2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids – Day 1: In Search of Gold

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The introduction and itinerary summary of our Alaska trip can be read here:

2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids - Introduction

Since I started making first reservations for our Alaska trip almost a year ago, we have been impatiently waiting for this day to come. The day to finally get to see Alaska! Cancelled flights, changed flights, voided car reservations and all the other Covid related craziness… nothing could hold us back. We were coming! 

I had ordered ''A Kid’s Guide to Alaska'' book for my boys pre-trip, and they had made me read it every night for weeks before our trip. They were eager to see all those magical places and animals they had heard about in their book. And let’s admit it, although Alaska is part of the USA, it might as well be a far-away country – it is just so different. 

As our plane started to make way across Alaska, the vast mountain ranges with white snow caps covered the land below. I expected mountains, but this was a surprise even for me. There were mountains everywhere as far as the eye could see. And glaciers. There were so many! Even when looking down from an airplane window, we could clearly make out the whitish-blue streaks of glaciers weaving their way in-between the valleys and mountain peaks. It was our first ''wow'' moment out of many, many others yet to come.

Although we were a little concerned that our luggage might be lost or delayed (taking into account we had to spend a night in a Seattle hotel without our luggage), all the bags showed up promptly and with no issues. First sigh of relief! Our next challenge was to make sure that the Turo rental car we had booked and seen only 1 photo of was actually a real car. As promised by the host, the car was indeed waiting for us at the airport parking lot. This was already a great start of our trip!

It was only 8:30AM and having had to wake up at 3:30AM for our 6AM flight, we were a little tired. So before hitting the road, we googled the closest Starbucks for some coffee and light breakfast. After the first few minutes on the road, I noticed that the passenger seat did not adjust up / down and was set to the very lowest setting. I am 5’7’’ but the seat was much too low even for me. I felt like a little kid who could not see outside a window. And seeing the beautiful scenery outside was our #1 goal!!! So, our next mission became finding some sort of a seat pad for me to sit on. I almost bought a booster seat, but my husband said he would not be sitting next to me in a kid’s booster, lol. So, we found a thick, sturdy blanket instead, folded it into a comfy square and it served its purpose perfectly for the rest of the trip. 

After resolving the seat issues and getting Starbucks, we were finally ready to hit the road! Our first stop of the day was the Beluga Point. It is an easy roadside pullout along Turnagain Arm in Cook Inlet. By now, our youngest had totally passed out in his car seat, so my husband stayed back, and I walked out with my 6-year-old to absorb our first Alaska views. 

We didn’t see any belugas, but the mountain-engulfed scenery wasn’t any less impressive because of that. There were a few other people here, but not nearly as crowded as I had expected.

A little way up the road we stopped for another beautiful roadside pullout, and this is also where I saw my first mountain goat of the trip. It was standing on a ledge of a cliff right by the roadside plucking grass out of the cracks in the rocks. It wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere and lingered around for quite a while. Now I wished I had taken my camera tripod with me! 

Soaking in all the views around us, we slowly made our way to our first big stop – the Crow Creek Gold Mine for some gold panning. The property is a unique blend of historical buildings, antiques, rare mining equipment, beautiful gardens and amazing mountain scenery. 

As I stepped out of the car, I could not stop admiring all the colorful flowers throughout the property!

It was time to wake up our youngest son from his nap, because we were about to go find that big gold nugget and get rich! We needed all hands on deck!

We rented 2 panning sets (one for each kid) which included a pan, shovel, bucket and a glass vial with dirt and a few hidden gold plates in it for practicing. After a brief lesson by the staff on how to use the equipment, we went to the well to use our dirt packet with hidden gold flakes and practice the panning technique. It wasn’t at all that easy to separate all the little sand grains from a few miniscule specs of gold. Understandably, the kids eventually gave up, so it was upon me and my husband to complete the task.

