Alaska – The Last Frontier

Breathtaking, Spectacular, Panoramic, I can use so many adjectives to describe Alaska. But I think the name The Last Frontier and True Wilderness does all the justice to one of the most beautiful states of the United States. This state has been on our bucket list for such a long time, But we never dared to take a step toward planning a trip to Alaska. Alaska looks breathtaking in different seasons. 

There are many reasons to go to Alaska, But I think Aurora Borealis will be on everyone’s bucket list. The best time to watch Nothern lights will be from September till March. We decided to travel on September 2nd week because of the Fall season. Driving around at this time will be easier than in the wintertime.

This year has been horrible for travel because of the pandemic, so I had to consider that when I started planning the trip. These are the steps we took while planning the trip. 

  • At Least 6 to 7 Nights of stay so that you can cover most of the important cities in Alaska.
  • Anchorage and Fairbanks are the two cities where all the tours are conducted. 
  • If the plan is for the fall season, book the Rental Car well in advance. 
  • If the goal is for the Winter season, I think the best place to do all the tours will be Fairbanks. Northern Lights sighting chance is the best. 
  • Tours are the best way to see Nothern Lights, Glacier, and the Arctic Circle.
  • Our primary objective was to See Nothern Lights, Glacier, Denali National Park, and Arctic Circle. 

Our Trip Plan

We planned our trip from September 11th, 2021 to September 17th, 2021, Below was our Itinerary.

Chicago to Anchorage (11th Sept 2021) –> Anchorage To Denali National Park (11th Sept 2021) –> Tundra Wilderness Tour (Denali National Park) 12th Sept 2021 –> Denali to Fairbanks (13th Sept 2021) –> Fairbanks to Chenna Hot Springs (13th Sept 2021) –> Fairbanks to Arctic Circle & Northern Light Tour (14th Sept 2021) –> Fairbanks to Anchorage (15th Sept 2021) –> Anchorage to Glacier Tour (16th Sept 2021) –> Anchorage to Chicago (17th Sept 2021)

We took the below tours.

  1. Arctic Circle:- https://www.alaskatravel.com/fairbanks/arctic-circle-aurora
  2. Glacier Tour:- https://phillipscruises.com

Alaska can be visited throughout any season, and every season brings its beauty with it. Every season brings beauty, but spring and Summer bring the most beautiful greenery and wildlife. Fall brings a different dimension when it comes to Alaska. The trees show some beautiful colors where the tree becomes green and gold. It will be white everywhere. But plan to see Aurora Boerlies. The best time will be winter and then fall because in winter, you will have around 16 to 17 hours of the night, and then in fall, you will have a reasonable amount of time too.

Our bucket list was to see Alaska in the Fall season. Still, we also wanted to see the Aurora Borealis. After doing so much research and finding out the pricing for all the tours and trips and cars and air travel, we decided to go in Fall Season. But make a note that fall is an off-season for Alaska. Make sure you go before the second week of September because, after the 2nd week of September, many of the national parks and tours will be closed till December. And because it is an off-season, you will find a handful of restaurants open.
Adding some pictures below to showcase how beautiful it looks at the time of fall

September 11th, 2021

On our first day of the trip, We flew from O’hare (Chicago) to Anchorage (Alaska). Our flight landed around the afternoon in Anchorage. We picked up the car from the airport and started for Denali National Park. We planned to stay the night in Denali National Park. We booked one Grande Denali National Park hotel for our stay. This hotel is located on a hill, and you can see the Denali National Park from your hotel window. I am adding the link for the hotel if you want to book it. 

https://www.denalialaska.com/grande-denali-lodge/home

the drive to the hotel from the airport is around two and half hours, but we took a little longer and enjoyed the beauty of the drive. After doing some search, We decided to have dinner at the Hotel Restaurant, Which is on top of the Hill where you can see the beauty of Denali National Park. 

After we arrived at the hotel, we decided to go to the visitor center of Denali National Park. We arrived at the visitor center to find out the details about the Denali Bus tour. And we got all the details from the visitor center, and they have asked us to book the bus tour in advance. After returning to the hotel, we reserve the tickets for the Denali Bus Tour. 

