Alaska Trip with my Dad

Travel Photography

I grew up in a large part with 5 siblings and my dad retired the year I was born so he worked as a substitute teacher my whole life. My dad hardly ever did anything for himself, including . When I was little I knew my dad as the bad guy, but over the years, I’ve grown to appreciate all the sacrifices he had for us.

My dad’s sisters were always taking adventurous trips since their children were fewer and had all grown. My dad would listen to their stories with excitement, but we could always tell that he wished he could have gone.

Fast forward to my adult life. I wanted my dad to get the experience he’d missed for us so I called him up one day and asked how he felt about a trip to Alaska. My dad is the kind of guy to always keep his cool, but I could hear the excitement in his voice as we discussed dates for our trip.

We flew into Anchorage and settled into our AirBnB (which my dad unknowingly referred to as the “Airborne”) before we set out on a short drive and hike up Thunderbird Falls. The next morning we took a full day drive along the Glenn Highway toward the small mining town of McCarthy in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. There were several beautiful stop off points along the road and my dad took every opportunity to show off his fancy rental truck. It started getting late and we had a 4 hour drive to Denali National Park the next morning so we turned back about 10 miles before the town of McCarthy (the roads were really rough and the driving was slow).

Exhausted the next morning, we dragged ourselves out of bed and started toward Denali National Park, a few hours behind schedule (in true Kelly fashion). We had purchased tickets for the shuttle bus because that’s the only way to get around the park besides going on foot. Unfortunately, missing our ticketed time, we had to wait for space on a later shuttle, but eventually we were on our way. We didn’t make it all the way to Kantishna or Wonder Lake, but we did get to Eielson Visitor Center and it ended up being plenty for us. We saw mountain goats, caribou, grizzly bears, moose, and several other beautiful creatures. Denali, itself, was completely obscured by smog and smoke from nearby forest fires which was really disappointing, but I suppose just leaves an excuse for another visit soon.

We made our way back to our AirBnB late (once again) and didn’t end up going to bed until almost 2am.

Another early morning and we made the 2.5 hour drive to Seward to embark on a boat tour of the Kenai Fjords by Major Marine. Note for anyone visiting Alaska: everything is much further apart than it seems. If we were to redo this trip, I would have scheduled multiple AirBnBs in different places so that we didn’t have to backtrack and drive so much. A night or two in Fairbanks would have been much easier for the day we did Denali National Park.

The Kenai Fjords were very cold and a few people caught seasickness as the boat pulsated over the waves. The colors were so moody and saturated that it was an unreal experience just to see the clouds hovering over nearby peaks. Sea lions, otters, puffins, and kittiwinks (think fancy seagulls) dotted our route to Holgate Glacier.

Before our trip, my dad kept saying that my aunts’ favorite part of the trip was the boat tour and he was most excited about it. We couldn’t decide between the Kenai Fjords and the Prince William Sound tours so I signed us up for both. In retrospect, we both thought one would have been just fine. The Kenai Fjords was definitely our favorite, but maybe that was because it was first.

To get to Whittier where our second tour departed from, we had to wait for 30 minutes to get through a single lane road/train track tunnel under the mountainside (beware of missing your boat because of this wait time). Just in time, we got to our boat and headed out, quite groggy and in need of more coffee. This time we saw several killer whales and a few more glaciers, including Surprise Glacier.

After our final boat tour, we took a short hike up to the base of a mountain where we could get a better view of Bryon Glacier. Dad got to walk on some of the snow buildup, but we were still miles from the glacier itself. This was frustrating for me because my dad really wanted to experience walking on a glacier but they were all so receded that it was impossible for him to get close enough.

My favorite sight was to see the golden silhouettes of surfers riding on the bore tide of the Turnagain Arm. Our first drive along the Arm, all we could see was mud, but on our way back that night, the tide came in, the water started pushing back in this incredible series of standing waves. I didn’t take any photos of it, but that is definitely something I would love to go back and do.

Our last full day, we were pretty tired but wanted to go for a hike in the beautiful Chugach National Forest we’d driven through the past two days. We hiked 6 miles (3 in and 3 out) on the Lower Winner Creek Trail to the hand tram over the river (you have to pull yourself across by pulling hand over hand to make the tram car move). Dad is afraid of heights so he just stepped in for the candid photo, but it was a really fun experience to have and the view of the river from above was so cool!