2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids – Day 2: Meeting the Reindeer

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Start of our trip:

2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids - Intro

Day 1: In Search of Gold

 

We woke up surprisingly refreshed and had some boiled eggs for breakfast that our host had so graciously left for us in the fridge as a welcome gift. We were ready to have our first full day in Alaska. 

Our first stop of the day was Palmer Musk Ox Farm. This farm can only be seen by going on a walking tour organized by the farm’s staff. The tour is an hour long and provides a wealth of interesting information. With little kids I am not a fan of organized tours as everyone knows how much ''fun'' it is trying to keep a 4 and a 6-year-old in check and still when there would be so much room to run around! However, in this case I was very happy about the tour as we would have not gained any of the knowledge we have now if it wasn’t for the tour. 

The guide knew every ox by name that came up to the fence and knew each of their stories and character traits. 

These once endangered Ice Age mammals are raised here for their fine wool which is harvested annually. Also, several attempts have been made before to raise musk ox in other areas, but the climate conditions have not been favorable. This farm in Palmer is the most southern point musk ox can comfortably survive. Anything more south and the oxen are just too hot as their native habitat is frozen Arctic and tundra.

It was amazing to see these animals brought back from near complete extinction!

Before heading out, we stopped at the farm’s exhibit where we could touch musk ox coat – it was so, so thick! At least several inches and extremely fluffy – like a big down jacket.

However, oxen weren’t the only animals we were going to see today. We were finally going to meet some reindeer. For whatever unknown reason, I was really, really looking forward to seeing reindeer.

Do you know that reindeer and caribou is actually the same exact animal? The difference is that reindeer are domesticated but caribou are wild. And if you want to see and pet a reindeer, Palmer Reindeer Farm is definitely the place to go.

Every visitor is given a cup of feed to offer the reindeer and of course the reindeer weren’t shy to gobble it right up. Although each visitor is supposed to feed only 1 cup, my boys went to fill up 3x before we had to tell them that other visitors should get their turn as well. 

Besides reindeer, the farm also has several other animals on exhibit – elk, moose, alpacas, bison, yak and even bunnies, pigs and chickens. And out of all these amazing animals, where do you think my kids insisted to spend their time at? Chickens! Really – chickens?! They just kept asking to go back to the chicken coop over and over again. What is this weird obsession? We have reindeer and yak and what else not but they wanted chickens! 

The property also has a tractor wagon ride, hay bale maze, a playground area and a game corner… And while I originally thought we would stop in here for our first quick meeting with the reindeer, it ended up being over 2 hours of fun. That brought us to the property’s little food truck as it had approached lunch time. They had bison burgers and reindeer dogs on the menu. I was a little apprehensive about the reindeer hot dogs… I mean, did you just slaughter the one I was petting right around the corner here? But no, as it was explained, very few farms in Alaska have the license to raise reindeer for meat and this farm was NOT one of them. None of the reindeer we saw here will end up in a sausage. Still a little reserved (I mean – reindeer are Santa’s pets!) we tried to give it a shot. And I have to admit that both reindeer sausage and bison burger were very tasty, and we had them on several other occasions during our 2-week trip in Alaska. Also, there was the best condiment cow here I had ever seen!

Just before leaving the property we noticed that the moose had gotten up from her nap in the shade and was walking around looking for treats. The staff had some fresh leafy greens prepared for visitors that could be fed to the animals. This was my first close-up moose experience and I even got to feed it, yet it was not exactly the wild moose I was longing to see. But there would still be plenty of opportunities for that!

A little behind schedule, but we were ready to move on! Good thing Alaska has 21 hours of daylight in summer otherwise we would never manage to see everything on my list. 

The next place we wanted to go to was Eklutna Lake, or more precisely – kayaking on Eklutna Lake. I had seen some gorgeous photos online with a turquoise blue lake engulfed in mountain scenery and rows of colorful kayaks lining the shoreline. And when we got here, that is exactly what I saw! It was so stunning! And the weather – we were just so lucky to have another sunny, blue and hot day here in Alaska – perfect for everything we wanted to do. 

The main 2 activities here are either renting bikes or kayaks. As we had bike rental planned for later in the trip, we opted to rent kayaks and head out on the lake. The lake is fed by Eklutna Glacier and is just a few degrees above freezing even in the summer. As we were informed – falling out of your kayak will result in your muscles shutting down within a few seconds in the frigid water, therefore swimming to the shore will not be an option no matter how close it is. Heavy life jackets are mandatory for every single person on the water. 

Although a little weary at first, we soon got in the groove and had a lot of fun cruising the lake’s shoreline up and down with the beautiful views all around. Although the kayak rental lasts 2 hours, we were done in about an hour. It was plenty enough to absorb the views while still have our boys listening and sitting patiently.

While carrying the equipment back to the rental hut, we noticed a posted sign that an aggressive young bull moose had been threatening visitors in the area. We have yet to see a wild moose on this trip.

When leaving the lake, we noticed a little roadside café and got very excited to make a stop as we were all getting hungry. Upon closer inspection we discovered the café served coffee and ice cream. That was basically it. So coffee and ice cream was had for dinner... But the kids said it was a tasty ice cream, and I liked my coffee, so all was well. 

Our last stop of the day was the Eagle River Nature Center. Unfortunately, as it was already past 5PM when we arrived, the visitor center was already closed. However, the main purpose for our coming here was the park’s hiking trails. It is said that the area is frequented by wildlife, and I was ready to see my first bear or moose. We headed out on the 3-mile-long (5km) Albert Loop trail. It weaves through a wooded area and eventually comes down to the river. It was so beautiful here that we decided to stop and just let the kids play with the rocks and wade in the water. Lo and behold, almost an hour had passed before we were ready to leave our riverside spot.  

As we were heading back, we heard some rustling in the bushes. I had imagined how I would meet my first bear (or moose) and would have to get a photo of it… and maybe hug it… (joke, of course). As we paused to take a better look at what was going on, my husband said it was a bear. All my desire to take a photo disappeared as I collected my kids and backed away from the area. I actually never even saw where the animal was. My husband said the bear stood up, looked at us and totally uninterested kept about its business. This was our first bear encounter, but not something I could classify as my first bear sighting as I actually never saw it – I had my tail between my legs and got out of there. 

The upper portion of the trail was actually full of fresh bear poop for the last mile (1.6km) at least, yet we never encountered another bear here. 

On the way back we took a little side-trip to Rodak Nature trail with its many boardwalks. It seemed like sunset and the surroundings were illuminating in pastel glow. It took us by surprise and we glanced at our watches – it was 10PM! Time just completely gets away from you in Alaska’s endless summer daylight. It just always feels like the middle of the day until you realize you should have been asleep already! 

We finished the hike and completed our 1-hour drive back to the AirBnB which brought us to our rental right around midnight. Midnight! But still so light outside that we didn’t even really need to turn the lights on inside the house. This was really messing with our heads and we decided we should keep a better track of time going forward. 

 

Continue reading:

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

 

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