Personal Stories

August 2023 Alaska Trip Report:
Making Lemonade from Lemons

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While it might seem from the pictures and stories here on my blog that travel is always smooth sailing, it is always my goal to show travel as it really is: a wonderful opportunity, often messy and requiring flexibility, and always memorable. Such was the case for my most recent trip to Alaska in late August 2023; almost none of it went according to plan – but everyone learned from it, and I think we each even had a good time (at least once!).

August 2023 Trip Report Hero

In a first for this blog, I’m writing a detailed recap of my exact trip, including all dates, activities, meals, etc. I hope this helps you see that A) I do the activities I recommend and B) I follow my own advice when it comes to trip planning with modifications for the specific trip, season, and activities I want that time.

If you have any questions about my trip, or are working to plan your own Alaska trip, I’m here to help. Let me know in the comments below, or check out the 130+ articles I’ve written in my Alaska travel guide to help. Ready to dive in?!

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Dena’ina Ełnena peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

General Trip Info & Recap

Before jumping into the details, I thought it might be helpful to cover the basics of this trip – why it happened, and what happened.

In short, I planned this trip as a gift to my brother J, who has autism. He was born in Alaska and has not visited since our family moved away in 2006. He has traveled a few times, including to visit me in London once while living there – but this was the first big trip in a while, and the first one without our parents present. Instead, Mr. V and I would be there to help him and hopefully have a good time.

Unfortunately, the six-day trip he requested was truncated; he forcefully requested to go home on day 2, and I obliged for the sake of all of us (the stress of our personal interactions was causing major problems, and this pregnant momma can’t handle that!).

While it was expensive to book a last-minute round-trip to Alaska to drop him off and come back to finish the trip with Mr. V, I’m glad I did it all: we tried to see if J could travel with us, we resolved the situation when he couldn’t, and I got to spend a few days exploring a beloved destination with my favorite travel companion.

In all, this was not the trip I planned or wanted – I wish it had all gone smoothly and according to plan. But as the name of this recap suggests, we made lemonade from lemons and still had the best trip we could (however long it was for each of us).

My August 2023 Itinerary (in the end)

While I know many people follow my general advice and itineraries to plan their Alaska trips, I know it’s also helpful to see what my own trips are really like. Below is a detailed account of my trip in August 2023 with all of the activities we did and meals we enjoyed.

Day 0 / August 23 (Travel)

As is always the case, the first day of our trip was dedicated to travel: Mr. V and I left Cleveland very early and arrived in Minneapolis to pick up my brother from my parents. We all went out to an early lunch before heading back to the airport to fly to Anchorage by way of Seattle.

We arrived in Anchorage and made our way to the Airbnb I booked near downtown (unfortunately no longer available!). We had already had dinner on the plane, so decided to call it an early night because we were a little jet-lagged and set out to start the morning on a good note.

Day 1 / August 24

Unfortunately – as many 2023 travelers also experienced –, we woke up to a pretty lame day from a weather perspective. It was grey and drizzly so we decided to lay low.

After walking to breakfast at Biscuitclub, we returned to the Airbnb to hang out for the day. While I thought this lack of pressure to do stuff and be out in the bad weather was a good idea, it ended up creating a pressure cooker; Mr. V and J ended up getting in a verbal argument that took a while to diffuse. J and I had a nice cup of coffee/hot cocoa at Kaladi Bros Coffee, though.

To end the day, we all went to dinner at 49th State Brewing followed by watching movies back at the Airbnb. I couldn’t wait to get out and start sightseeing the next day since that would help keep the peace. (I hoped!)

Day 2 / August 25

On our second full day, J and I let Mr. V have some quiet time to do work while we went to breakfast at Snow City Cafe – it was nice but I’m not sure it was worth the wait at this perpetually busy restaurant.

Next we all met up and rode the Anchorage Trolley Tour; I’ve done this tour before and generally recommend it, but my opinion is slowly shifting. (You can read more of my thoughts here and let me know what you think if you’ve also taken this tour.

We then had lunch at Fletcher’s in the Hotel Captain Cook before meeting up with our guide from Salmon Berry Tours. As J had specifically requested gold panning during our trip, I booked their Independence Mine Historical State Park Tour, which includes gold panning right near the old gold mine.

Most of the tour went really well, until the end when J lost his cool at Mr. V again and insisted we go home right now. As I was personally exhausted from two days of this, I agreed and booked him and I last-minute tickets to Minneapolis leaving that night. (Needless to say, I was even more exhausted by doing this, but it was the right call for everyone!)

