Nick and I are always planning for our next big adventure. When the topic of honeymoon destinations came into conversation, it felt like a big decision. Our wedding was originally supposed to happen on March 20th, 2021. Thanks to Covid, we pushed it to July 26th. Which also meant our approach to honeymooning shifted. March is the perfect month for a warm getaway. But in July, any southern destination would’ve been stifling for us northerners. It didn’t take long for us to realize Alaska was the perfect honeymoon destination for late summer.
With the state’s diverse wildlife, mountains, and large bodies of water, there is no better option for the outdoorsy. In addition, Alaska has around 19-20 hours of daylight in July, so with only a week to see and do as much as possible, we knew we’d be able to maximize our days. It can be intimidating planning a trip to somewhere you’ve never been. Especially for a state as big and vast as Alaska, it’s challenging to know where to begin. My recommendation is to decide on the activities that are non-negotiables for you, and plan around them. For us, National Parks were spots we had to factor in. So we chose Denali National Park and the Kenai Fjords, and our honeymoon in Alaska fell into place.
Day 1: Travel to Denali
Fighting a hangover from our wedding festivities, Nick and I boarded the plane for our flight to Anchorage. Despite a slight weather delay and Nick’s neighbor spilling Coca-Cola all over his lap, the flight was fairly reasonable. I took advantage of the time to catch up on some books I’d been saving for the trip. Upon landing in Anchorage, I was surprised at how easy it was to find the luggage carousel and rental vehicle counter. The airport is not nearly as big as Minneapolis, so I appreciate ones that are less hectic. Not to mention, the Anchorage airport is chalk full of Native American artwork and taxidermy of the state’s wildlife. It’s a vibe that really sets the mood for the adventure ahead.
Lunch in Anchorage: Glacier Brewhouse
Our first spot before making the drive to the Denali region was the Glacier Brewhouse in Anchorage for lunch. I did a lot of research on restaurants beforehand because we wanted to have good seafood experiences in Alaska. I must say, of all the fish we tried, the fresh halibut at Glacier Brewhouse was by far the best. They upcharge when it’s fresh, but my god it is so worth it. Afterwards, we drove 4 hours to Denali Cabins in Cantwell, AK.
Lodging: Denali Cabins
The scenery looked a lot like northern Minnesota, until we hit the mountains. I’ll never grow tired of that feeling when you turn the corner and see mountains. It’s like getting a punch to the stomach that leaves you breathless, but without the pain, only appreciation. Our little log cabin at Denali Cabins was quaint. It had a bed, tv, counter with a sink, and a small bathroom with a toilet and shower. Although tiny, we loved staying there and found the cabin in tune with the Alaskan experience. Not to mention, the property had a restaurant, a coffee shop, and a couple hot tubs with mountain views.
When Nick and I discuss going back to Denali, we talk about staying there again. It was perfect and the staff was super friendly. They even gave us bear spray to borrow. That night, we grabbed a few food items at the only grocery store for miles. We then concluded the night with a few appetizers at the Denali Cabins restaurant, Prey Pub and Eatery.
Day 2: Denali
We started our first full day in Denali with a warm cup of coffee and multiple unread text messages. Our friends and family wanted to know if we survived the earthquake. Apparently while we were asleep, a 8.2 magnitude earthquake struck the Alaskan Peninsula. According to the news, it was the largest in the U.S. since 1965. Being several hours north of the affected area, we didn’t experience any aftershocks. Although I doubt we would have noticed with how tired we were.
Hiking in Denali
We pulled into the Denali National Park entrance around 8:30 am and were shocked at how few people were around. It is certainly not like Glacier or the Smoky Mountains where you struggle to find a parking spot. We decided to hike the Horseshoe Lake Trail and were completely alone at the trailhead. The “bears frequent here” signs made us uneasy. To remain noisy, I played music on my phone while Nick walked with the bear spray in hand. Eventually we saw other hikers and felt more relaxed. The view of the lake was beautiful, and we got several good pictures with the water and mountains behind us.
Our second hike of the day led to the sled dog kennels where I petted as many fur babies as possible. We learned all about the park responsibilities of the sled dogs in the winter, they’re somewhat local celebrities. It made me miss our baby, Toby. After our day in the park, we returned to our cabin for a quick nap and then drove to 49th State Brewing for dinner.
