WILD ALASKA Wildlife in the Land of the Midnight Sun – 11 Days (June 11 – June 21)

Wild Alaska

Wildlife in the Land of the Midnight Sun

11 Days from June 15 through June 25, 2016 — with Optional 5-Day Extension to Nome for Arctic Birds and Mammals

Alaska – the name alone brings vast untamed wilderness to mind! With soaring mountains, rich oceans and a diversity of terrestrial habitats, Alaska is home to an amazing abundance of wildlife. Entire intact ecosystems and uninterrupted migration routes stretch across this huge state. Nowhere in North America can you observe as many large mammals as in Alaska and during the long days of late spring and early summer the numbers of breeding birds are staggering. EcoQuest Travel is proud to partner with the North Carolina Zoo Society on a once in a lifetime trip to Alaska. We are traveling in June to take advantage of the breeding season and also because the numbers of mosquitoes and black flies are much lower than later in the summer. We will visit many of Alaska’s greatest wildlife areas to try and maximize our chances of seeing the greatest diversity possible. In the shadow of the highest peak on the continent, Denali National Park will offer us our first chance at moose, caribou, grizzly, Dall sheep, loons, ptarmigan, ducks and perhaps wolves. With luck the clouds will part and the majestic glaciers of Mt. McKinley will glisten against the blue sky. Further south, Kenai Fjords National Park will hopefully yield an abundance of seabirds and marine mammals while the Katmai coast will see us trekking for brown bears.
We will also offer an exciting and wildlife-filled post-trip extension to Nome. The tundra and boreal forests around Nome are home to an incredible assemblage of breeding birds and Arctic wildlife including musk ox, bristle-thighed curlew and bluethroat.
EcoQuest Travel and the North Carolina Zoo Society invite you to join us in wild Alaska as we search for wildlife in the land of the midnight sun.

ITINERARY

11 Days from June 15 through June 25, 2016

ITINERARY

Day 1 – Wednesday, June 15: Home City to Gateway City and on to Fairbanks, Alaska

Our adventure begins early this morning as we depart from our home cities to our gateway city, likely Seattle, for our flight to Fairbanks, Alaska. Please make sure that you arrive at your home airport no later than two hours prior to your scheduled departure time. For those of you departing from Raleigh/Durham, your tour leaders will be there to meet you and help you get checked in. For those of you meeting the group at our gateway city, please go directly to our departure gate for Fairbanks and your tour leaders will meet you there. We will arrive in Fairbanks fairly late in the evening and will transfer to the Alpine Lodge. Due to our late arrival there are no activities planned for today other than our transfer to our hotel for a night of much needed rest.

Day 2 – Thursday, June 16: Fairbanks to Denali National Park

After a good night’s sleep we will have breakfast before we begin to explore Fairbanks. Fairbanks is situated in the heart of the Tanama Valley and combines modern amenities with a frontier atmosphere. Often referred to as the “Gateway to the Arctic,” Fairbanks has a long and colorful history dating back to the late 1800’s and the discovery of gold. Our first stop this morning will be the Museum of the North which features cultural and natural history exhibits from the entire state. Highlights of the galleries include the state’s largest gold display and a special section on the aurora borealis – or northern lights. We will also visit the Alaska pipeline and end the city tour by traveling along the Chena and Tanama Rivers by authentic sternwheeler riverboat. We will have lunch before departing by motor coach for Denali National Park. At 6 million acres, Denali is one of the largest national parks in the world and home to true wilderness adventures set against a backdrop of spectacular scenery. Once we arrive we will settle into the Denali Bluffs Hotel. Depending on our arrival time the rest of the afternoon will be free to relax, go shopping or do some birding near the hotel. We will have dinner tonight before retiring early in anticipation of an early start tomorrow. (B,L,D)