Once we felt like we got this, we took the trail down to the creek with our shovels and buckets ready to find our fortune! There were already a few other gold diggers in front of us, so we found our lucky spot and the boys started digging. Literally. They were just digging pits and making piles and loading rocks… that is not AT ALL how gold panning happens. So, needless to say, after almost an hour at the creek we had not found any gold.

It does not mean that the gold isn’t here though. As a matter of fact, the biggest gold nugget found here was the size of an egg found by a tourist just like ourselves in 1998. And yes, he got to keep the gold. 

On our way back we stopped at the various village buildings and explored the exhibits and the way the miners used to live here during the Gold Rush in early 1900s. 

Not any richer financially but happy about the amazing experience we headed on to our next destination. The boys’ only request so far had been to see (and play) in snow. So, we headed to Alyeska Ski Resort. Although there is no more skiing in June, the mountains still offer plenty of snow, and one way to get there is by Alyeska Aerial Tram. It is a 7-minute ride 2300ft (700m) up the mountain. As we went to buy the tickets, the attendant informed us that there would be a private event happening and the tram would be closing in 45minutes. That would only allow us about 30 minutes at the top of the mountain. The weather was just beautiful – warm, sunny and with blue skies (which does not happen all that often in this area), so we decided even 30 minutes were worth the money.

The ride was steep and beautiful and once we reached the top, there was still so much snow! The boys were in heaven! Although it was very cold and breezy on the mountain, it did not phase the boys one bit – they were having too much fun sliding down the snowbanks on their butts.  

In the end, the last tram down did not leave for almost 50 minutes, so we got plenty of time to enjoy the mountain, snow and the scenery. And by that time the boys’ pants were soaked through and through and it was time to head down anyway as I was not going to take a chance of them getting sick.

Once we got to the car, we were one of those tourists unloading their luggage in the parking lot and digging though everything in search of dry pants, socks and shoes, and changing our kids in the trunk of a car. You gotta do what you gotta do. 

At this point, we aimed to start the long drive back to our 2-night AirBnB in Palmer. Somewhere along the way the kids were in desperate need of a bathroom and the closest one we could find was at Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk. As we had already pulled in here, we decided we might as well go stretch our legs and explore.

It was already 5pm, so we were hoping the animals would be out. There were quite a few water birds, and even a bald eagle sitting far away in a tree at the end of the boardwalk.

A local lady told us there is a moose that frequents the area, and we could see many worn down moose tracks in the long grass beneath the boardwalk, but the moose was nowhere to be seen yet. Probably still too hot and crowded for it to come out. 

After about an hour we were finally ready to get going and hopefully make it all the way to our AirBnB without any additional stops. We had been up since 3AM and our bodies let it known. As we passed several large hunting / fishing stores, we discussed needing to buy bear spray as we had many hikes planned. We just did not have the energy to make another stop. 

Once we reached our accommodations, the host greeted us to show us the place and we also inquired about a store to buy bear spray locally. She said some other visitors had left their unused bear spray behind (you can’t bring bear spray on a plane). So, she gave it to us and asked to leave it at our last host’s place before we head home to pass on the favor to next visitors in need. And that is how we got ourselves bear spray for the trip! 

At this point, we had been up for almost 18 hours straight. And although at 9PM it was still bright out with SUN SHINING (!!!) like it was a bright mid-day, it had no effect on us – we just crashed and slept until next morning. 


Continue reading:

Alaska - Day 2: Meeting the Reindeer

Alaska - Day 3: First Hike on a Glacier

Alaska - Day 4: Our Favorite Day of the Trip

Alaska - Day 5: The Longest Drive

Alaska - Day 6: Meeting Santa Claus

Alaska - Day 7: Denali River Rafting

Alaska - Day 8: Hiking with a View of Denali

Alaska - Day 9: I Finally Met the Bears!

Alaska - Day 10: The Magic of Fjords, Glaciers and Wildlife

Alaska - Day 11: There Can Never Be Too Many Glaciers

Alaska - Day 12: Mountains, Gold and Elves

Alaska - Day 13: The Moose are Everywhere