Dinner in Denali: 49th State Brewing
At dinner, we ordered a couple beers and burgers. The place had a fun atmosphere and was packed with tables full of hungry customers. Where were all these people when we were braving the trails?? We chatted it up with an elderly couple seated next to us, and they encouraged us to try and reserve a last minute spot on the Denali transit bus. I had attempted to book us seats online the month before, but they were all full. The couple said to call and see if anything opened up since then. I made a mental note and when our tab arrived, it was paid in full by an anonymous individual. To this day we still don’t know who bought our dinner, but we suspect that couple. The funny thing is, we never even told them we were on our honeymoon, they paid for it because they were just that nice. We ended the night by sneaking plastic cups of wine into one of the hot tubs and took in the peaceful night around us.
Day 3: Denali
My alarm sounded at 6 a.m. because I was determined to get us on one of those damn buses. The reason the buses are a hot commodity is because you can only access the first 15 miles of the park by your own vehicle, the remaining 75 miles are restricted for transit buses. The rep on the phone told me to drive to the bus depot and talk to someone at the ticket counter. We scrambled over to the depot and tried not to get our hopes up.
Like we suspected, the woman at the counter told us the buses were full and so we walked back to our car to discuss plan b for the day. I could tell Nick was bummed. He wanted to go back inside and check if we could be put on some sort of waitlist. I didn’t want to bother the woman at the counter again, but thank god we did because the people ahead of us canceled and we were in.
Denali Transit Bus
We could not believe our luck and felt so giddy that we were first in line to board the bus. It is an 8 hour ride through the park and it makes several stops along the way for bathroom breaks, photo opportunities, and wildlife encounters. If you see an animal during the ride, you’re supposed to yell “STOP” so fellow riders can also get a look. You’re welcome to get off the bus at any point and pave your own way. Then hop back on a different bus whenever another comes along.
The transit bus ride ended up being an incredible experience and I am so grateful we didn’t give up on it. We saw multiple grizzlies, caribou, sheep, and bull moose. To add to our luck, the Denali summit made an appearance, which our bus driver explained is rare due to its normal cloud coverage. I took multiple pictures to document our good fortune. It’s hard to put into words how beautiful and special Denali National Park was to see. I feel special for just being there a brief moment in time.
Dinner in Denali: Prospector’s Pizzeria
When the bus ride was over, we went straight to Prospector’s Pizzeria where we split the Kodiak Bear pizza. It was loaded with pepperoni, sausage, bacon, and elk meatballs. Behind the bar, dollar bills with different states scribbled on them decorated the wall. I noticed Minnesota was missing and took it upon myself to add to their display. After a little browsing of the gift shops nearby, we got a nightcap at the Preb Pub bar, and hit the hay.
Day 4: Talkeetna
I woke up feeling bummed to be leaving Denali, but I’d never seen Nick move faster. He was jacked for our guided fishing that afternoon. The small, quirky town of Talkeetna is about 2-½ hours south of Cantwell, and was a great stop for some fishing and wandering the town’s unique strip of gift shops. We planned enough time to have lunch in town and do some shopping. My favorite stop was Conscious Coffee, an artsy little coffee shop where you order through their outdoor window. We ate lunch at the Denali Brewing Co.
Guided Fishing Tour
Our guided fishing tour was with Phantom Tri-River Charters, where we were placed with about 10 other people, divided into two separate boats led by two guides. The guides were extremely knowledgeable about navigating the rivers and they helped us catch a lot of fish. We waded in the Talkeetna River and could see all the salmon chilling on the rocky bottoms, facing upriver.
Although a successful day of fishing, we threw our fish back and didn’t keep any to send home. We decided prior to the trip that we would catch and release, but in the future we’ll research ahead of time to understand the process of mailing some back or traveling with it. Many people at the airport were checking boxes full of fish. That’ll be us next time!
Exhausted from our full day, we still had 4 hours in the car to get down to Seward, AK, the last stop of our honeymoon. This is where the 20 hours of daylight really paid off. We arrived at midnight, and it was still light out. I was thankful because the view along the coast was breathtaking. Seward is known as the town where the sea meets the mountains. I’d never seen anything like it.
Day 5: Seward
Lodging: Hotel Seward
While in Seward, we stayed at the Hotel Seward, an old, historical spot centrally located in town. I chose it mostly due to its reasonable price, but I’m also one for an experience. I appreciated its weird decor and somewhat eerie vibe. If you decide to stay there, make sure you book a room with a bathroom. Luckily ours had one, but some of the other rooms use a communal restroom.
Kenai Fjords Boat Tour
Our first activity in Seward was a boat tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park. We took Bonine to avoid motion sickness, and boarded the boat. My uncle had done the tour before and recommended we get seats on top of the boat for the best views. Although it was cold outside of the boat, it was a great recommendation. We saw Hawaiian whales that had migrated north, sea lions sunning themselves on rocks, multiple types of birds, and the Aialik Glacier.