There are three types of bus tours, and we booked the Tundra Wilderness Tour. I am adding the website to get all the details.

https://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/bus-tours.htm

September 12th, 2021

As the sunrise happens on our second day of Alakasa, we have to get ready and leave for the visitor center to catch the bus tour. We got ready and started for the visitor center. As the bus tour would last for half a day, we made sure we had a backpack with water and some snacks and bought coffee from the visitor center, and it was perfect coffee. I recommend everyone to taste it. As the bus arrived, we boarded the bus, and officially the tour began of Denali National Park. As this was a Tundra bus tour, they had a potent camera on board so that we all could see the wildlife in the distance.
As the tour was ongoing, we saw many moose and caribou on the way, and the driver explained how Alaska’s geography is different from any other land in the world. On the way, as we were gaining elevation, we saw the trees and plants disappearing. At a certain height, we were able to see Denali Peak, and it looked majestic. We enjoyed the tour a lot, and we saw the beauty of Denali National Park.

After we came back from the tour, which was almost half a day, we returned to the visitor center, and then we explored the nearby area and, around late evening, started hunting for a good place for dinner. And we realized later that because of the off-season, there are not many restaurants open in the nearby area. So after hunting for food, we decided to eat dinner at our hotel restaurant.

September 13th, 2021

We started the day on the road and started the road trip towards Fairbanks, Alaska. But we had the entire day, so we decided on some other places like Alaska University and the North Pole. These are the must-visit places when traveling towards Fairbanks from Anchorage or Denali Park. We started the day looking for a good breakfast place, So we decided to stop by Rose Cafe just outskirts of Denali National Park. It is a tiny and family-owned place. Here is the link for the rose cafe you would like to visit. And we decided to reach the hotel early because we had the Northern Light Tour from Fairbanks early morning.

Rose Cafe:- https://goo.gl/maps/xCuzo6hMN9UWPSaf6

Directions from Denali to Fairbanks:- https://goo.gl/maps/w5dgCcdSvaQneNLp9

September 14th, 2021

The day started early morning because we had our Nothern lights and Arctic Circle trip. We have to take the most dangerous road in the USA, Dalton Highway. There are some rules which we need to follow when we drive on that road, and also we have to see the Northern Lights which will appear late at night, so we have to go on a trip for almost 18 to 20 hours. So we made sure we packed loads of snacks and good lunch and dinner, and also we packed enough water so that we didn’t get short. Below are the things you need to carry when planning to take the trip. 

  1. Lunch and Dinner
  2. Snacks
  3. Water
  4. Tripod 
  5. DSLR camera with a must of 2.8F Lens.
  6. Snow Jackets (It will be really cold

Trip Details:- VIEW IN GOOGLE MAPS

We joined our tour group in the tour office and boarded the bus. The bus took us to the grocery store for last-minute shopping. After we finished shopping, we boarded the bus and started the trip. Our first stop was the Dalton Highway sign; the drive-in highway is like an adventure because every mile passes, the landscapes changes. Our second stop was the Yukon River. It has a bathroom and a small restaurant, and a gift shop. We stopped there for 1 hour, we had our lunch and then started the rest of the trip. On the way, our tour guide/driver stopped at some places to take breathtaking landscapes. Fun fact you can stop anywhere side of the road to eat wild blueberries. You can make the blueberry plants with the pink color leaves. Our next stop was Arctic Circle Sign. It’s a beautiful place to take loads of pictures.

Once we finished taking pictures, we started the trip back to Livengood to see the finale of our trip, which was the Northern Lights. We stopped at the Cabin near Livengood, and It’s a cozy cabin with all the amenities. Everyone started setting up the tripod and the camera outside and waited for the Northern lights to appear. With the naked eye, it’s hard to see the Nothern Lights. It comes with a greyish hue in the sky. After looking at the greyish hue, we started asking our guide if that was Nothern Lights, then he said that take a picture, and you will notice it. Once we took the picture, we saw that green color. I made sure that my DLSR camera settings were appropriate for the northern lights. Below is the setting I used it

The aperture of f/2.8 or the widest in your Lens.
Adjust an ISO from 3200 to 6400.
Set a shutter speed between 1-15 seconds.
Adjust your white balance to 3500k.
Focus manually on a distant light.
Set the general camera settings for Northern Lights.

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