The Official Rondy Fur Auction has been a staple of the Festival since the beginning and the Festival was named in large part to the economic importance of the Alaskan fur trade. Given that the fur trade was Alaska's third most valuable industry in those days, incorporating the industry into the celebration was a logical idea. The Blanket Toss, an ancient Native Alaskan tradition, joined the Festival in 1950. Native Alaskans were flown into Anchorage from Nome and the Little Diomede Islands to participate in the Blanket Toss and to showcase their captivating tribal dances.

The World Championship Sled Dog Race debuted in 1946 and has become the cornerstone event of the Festival bringing teams of sled dogs and mushers to Anchorage from across Alaska and all over the world. The World Championship Dog Weight Pull began in 1967 as a bet between two dog owners to see whose animal could pull the most weight. Four decades later, dog owners are still competing against each other for the cash, notoriety and the illustrious World Champion title for the event. Other traditional Fur Rondy events include the Rondy Carnival, the Grand Parade, the uniquely Alaskan Original Men's Snowshoe Softball and the Grand Prix Auto Race, one of the oldest street races in North America.


Denali National Park Road Lottery

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Road Lottery Information
The application period for the 2012 lottery (example) is from June 01 - 30, 2012. Winners of the lottery will be announced in July, 2012. The dates of the lottery will be September 14 - 17, 2012.

Each September the park hosts a four-day event called "Road Lottery." During these four days, winners of a lottery drawing are given a chance to purchase a single, day-long permit, allowing them to drive as much of the Denali Park Road as weather allows. In years with early snow, the Park Road might open no farther than Savage River (mile 15); in milder years, lottery winners are able to enjoy a trip out to Wonder Lake (mile 85). The lottery dates each year are the second Friday-Monday weekend after Labor Day.

How does the road travel permit work?
If you are drawn in the lottery, you'll be charged $25 for a one-day road travel permit. The day will be assigned to you in the drawing - that is why you should specify the dates in your order of preference when applying (see the application guidelines above).  On the day for which you were drawn, the road travel permit will let you drive the entire park road, weather permitting, between 6:00 am and midnight. The road between the entrance and Savage River has no hour restriction - you simply must be east of Savage River by midnight. If staying at Tek Campground, you may begin driving west, into the park, at 7:00 am and must be in your campground by 11:00 pm.

Are there vehicle size restrictions?
The Park Road beyond Teklanika Campground narrows significantly. Therefore, vehicles traveling the Park Road during Road Lottery must be within the following maximum dimensions: 22' long x 8' wide x 12' high. This is inclusive of side mirrors and bumpers, and is strictly enforced at the Savage River Checkstation (mile 15) - oversize traffic (i.e., RVs larger than those dimensions) must be bound for Teklanika Campground, and have their campground permit in hand, to travel beyond Savage River.

Where can I camp?
Riley Creek, Savage River and Teklanika River Campgrounds are all open during Road Lottery. You may camp with both an RV and a smaller vehicle to use during Road Lottery - but to fit in a single campsite, the combined vehicle length should not exceed 40'. If your two vehicles exceed 40', consider paying for two sites or look into campgrounds outside the park

Can I trade or transfer my winning permit?
If you are drawn in the lottery, you will be automatically charged for your road travel permit, a $25 fee. You may trade or transfer that road permit to another person. Provide the new person with your original notification of being a winner with a short note attached specifying that you are giving that person your road travel permit.

Can I hike or backpack during Road Lottery?
Dayhiking in conjunction with a trip down the Park Road is possible - just be sure to leave your vehicle in an actual parking lot or pull-off along the road. Backpacking during Road Lottery is a somewhat more logistically complicated than in the summer. Hitch-hiking is not permitted along the Denali Park Road, so most backpacking itineraries must begin and end somewhere along the first 15 miles of the road, which is still serviced by the free Savage River Shuttle through lottery weekend.


Katchemak Bay Kayak Tours

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If your idea of a good time is to get up close and personal with seals, porpoises, whales, otters, gulls and terns, then sea kayaking in Kachemak Bay, near Homer, Alaska, may be for you. Kachemak Bay is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. A bracing tour by sea kayak can take you through tide pools full of crustaceans and mollusks, past dramatic cliffs full of nesting seabirds and through inlets where otters bob up to check you out. Dozens of Homer-based guides offer kayak tours, from day tours to overnight camping tours or more comfortable lodge-based tours.