The boat crew provided lunch and the snack counter was open all day for a glacier martini, hot chocolate, and other cravings. I stuck to hot cups of coffee to keep myself awake. Although Bonine is anti-drowsiness, the movement of the boat was rocking me to sleep by the afternoon. The boat tour ended with a dinner stop at Fox Island where they served salmon, rolls, and vegetables.
Our favorite spot in Seward was the Seward Brewing Co., which was by far the best brewery we visited in Alaska. Their beers were fantastic and we split a pile of loaded french fries for a tasty late night snack.
Day 6: Seward
We spent our final full day in Alaska exploring more of Seward. By this time in our honeymoon, we were pretty burned out but happy with all the experiences thus far. In the morning we wandered into the Alaska Sealife Center to get up close and personal with the animals we had seen from the boat tour the day before. To my dismay, we did not get to see any whales. Then, we stopped in the Lone Chicharron Taqueria for rockfish tacos. 10/10 I recommend this place for a quick lunch stop. We spent the afternoon walking around town, had some ice cream, and decided to drive to Exit Glacier for a short hike to end the day.
At Exit Glacier, there are several hiking trails. With our current state of exhaustion, we chose the easy one to the bottom of the glacier. We saw several individuals climbing to the top but in the moment thought, “good for them”. There are markers along the path that show where the glacier stretched the past decades, which gave me a pit in my stomach, seeing how much it has shrunk over the years.
Dinner in Seward: Salmon Bake Restaurant
For dinner, we lined up outside of the Salmon Bake Restaurant with other seafood enthusiasts for some fresh fish. We split half a pound of king crab legs, and each had the salmon bake dinner. We were definitely given the seafood experience we came for. With fully bellies and tired legs, we cozied up in the hotel room watching South Park.
Day 7: Travel Home
On day 7 of our honeymoon, we drove back to Anchorage to fly home. Although ready to be back in our own bed and catch up on rest, I glanced in the rearview mirror feeling sad. Leaving Alaska, I felt like a different person. I was someone who had experienced the wild yet stillness of Alaska. I already wanted to be back.
Tips for Traveling in Alaska
- Do the Denali National Park transit bus. Our tip? Book in advance! We learned one month ahead was not enough. We lucked out getting tickets last minute, but I don’t recommend winging it.
- When traveling in the summer, pack light jackets and pants. The weather was in the 60s and 70s so most days I wore hiking pants with a tank top and jacket. However, if you plan to sit outside on the Kenai Fjords boat tour, you’ll want to bundle up.
- Get a rental vehicle if your budget allows. I know people that travel around Alaska on the train systems, but we crammed a lot of activities into our trip and wanted to operate on our own schedule.
- Research activities, restaurants, grocery stores, and even gas stations prior to your arrival. I recorded all my findings in an itinerary. This is probably good advice for any trip but I found some great places to eat that were worth the hype. Also, Alaska is so desolate and you’ll drive long stretches without civilization so it was nice to know where we could stop for gas or stock up on groceries.
- Plan to go at least a week, and factor in some down time. It’s hard not to fill your days in Alaska, but everyone will be in a much better mood if you’re not sleep deprived.
- Carry a travel journal. Nick’s godmother gifted us a travel journal and compass that we brought with us. I wrote entries for each day that we were there, which helped refresh my memory for this blog post. But it’s fun to read back on your adventures.
Things We Would Have Changed
- When we return to Alaska, we plan to fish the Kenai River area and bring fish home. Again, we learned this is something to book way in advance because it’s a popular fishing spot. Fishing in Talkeetna was nice because we wanted to stop there anyways, but we’ve heard of some great spots on the Kenai Peninsula.
- We chose the 8 hour Kenai Fjords tour and it was too long. Like I said, I got sleepy and it lost its allure near the end. Our tour also included the Fox Island dinner but the salmon was nothing special. We wish we had done a shorter tour and ate in Seward.
- Research when the restaurants you plan to eat at are open. For some reason when we were in Seward, a bunch of the really popular spots were all closed on Tuesdays. So we didn’t get to try them.
- Give yourself plenty of time departing the Anchorage airport. Remember when I said it was easy upon arrival? Well it was not like that flying home. We waited a long time to check our bags. Like I said, lots of people bring home their prized catches. The airport staff isn’t equipped for large crowds.
We had the best time in Alaska and I hope that if you’re planning to travel there in the future, that you found this post helpful! Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or comments.