“To the lover of wilderness,” wrote the naturalist John Muir, “Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
Those who have been the Last Frontier know exactly what Muir means; for those haven’t experienced the wonders of Alaska, I suggest they do so as soon as possible. One of the best ways to explore Alaska up close is with John Hall’s Alaska. The family-owned outfitter specializing in revealing the “real Alaska” by land and by sea recently unveiled its 2016 Tour Schedule, with seven tours to choose from. From the sled dogs of the Iditarod, to the glories of six National Parks, and the chance to see brown, grizzly and polar bears amid breathtaking grandeur, there is much for travelers to anticipate over the year ahead (www.kissalaska.com).
The itineraries offer an in-depth exploration of Alaska with a custom fleet of motor coaches and superb vessels. Encompassing abundant wildlife, colorful history, enriching cultural encounters, local cuisine, and spectacular scenery, John Hall’s Alaska’s group tours are guided by Alaska residents.
‘Land and cruise combinations are the best ways to see what Alaska is all about,’’ Hall told me. “It’s a great destination that close to home more people and with Hawaii, the last exotic destination in the U.S.’’
Next year (2016) marks the National Park Service’s centennial: Alaska is home to eight National Parks—the largest concentration of National Parks in any state – including Denali National Park with the renowned and newly renamed Denali peak and lesser-known Wrangell-St. Elias which, at 13,005 square miles, is the country’s largest – bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite and Switzerland combined.
The town of Talkeetna, at the confluence of the Susitna, Chulitna and Talkeetna rivers, is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016 as well. A base for expeditions to Denali and located more than 100 miles north of Anchorage, Talkeetna is a perfect example of an off-the-beaten-path destination Alaska cruise passengers don’t get the opportunity to visit, but that appears on several John Hall’s Alaska itineraries.
Here is a look at what John Hall’s Alaska is offering for 2016:
• Alaska Iditarod & Aurora Adventure (11 days land) – Experience the culture and festivity of the “Last Great Race on Earth,” the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Destinations and highlights include race headquarters at Wasilla, the Palmer Musk Ox Farm, the Iditarod Musher’s Banquet, the Ceremonial and Official starts of the race, and a small plane flightseeing ride to an important Iditarod check point. Guests can also enjoy a day skiing or snowmobiling at the Alyeska Resort; cross the Arctic Circle to view the Northern Lights; try dog sledding at Trail Breaker Kennels and visit the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks. Other activities include a sunset snowcoach ride, a visit to the Aurora Ice Museum while enjoying an appletini in an ice-made martini glass, and evenings spent soaking in the natural hot springs. Rates for this tour start at $3,849 based on double occupancy.
• National Parks of Alaska (12 days land/7 days cruise) – On this tour, travelers to Alaska visit six of Alaska’s eight National Parks including Katmai National Park to spot bears at Brooks Falls; Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to visit the old mining cities of McCarthy and Kennecott; Gates of the Arctic National Park to explore the native village of Anaktuyuk Pass and the Inupiat Eskimo village of Barrow; Denali National Park for abundant wildlife-viewing 95 miles deep into the park; Kenai Fjords National Park for whale-watching and towering glaciers; and Glacier Bay National Park to see nearly 40 glaciers flow from the Harding Icefield. Rates for this tour start at $9,579 based on double occupancy.
• Three Bears of Alaska (10 days land/7 days cruise) – This itinerary gives travelers the chance to see the three bear species present in the Alaska wilderness. On Kodiak Island, guests will get up close to brown bears and take in views of the Katmai volcanoes and surrounding glaciers, while Denali National Park will offer grizzly bear-viewing from the perch of a mountain bike or on-foot. The tour also takes adventure-seekers to the arctic coast in the native village of Kaktovik to spot polar bears in their natural setting. Rates for this tour start at $8,889 based on double occupancy. 11 day land-only option also available.
Other John Hall’s Alaska 2016 tours include Denali Explorer (7 days land/7 days cruise), Grand Slam Alaska (8 days land/7 days cruise), Klondike Gold Rush (11 days land/8 days cruise), Alaska & The Canadian Rockies (16 days land/7 days cruise).