Sea kayaking trips here range from a half-day guided trip to overnight and multiple-day trips that include lodging in cabins on one of the islands in Kachemak Bay. If you are already an expert sea kayaker with some experience in Alaska, you may opt to check out kayak rentals. If you're looking for an education, the Center for Alaskan Coast Studies provides guided nature tours with experts who can combine sea kayaking with hikes and yurt camping. Most tour operators provide a water taxi from Homer to the beginning point, which may be Gull Island, or to Kachemak Bay State Park. They also provide specialty equipment such as life jackets. Other amenities may cost extra. The Homer Chamber of Commerce website provides links to kayak tour companies.

Kayaking in Homer, with its comparatively mild weather, is not always best done on a sunny, bright day, says Diane Borgman, owner of Homer Ocean Charters, which organizes kayaking tours. The bay is choppier on a sunny day and calmer if there's a light rain. If you are looking for tourist facilities such as restaurants and shops that are open and operating, visit between May and September. If you don't mind weather in the 30s and 40s and want to avoid the main tourist season, visit in late fall or early spring, but not all kayak operators are open year round.

Most adults in good health and with good upper body strength are capable of handling a kayak, especially with an expert guide. But children 10 and under usually not strong enough for the 19-foot, two-person kayaks used for exploring Kachemak Bay islands and inlets, says Borgman. Borgman suggests most children over 12 are strong enough to handle paddling a sea kayak. .

Borgman cautions against kayaking in Kachemak Bay without a guide. With a guide, even those who have never paddled before will get expert instruction. Most sea kayak guides will begin your trip with an orientation at the dock if you need it. Borgman also suggests kayakers dress in layers, wear comfortable shoes, pack a light lunch or snacks and bring light rain gear.

Homer was named for a gold miner and con man, Homer Pennock, who set up a base camp in 1896 on Homer Spit at the end of Kenai Peninsula. Today, due to its year-round milder weather, Homer is a favorite destination for local tourists, as well as those from the lower 48 and around the world. Views of the Kenai Mountains and glaciers, as well as beaches, hotels, an arts community, services and activities give rise to the Kenai Peninsula's reputation as "Alaska's Playground." After a long day of kayaking, visitors can go fishing, take in a play or a concert, eat a gourmet meal, shop at the farmers' market, visit the famous Salty Dawg Saloon, fly over glaciers in a plane or helicopter or hit golf balls at Kachemak Bay Lynx.


Kenai Fjords Glacier Cruises

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With only a small part of Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park accessible by road, a boat trip is the only way to see the natural wonders of the coastal mountain fjords up-close. A boat cruise also reveals the abundant marine life of the park’s icy waterways, which includes three types of orcas, humpbacks and Pacific white-sided dolphins. In summer months, boat trips depart daily from the harbor in Seward, the closest town to the national park. Sightseeing cruises are available outside the peak season, but limited to shorter routes in Resurrection Bay.

We offer a variety of Kenai Fjords cruise options: six- and eight-hour National Park Tours; a 4.5-hour cruise in Resurrection Bay with an all-you-can-eat buffet; the nine-hour Northwestern Fjord Tour or Captain’s Choice Tour; combination cruise and kayak tours to Fox Island; and a three-hour Fox Island Dinner Cruise. The National Park Tours, which are available from May to September, depart three times daily from Seward. Narration is provided by a wildlife interpreter throughout the cruise, which includes a visit to the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and complimentary entrance to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The Northwestern Fjord Tour ventures further into Kenai Fjords National Park to see tidewater and alpine glaciers on a fully narrated, 150-mile round-trip.

A six-hour high-speed catamaran cruise and a traditional 7.5-hour cruise are available, both following a 120-mile route; half-day wildlife cruises are also available. All cruises are hosted by a National Park Ranger, and a Junior Ranger Program is available onboard for younger passengers. You will receive a complimentary guide to Kenai Fjords National Park and enjoy complimentary use of binoculars onboard, helping you spot some six whale species that frequent the park’s waters. Also look out for porpoises, sea lions, seals, bald eagles and puffins, along with numerous glaciers that may calve large chunks of ice while you watch.

