Alaskan Adventure

Trip to Denali then south to Seward, Homer, and Soldotna


Getting there

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

Our flight to Anchorage reminded us of when airline flying used to be fun and exciting. The captain descended below a cloud layer so we could keep our view of the magnificent Wrangell St. Elias National Park. This park can only be accessed by plane or boat. It has enormous glaciers, steep rocky cliffs, and massive snow fields as far as the eye can see. We took several pictures and they turned out well. The approach to Anchorage was also impressive in that the runway extends right to the edge of a cliff, so the airplane is over the water until just before touchdown.
Even though we were tired from a long day of travel, we gathered the energy to walk from our downtown hotel to the Glacier Brew House. We arrived right at our reservation time, but still had to wait. That gave us an opportunity to check out the gift shop across the hall. Laura saw some nicely carved wooden bowls that she really liked, until she saw the price. At the Brew House, we all had fresh seafood, although some of us liked it more than others. Laura’s appetizer fish and chips were fine – a little strong on the breading, but somewhat underwhelming considering the $18 price tag. The rest of us had a halibut or salmon dinner and everyone liked it. Dad thought his beer tasted like a pine tree, but Richard really enjoyed the Amber.
The hotel was very basic. We put a huge fan in the window because our room air conditioner didn’t seem to work. (The fan was already sitting in the room.)

Walking distance to Alaska Rail

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

The Ramada Anchorage is walking distance to Alaska Rail and to shops and restaurants downtown, which allowed us to put off getting a rental car. They have a shuttle service to/from the airport, which was useful so that we didn’t have to get a rental car, but it was every bit as bad as the other reviews we’ve read online. After waiting 40 minutes, the shuttle almost drove past us since they don’t keep track of how many people have actually called asking for the shuttle. They wouldn’t let us make a reservation (which their web site instructs you to do) because they say that they have a continuously operating shuttle to/from the airport during the summer.
As far as the room, our air conditioner didn’t work, and we relied on the large fan they had put into the room along with an open window. It was clean, and the beds were comfortable. The breakfast was awful for what was billed as a deluxe continental breakfast. There were hard boiled eggs, cereal, and waffles. They had some apples and oranges, and that was about it. Overall, it was shockingly expensive for what we got, but so was everything else in town.
Ramada Anchorage Downtown
115 East 3rd Avenue
Anchorage, Alaska, 99501
907-272-7561

Good beer and great peanut butter pie

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

Three out of the four of us liked it. I didn’t care for it – any of the three times we went. The food is outrageously expensive for pub food. They don’t really have burgers or traditional pub food. They have a lot of salmon and halibut, and it is expensive. The pizza was not particularly good. I’ll admit the fish was prepared well; I just object to the price (and I don’t like beer so it didn’t have that in its favor). Richard thought the beer was great, but my dad ended up preferring Alaskan Brewing Company beer rather than the Glacier Brewhouse house beers.
The desserts were a hit all around, though. Richard LOVES the peanut butter pie. The bread pudding was also phenomenal. The crème brulee was pretty run of the mill – not bad. The wait is awful. Make a reservation. They are on opentable.com.
Glacier Brewhouse
737 West Fifth Ave
Anchorage, Alaska, 99501
(907) 274-2739

Well worth the price

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

This was a great trip. It is a well-run operation, and the staff is very nice. They put airlines to shame. Even their baggage handling is amazing. They get the luggage to people’s hotels in Denali, and they get it off the train quickly back in Anchorage.
The scenery was beautiful and varied, and we saw moose and birds and salmon from the train. The train passed through thick forests, along streams and rivers, and open areas affording views of mountain ranges. There were clearly drier areas with very different vegetation and other areas of ponds and marshes.
The "adventure class" (PC for economy) was comfortable with much more room than an airplane, and had large, clean windows affording great views. It had access to a "vista dome car," but that had dirty windows on one side, so the view was actually better from your regular seat. They also allow people to stand in the vestibules between cars, so you can get pictures without the glass.
Richard enjoyed talking to the brakeman about Alaska railroading. I’m sure the drive to Denali is beautiful as well, but it was nice to kick back, take in the view, and not be behind a steering wheel.
Alaska Scenic Railroad
411 W 1st Ave
Anchorage, Alaska, 99501
(907) 265-2494

Anchorage to Denali

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

The rooms were big but basic. The breakfast buffet was minimal. They had a waffle machine, a few apples and oranges, cereal and hard boiled eggs. We caught the Alaska Railroad to Denali after breakfast. Checking in for the train was very straightforward, and the luggage handling much more straightforward than at any airport. When we boarded the train, we found that our car was not very crowded at all, although some of our neighboring passengers ended up being fairly obnoxious. The train ride was splendid. We saw a cow moose with a calf in the brush, we saw magnificent views of the Chugach Range, the Alaska Range and Mt. McKinley, and we saw a myriad of rivers, streams and lakes. We stood outside between cars for much of the ride in order to get better photos.
When we arrived at Denali, the Mt. McKinley Chalet Resort picked us up at the train station, and our luggage was automatically transferred directly to our room at the resort. My mom and I walked some around the resort and walked down to the river. Richard went running, as always. There were many trails in the area that were nicely maintained and afforded nice views of the nearby mountains (not Mt. McKinley) as they wound through the woods and clearings. The weather could not have been better. Richard and I seriously considered going on a white water rafting trip in the evening, but we decided we were just too tired. We were amazed that an evening rafting trip was even an option. Most places don't offer trips after noon - even when the days are long.
Instead, we had a wonderful dinner at the Salmon Bake and turned in for the night.

Great location with easy access to park entrance

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

We booked the room as part of an Alaska Rail/Denali hotel package. The hotel met us at the train station, transferred our bag automatically all the way to our hotel room door, and bussed us to the hotel. The room was comfortable with a separate bedroom and sitting room. The bedroom had a twin and a double bed. The sink was in the bedroom, and the bathroom contained a shower and toilet, no tub. It is located within walking distance to a number of restaurants, and several restaurants offer free shuttle service to/from the resort. It is about 3 miles from the park, and there are sidewalks and trails the whole way. The resort also offers a free shuttle bus service to/from the visitor’s center at the park and to the wilderness access center at the park, where you can buy tickets for the park service buses into the park. (You can’t drive very far into the park.)
We did not do any of the activities offered, but the resort did have rafting, fishing, hiking and other trips available. Breakfast at the restaurant was very good (but not included in the room price). There is a gift shop, as you might guess. We took the shuttle to the park to meet our bus into North Face Lodge. There are many trails near the park entrance, so it would be possible to spend several days here, using the free shuttles, and really get to see the entrance area of the park.
McKinley Chalet Resort
MILEPOST 238
Denali National Park, 99755
907-683-8200

