Alaska Travel Diary: A Once-In-A-Lifetime Winter Wonderland Vacation

Greetings to all my fellow adventure lovers and fans of The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground. My name is Jillian Hyland and I am an Oregon resident, hospitality professional and traveling addict with an undying wanderlust for life. I’m taking over the blog for the week to share with you my personal experiences traveling to Alaska, on the tailwind of the notoriously-snowy winter season. Before we go any further you should know one thing; it’s not as hard or overwhelming as you might think! Traveling to Alaska, at any time of the year, is absolutely spectacular and easily accessible via major airline. Once you arrive, the welcoming hospitality and over-the-top adventures will fill your heart with more joy than you’ve ever dreamed imaginable. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!

I recently had the opportunity to take a few days off from my busy city job to enjoy a little vacation time, and as I sat down to plan my trip I couldn’t stop thinking about Alaska. I wanted to visit someplace new that I’ve never been to before, and the wildly rugged yet miraculously scenic Last Frontier was calling my name.

With a goal to unplug and get off-grid, my heart was leading me to a place that would later help me not only decompress, but also totally and completely help me reset my mind and refresh my soul. The unreal scenery, picturesque views, endless outdoor activities to partake in and the ability to observe magnificent wildlife in their natural environment – that’s what I was looking forward to.

So I did it. I took the (metaphorical) polar plunge. I booked my plane ticket and packed my bags. I set out on a solo mission to experience the majestic beauty of the 49th state, all by my lonesome. Just me, myself and the Last Frontier.

Although I was planning the trip of a lifetime without bringing anyone else along to experience the magic with me, something inside me felt brave and untamed. I was ready for this. As the saying goes, “Alaska or bust!”

From the moment I landed at the airport, I was in awe of the state’s beauty, culture and charm. I arrived in Anchorage, Alaska and made my way down to Alyeska Resort. From the moment I arrived, I was wowed by the stunning facilities.

But once I went to the front desk to check in to my hotel room, the warm and friendly service nearly made my heart explode with happiness. Throughout my stay I received perfect turndown service with yummy chocolates and bottled water each day.

Of course, in true Alaskan fashion, the magic kept on pouring in when I actually entered my hotel room and found this perfect little note. Thank you to Amy for speaking right to me with this sweet caption. Coming to Alaska was me, following my star.

For the next five days, I would turn off my cell phone and focus on being present in the moment. Each morning I would wake up and enjoy a good book and a cup o’ joe while looking out the window at one of the most spectacular winter-wonderland views of my life. I had to *pinch* myself a few times to remind me that this was all real… and not just a dream!

During my stay at the resort I utilized several amenities.  I used the pool/hot tub area, onsite grab & go café and the complimentary shuttle that the staff informed me about at check in. All of these amenities were very useful during my stay. Plus, I felt very fancy in my soft, customized Alyeska Resort robe. What a neat touch!

One of the first restaurants I tried was Seven Glaciers at Alyeska Resort. I took the tram up the mountain and almost lost my mind when I experienced pristine panoramic views that (quite literally) looked like something out of my wildest dream.

Once I got to the top of the mountain, I kicked off my dining experience with a photo-op overlooking the Chugach range. This is what winter wonderland looks like in the movies, but who would have ever thought that I’d experience it in person? Absolutely incredible!

I took a brief tour of the restaurant, posing next to all the coolest attractions (of course). Now this is what I call a wine cellar! Wow!

I tried the famous ‘fizz’ drink before ordering some food. It was a very delicious concoction and the service was top-notch. The million dollar views were effortlessly brag-worthy as well.

Alaska came with a lot of firsts for me. For one, I tried sushi for the first time ever! For some reason, I’ve never taken a keen interest in sushi – but Alaska brought out something brave and ambitious inside of me. The end result? Pretty darn delicious if I do say so myself!

