Written by Whitney
Background & Planning
Alaska has been on our list of places to visit for a long time, and it had been in the back of our minds to take a Travel PT contract there at some point in the future. After traveling extensively over the last several years, we had visited 49 of the US States by the end of 2021, with Alaska being the only one left! This really got us thinking about how we could make it out there in 2022.
Since we no longer work full time in the clinic, and we have our online business, we do have the flexibility to travel to places for several months just for leisure. We were considering just going to Alaska for fun for a month or so, instead of working there. But, we felt like it would be a much better experience if we worked at least part time while we were there so we could get more connected to the community and feel more like locals. Also, we figured it would be just about as financially feasible to rent a place for a few months at a monthly rate, rather than hop around and pay expensive weekly rates.
So, we began searching for Travel PT job opportunities in Alaska for the summer. We ended up negotiating part time contracts with a local outpatient clinic owner, where we were both able to work two days per week at two of his clinics in Anchorage. We both worked the same days (Tuesdays and Fridays) which gave us long weekends and mid-week breaks each week, allowing plenty of time to explore!
Once we had our contracts all set up and had arranged short term housing, we started planning our road trip to get there! We wanted to drive so we could see some sights on the way up and on the way back through Canada and Alaska. Also, we knew we would need a vehicle, and it would be nice to have our converted minivan which we could camp in sometimes, both on the road trips and while in Alaska.
We left at the beginning of May and spent about 12 days traveling from home in Roanoke, Virginia to our destination in Anchorage, Alaska. We were in a little bit of a time crunch on the way up due to the clinic owner wanting us to start ASAP, plus the weather wasn’t as good in early May, so we had planned to spend more time exploring on the return trip.
We actually ran into some late-season snow storms during our drive through Canada in May, which was somewhat surprising, although not unheard of. Luckily we were able to stay safe and avoided any vehicle issues!
Our route on the way up took us through Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and North Dakota before crossing into Canada.
Some highlights in Canada included:
- Elk Island National Park
- Edmonton, Alberta where we saw the largest mall in North America
- Seeing lots of wildlife including bison and moose
- Visiting the magical Liard Hot Springs
- The Sign Post Forest in Watson Lake
- Seeing many beautiful mountains and frozen lakes
- And finally our stop in the stunning Kluane National Park… where Jared proposed to me! That was the best moment of my life, in one of the most breathtaking places we’ve ever seen!
The road trip up was amazing and got us really excited for Alaska!
Our Experience in Alaska
We had the absolute best summer in Alaska. It was everything we had ever dreamed of, and more!
Our jobs were great, allowing us to treat patients one on one, with a lot of autonomy and no negative pressure from management, which is the dream situation for healthcare workers. We had wonderful patients and coworkers. And our schedules were just perfect to allow us a lot of time to do everything we wanted to do during our time there.
There were also dozens of fellow healthcare travelers in Anchorage and the surrounding areas. It was so cool to be able to meet so many other travelers while we were there. We hosted a large meetup of around 25 travelers while we were there; joined in on a group 4th of July weekend adventure with about 30 travelers + friends; and had various other adventures and hangouts!
But the true highlight of our time in Alaska was all of the natural beauty! We went on so many bucket-list adventures while we were there— from hiking beautiful mountain vistas; to going on boat tours to see marine life and glaciers; to fishing in the rivers and ocean and eating our own wild caught Alaskan fish; to taking flight seeing tours over glacier covered mountains; to watching bears up close catching fish out of the river— it was just unbelievable.
Some of our best adventures were at the Alaskan National Parks. A few years ago we set a goal to try to visit all of the US National Parks. Before arriving in Alaska, we had visited 51 out of 63 parks. There are 8 National Parks in Alaska, with most of them only being accessible by small chartered planes or by boat, making them difficult and expensive to travel to. We knew it would be quite the task to try to make it to all 8 during our short 13 weeks there, while also working part time, but we were determined. We are happy to say that, despite all odds, we did make it to all of them! We had a couple of times where we were worried that we wouldn’t be able to make it to a park due to weather, but fortunately it all worked out!
Below I’ll highlight most of the adventures that we went on, along with details and logistics where necessary, in case you’d like to use some of our itinerary for your own Alaskan adventure!
