Don’t worry if you don’t have two weeks of vacation to go visit the northernmost state. You don’t need it, with this plan for the ultimate 72 hours in Alaska.
Dreaming of exploring Alaska? The Last Frontier is larger than California, Montana, and Texas — combined. If a visit is not already on your bucket list, it should be; and if it’s not at the top, go ahead and move the Leaning Tower of Pisa down a few spots. You won’t regret it. Few people can actually drop everything, fly across a good chunk of North America, and ramble around the 50th state as long as they want to, though. For most of us, it’s hard to even escape for a week. (Even for travel writers!) But that’s exactly why you shouldn’t wait — because you might not go otherwise. Alaska isn’t on “the way” to any place (other than Siberia, maybe), so if you don’t make it happen, it probably won’t. The good news: You only need a long weekend to do it. Three days. That’s it. You’ll be able to take a float plane to go fly-fishing, climb (a small) mountain, and see multiple glaciers — all before returning to work on Monday.
DAY 1: Hike a Small Mountain
Fly into Anchorage early and order a Bloody Mary along with some crab cake eggs benedict at Simon and Seafort’s, which overlooks the Cook Inlet in downtown. Order a second round. Take it easy, and enjoy the view. You’re going to need some energy for the afternoon.
Head up to the Flattop Mountain Trailhead on the Southeast end of Anchorage, and start hiking uphill. Bring at least a liter or two of water, and a warmer layer. (It can get windy and cold on the top, even on a bluebird day). Flattop is a relatively small mountain at 3,510 feet (a good thing if you’re planning on climbing it in just a few hours), but it affords jaw-dropping views from the Aleutian Islands to Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. Look East from the summit and know with confidence that there’s pretty much nothing but 3,000 miles of wilderness until you reach Hudson Bay. But be sure to take care on the final few hundred feet to the summit. While most of the trail to the top is clearly marked, well-traveled, and even includes stairs, the final push to the summit includes some scrambling.
If you’re visiting in the summer (which is advisable), the sun doesn’t go down until well after 10:00 p.m. Stop off at the Alaska Zoo on your way down from Flattop — you drive past it on the road back into downtown, so you might as well stop by. They’ve got polar bears, brown bears, seals, Siberian tigers, and snacks. Then wind down with dinner and drinks at the Crow’s Nest on the 17th floor of the Captain Hook Hotel. Dress yourself up in a nice Alaska-appropriate flannel, and get a Manhattan to enjoy while watching the sunset near midnight over the Alaska Range.
DAY 2: Driving, Cruising, and Lots of Wildlife
Wake up early, get in the car, and start driving South on the only road out of town: The Seward Highway. It undoubtedly will be the most beautiful 127 miles of road you’ve ever seen. As soon as you leave Anchorage city limits, you immediately enter the mountain-lined fjord of Turnagain Arm, which is home to Beluga Whales and one of the largest tidal variances in North America. There’s not a single billboard along the road’s entire length. You’ll know when you’ve arrived in the port town of Seward when you hit the ocean. This should only take you about two and a half hours, but be sure not to rush so you can take in the views.
Once you’re in Seward, hop on a 3.5- to 6-hour wildlife cruise through Major Marine Tours, and see Kenai Fjords National Park by boat. (The longer boat rides are good too, but only take those if you intend to stay in Seward for the night). You’re likely to see orcas, fin whales, humpbacks, mountain goats, and more. And that’s not to mention calving Glaciers. (Holgate Glacier moves about six feet per day, so it calves every few minutes. You’re almost guaranteed to see it happen.) And, remember: it’s the North Pacific, so bring something comfortable and warm to wear. Then, get ready to hit the road back up north — you’re not done yet. Before you do, though, try the halibut cheeks at the Thorn’s Showcase Lounge, and take the side road out of town to go see Exit Glacier.
Drive back toward Anchorage, and, remember: you’ve got extra daylight to work with in the land of the midnight sun. About 40 miles before you get back to the largest city in Alaska, hang a right into the small mountain town of Girdwood. Hop the gondola at Alyeska Resort up to Seven Glaciers Restaurant, and indulge in a 4-Star meal from 2,300 feet, overlooking Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains, and, yes, seven different glaciers. Get the clam bisque as an appetizer, and then anything else on the menu. You really can’t go wrong. Drive slowly back to Anchorage after that, and get some sleep.
DAY 3: Fly-In Fly-Fishing
All Day (but it’s worth it!)
Weather permitting, wake up early, drink some coffee, and take Rust’s Flying Service up on a 20-minute floatplane flight from Hood Lake in Anchorage, across the Cook Inlet to Lake Creek. This is likely to be the best day of fishing in your life, even if you don’t catch any fish (which is highly unlikely). You’ll be fully outfitted, and accompanied by an experienced guide, casting for huge salmon in the shadow of the Alaska Range, surrounded by nothing but hundreds of miles of uninterrupted wilderness. If the weather grounds you for the day, don’t worry; just head back south about an hour and hop a boat to Portage Glacier. Just make sure you book a red-eye back home. You’ll have no trouble sleeping on the flight.