Texas in Alaska

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

For a group Texans, the Denali Park Salmon Bake was like walking into a typical Texas roadhouse (not the chain). The country music was playing, the tables were wooden picnic tables, and the beer and food was good. The biggest difference was the salmon and halibut on the menu. Everyone enjoyed their meal.
Their menu offered box lunches, but when we tried to order them for the next day, they told us to go to the grocery down the street to get a cheaper lunch. Kudos for that too.
They also run a free shuttle to many of the area restaurants. We used that service, and it was a great help to my parents as the Salmon Bake is the restaurant farthest from the McKinley Park Chalet Resort. The shuttle came promptly, and the driver was also from Texas.
Denali Park Salmon Bake Restaurant
238.5 Parks Hwy
Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, 99755
907-683-2733

Really expensive but well worth it!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

The experience starts with meeting the buses at the Denali Park train depot. The bus drivers are experienced and knowledgeable guides, who actually lead the hikes during the stay. (Their driving capabilities are pretty impressive too!) Admittedly, we had unbelievable weather during our stay, which may have affected our impression of the Lodge. We saw grizzlies with cubs, bull and cow moose, caribou, wolves (from a great distance), Dall sheep and lots of waterfowl from the bus heading in and out of the park.
The Lodge itself is very near the end of the park road, close to Wonder Lake, and has a view of Mt. McKinley that is breathtaking. We sat at meals looking out the window at McKinley! The rooms are small and basic but comfortable. Each has a full bathroom (toilet, sink, tub and shower). The meals were fabulous: Homemade oatmeal of various types each morning in addition to a full, hot breakfast. Dinners were three courses of fresh, healthy and delicious food. Each meal started with a soup or salad from their garden. Vegetarian dishes were available that sounded just as good as the meat/fish dishes. I’m a serious meat-eater and had a hard time choosing! And there was dessert!
Lunches were amazing! They were pack lunches, but they were really, really good. Each morning, they set out a spread of food, and we made our own lunches. They had a great selection of meats and cheeses and peanut butter and fresh jams and hummus and bean spreads – you name it! They had portabellas, grilled squash and roasted peppers for the sandwiches, as well as desserts, fruit and trail mix to take along too.
My only complaint, really, is that I felt cheated on the number of meals. We caught the bus at 12:30pm, but they did not provide lunch. We had a picnic dinner on the way in. The food was good, but they ran out. Since we had been walking around the site while other people were in line, we didn’t get enough to eat. Similarly, we left at 7am on the way out, and they dropped us off without lunch. It seemed to me that we should have gotten lunch one of those days. I would have really liked to have had one of those packed lunches! OK – one other gripe. I’m not a people-person, and there was some expected socialization at meals. We were placed in different groups at each meal to ensure mingling and meeting of different people throughout the stay. It was a little like summer camp.
You can hike on your own nearby or go canoeing on Wonder Lake or bike ride. (They have bikes and canoes.) In addition those activities, they have guided hikes each day. The hikes are categorized into a strenuous hike, a moderate hike, and a "naturalist foray" – each of which is explained after breakfast so that everyone can decide what they want to do. There is a fun activity to meet a wide range of interests and physical capabilities. Note: The "naturalist foray" isn’t just for the physically unfit; the photographers favored that excursion. The naturalist forays gave the photographers time to set up equipment without being rushed, while still being able to cover several different ecosystems and to see different animals and plants – all with the phenomenal naturalist interpretive information from the guide. The other hikes were also accompanied by experienced, knowledgeable guides. That was one of the most surprising things to me – the guides really are knowledgeable. They knew plants, animals, fungi, geology, park history, and ecology. Richard did the strenuous hikes both days and enjoyed them. Typical of Denali, the hikes were not on trails but went over the tundra. The first day’s hikes were near the Lodge, and Richard’s hike went to the top of the ridge over the Lodge and offered views of the Alaska Range including Mt. McKinley and other nearby mountains. Hiking off-trail was an interesting and unique experience for Richard. The guides took opportunities during breaks to point out plants, signs of animals and geologic features. The guides were experienced hikers, were well-prepared for the conditions, and took their responsibilities as guides seriously.
After dinner, they had evening program that covered the park’s natural history and area wildlife. Canoeing, hiking and biking were also available in the evenings. The mosquitoes are every bit as bad as you have heard – although they aren’t really as big as birds.
The whole operation is extremely, extremely well organized. While they have all the details covered, they don’t make you feel like you are being herded on a group tour. Somehow, they have succeeded in making a very group-oriented stay individualized.
North Face Lodge
1.5 miles from Wonder Lake
Denali National Park and Preserve, 99755
(907) 683-2290

Inside Denali

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

Richard got up early and went running. Again. There was easy access from the Resort to the Denali Park Entrance area via sidewalks and trails. He did a loop trail (about 7 miles) through the park entrance area and as he got to a clearing he nearly ran into moose! Although they were initially startled and moved away (he moved away as well), they went back to grazing. He got some great photos of a cow and calf. (Yes, he took the camera running.) He said that they sounded like horses eating. It was an amazing experience seeing such large animals so close.
We ate breakfast at the buffet at the restaurant on site, which had really good breakfast! We had pancakes and sausage and scrambled eggs and fruit and potatoes and biscuits with gravy…you name it. We picked up some groceries at the general store across from the resort, then went back to catch the bus into the park. We hauled our luggage onto bus, then we dropped off the luggage at a kiosk while we did some shopping at the store in the park and went through the visitor center.
We picked up our luggage and went to meet the North Face Lodge bus at the train station. We all visited the bathroom one last time before the long bus ride into the park. (It turns out that there are bathrooms all along the road, so we ended up stopping for several bathroom breaks on the trip.) Our bus driver, Drew, met us and got everyone herded onto the bus and on our way.
Drew provided a continuous narrative on the drive into the park, pointing out substantial information about the mechanics of the bus, the geology of the area, and the wildlife along the way. The weather was spectacular and probably one of the warmest days they had all summer – mid to upper 70s – with scarcely a cloud in the sky. We saw grizzly bears with cubs, bear burritos, wolf pups (which we heard whining for their mothers), bull moose, a cow moose, caribou, and Dall sheep (aka "sheep dots").
The caribou and sheep were very, very high up in the mountains. The sheep were barely visible as more than mere white dots on the green hillsides. Bear burritos are Arctic ground squirrels that make a good appetizer for a hungry bear. We learned that the grizzlies in Denali are much smaller than the grizzlies along the coast – what a difference it makes to have a diet of berries rather than a diet of fat, juicy salmon! (Apparently it takes a lot of work to catch a bear burrito.) Many of the grizzlies in Denali are light colored, almost white, rather than the dark brown so familiar in pictures.
All along the road, off and on, we saw Mt. McKinley growing in the distance. We stopped for dinner near the East Fork of the Toklat River – about half way through the drive. We had pasta salad, salmon, fruit, bread, cheese and lunch meats, PB & J… The food was yummy but not plentiful enough. They ran out before we were full. After waiting for everyone to go (one at a time) to the only restroom (i.e., outhouse), we loaded back onto the bus and continued the ride. Just before Eielson Visitor Center, the road got much narrower as it negotiated the mountain passes. We were impressed with Drew’s ability to maneuver the bus around the tight corners with approaching buses. We were running behind, and the wildlife stops became more rushed. That was when we saw the bull moose wading in a stream, a cow moose in a lake and several species of waterfowl.
Wonder Lake came into view and marked the end of the drive. At that point, Mt. McKinley had grown to dominate the landscape and the entire horizon to the south. We soon arrived at North Face Lodge and learned that we were back at summer camp. We were herded into the main dining hall, where they went through all the rules, explained where gear was available, and where we were supposed to be and when (including the dinner bell summoning for meals). We learned that we would be assigned seats at meals to ensure mingling, that we would select outings from several options each morning, that we would prepare and pack our lunches, and that we would be expected to share our daily experiences with the group at dinner time. Although our hostess was very nice, I think she might be an elementary school teacher in the off-season. We received our room assignments via roll call, and went off to take our luggage into our rooms. (The luggage was left by our doors by the staff while we were in orientation.)
Richard and I headed off on a hike through the tundra to Wonder Lake. Richard thought the mosquitoes were bad, but there was a breeze. I didn’t think it was too bad. Then we got to Wonder Lake and the swarm hit. We walked back along the road, which was sheltered, so there was no breeze, and we walked, completely enveloped in a cloud of mosquitoes the whole way back. There were little mosquitoes and big mosquitoes and loud mosquitoes and quiet mosquitoes – every kind of mosquito you can imagine. Some were the size of quarters or a large horsefly. As far as we could tell, the size didn’t matter if it bit you. It was miserable.
By the time we got back to the Lodge (around midnight), a deep dusk had set in, and Mt. McKinley was a pink glow. The rooms were nice, had private bathrooms with running water (toilets and full shower/tub) and sinks, and had queen beds. We headed off to bed.

