This story originally appeared in the Anchorage Daily News on January 2, 2018.
Publisher note: I had intended to jump headlong into 2018 with a comprehensive look at some early-booking deals for the upcoming spring and summer season. However, I was stymied in this effort, thanks to a concussion received after an epic skating fail a few days ago. As a result, I am not supposed to “think too hard” for the remainder of this week, so copying and pasting my Outdoors With Kids column was my middle ground. I’ll be back, better than ever, next week. Thanks as always for reading. ~EK
I don’t make traditional New Year resolutions anymore mostly because I know I won’t keep them. Apparently I’m in good company, since a mere eight percent of people actually stick with the promises they made before midnight December 31.
Still, societal norms dictate goal-setting as we show the previous year the door. Resolutions also feel positive, especially when the results are incremental and benefit our mental and emotional well-being.
For us, that means going places.
With the intention of satisfying wanderlust foremost in our minds, it has become a pre-New Year’s Eve family ritual to sit down together and pull out maps, brochures and last year’s dog-eared edition of the Milepost. Spread out across the dining room table, these piles of paper represent wish lists, must-sees, and the please-can-we destinations and activities collected over the previous year.
We’ve lived in Alaska since December 2005, so this little game also represents 12 years of checking boxes within the 663,300 square miles of land that is our home state. I have even created a career traveling around the Last Frontier and still haven’t seen everything, if that were even possible.
Alaska has changed since we made that cold walk off an Alaska Airlines combi flight from Seattle. We’ve changed, too, and I credit family exploration for a good chunk of our insight evolved from the diverse human and environmental panoramas of Alaska.
“The real voyage of discovery,” writes Marcel Proust, “Consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Your kids are watching where and how you choose to travel, gleaning nuggets of understanding as they mature into future stewards of a place most people only dream of visiting. Alaska is not always easy to navigate, but it is worth the effort, especially when the ultimate reward is watching your children (and perhaps even your children’s children) witness the natural magic that is Alaska. Below are a few options I’ve written about previously that may help your family plan an adventurous 2018 together.
From the Wynn Nature Center to Peterson Bay Field Station, CACS has been staple of outdoor-themed activity since 1984, with science and nature-based education that spans generations.
Have a few hours? Take a Creatures of the Dock tour at the Homer small boat harbor or a guided nature hike at Wynn Nature Center. Want a few more days? Take a water taxi across Kachemak Bay to the rustic Peterson Bay Field Station where you can stay in a yurt and explore the trails, tide pools, and wildlife of this beautiful area. Summer camps are also available for kids and families.
Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS)
With 30 communities along a 3,000 mile route stretching from Bellingham, Washington, to Dutch Harbor, AMHS and their “Blue Canoes” are one of our favorite ways to see Alaska’s coastal areas.
While this state-run ferry system has undergone budget and maintenance challenges the past few years, this unique opportunity to explore Alaska’s waterways should not be overlooked. Try a few shorter trips before investing time and money in a multi-day adventure — Whittier to Valdez, Homer to Seldovia, or between Juneau, Skagway, and Haines. Reservations are a must, especially during the summer season or if you wish to purchase a stateroom for overnight trips. Visit ferryalaska.com for the 2018 schedule and to take advantage of winter and spring specials.
Alaska national parks
If you can sneak away for a few nights, drive to Denali National Park this winter or spring, when crowds are few and access expansive. Bring skis, snowshoes or fat bikes and take advantage of miles of unplowed park road, watching for caribou and moose as you make your way into this quiet environment.
Murie Science and Learning Center is visitor headquarters until May, and families can borrow snowshoes, learn about Denali, or warm up in front of the cozy woodstove.
If you’re looking for even more Alaska adventure, plan a summer trip to Kennecott National Historical Landmark near the tiny community of McCarthy. The dirt road between Chitina and McCarthy has vastly improved over the years, shaving hours off the trip and opening the door to a historical and recreational bonanza of family fun.
Folk School of Fairbanks
What will our family do in 2018? A highly anticipated experience for us is the Folk School of Fairbanks’ “Week In the Woods” program scheduled for June 22-27.
I’m fairly new to the Folk School concept but am enthusiastic about their hands-on approach to nature and kids, and I’m more than curious about the four nights and five days at a remote campsite within the boreal forests near Fairbanks.
The Folk School staff assure me that our time together will bring about “peaceful energy in the forest” with woodworking, wilderness skills, plant identifcation, and good old-fashioned family camping. They’re talking my language, all right.
Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel in Alaska.