Alaska

Amazing Alaska: The Last Frontier, From Mountains to the Sea

Program No. 24425RJ
Explore pristine landscapes and the wilderness of Alaska as you journey from mountains to the sea, learning from Native Peoples, discovering geological wonders and spotting wildlife.

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At a Glance

Journey from the highest mountain range in North America in Interior Alaska to the dramatic glaciated temperate rain forests of the Southeast Alaska coast on a learning adventure from Fairbanks to Seward. Learn about Native Athabascan culture, meet research scientists, take a field trip to see muskoxen, caribou and raft along the border of Denali National Park. Spend three nights at the entrance of Denali National Park, then take the Alaska Railroad through breathtaking scenery to Seward, nestled in beautiful Resurrection Bay. Visit the Alaska SeaLife Center, where researchers share their work rehabilitating the ecosystem after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and observe marine mammals in Kenai Fjords National Park as you voyage past majestic glaciers.
Activity Level
Keep the Pace
This is an on-the-go program with a few days of early start times, long drives, and getting on/off a motorcoach. Walking on uneven terrain. Standing for an hour at a time. Several opportunities for hiking, with some options over uneven dirt surfaces, steps, and moderate elevation gain and length. Please refer to daily activity notes.
Small Group
Small Group
Love to learn and explore in a small-group setting? These adventures offer small, personal experiences with groups of 13 to 24 participants.

What You'll Learn

  • With accommodations at the entrance of Denali National Park, enjoy opportunities to hike, learn of the Park’s rich history, and search for wildlife along the way.
  • Cruise past tidewater glaciers and watch for whales, otters, sea lions and puffins from a catamaran in Kenai Fjords National Park.
  • Get up close and personal with world class sled dogs as you learn what it takes for them to race nearly 1,000 miles through the Alaskan wilderness.
Featured Expert
All trip experts
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Timothy Rawson
Tim Rawson came to Alaska in the 1980s to climb big mountains, and made Alaska his home. He earned a master's degree in northern studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a doctorate in American history from the University of Oregon. He remains on the faculty at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. When he's not teaching or studying, you can find Tim out on the hills, mountains, or streams. He has years of experience leading groups and lecturing.

Please note: This expert may not be available for every date of this program.

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Timothy Rawson View biography
Tim Rawson came to Alaska in the 1980s to climb big mountains, and made Alaska his home. He earned a master's degree in northern studies from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a doctorate in American history from the University of Oregon. He remains on the faculty at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage. When he's not teaching or studying, you can find Tim out on the hills, mountains, or streams. He has years of experience leading groups and lecturing.
Visit the Road Scholar Bookshop
You can find many of the books we recommend at the Road Scholar store on bookshop.org, a website that supports local bookstores.
While we make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our published materials, programs are typically advertised more than a year prior to their start date. As a result, some program activities, schedules, accommodations, personnel, and other logistics occasionally change due to local conditions or circumstances. Should a major change occur, we will make every effort to alert you. For less significant changes, we will update you during orientation. Thank you for your understanding.
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10 days
9 nights
23 meals
9 B 6 L 8 D
DAY
1
Check-in, Registration, Welcome Dinner, Orientation
Fairbanks, AK
D
Springhill Suites by Marriott

Activity note: Hotel check-in from 3:00 p.m. Remember to bring your name-tag (sent previously).

Afternoon: Program Registration: 5:00 p.m. After you have your room assignment, join us at the Road Scholar table in the hotel lobby to register with program staff, get any updated information, and confirm the time and location of the Orientation session. If you arrive late, please locate your Group Leader and let them know you have arrived.

Dinner: In a private room in a restaurant within our hotel.

Evening: Orientation: 7:00 p.m. The Group Leader will greet everyone and lead introductions. We will review the schedule and any changes, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer any questions you may have. We will review the up-to-date program schedule, discuss roles and responsibilities, logistics, safety guidelines, emergency procedures, and answer questions. We will review COVID-19 protocols and will adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines and requirements throughout the program. Periods in the schedule designated as “Free time” and “At leisure” offer opportunities to do what you like and make your experience even more meaningful and memorable according to your personal preferences. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions. Program activities, schedules, personnel, and indicated distances or times may change due to local circumstances or conditions. In the event of changes, we will alert you as quickly as possible. Thank you for your understanding. Continue getting to know your fellow Road Scholars, settle in, and get a good night’s rest for the day ahead.

