Southcentral Alaska Questions - Thanks in Advance!
Replies: 27 - Last Post: Mar 24, 2012 11:15 AM Last Post By: section8
Jan 10, 2012 10:47 PM
Southcentral Alaska Questions - Thanks in Advance!Hi all -
First time in the forum! Planning a 2-week Alaska trip and had a few questions as I am working out the itinerary:
As a base for exploring Prince William Sound - Valdez or Cordova? I've heard good things about both.
From Homer, better to visit Katmai National Park or Kodiak? I don't see a ferry port near Katmai on the Alaska Marine Highway so I'm wondering if it's trouble getting to. I've read so much more on Kodiak.
Is Kachemak Bay State Park worth making the time to explore in an already packed schedule?
Some background about the trip: We're aiming for summer travel (June or July). Two late-20s travelers, active and not afraid of getting a little off the beaten path. Also, on a bit of a budget but willing to splurge when necessary.
Thanks! Any guidance is appreciated.
Edited by: OutdoorEL
Jan 10, 2012 11:07 PM
Valdez is bigger and better connected but Cordova is a nicer town. It depends on what you want.
You have to fly to Katmai (or charter a boat to get to the coast). It might be worth it, but that depends on what sort of experiences you want and how much you want to spend. From Homer it might be easier to visit Lake Clark than Katmai. Either might be easier to visit from Anchorage, depending on what you want.
I love Kodiak, and a trip over on the ferry is something I would recommend. However, ferrying to Kodiak and then driving around is a very different experience than visiting katmai NP.
Is KBSP worth visiting? It depends. More specificity will get you better answers.
Jan 10, 2012 11:44 PM
2Thanks for the response. Some specifics:
We plan on arriving in Anchorage and renting a car there. Whatever ferrying we do, the car will come with us. The itinerary may look something like this, granted I know timing may be a little unrealistic as it stands now. I'm pretty early on in planning this.
Date: Prince William Sound
Date: Prince William Sound
Date: Seward/Kenai Fjords
Date: Seward/Kenai Fjords
Aiming to do as much camping as possible. Cordova sounds more up our alley than Valdez, from what you described. Chartering a boat or flying to Katmai does not, so I think we'll spend our days exploring Kodiak.
In regards to KBSP: My main goal is to maximize what we experience in the limited time we have. I hear kayaking in the bay is great but can we satisfy our kayaking appetite while we're in Prince William Sound or Kenai Fjords National Park and skip KBSP? Also, I read that there is white water rafting on Six-Mile Creek near Hope but that there is also good rafting in Denali. Just trying to make some tough decisions.
Jan 11, 2012 5:27 AM
3If you do the whitewater rafting on 6-Mile-Creek, go with NOVA, which is much more experienced. It is the most dangerous whitewater in Alaska. I have seen only gentle rafting near Denali.
There is good kayaking on Kachemak Bay near Homer and across the Bay (take a charter boat across). There is at least one kayaking tour out of Whittier into Prince William Sound. If you go on your own, beware of the tidewater glaciers -- I have seen kayakers almost under the huge, calving icefall and even the high splash from the chunk of ice can swamp a kayak.
I assume that you have read/heard that Cordova has had 20 feet of snowfall during the past three weeks and that the Alaska National Guard is currently helping the town bulldoze and shovel the accumulated snow before the next storm? It is shown on TV news.
You will need to get a backcountry permit to backpack in Denali for all of the days that you plan to be there. You will need to carry a bear-proof food container, which the rangers will give to you, and be bear-aware.
Jan 11, 2012 10:00 AM
4Read up on the ferry schedules. Your trip may not be realistic as it stands now. Here's a few recommendations I can make.
If you take the fast ferry to Cordova, I would want three full days dedicated to PWS, maybe more if you are on the slow ferry. Consider driving to valdez to catch the ferry to Cordova, then go Cordova-Whittier on the return trip.
I would consider dropping Seward if you plan to go to since you'll have to go to Homer anyway. The ferry to Kodiak is kind of long and I would add one day to the Kodiak leg.