Life at North Face Lodge

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

Day 4

The dinner bell summoned us to breakfast. The food was wonderful. Each morning there was a warm cereal (different each morning), cold cereal, and a plated breakfast. The staff took real pride in each meal and explained what we were being served as the food was brought out. After breakfast, the day’s field trip options were described, and we had to select from the Strenuous, Moderate or "Naturalist Foray" options. The Strenuous option was described as "destination oriented," presumably meaning that come hell or high water you were going to get there. At the other end of the spectrum, was the Naturalist Foray, which was described as a "vehicle-based excursion." Having said that, the naturalist foray was a great opportunity for people with HUGE cameras who wanted to spend a lot of time setting up tripods and taking serious photos.
Richard took the strenuous option and climbed to the top of the ridge behind the lodge and the sister property "Camp Denali". The guide, Matt, was knowledgeable about the animal and plant life and the local history. Matt pointed out a large dug out area likely caused by a frenetic bear digging for a bear burrito. We don’t know if it got it. There were nice views of the Alaska Range and the valley north of the ridge. The group ate lunch at the top of the ridge and watched the clouds move past McKinley.
Laura opted out of the options. She stayed in the room and read, relaxing and enjoying the peace and quiet. Laura’s parents took the Naturalist Foray and reported back that they learned all about the local vegetation, about the differences between dry and wet tundra, and about the geology of the area. They were extremely impressed with the knowledge of their guide.
Dinner was fabulous – fresh salmon. Each meal also had a vegetarian option. Salad greens came from their hot house garden on site, and all of the food was extremely fresh. It was an amazing feat for being so far removed from civilization.
After dinner, Richard and Laura walked down to Wonder Lake again – through the clouds of mosquitoes – and saw scoters and other waterfowl on the lake. We also saw ptarmigan chicks along the side of the road. We went to bed late again after another long, but enjoyable day.

Day 5
Dinner bell for breakfast again. Wonderful breakfast again. Pick a trip again. Richard did the strenuous hike, again. The big difference was the weather. The bright, warm, sunny days were gone. It was cold and rainy. The excursions went much farther into the park than the previous day’s. The strenuous hike walked along the Toklat River and then turned up a valley and climbed on game trails up to a pass. The weather became increasingly worse during the climb. As we climbed higher, the wind picked up, it got colder, and the rain changed to sleet. "I had never hiked in sleet in July before." At times, the wind was strong enough that we had to walk backwards. Drew did a great job of keeping everyone together in low visibility and helping out when people had trouble due to the weather. As we descended down the other side of the ridge, the weather improved, the rain lessened, and it returned to being cool and overcast. The landscape was interesting in that there were no signs of civilization – not even a trail. Hiking in Denali is a very different experience from most National Parks. Elsewhere, you are not supposed to go off the trail. In Denali, there are no trails. Drew explained the geology of the area and identified plant life. We learned at the evening wrap up, that we were the only group not to see any wildlife.
Laura and her parents took the naturalist foray. We saw Dall sheep and lots of grizzlies. The weather was awful, though, and it was difficult to get pictures without getting the camera wet – even with a dry bag. It was cold and very windy at each stop. We also stopped at the Eielson Visitor Center, which features bull antlers locked together. (The moose died stuck together.)
Another good dinner. It was pork – not my favorite – but it was prepared well. I was wishing I had taken the vegetarian option – gnocchi. Another recount of the days’ experiences, instruction on the following day’s check-out procedures, and we headed to the room to start packing.

Back through Denali

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

Amazingly, the bad weather had blown off, and the clouds were clearing. Our last day in the park was going to be another with great views and great photos. We left our bags by the door when the breakfast bell rang (as instructed the night before) and headed to our last breakfast at North Face Lodge. Breakfast, as always, was delicious, then we boarded the bus for the ride out of the park.
We stopped by Wonder Lake and Mirror Lake for pictures and stopped again when we came across a 2-year old grizzly walking down the road. We got some very good photos of that bear. We had many more fabulous views of McKinley as we wound our way out of the park. Near the end of the road, we saw our first caribou up close. It was a bull with an incredible rack, and we got more great photos. It was a truly amazing sight.
At the park, we grabbed a quick lunch at the visitor center, which was passable. Richard thought his "Wonder Lake Cheeseburger" was decent. Then we checked in for our train. North Face Lodge transferred our luggage directly to the train. The train ride back should have been as amazing as the ride to Denali, but we were all tired and slept off and on during the trip. We did see King salmon in the river as the train went by, which was pretty amazing that they were big enough to see clearly at speed. We continued to have views of McKinley, slowly shrinking in the distance as we headed back to Anchorage.
When we got back, we caught a cab to the Ramada, checked in, and headed back to the brewpub for dinner. We turned in early.

Anchorage to Seward

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 3, 2011

Dad and I took the hotel shuttle to the airport and picked up our rental cars. While we were getting the cars, Richard went for another run on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail – a bike path that goes from downtown Anchorage, along the coast, and past the airport. The trail goes through a wildlife marsh before climbing along the cliff near the airport. There are signs advising on how to deal with a moose encounter, but Richard didn’t see one. He did see several red-necked grebes at the marsh.
Laura’s parents loaded up their car and headed off toward Seward. Richard and Laura loaded up their car and headed to the Potter Marsh just outside Anchorage. We saw red-necked grebe, bald eagle, Arctic tern, and green winged teal. Then we headed to Seward. We arrived just before sunset and got some nice photos of the mountains around the bay in the evening light. We checked into the Beach House #2 in Lowell Point. It was quite nice. My parents took the downstairs bedroom, and Richard and I took the loft. There was a full kitchen and bathroom. It was a comfortable and inexpensive place for our stay in Seward. Laura’s parents ate at the Crab Pot that night, and Richard and Laura brought pizza back to the Beach House.