Alaska National Park Trips:
- Denali National Park: We actually visited here twice. The first time we went on a flight-seeing tour, leaving out of Talkeetna with K2 Aviation. We did this as a day trip driving from Anchorage and back, on a weekday where the sky was clear for excellent views of the mountains. We did not land in the park or on the mountain this trip, but looking back I wish we would have done the glacier landing option with the flight tour. The next time, we visited the actual park entrance on our way driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We briefly drove the first part of the road which is accessible to cars. We didn’t go very far into the park because past a certain mile marker you must take the park bus system, which we didn’t have time for on that visit. We did also stop at the sled dog kennels which are near the park entrance!
- Kenai Fjords National Park: We also visited here a couple of times. On our first trip, we went to the only area accessible via car: Exit Glacier (this is in Seward, AK). We just did a short hike where you view the Glacier from afar. Then, we took a boat tour through Resurrection Bay to see amazing wildlife and stunning glaciers up close. On this trip, we got to see some serious ice calving off the glaciers into the ocean, which was mind blowing! The next time we visited was our very last week there, when we returned to Exit Glacier to hike the full Harding Ice Field trail to the top of the glacier and beyond. This was one of the harder trails we’ve personally done, and we definitely were not in shape for it, but it was an amazing hike with epic views!
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: This is the largest US National Park, even though it’s not well known. You can only access a small part of it via car. It’s so massive that it would really be better viewed from a flight-seeing tour. But we went there on 4th of July weekend with a group of travelers to camp and explore. There are two small towns at the entrance to the park, McCarthy and Kennicott. McCarthy has a cute little 4th of July celebration including a parade, games, and live music. We had the most amazing time there! You can camp just outside of McCarthy and it’s about a mile walk into town. From there, you can take a shuttle to Kennicott to visit the historic copper mines and also hike on a glacier. The hike to Root Glacier was another top experience for us. It was so cool to walk on the glacier and explore it up close! We went with friends who were familiar with glacier hiking, but you can also hire a guide.
- Katmai National Park: This is probably one of the most well known “bucket-list” experiences in Alaska. This is the park where you can view coastal brown bears (aka grizzly bears) up close and personal while they’re catching salmon out of the river! It was truly an awe-inspiring experience. We were amazed to see these bears so close up, in their natural environment, not at a zoo. We loved watching them catching fish and interacting with each other, especially the mothers and cubs. We did this as a day trip which is one of the most common ways because options to stay overnight are limited. However, if you have the opportunity and can navigate staying overnight either at the lodge or camping, I would definitely recommend doing more than a day trip. The day trip was fine, but it was a little rushed. We flew from Anchorage with Anchorage Aero (operating as “Fly Katmai”). We took a regular propeller plane first, landed in King Salmon, switched to a float plane, then flew to Brooks Camp. Then you have to have a bear orientation from the National Park Service, then it’s about a mile walk to the viewing platform. Then you have to put your name on the list and wait your turn to get to the best viewing platform, where you can only stay 30mins. Then you can sign up again and wait for your next turn. Then we walked back a mile to eat lunch at the lodge, walked back again to get our next turn on the viewing platform, then it was time to rush back to catch our return plane to leave! It’s not quite this rushed if you go with a company who takes you directly via float plane. So definitely look into your options, and be sure to book FAR in advance because they sell out. The best time to see the bears is July, so it’s a very popular and competitive time to book. Regardless of the hassles, it was still one of the most memorable experiences we’ve ever had!
- Lake Clark National Park: Lake Clark is one of the most under-rated parks in our opinion. Hardly anyone has ever heard of it, but we had the most magical experience there. For this trip, we booked with Talon Air Service out of Soldonta. They flew us to beautiful Crescent Lake within the National Park, along with a guide, to take us fishing and bear viewing. We loved this experience because it was not crowded and not rushed. The flight there and back was like a tour in itself because we saw very beautiful mountain views, blue lakes and rivers, and even spotted some bears from above. We went via float plane and landed directly on the beautiful, turquoise Crescent Lake. Then, we took a boat from the lake down the river, seeing several bears along the way from a safe distance. Then we went fishing in the river, caught so many salmon, and watched the bears nearby the whole time. It was truly magical, and we would highly recommend this experience to anyone! Of course Lake Clark NP is huge and there’s still so much more of it we didn’t see, so it might also be fun to visit a different part!