You can also make Seward a long day trip from Anchorage at the end of your trip if you have an extra day to kill.
Jan 11, 2012 11:32 AM
5The ferry trip to Kodiak Island will be over open Pacific Ocean, and the round-hulled ferry rolls with the waves -- I got very seasick when I took the ferry past Queen Charlotte Straits in the Inside Passage and was told to stay at the stern, which is a smoother ride. I also got very seasick on the Kenai Fjords cruise in Resurrection Bay with 7 foot swells. I finally learned to take Dramamine an hour before I get on a boat and also wear accupressure wristbands for motion sickness. This has also worked when I have flown in tiny Cessna planes in Southeast Alaska and in turbulent skies worldwide.
Jan 14, 2012 1:01 PM
6We went to Katmai this past summer. It was - by far - the coolest thing we've ever done. It's totally, totally worth the price of getting there. If you want to sleep (camp) there you need to reserve NOW. You fly there from Anchorage, usually. Not Homer. The flight is around $650 per person round trip, and camping is $8 per night per person. If you go three days that's about $1350 for two people. Pricey but it really was the experience of a lifetime.
As for Homer, I was not a fan, and strongly preferred Seward. Kenai Fjords is amazing, and you could easily spend two days on boat tours to the Fjords and another day hiking the Harding Icefield trail. I was also not as big a fan of Whittier compared to Seward.
We went rafting on the Nenana River near Denali. The scenery was okay - mostly smaller mountains and trees. The whitewater was somewhat tame, but wild enough in places to give you a good splash with some VERY cold water!
Since you'll have a car and only have two weeks it seems like a waste of time and money to ferry around everywhere. I'd stick to the roads (unless you decide to head to Katmai). For me, the optimal two week trip would simply be a week in Seward and surroundings and a week at Denali.
Jan 15, 2012 10:05 AM
7stopthebus, it sounds like you flew with Katmailand/Brooks Lodge to the Brooks Camp area. While those flights leave from Anchorage, many of the day trips and drop offs to parts of Katmai besides Brooks Camp depart from Homer.
The cheapest way I've found to get to Brooks Camp is to fly with Alaska Airlines or Pen Air to King Salmon then hop onto one of Brooks Lodge's flights into the park. The Float plane ride from King Salmon to Brooks was $175/person last year, so if you can get a good price from ANC-King Salmon (or use air miles) you can cut back on those costs. (I just checked the Alaska Airlines website - cheapest ANC-KS ticket in July is $414 - that's getting pricey)
Just out of curiosity, how many days did you spend there and what else did you do besides bear viewing?
Jan 15, 2012 12:29 PM
8I would assume that the roundtrip flight to King Salmon would be cheaper in May, during the Bristol Bay commercial salmon fishing season, when flights would be packed and no empty seats.
I think that some of the day-tour flights out of Homer also go over the Valley of Smokes for bear viewing, where the bears are not as accustomed to people as at Katmai.
Jan 15, 2012 2:51 PM
9To answer the question in #7 about what we did at Katmai:
Day 1, we flew in from Anchorage. We didn't get to the park and finish orientation, set up camp, etc. until about 3 pm. We took a nap, had dinner, and went bear watching in the evening.
Day 2, we went bear watching in the morning, hiked up Dumpling Mountain in the afternoon, and went bear watching in the evening.
Day 3, we took the Valley of 10,000 Smokes bus tour (a full day), then went bear watching in the evening.
Day 4, we went bear watching in the morning and flew back to ANC at noon.
So, mostly bear watching, but seriously I could've stayed another week! It never got old!
We did stay at Brooks Camp, which was great. We flew PenAir to King Salmon and then on to the park via floatplane with Katmailand, as described. The $650 per person round trip figure included about $475 from ANC to King Salmon and about $175 for the float plane (itself quite the experience!!!). The Valley of 10000 Smokes trip was about $90 for both of us because we had a 2 for 1 coupon from the Toursaver. The 10000 Smokes trip is worth it if you have a few days but not if you're just coming for one or two days.
Okay, sorry to hijack the thread - that's all about Katmai.
