Botanical Alaska is a tour with Pacific Horticulture Society organized by Betchart Expeditions. It is a land tour of the native ecosystems and botanic gardens from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula to Fairbanks including Denali National Park. It is fantastic.

The two naturalist guides are veteran Alaska tour leaders, know the birds and sea life, and even the best roadside pull offs for wildflowers. I am going back in 2020.

What follows is basically a photo log, day-to-day, which is simply the easiest way to express the diversity and breadth of the adventure.

We start in Anchorage, and while the municipal landscaping is not specifically part of the tour, it is hard for any botanically inclined person to ignore, and hard not be amazed, by the street plantings.

Anchorage, Town Square Park, Alaska public landscaping with flowers and vegetables

The summer days are quite long in Alaska so plants grow quickly.  Cool season vegetables such as cabbages, chard, and kale can be incorporated into these mixed beds and dominate them.

The Alaska Botanical Garden was its own surprising delight. It turns out that peonies thrive in Alaska, in sophisticated perennial borders could rival any in the lower 48.

Peony ‘Adolphe Rousseau’ flowering in Alaska Botanical Garden, Anchorage with perennials

We also went looking for meadow and alpine wildflowers on Glen Alps Trail in Chugach Mountains with a native plant expert who joined us for the hike.  I could have spent many more hours on this trail admiring and photographing the flowers, and it is one of the spots I can’t wait to go back to visit. Next year !  Link at the end.

The next day we headed to Seward on the Kenai Peninsula and our private tour bus stopped for many adventures starting with Potter Marsh overlook where are we saw eagles and migrating salmon.

Potter Marsh, Bird habitat overlook, Alaska

We next stopped at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center where grizzly bears are taken in for rehabilitation. I cleverly composed this photograph to make it seem like we were in the wild when actually we are on a boardwalk 10 feet above.

Grizzly Bear at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Portage Valley

Another stop along the way was Turnagain Pass as we entered the Kenai Peninsula and could stretch our legs while admiring the wildflowers

Summer wildflowers at Turnagain Pass in Chugash National Forest on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

Our main stop of the day was the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park where we walked along the trail that shows how quickly it is receding.  In this photo you can see where the glacier was only 14 years ago.

Timeline of receding glacier, Exit Glacier on Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

From Seward the next day we had a long hike through the Sitka spruce boreal forest to Caines Head on Resurrection Bay and a wet meadow full of wildflowers. I felt totally awed. We were in what was nearly Alaska wilderness with hardly any effort, eating picnic lunch on washed up logs on the beach among the wildflowers.

Hike to Caine’s Head Resurrection Bay on Kenai Peninsula, Pacific Horticulture tour of Alaska

Later in the afternoon most of the tour stayed in Seward to visit the Alaska Sealife Center while I went back to the motel to prepare for a photo class that evening.  

I couldn’t help but take pictures of the docks in the harbor for the thriving sport fishing business. And by the way, the seafood everywhere in Alaska is excellent.

Seward sport fishing dock, Pacific Horticulture tour of Alaska

The next day we headed back north so we should get to a long day of hiking at Hatcher Pass, famous for its wildflowers.  But before we even begin we stopped by the road for a bit of botanizing.

Heath tundra near Hatcher Pass, Alaska, Independence Mine State Historical Park; Pacific Horticulture Society tour

On trail to Gold Core Lake through the subalpine heath tundra this abandoned miner’s cabin at Independence Mine State Historical Park would probably get get a seven-figure offer for the view alone if it were in the real estate market in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Abandoned miner’s cabin on trail to Gold Core Lake through subalpine heath tundra, Independence Mine State Historical Park

Next day, on the way to Deanali, we stopped at Talkeetna, the quirky inspiration behind the television show Northern Exposure.  I never saw that TV show so the quaintness of the town was lost on me, but I sure enjoyed a beer at the funky Fairview Inn.

Fairview Inn in Talkeetna; Pacific Horticulture tour of Alaska

From Talkeetna, the planes leave to land on glaciers for climbers headed to the top of Denali, our destination for next day’s huge adventure into Denali National Park, an almost total wilderness the size of the state of Massachusetts.

View of snow covered Mount Hunter in Denali National Park across Susitna River in Talkeetna, Alaska

I could do a whole article about Denali; it is a true wilderness with caribou and eagles and grizzly bears and moose, all of which you can see from the park tour bus as it goes out 66 miles to the Eielson Visitor Center. The adventuresome can get off the bus literally anywhere and get on a later one, which is certainly what I did with 3 others – and can’t wait to do it again.

Hiking off trail in Denali National Park, Pacific Horticulture tour of Alaska
Chamerion angustifolium, Fireweed, Wildflowers in subalpine heath tundra at Stony Dome, Denali National Park, Alaska
Wildflowers in subalpine heath tundra at Stony Dome, Denali National Park, Alaska

The last stop on the adventure was Fairbanks, so far north now, it barely gets totally dark at night.

For some great history we visited the Museum of the North, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which also has the Georgeson Botanical Garden with its surprising research showing how well peonies grow in Alaska and jumpstarting the Alaska Peony Growers Association. I was also delighted to see Sanguisorba officinalis, Great Burnet, a native wildflower in their mixed borders.

Sanguisorba officinalis, Great Burnet, Bloodwort, Alaska native wildflower flowering with Achillea millefolium ‘Rosea’, Yarrow in Georgeson Botanical Garden, Fairbanks

We had afternoon off on the final day, and while many of my new friends wanted to shop in downtown Fairbanks, I explored the boreal forest loaded with Betula neoalaskana, Alaska Paper Birch at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge which was adjacent to our hotel.

Betula neoalaskana, Alaska Paper Birch trees in boreal forest boardwalk trail; Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Fairbanks, Alaska

The Botanical Alaska tour is now over and I admit it was just the right time as i was about overloaded – for this trip I mean. I’m going back again next year. I hope I have as fun and interesting a group of fellow travelers.

Hike to Caine’s Head Resurrection Bay on Kenai Peninsula, Pacific Horticulture tour of Alaska

Here is the link to the 2020 Alaska tour on the Pacific Horticulture to tour page.  Be sure to sign up for the newsletter.

PhotoBotanic gallery of Alaska photos

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