Alaska: Planning


The Alaska Range, Denali National Park.

Sean and I married in Chicago on August 15, 2015. At the ceremony we were surrounded by eighty family and friends. It was a beautiful evening full of happiness.

Image: Chris Murphy

Image: Chris Murphy

Three days later, on August 18, we departed on our honeymoon, a three-week long trip to Alaska that included three National Parks: Kenai Fjords, Denali, and Glacier Bay.

The decision to go to Alaska on our honeymoon, or “post wedding travel” as we referred to it, was not immediately obvious. When we first were talking about possibilities, our gaze was turned toward Europe, specifically Italy, or perhaps several cities in more than one country. Spending the final night of our honeymoon in our favorite city, Granada, was romantically attractive too.

Then in summer of 2014, Sean went to his firm’s summer picnic. Each year, they have a raffle, and in 2013, he had won some White Sox tickets. He thought that since he’d won something the previous year that he was ineligible to win another prize, and he had intended to leave the picnic early. But he got talking to colleagues and was still there when the prizes began to be announced. Suddenly his name was being called as the grand prize winner.

The prize? Round-trip airfare for two to anywhere in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii.

Suddenly, the outlook began to shift for the honeymoon. The travel had to be booked within a year (by the end of July 2015), but we didn’t have a date yet for the wedding, so we weren’t sure that this prize would fly us off on our post wedding travel or be a trip in addition to the honeymoon. Even after we chose August 15 as our date, things weren’t quite certain. We were waiting to see if some friends would celebrate their marriage immediately after ours or in October. Their decision would determine whether we traveled in the wake of our wedding of later in the fall or early winter. Even after they chose to have their celebration in October, Alaska wasn’t necessarily a given.

Truth be told, I thought we’d end up in Hawaii. But back in April, chatting over lunch with a friend in Wisconsin who was telling us about his and his wife’s trip to Denali, Sean’s eyes lit up and he gave me a look.

Alaska it would eventually be.

Without actually consulting a calendar, we decided that it would be great to depart a couple days after the wedding and be gone through Labor Day. What we didn’t realize was that Labor Day was later than usual in 2015 (September 7), a full three weeks after the wedding. I had plenty of vacation time saved up, and Sean had just barely enough for a trip that length, so we decided to go for it and plan to be gone from our jobs for a month, three weeks of which would be the trip.

I dove into researching Alaska, its parks, and the trip. In all honesty, Alaska has felt daunting throughout this project. It’s one thing to backpack on Isle Royale, which is physically challenging but relatively free of large predators. Hiking in Grizzly country is quite another thing.

I put together five possible drafts each including three to five Parks, but always flying in and out of Anchorage because of the stipulations of the prize. I perhaps approached the planning too much like yet another National Parks excursion and too little like a relaxing honeymoon. Sean got me back on task with gentle reminders that there should be relaxation time and that perhaps a grueling odyssey across Alaska would not make the most pleasant trip.

In the planning, I was particularly excited by the possibility of traveling extensively without using a car. Ultimately, we’d travel within the state via train, jeep, bus, ferry, and plane.

As the details came into focus, we shared the itinerary with a friend of a friend who had lived in Anchorage for six years. She confirmed that we were spot-on for an amazing trip.

But the most meaningful part of the trip’s planning was that we decided to do a honeymoon registry instead of a traditional registry for household items. We’d been living together for six years, and we already had our household well in order. The upshot of doing a honeymoon registry was that many of our friends and family were able to share in our excitement about the trip to Alaska, and while we were there we used social media when possible to share our experiences with them.

Here is our complete final itinerary:

Hello, Alaska: Itinerary

Tuesday, August 18

ORD-DFW AA Flight 2312 10:20am-12:52pm
DFW-ORD AA Flight 2287 3:30-7:24pm

Sleep: Anchorage Downtown Hotel

Wednesday, August 19 through Friday evening, August 21
Seward/Kenai Fjords National Park

Alaska Railroad, Anchorage to Seward, Wednesday, August 19, 6:45-11:05am

Spend three days and two nights exploring Seward, hiking in Kenai Fjords National Park, taking a boat tour of the fjords, and visiting the Alaska Sealife Center.

Tour: Kenai Fjords Tours, Northwestern Fjord Tour, Thursday, August 20, 9am-6pm

Sleep: Hotel Seward

Alaska Railroad, Seward to Anchorage, Friday, August 21, 6-10:15pm

Sleep: Best Western Golden Lion Hotel, Anchorage

Saturday, August 22 through Thursday morning, August 27
Denali National Park

Pick up rental car at Enterprise at 9am on Saturday morning. Pick up our pre-ordered parcel at REI, then drive north on the Parks Highway toward Denali, stopping for lunch in Talkeetna along the way (Mountain High Pizza Pie/Talkeetna Roadhouse).

Spend five days and five nights camping at Denali National Park, including at Wonder Lake at the end of the park road. Wildlife watching, exploring boreal forest, tundra, and alpine habitat, and ranger-led programs will be highlights. Also, sled dogs.

Saturday: camp at Savage River
Sunday-Monday: camp at Wonder Lake
Tuesday-Wednesday: camp at Savage River

Drive back to Anchorage Thursday morning.

Thursday, August 27 through Sunday morning, August 30

Spend three days and three nights exploring and hanging out in Anchorage. A visit to Ice Spa is a must, as well as checking out the waterfront, the Saturday Market, Snow City Cafe, the Anchorage Museum, Midnight Sun Brewing Company, and the food truck scene.

Sleep: Anchorage Downtown Hotel

Sunday, August 30 – Wednesday morning, September 2

ANC-JNU Alaska Air Flight 64, Sunday, August 30, 12:38-1:50pm

Take the short flight to Juneau and unwind from Denali by exploring the state capitol, checking out the gastro-pub scene, and the surrounding mountains.

Sleep: Silverbow Inn

Wednesday morning, September 2 through Saturday morning, September 5
Glacier Bay National Park

Alaska Marine Highway System, Juneau to Gustavus, Wednesday, September 2, 7-11:15am

Spend the climax of the trip with a stay for three nights at Glacier Bay Lodge. A boat tour of Glacier Bay is a must, as well as some relaxing, exploring the temperate rainforest around Bartlett Cove, and some kayaking on this final weekend of Glacier Bay’s summer season.

Kayak: Bartlet Cove, Thursday, September 3, 9am-12:30pm

Tour: Glacier Bay Tour, Friday, September 4, 7:30am-3:30pm

Sleep: Glacier Bay Lodge

Saturday, September 5

Alaska Marine Highway System, Gustavus to Juneau, Saturday, September 5, 12:45-5pm

A final celebratory evening of food and drink.

Sleep: Silverbow Inn

Sunday, September 6

JNU-ANC Alaska Air Flight 65, 1:50-3:35pm
ANC-DFW AA Flight 1008, 8:40pm-6:01am

Monday, September 7

DFW-ORD AA Flight 2328, 7:15-9:52am

See Elsa.

2 thoughts on “Alaska: Planning

  1. Anne Curley

    Congratulations. I am so happy for you both. Have always followed your National Parks trips. Enjoy your writing style & the pictures.

    1. Brandon Hayes

      Thank you, Anne! We’re just at the start of the journey to Alaska. So many stories and photos to come. I hope you, Dave, and the pups are enjoying retirement. It’s always a treat to hear from you.



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