Best Value

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

Unlike nearly every other accommodation and activity on our entire trip, The Beach House was truly a good value. It was not expensive and was nice. It was actually less expensive than most of the hotels in town, and it comfortably slept 4.
We had house #2, which had a downstairs bedroom and an upstairs loft – both queen beds. There was a large living/dining/kitchen area. It had a full kitchen, full size fridge, and was stocked with dishes and pots/pans. The bathroom is small, but it is a full bath. There is also a small enclosed porch area for boots and raingear. There is a barbeque or fire pit out back, which is shared with the other houses, but we didn’t use it and can’t really comment on it. We did see other people using it. The house was very clean and maintained well. The beds were comfortable.
The house is located down a dirt road on Lowell Point and is close (the equivalent of 1 city block) to the beach . There are nearby trails, and we saw a sea otter nearly every trip down the road. There are also many bald eagles in the area. Overall, this was a wonderful place to stay, and we will stay here if we come back to Seward.
The Beach House
14065 Beach Drive
Lowell Point, Seward, 99664

Glacier kayaking

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

When we arrived, they had gear ready for us, including boots and rain jackets. That was nice because it kept our usual rain gear from getting smelly from the boats. They shuttled us to the boat harbor, where we caught a water taxi to Ailik Bay. We stopped a few times on the way out to see humpback whales and other wildlife. When we got to the bay, our guide (Joel) set up the kayaks and gear while we watched a black bear nearby.
Joel was friendly, skilled and knowledgeable. We enjoyed kayaking and chatting with him as we went. He gave us some refreshers on our paddling since it had been awhile. We were able to get close to a glacier and watch it calving with big chunks of ice falling off into the water. We stopped for lunch near the glacier and were able to walk up for a closer view. Lunch was included. (We had specified our sandwich choices with our reservation.) After lunch, we paddled a bit closer to the glacier to where some melting ice had floated out. Then we had a leisurely paddle back to the pickup site. It was an all around nice day, with lots of sun and great views.
Their prices were a bit higher than some of the other outfitters in the area, but we enjoyed getting what was essentially a private guide and the ability to go at our own pace. Adventure 60 North makes an effort to keep its group sizes much smaller than other outfitters.
Adventure Sixty North
11421 Seward Highway
Seward, Alaska, 99664
907-224-2600

Kayaking Aialik Bay

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 3, 2011

Richard and Laura went on a day trip with Adventure 60 North. We took a boat out to the Aialik Bay and kayaked around the bay and near the glacier. The boat, the "Weather or Knot," took several separate groups out to the bay for kayaking. Our guide, Joel, pointed out wildlife from the boat along the way. We saw puffins and a humpback whale and Dall’s porpoise. We saw Stellar sea lions. Joel pointed out features of the geography too.
The boat crew and kayak guides unloaded the kayaks from the boat. While they did that, we walked over to a small rise and watched a black bear in the tall grass not far away.
After a safety briefing, we paddled off the beach and along the shoreline towards the glacier. The weather was fantastic, with mainly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 50’s. We were in a valley with mountains on all sides and a glacier at the end. At the end of the valley, the receding glacier had left a rocky beach that made for an ideal lunch spot. Joel shared some of his excellent homemade smoked salmon. After lunch, we walked down the beach to get a closer view of the glacier with bear spray in hand. We didn’t see any bears, but did get close enough to hear the glacier creaking. When we got back in the kayaks, we continued down the beach for a somewhat closer view of the glacier. The guides keep people from getting too close, because the calving glacier can cause some high waves that can be hazardous for a small boat. From our vantage point, the waves were small and the kayaks handled them easily. Having mainly kayaked in warmer weather climates, it was quite an experience to paddle alongside chunks of ice in the water. We turned around and picked up the pace somewhat to meet the boat for the return trip to Seward.
On the trip back, we made several more stops to observe marine life, including a few more humpbacks. We off-loaded the kayaks and made our way back to the Beach House at Lowell Point. We celebrated our day with dinner at the Crab Pot, an expensive king crab experience that is must-do while in Seward.

Hiking Exit Glacier

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 3, 2011

Laura and Richard drove into the Kenai Fiords National Park for a day of hiking. The park’s only road ends at the visitor center near the base of Exit Glacier. There are several shorter walks around the visitor center that go up near the glacier. A much longer walk climbs up the mountain to the base of the Harding Icefield. We took this trail and were treated to some incredible views of the glacier, the valley, and the surrounding mountain ranges. It was quite impressive getting a view of the glacier from above. We stopped for a break and saw some dots out on the glacier. We got out the binoculars and saw some hikers far away making slow progress up the ice sheet. On the other side of the glacier, we saw something moving much more quickly. We noticed that it was a black bear barreling along. We marveled at the ease at which it handled the uneven terrain. It covered the ground quickly and in little time, it was out of sight in the brush on the other side of the glacier. We climbed up the trail and encountered more and more snow as we got up higher. It was mid July, but not far removed from early spring in that area. Laura stopped at an overlook about 2/3 of the way up and Richard continued to the end. The trail goes over a flat area before making one final climb just past an emergency shelter. It was almost entirely covered by snow and it took some care to make sure I didn’t sink into a deep snow bank. At the top, there is an incredible panoramic view of the icefield. The glacier broadens out and stretches as far as the eye can see. Looking back toward the trailhead, it’s possible to see the glacier valley and all of the surrounding mountains. After taking about half a CF card worth of pictures (to make sure every angle and exposure were covered), Richard returned down the trail and re-joined Laura at the overlook. We encountered more people as we approached the shorter trails near the visitor center. After returning to the Beach House, we met up with Laura’s parents and had a fantastic dinner at the Exit Glacier Salmon Bake. It has a well recognized sign out front that says "Cheap Beer and Lousy Food". The food was great (featured fresh salmon and halibut) and the local Alaska microbrews were fantastic. It really hit the spot after a long day hiking.

Not much of an impression

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

This place served ice cream (big surprise for a creamery) and was located in the Seward Small Boat Harbor. Like the bakery next door, the place really didn’t leave much of an impression. If you’re in the mood for ice cream, it may be worth a stop, but I think the chocolate store in downtown Seward is a better dessert option.
Harbor Street Creamery
Seward Small Boat Harbor
Seward, 99664
(907) 224-8818

Orcas, and Humpbacks, and Puffins, Oh My!

