Introduction

Thank you for logging into our site.  We are excited to share with you our knowledge about how to have a terrific time in Alaska.  Our goal is to provide adventurers on any sized budget with information necessary to plan a perfect vacation.  For those of you who already live in Alaska, we hope that this site will provide you with new ideas for enjoying what many of our fellow residents take for granted.

This book was written because of  the need to pull together information on planning a vacation in Alaska.  There are many prepackaged vacations that can be purchased and enjoyed without much work on the part of vacationers.  But there are those of us who like to do our research and plan an ideal vacation.  Claimjumper and I were particularly inspired by a series of books on the Hawaiian Islands written by Richard Sullivan.  We used one of his books to plan a spectacular adventure on the island of Maui.  We looked for books that would help us do the same here in Alaska, but to no avail.  Don’t get us wrong.  There are many, many excellent books written on Alaska that are quite helpful in planning a vacation.  But we found that each specialized in certain areas of Alaska and certain activities.  Let’s face it – they have to.  Alaska is far too big to be discussed in a single book.  That is, until we learned to use technology to compress and organize information in a way that does not take up an entire bookshelf.  Our bookshelves are full so that you might enjoy the fruits of our research.

This site contains only information about adventures for which we have first hand experience.  We have not written about any place we have not visited, tour we have not tried, etc.  It also does not contain all of the adventures we have attempted.  Some have been downright lousy, and we have excluded them.  We only write about adventures we enjoyed and would recommend. 

Romancing Alaska will continue to grow as we explore and discover new treasures to share with you.  The web format allows us to constantly update, so future editions will be packed with new adventures for you.  Keep checking back!  We hope that you take a little time to give us some feedback on the web book.  Although it is nice to hear what we have done well, we are also interested in suggestions for making the web book better.  Write us at joanns@gci.net

This book is also politically motivated.  Claimjumper and I have strong concerns about Alaska.  We believe that presently Alaska is protected from large scale mining, clear cutting and other environmentally destructive activities by government action outside Alaska, but this is on the verge of changing.  Most of this state is park land, thereby creating a unique opportunity to develop an economy based on eco-tourism.  Presently, Alaska still earns more money through mineral extraction and fishing than it does in tourism.  As more and more people begin to see Alaska as a giant national treasure, the beauty of this vast and untamed land will prove more valuable than removal of its natural resources.

It is inevitable that one day this land must be stripped of its beauty and laid waste by those who see profit only in what can be taken out of Alaska.  But until then Alaska has something amazing to offer its visitors.  This web book assists in accessing this vast land.  Information contained within will help you to create a vacation plan that introduces you to the spectacular beauty.  And it only scratches the surface.  Claimjumper and I will spend the rest of our lives here, and will likely not be able to visit a large portion of this state.

Note that this is not a book for sports fishers or hunters.  We strongly feel that the wildlife should be shot only by cameras, and should be used only for subsistence by the people who make Alaska their year round home.  Perhaps we are hypocritical for suggesting and recommending adventures that remove gold from creeks or tour old copper mines.  Native peoples of Alaska (all races) depend on access to the food supply of the wild, and this happens more so here due to the fact that agriculture is simply not feasible in most of the state.  However, taking a piece of copper or gold or jade, if taken from a place that is no longer an active mine, does not harm other people’s livelihood.  We would like you to experience the thrill of finding the mineral so that you can gain an understanding of the gold rushes of the turn of the century.  We also want you to experience the thrill of watching salmon make their spawning run up the creeks.  But we do not think it is necessary for you to kill the salmon to understand its connection with Alaska’s culture and history. 

Finally, there is also a spiritual element to this web book.  Sacred are the places where a person can look over a landscape and understand the words “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son,…” (John 3:16).  Alaska still exhibits the power of God’s work in all of its grandeur.  The ability to share this experience with another human being creates a wonderful opportunity to grow in a relationship.  So get ready to begin the romance...

We welcome you to the land we call home. 

 

Using Romancing Alaska to Plan Your Vacation

This web book is organized through two methods.  One method is based on maps.  Click on various areas of the map to "zoom in" to more specialized regions.  Red circles with red labels indicate an adventure is present in that location.  Clicking within the red circle or on the label jumps to a page containing information about, and pictures of, the adventure.

