December is upon us and my refrigerator is full of lists for and by the people I love. AK Kid has stuck his handwritten itemized and alphabetized record of Christmas gift desires at adult eye level. I have records of niece and nephews gift ideas next to that; and further down, what my husband needs, because he never says he wants any Christmas gifts. It’s a glorious mix up of things people need versus what they want, and it’s fun to see every time I reach into the fridge to pour more eggnog into my Santa-themed coffee cup.
I have to get serious about it this week, because Christmas gifts, like dentist appointments and library books, tend to sneak up on one. Plus, the weather is supposed to warm up and turn Southcentral Alaska into a soaking sponge of slush, and do I want to be playing in that?
Here’s where I’m heading, and you might find it helpful as you plan gifts for your Alaskan children, or your whole family because you were smart and booked your 2018 Alaska vacation already (yay, you!).
A kid sleepover at an Alaska State Parks public use cabin. AK Kid is at the age where almost everything is more fun with buddies along for the ride, and Christmas gifts that include taking a short trip to one of hundreds of Alaska public use cabins managed by our state parks system can be a huge win for parents. We recently stayed at the new Dolly Varden cabin at Eklutna lake and found the upper loft area to be perfect for teen/tween boys to hang out with hot chocolate, games, and their endless pushing and shoving matches. We’ve booked a few weekends already. Psst: Don’t forget your State Parks pass, either. At only $50, it entitles you to park in any lot managed by the system without day use fees. Get one HERE.
Summer camp. Alaska’s resident young people, AND kid-visitors — did you know you can go to summer camp at gorgeous Peterson Bay with a bunch of other kids, just across gorgeous Kachemak Bay from Homer? The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies has been offering this fantastic camp for several years, and each summer it gets better. Live in or are originating your trip in Anchorage? They’ll drive your kid down! Visiting Alaska? Your kids can attend camp and you and your partner can go do something else!
Mush on. Are your kids dog-crazy? Do you want to surprise them with a BIG DEAL family trip tracing the roots of the Iditarod National Historical Trail during the snowy months? Check out the 2018 Iditarod Ultimate Family Field Trip, a cooperative effort between yours truly and Salmon Berry Tours, local experts when it comes to small, intimate tours just for families. Yes, this is an investment, but I guarantee you, the week will be unforgettable as we mush, hike, snowshoe, and explore the intricacies of winter in Interior Alaska. There are still a few spots available, so if you need big Christmas gifts with enormous impact, consider this.
Meet Santa’s sleigh experts. No, really. You can, especially during that week between Christmas and New Year, when the reindeer are just glad the Big Night is over and they can frolic as they wish among the birch forests of Fairbanks’ Goldstream Valley. Running Reindeer Ranch walks are Christmas gifts the whole family will enjoy, and owner Jane Atkinson does a masterful job of teaching young and young-at-heart about these delightful creatures of song and story.
Visit your national parks. I am truly amazed when Alaska families tell me they have never visited a national park in their own state, or, at least they tell me they haven’t. Truth is, Alaska’s national parks are but a few hours away from its main cities of Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau. Take a ferry ride from Juneau to Skagway and Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and see the remnants of the 1890’s gold rush that turned Alaska (and the world) on its ear. Drive the scenic Seward Highway to the town of Seward and do a day cruise around Kenai Fjords National Park, where glaciers and wildlife mingle daily; then drive out to Exit Glacier Visitor Center for a hike amidst the grandeur (and loss) of centuries of snow compressed to bluish ice and slick rock. Or, from Fairbanks, take the Alaska Railroad south to Denali National Park and spend a few days hiking and getting to know this wonderful park, including a visit to the famous canine ranger team. Need Christmas gifts with staying power? You’ll always win with our national parks.