Arrive in Anchorage and make your way to the group hotel. Settle into your room, and explore wonderful downtown Anchorage. The hotel offers complimentary airport shuttles for ease and convenience. NB: If you wish to spend more time in Anchorage then we are able to book additional nights for you.
We'll meet in the morning at the hotel lobby in Anchorage for a short tour briefing before heading north into the vast Alaskan Interior. We'll stop along the way for a hike and picnic lunch in Denali State Park. This is a really great 3-4 hour alpine hike and, if the weather is kind, we may enjoy our first views of Denali (Mt. McKinley) and the rest of the mighty Alaska Range. That evening, we will check into our comfortable creek-side lodge at Denali National Park (3 nights).
Total drive time is approximately 4-4.5hrs total, with the hike about mid-way through.
A fun day of activity today as there are a few short hikes to choose from in the morning (from 1.5 to 3 hours in duration) and then enjoy a half-day (approximately 2hrs) rafting trip on the mighty Nenana River with the pros at Denali Outdoor Center. The Nenana is an exciting Class III/IV whitewater river and our expert guides will take us through canyons and rapids as we enjoy spectacular views and perhaps of Dall's sheep grazing the peaks of the Alaska Range. Rafting the Nenana is a true classic.
We'll enjoy an delicious early breakfast at the lodge before boarding the park shuttle bus for the 60-mile ride through the heart of Denali National Park to the Eielson Visitor Center. The park road we travel is closed to regular vehicle traffic after the initial 15 miles. The shuttle bus provides the only way to visit the park's amazing interior. Along the road corridor, keep your eyes peeled for Denali's famous furry inhabitants carving out their existence amidst the some of the most amazing scenery in North America. Probability is high that you'll see caribou, moose, wolves, grizzlies, and Dall's sheep. And If the weather is kind, numerous chances to view Mt. McKinley North America's highest peak at 20,320' - will greet you at every turn!
Today, we pack up and head east along the even more remote Denali Highway, paralleling the scenic southern side of the Alaska Range. This unlikely gravel 'highway' passes through some of the wildest, most remote, road-accessible country on Earth with amazing mountain, glacier, tundra, and river valley views. Along the way we'll stop for a beautiful hike across the tundra-clad foothills to a panoramic lookout point. When we arrive at Tangle Lakes, we can can on the 'tangle' of lakes, hike atop glacial eskers and across rolling tundra, and marvel at the mountain scenery, wildflowers, and prolific bird and wildlife. There are lots of rare and interesting birds as well as moose, foxes, Arctic ground squirrels, beavers, muskrats, and occasionally grizzly bears to be seen throughout the whole area. Tangle Lakes is a wild, special, seldom-visited place, sure to leave a lasting impression. Overnight rustic lodge with private facilities.
Total drive time is approx 3.5hrs with breaks in between for hiking and photos.
After a morning hike or paddle (approx 2hrs), we'll continue to the Chitina, where a few small planes will meet us for a stunningly scenic flight across the volcanic and glacier-clad Wrangell Mountains into immense Wrangell-St.-Elias National Park, the largest in the USA and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our destination is the historic Copper Rush boomtown of McCarthy (pop. ~25), everyone's favourite ghost town! We'll spend three nights here in our rustic lodge accommodation at the foot of the mighty Kennicott Glacier, deep in the heart of the park (twin share accommodation with shared facilities). 16,390' Mt. Blackburn looms up the glacier and other huge peaks are all about. Four major mountain ranges, 9 of the 16 tallest peaks in thee US, and the largest non-polar ice field on Earth all converge in this little-known and seldom-visited gem of a national park.
Total drive time is approx 2.5hrs, typically broken up with a visit to the Visitor Centre and potentially a short hike (1.5hrs) before the flight, time permitting.
After breakfast, we'll strap on some crampons and venture out onto the ice with a local mountaineering guide to explore the blue crevasses, mourns, and the rest of the fascinating glacial geography characteristic of the Root Glacier. The walk starts from the small town of Kennicott and follows the lateral moraine of Root Glacier out to were the blue ice begins. The more adventurous can challenge themselves with an optional introductory ice-climbing course on the glacier (approx. US$55+ and an additional 4hrs). Other optional extras include flight-seeing over the immense fields of glacial ice, various ranger-led activities, and/or the Historic Kennicott Copper Mine tour. Our glacier hike is suitable for beginners and is an amazing adventure on a real moving glacier.
Today, we hike up to the abandoned Bonanza Mine for incredible mountain and glacier views. This vigorous hike is the consensus favorite of both guests and guides year after year. Less strenuously, you can either hike along the lateral moraine of the Root Glacier, along McCarthy Creek, or out to the t of the huge Kennicott Glacier, where you can witness it actually moving, depositing boulders and debris carried from the mountain into the terminal lake it has formed (headwaters of the Kennicott River). Or, if you prefer, take a day off to simply relax and soak up the mountain village ambiance. You won't want to leave McCarthy!
Driving out of Wrangell-St. Elias NP, we'll cross yet another tremendous range: The heavily-glaciated Chugach Mountains. The Worthington Glacier, a Natural Historic Landmark, is a spectacular glacier that tumbles from the Chugach Mountains. At alpine Thompson Pass, we can hike either to the t or up the sweeping moraine to stunning views of the blue ice and crevasses of the glacier and magnificent vistas of the mighty Chugach. Dropping down and out of the mountains toward the picturesquely-set town of Valdez, we'll get our first taste of magnificent coastal Alaska. The young and geologically very active Church range rises up literally out of the sea, ringing super-scenic Prince William Sound. Glaciers are all about, some of them spilling their loads of ice directly into the sea. Tonight choose from Valdez's many restaurants. This walkable town offers many options just steps from our hotel (2 nights central hotel).
Total drive time is approximately 4-4.5hrs broken up by the hike and other scenic stops en route to Valdez.
Today we'll experience some of the best sea kayaking anywhere - in spectacular Shoup Bay. Timing with the tides, the trip will begin with an orientation by our sea kayaking guides, followed by a 25 minute water taxi ride down the Valdez Arm and into the bay. After hauling kayaks and gear off of the boat, we'll load into sea-kayaks and begin paddling into the inner sanctum of the Bay, past huge waterfalls and the largest Black Legged Kittiwake rookery in Prince William Sound (home to 18,000+ nesting sea birds). We'll continue to the face of incredible Shoup Glacier and enjoy lunch the foot of the ancient tidewater glacier. Just a few years ago, kayakers would be paddling next to the calving glacier amongst floating miniature icebergs. Today, the glacier is only nominally tidewater with far less ice in the water, but we are able to get up close to the base for spectacular views and great wildlife-viewing opportunities. The swift current of the connecting stream makes for a fun obstacle course to test our paddling skills. Alternatively, enjoy a half-day wildlife and glacier-viewing cruise (please advise your agent if you would like to organize this alternative).
This morning, we'll board the Alaska state ferry for a beautiful crossing of Prince William Sound, on the lookout for whales, bald eagles and other wildlife. Following a short hike (time permitting), we'll drive back to Anchorage (approximately 1hr). On some trips (depending on the ferry schedule), a scenic flight over the glacier-clad Sound from Valdez back to Anchorage may be substituted, allowing for a longer hike in the Anchorage area. Either way, the trip will end in Anchorage around 5pm. Please schedule homebound flights to depart after 8pm. If you have booked the Kenai Fjord extension, you will be dropped off at your included hotel.