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We took the Northwestern Fiord Wildlife Cruise. This is the longest wildlife cruise available out of Seward Harbor. It goes to the northwestern fiord deep within Kenai Fiords National Park. It then loops outward to the Bay of Alaska, passing by many different islands en route. The captain of the boat customizes the route based on where wildlife has been recently spotted. We most definitely did not take a direct route in our out and that was fortunate. We saw two different pods of orcas, one very close to the boat. We saw humpback whales on several different occasions during the trip. Other mammals we saw included sea otters, sea lions, harbor seals, and mountain goats. The harbor seals were every bit as cute as they look in the wildlife magazines. One interesting thing I learned is that harbor seals don’t like it if you point at them.
The northwestern fiord is unique in that it has five tidewater glaciers. The XXXX glacier is at the innermost tip of the fiord and was quite actively calving while we were there. At one point, a huge section crashed into the water making a wave big enough that our captain hurried us out of the way.
We saw many thousands of birds. We saw tufted puffins, horned puffins, rhinoceros auks, murrelets, murres, and cormorants. We saw birds of every size, shape, and color imaginable and we saw a lot of them. We saw them flying, floating, nesting, and diving. Even if we hadn’t seen any of the big mammals, the birds alone would have been worth the trip.
The boat was quite comfortable. We had on the motion sickness patch like nearly everyone else on the boat, but the water was quite calm the day we went out. There were outer decks in the front and rear of the boat and seating mainly in the middle with views out large glass windows. Seats were comfortable. There were also tables. Breakfast was included in the price and there were also snacks available for purchase throughout the trip. They brought us a free cookie in the afternoon. The captain was very knowledgeable and pointed out all of the wildlife. He was willing to stop whenever someone thought they saw something. More than once we went racing across the bay when someone saw a whale in the distance. If there was something to see, he took us there. I can’t imagine having a better day cruise.
Kenai Fjords Tours
Small Boat Hbr
Seward, Alaska, 99664
(907) 224-8068

Seaplane Flying in Moose Pass

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 3, 2011

Richard, already a single-engine land pilot and flight instructor, took a sea-plane lesson in a Piper Super Cub on floats. Located in Moose Pass (about 30 miles inland from Seward), Alaska Float Ratings offers seaplane instruction for pilots, as well as sight-seeing flights for everyone that tour around the Kenai Peninsula. Seaplanes provided an entirely different kind of flying experience. Getting into the small plane (even by single engine standards) was way more involved than opening the door and stepping in. A good part of my first lesson was spent learning how to balance on the float and pull myself into the small front-seat cabin. The instructor sat in the back. After my struggle getting in, it was impressive to watch the instructor deftly cross the small cable in the front to do the pre-flight check on the other side. The instructor pushed us off the dock and we started the engine as we floated away. Unlike on land, where you have the luxury of starting the engine while stationary, in a seaplane you need to have a strategy in advance for where the plane is going when you start up. Everything happens quickly – you can be drifting towards rocks or another plane in no time. After we got out on open water, I got some experience handling the plane on the surface before we did our first takeoff. The instructor walked me through the sequence and I was able to handle it without much trouble. The scenery was absolutely incredible. We could see snow-capped peaks in every direction as we passed over the dense forest a few hundred feet below. We flew low over a few ridges and set up for some landings on a nearby lake. It took some practice learning the technique, but I was starting to do a few on my own (with a close eye from the instructor) by the end of the lesson. We landed back at Trail Lake and the instructor parked the plane at the dock. After a short walk down the road and an excellent lunch at Trail Lake Lodge, it was time for my second lesson. I was able to get into the plane a bit easier than the first time. We took off and headed for another nearby lake. After the first landing, we shut the engine down to enjoy the quiet of the wilderness for a few minutes. Used to taxiing around busy airports with airplanes everywhere, it was a nice change of pace to only have to watch that we didn’t get too close a loon drifting near the shoreline. From there, we took off and headed over to Bench Lake. It would take all day to hike there, but we arrived in just a few minutes. At Bench Lake, I had a chance to really work on my landings. After several times, I started to get more reliable as I learned how to use peripheral cues to judge height, being careful to add power at the right time to avoid dropping in too hard. On one of the circuits around the lake, my instructor saw a moose peeking out through the high grass. After several more landings, it was time to head back to Trail Lake. I made a decent landing and my instructor had me handle more of the parking maneuver back at the dock. It should seem obvious that seaplanes don’t have brakes, but the practical impact of this became apparent when the instructor cautioned that we’d need to cut off the engine early enough to make sure we didn’t float into the expensive seaplane parked at the dock ahead of us. I took her warning to heart and ended up cutting off the engine too early, leaving us floating back from the dock, with no chance to reach it without re-starting the engine, only to cut it off a few seconds later. We went back inside and I had the privilege of joining some of the other instructors for some bush plane hangar flying (a term used by pilots to talk up the experiences, sometimes harrowing, of prior flights to the amusement, horror, or awe of others in attendance). The other pilots showed some pictures of flights they had done in the Alaska bush and it left me longing to have more time (and money) to complete the seaplane rating. That would need to wait for another trip, however. After a great day, I said good-bye to everyone at Moose Pass, and made my way back to Seward to join Laura and her parents.

Yummy halibut quesadilla

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

Moose Pass is a small community on the Seward Highway about 30 miles before reaching Seward. Trail Lake Lodge is right off the main road and is easy to find. Richard stopped for lunch in between a few seaplane flights at the dock just down the street. The menu included standard fare, with an emphasis on local seafood. I can’t say I’ve ever tried a halibut quesadilla before, but can still say that this one was great. The halibut was well prepared and nicely complemented the soft cheese and salsa. They also had homemade pies and I can highly recommend a slice of the chocolate peanut butter pie.
Trail Lake Lodge Restuarant
Mile 29.5 Seward Highway
Moose Pass
800-865-0201

Not bad, but disappointing

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We got very ordinary sandwiches that were passable as trail food. The place is open for breakfast and lunch and the sandwich line was long in the morning. I suppose they can’t be held responsible for the screaming kid rolling around on the floor. If you need a lunch to take on the trail, this place will work, but it’s probably not worth going out of your way for. We always hope the local, small business will stand out, but the massive,chain grocery store had better food. They weren’t as good as the Safeway sandwiches we were provided on our kayak trip.
Bakery at the Harbor
1210 4th Ave
Seward, Alaska, 99664
9072246091

Standard fare

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

Wanting a relatively quick bite to eat, we picked up two pizza’s from Lombardo’s to take back to the Beach House to eat. The pizza was fine – nothing to write home about, so to speak. The crust was relatively thick for a thin crust pizza (not deep-dish). The tomato sauce was good, but again, no special tang or bite to it. The cheese was a little too thick for my liking. Since I get cheese pizzas, that seems an odd complaint, but the cheese was so thick that I felt like I might as well just take bite after bite out of a mozzarella ball. Richard’s was a meat pizza. It wasn’t greasy, which is always positive mark for pizza, in our view. The food was fairly fast, though, and wasn’t too expensive, so we don’t really have any complaint. We had just hoped to make a nice pizzeria "find", and Lombardo’s didn’t quite measure up.
Lombardo's Eatery
306 North Harbor Street
Seward
(907) 224-5055

Good food and beer - rustic setting

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We all enjoyed the food here. It is a rustic cabin, with exposed wooden beams and wooden tables and chairs. Drinks were served in Mason jars. The food was excellent; they have salmon as you might expect. There were other options, though, and the ribs and halibut were good too. The line was long, but the wait wasn’t bad at all. It is a little ways outside of town on the Exit Glacier road. They had a lot of Alaskan microbrews on tap and the ubiquitous Alaskan Amber in bottles. Just a fun, friendly place with good food.
Salmon Bake Restaurant
Exit Glacier Road
Seward, Alaska, 99664
(907) 224-4752

Crab - what else?

