Visiting Alaska with youngsters means making choices, lots and lots of them. The 49th state’s diversity and sheer volume can often confound even the most savvy traveling family. With so many moments of awe at our disposal, how in the world are parents supposed to decide among just a few? Many grownups simply settle for places and experiences with the most popular ads or most accessible entrances, believing they are “Alaskan enough” to warrant mention back home.
My view? Don’t settle while traveling in Alaska. Make 2013 the year of exploring wild and wonderful moments with your children. They won’t forget, and neither will you. Below are a few places we love that capture what the spirit of travel in Alaska was meant to be, where kids can freely channel their inner adventurer. And you? You get to watch and smile, because you brought them to this place.
McCarthy/Kennecott. Truly one of the most Alaskan experiences upon which a visitor could hope to embark, the all-day road trip from Anchorage to the tiny town of McCarthy and on up to Kennicott Glacier Lodge and Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark is a journey back in time. Stunning scenery, authentic charm, and tons of outdoor recreation made this an adventure to remember for our 8 year-old, if for no other reason than the bundling of everything Alaska is supposed to be, and is, right in one place. Know the heart of Alaska beats here, steadily and beautifully in rhythm with the humans who made an effort to visit. Best time to go? Late summer, when leaves are just beginning to turn and the rich smell of autumn is at the forefront of your senses. Great for kids gradeschool and up, with tons of hiking, mountain biking, flightseeing, and NPS activities. NOTE: The drive is long, so allow an entire day to-from. Read our post HERE.
Backstory Southeast Alaska. Huh? Yes. Go there, friends, and be bathed in the salt spray from a group of humpback whales feeding, and the camraderie of 70 other people who discovered, as you will, the value of showing kids the Inside Passage at a slower pace, without the ports of call and jewlery stores. Try Inner Sea Discoveries for a low-key week of kayaking, snorkeling, bushwhacking, and beachcombing family togetherness. AK Kid’s favorite part? Learning to kayak with his dad. Mine? Hoofing it through three miles of brushy, sodden southeast Alaska foliage and bursting upon a field of muskeg, where a small herd of Sitka black-tail deer stood gazing in amazement at our sudden appearance. If you want to take your kids on a cruise in 2013, this is the way to do it. Best for children age 7 and up, and consider a Kids in Nature cruise, geared toward the younger set.
Denali National Park. Skip the glitter of Nenana Canyon and tread reverently into The High One’s home. Visit before the crowds of summer arrive; May or September offer abundant wildlife, interesting weather (but be ready for anything), and a chance to hike, bike, and even snowshoe or ski, depending upon mother nature’s whim and your outdoor capabilities. If you visit during the bustling summer months, consider staying at one of the park’s campgrounds away from the main entrance. Beautifully-maintained and offering plenty of activities, camping brings the Alaska experience full circle for kids, and you’ll still retain the same offerings as the tour crowds via shuttle buses, ranger-led activities, and wonderful interpretive centers. AK Kid and I spent a long weekend in Denali NP last July, and what fun we had! Denali National Park is meant for the entire family, but some activities will be better suited to older kids. Do read up on the most current NPS information for 2013, and make reservations soon.
Of course, utter amazement is always available in Alaska, wherever you and your children choose to land. We just think the above selections are a great place to start, or finish, your those moments.
What are you doing in 2013?