Take a sunlit journey into the heart of America’s 49thstate to explore Alaska’s natural beauty, wilderness thrills, and wildly delicious cuisine.
While Alaska may be best known for vast expanses of wintry terrain with images of dog sleds navigating the snowy backcountry and harbor seals sunning on a floating iceberg, summer in Alaska offers a different wonderland.
Meadows of wildflowers and green valleys are alive with wildlife on the move and birds soaring overhead. Waterfalls splash into winding rivers filled with fish, ocean bays teem with playful otters, and coastal tide pools burst with starfish and other colorful sea creatures.
The summertime sun in Alaska shines brightly all day and into the night so it’s the best time of year to explore by kayak, hike forest trails, swim in crystal lakes and work up an appetite to enjoy the bounty of the land and sea. Freshly caught halibut, and salmon star on summer menus and sunlit gardens yield a bumper crop of berries, vegetables, and herbs. Toast with one of many Alaskan craft beers or a cocktail garnished with edible flowers but don’t wait until sunset, because that may be well after midnight!
Summer Fun Alaskan Style
The state of Alaska is huge. It’s twice as big as Texas with more than half of the entire U.S coastline. So there are lots to explore and it’s best done with folks who know their way around.
Embracing the pioneer spirit of Alaska, Carl and Kirsten Dixon began guiding backcountry explorations in the 1980’s. Today their two Within The Wild adventure lodges invite summer guests to discover the diverse delights of Alaska from hold-on-for-the-ride river rafting adventures to read a book rocking chair relaxation. Or a quick chopper ride to find the snow that never melts on top of a glacier. July 4th Snowball fight anyone?
You know you’re in for a summer camp style adventure when the suggested gear list includes hiking boots, warm socks and a swimsuit with an added reminder to pack it all in a soft-sided duffel bag because you’ll be transported by water taxi, helicopter or float plane. But, upon arrival at Within The Wild’s luxury lodges what truly delights travelers is the welcome surprise of personalized service, expertly crafted local cuisine, and comfy rustic-chic cabins.
Race you to the hot tub!
Tutka Bay Lodge, South of Homer
The adventure begins with a short commercial flight from Anchorage into the charming seaside town of Homer. Then it’s on to breakfast at La Baleine Café on the Homer Spit, a long skinny stretch of land reaching into Kachemak Bay. Run by a formally trained chef, Mandy Dixon (daughter of Carl and Kirsten) the café hums with locals and visitors craving salmon BLT’s, omelets with farmer’s market veggies or steel cut oats served with Alaska’s fireweed honey.
Fueled and fired up for the next leg of the trip guests board a water taxi that shoots across the large bay dotted with fishing boats and delivers them to the long dock of Tutka Bay Lodge. Nature sightings begin immediately as guides point out a baby bear on the rocky shore and a bald eagle in the treetops. The aroma of spruce trees and wet stones splashed by the salty sea perfumes the air.
Open May through September, the intimate lodge is spread over eleven wildflower-filled acres and features a main lodge, six private guest accommodations, kitchen gardens, sauna, hot tub and boat house connected by a large relaxation deck with panoramic vistas and room for a stylish helicopter landing. Helicopters are common ‘birds’ in Alaska since there’s little to no access by roads in the remote backcountry for guided activities such as fishing, wildlife viewing, bear watching, glacier touring and hiking high meadows (with lunch packed by the lodge chefs) in the Kachemak Bay State Park.
Don’t worry – the chopper will come back to pick you up later!
Taste of Alaska
There are unique adventures for the palate as well. With appetites often on overdrive given the exhilarating lodge activities on tap, the kitchen is a hive of culinary creativity. Each day busy chefs turn out freshly baked bread and desserts.
Inspired by the state’s Russian history, proximity to the Pacific Rim, abundant seafood and today’s focus on organically grown ingredients menu specialties include slow-cooked fish chowders, elk sliders, barbecued salmon and halibut with rhubarb and ginger. A meal may start with grilled oysters and shrimp ceviche and end with artisanal cheeses from France and California.
The Dixons are so serious about offering their guests a world-class culinary experience Tutka Bay Lodge houses a cooking school.
Built into the Widgeona ninety-foot 1940’s era troop transport boat that became a crabbing boat and now sits safely on dry land, the cooking school is festooned with giant driftwood chandeliers hanging over a massive wooden dining table.
Of course, salmon is a popular subject. Guests might make salmon bacon with a sweet birch syrup glaze and learn the difference between cold smoked and hot smoked salmon.
After dinner, since it’s still full daylight the adventures continue with a boat ride into Tutka Bay. Even though it’s well past 10 PM, the sunlight catches the splash of sea otters playing and posing for the evening’s entertainment and fantastic wildlife photography.
Gardens and Glaciers
Winterlake Lodge, the base of Wolverine Mountain
Winterlake Lodge guests arrive via floatplane landing gently on the two-mile lake and gliding smoothly to the dock.
In winter you might arrive via dog sled because the lodge is located at Mile 198 on the Iditarod Trail offering dogs and mushers a rest during the famous annual race covering nearly one thousand miles from Anchorage to Nome.
Located on the western edge of the Alaska Range, this remote lodge is nestled on 15 acres at the base of Wolverine Mountain. This pretty property has six individual knotty pine comfy guest cabins, a central main lodge with a bar and game room. Outside there’s a hot tub and sauna house and beautiful flower gardens.
There are complimentary massages, yoga classes and daily cooking classes in the kitchen overlooking the lodge’s vegetable gardens. Rhubarb and wild berries grow abundantly here. There’s even a resident forager on the kitchen staff. (Note of caution: not all berries in Alaska are edible so refer to a plant guide before snacking on your hike!)
In summer, when daily temperatures can reach into the 80’s, the refreshingly cold lake offers a welcome relief as water splashes onto the kayaks or if you take a dive off the dock you can earn bragging rights that you swam in Alaska!
What makes Winterlake Lodge especially unique is the sled dog camp. A helicopter whisks guests up into the mountains to a still snow-covered valley where the lodge’s sled dogs spend their summer months. Enjoy a hot chocolate and then jump on the runners to try your hand at mushing or strap on cross-country skis for a spin around the camp.
Then the helicopter then takes off to tour the majesty of Alaska’s vast blue and white glacier fields and sets down so guests can go for a thrilling walk along the top of the icy glacier.
Back at the lodge dinnertime talk usually starts with “what did you do today?” and continues with tales of moose spotting, fly-fishing success, adrenaline pumping river-rafting moments or getting to know the name of another friendly sled dog.
Multi-adventure vacations are trending up with travelers and Alaska is ready to roll out the carpet to welcome visitors to this last frontier.