The second method uses activity categories to help you find adventures that meet your interests.  If you and your loved ones enjoy taking train rides, look down the left column for the alphabetical listing for "Train Rides."  Move across the table to the right clicking on the links to view the train adventures in the different regions of Alaska where we have found a train excursion we recommend. 

Links at the bottom of the pages help you to navigate back out toward either method of planning your adventure.

When you are ready to begin planning, you can click here to jump to the page that allows you to choose which method you wish to begin your planning.  You can also begin from the home page by clicking the "begin planning you adventure" link. 

General Information, Cautions and Recommendations

The following information has been included to help give some forethought to your travels in Alaska.

Dangers of Alaska

Many people have some reservations about coming to Alaska because of a perception of danger associated with wild country.  Many of us have read accounts of life in Alaska by Jack London or Robert Service portraying the extreme element of this uncivilized land. 

Alaska does have many hazards.  But probably the most threatening hazard is other human beings.  Like everywhere else in the United States, drunk driving and falling asleep at the wheel create major road hazards.  But even lack of people can be problematic.  Choosing adventures that take a single person out into the middle of nowhere are definitely not recommended.  If you plan to come to Alaska by yourself, select activities where you are doing things near other people.  And be sure to leave a Wilderness Trip Plan with somebody at home so that they can send it to search and rescue if you do not return when expected.

Whether you are alone or with a group, other dangers will present themselves as well.  Perhaps the most life threatening will be the cold.  Always come prepared with plenty of warm clothing.  Pack waterproof/windproof matches to make sure you can build a fire.  Even in the summertime temperatures drop rapidly in the evening.  Becoming wet from rain or taking an unexpected dip in a lake or river can decrease body temperature more rapidly than anything.  The danger of loss of limb or life from hypothermia threatens those who are unprepared.  I always pack a full suit of polar fleece – socks all the way up to hat.  It is extremely light weight and very warm.  It does not absorb water very easily making it ideal for relaxing and sleeping (not good for when you are active as it retains the sweat rather than breathing).

Animal encounters can happen in the wild.  Most people are afraid of bears, and rightfully so.  Fortunately, wild brown and black bears are just as afraid of humans.  This means that as long as you do not run away from a bear, it will likely leave you alone.  Like dogs, bears have an instinct to chase down anything that runs away.  But otherwise, most bears generally have no interest in and are afraid of humans.  As long as the bear is not provoked, it is unlikely it will attack a human.  Do not rely on pepper spray or mace.  Only a few brands of pepper spray actually work and mace has no effect on bears.  Furthermore, pepper spray only works when the bear is only a few feet away.  Polar bears are another story.  They are known to hunt humans.  They are only found on or near the polar ice pack in the Arctic Ocean.  Make sure that when you venture into polar bear territory that you follow your guide's instructions carefully.

More dangerous are Moose.  Moose have a more powerful kick than a horse, and have the ability to kick both forward and backward.  They have the strength to kick through the rib cage of a bear.  I hear of more injuries to people from moose than I do from bears.  Again, this is largely due to people provoking or surprising the moose than the moose picking a fight with a human.   

We have found areas where mosquitoes can present a threat.  You have two major defenses against the mosquitoes - chemical sprays/lotions and netting.  Chemical sprays are the most effective.  They can also be unpleasant.  I recommend using any of the "Off!" products.  Repel Lemon Eucalyptus works pretty well, too, and it does not contain any DEET, which may cause health concerns over prolonged use.  Claimjumper found the Repel Lemon Eucalyptus at REI in Anchorage.  Avon's Skin-So-Soft works well for some people, including Claimjumper.  She prefers Skin-So-Soft because it, too, does not contain DEET and it moisturizes her skin (the original intent of the product until they learned that fishers were using it to combat insects).  She also buys the type that contains sun block.  The stuff just does not work for me.  Netting is good, but not as effective.  Any place the net touches your skin, mosquitoes will find and bite through (usually face, neck, legs and ankles).  Find a netting suit that either includes a hat or is large enough to wear a brimmed hat underneath.  The best mosquito net suit I have found is made here in Alaska.  The company is called "Skeeta" and they produce oversized mosquito netting jackets and pants.  I especially like that the velcro closures can be opened and closed around hands, feet and face.  Skeeta sells its products online at www.skeeta.com.  

