You’ve been waiting and waiting for AK Fam to come up with our favorite places of 2010, I just know it. Thank you for your patience; the process has been complex, detailed, and involved serious discussion around the dinner table. It’s not easy deciphering a six year-old’s manner of deduction, after all, but we are pleased to bring our AKontheGO readers the Top Trips list of 2010. These trips represent our favorites of 2010, which means, of course, we will not be covering the entire state; one family can only travel so much in 365 days. These Top Five were selected for their family-friendly atmosphere, accessibility, and variety.
5. Reaching the Top Trips list this year is an unexpected swath of highway between Anchorage and Seward. The Summit Lake-Tern Lake-Cooper Landing combo of camping, hiking, river rafting and general relaxation wooed AK Fam last July and made us fans of this close-in getaway. We’re not quite sure if it was the recently-renovated Tenderfoot Campground along placid Summit Lake, complete with easy access to fishing or the wild and crazy raft trip down the Kenai river with Alaska Wildland Adventures or the picnic beside the gravelly shores of Kenai lake; but our four days were an investment in good, solid, family fun. Don’t miss the old Cooper Landing Museum or the Sunrise Cafe near Quartz Creek Campground, and plan on that river rafting trip; you won’t be disappointed. Visiting Alaska? Rent an RV and spend a few days; this is not just a drive-by on the way to Seward or Homer.
4. Talkeetna and environs. What’s not to like about a town that was built by two teamster brothers in the 1800’s and now serves as the jumping off point for Mt. McKinley climbing teams? Talkeetna is the place to go for some real Alaskan flavor, food or otherwise; the Talkeetna Roadhouse serves up home cookin’ and clean lodging along with great service, adventures abound (try Mahay’s Jet Boat trips for a screaming good time), and kids love, love, love the playground built just for them. One can also arrive in Talkeetna (2.5 hours from Anchorage) via the Alaska Railroad, a great way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. We stay at the McKinley Princess Lodge in Trapper Creek, an hour north of Talkeetna and a favorite with us for stunning views of the mountain and a true “home away from home” experience. Shuttle service is available from town to the lodge and back.
3. Fairbanks scored with AK Fam due to its family-friendly atmosphere and a surprisingly large list of activities. We were not sure how a small child would fare in this often-adult city of cruise-tour visitors, but thanks to the wonderful folks at the Fairbanks Visitor Center, we had a great time on both our trips (winter and summer). We stayed at both the Hampton Inn and Wedgewood Resort, finding each to possess space, service, and, in the case of the Hampton, fabulous waffles. Don’t miss the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum on the Wedgewood campus, an absolutely incredible display of vintage automobiles and clothing. The UAF Museum of the North is also a must-see for elementary and above kids; the petrified wood, animal displays and artwork are quite dramatic. In the summer months, visit old Alaska via the Riverboat Discovery, a glimpse into frontier life in Alaska’s interior, or the El Dorado Mine, where kids can pan for gold with real-life placer miners. Cool.
2. Bumped from Numero Uno in 2010 is Homer, still a family fav. At the end of the Sterling Highway, some five hours from Anchorage, Homer is known as a fishing, partying, super fun family destination among visitors and Alaskans. AK Fam always stays as the Homer Seaside Cottages, a funky collection of three lovely little beach houses; a home away from home. Plus, the cottages are within walking distance to Bishop’s Beach (the best we’ve found for kids), Two Sister’s Bakery, Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, and Fat Olive’s restaurant. Take a ferry ride to Seldovia across Kachemak Bay and hike the Otterbahn trail, perfect to introduce kids to Alaska’s flora and fauna and its rich Native Alaskan history. Check out Homer Spit, where hundreds of boats fill the harbor and sea otters float around among the crab and halibut boats.
1. Winning AK Fam’s heart and soul in 2010 was Valdez, a little refuge of Alaskan happiness up a dramatic fjord from Prince William Sound. Our six days spent exploring the waterways, hiking trails and emotional history of Valdez are etched in our minds like no other community has thus far. Maybe it was the weather; four of the six days were bluebird skies and warm temperatures necessitating shorts and t-shirts. Maybe it was the walkability; Valdez boasts a 12-mile paved biking/walking trail along a salmon stream, Old Town Valdez site, and a saltwater marsh frequented by bears and birds. We happily billeted at Eagle’s Crest Resort along the Richardson Highway in a tiny cabin that provided all we needed with a television, microwave, sink and shower. Meals were easy and fun, especially at The Harbor Cafe, an indoor/outdoor spot on the corner of North Harbor Dr. and Chitina. Pangea Adventures and Stan Stephens Wildlife Cruises afforded plenty of water time with whales, sea lions, and leaping silver salmon adding to the view. The trip there was noteworthy, too via the Alaska Marine Highway System from Whittier to Valdez, then home on the Richardson Highway and Thompson Pass, were we scrambled for the camera again and again. I don’t have enough room to talk about Valdez here, today. Just go.