For the past several years I’ve been fascinated with the idea of going to Alaska. So much so that for a while I couldn’t stop watching the show Buying Alaska. (I really only stopped watching it because we cancelled cable a few months back). I often envisioned what it would be like to just pick up and move North for good. The mountains, the remoteness… something about it just captivated me. Needless to say, my friends and family thought I was crazy. After all, I had just moved away from the harsh NY winters to San Diego, the city with the most agreeable weather year round. My “I just want to move to Alaska” comments were often met with laughs and “yeah, okay”s. But I was serious. Maybe not about the moving there full time (right away) part, but at the very least, I really wanted to visit.
While I’ve always chosen to live in or near cities, being out in nature and traveling has always had this incredible way of improving my mood, state of mind and overall happiness. From when I spent summers in Maine at camp to when I toured the country with the my band while I was in high school (yes, that happened…), being in the great outdoors never fails to make me feel utterly grateful for being alive. Maybe it’s something about being so small among the mountains or so insignificant in comparison to the size of this gorgeous country of ours, but being in the wilderness has always helped me to put a lot in perspective. I think that’s what always drew me to Alaska. It seemed like the ultimate way to escape and attain clarity.
Moving to the West Coast made going to Alaska seem a lot more possible than it had when I was back East. Suddenly the trip was only four and a half hours away by plane. Plus, after spending the last few summers vacationing in tropical places like Aruba and Cabo San Lucas, a more adventure-focused vacation seemed to be in order.
As excited as I was at the thought of finally planning a trip to Alaska, I really had no idea what to expect. Not only did the trip itself seem intimidating, but just booking the trip turned out to be an adventure unto itself. For various reasons, we had to postpone the trip twice and changed our plans from staying in hotels half the time and camping the other half, to renting an RV. We had heard stories of monster mosquitos and unpredictable weather. Renting an RV normally wouldn’t be something I would think to do, but at the end of the day, even though Chris (my fiancé) and I had zero experience operating an RV, it seemed like the most sensible solution. I think it took an entire week to book the activities, plan the route and secure any necessary RV parks ahead of time.
After spending an unreasonable amount of money at REI to accommodate every type of weather situation imaginable and packing an entire suitcase full of healthy snacks, I’d be lying if I said we were truly looking forward to the trip. After spending our last few vacations relaxing in the sun, an 8 day road trip through Alaska hardly seemed like the relaxation we needed.
Cut to the end of the trip. It’s been a full week since we’ve gotten back and the entire experience still feels like a dream. Sure, some parts of the trip were challenging, but the experience was really everything I’d hoped it to be and more. I’ve always preferred going to places I’ve never been before when traveling, but Alaska completely stole my heart and I can’t wait to go back. I hope I can impart even a little bit of the utter beauty of this place to everyone. If you can manage it, Alaska is a tremendous place to visit. I know it’s something we hear all the time now, but the landscape up there really is changing drastically. It’s not just something you see, it’s something you can actually feel. Being in Alaska felt a little like being at ground zero for some sort of impending disaster. I know that sounds horribly pessimistic but without visiting a war zone, it’s hard to know what war is really like. I wish more of us had the opportunity to visit this part of the world to see first hand the way our planet is changing. I am truly thankful that I got to experience Alaska’s beauty and as I suspected, the trip affected me in a way no other trip has before.
So without further ado, I bring you all the pictures from Part 1 of our trip. Our first stops were Anchorage, Seward, Whittier and Portage Valley. For those of you who follow me on Instagram, you probably had the pleasure of seeing some of these in real time. (I normally always post everything on Instagram first, so definitely follow me there if you aren’t already!)
For reference, here is a map of our first 4 stops:
We took a late flight to Anchorage from LAX and chased the sun all the way North.
Since we arrived in Anchorage so late we decided to crash at the Sheraton and pick up our RV the next afternoon. A good friend of mine recommended we check out the Snow City Cafe for breakfast and thankfully it was only a short walk from our hotel.
I was super worried about finding paleo-friendly and gluten-free options in Alaska but I was pleasantly surprised that Snow City Cafe offered gluten free bread and had almond milk for my coffee! I ordered a reindeer sausage scramble. It was not the last time I had reindeer sausage on this trip either… it was pretty delicious.
We picked up our RV, sat through what felt like the most rushed orientation ever and all of the sudden, our trip was under way. Chris and I were both terrified and excited about starting our journey…
We first drove South to the town of Seward, AK. The drive was absolutely breathtaking.
This is one of my favorite photos… the landscape was completely unreal.