- Glacier Bay National Park: This park is located near Juneau, and many people actually visit it when they take Alaskan cruises because cruise ships are allowed into the bay. In order to get there, we decided to fly from Anchorage to Juneau via Alaska Airlines, stay overnight in Juneau, then go as a day trip, returning to Juneau for a second night before flying back to Anchorage. Unfortunately our plans got messed up because it was very foggy the morning we were supposed to take a small propeller plane from Juneau to the small town of Gustavus where you can access Glacier Bay. Our flight was delayed and then ultimately cancelled, which meant we would miss our boat tour that day. After much finagling of plans, we learned that we could fly to Gustavus via Alaska Airlines, whose jet could fly in weather that the propeller plane could not. So we were fortunately able to get refunded for our original flight, book a new flight, switch our boat tour to the next day, make arrangements to stay overnight in Gustavus, and switch our return flight to Anchorage to still make it back in time for work on Tuesday! Since weather is known to be foggy and rainy in Juneau, we would recommend planning to stay overnight in Gustavus and fly there via Alaska Airlines to help ensure you get to go! Despite all the hassle, this was a beautiful National Park. We cruised through the bay on a ferry and saw lots of marine wildlife, including whales, and of course beautiful glaciers!
- Gates of the Arctic and Kobuk Valley National Parks: These are two of the most remote US National Parks, both of which are above the Arctic Circle. There are a few different ways you can visit these parks, but we opted for the most feasible option of taking a flight-seeing tour to both in the same day. This was primarily just flying over, but we did make a brief landing in each park. While this was the best option for us, rather than say, a week long pack-rafting trip down a river or doing a multi-day trek, it still was not cheap or easy to arrange. Visiting these parks cost us over $3,600 between the two of us! Here’s how we did it: first, we drove from Anchorage to Fairbanks and stayed the night in Fairbanks. We flew via small plane with Wright Air Service from Fairbanks to the village of Bettles (this town is pretty much just an airstrip with less than a dozen buildings, mainly there for people to use as a base for Gates of the Arctic, rafting, hunting, and fishing). We booked the flight-seeing tour with Brooks Range Aviation which lasted about 4.5 hours. Then we rented a cabin for the night with Arctic Haven in Bettles, and we ate dinner at the Bettles Lodge. The next morning, we flew back to Fairbanks and drove back to Anchorage. This involved a lot of planning (and definitely a lot of money). We were just so thankful that the weather was on our side and none of these flights were cancelled, because as we know that can happen very easily in Alaska! This was definitely a cool experience. We loved getting to see some of the more remote parts of Alaska from the air, and it was neat to visit a small village in the middle of no where. But, given how difficult and expensive it was to plan, we probably wouldn’t recommend this trip to most people unless you have a goal of visiting all of the National Parks like we do!
- Kayker’s Cove in Seward: We were fortunate to be invited by our boss to the company retreat at a place called Kayaker’s Cover on our very first weekend in Alaska! We drove to Seward, took a water taxi over to the cove, and stayed 2 nights at a dry lodge there (and some people tent camped on the property as well). We kayaked, had bonfires, and relaxed in nature without cell phone service. This was such an awesome introduction to Alaska, and a great way to get to know some of our co-workers.
- Fishing at the Russian River: We wanted to give salmon fishing a shot, so we purchased some gear and drove down the Kenai Peninsula to the Russian River on a couple of occasions. This was quite an interesting learning experience and was different than any other kind of fishing we’d ever done. Unfortunately we weren’t too successful the times that we went fishing on the Russian River, but it was fun, and we can’t complain about fishing in a beautiful, clear river with beautiful mountain views. But if you decide to go fishing in Alaska for the first time, it’s probably a good idea to get a guide to help you.
- Deep Sea Fishing in Valdez: Many people recommended going on a guided fishing charter to fish for halibut in Homer, however we made some friends who live in Alaska and they invited us to rent a boat together and go fishing in Valdez. We were very successful fishing for halibut, rockfish, flounder, and other species out in the bay, and we had a blast! But fortunately for us our friends knew what they were doing, otherwise renting a boat on our own wouldn’t have been a good option. We actually got to visit Valdez on two different trips. It’s a beautiful place, and the gorgeous drive there is half the experience!
- Visiting the town of Whittier: I went to Whittier twice, once with my mom and once with Jared. My mom and I went on the popular “26 Glacier Cruise” which was amazing and rivaled the boat tours we did at Kenai Fjords and Glacier Bay. We got lucky with weather and had great views of the marine life and a lot of glaciers! When Jared and I returned, we did the Portage Pass glacier hike which was beautiful! Whittier is also a quirky little town, and it’s neat to go through the mountain tunnel to get there!
