Alaska Trip 2022 – Coastal Classic Train & Aurora Borealis

It's been a minute since I've posted any sort of travel related stuff.  With COVID still lingering and us spending our first year in California we haven't really had the desire to do a whole lot outside of our new state.

My family does a group vacation once a year (sans 2020, and 2021, of course) but Alaska was on the docket this year.  It wasn't planned until after we had already committed to Germany a mere 3 days after getting home from Alaska, so it was a major first-world problem month in September – thankful to be alive and for my health and the ability to experience these things.

This was also the first trip trying out my new camera, a Panasonic Lumix S5, so I was excited to test and see if I could see the difference from my previous Sony a6000 I'd had for about 5 years – the short answer is fuck yes.

Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic

We did the Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic train ride from Anchorage to Seward.  I had never done a train ride like this before and it was honestly the shit.  We had so much fun checking out all the scenery on the ride.  Breakfast is served in the dining cart if you get a GoldStar ticket and plenty of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks are available if you're feeling it.  I am a train guy for real now.

I think this part of Alaska is probably some of the most beautiful scenery I've scene – it's a close match up with some parts of Morocco.
The train ride was incredible – I was surprised how into I was.

The train ride is about 5 hours from Anchorage to Seward but for the majority of the ride you can't take your eyes off of the Alaskan wilderness.

Hannah on the train.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Part of the reason we took the train down to Seward was to visit Kenai Fjords National Park.  Seward is the largest city in the area (heavy quotation marks around the large part) and is where the overwhelming majority of excursions and trips begin.

We took a 8 hour boat tour across some of Kenai Fjord's major areas to see both landscapes and wildlife.  While we struck out on seeing whales (Monterrey, CA is a fantastic place for whale watching, btw, we saw plenty last year) the landscapes were incredible.  Tons of glaciers and everything else that I consdier the epitome of picturesque Alaska.

One of the classic photos people take of Kenai Fjords NP on this boat trip.
Aialik Glacier, one of the largest we saw on our excursion.
Some smaller glaciers in the distance.
The glaciers around Kenai Fjords NP are stunning, the size is incredible.
Another boat checking out Aialik Glacier.
More details of Aialik Glacier.
Looking closely to the rock on the right you can see some sea lions.


I loved Alaska and want to go back in a few years, but the towns were all kind of depressing, sans Seward.  Seward felt like a place you could enjoy and actually spend an extended amount of time in despite it being a small town with a large transient population.  A handful of better-than-good restaurants, a local brewery, dispensary, good bars (if you're in the area make sure to check out The Flamingo Lounge, an incredible bar that's better than 75% of what's in San Francisco), and the Alaska Sealife Center – Alaska's best aquarium and one of the better ones I've been to.

I believe the giant crane-looking thing in the back is for quickly loading cruise ships with supplies.
It was the end of the season but still plenty of people trying to get the last bits of Salmon.
What I assume are old dock columns.
Seward's main marina.
The view from our hotel in Seward.

We had a driving service take us back to Anchorage after a couple of days in Seward rather than take the train back again – but damn near as many beautiful backdrops on the highway than the railroad.  After a quick night in Anchorage we were heading to Fairbanks the next day to hopefully see the Northern Lights.

One of the many scenic stops on the way from Seward back to Anchorage.
One of the most recommended restaurants we got in Anchorage was Moose's Tooth, a pizzeria and brewery. Turns out they've done some dope shows there over the years.

Fairbanks & the Northern Lights

I alluded to it earlier but Alaskan cities don't have much going on post the year's "nice" weather season, and Fairbanks was no exception.  Prior to heading to our viewing cabin for the night we walked around a bit and the city was essentially dead.  My tolerance for depressing small towns is high after growing up in rural Indiana, but Fairbanks this time of year just felt like another level.  Not talking shit at all but after visiting Fairbanks in September I can understand while alcohol and drug problems run rampant through some parts of the state.

No clue why, but at the Alaska Ice Sculpture Museum (extremely bizarre experience) there were multiple busts of Jerry Garcia.

The goal of visiting Fairbanks this time of year was solely for viewing the Northern Lights, which thankfully we were able to see.  They're fairly faint to the naked eye, but with a longer exposure on a camera the green really pops out.

This was really my first true "long exposure" challenge with my camera sans some basic star stuff.

Seeing the Northern Lights is one of the "one and done" things for me.  I'm glad I went out of my way to experience them, but can't say I'd care to fly somewhere remote strictly to see them again any time soon.

I don't quite know why I expected any different but I was a little shocked to be as enamoured with Alaska as I was.  Much like Yellowstone I'd love to visit in the summer months.  Maybe Juneau and Ketchikan are next?  I had always kind of considered Colorado, California, Montana, etc to kind of be peak American beauty (and in a lot of ways they are) but Alaska I think changed my mind.  I can't think of a more beautiful landscape I've been to in the country.

Some more Alaksa photos can be found here.

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