For more than a few of us, visiting many of our national parks can only be done vicariously -- most often while we're firmly seated in our most comfortable armchair, at that.
So many far off places -- whether you're in Florida wondering about Denali or Glacier Bay national parks in Alaska, or in Alaska wondering about the Everglades or maybe Biscayne national parks in Florida -- can only be visited through words, videos, or audio.
Not surprisingly, if you're planning a once-in-a-lifetime vacation to move beyond the vicarious nature of travel, this far-off experience can spur more than a few questions. More than a few understandably came to mind when I learned of a brand-new lodge that offers visitors to Kenai Fjords National Park a chance to find themselves a little closer to the park than has been possible in the past.
Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is surrounded by arms of this nearly 670,000-acre park and anchored on the shores of a glacier-fed tidal lagoon. Located about 50 watery miles from the jumping-off port of Seward, the lodge stands on 1,700 acres of land along Pederson Lagoon owned by the Port Graham Native Corporation.
Opening this summer, the lodge is owned and managed by Alaska Wildland Adventures, a tour company that has been running trips in Alaska for three decades. For now, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge is being marketed as a short-stay destination, with packages ranging from one to three nights, although longer stays can be arranged.
A good part of the first day is spent traveling by boat from Seward to Pederson Lagoon. This voyage can run to four hours if wildlife -- you have chances of spying Stellar sea lions, colorful puffins, and possibly humpback or orca whales -- lead you on a zig-zag course.
Once at the lodge you have your own private cabin -- though perhaps a tad on the small side at just 12 feet by 24 feet -- furnished with two double beds (some cabins are slightly larger to accommodate to doubles and a twin for families) a private bath consisting of a sink, toilet, and shower, and a covered front porch with chairs. Not to worry about cold, dark nights, as the cabins are wired with electric and heated.
Meals are taken at the main lodge under the tutelage of Chef Christian Briner, who prior to joining the Alaska Wildland Adventures staff in 2006 served his creations to the Tampa Bay (Florida) crowd. At Kenai Fjords Glacier his menus are expected to include such dinner entrees as nut-encrusted halibut with mango beurre blanc, a lemon rice pilaf, leeks with roasted red pepper sauce, a green salad, and a light rye sourdough. The chef pairs that dinner with a Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc from Chile.
Now, when you're not dining, you can lounge with a book at your cabin or take advantage of a number of activities available through the lodge's staff. These range from guided hiking and guided sea kayaking for close-up views of Pederson Glacier to traveling by skiff for a deeper exploration of the lagoon or perhaps nearby Aialik Bay. Of course, in this setting fishing is also an option (for an added cost).
The staff isn't hired lightly. Those who are brought on board go through a three-week interpretation program during which they work with experts on geology, marine wildlife, wilderness ethics and even legislation. And, in light of the lodge's location, the guides and lodge staff are required to have at a minimum Wilderness First Responder training.
Now, by Lower 48 standards the cost of this two-day, one-night stay (with meals included) might seem a bit on the high side, at $475 per adult and $425 per child. But this is Alaska, and the setting is remote.
"Guests are not just paying for a night's accommodations; they're paying for a comprehensive and guided pristine wilderness experience featuring an array of guided activities, great meals, comfortable private cabins and round-trip marine wildlife and glacier cruise included," explains Heather Dudick, AWA's marketing director. "Compared with other all-inclusive lodges in Alaska, we feel that KFGL is on par and competitively priced."
This year the season is set to kick off May 31 and run through September 10.