Alaska Nome and Denali Wildlife Tour
Nature and Birding Tours with Naturalist Journeys
June 5-15, 2013, with Nome extension May 31 – June 5
“Peg has chosen the best sites and sights, the timing, the opportunities to try some new things, and she lets you be yourself within those plans.”
- Mary Hirsch
“How could anyone go through their life without going to Denali?”
- Ellen Lahlum
In a world where the treasures of wildlife and wild places are dwindling, our Alaska wildlife tour is rates top as a bucket list destination, for Alaska remains a wilderness jewel. More than any place in North America, it retains its wild character and ecological integrity, making participation in a top birding and nature tour here simply a “must do” experience. We visit in June when we have endless hours of daylight to explore. It is an active time for birds and wildlife feeding young in the short summer season. Our Alaska wildlife tour is one of our most popular, a nature and birding tour designed to visit signature landscapes from seacoast to tundra. Look for Moose and a variety of birds in thick spruce forests, find puffins and other alcids as you circumnavigate seabird islands amid narrow fjords at Kenai, and hike in Denali National Park. We visit wildlife-rich areas near Anchorage, Denali, Seward, and Homer and birds abound during our birding and wildlife tour extension to Nome.
Our Alaska wildlife tour samples much of Alaska’s magnificent scenery would not be complete without a boat trip into the Gulf of Alaska and Kenai Fjords National Park from Seward. From our comfortable boat, we look for close encounters with Humpback Whales, large groups of Orca, dolphins, and the increasingly rare Steller’s Sea Lion. Our route takes us past several large glaciers in Resurrection Bay, and then travels through the rich waters of the Chiswell Islands where seabirds such as Tufted and Horned Puffins, Thick-billed and Common Murres, Black-legged Kittiwake, and Red-faced Cormorant nest in the long days of summer. We enter Northwestern Fjord, one of the most spectacular of the Kenai Fjords National Park. At its head, we stop the boat very close to the calving glacier, taking in its magnificent beauty and myriad sounds of ice falling.
Three nights of our Alaska wildlife tour are at the renowned North Face Lodge, a naturalist’s paradise with views of Mt. McKinley possible on clear days from the porch. The proprietors’ commitment to fine food, great hikes, local expertise, and conservation in the region provides many of the highlights of our stay. Stan Senner, well-known Alaskan conservationist, is the invited Guest Speaker during our stay.
Our Alaska wildlife tour begins in Anchorage; there is much to see and experience in this beautiful city, rimmed by water and mountains. The local museum is excellent, we enjoy a walk at Westchester Lagoon, and we check local ponds for Pacific Loons in breeding plumage and other beautiful species. Perhaps we linger here a bit as Anchorage has such excellent restaurants!
In Homer we enjoy forests, farms and views, visit the Pratt Museum and travel by boat to dinner in the artisan community of Halibut Cove. En route to Homer we stop in Soldotna to see the Russian churches.
On our birding and wildlife tour extension to Nome, we explore a wild and beautiful landscape close to the Arctic Circle. Perched on the sea, with a backdrop of mountains behind, Nome draws regular and vagrant Asian birds from nearby Russia. Many plants exhibit Old World affinities and this far north tree-line has given way to open tundra. Nome’s unique community is locked in by ice for much of the year. Our visit is timed for the ice ‘break-up’, an exciting time when locals celebrate the end of winter and birders from around the world gather with hopes of seeing unusual species. After exploring many areas, we think Nome provides Alaska’s premier birding experience. Nome also provides an authentic Alaskan wildlife tour experience away from roads and regular connections to the outer world. Its colorful Gold Rush history is evident throughout the area. An annual highlight in March is the finish of the Iditarod race – you can stand on the finish line in the center of Nome.
Join us to explore in depth Alaska: Kenai Fjords and Denali National Parks, scenic areas near Anchorage and Homer, and for those that extend their stay, Nome.
Wed., June 5 Arrival in Anchorage
Arrive today in Anchorage, Alaska for the start of our Alaska wildlife tour. As the plane comes in over Cooke Inlet, watch for possible pods of Beluga Whale below – if you can take your eyes off the snow-covered peaks on the west side of the bay, or the verdant Chugach Mountains that give a dramatic background to Anchorage, Alaska’s vibrant most populous city.
