Alaska | Cultural Exploration


Travel to the edge of the arctic circle and explore the awe-inspiring landscapes during your student travel program in Alaska. Hear stories from a native Athabascan storyteller in Fairbanks, hike the subarctic tundra of Denali National Park with expert guides, and paddle amid icebergs in a pristine glacial lake on the Kenai Peninsula with a group of adventurous peers.

July 14, 2017  –  July 28, 2017
At A Glance:
  • Adventure
    Outdoor exploration, hiking, biking, swimming, and other active pursuits
  • Mountains
    Focus on outdoor exploration with day hikes or alpine trekking
  • Wildlife
    Exploration of flora and fauna in natural habitats, national parks, or wildlife reserves
Completing grades 9 – 12
US Gateway City:
Cultural Exploration
15 days
Typical Group:
14 – 16 students, 2 leaders
$ 5,390 + airfare
  • Scout for caribou and moose as you hike through Denali National Park
  • Attend a traditional Athabascan dance ceremony near the Arctic Circle
  • Traverse a glacier and witness its annual recession first hand
  • Paddle the pristine waters off the Kenai Peninsula

Leader Profile: STEVE BYRNE

Education: Wittenberg University, B.A., History, B.A., Spanish

While at Wittenberg University, Steve studied abroad for a year in Buenos Aires, where he honed his Spanish language skills, studied economic history, and traveled… read more

While at Wittenberg University, Steve studied abroad for a year in Buenos Aires, where he honed his Spanish language skills, studied economic history, and traveled in Patagonia. Steve then moved to Yosemite Valley where he learned to rock climb and ski as he explored and photographed the technical peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Steve worked for AYUSA Global Youth Exchange for three years, overseeing high school exchange programs for students from Latin America and Europe. Upon leaving AYUSA, Steve embarked on a three-month Andean climbing and photography journey starting near Santiago and ending in southern Patagonia. Steve runs his own photography and print business, specializing in landscape, surf, and adventure photography. He has produced adventure sports and active lifestyle images on land and at sea for web and stock publication with clients including Surfline, The Inertia, Camelbak, National Geographic Travel, the San Francisco Chronicle, Shutterfly, and KQED Media. Though he considers northern California home, Steve has spent the past year on the road doing outreach for Putney Student Travel and designing and leading our Skiing in Patagonia program. He has led National Geographic Student Expeditions programs in Barcelona, San Francisco, Alaska, Ecuador, and Australia. Steve is fluent in Spanish.


Departure • Travel Day • Meet your fellow high school student travelers and one or more of your leaders in Seattle, and fly together to Fairbanks, Alaska. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here.

Fairbanks • 2 days • Settle into Fairbanks, a gold rush boom town nestled along the Chena River less than 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and take part in an in-depth orientation to get to know your leaders and fellow group members. Attend a traditional Athabascan dance ceremony and listen to a native storyteller at the renowned Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, then travel south on the iconic Alaska Railroad to Denali National Park.

Denali • 3 days • Explore Denali National Park and Preserve from our base at the Denali Education Center, nestled on the banks of the glacially-fed Nenana River. A medley of boreal forest, tundra, sand dunes, and glaciers, Denali National Park encompasses six million acres of pristine wilderness and is home to Mt. Denali, the tallest peak in North America. Watch for moose and their young grazing in the early morning, or borrow some binoculars and spot a few of the over 100 species of birds that call the park home. Hike frontcountry wilderness trails and scout for bears, wolves, caribou, and white Dall sheep on expert-led hikes. Visit the last remaining sled dog kennel of the National Park Service, and meet the rangers that work with the dogs on conservation and research missions throughout Alaska’s dark winters.

Girdwood • 5 days • Continue your journey south along the scenic Parks Highway past Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula, and settle into the village of Girdwood, our base for the next five days. Home to the northernmost temperate rainforest in North America, the peninsula contains three different stunning national parks and is bordered by the Cook Inlet to the west and the Gulf of Alaska to the south. Visit the renowned Alaska Sea Life Center in the quaint coastal town of Seward, and spend a day working with veterinarians to rehabilitate rescued marine life. Take a scenic tram high into the Chugach Mountains to hike above the treeline, trek the receding Matanuska Glacier with expert guides, and paddle amid towering icebergs in a glacial lake. Pan for gold at a historic mine and learn how its trade impacted the legacy of Alaska and the local economy. Witness the extreme boreal tides of Turnagain Arm as you scout for belugas, and visit Eklutna, a historical village with shared cross-cultural heritage between the Athabascan native population and Russian settlers.  