One of my nights in Alaska led me to a concert at The Sitzmark Bar & Grill. I loved this place! It was laid back yet super lively and it had that quintessential locals vibe, with friendly people to spark conversations with all through the evening. I had their famous nachos during the concert, which were fantastic! I loved the intimate feel of the bar and the outdoor patio area as well.

I also attended an outdoor snowboard/ski competition one evening at the base of the mountain. This was so cool because I got to watch a phenomenal event where young kids competed in performing tricks. This was hands-down one of the most memorable evenings during my time in Alaska!

One day I went out with Glacier City Snowmobile Tours for an excursion called the Real Deal Tour. Overall, what I enjoyed most about this trip was the friendliness of the staff and the knowledge that they had about the area. It was truly such a learning experience from start to finish, which was an unexpected yet highly welcomed surprise. I also learned that locals call snowmobiling “snowmachining” – just a little insider scoop for anyone who doesn’t already know this top secret intel. 😉

We rode outside of Girdwood through Portage Valley to a place that is actually a historical part of the Iditarod trail. This was another one of those *pinch me* I can’t believe it’s real type of moments.

The tour company had a small cabin in the woods where we stopped and they served the group hot cocoa, cider and fireside reindeer dogs. Eating the reindeer dogs felt so “Alaskan!” This was definitely one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had!

I had never been snow-shoeing before, but was determined to give it a shot. So that’s what I did; I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and I rented snow-shoes for one day from the lodge. They provided me with great information to nearby trails close to the resort. So just like that, I bundled up in my warm Alaskan attire and I set out into the wilderness all on my own.

At the end of the day, I realized that I covered a whopping 8 miles in total. And you know what? I loved every single second of it!  I think my favorite part of this athletic adventure was enjoying the sheer beauty of the trail, listening to nature and taking in the quietness around me. I stopped along the way for several breathtaking photo ops and truly took the time to stop and absorb the scenic wilderness that I was nestled in.

One day I even rented a fat-tire bike to further investigate all of the intriguing trails that run for miles upon miles nearby to the resort.

I used Alpine Air Alaska, Inc. for the glacier landing helicopter tour that I booked one day. I cannot say enough how incredible this experience was! Mind-blowing would probably definitely be an understatement. The pilot made me feel safe and comfortable, and provided me with an immense about of knowledge. My mind was eased knowing that I was in such good hands, and I can’t say enough about how much I appreciated the top-notch hospitality and friendly service. Hands down, I would recommend this glacier landing tour and this reputable company to anyone interested in a once-in-a-lifetime Alaskan experience.

The aerial perspectives from the helicopter provided awe-inspiring beauty that looked like something straight out of a National Geographic magazine. Towering snow-capped mountains mixed with piercing blue glaciers was enough eye-candy to last me a lifetime. The pilot even pointed out some moose down below (which was the first time I’ve ever laid eyes on a real live moose!!!) – simply amazing.

My favorite part of this journey was landing on the glacier. While educating the group with an immense amount of knowledge on our surroundings, the pilot let us walk around and explore the glacial land on an up-close-and-personal level.

The photo-ops that followed were (again) like something from my wildest dreams. This was truly a spiritual, out-of-this-world experience that I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to partake in.

On one of my final days in town, I reconnected with an old college girlfriend and we explored with Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This place absolutely exceeded my expectations!

We cruised around and checked out moose, bears, musk ox, deer, caribou and so much more.

The picturesque mountains surrounded us were so captivating! It was almost as if every photo we snapped deserved to be on the cover of a postcard.

We watched as kiddos screamed in delight and ran alongside the local wolf pack.

At one point in time, I’m pretty sure that this adorable moose tried to give me a smooch. SWOON! All of my dreams have now officially come true. This was way too precious. Moose are my favorite wild animals and this rehabilitation facility provides such a great way for visitors to Alaska (such as myself) to experience the fascinating amounts of local wildlife.

