“To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.” – John Muir
By Samantha Bearman
From Left to Right, Lorena, Samantha, Sarah
2009 in Granada, Spain
I met Sarah and Lorena almost a decade ago on our first day in Madrid. We all were drawn to one another so much so that people swore we had grown up together or known one another before our study abroad program. We all agreed one day we would gallivant through Alaska together. Well flash forward 7 years for the first time since we had left Spain all three of us were going to be rejoined together in Alaska.
Lorena roasting a marshmallow on the beach at Kotzebue on the 4th of July at 3am – the sun never sets above the arctic circle in the summer!
Over those 7 years Sarah and I had visited Madrid and seen Lorena, and since Sarah and I were stateside we opted to travel together 1-2x a year; both nationally and internationally. However, this was going to be the reunion of a lifetime. We embraced one another as old friends do in the airport terminal, Lorena flanked by her two small children, and all of us picked up a conversation we didn’t know we had been waiting to finish as if we had just seen her yesterday. Thus began our epic two-week tour of Alaska with a native Inuit woman!
Some highlights from our trip include a beach BBQ at 3am on the 4th of July, we had no fireworks because the days truly never end. With the longest days in front of us we enjoyed seeing traditional competitions and posing for photos with Miss Arctic Circle we loaded up on a four wheeler and made our way to the Kotzebue beach to celebrate with hot dogs, marshmallows, and a great bonfire! It was just hard to believe that it was 3am and the sky was so bright and light. I’ll never forget that July 4th celebration – definitely trumped any fireworks show!
Denali National Park
However, if you only had time to do one thing in Alaska you have to go camping in Denali National Park. This was quite possibly one of the most epic experiences we enjoyed in Alaska. We rolled into our camp site and scouted out the best location to set up our tent. As we got to our area we were greeted by our campsite neighbors across the way, Eagle Scout troop leaders, who asked where our boyfriends, husbands, fathers, and brothers were. All three of us looked at each other, smiled, and laughed as we said, nope it’s just us! They took that response in good spirits and said, “well damn, that’s great!”. We set up a campfire and grilled up some chicken, veggies, then settled in to make some s’mores, sharing with our neighbors when they got in too late to start their own bonfire.
In the morning we were up and ready to go by 8am for the bus tour deep into the park. We saw caribou, doll sheep, eagles, and were treated to seeing a grizzly bear walk alongside our bus for 45 minutes – it was incredible to be so close to this majestic animal. The bus tour is designed to reduce the number of individual cars allowed into the park. You are allowed to go deeper into the park with man powered vehicles and camp outside of the campground amenities if you choose. After our day inside the park we explored some of the shorter hikes around our campground and tried to spot the mama moose were heard might be lurking about – but to no avail, however the landscape was beautiful in its own right.
From Left to Right: Samantha, Lorena, Sarah 2016 inside Denali National Park
Camping in Denali gave us laughter, time to share stories, disconnect from Wi-Fi and phones, play cards, sing songs, and just sit still in our surroundings. I can still think back to those few days and feel a sense of tranquility within me. Alaska is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen in my life. It is lush and green and the sun being out all day really makes you feel like you have your 24 hours in your day! It is a site we should all be so lucky to see, and I only got to visit a tiny portion, I have to go back!
The breakdown of our itinerary was as follows – should you be interested in recreating a similar trip:
Day 1 – Fly to Alaska (overnight flight)
Day 2 – Fly to Kotzebue (Lorena’s hometown!)
Day 3 – We were able to take a boat to Noorvik and explore an isolated town
Day 4 – This day was the 4th of July and so we enjoyed the town of Kotzebue and their parade, various contests where native women compete against white men in events such as fish cutting, duck plucking, and tug of war.
Day 5 – Enjoyed a boat ride, four wheeling, and a beach BBQ.
Day 6 – Fly out to Anchorage and ate at the Sea Galley and imbibed with rock and roll karaoke at Chokut Charlies after exploring the Alaska History Museum
Day 7 – Glacier Trekking at Matanuska Glacier ($25 self-guided tour/park entrance)
Day 8 – 10 – Denali National Park for camping (Enjoyed the Denali Bus Tundra Wilderness Tour for $130)
Day 10 – Chena Hot Springs and the North Pole
Day 11 – Travel to Wasilla
Day 12 – Seward Day Trip – Whale Watching Day Cruise $150
Day 13 – Dined in Homer
Day 14 – Ate at Seven Glaciers Restaurant and enjoyed the Wildlife Conservation Center and took the Girdwood tram at Aleyaska and flew home!
- Rent a car for about 9 days was about $250/each not including gas or insurance
- Glacier exploring/whale watching est. cost $235
- Aerial tram + conservation tour est. cost $120
- Aerial tram dinner est. cost $50/person
- Glacier Trekking est. cost $25
- Total est. cost <$700 of the above experiences (some figures have been rounded up as an est.)
- Flight from LAX to Anchorage, AK (~$400 roundtrip)