First trip to Alaska

<edited accidental double insertion of pictures>

I took my first trip to Alaska in early June. The weather worked out very well with only light rain and most days none at all. Staying warm involved everything from four layers of clothes to short sleeves and sweating. I started by driving the turnagain arm and seeing sheep across from Beluga Point. I did a very short hike at Windy Corner but only saw a Raven’s nest. Just past there we got a closer look at a sheep on the first rock terrace above the road. In Seward, I saw many moose just outside of town and one with a calf at next to the railroad track in town by a swampy area. The small boat harbor itseld did not seem to have much activity the two times I looked, but between that and the campground were harlequin ducks, other duck species, stellar sea lions, eagles. The next morning I took a small boat tour with Northern Lattitudes that lasts 9 hours. This turned out to be a very good decision as we had good views of mountain goat, black bear, orca, humpback whales, sea otter, puffins, auklets, and visited two glaciers. We stayed at Seward Creekside Cabins in the trapper cabin which is a dry cabin but has a deck on the stream. You can see moose on and around that property/ When the salmon are running (mid June on)bear are possible according to the owner.

We then transfered to Soldotna. A quick stop at tern lake revealed one moose across the lake and terns. The next stop was listed as Cooper Landing Cliffs on google mapps. Mountain Goats were seen on the cliff across the road and the very short trail to the lake was scenic. A hike to bear mountain at Skilak Lake road was even more scenic. The next day we did another hike seeing black bear with cubs along the way (I noticed more reports of black bear near the end of the road furthest away from Soldotna and this is also where we saw them but they are probably common throughout the road).Alaska Anglers Inn was a hotel with nice rooms, reasonably inexpensive. Driving Marathon road proved fruitless and only resulted in a warning for driving into a restricted area. There is a yellow gate that apparently you cannot drive past and in any event we were told the Caribou are in the field by the airport. Bridge Access road proved better for this. Parking and waiting around at the pull out on the Soldotna side of the river (not the boardwalk on the Kenai side) produced two Caribou that walked past me and crossed the road. There were also moose in the forested parts of Bridge Access road. The next morning we did the bear tour with Natron air which landed at Silver Salmon beach. There were a number of bears in the area and we landed on the beach near two brown bears. We were able to get quite close to one while the other was a little ways off. Watching them catch and eat clams was a fun experience. Flying back we looked for more wildlife, viewed the changes caused by a volcano, and were able to observe the beautiful deep blue water on a glacier. This was a much different experience that seeing the glaciers from boat and we were thankful to have seen it.

The next stop was Hatcher’s Pass. I enjoyed Hatcher’s pass lodge. The cabins are very nice, the food is good, and the owners are very friendly to mammal watchers. Driving the road at night revealed porcupines and ptarmigan (they seem to like to come onto the road at night). Driving for marmots the next morning proved frustrating. Each time I would see one and slowly pull off, they would take off. I parked back at the lodge and slowly walked the road only to find out the marmots could be approached very closely on foot but are extremely skiddish of cars. I walked up to Indepdenence Mine but anything besides the road itself was snowed in. Many ground squirrels and more ptarmigan. By then it was time to head to Denali so there was no time to climb the talus slopes searching for Pika. The owner of the lodge told me they get ermine regularly and occasionally martern on the back porch where they feed birds. The best times to look are early morning or evening after most guests have left. He also suggested the gold mint trail area as he’s regularly seen bear there. Occasionally he has had bears on property. I did not see moose but there is a lot of moose scat along the road. If I had more time, I would have tried a stakeout for the ermine/martern. There are windows to watch the deck in comfort while waiting to see if anything shows up.

The last stop was Denali. Carlo Creek Cabin had nice cabins just a short drive from the park. The south side of the park has compatatively expensive gas at the one gas station so I’d probably fill up before heading there is staying on the south side of the park. There is a food truck on site at the cabins which serves breakfast and lunch and a pizza place across the road. The first few miles of Denali produced moose as expected. I also found a Caribou along the road in the more open areas toward Savage River. We did take the tour bus and saw spruce grouse, caribou, sheep, moose, one brown bear. I had two days in Denali and I had hiked a short distance up the Alpine trail the first day seeing several ground squirrels. I saw something with longer hair blowing in the wind that was pika shaped but it disappeared before I got a good look. I went back the next morning and was the first person in the parking lot despite it being very well lit out (I stopped to take pictures of a porcupine and some other wildlife along the road). Bewteen the first big rock formation near the trailhead and the second rock formation (the last one that is visible from the base of the trail), I found 4-5 pika. Since I was the only person on the trail, I just sat on a rock and watched them eating and pretending to be statues on rocks for a while. This was far and away the best wildlife experience of the trip. I had looked at pictures of pika in the Audubon field guide as a child dreaming that one day I would be seeing them in the wild and many years later it finally happened.

All in all, I was very pleased with our Alaska trip and if there is anyone on the forum who hasn’t been yet, I can certainly recommend Alaska as a wildlife viewing destination. The only thing I would change if I could is add more time for hiking and looking for the smaller sized wildlife like ermine and marten.

Turnagain Arm and Seward
Part 2: Coopers Landing, Skilak Lake Rd, and Soldotna
Part 4: Denali

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  • craig9563

    Nice report and photos, thanks. We did a similar trip in 2016 (mid June to mid July) and saw the species you did, and weather was also as you have reported. (Were they mountain goats you saw or dall sheep? I can see images of dall sheep in your report, but no photos of mountain goats). Craig. Melbourne, Australia.

    • wildlife_watcher

      Hi Craig, along the turnagain arm and in Denali we saw sheep. Mountain Goats were seen on the Kenai Fjords boat trip and across from Coopers Landing Cliffs. The last four links are to a video, you can see the goats in the videos unfortunately I accidentally posted one set of pictures twice instead of a different group that were supposed to be there

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