Homer • 2 days •  Travel south to the terminus of the Parks Highway and explore the seaside village of Homer. Kayak with conservationists along Homer’s glaciated coastline and explore the teeming marine ecosystem at your fingertips. Spend two nights in a yurt across the bay at the Peterson Bay Field Station, and scout for orcas, humpbacks, sea lions, and otters off the coast. Reflect on your experience as a group, hone your independent projects, and roast marshmallows over the campfire with new friends.

Anchorage • 1 day • Return to Anchorage and enjoy a celebratory dinner and present your final projects as a group.

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Anchorage to Seattle with your group and a leader, then continue on to your final destination. To learn more about how we organize travel, click here..

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

A Day in the Life: DENALI

Due to the traveling nature of this student summer program, each day is different. Here is a snapshot of a day in Denali National Park.

7:30 AM Breakfast at our accommodations
9 AM   Morning hike for views of Mt. Denali
12 PM   Lunch on the river
1 PM   Intro talk on the subarctic ecosystem in Denali from a conservation specialist
3 PM   Visit a working sled dog kennel
5 PM   Downtime
7 PM   Dinner on campus at the education center
8 PM   Evening hike to take advantage of the midnight sun
10 PM   Group meeting to discuss the day and upcoming schedule

I truly could not have had a better Putney experience. I love telling stories about it, and I’m still having trouble believing that it really happened. Thank you, Putney, for the time of my life!

— Jacqueline K., Pembroke Hill School, Leawood, KS

What to Expect

Independent Project: During your travels in Alaska, pursue an independent project and explore an aspect of local culture of particular interest to you—interview a park ranger about their winters spent in Denali, create a photo essay to document the variation in flora and fauna between the tundra of Denali and the rainforest of the Kenai Peninsula, or discuss with a conservationist or local fisherman the challenges faced in balancing Alaska’s boom in ecotourism with the preservation of its delicate ecosystems.

Physical Activity: This is a physically active summer program. Hiking in Denali National Park, kayaking along the Kenai coastline, trekking across the Matanuska Glacier, or exploring Homer on foot are all activities in which you might participate during this program. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities.

Accommodations: We stay in family-run hostels in Fairbanks, Girdwood, and Anchorage in dorm-style rooms. In Denali we stay in four-person cabins at the Denali Education Center, and in Homer we stay in rustic yurts at a marine field station. Leaders reside together with students throughout the program

Meals: For most of the program we eat breakfast at our accommodations, with lunches and dinners taken either as picnics or eaten at restaurants. On several nights we form cooking and cleaning crews and prepare our own dinners in the community kitchen at our accommodations. During our stay in Denali, all meals are catered by the Denali Education Center.

Madison has traveled with Putney for some years now and has had excellent experiences. Next year will be her final year and she is sad she will no longer be able to travel in such a safe and engaging group setting.

— Veronica Seifert, Little Falls, NJ

Ask Us

Call Anna at 802.387.5000 or email

The Cultural Exploration Alaska program is directed by Anna Kayes. If you have questions, are interested in receiving more detailed information, or would like to talk further about the program or any of our high school summer programs abroad, please get in touch!

Anna Kayes

The College of William and Mary, B.A., Anthropology, B.A., Archaeology.

During college, Anna studied abroad in Guatemala and joined excavations at several Preclassic Maya sites in Tikal National Park. After working at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History as a research and curatorial assistant, Anna moved to India and Thailand for a year to teach English and coach youth soccer. She returned to the U.S. and spent a year working for an international education provider in Boston before joining the Putney staff full time. Anna has led our Cultural Exploration programs in Thailand and Iceland, and has twice led our Community Service programs in the West Indies. She coordinates our programs in Alaska, Iceland, and Thailand. In her free time, Anna plays soccer and assists in coaching a local high school soccer team. She enjoys hiking, dancing, cross-country skiing, and spending time with her family and yellow lab.