Today is a rest and relax day after your travels with no activities planned. However, for those that arrive in time, our comfortable accommodations are well-situated near downtown Anchorage so that you can explore. Plan to explore at your leisure as flights arrive throughout the day and into the evening. Just outside our bed and breakfast there is walking trail with good birding. On mudflats you may see gulls, terns and sandpipers feeding, and in marshy areas where freshwater rivers enter, you may find migrating Sandhill Cranes. For those arriving in time, including all that are on our Nome pre-tour extension, enjoy dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, meeting your traveling companions.
Accommodations at the Copper Whale, Anchorage (D)
Thurs., June 6 Westchester Lagoon / Coastal Trail / Anchorage Museum
After a delightful breakfast at the Copper Whale, we have a birding stop at nearby Westchester Lagoon. Here we may find Red-necked Grebes (often with babies on their backs), Hudsonian Godwits and Short-billed Dowitchers. Mew Gulls call overhead, and in wooded areas we walk through between tidal mudflats we may find Alder Flycatchers, Blackpoll Warblers or other songbirds. Sandhill Cranes may greet us loudly, and with luck we’ll have views of snow-capped mountains.
In the afternoon we focus on culture, seeing the city highlights and the excellent local Anchorage Museum with exhibits on art, history and science. Enjoy some free time to shop, explore downtown, and have dinner at your leisure with a great choice of restaurants. If you prefer to walk, the coastal trail can be accessed right outside your door, and extends for many miles.
Accommodations at the Copper Whale, Anchorage
Fri., June 7 Denali National Park / North Face Lodge
We get an early start for Denali National Park, getting a shuttle from Anchorage to the train station at entrance to Denali National Park. Our bus passes through boreal forest, where we see abundant Black Spruce interspersed with ponds and wetlands. We keep our eyes peeled for Trumpeter Swans, Moose and other wildlife as the train moves along. As we get close to Denali, the mountain scenery is quite dramatic. Guides from North Face Lodge await us at the station. As they load luggage and pick up supplies, we have time to view exhibits at the National Park Visitor’s Center. We then head to the wilds, driving 90 miles through Denali National Park to our intimate, peaceful lodge with front porch views of Mt. McKinley (Denali). En route, any number of exciting wildlife sightings are possible, from Gyrfalcons to Grizzly Bears, Moose, Dall Sheep and more. Along the way, we enjoy a great picnic dinner featuring wild Alaskan delicacies. We arrive in time for dessert, an orientation to the North Face Lodge, and hopefully beautiful views.
Accommodations at North Face Lodge, Denali National Park (B,L,D)
Sat., June 8 and Sun., June 9 Denali National Park / North Face Lodge
We have two full days to enjoy the spectacular wilderness of Denali National Park. Our lodgings offer us great comfort, delicious meals, private bath, and warm hospitality. Each morning, expert naturalists offer a variety of hikes in tundra and forest habitats. These are described in detail at breakfast, and you can select from an easy-paced “naturalist foray,” or either a moderate or strenuous hike that often follows ridgelines or riverine routes in Denali National Park.
Each outing is unique. While learning about fascinating aspects of tundra ecology, geology, and more, we check tundra ponds for ducks and geese and berry-rich hillsides for bears. This is the best time of year to see Moose, Caribous, and Grizzly Bears. In addition to the large mammals, we may encounter Hoary Marmots, Pine Martens, Rock and Willow Ptarmigans, a variety of songbirds, and a wonderful mix of tundra wildflowers. You can hike as much or as little as you wish. The lodge offers an on-site learning lab and library, as well as trails just outside the door. Evening programs, given by the lodge staff or visiting guest speakers, focus on Denali’s natural and cultural history, and due to our booking during the special emphasis session with Stan Senner, Alaska’s birds.
(Accommodations at North Face Lodge, Denali National Park (B,L,D, all days)
NORTH FACE LODGE, DENALI NATIONAL PARK
We return this year to North Face Lodge, one of Cole/Hamm family’s two lodges, where a special session with an emphasis on Bird Migration and Conservation is taking place. Views from the cabins, library and resource center, and lovely dining room are superlative! Camp Denali has a rich history and reputation as one of the first wilderness lodges in Alaska.
