Canada and Alaska

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My husband and I set off after our honeymoon, ditched our jobs and went travelling.  We were so so lucky to be able to do this, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.  To be free from constraints and travel where we liked opened up a world of opportunities.  We stayed everywhere from 5* hotels (to get some washing done!) to motels we stumbled on by the side of the road, but everywhere had it’s story and usually lots of friendly locals.

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We started off in Canada and Alaska, first taking the Rocky Mountaineer through the stunning Rocky mountains.  Panoramic windows, and interesting fellow passengers made the journey pass quickly.  I would thoroughly recommend upgrading to Gold leaf service if at all possible, the views are what brings people to the train, and the floor to ceiling windows available in Gold leaf made the very most of these and worth every penny of the upgrade.

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There are lots of things you can do along the way.  Here are a few of my recommendations for the stops along the way;

1. Calgary  

Calgary is a bit of a quiet city apart from when the massive Calgary Stampede is on in July.  However some interesting bits of street art to explore, and worth going up the Calgary towers to soak up the views as the gateway to the Rocky Mountains.

2.    Banff

A stay in the Fairmont Banff hotel is definitely worth it.  Go for a walk in the woods (take advice and stick to the paths, bears are around and are a danger so don’t be too blasé).  Take a day trip to the Bow River and take a leisurely float along it or go for the adrenaline rush and go white water rafting in Horseshoe canyon.  Take a stroll downtown, though mostly it is tourist shops, it is nice to see the history of the settlement.  Head for the Banff Gondola just outside of Banff (most hotels have a courtesy shuttle) to get some spectacular views of the Rockies from the most amazing vantage point.

Some tours include a trip to the Icefields pathway at another point, but if yours doesn’t, Banff is a good place to take a tour from to see it.  Definitely worth the trip for a chance to see some amazing glaciers up close and have the chance to walk on them.

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If you aren’t combining Canada with an Alaskan cruise, or you do not have the opportunity for a bear spotting excursion whilst on the cruise, Banff is a great place to visit the Grizzly bear sanctuary.  A full day tour incorporates time to see the bears in their natural surroundings and watch them catch salmon in the rivers and play.  The full day tour also incorporates a trip up the Banff gondola as mentioned above and well worth the visit.

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You may get the opportunity to see bears from your coach whilst travelling around the Rockies, but it is something special to be able to see them in the wild, and definitely something I would highly recommend for any Canada and/or Alaska itinerary.

3.    Lake Louise

The Fairmont Lake Louise is situated right on the shores of the Lake and provides stunning views from their rooms, again in my opinion, worth the stay.   A stroll around the shore of the lake is a relaxing way to spend some time if the weather is nice, though you cannot get all the way around.  The Lake Louise gondola is also good for great views back down over the lake and the classic photo of the lake and hotel is taken from the top.  There is also a chance to see bears on the gondola ride up.   In the winter this is the ski slopes, but in the summer there is the chance to hike around some of the area at the top.  Do take insect repellant though, the mosquitos here are pretty vicious!

CFWS44.    Vancouver

Vancouver is one of my favorite cities I have visited.  Maybe it is the outdoor lifestyle there and the ease of getting around.  There was lots of things to see and do.  Often a trip on the Rocky Mountaineer stops here for 1-2 days before connecting to a cruise.  We decided to stay an extra few days and explored a little bit more of the area.  It was easy to hire a car and we drove up the coast (and manage a bit of scuba diving in one of the bays!).

Stanley Park, just north of the city is a beautiful open area, 400 hectares of open parkland which helps Vancouver attain the balance of city and rural identity.  Granville Island is also worth a visit, mainly for the massive public market which sells everything and anything and has an impressive array of fresh food making a trip definitely worthwhile!

In downtown Vancouver either a guided or self guided tour around the historic Gastown is also recommended.  It provides an insight into the history of the city as well as some beautiful sites, such as the Gastown steam clock.

IMG_2823 If you have a free afternoon why not take a boat trip around the harbour, or a seaplane trip to see a bit more of the surrounding natural beauty.  If you don’t have time to add Vancouver Island onto your trip there are a good few day tours that can give you a taster of the beautiful island from Vancouver as well.

6.    Ketchican

Ketchican is quite a small town and easy to walk around to take in the shops, the river which in season is full of salmon and the nearby forests.  There are a fair number of tourists shops, and the lumberjack show.  I have been to the show as we didn’t have anything else to do in the afternoon, but you can buy tickets at the shop if you decide you want to do this last minute.  It’s a little kitsch and cheesy, but not bad if there is nothing else you fancy.  Lots of chainsaws and axe throwing by men in checked shirts and dungarees!