Although I dined at a few restaurants during my time in Alaska, the place that stood out the most was Jack Sprat. The chalet style building located near the base of the mountain had a unique, creative menu that made me want to sample everything in sight.

The food was fresh, local and tasted absolutely delicious. Plus the portion sizes were HUGE, which was nice so that I had a little something extra to take back to the hotel to enjoy later in the evening if I got hungry. The service was very lively and accommodating, while the ambiance was idyllic and inviting.

Before I wrapped up my vacation to head back to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, I had to pose for the obligatory photo with the big stuffed bear in front of the gift shop at Alyeska. Because… when in Alaska! 😉 After such a magical winter experience, I am definitely planning on returning to Alaska in the summer! At the top of my bucket list, I am interested in doing some warm weather hiking, whale watching and biking on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground. If I was able to fall in love with Alaska during the winter, I can only imagine how my adoration of this beautiful state will vastly flourish during the raved-about summer season.

Need travel trips, customized seasonal itineraries or ideas for how to make your trip to The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground positively memorable? Reach out below or feel free to send us a direct message on our website or our Facebook page. Be safe out there adventure hounds, and remember that “it’s not the life in your years – it’s the years in your life.”  Travel, explore, LIVE!

Disclosure: All photos above are copyright of Jillian Hyland with sole usage rights granted to the Kenai Peninsula Tourism Marketing Council. For photo usage inquiries or content material, please feel free to reach out to Jillian directly by clicking HERE.

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Glorious Glaciers on Alaska’s Playground

Photo of Exit Glacier near Seward, Alaska from www.alaska.org.

Photo of Exit Glacier near Seward, Alaska from http://www.alaska.org.

When we ask visitors what are the top attractions that bring them to The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground, the most common answers are 1. Mountains, 2. Glaciers, and 3. Wildlife.

And the most beautiful thing about that answer is that it is often a possibility to enjoy mountains, glaciers and wildlife all in the same trip. Amazing, right? Only on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground!

Photo from Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, Alaska.

Photo from Kenai Fjords Tours in Seward, Alaska.

Below we have a list of some of the most amazing glaciers on the Kenai Peninsula that you absolutely MUST visit at least once in your lifetime. Trust us, you will not regret one single moment of your journey.

Photo from www.alaska.org of Spencer Glacier.

Photo from http://www.alaska.org of Spencer Glacier.

The Kenai Peninsula extends approximately 150 miles southwest from the Chugach Mountains, south of Anchorage. It is separated from the mainland on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound. Throughout this vast land you will find many glaciers.

Glaciers are made up of fallen snow that, over many years, compresses into large, thickened ice masses. Glaciers form when snow remains in one location long enough to transform into ice. What makes glaciers unique is their ability to move. Due to sheer mass, glaciers flow like very slow rivers. Some glaciers are as small as football fields, while others grow to be dozens or even hundreds of kilometers long. Presently, glaciers occupy about 10 percent of the world’s total land area. In Alaska, glaciers cover about 5% of the state.

Portage Glacier is a glacier on the Kenai Peninsula and is included within the Chugach National Forest. It is located south of Portage Lake and west of the small town of Whittier. This beautiful glacier is definitely worth a visit!

Byron Glacier is located in the Portage Valley, about 20 minutes South of Girdwood and an hour from Anchorage. As you drive down the Turnagain Arm, you will find the turnoff for Byron Glacier on the left. Once you hit the trailhead, the hike up to the glacier is about 1.5 miles. This 1.4 mile trail offers an easy walk for all ages.  It allows a close-up view of a glacier with rugged, mountains in all directions.

Photo from radstravelogue.wordpress.com.

Photo from radstravelogue.wordpress.com.

Grewingk Glacier is quite the magnificent find in the Kenai Mountains! This is a 13 mile-long glacier located near Kachemak Bay near the town of Homer, Alaska. The best way to access the glacier is via a water taxi from Homer. From there you can be dropped off near the glacier and can enjoy a day of hiking and exploring deep into the wilderness.