Over 50 years ago, people with vision and a true love of the wilderness had the foresight to establish Camp Denali in one of the most pristine areas adjacent to Denali National Park. Since 1975, the Cole family has extended this vision, adding North Face Lodge and managing both properties with an impressive commitment to both conservation and quality of experience. With the expansion of Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980, this owner-operated facility now sits in the center of the most scenic and wild portion of Denali National Park. Guided hikes and programs conducted by expert naturalists, with a keen focus on geology and natural history, are the key to providing far more than just a backcountry stay. Combine unparalleled views of Mt. McKinley with an unparalleled educational and wildlife viewing opportunity and you have the North Face/Camp Denali experience. With all this to their credit, they also provide incredible service, delicious meals with fresh foods from their own greenhouse and gardens, and well-appointed comfortable rooms with private bath at the Lodge. Canoes and bikes are available, as is optional flight seeing (additional cost). The location, facilities, and programs are unique, and Naturalist Journeys is proud to offer this location as part of our Alaska Sampler itinerary.
Mon., June 10 Denali National Park / Train to Anchorage
Our return trip through the park has the feel of an African safari, as we never know what animals we will see. We'll keep our eyes open for rare sightings of Gray Wolf, and even Lynx! We have seen Arctic Ground Squirrels, the blue morph of Red Fox and, in some years, Hawk Owls. Often we find Rock or Willow Ptarmigans and nesting Wandering Tattlers or Surfbirds. We do have to meet the train so we can’t linger, but we always hope for excellent sightings. By noon, we are at Denali Station, where we board the train to Anchorage. You may take your lunch here, or wait and eat on the train at your leisure. This is an eight-hour trip, so bring your journal or a good book, or just enjoy sightseeing from the dome car.
Accommodations at the Copper Whale Inn, Anchorage (B)
Tues., June 11 Potters Marsh / Chugach State Park / Seward harbor
After breakfast at the Copper Whale, we drive south to Seward, a spectacularly situated fishing town on Resurrection Bay, at the edge of the Gulf of Alaska. This is a stunning route, and we stop for photography, birding and sightseeing. From the boardwalk trail at Potter’s Marsh we hope to observe spawning salmon as well as nesting Bald Eagles and a number of waterfowl and waders. We follow the edge of Cooke Inlet, and from viewpoints, we scan the rugged slopes for signs of Dall Sheep and Moose, and the waters of the bay for Belugas.
On arrival, settle into accommodations on the small boat harbor of Seward. We visit the Alaska Sea Life Center, built as part of the mitigation of the Exxon-Valdez oil spill. This modern, interactive museum has live puffins, other seabirds and sea mammals (photographers, take your cameras!) and highly informative exhibits. Afterwards, enjoy fresh seafood or steaks tonight at Ray’s, located on the waterfront – our favorite restaurant in Alaska and a great place to enjoy the view. It’s fun to wander after dinner, watch the halibut harvest come in, marvel at the many boats, and look for Sea Otter often just off the docks!
Accommodations at Holiday Inn Express, Seward, AK. (B,L,D)
Wed., June 12 Chiswell Islands / Northwestern Fjord Cruise / Seward
Today we embark on an all-day boat trip into Kenai Fjords National Park. This is a marvelous day spent cruising among glaciers and seabird nesting islands of the Gulf of Alaska. As we leave the dock, we look for Northern Sea Otters, Marbled Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Double-crested and Pelagic Cormorants, Bald Eagles and Glaucous-winged Gulls. Scenery is on a massive scale and we should find several active feeding Humpback Whales that spend summers feeding in these rich ocean waters. We may also find pods of Orcas or Dall’s Porpoises, and on glacial ice chunks near Northwestern Fjord, we should find Harbor Seals with tiny pups. The Chiswell Islands are prime seabird nesting areas, and here we find numerous Tufted and Horned Puffins, often quite close to the boat. Common Murres are incredibly common and our captain knows where to find the more local Thick-billed Murres, likely now on eggs on very steep-sided seamounts. Black-legged Kittiwakes are abundant and vocal. In a sheltered cove, we hope to spot a few Parakeet Auklets. As we enter the narrow channel that leads to Northwestern Fjord, we look for Rhinoceros Auklets, possibly Ancient Murrelets and, by small freshwater inlet streams, rare Kittlitz Murrelets. The boat must navigate floating ice, recently calved from Northwest Glacier. Our captain pulls up quite close to this glacier, turns off the engine, and lets us float among the sights and sounds of an active calving glacier – extraordinary! On the way back, we venture into deeper water where we look for Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters. As we reenter Resurrection Bay heading for Seward, we quietly venture close to a Red-faced Cormorants nesting colony, and hope to find Black Oystercatcher in a rocky bay. Dinner is on your own tonight; dine in style or get a quick bite to eat after this exciting day.
