When Austin and I originally decided to venture to Alaska, we did so because the Alaskan Railroad has this intriguing option to ride the train all over Alaska for a week, giving us the ability to visit several areas and spend the night on a train. If you haven’t noticed a theme here, WE LOVE TRAINS. I get it from my dad and I think Austin just has old soul and an appreciation for outdated transportation. Anyway, the Alaskan Train Adventure wasn’t available for the times we would be traveling, so we decided to create our own. We flew into Fairbanks, AK, then took a twelve-hour train ride down to Anchorage, AK and spent the remainder of our time there.
I thought the train ride would be dauntingly long, but it actually went by rather quickly. The seats reclined and you can bring as much food/drink as you can carry. I personally don’t like sitting still, in the same position, looking at the same head in front of me for more than about 10 minutes, so the single best advice I can give someone is to claim a booth in the bistro car, and don’t ever move. Other than the obvious restlessness, the train was actually pretty neat. They served breakfast, lunch, and dinner (for an extra fee), and we got to see some amazing views (below) that you can only get from the railroad. Oh, and a lot of the locals that live along the train route can’t use cars from the lack of roads around that area, so while the train has designated depots, they will stop for locals flagging down the train and take them into town. We stopped about four times for extra passengers, one of which was was a children’s book author and illustrator that was conveniently carrying books with her for sale. There was no doubt in my mind that this was planned and she does this with every train that comes by, but that didn’t stop me from buying a book for my baby Nephew.
So, twelve hours later, we arrived in Anchorage to a surprising forty degrees. Coming from the negative teens in Fairbanks, this was a heat wave. My first impression was that Anchorage was much more of a city – somewhere in between my hometown of McHenry, IL and Chicago. For some reason, this made me initially dislike Anchorage and upset we ever left Fairbanks.
But then we went snowmobiling.
We booked a snowmobiling tour with Glacier City Snowmobiling Tours that lasted about 5.5 hours and traversed the mountains in Girdwood, AK. As soon as we arrived, I immediately regretted not staying in Girdwood. It’s a very small town about 45 minutes outside of Anchorage. The snowmobile tour guides took us up into the mountains where we saw a neighborhood in which the entire population (about 20 people) lives completely off the grid. They even have a stray dog that wanders around and is said to have saved the lives of at least 3 residents during nearly fatal accidents that are bound to come with mountain seclusion. One of these residents, his name escapes me, built his house on a literal gold mine. He discovered this and has been carefully mining this gold as his source of income. You can see him in the photo below when he (a tad bit creepily) came walking by our lunch site to see what we were up to.
All in all, I highly recommend this tour group. Justin, our guide, showed us a piece of Alaska that we would not have gotten to see otherwise. He also cooks up a tasty reindeer hot dog and can rescue stuck snowmobiles almost effortlessly.
As if we weren’t tired of snow sports quite yet, we decided to check out Alyeska Ski Resort (also in Girdwood) on our last day in Alaska. This was such an experience. I’ve only been skiing in Wisconsin, but I was pretty comfortable calling myself intermediate. Austin, on the other hand, had only snowboarded once before in Valparaiso, IN. I can safely say that Alyeska’s “bunny hill” was comparable to Wilmont’s most challenging black diamond. We were both out of our league, but powered through and got a few runs in.
The resort itself was absolutely beautiful! This is where we will stay if we ever return to the Anchorage area. It gives off a lot of log cabin/High School Musical vibes and is everything my 14-year-old self could hope for on a New Years trip. They also have a tram that will take you to the top of the mountain where they have a restaurant if you don’t like to ski but still want to see the views.
As for restaurant recommendations, I have two. The first one being Simon and Seafort’s. This was actually recommended to me by my best friend’s mom who apparently has taken many solo trips to Alaska. She was so right! Austin and I had been on the hunt for colossal king crab and Simon’s (as the locals apparently call it) did not disappoint. We also tried baked Alaska for the first time because “when in Rome,” and it was also delicious. The second is a bar/restaurant called Humpy’s Ale House. Humpy is apparently a type of fish and not a weird name for a bar. Great oysters and fried halibut here.
One last recommendation: I’m a huge rock/mineral/gem person and I try to buy a piece local to wherever I go. If you have similar interests, there’s a place called Nature’s Jewels that you will love! I bought a prehnite piece here. Also, try to get your hands on some Jade as it’s Alaska’s state gem. Most places sell it in the form of Alaskan-themed figures, but I managed to find a tumbled sphere at Glacier City’s gift shop.
That was Anchorage for you! I’ve had several people inquire about an example itinerary, so keep a lookout for a new blog post this week with a detailed itinerary for an entire week-long trip to Alaska.