Exit Glacier is a glacier derived from the Harding Icefield in the Kenai Mountains of Alaska and one of the Kenai Fjords National Park’s major attractions. The best part about this amazing glacier is that it is easily accessible to view. With just a short drive from downtown Seward, visitors can hike a short well-traveled trail to a viewing area of Exit Glacier.

Spencer Glacier is located in the Chugach National Forest and is only accessible by train. Hop off the Glacier Discovery train at the Spencer Whistle Stop, and take a 1.3 guided hike to Spencer Lake, and from there you can take the 2.1 mile trail to Spencer Glacier. There are even spots to camp along the trail! If you aren’t interested in hiking, there is a cool rafting trip that you can take to get a beautiful view of Spencer Glacier. This is absolutely a must-do if you are visiting Alaska and don’t have time to get to all of the amazing glaciers that we’ve listed here.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge with www.WildNatureImages.com.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge with http://www.WildNatureImages.com.

Aialik Glacier is about 15 miles from the town of Seward, Alaska and is the largest glacier in Aialik Bay, located in Kenai Fjords National Park. Glacier calving activity is most active in May and June. Take a cruise from Seward to experience Aialik, or you can go out on your own and experience via the glacier via kayak.

Holgate Glacier is a glacier located outside the town of Seward, Alaska in the Kenai Fjords National Park. It flows outward from the Harding Icefield toward Holgate Arm of Aialik Bay. While it is one of the smaller glaciers in Aialik Bay, Holgate Glacier is still a popular destination to see calving glaciers. And it is actually advancing! Holgate Arm is often filled with ice, but on a good day you can get to a close and safe distance from the glacier.

Photo from National Geographic.

Photo from National Geographic.

Pedersen Glacier is an outlet glacier of the Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park near the town of Seward, Alaska. In the 1980s, the lagoon was designated as the Pedersen Lagoon Wildlife Sanctuary, a 1,700-acre sanctuary meant to preserve and protect the area’s wildlife and land.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge with www.WildNatureImages.com.

Photo from Ron Niebrugge with www.WildNatureImages.com.

Godwin Glacier is located outside of the town of Seward, Alaska near the waters of Resurrection Bay. For a once in a lifetime experience, Godwin Glacier is a must-see. And if you’re up for a thrilling experience, you can visit Godwin Glacier via a Glacier Landing excursion with Seward Helicopter Tours.

Photo from Seward Helicopter Tours.

Photo from Seward Helicopter Tours.

Bear Glacier, found in Kenai Fjords National Park outside of the town of Seward, Alaska is a tidewater glacier and a popular spot for kayakers. You can also easily see it on a cruise from Seward. With massive icebergs and blue waters, seeing the glacier up close is a thrilling experience. Many people camp on the outer beach near Bear Glacier, and enjoy the glacier views in the background. This is also a great area to check for whales, sea otters, puffins, and other wildlife.

Bear Glacier flowes down from the Harding IcefieldAre you as blown away by these stunning photographs as we are? It’s hard not to fall in love. And just wait until you experience these incredible glaciers in person. The feeling of the crisp air and the sound of the robust calving is quite enchanting. If you haven’t already, be sure to add a visit to some of these amazing glaciers to your 2016 Kenai Peninsula bucket list!

Harbor Seal on Columbia Glacier. Photo from www.ervinskalameraphotos.com.

Harbor Seal on Columbia Glacier. Photo from http://www.ervinskalameraphotos.com.

(Note: Although the above pictures are absolutely breathtaking, it is never a good idea to hike on a glacier by oneself, without proper gear, or without training and experience. Glaciers are very slick and can be very dangerous for travel. It is always a better and safer idea to view these gorgeous glaciers from a safe distance. Outdoor guide services are available on the Kenai Peninsula for those wanting to get up close and personal with these beautiful glaciers.)