Accommodations at Holiday Inn Express, Seward (B,L)
Thurs., June 13 Kenai Peninsula /Soldotna Churches / Homer
This morning, around Seward, we look for birds of the temperate rainforest, a habitat that extends up from Southeast Alaska to rim the more easterly situated Prince William Sound. Birds here that are less likely to be found north of here include Rufous Hummingbirds, Steller’s Jays, Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and Townsend’s Warblers.
Much of our day is then spend driving over to Homer, but along the way we explore, stopping at Tern Lake to look for wildlife and at Soldotna, we have lunch and visit the oldest Russian Orthodox church in Alaska. Views going into Homer of large snow-capped peaks across the Gulf of Alaska can be superb! Homer is small fishing community perched on the shores of productive Kachemak Bay. Bald Eagles and Sea Otter are often seen right from the spit, a 4.5 mile projection of land that has docking for commercial and pleasure boats, stores, restaurants, and some historic buildings. The centerpiece is the lively Salty Dawg Saloon.
We arrive in time to settle in, for tonight is a very special dinner in the artisan community of Halibut Cove, one we reach by boat, passing by kittiwake colonies, possibly Dahl’s porpoises, and Sea Otter.
Accommodations at Land’s End, Homer (B,L,D)
Fri., June 14 Homer / Pratt Museum / Homestead / Sandhill cranes
We have a ½ day guided tour in the morning to do some birding and walking in the islands forests, with clear skies taking in some amazing views. After lunch downtown, we visit the Pratt Museum, an excellent natural science museum offering historical insight into the Kachemak Bay area of Alaska. Enjoy some free time on the spit or at the hotel, and in the late-afternoon we drive east of town along the bay, looking for Sandhill Cranes that feed in the meadows and agricultural areas. Our final dinner is at the Homestead, a longtime favorite in Homer.
Accommodations at Land’s End, Homer (B,L,D)
Sat., June 15 Scenic drive back to Anchorage / Departures from Anchorage
This morning we head back to Anchorage. It is about a five hour drive, which we break up with stops, birding and sightseeing along the way. We plan the route depending on the species we hope to see, stopping at marshes, driving over a pass to the community of Hope, or spending time on trails near Alyeska looking for forest species. Most flights leave Anchorage at night, so we plan to arrive back in time for an early dinner ahead of going to the airport. Please notify us before booking flights in case this schedule changes; in the past years people have had a long wait for these flights on their final day, and while in Alaska we want to make the very best use of your time. It is also possible to fly back to Anchorage from Homer (additional cost) to meet flights earlier in the day, or if you wish to take the 6AM flight, schedule this for the following day and we’ll recommend an airport or Anchorage hotel.
ANCHORAGE / NOME pre-trip May 31-June 5
Fri., May 31 Anchorage
Plan to arrive Anchorage at a time convenient to you. There is a free shuttle to our hotel near the Anchorage Airport, where you can rest up from your journey. If you want to walk, it's fascinating to watch activity of float planes coming and going. Our guide will be at the hotel to greet you, but as flights come in into the evening hours, we do not have any planned activities. It is easy to catch a taxi into the city to explore, and there are several restaurants to choose from nearby – those arriving in time may gather at 6:30 in the lobby if they wish to join the guide and group for dinner.
Accommodations in Anchorage
Sat., June 1 North to Nome!