Day 3 – Friday, June 17: Denali National Park

Denali National Park lies in the heart of a 600 mile long mountain chain – the Alaska Range. The highest part of this range has many peaks over 10,000 feet and the centerpiece of these lofty mountains is Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America, at 20,320 feet. It’s not just the mountain that makes Denali so special. Set against this backdrop of spectacular scenery is one of the best places to view wildlife in North America. The park is home to 37 species of mammals including marmots, lynx, foxes, Dall sheep, snowshoe hares, moose, caribou, wolves and both black and grizzly bears. The park is also home to more than 130 species of birds including golden eagle, willow ptarmigan, alder flycatcher, gray jay and black-billed magpie. The kettle ponds along the road often hold white-fronted geese, trumpeter swans, common loons, Barrow’s goldeneye and other duck species. After an early breakfast we will depart on our Park Service guided bus tour. We have chosen to take the bus all the way to Kantishna – the farthest one can travel along the Park Road. This will be a long full day, but should yield lots of wildlife and, if we are lucky enough for clear weather, incredible views of Mt McKinley. If we have a clear day the view of McKinley’s reflection on Wonder Lake is awesome. During the ride we will stop to observe wildlife and take photos. We will have lunch upon arrival at Kantishna Lodge and will have some free time for exploring before we return to the park entrance. Tonight we will dine at the rustic Alaskan Salmon Bake for delicious dinner. After dinner we will overnight once again at the Denali Bluffs Hotel. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Saturday, June 18: Alaska Railroad from Denali to Talkeetna

This morning we will transfer to the Alaska Railroad Depot where we will board our deluxe domed rail car from Denali to Talkeetna. The Denali to Talkeetna section is regarded as the most scenic portion of the entire Anchorage – Fairbanks journey. We should have some memorable views of the Alaskan interior during our trip including the stunning scenery as we cross the 918 foot bridge over Hurricane Gulch. Once we arrive in Talkeetna we will transfer to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. After we have checked in we will depart for a moderate 3 mile hike along the Talkeetna Lakes Trail. The purpose of our hike is to view wildlife so our pace will be slow and deliberate. We could spy both common and red-throated loons on the lakes and moose and bears in the woods. This hike will provide an excellent chance to find songbirds as well including boreal chickadee, Arctic warbler, gray-cheeked and Swainson’s thrush, blackpoll and Wilson’s warbler and common redpoll. After our hike we will return to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge for dinner and overnight. (B,D)

Day 5 – Sunday, June 19: Talkeetna to Anchorage

We will depart Talkeetna early this morning by motor coach and make our way south to Anchorage. Approaching Anchorage we will pass the community of Eagle River, Fort Richardson and Elmendorf Air Force Base. Nestled between the Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet, Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city. The city began as a tent city in 1915 during the construction of the Alaska Railroad which connected the ice-free port of Seward to Fairbanks and Alaska’s interior. Once we arrive in Anchorage we will begin a sightseeing tour of the city which will include the historic downtown area, the Ship Creek fish ladder and Lake Hood – the busiest floatplane terminal in North America. The final stop on our tour will be the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where we will have the opportunity to learn about Alaska’s many distinct Native cultures. The Center is also a great place to shop for Native-made artifacts and crafts. After our tour we will transfer to the Clarion Hotel and have a chance to freshen up prior to dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 6 – Monday, June 20: Anchorage to Seward

Today we will travel from Anchorage to Seward, but we will make several stops along the way. We will depart early for our first stop at Potter’s Marsh. Potter’s Marsh is a wetland that was created in 1916 when railroad construction dammed several streams. A boardwalk allows access to the marsh which is home to a great number of birds including red-necked grebes, bald eagles, greater scaup, Hudsonian godwit, loons, gulls and other species of waterfowl and shorebirds. The forest around the marsh is also great for songbirds like varied thrush, northwestern crow, golden-crowned sparrow and both orange-crowned and Wilson’s warblers. Muskrat, beaver and moose are also frequently seen at the marsh. Beginning in June, three species of salmon return to spawn in Rabbit Creek, which flows under the boardwalk. After our visit to the march we will continue our journey south on the Seward Highway. Our next stop will be at Beluga Point which overlooks Turnagain Arm. As the name suggests this is one of the best places near Anchorage to observe beluga whales. The belugas visit these waters each summer to hunt for salmon as they enter their spawning rivers. With luck we hope to spot these fantastic white whales before continuing on to Seward. The Seward Highway is a very scenic road passing by jagged peaks, alpine meadows and crystal lakes. Once we arrive in Seward we will visit the Alaska Sea Life Center, a research and rehabilitation facility that focuses on marine mammals, seabirds and fish species of the northern Pacific. After exploring the center’s wildlife and interpretive displays we will briefly tour the downtown area before visiting Exit Glacier. This is one of the most accessible glaciers in Alaska. After a full day we will have dinner and settle into the Seward Windsong Lodge for the night. (B,D)