Jan 15, 2012 3:53 PM
Jan 16, 2012 8:14 PM
11Thanks for the advice, all!
stopthebus, your answer to what you did in Katmai was actually very helpful. I’ll have to go back to the drawing board as the cost of getting to Katmai was not necessarily worked into my budget – but the idea sounds so tempting. So, you said the Tour of Valley of 10,000 Smokes may not be worth it unless you have 2+ days? That was actually a big reason I preferred Katmai over Kodiak. Interested to hear more on that if you have any input. Also, great deal in the Toursaver – been hearing about that a lot.
Seems like whether you go to Kodiak or Katmai, the cost of bear watching on a tour will run about $500-600. Is this really the BEST way to see bears or a bit of a tourist trap? I read that you can drive over to Sargent Creek on Kodiak to catch a glimpse of some bears but I guess there's less of a possibility.
section8, thanks for the suggestion of driving to Valdez instead. I think we’re going with that.
I’m sure I’ll be back with more question – we may be extending our 2-weeks!
Jan 16, 2012 9:05 PM
12The bear viewing day trips will cost about the same and they are for tourists, but you'll still fly into a remote area in a bush plane and watch mega-fauna eat stuff, so I don't know if I'd call it touristy.
Stopthebus traveled to an area in Katmai NP called Brooks Camp. This is the center of bear viewing in the park and the site of a small lodge and an NPS campground. Brooks Camp is where the Brooks Falls is located. If you've ever seen a picture of a brown bear catching a salmon mid-air at a waterfall, it likely came from Brooks Falls. There is an elevated boardwalk to get you to the falls and there are two viewing platforms. The Brooks Falls viewing experience is very structured and touristy, but it is still very, very cool.
Brooks Camp itself is crawling with bears for most of the summer, so you can have all sorts of bear viewing experiences based from Brooks Camp and still enjoy a cold bear at night. The vast majority of people who come to Brooks Camp stick around the immediate area and are there for the bears which is kind of odd because for the first 40 years people visited Brooks Camp it was for sportfishing (some of the best in Alaska).
Brooks Camp is where you catch the bus to the Valley of 10000 Smokes. I highly recommend this. The basic tour takes a full day. You can also hop off and hike back into the valley and up the surrounding mountains. You should only do this if you are a pretty experienced hiker.
Up the road from Brooks Camp, the Margot Creek/Falls area can be hiked into and has excellent bear viewing opportunities with usually no people around.
Katmai has some amazing lakes and rivers. You could rent a canoe from Brooks Lodge and paddle up to the Bay of Islands area and camp up there. There's also a NPS public use cabin there. It's called Fure's and it was free, but I think now there is a $50 fee.
Getting to and from Brooks Camp will cost you about the same as a bear viewing day trip. If you have the time, I would go to Brooks Camp and spend at least a few days there (or at least based from there).
Jan 16, 2012 9:23 PM
13It's a NO BRAINER to fly to Katmai and stay overnight. The cost will be only marginally more than a daytrip (as long as you camp) and the experience is so different. Daytrippers are limited to a couple hours of bear watching in the middle of the afternoon, when things are quietest for the bears and most crowded/touristy for the people. Staying overnight allows you to visit the falls early in the morning or late in the evening, missing most of the crowds. I also loved hanging out in the Brooks Lodge bar with a beer around the fire every night. As mentioned, it is structured in the sense that the rangers keep a close eye on everyone. Guess what? I liked that, given that there are 800+ lb brown bears wandering around!!!
Not to take away from the Valley of 10000 Smokes; it was a great tour. But the real highlight of Katmai for me was the bears. If you only stay two nights, I don't know if I'd spend my one full day going to the Valley. With an extra day, go for it. Not sure if I could justify the price of the flight for only two nights, anyway! And believe me, you'll regret it if you don't stay for three nights.
And remember my biggest piece of advice: RESERVE YOUR CAMPSITE NOW! You can always cancel. It will fill up.
Jan 16, 2012 10:35 PM
14You do get some serious bang for your Alaska tourism buck out at Brooks Camp, so long as you don't pay for a lodge cabin.
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