Crab is obviously big in Alaska and there are some lovely places to see and eat it, if you like seafood, I do highly recommend it somewhere on your Alaskan adventure.

Seeing the Fjords is a nice way to spend some time, they expand for miles and miles and it is a great way to get a further appreciation of the rugged and remote Alaskan landscape.    Wilderness explorer tours are often quite good as you might get the chance to see wales, eagles, and if you are really lucky, bears.

photo-1040 Ketchican is renowned for its rainfall, it has 300 days of rain per year.  There is a rainforest near town which you can go and explore yourself if you would prefer to take things a little easier and spend some time by yourselves.

7.     Juneau

Juneau is set in a lovely inlet, and very picturesque.  The views from the top of the Mendenhall tramway are pretty nice, you can also go up this yourselves and buy your tickets just for the tramway at the bottom.  In my opinion there isn’t much need for a guided tour of the area, there are information boards and signposts for the walks at the top of the tramway so very easy to do independently if it does take your fancy.

The Mendenhall Glacier is quite nice, it isn’t as big as some of the ones you can see in Glacier bay, but you can get quite close to it, or even helicopter onto it, if this appeals.  Graham and I did the canoe adventure, which did require some effort, but meant we got pretty close to it in a very small boat!  Also there were lots of small icebergs in the water we canoed around which were very pretty.  Tracy Arm is also a good option for getting up close and personal with both wildlife and Glaciers.

8.    Skagway

Skagway has a huge history with the goldrush.  Again quite an easy town to wander around, some old bars (which used to be more like brothels at the height of the rush – especially the Red Onion Salloon which isn’t a bad place for a pub lunch if you are at a loose end) and shops to see.  This is also the departure point for the White Rail Pass.  This takes you up into the more remote Yukon where the goldrush really took place and shows how the men and gold used to travel.

9.    Sitka

Sitka is a lovely quiet stop at the end of some of the cruises of the Inside Passage.  A Russian feel in it’s architecture with a lot of the churches very similar to those we saw whilst travelling along the Trans-Siberian railway.  A lot of the activities here are based on the water such as the wildlife cruise that we went on.  This is one of the best places to see Sea Otters, and they are worth the trip.  Very cute and playful, they are often found in colonies just outside the harbour.  Cruises leave every day, usually twice per day and take you around a lot of the little inlets around Sitka.  The water and the surrounding mountains are a beautiful combination, and the chance to spot wales, bears, otters and eagles is one not to be missed in my opinion.

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10. The AlCan Highway

The AlCan highway runs from Fairbanks to Dawsons Creek through some gorgeous rural countryside.  It is littered with gold rush towns and steeped in history.  My husband and I rode the road on a two up Honda Goldwing, a great way to experience the road and it’s surroundings.  For those that enjoy an adventure with a difference, this is a great option.  There are a number of tours that can take you to really experience the remote parts of Alaska and Canada.

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The road itself can be a little bit bumpy, although mostly tarmac, the permafrost means that there is often ice weaves in the road to contend with, but don’t let this put you off.  The scenery is like no where else I have seen, great expanses of sky, golden leaved trees and wildlife so close at the side of the road.  Towns along the way greet you with open arms and friendly hospitality.  The people along the way that you meet in this part of the world are special, most have a story and everyone is so pleased to welcome you to their stop for however long you have to enjoy it.

Towns such as Whitehorse, Watsons Bay and Dawsons Creek have history both past and present associated with Gold mining and a lot of tours will include a visit to see the modern day gold mining process in action.  There are also some great natural springs along the way, well worth a visit.  After hours on the road it is great to be able to stop and wander along the boardwalk to find totally natural springs that you can dip in.  There are some commercial ventures offering hot spring experiences, but just south Liard there is the luxury of totally free and natural ones which for me made them even more special.

There are also some unusual sites along the way.  Staying in an old RAF base in Watson’s Lake and it’s signpost forest were two of the highlights!

64664_10150276819695618_548870617_14679458_8059762_nSomeone said to us whilst in Alaska that people should only visit Alaska when they are older.  A funny statement you might think, but his reasoning was that you would never find anywhere better.  People often ask me where my favourite place I have been is.  I do often come back to say Alaska.  I have had many great experiences travelling, and seen some stunning places, yet nowhere seems to beat the amazing time and scenery that we saw in Alaska, it still has a very special place in my heart and I would highly recommend a Canada and Alaska itinerary to anyone, and an Alaskan explorer itinerary for those who maybe have a little more time to explore the more remote internal parts of the country.

If you would like any more information on the trips mentioned or would like to chat to me about any of your travel dreams, please do not hesitate to get in contact.  I would love to talk more about travels and help make your travel dreams come true.  amy@haslemeretravel.co.uk or 07966 898910

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