Day 7 – Tuesday, June 21: Kenai Fjords National Park

Seward is the gateway to the spectacular scenery and rich marine ecosystems of Kenai Fjords National Park. After an early breakfast we will depart for the boat docks and board our sightseeing vessel to cruise through the wildlife-rich and glacier-filled waters. We hope to encounter sea otters, Stellar’s sea lions, harbor seals and with luck Dall porpoises, orca and humpback whales. Our cruise will take us around the Chiswell Islands which are home to incredible seabird colonies. Some of the species we hope to see include brant, harlequin duck, surf scoter, black-legged kittiwake, glaucous-winged gull, common and thick-billed murre, pigeon guillemot, marbled, ancient and Kittlitz’s murrelets, rhinoceros and parakeet auklets, and both horned and tufted puffins. Before our cruise is finished we will also be taken to the face of a tidewater glacier to watch huge chunks of ice calving into the sea. The sound of the ice cracking and falling is as impressive as watching it fall. A deli-style lunch will be served on board and after we return to port we will have the remainder of the day free prior to dinner and overnight at the Seward Windsong Lodge. (B,L,D)

This morning we will travel on the Sterling Highway from Seward to Homer. The highway passes through the Chugach National Forest and the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge which is home to Dall sheep, mountain goats, brown and black bears, caribou and moose – all of which can be viewed from the road. The Kenai River also runs along the highway for a few miles and, along with many other lakes and streams, makes this road a favorite of visitors. We will have ample time to enjoy both the wildlife and the scenery before we reach Homer. Once we arrive in Homer we will check-in at the Land’s End Resort and have the remainder of the day to explore Homer, relax or go shopping prior to dinner. Dinner this evening will be across Kachemak Bay at The Saltry. A water taxi will take us to dinner and we can observe wildlife en route. The Saltry serves fantastic food all from a boardwalk overlooking the bay. (B,L,D)

Day 9 – Thursday, June 23: Flight to Katmai/Lake Clark National Park – Brown Bear Viewing

Today will be an extraordinary day as we depart Homer on a scenic one to one and a half hour flight to either Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks. Our flight should provide sensational views of the lush coastline of the Alaska Peninsula. We will fly over Kachemak Bay and Cook Inlet and will pass by Mount Augustine Volcano. Our destination, either Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks depending on where the bear viewing has been best, is home to one of the largest concentrations of brown bears in the world. Upon our arrival we will meet our naturalist guide, go over safety and hike to prime brown bear viewing areas on the coast. The hike will not be difficult, but could be a mile to a mile and a half in length. Observing these giant bears from a safe distance is a thrilling experience and truly a rare privilege! Although the brown bears are our target species today, we could also see many other species on our hike and while watching the bears. We will have approximately three hours of bear viewing in the park prior to our return flight to Homer. Please note that there is no bathroom access on this trip – we will be in true wilderness today. After our return flight to Homer we will have dinner and overnight at the Land’s End Resort. (B,D)

Day 10 – Friday, June 24: Homer to Anchorage and the Winner Creek Trail

We will travel from Homer back to Anchorage today. Along the way we will stop in Girdwood to hike the Winner Creek Trail which is part of the historic Iditarod Trail. This trail passes through some incredible temperate rainforest and is home to numerous species of birds and mammals. We could see moose and bears and will be on the lookout for two birds that prefer the rainforest and are at the northern limit of their range – the rufous hummingbird and the chestnut-backed chickadee. We will also search for Stellar’s jay, red-breasted nuthatch, Townsend’s warbler, pine grosbeak and white-winged crossbill. After our hike we will return to Anchorage and transfer to the Hilton Hotel where we will have the rest of the evening free to pack before our farewell dinner. (B,L,D)

Day 11 – Saturday, June 25: Anchorage to Gateway City and Home

This morning we will transfer to the Anchorage International Airport for either the journey home or the trip extension to Nome. For those journeying home you will travel from Anchorage to your gateway city and upon arrival transfer to your departure gate for your home city.