Day 3 / August 26

J and I flew overnight from Anchorage to Minneapolis, where I handed him off to my parents. I then had about an hour at the airport before catching a flight back to Anchorage; you might wonder why I didn’t just fly it all home, but I had already paid for a lot of the remaining activities on our trip and wanted to enjoy them with Mr. V even if it was expensive (and exhausting) to fly back.

After arriving midday, Mr. V and I attempted to do a few different activities, but bad weather prevented us – both the Portage Glacier Cruise was canceled due to high winds and the Alaska Native Heritage Center was closed due to a power outage. (Don’t worry, we were able to do those a few days later.)

In the end, we decided to try something completely different and went berry picking in Arctic Valley, a local area near Anchorage. The blueberries were almost perfectly ripe and we were able to collect a good amount during a half-hour of picking.

Last but not least, I was finally able to bring Mr. V to an essential Anchorage restaurant: that’s right, it was time for Moose’s Tooth! This is widely considered one of the best restaurants in Anchorage and certainly the best pizza in the state. We did have to wait for a table (as usual for this popular spot) and our food (which is made fresh to order) but it was absolutely worth it to finally share a pizza from I’ve been telling him about since the beginning of our relationship!

After all that travel in the previous 24 hours, we had an early night and were excited for our two remaining full days.

Day 4 / August 27

Finally, a day with decent weather! As it looked like the perfect day to be outside all day, we decided to make the most of it.

After breakfast at our Airbnb (since we had bought groceries to cut down on food costs for our group.), we set out north from Anchorage. Our first stop was the Eagle River Nature Center where we walked the short Rodak Nature Trail; we just missed out on seeing some bears in the area and no salmon were visible in the river despite recent reports. It was still a nice walk to start the day though!

We then stopped for lunch at Matanuska Brewing in Eagle River before continuing north. I decided to take a few detours en route to our final destination – the Alaska State Fair – to burn off some calories and pass the afternoon.

First up, we made the hike to Thunderbird Falls; I hadn’t hiked this trail since I was in high school and it’s really nice; the Falls trail itself is very doable for all, including families. If you have the time, heading down to the Creek trail is also cool. Because Mr. V and I had our XtraTufs on, we were able to walk a little way up the creek to get incredible views of the entire falls.

We also made a quick stop at Eklutna Historical Park in the native community of the same name. The park itself focuses on two Russian Orthodox churches (a historic one and a modern one) as well as a cemetery full of colorful spirit houses that blend the Dena’ina Athabascan native people with the religion they adopted after Russians arrived in Alaska.

For our final stop of the day, Mr. V and I made our way to the Alaska State Fair. I’m planning to write a guide for visitors who want to spend time at the Fair, but for now, I’ll say we spent several hours walking around, seeing livestock, souvenir shopping, and eating some of the best foods I remember from my childhood – as well as a few new ones I’d never had before. The State Fair is a great choice if you’re visiting Alaska in late August!

Day 5 / August 28

Our last full day was just as busy as the day before, despite the weather being much less agreeable. With raincoats and Xtratufs on, Mr. V and I first headed (back) to the Alaska Native Heritage Center; this facility opened when I was a kid in Alaska, and I hadn’t visited since. It’s an absolutely essential way to experience Alaska Native culture in Alaska – I’m looking forward to putting forward a guide to all those experiences including the ANHC in the future.

After that, we had a unique opportunity: we got to meet Star the Reindeer, a local Anchorage celebrity. I connected with Star’s owner, Albert, several years ago through this blog and he invited us to come visit and meet Star directly. It was very enlightening to learn more about Star’s story (and Albert’s too) to explain this unusual “attraction” in Anchorage. I’m planning on writing a story about this too!

Next, we made our way (back) to try and do the Portage Glacier Cruise. I last did this cruise in 2006, so was long overdue for a return to see if this short, subdued glacier experience is worth it. In all, I actually think it is – it’s a great option for people who won’t make it to Seward or Whittier for a longer glacier cruise during their Alaska itinerary. We also hiked the short Byron Glacier Trail; while it was socked in with clouds, it was still a beautiful hike.

From there we had to return to the airport to begin making our way home. We had a mediocre dinner at Humpy’s at the airport before boarding our flight home.

Day 6 / August 29 (Travel)

While we weren’t in Alaska on the 29th, I only mention this date as it was part of the trip; we left Anchorage at 11:10pm and arrived at Minneapolis at 7:30am. We had originally planned to spend time with my family after dropping my brother J off with my parents, but as those plans had (obviously) changed, we spent the day hanging out in airport lounges before our flight back to Cleveland in the afternoon.