After breakfast, we catch a morning flight from Anchorage to Nome; typically a jet-carrier flight where we share space with cargo. Weather can delay or even prevent landing in Nome, but with good luck, we will land on time to begin our exploration. Once in Nome we store our luggage (rooms will be ready early afternoon), and head out to explore. There are a number of excellent birding sites close to town where we find White Wagtails, Long-tailed Ducks and Pacific, Arctic, Red-throated and possibly Yellow-billed Loons. Explore the Harbor area and historic sites of Nome, with some free time in town to check out the shops, museums, the Iditarod Finish Line Arch and the birder-friendly Visitor’s Center on Front Street. After settling in to our lodgings and exploring a bit, we have an early dinner and enjoy a wildlife watching loop drive to search for Grizzly Bears, Muskoxen and arctic birds in the beauty of evening light.
Accommodations for the next four nights at the Aurora Inn, Nome (B,L,D)
Sun.-Wed., June 2-5 Great Days in Nome!!
Three main roads lead out into the wilds of the Seward Peninsula, and we travel a combination of routes based on current bird sightings and the interests and abilities of the group. En route, we should find Yellow Wagtails perched up on an old gold dredge, sight Grizzly Bears digging up arctic Ground Squirrels or we may encounter a roadblock of Reindeer, which are herded here instead of cattle. Gyrfalcons, Long-tailed Jaegers and Snowy Owls nest in the region and can be found hunting the open tundra in some years (they cycle with the lemmings, their prey). The Nome-Council road leads out to Cape Nome, with a panoramic view of the Bering Sea and possible sightings of Aleutian and Arctic Terns as well as a variety of eiders and scoters. It continues on to Safety Lagoon and points beyond where we should find Bar-tailed Godwits, Arctic Loons and large flocks of Tundra Swans. Near Solomon, old railroad engines can be seen as the ‘Last Train to Nowhere’. The Nome-Kougarok Road leads 83 miles north into the Kigluaik Mountains. It is a beautiful drive, with many areas for birding along the way. Willow bottoms attract Arctic Warblers, Gray-cheeked Thrushes and Bluethroats; they may also hide a group of Musk Oxen with their young! Willow and Rock Ptarmigans, Northern Wheatears and Horned Larks perch on lichen-covered rocks of the tundra, while Rough-legged Hawks and Peregrine Falcons hunt overhead. The open tundra provides nesting habitat for Black-bellied Plovers, Ruddy Turnstones, and Pomarine Jaegers. For willing hikers, Bristle-thighed Curlews nest high on the slopes in the tundra. With luck they may be calling or displaying – a great reward for the tough climb to find them.
Twenty thousand people lived in Nome at the turn of the century, seeking their fortunes in gold found in the abundant beach sands. Today about 5000 people live here at the edge of the Bering Sea. Nome is the service center for much of Western Alaska. Watching huge barges being unloaded gives us insight into the hardships and joys of life on a 21st century frontier. Birding from the rock sea wall near the harbor can be rewarding with sightings of large flocks of sea ducks, Glaucous and Slaty-backed Gulls and a variety of shorebirds – now bright in breeding plumage.
At Pilgrim Creek, we find the remains of an agricultural settlement, an historic orphanage and a delightful small hot springs amid trees that attract Hoary Redpolls and Blackpoll Warblers. Salmon Lake provides us a wonderful picnic spot, and at this time of year there will likely still be snowfields around parts of the lake. The Nome-Teller road leads off to the Northwest. Bluethroats enjoy the willows of several small drainages en route, while other habitats along the road provide us with nesting American Dippers and Long-tailed Jaegers. The sand spit at Teller is well known for its rarities, which may include Black Guillemots, Northern Shrikes and various sandpipers.
Close to Nome, a side road up Anvil Mountain provides majestic views of the Bering Sea and King Island, possibly Moose and Musk Oxen and wonderful early spring wildflowers. We look for Red-throated Pipits, Northern Wheatears and Pacific Golden Plovers as we explore. There is abundant daylight, and we vary the times we go afield so those who wish can experience midnight sun! Dinners are at your leisure so you can pace yourself. Some will want to call it a day and relax for the evening and keen birders may want to continue taking in some of the long hours of daylight.