* Please note that EcoQuest Travel will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.

Optional Extension to Nome for Arctic Birds and Mammals

Day 11 – Saturday, June 25: Anchorage to Nome

This morning we will fly northwest from Anchorage to the city of Nome. Nome is situated on the Bering Sea and is one of the prime birding destinations in Alaska. Although located below the Arctic Circle, the tundra surrounding Nome is home to a remarkable variety of Arctic wildlife and breeding birds. There are three roads out of Nome that wind deep into the wilderness before ending abruptly. We will travel all three of these roads in order to access tundra and boreal forest habitats and search for the wildlife they contain. Upon our arrival we will meet our local guide and have a bagged lunch before beginning our historical and natural history tour of Nome. Nome came into its own during the gold-rush days of the late 1800s and although not too much of its original gold-rush architecture remains, it is still a city full of character. We will also begin our natural history explorations near Nome and could find red-necked phalarope, northern shoveler and northern pintail on ponds, and alder flycatcher, gray-cheeked thrush, eastern yellow wagtail, orange-crowned warbler and golden-crowned sparrow among the willows. After our tour we will settle into our accommodations at the Aurora Inn. This new and comfortable hotel overlooks the Bering Sea and we could see loons, gulls and sea ducks from our rooms. Tonight dinner will take place at a local restaurant. (B,L,D)

Day 1 – Sunday, June 26: The Nome – Teller Road

Today we will begin three days of exploring the areas surrounding Nome by traveling along the Nome to Teller Road. This 73-mile road (one way) travels northwest out of Nome and ends at Teller, an Inupiat village on Grantley Harbor. Our pace along the road will be slow and deliberate as we search for wildlife. At milepost 13 as we cross the Penny River we will search the willows for hoary redpolls and Arctic warblers – keeping a close eye out for brown bear as we search! The river itself is good for dippers and spotted sandpipers. The ridges and canyons along the way to Teller provide good habitat for willow and rock ptarmigan, rough-legged hawk, golden eagle and sometimes gyrfalcon. Parasitic, pomarine and long-tailed jaegers are common along the road and if we are really lucky we might find a snowy owl nesting. Bluethroats should be singing in watery draws and sometimes red-throated pipits have nested near milepost 40. Milepost 40 is also reliable for nesting black-bellied and Pacific golden plovers. Other species along the road include northern shrike, northern wheatear and cliff swallows. We will also visit local Eskimo resident Sarah Kakaruk at her home for a delightful “Slice of Life” visit. At the end of the road in Teller we will look for white wagtails on land and common eider, pelagic cormorant, pigeon guillemot and horned puffin at Grantley Harbor. Muskoxen are sometimes seen along this road and we will certainly be on the lookout for this rare and unique species each time we travel outside of Nome. We will have both a bagged breakfast and lunch with us for the trip and after a full day we will return to Nome for dinner on our own and overnight at the Aurora Inn. (B,L,D)