DAY
2
Animal Research, Museum of the North, Riverboat Discovery
Fairbanks, AK
B,L,D
Springhill Suites by Marriott

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 25 miles throughout the day, approximately 1 hour total riding time. Walking up to 3 miles throughout, standing up to 1 hour at a time indoors and out during field trips; mostly flat terrain, potential for rain; dress accordingly.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We will gather for an overview and introduction to Alaska by Road Scholar staff. We’ll then board the motorcoach for a field trip to the Large Animal Research Station, a branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Institute of Arctic Biology. Studies of the large ungulates of the Arctic — such as musk oxen, caribou, and reindeer — have been ongoing for decades. A researcher or station staff member will tell us about the biology of the animals and the ecosystems they inhabit, emphasizing the different adaptations these various species have made to the same environment, including life cycles and survival strategies. Pelts, skulls, antlers, and horns will be available for hands-on examination and study. A special highlight will be the opportunity to see and learn about musk oxen, an emblem of the Arctic.

Lunch: We'll enjoy a catered lunch at the university.

Afternoon: We will explore the Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. This public research university is a world-renowned circumpolar research center with extensive collections gathered from current and past scientific expeditions in Alaska, America’s only Arctic state. During our self-directed exploration, we will see exhibits on Native culture, post-contact history, geology, fauna, flora, the Gold Rush, the Alaska pipeline, the Aurora, plus rotating art and photo exhibits, all housed in a beautiful and striking architectural gem. We will also be able to learn about Arctic and sub-Arctic ecology and environment and the people who inhabit this northern edge of our world. Next we'll embark a sternwheeler and cruise the rivers of the Last Frontier. We will be introduced to a family who has made the rivers of Alaska their home for the last five generations. We will see a bush floatplane take off, visit the home and kennels of four-time Iditarod winner Susan Butcher and her champion sled dogs, and be immersed into the ancient Athabascan Indian culture as we explore the Chena Indian Village with an Alaskan Native Guide. We’ll board our motorcoach after the field trip for the scenic ride back to our hotel.

Dinner: At a local restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
3
Cultural Center, Denali National Park, Dog Sled Homestead
Denali National Park, AK
B,L,D
Grande Denali Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 130 miles throughout the day, approximately 3 hours total riding time plus rest stop. Walking 1/2 mile to the Cultural Center, walking approximately 1/2 mile during field trips and standing indoors and out; gravel, packed dirt, boardwalk, paved surfaces. Potential for rain, dress accordingly.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We’ll check out of our hotel and walk a short distance to the Morris Thompson Cultural Center that features exhibits and dioramas focusing on the people and ecosystems of interior Alaska. A docent will lead an exploration of the cultural center and we will learn about the lives of Athabascan people past and present. We’ll also have some time for independent exploration. The Alaska Public Lands Information Center, a storehouse of information and exhibits on the public lands in Alaska, is located in the same building, as is the Fairbanks Visitors and Convention Bureau.

Lunch: At the Morris Thompson Cultural Center, we will sample local delicacies commonly enjoyed by native Alaskans.

Afternoon: Back aboard the motorcoach, we will ride on to Denali National Park via the George Parks Highway. We will see the rolling hill country of the Yukon-Tanana uplands covered with spruce and birch before crossing the vast Tanana lowlands, then climbing the north side of the Alaska Range. We’ll have views of incredible Alaska Range scenery and meandering rivers. Keep a look-out for moose and other wildlife that might be present. Approaching Denali, the highway parallels a deep canyon carved by the Nenana River. As we arrive at the entrance of Denali National Park, we’ll stop at the homestead of Iditarod champion Jeff King. The homestead provides an authentic look into rural lifestyles based on 44 years of Alaskan adventures, from freight hauling on Denali to crossing the finish line in Nome with a champion Iditarod team. We’ll “meet” the husky dog team, learn about their summer training, and hear stories from the trail as you view actual racing sleds, arctic survival gear, and equipment used to traverse 1,100 miles of Alaska’s most rugged terrain. We’ll then ride on to our hotel and check in.

Dinner: At a restaurant near the hotel.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
4
Denali National Park Visitors Center, Rafting
Denali National Park, AK
B
Grande Denali Lodge

Activity note: Getting on and off a motorcoach. Getting in and out of rafts, floating 11 miles for 3-3.5 hours. Potential for rain, dress accordingly. Dry suits will be provided for the rafting field trip.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: This morning we'll enjoy a lecture by our Instructor before we depart for the Denali National Park visitors center. Following the lecture we'll make our way to the park where we will have some time to explore the Park Visitor’s Center independently and peruse exhibits, watch the award-winning movie “Heartbeats of Denali,” or walk along one of the numerous nearby trails. Road Scholar staff will be on hand to offer recommendations to help you make the most of your morning in this beautiful National Park, known for its biodiversity and amazing views.