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

The King crab is the highlight here. You can choose your crab and meet it before it meets its end. You can even hold it and get your picture taken with it (put on the wall). You’ll have to take your own picture if you want to keep it. They do not have a liquor license. Other reviews online discuss wine/beer, but those must be old reviews.
The crab is good, and this is a stop worth making. It is expensive, though, and they were only accepting cash when we went. The "ambience" is odd. In some ways, it looks like it might have once been set up like a fancy steak restaurant going for a romantic atmosphere with thick plush carpet, and a maroon and black color scheme with dim lighting. Now, they have the lights turned up, with the thick plush carpet, and it comes off more like a barbeque joint with very out of place linen tablecloths. It wouldn’t be a great date night.
Crab Pot Restaurant
303 Adams St
Seward, Alaska, 99664
9072242200

Awful

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

My parents ate here, so I’m not speaking from personal experience. They said that the food was awful, and the service was worse. Go someplace else.
Breeze Inn Restaurant and Lounge
The Breeze Inn
Seward, Alaska, 99664
(907) 224-5238

Seward to Homer and Beyond

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 3, 2011

We left the Beach House and Seward in the morning, en route to Homer and the Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge. The drive traces a good part of the Kenai Peninsula, a fairly rugged area with thick forests and mountains meeting the sea. There are plenty of good spots along the way for hiking or picnicking. We didn’t have too much of a chance to stop though, as we had to catch a water shuttle in Homer. We ate lunch at Odie’s Deli in Soldotna and then continued along to Homer. We had been advised by Sadie Cove that we should get fishing licenses and bait in Homer to have for our time at the Lodge. To keep a King Salmon, it’s necessary to have a separate stamp on the license. They were fairly expensive, so we only got them for the day we planned to do a King charter in Soldotna on the trip back. For the lodge, we were told we’d be more likely to catch a halibut. Frozen herring is apparently the bait of choice for halibut, so we grabbed a bag and hoped for the best. We hauled all of our gear down a steep ramp to the water taxi. After we were loaded up, we headed out of the harbor and out onto the bay. Because so many of the areas near Homer are only accessible by boat, there were quite a few water taxi companies in town. We settled in and admired the scenery on the way out. The lodge owners, Keith and Randi, and their summer help, were waiting for us on the rocky shore next to the lodge. We pulled in, unloaded our gear, and were given a tour around the Lodge. It was a warm day (by coastal Alaska the upstairs rooms (with a great view overlooking the water) and Laura’s parents were adjacent to the dining area. We had a great salmon dinner that evening and did some fishing for salmon from shore. Apparently the wind was too strong to go out to the floating dock and fish for halibut. We didn’t have any bites, so we went up to our rooms to settle in for the evening.

Basic service

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We got our fishing licenses here, and they filled out the paperwork needed. That was the extent of the helpfulness of the staff. The guy who "helped" us didn’t really want to answer any questions and clearly hoped we would just sign the form and leave. We also got herring to go halibut fishing here, but again, they weren’t terribly helpful or friendly when we asked for assistance with what type of bait we should get.
Sport Shed
3815 Homer Spit Road # A
Homer
(907) 235-5562

Not all it’s cracked up to be

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

Sadie Cove is a quiet BIG cove across the Katchemak Bay from Homer. "Cove" sounds like a small protected inlet, but this is actually a fairly large (and deep) body of water. It is affected by tides and wind and can get quite choppy. The Wilderness Lodge is located at the bend in the cove and is run by Randi and Keith Iverson.
The Lodge advertises that the following activities are available at the lodge: kayaking, hiking, and fishing from the floating dock. These activities are available -- to some degree, some of the time. We kayaked to the end (inside) of the cove and saw lots of starfish, pretty waterfalls, waterfowl, and a sea otter. It was a nice kayak trip, but after looking at their web site and the map, we had expected to get to explore areas outside the cove such as some of the islands nearby. The Lodge does not permit the kayaks to leave the cove.
The web site states that the hike is difficult but worth it. Richard did the hike. It was very steep and not much of a trail. He was pushing through neck-high grass, bushes and trees with lots of trees and brush blocking the trail. There was ankle-deep mud in places. The trail is well-marked but not well-maintained or frequently traveled. Richard yelled the whole time to ensure he didn’t run into a bear. The view was nice but not spectacular. He wasn’t disappointed that he did the hike, but it isn’t one he would want to do again (like the Harding Ice Field Trail).
There is a floating dock out in the cove – a few hundred yards from shore – and the Lodge has an inflatable raft you can row out to it. Keith frequently took my parents out to the dock in his motorboat. The fishing was fun. Richard caught a halibut, and my dad and Richard caught LOTS of "Irish Lords," an ugly. inedible fish. A couple of times my parents took chairs out to the dock and spent the better part of the day fishing. However, knowing that the days were light so late, we had hoped to fish in the evenings after dinner. The Lodge reluctantly allowed this one evening and did not permit it the other evenings. They "allowed" my dad and Richard to go one evening but not for long and required them to be back on shore by 8:45. Keep in mind, it was light until almost midnight. They also were extremely conservative about allowing us on the water when there was wind. We have spent time on the water and were not remotely uncomfortable with the conditions, but they would not allow us to go out. Our impression was that it was less about safety and more about inconvenience to them. We did not think it was unreasonable to have evening access given that we were paying $425 per person per night and wanted to get the most out of the stay.
The Lodge provides fishing gear and a limited amount of bait, so we had to buy bait and bring it over from Homer. They also provide kayaks. The kayaks did not have spray skirts, which we found positively shocking given the environment. In addition, the rudder pedals could not be adjusted for my height. Fortunately, I have kayaking experience, and it was not a problem to go without a rudder. They also provided heavy rain gear and boots. They also filleted and cooked Richard’s halibut.
In my view, they were obnoxious about their schedules, sending someone up to our room every morning to make sure we were up in time to be ready for breakfast. They insisted on very firm "report back" times for every activity and fussed at me and my parents and then gave Richard a stern lecture for leaving for his hike without telling us when he would be back. In that instance, it was just as well that Richard hadn’t. Given the description of the trail, he would have guessed that it would take about 1.5 hours, 2 at the most. With the trail in the condition it was in, it took him about 3 hours. Keith was rude when we took the kayaks out because we didn’t know how long we would be out. We didn’t know how far it was to the end of the cove, especially since he required us to stay within 50 feet of the shore. In addition, he demanded, as though speaking to a schoolchild, that we be back 1 hour before dinner to make sure that we would not be late. On another occasion, he did not allow Richard and my dad to go fishing almost 2 hours before dinner because it was "too close to dinner." It wasn’t that he expressed reservations or recommended that they not go; instead, he forbade them to go, like a parent would a child.
To be clear, there are very real hazards in Alaska. It is important to not take them for granted. We understand that. We also think that the condescending tone and manner at the Lodge was inexcusable. And that brings us to the bill. The web site says that there are no hidden fees or charges. We sent an email saying we wanted to make a reservation, and Randi sent an email confirming our reservation, saying that from that point on, we would be subject to a $50 per person non-refundable fee – and by the way, she had added a 20% service charge to the total bill, which also included the water taxi. This is a 20% service charge on a $425 per person per day bill plus $75 per person for the water taxi – a rather sizeable tip, one might think. We objected to say the least. So, that 20% service charge was in our minds throughout all of the battles to make the most of the advertised activities.
I’ll also say that my parents enjoyed it and did not seem to be as bothered or as impacted by the rules as Richard and I were. They didn’t do the hike, and they didn’t do the kayaking, so they didn’t have to report back on a schedule, and they probably wouldn’t have fished until midnight. They also seemed to really like Randi and Keith.
Randi was always friendly and polite and provided wonderful, large meals of fresh seafood for dinner. She had also had "real meat" brought in for my dad because he is not too fond of seafood. The breakfasts were also good and hearty. Lunches were sandwiches and Capri-Sun with a cookie. The bread wasn’t particularly good on the sandwiches, which seemed odd because the bread at dinner was fresh and fabulous.
The rooms were also very nice and had great views. These are not luxury accommodations in the sense of whirlpool tubs, but they were extremely comfortable in a rustic environment. Some rooms have flushing toilets; others have porta-potties. All rooms have running water and a sink. There was also an "outhouse" with a flushing toilet and sink, which Richard preferred. There is a shared bathhouse, which even my parents enjoyed – much to my surprise. There is also a sauna and (presumably very cold) pool. Our room was on the hill and had a great view of the cove. My parents stayed lower on hill so that they wouldn’t have to climb up and down the stairs constantly, but their room also had a great view. The beds were all comfortable, and the rooms were clean. The Lodge provided daily housekeeping.
Overall, we have very mixed feelings about our stay there. The lodgings and meals were wonderful, but the activities were more limited than we had expected. Given the price, we didn’t feel like we got our money’s worth. We did enjoy our stay there, though, and it is a very unique place to stay.
Sadie Cove Wilderness Lodge
Kachemak Bay State Park Box 2265
Homer, Alaska, 99603
(907) 235-2350