- Matanuska Glacier Guided Hike: When my mom visited us for a week, I wanted her to be able to see a glacier up close. We had heard that this was a family friendly activity. It was certainly a challenge for my mom physically, but it was doable. We enjoyed exploring a different glacier by foot. They are all so unique!
- Visiting the towns of Talkeetna & Girdwood: These are two separate towns not near one another, but both easy day trips from Anchorage. Both are quirky and cute little towns with nice restaurants, breweries, and shops. There are lots of activity options to explore in either town!
- Lake Eklutna: We went here as a day trip from Anchorage to go hiking and kayaking! It’s a stunning, turquoise lake. The hike we did there was steep and tough (like most hikes in Alaska, haha) but the view of the lake was amazing! Kayaking there was a dream as well!
- Turnagain Arm Drive & the Kenai Peninsula: We did this drive probably a dozen times during our 3 months there, and it never disappoints! This is the drive to get to all points south of Anchorage including Girdwood, lots of hikes in the Chugach National Forest, and everywhere on the Kenai Peninsula. Highly recommend spending some time on the beautiful Kenai Peninsula, visiting the towns of Seward, Soldotna, Homer, Cooper Landing, & more.
- Visiting Palmer/Wasilla/Eagle River: We didn’t spend too much time in this area except just passing through to other destinations, but we did do a couple of fun things in these areas. We visited the Eagle River Nature Center which has beautiful hikes and views. We also went to Mirror Lake to gather with some friends for a couple picnics.
- Hatcher Pass: This was one of the most stunning areas we visited, not far from Anchorage. We loved the April Bowl hike, and visiting Independence Mine was cool. The drive to and from is just gorgeous with views everywhere! There is a short window where the roads are clear and the weather is good at Hatcher Pass, so try to go from late June to early August.
- Local Activities in Anchorage: We squeezed in lots of local adventures around Anchorage on weekdays and between our bigger adventures. We went to several local breweries and restaurants, with some of our favorites being: 49th State Brewing, Glacier Brewhouse, South Restaurant, Snow City Café, Midnight Sun Brewing, Anchorage Brewing, and Moose’s Tooth Pizza. We also visited the Anchorage Museum, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the Anchorage Zoo, went axe-throwing for the first time, walked the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, and hiked several trails within a 15 minute drive from our house. Our favorite local trails were: Little O’Malley, Rabbit Lake, and Flat Top.
The Road Trip Back
When it came time to leave, we were really sad. All of the friends we made there were sure we wouldn’t actually leave after only 3 months, because most of them end up staying 6-12 months or more. We probably would’ve stayed longer if we hadn’t been able to pack so much in to 3 months. Since we only worked part time, we really did probably 6+ months worth of activities in our 3 months there. Even though we were sad to go, we had other adventures awaiting us, so we had to move on.
We took about 3.5 weeks on the return road trip, spending lots of time in Canada on the way back. We took the Alaska highway part of the way, then cut over to the Cassiar Highway which was more remote and very scenic.
The biggest highlight of our return trip was our time in Banff, Jasper and Yoho National Parks, where we spent about a week total. Banff in particular was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever seen. The views rivaled that of Alaska, and we saw the most gorgeous lakes we’d ever seen there (Moraine, Louise, and Peyto specifically).
Some other stops included Calgary, Regina, and Winnipeg in Canada. Then we made our way to Michigan to try to go to Isle Royale National Park (one of only 4 US National Parks we have yet to visit). However, unfortunately, the morning of our ferry ride the water was too rough and it was cancelled. We are 0/2 on attempts at going to this National Park. Next time we try to plan this trip, we’re going to plan to stay overnight and allow extra days in case of cancellation/rescheduling. After that, we drove through Wisconsin, stopping in Door County for some wine and cheese. Our last big stop was in Chicago where we stayed in a hotel overlooking “The Bean,” took an architecture boat tour, and ate their famous deep dish pizza. Then, after 4 months of being on the road and in Alaska, we were ready to be back home!
Our summer in Alaska is hands down one of our favorite trips we’ve ever taken. It was definitely our favorite Travel PT assignment ever. There were just endless things to see and do there. We were completely in awe of the natural beauty of Alaska, and of parts of Canada on the drive to/from Alaska. We highly recommend that everyone visits Alaska at least once in their lifetime. If you’re a traveling healthcare professional, do not hesitate to take a contract there (especially in Anchorage during the summer which we can personally vouch for). You might just find yourself not wanting to leave!