We hope you took time before or after the conference to visit Alaska. We chose this time of year for the meeting because it is usually the best weather and its before the crowds (and mosquitoes!) arrive. Simply put, Alaska is big. And much of it is remote, so it takes time to travel around the state. It is virtually impossible to travel within Alaska without a car. And many places can only be reached via airplane. There is much to do in the Anchorage area, but to get the Alaska experience a week or more is visit is recommended. For travel information on how to get to Alaska, please click here.
Alaska is an outdoors paradise unlike any other place on Earth. Summer activities include flight tours, glacier and wildlife tours, dog sledding, hiking, biking, paragliding, camping, sea kayaking, and river rafting. Of course, during the summertime the white nights mean that the northern lights aren't visible.
Please note that tourism in Alaska is very popular. Reservations are recommended for most activities, and should be made several months in advance. The hotel will also be able to help you make plans for a variety of trips, around and outside of Girdwood. It is beyond the resources of the organizing committee to help in detailed planning of trips in Alaska, but some recommendations of our personal favorite activities to do are listed below:
Portage glacier is one of the closest accessible glaciers near Girdwood, and one of the few short trips available. Its about a 30-minute drive to the visitor center on Portage Lake. Global warming has greatly reduced the size of the glacier. It has greatly receded from the visitor center, but it is still visible. Duration:1-2 hours.
Chugach State Park
Chugach State Park consists of the Chugach Mountain range that runs from Anchorage down to Girdwood. There are many hiking and camping opportunities available in the park. One of the highlights of the park is Eklutna Lake, which is about a two-hour drive north of Girdwood. The website offers maps and details. Note: Encounters with wildlife are a real and dangerous possibility in Alaska. While bear attacks are rare, there are important precautionary steps you should take. Do not go into the wilderness without proper preparation and instruction. Duration: A few hours to a few days.
Flight tour of Mount McKinley
At an elevation of 20,320 feet (6194m), Mt. McKinley is the highest point on the North American continent. (Note: Denali is the Athabaskan name for McKinley and is the name most commonly used in Alaska. It means "The High One"). Denali is one of the most dangerous mountains to climb in the world and is one of the biggest challenges for any mountaineer. For the rest of us, the best way to see Denali is with a flight tour. You can even land on a glacier on the mountain! Tours can be arranged from Anchorage, or more commonly, a town called Talkeetna, which is a 2-hour drive north of Anchorage. Its cheaper to go out of Talkeetna, and the drive is worth it. K2 Aviation is my preferred company. Call in advance and make reservations, as it is very popular. Note that flight tours can only occur on days when the summit is visible, so call th day of your flight to make sure you can go. Note: This trip is very safe, but not recommended for those afraid of small airplanes. Duration: One day.
Denali National Park
If you'd like to do some hiking and camping an excellent option is to go to Denali National Park. In addition to seeing the mountain, you will have an excellent opportunity to see the "big five": moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and the grizzly bear. Access to the park is limited to a single, 91-mile-long road that can only be travelled by bus. Its an excellent way to get into the park, where you can go for hikes or backcountry hiking. You should make reservations in advance for the bus. The National Park Service's website has all the information you'll need. Duration: At least four days, including travel to and from Anchorage (which may be done by bus or car).
Kenai Fjords National Park
South of Girdwood on the Kenai Peninsula is the Kenai Fjords National Park. Near the town of Seward, you can access the park via the road to see Exit Glacier, which offers the opportunity to see and touch a glacier. The rest of the park may be accessed by boat. Boat tours are a great way to see glaciers and sea wildlife. For a more up-close and natural experience you can go sea kayaking in the park. Kayak tours go out of Seward and Whittier. My personal favorite is to go on a day tour of Blackstone Bay from Whittier. You'll kayak near glaciers as they calve into the ocian. I've had good experiences with Alaska Sea Kayakers. Note: Even in the summer the temperature of the water is around freezing. Only a few minutes in the water is sufficient for hypothermia and death. Sea kayaks are very stable and very safe, but there is an inherent risk. Those with a fear of the water may be more comfortable taking a boat tour. Please note that even on a boat tour it can get cold and you should come prepared with warm clothing. Duration: One or more days.
Girdwood is the gateway to the Kenai Peninsula, which offers a tremendous number of outdoor activities, including fishing, camping, hiking, sea kayaking and river rafting. A visit to Homer is definitely worthwhile.