Travel Alaska offers in-depth, personalized Sea Treks - boat cruises of the national park in a 40-foot catamaran that accommodates a maximum of 24 passengers. The cruise operates with a flexible itinerary, allowing time to wait for tidewater glaciers to calve and to seek out humpback whales, bald eagles and sea otters. An on-board naturalist will share information about the park’s marine and land wildlife and natural wonders. Most cruises feature visits to two tidewater glaciers -- Aialik Glacier and Holgate Glacier. The company also operates Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, the only wilderness lodge within the national park. Packages that combine overnight cabin accommodations at the lodge with boat trips are available seasonally.


Kodiak Island O'Malley Bear Center

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The O’Malley River area boasts of having had the highest recorded density and concentration of bears in Kodiak. At its historic peak, the O’Malley River attracted 133 individual bears in close proximity to one another. For the past two decades only state & federal biologists and personnel were permitted within this area of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge (KNWR) due to research efforts and the river’s high habitat importance for Kodiak’s bears.

In the spring of 2011 the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge selected the Kodiak Brown Bear Center to receive the “sole special use permit” they were issuing for public bear viewing operations under their guidelines. This sole special use permit grants us the exclusive right to conduct bear viewing operations at this highly sought after bear viewing site.

The O’Malley River is located at the southern tip of Karluk Lake and is a 20 minute journey by boat from Camp Island. Like our other trails, access to the viewing area is by an unimproved and uneven game trail. The hike to the viewing area is a 600 yard walk and is more strenuous and challenging due to the changes in elevation and distance. The O’Malley viewing platform is the most physically challenging to access for our bear viewers.

To ensure that all of us, including the bears have a safe, enjoyable, and rewarding experience, we provide you with an in-depth educational presentation and safety orientation prior to your bear viewing adventure.  This will familiarize and assist you in getting acclimated to the environment of Karluk Lake, bear behavior and our bear viewing program and etiquette.

From the Kodiak Brown Bear Center on Camp Island, you will embark on a short boat ride to one of our prime bear viewing locations. Each location offers a unique glimpse into the life of these bears and highlights the grandeur of Kodiak Island.  Upon arrival at the site, your immersion into the bear’s habitat and environment is closely monitored and supervised by our highly trained and experienced guides to that you will have a quality experience to observe study and acquire a deeper understanding and appreciation for these legendary bears. Each of our bear viewing locations has a different level of difficulty to access. Based upon your physical condition and abilities you will be ushered to one of our three bear viewing locations.

Due to the remoteness of the Kodiak Brown Bear Center, getting here offers some unique and exciting transportation opportunities that epitomize the “Alaskan Experience.” From Kodiak, you will board a rugged and dependable Alaskan float plane.  These proven classic aircrafts have been an integral part of Alaska’s aviation history for over 50 years.  They are renowned throughout the aviation industry for their reliability and being safe aerial workhorses. Your 45 minute flight to the Kodiak Brown Bear Center from Kodiak will expose you to some of the most breathtaking and awe-inspiring scenery and habitat Kodiak has to offer.  During your flight, you may see humpback whales and sea otters in coastal fjords, mountain goats on rugged peaks, Sitka black-tailed deer roaming through meadows, and bald eagles soaring overhead.

Our modern guest cabins invoke the rustic appeal of remote Alaskan wilderness lodges while incorporating all the luxuries of a five-star resort. Each guest cabin has its own private deck overlooking Karluk Lake. All of our cabins have 24/7 electricity, full bathroom facilities, wireless internet access and comfortable beds with fresh linens.  Hearty meals are prepared by our talented and friendly staff at our dining cabin which is just a short walk from your cabin. Imagine waking up each morning and stepping out to take in the majestic vistas Karluk Lake has to offer, or listening to the bears fishing across the lake or at nearby Thumb River on a still night.

Your day starts with a hearty breakfast, followed by a briefing from your guide about the day’s planned bear viewing destination and activities. Departure times may fluctuate depending on the weather and available daylight. After the briefing, you will board one of our specially designed boats for your safe and scenic ride to one of our bear viewing locations. After a day of bear viewing we return to the center where you can enjoy a hot shower, share photos and enjoy a delicious dinner prepared by our warm and friendly staff.

©Kodiak Bear Center