It wasn’t a day of fun Alaska adventures, but it may take you a full day to get home from your trip too – so worth planning for it with extra clothes and plenty of ways to pass the layover.

I’ll wrap it up here but am happy to answer any questions you have about this trip I took or planning your own Alaska trip, in the comments below.

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

20 Comments

  • Phyllis Yin

    I am glad you made the best lemonade from lemons. That is life. My husband and I spent almost 3 full raining days anxiously waiting/ excitedly watching black bears, and salmon and sealions at the hatchery in Valdez last few days.

  • Charles Zimmerman

    Hi Valerie – this is Chuck Zimmerman in Carson City, NV

    I am reaching out to you for guidance regarding a 10-day Alaska trip I am planning for next summer (late July/early August) with my wife, son and his family including two kids ages 10 and 12. Is it possible to have a phone call with you or could we have an email exchange regarding what we’re interested in and what your recommendations might be?

    Thanks, Chuck

  • Jen

    Hi Valerie – I’m eaving for Alaska trip in 5 days and worried about the rainy weather. We have lots of activites planned, but worried we won’t be able to do them. It’s just me and my sister for this first part of the trip and we are headed to Anchorage (1 day), Homer (2 nights), Seward (2 nights), Girwood (1 night) and Talkeetna (1 night), before heading to see my daughter (who just moved to Kodiak).

    Do you have any suggestions on keeping my reservations or just cancelling and trying to rebook last minute if the weather looks good? Not sure if we will be able to do: Major Marine Tour, K2 Flightseeing, and Alaska River Adventures in particular.
    Thank you for any advice!

    • Valerie

      Keep your reservations, bring rain gear, and be prepared for change – that’s just how it is when you visit Alaska this time of year! (Actually this whole summer was very rainy, so I wouldn’t count on getting clear days or planning for them at this point.)

  • Nancy Harder

    My husband and I have been blessed to be able to go to Alaska every year. We have been to most all of the places you suggest. They are all great places and well worth seeing! We bundle up and go out in the rain – the scenery has a different look in rain versus sun but still very beautiful!

  • Mike Hippe

    Hi Valerie, Just purchased the eight day itinerary for use next year. I would like to go as late in the year as feasible. What is the latest date you would recommend starting one of the 8 day itineraries considering availability of hotels, restaurants, tours and Denali access? I have been reading your articles for a couple of years now, Thank you.

    • Valerie

      Hi, Mike! Thanks for purchasing! The latest I would start an 8-day itinerary in 2024 is probably around Labor Day (Sept 2). Ending by/around Sept 10 means you should still be able to do everything – any later than that, and you risk closures/availability issues as staffing drops way off.

  • rameen zubair

    Hi Valerie!
    I love your page! I’m planning a potential visit in March and was wondering what your top 3 must do experiences are that you’d recommend! And- if I was to splurge on one nicer quality piece of clothing for the trip, what wouls you recommend I spend it on?

  • Lorrie

    Hi Valerie! What great insight and incredible photos! Alaska has always been on our bucket list. We are in planning stages of an RV trip (car in tow), with our teen daughter and 2 doodles. Are most locations pet-friendly? (Probably no rafting – lol!) Although we were thinking late summer (August ’24), our timing and number of days can be flexible. Thank you!

    • Valerie

      I’m sorry, I’m not sure what’s pet-friendly, Lorrie. You’ll need to contact each company you want to visit directly to see their policies.

  • Maria Hurley

    Hi there
    Love the idea of your site. Planning a 9 to 10 day Alaska trip ( all the way from Ireland ) .
    The trip must include as much bear viewing as possible. Can you suggest an itinerary from Anchorage ?
    Thanks

  • Rajeev Gupta

    Great to see Valerie. Do you have any promotion codes for Phillips 26 glacier cruise that you can help with? I saw on their FB page that they posted your pics with you on the boat and promoting them, so may be if you can help with a promotion codes or on how I can get a discount for it? Please advise. Thanks in advance.

  • Adrian

    Dear Valerie,

    We are planning a trip from Poland, couple with 4 adult kids, 8/23-9/03. Is there a risk of bad weather in this part of the summer? If we want to be in the bushes (campgrounds), from price point of view should we rent RV or look for some lodges? I wanted to purchase 8 days trip planner but not sure how to get to the disounted price of $35. Can you advise?

    Kind regards,
    Adrian

    • Valerie

      Hi, Adrian! I know I got you set up with the itinerary; you should definitely be planning for rain in the latter part of the summer.

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