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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Dreaming Of A White Christmas? These 25 Stunning Photos Of The Kenai Will Fill Your Heart With Joy!

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

If you’re dreaming of a white Christmas and you aren’t as lucky as we are (since we get to actually live in this magical place!) we thought we’d spoil you with an abundance of snowy, wintery eye-candy. The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground is exceptionally special this time of year. Every direction you look will transport you directly into a winter wonderland paradise. From towering mountain views, to peaceful river beds and busy city streets – the magic of the holiday season is simply undeniable on the Kenai Peninsula. Just see for yourself… 🙂

PC: Leslie Richards

PC: Leslie Richards

1 – A picture perfect day gives way to the beautifully colored turquoise waters of the Kenai River at the Russian River confluence.

PC: Courtney Stanley

PC: Courtney Stanley

2 – Docked boats in Seward, Alaska look stunning against a snowy mountain backdrop.

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

3 – Riding the chair lift at Alyeska Resort up into the clouds and above the snowy mountain peaks.

PC: Alyeska Resort, Facebook

PC: Alyeska Resort, Facebook

4 – The upper Kenai River looks perfectly peaceful this time of year when all the anglers are hibernating for the winter.

PC: Courtney Stanley

PC: Courtney Stanley

5 – A musher takes his sled dog team across an open sea of snow on the Kenai Peninsula.

PC: Chris McLennan

PC: Chris McLennan

6 – Even rest stops on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground get transformed into a winter wonderland paradise this time of year.

PC: Steve Kocino, Flickr

PC: Steve Kocino, Flickr

7 – Driving on the Seward Highway can be dangerous any time of year, but during the winter months the magical snowy views make the trip totally worth the while.

PC: Courtney Stanley

PC: Courtney Stanley

8 – As the Kenai River freezes and thaws with changing winter temps, the fascinating views get elevated to a whole new level.

PC: Visit Soldotna, Facebook

PC: Visit Soldotna, Facebook

9 – A single tree lit up with Christmas lights turns this whole area near Summit Lake into a peaceful holiday paradise.

PC: The Alaska Life

PC: The Alaska Life

10 – On that same note, it’s impossible to deny that a Summit Lake Lodge cabin getaway is a picturesque experience this time of year. WOW!

PC: Summit Lake Lodge, Facebook

PC: Summit Lake Lodge, Facebook

11 – Solitude amongst the clouds can be found on the Lost Lake Trail near Seward.

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

12 – Frost heaves, crisp temps and cloudy skies make for a fierce winter photo-op on The Kenai.

PC: Shawn Biessel

PC: Shawn Biessel

13 – A group of seals take a break from swimming by resting on floating ice chunks off the Homer Spit in Kachemak Bay.

PC: Wonderlane, Flickr

PC: Wonderlane, Flickr

14 – The view from Slaughter Ridge above Kenai Lake takes the rewards of winter hiking on The Kenai to a whole new level.

PC: Rusty Muffin Meanderings

PC: Rusty Muffin Meanderings

15 – The Alaska Railroad knows how to ring in the holiday season in style, there is no denying that. WOW!

PC: Kirk Alkire

PC: Kirk Alkire

16 – Spotting an alpenglow is always a treat, but it’s exceptionally special when it happens while driving through the pass.

PC: Courtney Stanley

PC: Courtney Stanley

17 – Catching air in a magical mountain town such as Cooper Landing is an extreme way to celebrate the cheerfulness of the holiday season.

PC: Eric Teela, Flickr

PC: Eric Teela, Flickr

18 – Leave the big city of Anchorage and head towards The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground for a one way ticket to a winter wonderland paradise.

PC: Jennifer Robinson

PC: Jennifer Robinson

19 – The aerial views overlooking Resurrection Bay are like something straight out of a dream this time of year.

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

PC: Dan Logan, Flickr

20 – So you think all the bears are hibernating? Think again! This guy is showing off his best snow dancing skills for one lucky photographer to enjoy.

PC: NorthernLights Design

PC: NorthernLights Design

21 – Alyeska Resort looks like it belongs right on the front of a post card. This place sure knows how to make the snowy months look good!

PC: Renee Gilbert Photography

PC: Renee Gilbert Photography

22 – When you think about winter on The Kenai, this is the exact image that should come to your mind each and every time. Peaceful, serene and breathtakingly beautiful.

PC: Bing

PC: Bing

23 – The soft and serene views overlooking a wintery Kelly Lake are enough to fill your heart full of love and happiness.

PC: Mark Pierson Photography

PC: Mark Pierson Photography

24 – Another one of the historic Alaska Railroad because we just can’t get enough of those brilliant blue and yellow Alaska colors against a snow mountainous backdrop.

PC: Rmevet Photography

PC: Rmevet Photography

25 – Sixmile River Valley looking south towards the charming little town of Hope is a snowy, wintery dream this time of year.

PC: Wonderlane, Flickr

PC: Wonderlane, Flickr

Wishing all of our friends, fans and neighbors on The Kenai, Alaska’s Playground a safe and happy holiday season!