As a high school graduation gift, I took my oldest daughter, Grace, on a two-week trip to the northwest. It was early May, a perfect time to visit this part of the country. We explored Seattle a couple days and enjoyed a scenic train ride to Vancouver through the Cascades. Following that, we embarked on a breath-taking cruise to explore the National Parks Alaska top activities. We expected a most special time but had no idea how incredible this vacation would be. Neither of us had been to Vancouver or Alaska, so we couldn’t wait to get there. This unforgettable experience allowed us to soak in some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. This special time together allowed us to bond in a way that we will never forget!
Why We Love National Parks
I grew up in Miami, Florida and my wife and I had all three of our precious daughters when living in Atlanta, GA. We’ve moved around across the south, central and northeast parts of the US. We’ve lived in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, NYC and now reside in the Kansas City, KS area. Having lived primarily in big cities with mostly flat terrain our entire lives, we crave the opportunity to vacation in wide open areas with mountains, rivers and waterfalls like those often found in our beautiful national parks. We also love the landscapes of the west coast and northwest part of the country. Seattle, Vancouver and especially Alaska felt like visiting another world. Besides, always living near a big city made visiting this remote part of North America most intriguing.
Time to Get Ready
If you’re like me, I love being prepared. I came across a really helpful packing list of a fellow traveler like me. You can check out their top 17 packing list items as well as what NOT to bring! I also used a couple of my favorite books to explore various places across the USA. This was more than just a typical road trip and I wanted to make sure we were fully prepared to make the most of our special daddy/daughter adventure. I also wanted something we could track our travels with, so we used our USA scratch off national parks map. [insert pretty link]
Seattle – “Gateway to Alaska”
We began our journey in Seattle and spent two days exploring the famous landmarks. Coffee is a special treat for us, especially at Starbucks, so our first stop was a visit to the Starbucks Roastery to see how they made coffee. We also couldn’t wait to visit the original Starbucks store at Pike Place Market [pic of starbucks]. We had a blast there walking around the shops, watching them throw fish, and eating delicious pastries at a bakery nearby. From there, we headed over to the Space Needle for some spectacular views of the city [pics from space needle]. We could see Mount Rainier National Park and Olympic National Park from Seattle, which was breath-taking! We then finished our day with a relaxing dinner before heading back to our hotel.
Vancouver BC – A Beautiful City!
This was our first time in Vancouver BC or anywhere in Canada. We set aside three days: two days in Vancouver and a one-day excursion to Whistler. We were amazed with not only how beautiful and clean it is but how friendly the people are. There was so much to do! We biked around Stanley Park [pic of Stanley park], which was so worth it. The scenery is breath-taking! We spent the remainder of our time in Canada walking around town and eating at their wide assortment of diverse eateries.
Whistler – A One Day Excursion You Don’t Want to Miss!
For our final day there, we rented a car and drove out to Whistler, an easy hour and a half gorgeous ride through the southern Pacific Ranges of the Coast Mountains. Whistler is a quaint chalet-style pedestrian village and ski resort best known for the 2010 winter Olympics and is without question worth the day trip out there. We also enjoyed walking through all the shops and loved the food. Without question, this part of Canada has to be among the most beautiful.
National Parks’ Alaska Top Activities – America’s Last Frontier
After spending a few days in Vancouver, we took a 7-day cruise up to Alaska. Now, I have to say upfront, both my daughter and I have a fear of being in the middle of the ocean. Both of us are prone to seasickness. So, we took our non-drowsy medication and headed for the ship. We couldn’t wait to take scenery we had only seen in books and on tv. In fact, some of the places we were going are only accessible by boat or seaplane. Our anticipation and curiosity was at its peak!
Ketchikan – Lumberjack show was so much fun!
Visiting the small, quaint coastal towns like Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway on the way up to Anchorage was so much fun. In Ketchikan, we visited the Totem Pole Heritage Center, walked to downtown historic Creek Street shops (so cute). This is where we began to see a lot of wildlife. We saw two seals, a couple bald eagles and a pair of minks. I would also highly recommend The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show….so worth it!
Juneau – Only capital in the U.S. not accessible by car
One of our favorite coastal towns was Juneau (the capitol city and only accessible by either boat or plane). Upon arrival, we took time to browse through the shops along the water and, after getting a pastry and hot drink in a local coffee shop, we were looking for something else to do. Thankfully, a Juneau native told us about the Flume Trail, which is an incredibly beautiful, quiet (no tourists), easy elevated walk through forest on the side of a mountain and less than a mile walk from the boat docs. [pics of trail]
Skagway – A remarkable train ride!
Skagway is a smaller town than Ketchikan and Juneau. However, it was worth the visit and was among the national parks Alaska top activities in Alaska to enjoy. A beautiful excursion was the White Pass Yukon Railway ride up the mountain. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, this historic landmark with vintage train cars offers some remarkable scenery as it winds its way up a mountain and through tunnels that remind you of the great wild west.
Highlight of our Trip – Glacier Bay National Park and Hubbard Glacier
The coastal towns were so much fun but one of the highlights of the trip was the time we spent in Glacier Bay National Park and Hubbard Glacier! [pics of both glaciers]. Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America at a whopping 76 miles long and 1,200 feet deep and the 6-mile wide, 400-foot tall face absolutely captivates your attention and respect. We were able to get within one mile of the pristine blue ice. It was surreal! It felt like we were only 100 feet away but were actually just under 1 mile from the face of the glacier. It’s that huge!
Glacier Calving: A Must-See!
The calving, a vigorous rumble of the ice breaking off into the water, was astonishing! Definitely among the national parks’ Alaska top activities. When the ice wasn’t calving, it was unusually quiet, cool and calm. Our fellow passengers were in awe; everyone spoke in a whisper tone. I think it was out of sheer amazement and respect for one of nature’s most inspiring views. I could have stayed there for days. We left with a whole new appreciation of this part of our globe. It’s so important for us to protect and preserve it.
Our Arrival at Whittier, AK
We disembarked our ship in Whittier, AK for the final three days of our trip. The moment we hopped on the bus for our ride over to Anchorage, we immediately saw two majestic eagles soaring over the treetops. It felt like we were in a remote part of the world. The air was noticeably cleaner, lighter and fresh. Following a short time exploring Anchorage, we rented a car and headed north to our cabin.
Denali National Park
The next day, we finished our drive up to Denali National Park. Denali is massive! [pics of Denali]. The ruggedness of Alaska’s frontier is second to none and was nothing I could ever have imagined through any picture or poster. I’ve spent time in the Rockies and other places out west but have never seen anything like Denali. The national park wildlife of Alaska is extraordinary. Over the course of our trip, we saw a humpback whale in the open waters, a pair of killer whales, sea lions, otters, Dall Porpoises, and a host of other animals in Denali, including grizzlies, brown bears, mountain goats, moose, and numerous eagles.
There is nothing like being able to see the National Parks Alaska top activities. The glaciers, Denali and all the wildlife are extraordinary. It’s so free, remote and, in many ways, undisturbed by humans. Our two-week adventure came to a close and we headed back to explore Anchorage for a day. We spent much of the time on the way back looking through our over 700 pictures. We shared our favorite parts of the trip and the incredible experiences we will treasure forever. I will never forget this most special time with my daughter. We will both cherish the memories for the rest of our lives. If you’re interested in other national parks by state, check out www.nps.gov or https://www.nps.gov/findapark/index.htm. I hope you too have a chance to visit some of these extraordinary wonders of America.