It’s 6 p.m., and I’m running late for dinner. Although the rest of the group has gathered in the dining room of Alaska’s best resort, I’m hiking down a nearby mountain, awed by the beauty of this rugged country and blissfully unaware of my tardiness.
Massive, wild and largely undisturbed by human civilization, Alaska holds a prized position among American tourism destinations. From the wildflowers growing along the side of Mount Alyeska to the staggering sight of the Kenai Fjords near Seward, this state boasts limitless natural attractions and luscious landscapes.
Much of Alaska is as untamed as the sockeye salmon that swim through its rivers. Walking its ground and standing on its shoreline plants travelers squarely in the heart of the continent’s crowning beauty.
Fortunately for travelers, the purity and seclusion of Alaska’s most beautiful places do not make them difficult to reach. On a tour from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula, visitors can have adventurous experiences hiking on mountainsides or rafting on glacial rivers and then retreat to a gourmet dinner and a luxurious hotel room.
I’m on a summer tour of Alaska with two bank travel groups — First State Savings Bank from Missouri and Jacksonville Savings Bank from Illinois — as a guest of Cruises and Tours Worldwide. Together, we’ll discover the best of the state’s wilderness splendor and well-honed hospitality.
Wide spaces and wildflowers
It’s not like me to run late for a meal, especially a good one. But I’ve lost track of time during my hike on Mount Alyeska. Our group will spend the next two nights here at Alyeska Resort — the state’s only AAA four-diamond property — which sits at the base of the mountain. In the winter, the resort’s aerial tram transports skiers to the top of the peak; now, in the summer, it takes visitors up to see the gorgeous views of the valley below.
Several of us take the tram ride to the top of the mountain, where we enjoy wonderful views of Turnagain Arm, an extension of the Cook Inlet, as well as the incredible greenery of the valley below. Thick white clouds loom low overhead, although instead of obscuring the view, they somehow seem to tuck us in, creating a sealed-off wonderland of steep mountainside and lush color.
I am alone, though, in my decision to hike the 2.5-mile North Face Trail back to the resort. I should have plenty of time to make it back before dinner, but the landscape and its vivid details are so distracting.
During the descent, I discover new plant life at about every 100 feet in elevation. The colors and shapes of these leaves and flowers are mesmerizing. Although I don’t know what they are called or where else they grow, I enjoy stopping to study them along the way, marveling at their intricate structures and how the colorful petals stand out from the green background.
I’ve made so many stops to take in sweeping vistas, photograph dew drops on blooming wildflowers and taste water from the clear, cold streams running down the mountain that my quick hike has turned into a leisurely stroll. With about a half-mile to go, I realize I’m in danger of missing my dinner, so I double-time it back to the resort for a great steak meal.
Although the rest of the group is well into their salad course by the time I arrive, our tour director, Kevin Davis, seems unconcerned by my absence.
“It’s dinnertime,” he said. “I knew you’d make it here eventually.”