So here's the rundown.
Must stay - Fox Island. Amazing.
Must do - Everything. As much as you can, and you still won't get enough!!
Must drink - A beer (or two...or more) of your fancy at both Glacier Brewhouse and the Moose's Tooth.
This was hands down, by far the best vacation we've ever taken, and I have a feeling it will be hard to beat. Everything seemed to go our way, but it wasn't just that... Alaska is AMAZING. And we only saw a bit of it. We were there in July of 2010 and the weather was on and off. Some rainy days and some overwhelmingly sunny days. Either way - bring sunscreen. You'll likely need it!
We flew into Anchorage, rented a car, and headed straight for camping in Denali. The drive is about 4 1/2 hours, but we budgeted extra time just in case we happened to catch a glimpse of the peak on the way in (we didn't). And it takes a bit to get through the park road as well. You must have a camping permit to pass once you reach the Ranger booth in the park. You can drive in a certain distance before you reach the Ranger booth, but there's not a whole lot to see in that part of the park. This is also the part where you take the tour buses if you don't have a car/campsite pass. :) There's a good map of the Denali National Park road here.
PART 1 - Denali National Park
We camped at the Teklanika River Campsite (mile marker 29). This is one of the furthest points in the park where you can camp with a car - but you must camp for a minimum of 3 nights. After Igloo Creek or Teklanika (I can't remember which!) you cannot take a car AT ALL! Only buses and authorized users are allowed to drive the road from that part on. The bus will pick campers up from any of the sites and they run pretty frequently.
Above - Ridge behind Teklanika campground. Some nice hiking and pretty views. You also have the opportunity to hike on some squishy permafrost...fun.
Okay, on to the fun stuff. Teklanika campsite was everything we expected it to be. Quiet, and the hosts were very helpful. They did inform us, however, to not leave our shoes out, as there was a wolfpack that was roaming the campsite at night stealing shoes... We saw no evidence of the wolves ;) The first morning, we took the bus to Polychrome Pass, hiked around a bit, and walked back to Teklanika. This was the best part of the trip simply from the first wildlife sighting we saw a momma grizzly and her two cubs not 40 yards off of the road (from the bus of course!). Polychrome pass was also beautiful. We saw several caribou, bald eagles, dall's sheep.
The second day we took the bus in again for much of the same. We went further into the park, with every intention of making it to Wonder Lake, but we were a bit tired. FYI, it's a long ride to go the whole way in and quite a curvy road! We were lucky again with wildlife sightings - several more grizzlies (8 by this time, and we did see one more on the way out of the park the next day for a total of 9 different grizzly bears), a moose and a wolf (far far away). We de-boarded the bus at the Eielson Visitor's Center. This is a good spot to see Denali if she's cooperating. We weren't quite so lucky, but it was still worth the trip. We hiked the trail behind the visitors center (see the pic of me wearing a bandana). It's provides some beatiful views, but I would suggest a walking stick - it's quite a climb.
We were lucky enough to see Denali's peak as we left the park from Park Road. We also ate at the Salmon Bake which is a total tourist trap - but still absolutely worth the stop. The food was good and the atmosphere was everything you'd expect from a salmon bake in the middle of Alaska.
We stayed in Anchorage on two separate occasions during this trip. However, most people don't trek all the way to Alaska to see Anchorage, so I'll make this part short and sweet. We stayed at the Embassy Suites and the Hilton.
The Embassy Suites has character, good service, clean rooms, and most importantly, washing machines to wash all our campsite smelling clothes, and a hot tub/pool to ease our aching post-hike muscles. It is a little further from the downtown area, though. Also, this is within walking distance to the Mooses Tooth which has a huge selection of good beers (they brew their own) and some great )and creative) pizzas. Definitely try this if you have the chance.
The Hilton is basically in to downtown and has similar ammenities and service. During the summer, on the weekends, there is a craft show/flea market that the locals put on - definitely worth a visit. It's close to where the cruise boats dock, so they get a lot of business from that. It's also close to two restaurants we tried. The Glacier Brewhouse is excellent and definitely worth the cost and wait. We ate and drank there twice. There Porter is amazing. Humpy's is kind of a more touristy place and, honestly, I would skip it if you're not dying to try it - potentially great hangover spot, though. ;)
PART 3 - Seward and Fox Island
This part of the trip was equally amazing. After eating at a salmon bake outside of Seward, we set off on our excursion. It was a three day excursion to Fox Island (the Fox Island Escape), a small island in Resurrection Bay about 12 miles from Seward. The trip included two nights stay in one of the cabins on Fox Island, a great salmon bake lunch, kayaking around the island (which we didn't get to do because of the weather), and dinners and breakfasts prepared by the island's own cook. It was heaven.