Sadie Cove

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 3, 2011

After breakfast, Richard got ready for a trail run along the trail leading from the back of the lodge. It was only supposed to be a few miles to the end and we understood it to be fairly well-maintained. It was for the first few switchbacks, but I quickly gave up the idea of a run and settled into a hiking pace. About a mile in, the trail practically disappeared and it became a bushwhack. As it turned out, it was built by connecting between game trails. Animals are of course much more adept at maneuvering through thick brush and low overhang. Progress was extremely slow and I was well aware that the conditions had all of the makings of a sudden bear encounter. I yelled out continuously and was actually surprised when I didn’t surprise anything and reached the end of the trail. I had reached the pass and enjoyed a nice view of the valley below. There was a large set of moose antlers near the end. On the trip back, it was about the same experience, although a bit easier to follow the second time around. When I returned to the lodge some 3 hours later, I had the confrontation with Keith that we describe in the Sadie Cove review. I’m glad I hadn’t estimated a time, because I certainly wasn’t going at a trail run (over for that matter even a normal hiking) pace. Laura had spent the morning reading in the room and we all had lunch when I returned. Richard and Laura’s dad went out to the fishing dock that afternoon. It really was a lot of fun. We rowed out in the raft and tied it up to the dock. The dock floats in deep water out in the cove, about a 15 minute row from the Lodge. You feel in your own little spot out there. It’s a comfortable size, with enough room to set everything up and walk around a bit. We put half a frozen herring on the end of our hooks, and let the line sink its way to the bottom. When the hook hit the bottom, we reeled in just a bit. Not too long after, I had a fish on the line. It took awhile to reel it up (water depth is about 100 ft at the dock). The fish took a dive a couple times, but eventually came into sight. It was a young halibut, about 8 lb. Laura’s dad helped get it onto the dock. We fished for awhile longer, but didn’t have any more luck. With some adventure, we got the fish into the raft and made our way back to the Lodge. While we waited for one of the Lodge workers to fillet it, I kept a close eye to prevent an easy meal for the eagle soaring above. We had the halibut for dinner the next evening and it was excellent. It was the first time any of us had had fresh halibut.

What a racket!

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

The service was functional. The staff was friendly. The prices were atrocious. Prices are per person. Imagine taking a taxi across town and paying per person! The pricing scheme makes no sense, other than that it clearly is a scheme to bring in the dough. Perhaps the other water taxis are equally ridiculous.
We took the taxi from Homer to Sadie Cove and back, and we also took it from Sadie Cove to Seldovia and back. The price quoted changed several times for the Seldovia trip, but what we ended up paying was $75 per person round trip for a 15 minute (each way) boat ride.
We also saw a guy walk up, who asked about a ride the following day, and was told that if he showed up and paid the captain of the boat $20 plus a nice tip, he could ride for "free." So, don’t make reservation.
Also note, in some places, the water taxi is able to pull up to a dock, but you still have to be able to climb in and out of a boat. Other places, you have to climb up and down a ladder off the front of the boat, so keep in mind that this isn’t a luxury charter with a ramp.
Mako's Water Taxi
Kachemak Bay
Homer

Fishing Charter Service

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

The lodge arranges salmon charters. We did not stay at the lodge; we just used their charter service. We arrived early to pick up our bagged lunch and rain gear. The Lodge provided heavy yellow rain coats and waders. They also had boots, but a couple coming in from fishing said that we wouldn’t need them. (We didn’t.) The rain coats were mostly helpful to keep warm, as the wind was quite chilly on the river.
Richard and I had Dan France as our King salmon fishing guide. We thought he was a pretty good guide. He took us down river first, and when we weren’t getting a bite, he took us to lots of different places to try out. Even though we weren’t getting a bite, he continuously tried different baits and lures, and he gave us our full time on the water rather than calling it quits when he could have. (Motor boats are required to be off by 6, and he kept us out the full time.) No one on the river was having much luck. We saw someone here and there make a catch, but they were few and far between.
The guide my parents had, though, was not good at all. She stayed in one place for the first 2-3 hours. When she pulled the boat into shore so that she could go to the bathroom, my parents bailed out for the day. Our bet is that you can probably directly hire a guide for a lot less than using the middleman. None of us caught any fish – not even a nibble on the line – but we took afternoon charters. Definitely don’t waste your money on an afternoon charter. If you are going to go, go in the morning. Dan’s morning group caught a 50lb and a 35lb King salmon.
Actually, unless you are looking for a trophy catch, we would recommend skipping the king salmon fishing. Yes, they are big and really impressive. They are also much less plentiful. If you want to enjoy the pleasure of reeling in lots of fish or having a lot of salmon dinners, go for the shore fishing for the Sockeye or "Reds". And for anyone who is used to catching trout, even a "red" is an enormous fish!
Soldotna Alaska Bed & Breakfast Fishing Lodge
399 Lovers Lane
Soldotna, 99669
907-262-4779