I would like to be able to say that Alaska is a relatively safe place, but I imagine every local believes this to be the case for a place he or she has lived for most of his or her life.  Alaska’s romance emanates from a wild and free spirit.  And that wild and free spirit can be challenging and dangerous.  The people who choose Alaska as a vacation destination seek out that challenge, and grow from it.   

Prices

We have made an attempt to list the cost of each activity we try.  We hope that you will be able to plan your vacation on a budget.  However, prices are subject to change at any time.  Please contact the vendors for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Yearly Campground/Park Passes

One way to save money if you plan to camp in national or state parks is to buy an annual pass.  Most of the State and National Parks honor the annual pass, or give significant discounts to pass holders.  Claimjumper and I usually need both as the state is divided between state and federal lands in a crazy patchwork quilt.  For information in obtaining a State Park pass, click here for contact info for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.  Only Alaska residents may purchase the annual camping passes, but the day use passes can be purchased by everyone.  We purchase federal passes as we enter a national park, monument, historic site, recreational area or national wildlife refuge that charges an entrance fee.

Tour Operator Releases

Some tour operators require customers to sign releases before being allowed to participate in their activities.  Unfortunately, many of them do not tell consumers about the releases until after they have paid for the tour or otherwise committed to it.  We have a fundamental disagreement with the basis of the waivers, which tend to remove liability for negligent behavior on the part of the tour operator and shift it over to the consumers.  The reason we take tours is because we trust the tour operator has superior knowledge of the environment he or she is taking us into and will act with reasonable care to prevent harm from occurring to the activity participants.

Our first recommendation is always to read the liability waivers.  Ask to see and review the waiver before you pay for your adventure. You need to be aware that under Alaska law, you have the right to waive your rights.  This means that if you sign this agreement, it is enforceable against you.  So you want to make sure you are not signing anything that you may later regret.  It also is a good source of information about the dangers involved in the activity.  It may indicate that there is safety equipment available for your use that would reduce some of the risk.

We indicate in this web book where a tour operator has required us to sign a liability waiver.  We have agreed to sign them after reviewing them and determining that the requests to shift liability are reasonable.  However, there are other tours that we have read the waiver, found them to be outrageous, refused to sign and demanded our money back.  Some clauses that we find unacceptable are those that waive liability for the tour operator’s own negligence.  Why would I want to hire a tour operator to guide me if the tour operator refuses to take responsibility for harms he or she causes me out of his or her negligence?  I also have a distaste for clauses that would require me to pay for the tour operator’s attorney fees.  Just because we have signed waivers before does not mean the tour operators have not changed them.  That is why I must reiterate the recommendation to read the waiver before signing it.

Recommended Backpacking Gear

Adventurers can spend a great deal of time living out of what they can pack on their backs.  The less weight one carries, the more comfortable he or she will be in carrying the necessary gear.  Claimjumper and I have developed a checklist of the necessities to help you pack:

___ Tent and ground cloth.  We use the REI two person clipper tent as it is lightweight and highly weather resistant.  See www.rei.com.  A ground cloth can be purchased that matches the tent’s dimensions, or you can use a tarp or other piece of plastic.  Make sure no part of the ground cloth hangs out beyond the tent.

___ Sleeping Bag.  We love our Sierra Designs Polarguard bags. They are warm, lightweight and they zip together!  See www.sierradesigns.com.

___ Sleeping mat.  I recommend Therm-a-rest by Cascade Design.  See www.cascadedesigns.com.

___ Full suit of polar fleece warm clothing.  REI is a good place to find polar fleece.

___ Flashlight.  We use mini-maglights because of their durability and dependability.  

___ Warm hat, coat and mittens.

___ Personal items and prescriptions.  I bring along “Campsuds” soap because its can be used to clean everything including ourselves and it does not harm the environment.  So if we are out in the middle of nowhere and we find a pond or lake, we can have a bath without adversely affecting the ecology.

