My blog posts likely contain affiliate links, including for the Amazon Associates program.
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!).
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. 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.