Best of Alaska with Kids

And we’re off! The first leg of our family gap year begins. First, Alaska can be expensive! With a year of travel ahead of us, we know we must pick and choose our activities wisely.  We are an active, outdoor family and thankfully a lot of those activities can be done at very little cost.  Keep in mind Alaska is a HUGE state.  We decided to spend time in Anchorage, north in Talkeetna and then the remainder of our time on the Kenai Peninsula.  With two weeks to explore, we hit some major highlights but you could spend months in Alaska and never see the whole state! So here it is, the best of Alaska with kids!

Our Itinerary

Day 1 (Anchorage): We spent the morning falling into our worldschooling routine and then hitting a local diner for breakfast.  We wanted the kids to be involved in some of the planning so Manji chose our first activity in Alaska, the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk.  The walk took us around Anchorage in search of the planets in our solar system.  As a result, we highly recommend this as a good way to see Anchorage.  It’s a fun way to keep kids engaged, rather than simply walking around town.  After a successful day, we grabbed a drink at the Captain Cook Hotel, where the kids spent the time writing postcards to their friends back home.

Midway along the Anchorage Light Speed Planet Walk

Goose and Manji pose in front of Jupiter along our walk

Day 2 (Anchorage): We started our morning with a trip to Fire Island Bakery.  If you have a stop in Anchorage, this place is a MUST! It was so good we returned the next morning and bought extra treats for the day! I recommend the Danish and James loved the ham and cheese scone.

After filling up, we rented bikes from Downtown Bicycle Rental and headed out to ride the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. The day was epic! We rode along the scenic path that boasts beautiful views of the shoreline as well as lush, dense forests populated with moose (Manji was grateful to have not run into any!). The trail was 11 miles one way and we had the option of returning the same way or riding through the Lake Hood Sea Plane Base.  I’m so glad we chose the latter option as it was one of the most memorable experiences in Anchorage.  We were surrounded by hundreds of sea planes, a number of which were landing around us as we rode past the lake. 

Enjoying the beautiful views from our bike ride along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Our view along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

Next, we rode to the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery where we learned all about the spawning and release of salmon. Talk about a lesson in biology!

We returned the bicycles late in the afternoon after clocking 32 miles, a family record!  Just as we were dragging ourselves to an early dinner, we happened upon the Alaska Public Lands Information Center. We only had a short time before they closed, but this would make a fabulous half day activity.  They had very kid friendly exhibits about the animals and lands of Alaska and it’s FREE!  All in all, it was an exhausting, but wonderful day!

Day 3 (Travel to Talkeetna): After a second stop at Fire Island Bakery, we packed up and left for Talkeetna.  We took our time driving, stopping at Thunderbird Falls for a short hike and a parking lot picnic of peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches (a lunch crowd pleaser!).  

Next up, we drove to the Palmer Reindeer Farm and had an opportunity to feed a rescued moose, pet and feed reindeer, and practice milking cows. The kids had a blast being so close to Santa’s team and the pristine mountain backdrop made it a great experience. We finally arrived in Talkeetna and spent the evening swatting mosquitoes around the campfire at our VRBO.

Manji feeding Lucy the moose at the Palmer Reindeer farm

Manji feeding Lucy the moose

Manji and Goose feeding reindeer at the Palmer Reindeer Farm

Manji and Goose feeding reindeer in Palmer

Day 4 (Talkeetna): As I mentioned before, Alaska can be pricey, with many activities costing about $200/pp.  Not a big deal for a short couple vacation but for a family of five on a one year adventure, that adds up fast!  However, we found a hidden gem of an activity at Byers Lake, where we rented canoes through Denali River Guides.  For $30/canoe, we spent two hours on a serene, secluded lake in Denali State Park.  We were ambushed by the biggest swarm of mosquitoes on our way to the water, but once on the lake we felt as though we were a million miles away from anyone (and any mosquitoes). 