We arrived at our first stop on Resurrection Bay in Seward. The views were spectacular. I think we arrived around 9pm and the sky was still this bright. We were hoping to see the Northern Lights on our trip but it was a bit too early in the season plus we had cloud cover most nights. Just means we have to go back!
Guarding our primo spot by the water while Chris went to go grab some firewood at the local Safeway. Drink of choice while on the trip? Zevia lemon lime soda and gin in a mug. 🙂
View from our bed. Not too shabby.
For our first daytime excursion I booked a day-long kayaking and hiking trip through Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking. We kayaked on Resurrection Bay and hiked to the top of Caines head to Fort McGilvray, an old WWII military fort. To our surprise, there was no one else on our trip so Chris and I had the benefit of having the entire day to ourselves and the full attention of our guide, Ben, who was awesome.
Taking out my camera on the bay was just a tad terrifying, but so worth it.
Almost immediately we spotted a Bald Eagle chowing down on a dead fish. This was the first of TWELVE Bald Eagles we saw. Although I didn’t capture it, we also saw our fair share of sea otters and porpoises.
Arriving at the base of Caines Head – an old WWII dock.
We ate so many wild blueberries on our way to the top. If you haven’t had wild blueberries, they are so totally different from their store-bought counterparts. They are a lot less sweet, darker and seem to have a much thinner skin. My hands were practically covered in purple blueberry juice by the time the day was over.
Along the way we encountered several abandoned military forts and got to take a peak inside.
Sneak peak of the views to come at the top…
We made it! The views were breathtaking. We could see a good portion of Resurrection Bay all the way South to the port of Alaska and the Pacific Ocean.
You won’t find Chris and I posing for pictures often, but we couldn’t resist capturing the awesomeness of this day.
More blueberries on the way down the mountain.
We completely lucked out when it came to weather in Seward. The temperature was about 68-72 and partly sunny for the entire day. Of course we couldn’t get off too easy and during the last hour or so of our kayak trip back we hit pretty strong winds and waves. Let’s just say we were really, really thankful to be back on shore and dry.
We had a bite to eat post-kayak and hike in downtown Seward, which reminded me so much of some of the mountain towns in Colorado I’ve visited.
We spent our second night on Resurrection Bay as well and grilled burgers for dinner.
Sea otters were definitely one of my favorite animal encounters. We saw them everywhere in the water in Alaska. They eat up to half their weight in seafood every day and spend the majority of their time laying on their backs in the water scooping fresh fish and shell fish into their mouths. It was pretty adorable to watch. We must have looked at them for hours with the binoculars.
Sat by the bay with a fire as we watched the sun set and the moon rise.
The next morning we headed north to Whittier, AK. Before our trip I had found this article and video on NPR.com and was completely captivated by this town. It has a population of only 220 something people and everyone lives in one building. During the winter, no one has to go outside because the school, city offices and grocery store are all accessible by tunnel from the main residence.
Even stranger, in order to get to Whittier you have to pass through a tunnel that’s only open to one way traffic and closes by 11pm. In other words, you can’t get to Whittier simply when you choose, you have to follow the tunnel schedule. The tunnel is open to Whittier on the half hour and out of Whittier on the hour. We arrived pretty early for our 11:30 tunnel (because we just missed the 10:30 tunnel), so we cooked breakfast while we waited in the RV. Just another perk of driving our “home” around.
In Whittier we took a glacier cruise through Phillips Cruises & Tours. The weather definitely did not cooperate but the experience was memorable nonetheless. Interestingly, we learned that when the weather is cloudy, glaciers appear to be an extraordinary color of blue, much more so than they look under the sun. The result was an almost dreamlike trip through mountains of blue ice.
The cruise offered passengers a bunch of holiday-themed signs to “get a head start on holiday cards”. Chris and I really aren’t holiday card type people but we couldn’t resist doing this for our own amusement. 🙂 Especially wearing our ridiculous rain and cold-proof outfits.
The boat had to plow through hundreds of little pieces of ice like these.
Some sea lions chilling on the ice.
If you follow me on Snapchat (username: anyakaats), you probably saw quite a few videos of this incredible wall of birds, also known as a rookery. The specific name of these birds are the Black Legged Kittiwake. They live here during the season and use the warmth of the stone wall to keep their eggs warm and safe.
After leaving Whittier (on the hour, of course), we had to stop and take a photo of this gorgeous spot.
We arrived in Portage Valley to stay and the weather was pretty cold and rainy. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and reading and woke up the next morning to gorgeous views and sunny skies.
There were some sun showers before we left, creating a gorgeous rainbow above the pond.
And that wraps up Part 1 of our trip! Keep a look out for Part 2 where I’ll be posting about our time in Talkeetna, Denali National Park and Palmer. Stay tuned!