Accommodations for four nights at the Aurora Inn (B,L daily; dinners at your leisure)
Wed., June 5 Departures from Nome / Anchorage for main tour
We plan on early-afternoon departures from Nome, enjoying a last morning of birding and lunch before going to the airport. We arrive in Anchorage in time to settle into our accommodations, stretch our legs on a walk along Cooke Inlet, and join with the full group for dinner at a favorite restaurant. (B,L)
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OF THE JOURNEY
Cost of the main journey is $4690.00, based on double occupancy, from Anchorage, Alaska. Cost of the journey includes: accommodations for 10 nights, most meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), park entrance and other activity fees for activities described in the itinerary, train to and from Denali to Anchorage , the all-day boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park, professional guide services, pre-departure materials and miscellaneous program expenses.
Cost of the extension (may be booked separately) is $1995.00, double occupancy from Anchorage, Alaska. Cost of the extension includes accommodations for 5 nights (1N Anchorage, 4N Nome), most meals as specified in the itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner), park entrance and other activity fees for activities described in the itinerary, the round-trip flight from Anchorage to Nome, professional guide services, pre-departure materials and miscellaneous program expenses.
*** If both the main tour and extension are booked together, at least five months in advance, a special discount of $200.00 per person will apply to the total trip cost (including the round-trip flight to Nome) for the 14 night adventure.
Costs do not include: round-trip airfare to and from Anchorage, Alaska. They do not include items of a personal nature such as laundry, telephone, drinks from the bar; or gratuities for luggage handling or personal services.
Going to Nome is an adventure! For the Nome extension, please note that your cost does not include alternate hotels required at the last minute if inclement weather precludes landing or departing in Nome.
Please keep in mind that Nome is in the far north, almost at the Arctic Circle, and flights can be delayed due to fog or other inclement weather. We have not experienced this in recent years with modern and improved navigation equipment on the planes, but it can happen that your plane is turned back to Anchorage. If it cannot be rescheduled that day, it will be as soon as possible and you will need to book and pay for alternate hotel reservations as we will not be able to cancel rooms in Nome due to such a delay. Again, this has not happened in recent years, but Nome is still considered the frontier and part of the adventure is getting there!
Single supplement for the main journey: $695.00 for 6 nights of the main tour which may be booked as a single. Most occupancy for Denali (3 nights of the main tour) is shared, and thus only one single supplement is available for an additional $300.00 at this location – be the first to sign on and you may have a chance at it. Single supplement for the extension is $495.00. Please note that we pay single supplements direct to hotels and they incur no markup.
Group size: maximum of 12, minimum of six. The cost of the journey is based on 8 participants, with fewer than 8, a small-group surcharge (typically $100-300 per participant) may apply, or we may request that you pick up the cost of a few additional dinners in lieu of that surcharge.
The airport for this journey is Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (ANC). Please plan to arrive in Anchorage, Alaska (ANC) no later than 5:30 PM on June 5th. If you arrive later, you will need to get a taxi to the Copper Whale (~ $25) You should book later departures on June 15th, since we have to drive back from Homer.
Grizzly Bears, Kelly Vandenheuvel; Dall
Sheep, Dave Utterback; Tufted Puffin, Greg Smith; Bald Eagle,
Northern Wheatear and Hawk Owl; Tony Beck www3.sympatico.ca/beck.tony/; Snowy Owl, Noel
Snyder; Common Loons, Bud Ferguson; North Face Lodge photo, NFL; all other photos by Peg Abbott.
Naturalist Journeys LLC, a top birding and nature tour company, offers specialty small group travel to many of the best nature destinations worldwide. Naturalist Journeys’ expert guides have decades of experience leading guided nature and birding tours as well as travel photography tours, all with a focus on responsible travel and eco-tourism. Naturalist Journeys also offer Utah hiking adventure tours and adventure travel in national parks and wildlife reserves ranging from in-depth Alaska wildlife tours to guided Texas and Florida birding tours. Costa Rica nature and birding tours are among our top-rated as are our Panama nature tours and African wildlife safari tours. Our many repeat clients enjoy dependable and diverse holidays on Galapagos nature tours, Arctic and Antarctica nature cruises, and birding and wildlife tours from Arizona to the Amazon and beyond.