Day 2 – Monday, June 27: The Nome – Council Road

This morning we will depart early to spend the day along the Nome – Council Road. This 72-mile road (one way) travels east from Nome along the Bering Sea, through the boreal forest and finally ending at the Niukluk River and the community of Council. Because of the diversity of habitats along this road a wide variety of birds and other wildlife can be found. Our first stop will likely be near the dredge ponds only 1.4 miles into our journey. These ponds are often filled green-winged teal, greater scaup and red-throated loons. Shorebirds like red-necked phalaropes, semipalmated plovers and western sandpipers are found along the edges of the ponds and Arctic terns often fish them. Near milepost 4 the mouth of the Nome River usually produces black-legged kittiwakes; mew, slaty-backed, glaucous and glaucous-winged gulls; and rarely surfbirds and red-necked stints on the beach. At milepost 13 we will try to walk out on the rocky pier at Cape Nome to scan for deep water ducks like harlequin, Steller’s and spectacled eiders and all three species of scoter. The first extended stop of the trip will take place at Safety Sound and the boardwalk at the bridge could produce black brant, Pacific loons, bar-tailed godwits and if lucky emperor geese, king eiders and yellow-billed loons. Aleutian terns frequent the area and even the rare Ross’s gull is sometime seen here. We will also stop at the Trains to Nowhere – three steam engines that have been frozen in time for 100 years – a stark reminder of the gold rush days. From Safety Sound we will travel on reaching the edge of the boreal forest beginning around milepost 63. In this area we will be on the lookout for spruce grouse, gray jay, boreal chickadee, varied thrush, blackpoll warblers and pine grosbeaks. Mammals often seen along this road include musk ox, brown bear, caribou, red fox and beaver. After another full day we will once again return to Nome for dinner and overnight at the Aurora Inn. (B,L,D)

Day 3 – Tuesday, June 28: The Kougarok Road

Today is our final full day in the Nome area and we will travel north out of Nome along the 84-mile Kougarok Road. One of our main objectives today is to observe the rare bristle-thighed curlew. These birds nest in the tundra and the two most accessible sites are close to the end of this road. The hike across the tundra to see the birds is strenuous with unstable footing, but the chance to see this rare species will be worth the effort! American golden plover, bar-tailed godwit and long-tailed jaeger also nest here. Bluethroats and Arctic warblers are fairly common along this road as are musk ox and brown bear. Returning toward Nome the seven-mile Pilgrim Hot Springs Road leads off the Kougarok Road and the balsam poplar groves at the end of this road is home to alder flycatcher, tree and cliff swallows, varied thrush, northern shrike and rusty blackbirds. Salmon Lake often produces long-tailed ducks, common goldeneye, red-throated grebes and brown bears. Once again we will return to Nome for dinner and overnight at the Aurora Inn. (B,L,D)

Day 4 – Wednesday, June 29: Nome to Anchorage

After breakfast today we will fly from Nome back to Anchorage. Once we arrive in Anchorage we will transfer to the Lakefront Anchorage Hotel, have lunch and then a free afternoon to relax or explore before packing for the journey home tomorrow. We will have a farewell dinner tonight at the hotel before settling into our rooms. (B,L,D)

Day 5 – Thursday, June 30: Anchorage to Gateway City and Home

This morning a hotel courtesy transfer will bring us to the Anchorage International Airport for our journey home. We will fly from Anchorage to our gateway city and upon arrival transfer to our departure gates for the flights to our home cities.

* Please note that EcoQuest Travel will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.

Cost:

$7,689.00/person all-inclusive tour package*
The 5-Day Post-trip Extension to Nome is $3,448.00/person all-inclusive (including airfare)

What’s Included:

  • Airfare within Alaska – to and from our bear viewing area in Katmai and from Anchorage to Nome and return if participating on the extension (see the Airline Ticketing section above)
  • Land, train and boat transportation within Alaska (airfare from Anchorage to Nome and return is included in the extension pricing)
  • All accommodations – based upon double occupancy (single supplement is available at an additional cost: $1,342.00 for main trip; and $607.00 for the extension)
  • All tours within the scheduled itinerary
  • Most meals are included (please see the trip itinerary to see what is included)
  • Permits and National Park entrance fees and guides
  • The leadership services of EcoQuest Travel professionals

What’s Not Included:

  • Round-trip airfare from your home cities to Fairbanks, Alaska – return trip is from Anchorage (see the Airline Ticketing section above)
    Gifts and items of a personal nature
  • Gifts and items of a personal nature
  • Gratuities (for drivers, guides and boat crews)
  • Travel insurance (please see the Travel Insurance Section below)

Travel Documents:

Although we are traveling within the US, a picture ID is still required to board our flights. You must have either a US passport or a driver’s license.