Best find

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We reserved our lodging in Soldotna rather late in the season (May for a July stay), so only one of the two guest rooms was still available. Laura’s parents took the room and all of us benefited from this choice. The owner George built the house and the fishing dock. It was a beautiful 3-story house on the Kenai River. The 2nd floor had a large guest kitchen and dining area where breakfast was served and guests were allowed to use the kitchen for other meals. The large outdoor grill was also available. George’s hospitality went far beyond what we could have expected. Even though Laura and Richard were not staying at the house, we were still invited to fish from the dock, provided loaner fishing rods and tackle, and were graciously provided use of the grill and kitchen area for a late night fish dinner. He also allowed us to use his cleaning table for fish we caught outside of his property. Even after Laura’s parents checked out the next day, George continued to make his private dock available for fishing throughout the day. The dock was limited to four people fishing and we understood that any new guests arriving would have priority, but we were the only ones fishing through late afternoon. In addition to making everything available to us, George was also a big help. He offered good suggestions for preserving our fish, tracked down a filet knife more times than we could count, and didn’t offer a word of complaint as we finally cleaned up our dinner after midnight. He was a fun, personable guy and we enjoyed talking with him. He certainly added to the enjoyment of our stay in Soldotna. On top of all of that, the fishing off his dock was highly productive. The Sockeye Salmon are running in July and there were plenty of them. Tom caught a 15 lb sockeye during the day. That evening, in the 25 minutes or so that it took Richard to clean a few trout caught off-site, Laura caught 3 highly respectable nine pounders. We both had several more on the line the next day although only managed to catch one more. This was a great place and we’d highly recommend it.
Holly House Bed and Breakfast
220 Small Circle Street
Soldotna, Alaska, 99669

Cheap fishing gear!

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We really wanted to give them an amazing rating, and we can in most respects. The prices are phenomenal, even for the lower 48. In Alaska, the prices are unheard of. The gear was in good condition, except for one rod that was missing a piece. We rented a canoe (car-top gear to carry the canoe and life jackets were included in canoe price), pontoons for the canoe, 2 rods, ice chest, and a "tackle box." They seemed to have much more gear available, so our reservation probably wasn’t even necessary. The tackle box was laughable; it was about ½ in deep and 4X6 inches. You can imagine what it had and did not have in it. We bought pliers, bobbers and a few other "essentials" that weren’t included. The spinners that came on the rods, though, worked well. The trout I caught loved them, at least.
They helped us load the canoe on the car, but one of the cinches didn’t work too well, making it difficult to take the canoe off the car. Our only real complaint is that the lady (seems to be a manager) is just plain rude. On the phone, we thought she was just busy and distracted. She wasn’t helpful in figuring out what gear we needed or in explaining what was included when we were reserving the gear over the phone. Once we got there in person, it turns out that she’s just indifferent. That worked against us when trying to figure out the gear, but it worked in our favor when she didn’t want to bother with charging us for keeping the ice chest an extra day.
It is in a convenient location if you are heading out to the Swan Lake Canoe Route, and it isn’t too terribly far from Soldotna if you are looking to fish there.
Alaska Canoe and Campground
35292 Sterling Highway
Sterling, AK
907-262-2331

Your Fish Sent Home

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

This was by far the largest fish processing outfit in the area. It didn’t look to be a fly-by-night operation like many other fish processing places we saw. They’ll clean, filet, vacuum seal, and flash freeze fish that people have caught themselves. There’s also an option to have your fish smoked. It’s an efficient operation. When you arrive, there’s an outdoor area to check in where they weigh your fish and examine its condition. Since they charge by the pound, you pay a bit less if you’ve already cleaned the fish. It’s possible to fish for multiple days and add fish to the same order each day. They’re open late, so you can fish and then drop off your fish at the end of the day. When your order is complete, they offer two options – you can wait 3 days and take your own fish with you or exchange it for an equivalent amount of someone else’s fish and take it right then. We were leaving town that day and wanted to have our own fish, so we had it mailed to our house via FedEx. This was expensive, but it got to our house in excellent condition even in hot and humid Virginia summer weather. It was also interesting in that Custom Seafood Processing knew the shipping operation far better than the FedEx 1-800 number.
Unexpectedly, they had the nicest Alaska gift shop we saw during our entire trip. The products included high-end professional artwork, nice cookbooks focusing on seafood, and fresh seafood gift packages.
Alaska Seafoods Direct
35722 Kenai Spur Highway
Soldotna
(907) 262-6070

Bakery? Are you kidding?

Member Rating 1 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

This was the worst food of the trip. No question about it. Richard’s pasta was drowning in sauce. My food was ok but certainly not worth the $27 for a basic entrée. The prices were high. Service was passable but not really good.
But the truly shocking thing was dessert. They use the word "bakery" in their name. They have a variety of "cream pies" available for dessert. The pies were individual pies – not a good homemade style slice of pie. The crust was awful. Any frozen grocery store crust would be better. And the filling…ugh. Richard’s was "chocolate". I suppose it bore some slight resemblance to the chocolate pudding they served in the high school cafeteria, but it wasn’t particularly chocolaty or creamy or, well, good. Dad had "lemon." I really don’t know what they put in it. I know what they didn’t: lemon. It was foul. I even told them that (and I don’t usually do that sort of thing).
Don’t go there.
Bear's Den Restaurant and Bakery
45015 Kalifornsky Beach Rd
Soldotna, Alaska, 99669
9072626546

Enormous sandwiches

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by lwrbva on October 1, 2011

We stopped here for a quick lunch on our way to Homer. They have fresh baked bread, and it is a pretty typical deli other than the size of their sandwiches. I would love to see the pans they use to bake bread. The "half" of a sandwich is slightly larger than a normal size of bread! The soup was lacking in flavor. Service is fast food style – order at the counter, pay, wait for them to call, and sit at ordinary fast food restaurant tables. Nothing fancy, but more than enough food.
Odie's Deli
35228 Kenai Spur Highway
Soldotna, Alaska
9072603255

Comfortable, friendly B&B￿

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by lwrbva on September 30, 2011

We booked in Soldotna late, and most places were already unavailable. Thank goodness! We happened upon Sterling Needle B&B online, and it turned out to be a great place to stay. The rooms are bedrooms in a house – all one level (no hauling luggage upstairs). The bathroom was really neat! They had essentially converted a large closet into a bathroom. The sink was in the bedroom area, and the shower and toilet were in separate halves of the closet behind a sliding mirrored door. Ingenious, and it provides a private bath, which can be hard to find in a B&B.
Breakfast was served on our schedule. It was served at a bar by the kitchen, and they served eggs, biscuits and gravy, pancakes -- different things each morning. We got to try some fresh caviar they had made, and they were accommodating of Laura’s dislike of fruit.
It is located outside of town, but it is very convenient to anything you would want to do in the area. One night we had to come in really late, and they were very accommodating. They were simply incredibly hospitable and made us feel like we were at home.
Sterling Needle Bed and Breakfast
355 Fairway Circle
Soldotna, 99669
(907) 262-3506

http://www.igougo.com/journal-j76195-Alaska-Alaskan_Adventure.html

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