2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids – Day 5: The Longest Drive

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Start of our trip:

2-Week Grand Alaska Road Trip with Kids - Intro

Day 1: In Search of Gold

Day 2: Meeting the Reindeer

Day 3: First Hike on a Glacier

Day 4: Our Favorite Day of the Trip

 

As we woke up in the morning, we realized we were soon leaving this amazing town. Valdez had become one of our favorite places in Alaska we had seen so far. What we did not realize yet back then was that this portion of our trip would be our absolute all-around favorite part. It was the drive through the beautiful Thompson Pass with cascading waterfalls; the boat cruise through the fjords seeing glaciers and ocean creatures of the Prince William Sound; the abundant wildlife of the land and sky; and just the vibe of the town itself. 

Valdez is so remote that people who visit here do so with a purpose. It is not a place where you just accidentally pass by and decide to stop in. You need to plan a trip to Valdez, and you need to know why you want to come here. And everyone we met was there for the same reasons we were – the solitude, the nature and wildlife, and the amazing beauty of its ruggedness. It is like all of us were there to just appreciate it and soak it all in. And it was quiet and very peaceful.

Without any hurry we spent our last minutes at the hotel’s breakfast bar. We didn’t want to leave. That is until the servers started clearing away tables, picking up chairs and carrying away food. I think it was an indirect hint that the breakfast buffet was closing and it was time to go. 

We loaded up the luggage and bid farewell to a few bunnies hopping around the lawn. But before leaving Valdez for good, we made the trek down to Solomon Gulch Fish Hatchery one more time in hopes of seeing some morning bears. There were none.

/Photo credit: Charles R. Peterson/

Today’s drive was long 370 miles (600km) to Fairbanks which, in the end, took us 11 hours to complete (including all the planned stops and unplanned road construction delays).

To make the long drive a little easier, I had planned a few breaks along the route. Our first stop soon after leaving Valdez was Worthington Glacier. A short, paved walkway led to a lookout platform. This was one of those places where I was somewhat underwhelmed. I guess after seeing miles of glaciers on our boat tour the day prior, Worthington Glacier just did not leave a lasting impression. However, it is easily accessible and worth a stop for those who don’t have many glacier tours planned.

Our next stop on the list was Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Cooper Visitor Center.  As much as I would have liked to find extra few days to make the trip deeper into this national park to tour the Kennecott Mines and explore Root Glacier, it was just not something I planned for originally. In retrospect, I absolutely could have added it to our itinerary. But during my initial planning stages a year ago, I thought this trip might just be an overkill already (too packed and financially expensive). So, this is my one big regret – I wish we had included McCarthy area after all. As the famous quote goes: You won’t regret the things you did. You will regret the things you didn’t do when you had the chance.  

Nonetheless, we worked with what we had and went to see the visitor center. They had nice interactive exhibits for kids to explore along with animal displays and a very informative 20-minute movie about Wrangell-St. Elias at an adjacent movie theater hall. 

From here, we had big ambitions to hike the 2 close-by trails. We started with the 0.5-mile (0.8km) Boreal Forest Trail. At the start it gave some nice overview of Wrangell Mountains but the deeper in the forest we headed the more we got attacked by mosquitos. They weren’t the bird-sized Alaskan mosquitos rather the regular lower-48 ones. However, they were relentless! They tried to find any little patch of skin not accidentally covered by clothing. The mosquito spray had no effect on them. So very quickly we dropped the idea of hiking the 2nd trail as it was just too miserable. This was our worst mosquito experience during the whole trip. Surprisingly, overall mosquitos really weren’t a problem at all at most of the other places we visited. 

Once we completed the loop, we quickly retreated to the safety of our car to continue the journey. From here we had a long drive to our next stop – dinner at Delta Junction. We watched the scenery outside the car windows which included mountains, lakes, valleys, forests and many, many little airplanes. 

We especially loved the drive along the Summit Lake and Delta River area, which sits at around 3300ft (1005m) elevation. It was extremely remote yet so picturesque! This area had white snow-capped mountains, many wetlands and barely any cars for miles. This extremely remote spot was also finally a good place for my husband to pull out his drone and get to enjoy it a little bit.

And as we were cruising the road admiring everything around us, I noticed a cow moose and a calf crossing a dry riverbed. They were walking very leisurely, so we had enough time to pull over and I finally got my first wild moose shots! And what a treat – a momma and baby! 

Another element that was very prominent in this area and visible from a lot of places was the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Although many admire it and it is considered a big engineering feat, I was not at all that stoked. It seemed to invade the nature’s privacy around every corner like a big eye sore. 

After many miles and many hours in the car, we finally reached Delta Junction and our planned restaurant Buffalo Center Drive-In. It was late and we were starving! One of the reasons why I picked this place was because they had a big grassy area for kids to run around and expel some energy. That is exactly what our boys needed. And while we waited for food, they were happily running around with a bunch of other kids – playing tag and rolling in the grass. They were so excited that they barely had any time to eat. The were magically not even hungry anymore. 

And while I watched all the kids go crazy in the yard, I had this nagging feeling that something must go wrong amidst all that chaos... We ate, put away the plates and got up to get back to the car. As we called our boys to head our way, they both took a spinning turn and crashed into each other. The blood exploded everywhere! The 4-year-old’s skull had busted the 6-year-old’s nose and the blood wasn’t stopping. Other diners were running our way with napkins, a server brough an ice bucket and another gave us her tampon to try to stick into the nose to stop the bleeding. Apart from all the red blood, the nose was swelling up and changing its color to blue-ish black. Our kid must have laid in the yard for some half an hour before we felt like it was safe to even attempt to get him up and sit him in the car. We were given some ice packs and rags to take along just in case. This could have had bad consequences yet surprisingly, the nose was not much of an issue for the rest of the trip anymore. Maybe it was all the ice bags we made him hold on his nose for the remaining 2 hours until we got to the AirBnB in Fairbanks

Once we reached the AirBnB, we gave the boys a bath and put them to bed. My duties, however, were just starting. I had booked this AirBnB because it offered a washer and dryer for guest’s use. And boy we had some laundry to do after 5 full days of adventures. At this point some of the clothing we wore was already pulled out of the laundry pile after it hade made the cut to be put there in the first place. That night I washed, dried and sorted 3 full rounds of laundry. It was midnight when I was finally done. But – we all will be fresh smelling tomorrow! :)

 

Continue reading:

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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