Group Size:

The trip cost is based on a minimum number of participants – 10 people. Although 10 people are required in order to make this trip a reality; we are able to accommodate up to a maximum of 14 people. The extension cost is based on a minimum of 6 people, but we can accommodate up to 12 people maximum.

Health Requirements:

As we are traveling within the US there are no health requirements for this trip. We will be doing some hiking on this trip and, although none of our hikes will be too strenuous, one should be as physically fit as possible prior to this, or any other, ecotourism oriented trip.

Payments and Reservations:

A deposit of $2,000.00 per person is required along with your reservation form in order to reserve space on the trip. This will help insure necessary early deposits during this busy time of year in Alaska. The reservation form is available on our website: www.ecoquesttravel.net and can be filled out online and submitted via email, or downloaded and mailed. We encourage you to send the deposit well in advance of the date the first payment is due, as paying the deposit is the only way to secure your spot. Personal checks, money orders and credit cards are accepted. If paying by personal check it should be made payable to EcoQuest Travel, Inc. and on the memo line please indicate: For Alaska Trip 2016. If paying by credit card please phone your credit card information in to EcoQuest Travel at: (919) 963-3038. EcoQuest Travel accepts Visa, MasterCard, Discover and most bank debit cards. After your initial deposit the remaining balance will be invoiced in two payments according to the schedule below:

  • A payment of at least $2,844.00 is required no later than February 5, 2016
  • The remainder of the trip expense ($2,845.00) will be due on or before April 15, 2016
    If you are also participating on the optional post-trip extension to the Nome, you will be invoiced in two payments according to the schedule below:
  • A payment of at least $4,568.00 is required no later than February 5, 2016
  • The remainder of the trip expense ($4,569.00) will be due on or before April 15, 2016
  • As far as purchasing your airline tickets are concerned we will address this as soon as we have signed up the minimum number required for the trip to happen.

  • The remainder of the trip expense ($3,197.00) will be due on or before April 6, 2012

Cancellation:

The initial deposit, as well as subsequent payments, will be used to purchase airline tickets and pay deposits for accommodations, travel arrangements, etc. in Alaska. Therefore, if you must withdraw from the trip, irrespective of reason, a refund will not be possible. We strongly suggest that you protect yourself with the purchase of trip cancellation insurance. We will try to retain a wait list for this trip and it is possible that if you end up not being able to participate we will attempt to find a replacement for you; however, it is your responsibility to find a replacement or to have insurance.

  • Please note that in the event EcoQuest Travel, Inc. cancels this trip, due to circumstances beyond our control or low trip participant numbers, a refund of the initial deposit and any payments made will be issued.

Travel Insurance:

EcoQuest Travel, Inc. partners with Allianz Global Assistance (formerly – Access America) to provide the best possible travel insurance for our clients. They offer trip cancellation and worldwide emergency services (such as emergency evacuation and emergency medical services) as well as a host of other benefits. You can find more information on Allianz’s website (www.allianzassistance.com) including how to get quotes and sign up. You do not have to use Allianz Global Assistance and may choose to use another company. In either case, EcoQuest Travel, Inc. strongly suggests the purchase of trip cancellation/medical insurance. If you do decide to purchase travel insurance from Allianz Global Assistance please give them the following EcoQuest Travel vendor (or ACCAM) number: F031120. This number identifies that you are working with an Allianz Global Assistance partner.
Note: Pre-existing conditions will be waived by Allianz Global Assistance if you purchase travel insurance within 14 calendar days of your initial trip deposit.

Note: Pre-existing conditions will be waived by Allianz Global Assistance if you purchase travel insurance within 14 calendar days of your initial trip deposit.

General Information:

Upon receiving your deposit and reservation form you will be sent an information packet containing flight information, baggage requirements, hints on what to bring and other useful information. The climate could be potentially cold and rainy. More information on trip conditions will be provided in the final packet. You will want to bring a camera, plenty of memory cards and binoculars. Again, a more exhaustive list will be provided after you are registered for the trip.

Trip Leaders:

Dave Davenport: Zoologist and President of EcoQuest Travel, Inc.

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