A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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Get close to the scenery: The Glenn Highway crosses Moose Creek in the Talkeetna Mountains east of Palmer.
In Alaska, mode of transportation is as much fun as the destination
Whether you grab the steering wheel or leave the driving to someone else, rock the boat or ride the train, transportation options within Alaska are so extensive any visitor can find a perfect passage and price.
Experts say visitors don't have to choose just one.
"We recommend mixing it up -- like take a rail segment and then return on the bus," said Crystal Javier, director of Explore Tours in Anchorage. "Do your research and put together an itinerary that gives you variety."
Variety abounds, but there's one similarity travelers will find no matter how they move: unparalleled landscapes and scenery.
"Remember that your transportation can be sightseeing opportunities as well," Javier advised.
Ready to roll? Here are the major players in Alaska transportation:
ON THE WATER
The Alaska Marine Highway System offers a fleet of 11 state-owned ferries whose travel routes span 3,500 miles and 30 port cities, from Washington state and British Columbia to the Aleutian Islands in the farthest reaches of Western Alaska.
"Every region offers a different picture of Alaska," said Danielle Adkins, AMHS marketing manager. "And we're kind of like a bus system -- it's up to you where you want to get off and when you want to move on to the next port."
Popular routes include Alaska's Inside Passage, Prince William Sound and the Aleutian Islands. AMHS offers passengers flexibility in accommodations (from cabins to sleeping in their own tents), what they bring aboard (bikes, fishing poles, canoes, even cars) and pricing (travel for as little as $20 or as much as $800).
Adkins said that no matter how travelers ride, they'll get plenty of bang for their buck:
"We're transportation and not a sightseeing business, but the sightseeing factor, absolutely, is very high."
For more information, reservations and Web specials, visit www.ferryalaska.com.
ON THE ROAD
Imagine riding Alaska's roadways and not handling your bags, asking for directions or fumbling with a flat. That's the experience aboard motor coaches and buses.
"And you've got someone leading the way and pointing out sites of interest," Javier said.
Now imagine what you can accomplish when someone else is driving: sightseeing, planning the next leg of your trip, talking or resting.
Mark Mumm, director of sales and marketing for Gray Line Alaska, said many of his company's coaches also pack in fun, but the best aspect remains the scenery.
"We mix quiet time with games, activities and information," Mumm said. "And if you see a moose, you can stop. If you have unique lighting on a mountain, we can pull over."
Traveling by motor coach is affordable -- rates begin as low as $50 -- and many companies have motor coach fleets that cover Alaska or specialize in regions. Shop around and look for Web specials. Popular options are Gray Line Alaska (www.graylinealaska.com), Alaska Park Connection (www.alaskacoach.com), Princess Tours (www.princesslodges.com), Premier Alaska Tours (www. premieralaskatours.com), and Alaska Bus Charters & Tours (www.alaskabus.com). When in Southeast Alaska, check in with Alaska Coach Tours (alaskacoach tours.com).
Life's slower on rails ... and those on the Alaska Railroad think that's a good thing.
The romanticism of train travel is alive and well with modern touches aboard the Alaska Railroad, which takes travelers along a 500-mile route between Fairbanks and Seward. The railroad travels through major mountain ranges and makes stops that are historic (Denali National Park and Preserve), rustic (unique hiking trail heads) and urban (Alaska's two largest cities -- Anchorage and Fairbanks).
"It's certainly a more comfortable way to travel -- it's relaxing; families can interact with one another and enjoy the scenery as a group," explained Susie Kiger, the Alaska Railroad's director of passenger sales and marketing. "You're riding higher from the ground and traveling through the scenery a lot more slowly."
Scenery includes everything from aquatic- and tundra-based wildlife to North America's tallest peak, Mount McKinley, and even a few glaciers. Tickets start at $50 and travel ranges from out-and-back day trips to vacation packages in the luxury of the Railroad's GoldStar Service. For reservations and more information, visit www.alaskarailroad.com.
BEHIND THE WHEEL
Some travelers don't like moving with the herd. They blaze their own trails and travel at their own pace. For these travelers, renting a vehicle is the best option.
Anchorage alone has dozens of rental choices, from popular national companies to locally owned experts. Most major Alaska towns have rental companies and gas stations. As for the wheels themselves, the possibilities are endless -- from economy cars to homes on wheels.
Javier said renting a vehicle is affordable, easy and as flexible as you can get. "We say, 'Buy a Milepost and map out your trip,' " Javier said.
But, Javier warned, summer construction along Alaska's highways can slow a driver's momentum, and those behind the wheel in Alaska must keep their eyes peeled for wildlife at all times. n