Lunch: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like at the Denali National Park Cafeteria.

Afternoon: After lunch we'll be met with our rafting guides who will shuttle us to the starting location of our raft field trip. On this 11 mile journey we'll travel along the boundary of Denali National Park on the Nenana River. We'll float through glacially carved valleys as we take in the views of Mount Fellows and the Nenana Canyon.

Dinner: This meal has been excluded from the program cost and is on your own to enjoy what you like. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Evening: Following dinner we will enjoy a lecture by our Instructor.

DAY
5
Denali Wilderness Field Trip, Exploring “Front Country”
Denali National Park, AK
B,L,D
Grande Denali Lodge

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 86 miles round-trip, up to approximately 4 hours riding time plus stops to view wildlife as opportunities arise and for a rest stop. Denali Park Road gravelly and uneven in some areas, potential for bumpy ride. Bring binoculars if available. Distance while hiking in Denali National Park according to personal choice.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: Early this morning, we will board the motorcoach for a narrated Denali tundra wilderness field trip. As we ride 43 miles into the Park, we will have great opportunities to view the Park’s wildlife and scenery and learn about the animals, plants, and history. If we’re lucky, we may see Dall sheep, moose, caribou, wolves, even grizzly bears that might be present. Denali — formerly Mount McKinley — is visible only when conditions are right, but on clear days we will have several opportunities to view the mountain that is the highest peak in North America. We will have rest stops at least once every 90 minutes during the field trip.

Lunch: At the National Park Cafeteria.

Afternoon: This afternoon we'll continue our exploration of Denali National Park.

Dinner: At a local restaurant.

Evening: Back at the hotel we'll enjoy another lecture by our Instructor. Prepare for check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
6
Talkeetna Historical Society, Native Heritage Center
Anchorage, AK
B,L,D
Aspen Suites Anchorage

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 235 miles throughout the day, approximately 4 hours total riding time. Walking at Heritage Center according to personal choice; half-mile loop trail to see Native dwelling exhibits, generally flat paved paths.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We’ll check out, board the motorcoach, and begin our ride to Anchorage. En route, we’ll stop at Talkeetna, a historic village nestled at the base of Mount Denali. Rich in history, it may be best known for being the jumping-off point for climbers hoping to summit North America’s tallest peak. We’ll explore the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum, consisting of four restored buildings introducing the native peoples, aviators, gold seekers, and who were an important part of Talkeetna’s past. A docent will give us an introduction to the museum, followed by some independent time to see the exhibits on our own. Among them is the Mountain Exhibit, showing Denali and its surrounding peaks of the Alaska Range as a room-size model that presents the history of mountaineering.

Lunch: We'll enjoy a boxed lunch.

Afternoon: Upon arrival in Anchorage we’ll head to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the largest cultural institution in Alaska, to learn about the unique indigenous cultures that have shaped Alaska’s history. We’ll take a virtual journey through 10,000 years of Alaska Native history and culture through art, dance, Native games demonstrations, exhibits, and walk through traditional Native dwellings. We will then proceed to the hotel and check in.

Dinner: At the hotel.

Evening: At the hotel, we’ll have another educational presentation by Road Scholar staff.

DAY
7
Eagle River, Hike, Free Time, Anchorage Museum
Anchorage, AK
B,D
Aspen Suites Anchorage

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 60 miles roundtrip, approximately 1.5 hours total riding time. Hiking 3/4 mile; groomed trail, benches along the way.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: At the hotel, we’ll gather for another educational presentation by Road Scholar staff on topics related to our course of study. Afterwards, we’ll board the motorcoach for a field trip to the Eagle River Nature Center, nestled in the Eagle River Valley within Chugach State Park. After a brief introduction at the nature center, a naturalist will lead us on a hike around the Rodak trail, offering pristine mountain views, glacier rivers and streams, and opportunities to see wildlife. Returning to Anchorage, we’ll have some time for independent exploration in downtown Anchorage.

Lunch: On your own to enjoy what you like in downtown Anchorage. The Group Leader will be happy to offer suggestions.

