Ok first and foremost I cannot claim or want the responsiblity of being an expert for the whole state of Alaska. Everyone knows that Alaksa is big but until you get here you really dont comprehend just how big this place is. we are talking about a land mass 8x the size of Germany wiht 600,000 people in it. The information that i can provide is for the kenai penninusla which is a pretty large chunk of land that begins outside of anchorage and extends for about 300 miles (500 kilometers).
Now that I have gotten the disclaimer out the way.....All flights and most roads will bring you into anchorage which is the hub of all commerce in the state. more then half of the entire states population resides in this city and despite its urban setting, you have a decent chance of seeing a moose walking the streets and if you are in one of the many parks, you better be careful about the bears. Taking the seward highway out of town will lead you on one of the most beautiful drives america has to offer as the road winds its way around the cook inlet and then onto the kenai penninsula. Make sure to stop for gas at the small town of girdwood if you are driving onto the penninsula late at night because after that gas station NOTHING is open for about 200 miles.
There are 4 towns of decent size on the kenai and these are: coopers landing, kenai, soldotna and homer. Coopers landing is nestled in some beautiful mountain country with some nice glacial water rivers running through it. numerous trails are to be found here including the trail head for the always popular and always daunting "resurrection trail". Be warned that this area is pretty much a bear factory and there have been numerous maulings through the years.
about 80 miles past coopers landing is the twin towns of kenai and soldotna. to be perfectly honest, there is not much of anything to do in this locaton. their claim to fame is that they have some of the big chain stores so people from all over the kenai come "into town" and do their shopping and then head back out to the sticks.
Homer is another 90-100 miles from soldotna and is literally the end of the road. way back in the day, homer represented the end of the u.s. highway system, where the never ending road network of america actually dead ended. Homer is the artsy town of alaska with many galleries and art shows. The town is located right on kachemak bay which gives access to whale watching and sport fishing. across the bay is a huge state park and wildlife preserve that has numerous trails, glaciers and wildlife. homer is definitely a jumping off point for the great outdoors.
MONEY: despite most locals ferverant objections, alaska is indeed part of the united states and uses the U.S. dollar. ATM machines are numerous as are their user fees ($3-4 per transaction). unlike many other cities and countries, we do not have a place to change your foreign currency so your best bet is to either bring your atm/debit/credit card or bring travellers checks. personal checks that are not local will not be accepted.
ACCOMODATION: Like everything in alaska, this is going to cost you a pretty penny. the absolute bottom of the barrel room is going to run about $75 in the high season (summer). there are ample oppurtunities to camp for either very cheap or free and if you are of a rugged mind then this is your best option. there IS NOT a hostel network (you may find one or two) and there is not a guesthouse option. if you are coming to work for the summer then many jobs have on site housing and you should definitely take advantage of this.
Health Care: Despite peoples preconceived notions, alaska is not the great wasteland. there are hospitals and emergency rooms and pharmacists. As long as you have proper perscriptions and id then you will have no problem obtaining your medications. all basic hygenic products are available.
TECH: the u.s. runs on 110 voltage so many of your basic electrical products wont work with out some sort of conversion. there are not really any internet cafes to speak of although there is free wireless hotspots popping up here and there. the farther you venture out from anchorage the less this becomes an option. most hotels have free wireless. cell phone service is surprisingly good for the most part. i have found myself 10 miles in the woods in the middle of nowhere, absolute beautiful back country forest and sure enough, i have 4 bars on my cell phone reception. A cell phone is definitely a good idea when you are going on a trek/hike.
Transportation: from anchorage you can fly to either homer, or kenai for about $100. the drive from anchorage all the way out to homer takes about 4 1/2 hours and you are likely to see moose and eagles...chance of bears, dahl sheep and porcupine so the drive is pretty interesting. to go into the state parks across from homer you will have to take a water taxi that crosses the 6-8 miles of water. with the rise in fuel prices the rise in transport prices is expected. this year the roundtrip water taxi ride was $80. they do drop off and pick ups so you are not time confined at all and can take your time and do as many trails as you like. Car rentals are pretty expensive truth be told and you might come out better if you just buy a cheap car and sell it when you leave. The last option is hitch hiking. I believe that alaska is one of the last places in america where you can easily hitch hike anywhere you want to go. I've hitched the 300 miles to anchorage a few times without a problem. Im not saying its the best option or the most efficient option but it is an option none the less.
Things to do: ok well here it is, the whole reason for being here right? i mean lets face it, alaska is not cheap and it better be pretty spectacular to make it worth while. let me assure you that if you are an outdoors person, if you like hiking and treking and rafting, mountain climbing, kyakking etc etc etc then this is a must destination for you. if wildlife if your calling, then this is the palce for you. if you want a nightlife and cultural events like plays and operas and things of that nature, dont come. There is sport fishing for halibut, there is hunting for bear and moose (fall season). hiking through some of the most beautiful and well kept trails in america. Although expensive there is the option to go bear viewing out of homer (1 hour bush plane flight to katmai national park) which is an amazing experience wher you will see brown bears (grizzly)in their natural environment. I saw about 30 this summer when i went and it was one of the best experiences of my life (see the pictures in my blog). There is whale watching and sea kyakking amongst the otters and puffins. Glacier cruises where you ride up near the glaciers and watch then "calve" into the ocean. dog sledding across a glacier. The list really just goes on and on. just let me assure you that you will be amongst some of the most beautiful scenery in the world which is populated by a large number of bears, moose, elk and other creatures.
SAFETEY: first of all i dont want this category to put anyone off of a trip coming here but i feel that i need to add it. what many people dont understand is that things can go very badly very quickly up here. if for some reason you fall in the water, you have about 3 minutes until severe and life threatening hyperthermia sets in. if you are across the bay from homer and you break your leg on a trail, you better have a plan to get out (personal experience
). so here are a few quick safety tips....first, if you are going on a hike/trek, tell someone the trail you are going on and the time that you are going to depart and arrive back. Always bring food and water and an extra layer of clothing (sweatshirt etc). if you are hiking alone, bring a noise maker like "bear bells" that will make noise and inform a bear to your presence. most bear maulings (and there are A LOT in alaska in a typical summer) happen because a bear was not aware of your presence and because of a winding trail or over grown underbrush you approach him without seeing him. when hiking, make noise...sing a song, talk to your friend, wear bells...do something. do not walk silently or you have a good chance of getting knocked about by a brown bear. If you are going into a location with many bears like coopers landing or the russian river you may want to bring pepper spray. many/most locals bring guns with them so dont be too shocked when you come across a group of hikers with sidearms.
if you are going on boat trips, make sure that the charter has the proper certifications and safety equipment on board. all legitimate charters must pass a coast guard check and this will ensure that they have all the propers life jackets etc.
do not undertake activities that are beyond your physical limits. too many people think they are just going to pop onto the resurrection trail with some trail mix and a sleeping bag and next thing you know there is a search party out for them. have fun and see the amazing sights but do it smartly and without endangering yourself or the people who will have to come search for you.
ABOUT ME: Ive been coming and living in homer for the last 4 summers. i work at a few restaurants and enjoy the natural beauty. i absolutely love this place and the scenery and the people. i live in thailand in the winters so there is a definite ying/yang to my existance. if you have any questions about trails or activities let me know and i will get back to you as soon as i can.