Family canoe trip on Byers Lake

James and Manji canoe Byers Lake

Afterwards, we headed back to town to enjoy the quaint streets of Talkeetna and some delicious fireweed ice cream from Shirley’s Ice Cream Shop.  Talkeetna has live music in the town square at 5pm on Fridays and it was an awesome way to end our stop and see a lot of the locals out enjoying the evening.

Days 5-6 (Seward): We traveled to Seward during a torrential downpour, so we missed the picturesque views along the way.  The rain didn’t stop us as we headed over to explore Exit Glacier (part of Kenai Fjords National Park) and we attended a guided hike with Ranger Daisy, compliments of the National Park Service.  We learned so much about how glaciers age and the retreat of this glacier over the years.  Pro tip: pick up a junior ranger packet at the national parks.  They are a great way to keep kids engaged at the parks!

Rainy day at Exit Glacier with the ranger led hike

Exit Glacier hike with Ranger Daisy

Day 7 (Seward): Another rainy day, but we had big plans for our family today! We rented a 35’ Beneteau from Kate and Nate at Resurrection Bay Sailing Charters.  They offer captained trips, but James and I have been taking sailing courses over the past three years and used this as an opportunity to practice our skills.  It was wet, cold, and not very windy…not exactly an ideal sailing day ;).  Nonetheless, all these elements led to some great practice.  The nerves always set in as you pull out of port, but with fog and drizzle we had a new kind of nervous excitement.  The kids did exceptionally well with the inclement weather and we chalked it up as another adventure to add to our memory banks and our sailing log. 

The boys help out on the bareboat charter sailing on Resurrection Bay

Sailing Resurrection Bay

Days 8-14 (Soldotna): We left Seward as the sun finally started to appear and were thrilled to meet up with family in Soldotna.  We spent the week enjoying the almost 24 hour sunlight, shopping at the local Wednesday market, riding bikes on the Unity Trail, and doing a scenic float with Alaska Rivers Company on the upper Kenai River.  But the real reason we went to Soldotna was to spend quality time with some of our favorite people.  The kids spent days building forts and campfires, riding bikes, and fishing.  The Kenai River is one of the best places for salmon fishing in Alaska (and the world!). As a result, we spent a lot of time trying to reel in the big ones!

Kids hanging out with their cousins at the cabin in Soldotna

Cousin hangout in Soldotna

The kids are ready for the float trip down the Kenai River

Float trip down the Upper Kenai River

Hard to beat Sockeye Salmon in July from the Kenai River

Kate fishing (and catching!) on the Kenai

As we headed back to Anchorage, we made a final stop for gold panning at Indian Valley Mine to fulfill Goose’s travel request.  Accordingly, we all received a chemistry lesson from one of the employee’s there (aptly named “Au”) and then headed back to Anchorage to fly out.

the kids panning for gold at the Indian Valley Mine

Gold panning at Indian Valley Mine

Our thoughts on Alaska: it is the wildest place you will ever visit.  The weather, animals and day are extreme. Consequently, the people there depend on each other for survival. Their reliance is palpable throughout the interactions with locals.  That sort of comradery and codependence make the world a better place and it’s really motivating to see. As a result, we hope to channel a bit of it into our daily lives!

Top Things to Do in Alaska with Kids

  1. Pedal the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail (make sure to return via the sea plane route)
  2. Visit Alaska Public Lands Information Center and pick up a free junior ranger packet
  3. Eat breakfast at Fire Island Bakery
  4. Explore the William Jack Hernandez Sport Fish Hatchery
  5. Hike Thunderbird Falls
  6. Feed reindeer and moose at the Palmer Reindeer Farm
  7. Canoe Byers Lake with a canoe from Denali River Guides
  8. Join a ranger for a hike at Exit Glacier
  9. Charter a sailboat (bareboat or captained) on Resurrection Bay
  10. Fish for salmon on the Kenai River (bonus points if you catch some 😊)
  11. Float down the Kenai River with Alaska Rivers Company
  12. Go gold panning at Indian Valley Mine

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