Stories from Alaska

An insider's journey through Alaska's best kept secrets

When Visiting Alaska: What’s Worth the Splurge?

If you’re finally making your long-awaited, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska, or even if you’re just trying to check more items off your Last Frontier bucket list, you might like some “insider tips” about how to best indulge yourself when traveling around America’s 49th state. Included in our recommendations are some upgrades to Alaska adventures that are definitely worth splurging for!

Alaska Railroad Goldstar Class

For many travelers, an Alaska visit isn’t complete without a ride on the amazing Alaska Railroad and its rustic routes that span from Seward to Fairbanks with fascinating stops and spectacular views along the way. While every seat on these trains offers plenty “wow” moment views, you can literally elevate your vantage point and your trip by upgrading your seats to the Goldstar Service’s dome sections of the train’s cars, especially on the Anchorage-Seward and Talkeetna-Denali routes. The Alaska Railroad’s Goldstar Service is a premium class of travel that features elevated, upper-level seating and outdoor viewing platforms all surrounded by glass-dome ceilings. With nothing to obstruct your views and seemingly no limits to the hospitality afforded to Goldstar guests, you’ll enjoy your own tour guide, providing insights all along the way and helping to spot wildlife, inclusive dining, a private bar and more.

Alaska Railroad Gold Star Service: Definitely “Worth the Splurge”

On the Coastal Classic Train between Anchorage and Seward, you’ll have a bird’s eye view of massive glaciers and mountains, as well as a perfect place to spot sheep, black bears, eagles and maybe even beluga whales along Turnagain Arm. On the Denali Star Train that travels from Anchorage to Denali National Park, moving upstairs between Talkeetna and the Park allows you to ride at the tree-line level and have numerous views of the state’s crown jewel, the summit of Denali. And as you approach the park, be sure to look for moose bear, fox and possibly even a porcupine!

Flightseeing Over and Around Denali

Seeing Denali for the first time is a moment that no one ever forgets … and every view of the mountain after that is pretty incredible, too. It’s just that awesome. But some savvy Alaska travelers know it is totally worth it to splurge to get a look around and even down on the Great One’s majestic peak and breathe in its rarefied air. Alaska travelers can take their Denali experience to new heights by booking an Alaska flightseeing tour, soaring over Denali’s heights in style. There are many options to choose from fixed-wing bush plane flights to helicopter rides, with operators based out of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Talkeetna, Healy, Kantishna and Denali National Park. All promise one thing: to give you a unique “bird’s eye” perspective that captures the magnitude and magnificence of this mountain and a humbling sense of smallness of life below it.

Find Adventure on a Glacier: Dogsledding

A truly Alaska experience that few can boast, is a spring or summer flightseeing trip accompanied by a landing on an Alaska glacier. These bright, white snowy runways host passengers with outdoor picnics, adventurous fun in the sun, and even dog sled teams that are hopping-and-barking, ready for novice mushers, ready to ride. Sitting in the basket of a sled harnessed to a team of Alaska-tough dogs with your guide calling the shots, you’ll experience the rush of adrenalin as you sweep across glaciers surrounded by some of North America’s largest and most famous peaks.

Summer tourists on dog sledding tour on Colony Glacier from Knik River Lodge (C) Jeff Schultz/SchultzPhoto.com

Dogsledding fun is one of the ultimate Alaska experiences and an extra special splurge. There are even humble yet comfortable overnighting options for those who can’t get enough of this extra nice ice experience. Safety in the air and on the glacier is the top concern for these tour operators, so travelers can relax and have a blast during their glacier stay – whether it’s for an hour of photos, an afternoon ride with the doggies, or an overnight.

Up Close and Personal with Alaska Bears

Peek-a-boo bear at Kodiak Brown Bear Center

Nothing says Alaska like “bear!”. Denali may be Alaska’s largest attraction, but the big bears of Southwest Alaska in areas like Katmai National Park and Preserve and McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, Kodiak Island, and other wilderness areas across Alaska can be equally intimidating and awe-inducing, especially when seen up close. That’s why bear viewing opportunities are a must for Alaska visitors willing to splurge for a thrilling adventure that rivals no other. Alaska bear viewing tours run the gamut: single-day trips to multi-day, multi-area, multi-vehicle (plane, four-wheelers, boats) and, of course, multi-bear treks. The grandest bear viewing tours even come with deluxe lodging, where you can eat and relax while learning from skilled naturalists all about bear behavior, habitats and migration patterns. No matter what you decide, know this: when you see and hear an Alaska brown bear, or a bunch of them, feasting on fish, frolicking with cubs, or just lumbering along the grassy shores in search of fresh berries, you’ll experience an excitement you’ve never felt before. Don’t worry – seasoned guides will take you to close where the bears are bustling and the viewing is excellent while also keeping you safe. A short flight from Anchorage, Homer or Kodiak to many of these bounties of bruins are even worth the splurge themselves – you’ll see some of Alaska’s remote scenery, natural history and wildlife play out below you just getting to your bear viewing adventure spot. And for the truly bold bear seeker, book a trip to Alaska’s North Slope and find an outfitter who will help you find the gigantic and enigmatic polar bear!

Relax in a Comfortable Lodge Deep in Alaska Wilderness

For those trying to accomplish as much as possible on their Alaska trip, the days and experiences can fly by and the journey itself might seem a bit overwhelming. That’s why, for some, a splurge of sanctuary for a few days to a remote wilderness lodge can get them off the radar for some real Alaska rest and relaxation, and some authentic Alaska flavor and accommodations. When you think remote Alaska lodge, you might envision a quiet and peaceful stay far away from any distractions and up-close to Alaska’s flora, fauna and wildlife. But you might not immediately envision fine dining with the freshest Alaska-grown-and-harvested ingredients, fantastic fishing, exhilarating  floatplane takeoffs and landings, plush accommodations, and welcoming Alaskan hospitality. But that’s exactly what you’ll get if you splurge on an Alaska lodge stay. And if you depending on where you decide to go and what time of the year you arrive, there are always options for action-packed adventures – wildlife viewing, kayaking, hiking, even backcountry skiing.

Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge deck during sunrise.

Mini-Splurges for the Budget Conscious

And remember, you don’t have to be a big-budget traveler to treat yourself to a few special Alaska travel splurges. In fact, here a few mini-splurge pro tips that will make you feel smart and spoiled wherever your Alaska adventures take you.

A Room with an Alaska View

When booking accommodations, always request rooms with the best view – if you’re inland, that’s probably a room facing mountains, lakes or waterways; if you’re in a coastal area, a room with an open-water view is the place to be. Just imagine sipping your morning coffee or drinking an evening Alaska-crafted brew, looking out at those only-in-Alaska scenes.

The Freshest Alaska Seafood

And a final splurge is filled with Alaska flavor and cachet. Whenever dining, go for the best in Alaska seafood. Whether that’s the delicate halibut (beer battered and deep fried or grilled with a light but lush sauce), a cut of rich Copper River salmon which needs no chef-chosen embellishments at all, or the dining dynasty of them all – Alaska King Crab. Add a leg or two to any meal or just go for the entrée order – you’ll enjoy every luscious bit and feel just like true royalty!

Fresh halibut: Just a sample of the fine dining experience awaiting guests at Winter Lake Lodge