Afternoon: We will rendezvous at an announced time and place, then ride a short distance to the Anchorage Museum for a self-directed field trip. The large variety of exhibits illustrate pre-historic, historic, and present-day Anchorage and Alaska. The primary exhibition contains more than 600 objects from the Smithsonian collections and is one of the finest presentations of Alaskan history and ethnology in the state. Full-scale and miniature dioramas provide a look at the early lifestyles of Alaska’s native peoples. Other exhibits cover exploration and settlement by the Russians, the Gold Rush era, World War II and statehood.

Dinner: At a local restaurant.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for early check-out and transfer in the morning.

DAY
8
AK Railroad to Seward Scenic Ride, SeaLife Center
Seward, AK
B,L,D
Gateway Hotel

Activity note: Early check-out and transfer approximately 5:30 a.m. Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 20 miles total, approximately 1/2 hour. Getting on/off a train; ride to Seward about 107 miles, approximately 4 hours. Standing up to 1 hour at field trip sites.

Breakfast: Aboard the Alaska Railroad.

Morning: Up early this morning, we’ll check out of the hotel before breakfast and ride a short distance to the train station. We’ll board the train and take the Alaska Railroad south for a narrated ride through spectacular scenery, starting along the shores of Cook Inlet and Turnagain Arm, traveling through the valleys and canyons of Chugach National Forest, past glaciers, rivers, lakes, and finally to the mountains of the Kenai Peninsula and the coastal town of Seward. The stunning beauty of this trip is one of the best kept secrets in Alaska. Keep an eye out for migratory birds, moose, and other wildlife throughout our journey. Upon arrival in Seward, we’ll disembark the train, board a motorcoach, and ride to the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Lunch: At the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Afternoon: The Alaska SeaLife Center is a cutting-edge marine research facility. A member of the educational staff will give us a presentation on their work. We will learn about ongoing research projects and see exhibits on the marine life of the south-central and northern Pacific shores of Alaska. We’ll also learn about the center’s current objectives and how the establishment of this research center came in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill. Money from state damages assessed on Exxon was used to start up the research center. One special focus was to study the long-term effects of the oil spill on the people, the animals, and the land of South Central Alaska. The center has become a top-notch research facility, drawing researchers from all over the country. We’ll then ride a short distance to our hotel and check in.

Dinner: At a local restaurant.

Evening: At leisure.

DAY
9
Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park Wildlife Cruise
Seward, AK
B,L,D
Gateway Hotel

Activity note: Hike at Exit Glacier is considered moderately strenuous at approximately 1.2 miles with some steep, uneven surfaces and exposure to wind. Some benches are available along the way. Getting on/off a passenger catamaran; riding approximately 6 hours; indoor seating available; warm layers, rain gear recommended. Bring binoculars if available.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: We'll begin our day with a self-guided walk to the edge of Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Exit Glacier received its name for serving as the exit for the first recorded crossing of the Harding Icefield in 1968. We will learn about this iconic feature and view the dense blue ice up-close while listening to it crackle. Afterwards, we'll ride to the harbor dock in Seward and board a catamaran for a glacier and wildlife study cruise. As we sail out into beautiful Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park, we’ll learn about the Russians who “discovered” the bay on Easter Sunday and named it Resurrection Bay — “Easter” commonly referred to as “Resurrection.” Ship staff will provide insightful commentary along our journey as we take in the breathtaking scenery.

Lunch: Aboard the catamaran.

Afternoon: Our study cruise will continue as we keep an eye out for seals, sea lions, otters, numerous birds including some puffin varieties, and whales set against a backdrop of magnificent tidewater and hanging glaciers. We may even see some glacial calving. We’ll return to the hotel after our field trip.

Dinner: At a local restaurant. Share favorite experiences with new Road Scholar friends during our farewell dinner.

Evening: At leisure. Prepare for check-out and departure in the morning.

DAY
10
Transfer to Anchorage, Program Concludes
Anchorage, AK
B

Activity note: Getting on/off a motorcoach; driving about 126 miles, approximately 3 hours riding time. Drop-offs at airport and starting hotel expected between approximately 10:30 a.m and 12:00 p.m. depending on traffic and road conditions.

Breakfast: At the hotel.

Morning: After checking out of the hotel, we’ll have one more chance to absorb Alaska’s beautiful scenery on our return ride to Anchorage, with drop-offs at both the airport and our hotel in Anchorage. This concludes our program. If you are returning home, safe travels. If you are staying on independently, have a wonderful time. If you are transferring to another Road Scholar program, detailed instructions are included in your Information Packet for that program. We hope you enjoy Road Scholar learning adventures and look forward to having you on rewarding programs in the future. Don’t forget to join our Facebook page and follow us on Instagram. Best wishes for all your journeys!






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