___ Food and food bag.  We take dehydrated food pouches because they are so light.  When out in the wilderness, food must be tied up in a tree at night to keep from attracting predators.  Bring some light weight rope for this purpose.  Be sure to bring a pan, and something to use to eat (spoon).

___ Camp stove.  We use the MSR SuperflyTM canister mount stove.  It is extremely light and easy to use.  You will likely not be able to bring the fuel with you on the plane if you fly anywhere, so plan on purchasing fuel when you arrive.  See www.msrcorp.com

___ Water.  If you cannot carry enough with you for the whole trip, invest in a filter that will eliminate waterborne diseases.  REI is a good source for water filter systems.  We use the MSR Sweetwater.  See www.msrcorp.com

___ Water resistant hiking boots.  Take time to break in your boots before using them on vacation.  Also, we have better luck keeping our feet dry when we use a spray-on waterproof coating at the beginning of each season.

___ Pocket knife.  I recommend the Leatherman brand of pocket utility tools.  They are compact but contain many useful tools.  See www.leatherman.com

___ Waterproof /windproof matches.

___ Toilette paper (unless you just prefer leaves).  Also, bring a shovel to dig a pit if you are backcountry camping.  I carry a light weight garden trowel.

___ First aid kit.  We go through Band-aids and Neosporin fairly regularly.  Bring along bandages and medical tape.  Some over the counter pain relievers can be helpful, too.  Definitely bring mole skin for hiking blisters.

___ Rope.  Throw it over a tree limb and attach the food bag.  Hoist the bag up into the air, but keep it far enough from the limb so that squirrels and other bandits will not be able to raid your food stash.  I lost a perfectly good bag of peanut M&Ms to a squirrel one trip when I failed to do this.

___ Rain jacket and rain pants.  I like Eddie Bauer’s line of rainwear but Claimjumper prefers REI gear.  We both stay comfortable and dry.  REI’s link is above, and Eddie Bauer can be found at www.eddiebauer.com/eb/default.asp.

___ Insect repellant/netting.  Off’s Skintastic works fairly well in mildly buggy conditions.  But when the bugs are out in full force I put on a net shirt that covers my face completely, and make sure all other areas of my body are covered by clothing. 

___ Map and compass.  See below for information on where to obtain maps.

**Note: much of this gear and equipment can be rented from REI in Anchorage.  Also, special gear such as bicycles and kayaks can be rented from vendors at or near the beginning of some adventures.

Maps

The maps we provide in this web-book are intended to allow you to find your way around Alaska more generally.  They may not be as detailed as you need.  We are just starting to add topographical maps, and a few adventures have links to them. Claimjumper and I highly recommend investing in an Atlas of Alaska.  We have two copies of Delorme's Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer.  We keep one at home and another we leave in our vehicle.  The Alaska Atlas can be purchased at just about any Alaskan book store or grocery store in the book section.  Click here to jump over to the contact information for Delorme.

Another source for maps that we highly recommend if you are planning to stay on the road system is the Milepost published by Vernon Publications, Inc.  This is a map book that shows everything along all of the highways in Alaska.  I used it when I bicycled from Anchorage to Salem, Oregon and I was sure happy to have it with me.  Actually, I ripped out and took only the pages pertinent to my trip as it is quite a thick book.  Like Delorme Atlases, these can be purchased at just about any book or grocery store in Alaska.  Click here for contact info on the Milepost.

Finally, for extremely detailed maps for hiking, REI offers topographical maps for the most popular back country hiking spots.  Click here to jump to REI's listing.  We use maps obtained from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) map room.  They are located on Alaska Pacific University's campus in Anchorage.  To find the map room in Anchorage, head east on 36th avenue.  This road becomes Providence Drive after crossing Lake Otis Blvd.  Go past the University of Alaska (left) and Providence Hospital (right) to a 3 way stop.  Proceed straight and follow the road into the Alaska Pacific University Campus.  Look for Grace Hall on the right.  Drive around to the back of the buildings where there will be a large entryway for the USGS maps office.  USGS has multiple scale maps for every location in Alaska.  Click here for their contact information.  Where we have included a topographical map along with a hike, we obtained the map from the USGS.

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