Wrangell Saint Elias & Southeastern Alaska

From Homer, we drove back through Anchorage to Copper River and enjoyed views of the beautiful Glenn Highway. The most impressive sight was the Matanuska Glacier and we had our closest call to running out of gas. Less than a gallon left!

After a night on the Copper River, we drove to Chitna, the gateway to Wrangell Saint Elias National Park. The small town consisted of a tavern, post office, hotel and a few homes. The hotel was full, however, the owner let Stacia work and sleep in their greenhouse, while Dan slept in his truck. Meanwhile, Nick and Hannah went on a backpacking trip up to Dixie Pass. This 22-mile round trip hike is one of the only backcountry trips accessible without a plane. Only half the route had a trail and there were many creek crossings. Nick and Hannah not only camped in a beautiful spot, but also saw mountain goats, bald eagles, and a mink.

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The next day we finished our drive to McCarthy/Kennicott. This small old mining town is now a national historic site. We walked through the Kennicott mill and on the Root Glacier outside of town. We enjoyed the local scene at ­­­­the Roadside Potatohead and watched chunks of ice run down the river. This area definitely deserved more than two nights, but the 60 miles of dirt road on the motorcycles made the drive worth it.

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Next, we drove the Valdez and spotted the only wolf of the trip! We spent time by the harbor and at the Maxine & Jesse Whitney Museum in the local college. The next day, we went back north to the northern entrance of Wrangell St. Elias at Nebesna road. We spent the evening at an original homesteader’s cabin. Steve and Joy moved from Nebraska in 1986 and claimed a plot of land, the last place to allow homesteading in Alaska. This couple was definitely an inspiration and a measure of what hard work can achieve. We picked delicious vegetables from their greenhouse and learned about Steve’s trapping work. Nick, Hannah, and Dan drove to the end of the Nebesna road and back, enjoying stream crossing, beautiful scenery, and the Nebesna Roadhouse.

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Our final long drive of the trip was 500 miles to Haines back through BC. This was one of the most scenic drives of the trip and largest change in scenery in a day. Just before Haines, we got to see our first salmon wheel actually running on the trip. Haines was our favorite town in Alaska due to its history and small-town feel.  Stacia even ran into a friend from college who was there filming for work. We stayed in one of the original officer’s homes at the fort built in 1904. During our full day in town, Stacia and Nick hiked up Mt. Riley to see the view of Lynn Canal.

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Next, we took a ferry to Skagway, which immediately disappointed us with the crazy cruise ship scene. We escaped to our campsite 7 miles out of town and spent our free day rock climbing, while Dan rode to Atlin, BC. From Skagway, we took the ferry to Juneau and camped at Mendenhall Campground with direct views across to the glacier. However, the next day we took a flight to Gustavus to see Glacier Bay National Park. While this area of Alaska deserves a lot of time, we spent these days rushing to see as much as possible before our ferry back to Washington.  Gustavus has a population of 435, has 3 antique gas pumps in the center of town, and fields of fireweed lining the road.

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We returned to Juneau and the city began to grow on us due to its manageable size, quaint neighborhoods, and accessibility to the forest. We watched a 16-year-old black bear catch sockeye salmon near our campsite. Only 2% of all salmon hatched live to spawn, so the salmon we saw were watching were the champions.

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From Juneau, we loaded the ferry which would take us to Bellingham in 4 days. We first stopped in Sitka where we walked through the ­­­­­Sitka National Historic Park, took in Totems, and walked along the harbor. Our last stop in Ketchikan was a letdown as it was extremely built up to support the cruise ships. We were able to escape town and hike through the rainforest and visit the Totem Heritage Center. We slept on the deck of the ferry and spotted 10 humpback whales bubble feeding before arriving back to the lower 48.

Good Finds:

Nabesna Road – Huck Hobbit’s Homestead

Haines – Sarah J’s Coffee & Eatery

Skagway – Dyea Campground

Juneau – Mendenhall Glacier Campground, The Rookery, Pel’meni & Alaska State Museum and Library

3 thoughts on “Wrangell Saint Elias & Southeastern Alaska

  1. Stacia and Nick. What an adventure!!!! Even in our youth I don’t think we would have done what you have accomplished. We leave for Alaska in 3 weeks. No cruising. Hate that. Done that. Never again. This time we’re flying and then driving for 14 days. We’ll never even approach the scope of what you have seen. Cherish your experiences.

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  2. I would have told you IMO, the whole Inside Passage with these touristy towns are bearable only after cruise season is over. But worth a visit – Skagway had the White Pass RR which was very cool. Hey – Good luck on your adventures!

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