Denali and Fairbanks, Alaska, for $2,500 to $3,000

By Carol Sottili
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, June 6, 2010

Who: Carol Rich, 51, of Ashburn

Where: Fairbanks, Alaska, and Denali National Park and Preserve

Why: Adventure solo trip

When: A week in early October

Budget: $2,500 to $3,000

"My interests include seeing the northern lights, photography, panning for gold, history, riding trains, checking out the glaciers, day hiking and viewing wildlife. I'm also interested in visiting Chena Hot Springs Resort."

Pack the parka and grab the snowshoes. Yes, I'm exaggerating, at least about the snowshoes, but October in Alaska, the destination Carol Rich of Ashburn has selected, can get cold. Rich may find the hot springs she wants to visit quite welcome after dealing with temperatures that probably won't make it out of the very low 40s and will dip to below freezing at night. And while deep snow probably won't be a factor, the first snowfall in Fairbanks occurs, on average, Sept. 21.

October is too late for river rafting but too early for dog mushing. The good news is that the crowds will be gone. But by mid-September, many hotels and attractions close for the season, which means fewer organized activities.

Day 1. Even though Anchorage is not on Rich's wish list, it's the cheapest arrival city. Round-trip airfare from Reagan National in early October was recently $442 on Delta with one convenient connection, while fares for one-connection flights into Fairbanks cost $1,057. An open-jaw trip with arrival in one city and departure from the other was running about $828. Fairbanks and Anchorage are about 360 miles apart on Parks Highway (Route 3), and Denali sits between the two, so driving from Anchorage is doable.

If it were high season, the Denali Star train (http://www.alaskarailroad.com), which travels seasonally between Anchorage and Fairbanks, stopping at Denali and several other scenic locations, would be a transportation option. In October, however, Rich will need to rent a car, preferably a four-wheel-drive vehicle just in case of early snow. A Chevy Trailblazer rented through Alamo (877-222-9075, http://www.alamo.com) at the Anchorage airport will cost about $393 for the week.

An overnight in Anchorage after the long travel day is in order. Lake Hood Inn (866-663-9322, http://www.lakehoodinn.com), with rates starting at $79 a night, is close to the airport.

Days 2 and 3. The entrance to Denali is five hours from Anchorage, so hit the road early. Beginning Sept. 21, private vehicles are allowed to drive into the park as far as the Teklanika River, about 30 miles from Parks Highway; entrance fee is $20. Stop at the Murie Science and Learning Center, which serves as the park's winter visitors center, to get the lay of the land. As for wildlife viewing, critters hunker down as temperatures fall, and the National Park Service's Web site warns, "You may end up with many more landscape photos than ones of animals, unless you have a considerable number of days to spend in your search." No structured activities are offered in October by park rangers, but solo day hiking is available from the visitors center. Info: 907-683-2294, http://www.nps.gov/dena.

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