Alaska | Cultural Exploration


Travel to the edge of the Arctic Circle and explore awe-inspiring landscapes during your student travel program in Alaska. Hear stories from a native Athabascan storyteller in Anchorage, hike the subarctic tundra of Denali National Park with expert guides, and don crampons and ice picks to trek across a glacier with a group of adventurous peers.

July 11, 2018  –  July 24, 2018
At A Glance:
  • Adventure
    Outdoor exploration, hiking, biking, swimming, and other active pursuits
  • Wildlife
    Exploration of flora and fauna in natural habitats, national parks, or wildlife reserves
Completing grades 9 – 12
US Gateway City:
Cultural Exploration
14 days
Typical Group:
14 – 16 students, 2 leaders
$ 4,590 + airfare


  • Scout for caribou and grizzlies in Denali National Park
  • Sleep under the stars on an educational farm in Fairbanks
  • Traverse a glacier and witness its annual recession firsthand
  • Kayak the pristine waters off the Kenai Peninsula

Leader Profile: MAC WOODS

Education: Kenyon College, B.A., Biology, Concentration in Environmental Studies, Fordham University, M.S.T., Adolescent Education

While at Kenyon, Mac developed an interest in the outdoors and international travel. Through his academic pursuits in biology and environmental studies, Mac traveled to… read more

While at Kenyon, Mac developed an interest in the outdoors and international travel. Through his academic pursuits in biology and environmental studies, Mac traveled to Ecuador to study rainforest ecology and conservation. After this rewarding experience, Mac spent two years in New York City as a high school science teacher before deciding to take time to travel to the South Pacific, rock climbing and backpacking his way through New Zealand and Australia. He has led international gap year programs to Central America, South America, and the South Pacific. Mac is an avid outdoor enthusiast and is excited to explore the last frontier in Alaska this summer. He is fluent in Spanish and is knowledgeable of indigenous languages in the South Pacific. Mac now works as a counselor at an alternative high school in Portland, Oregon, where he specializes in job placement and post-secondary education pursuits. Mac has led Putney’s middle school programs in Costa Rica, and Australia as well as Cultural Exploration in Alaska.  


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 • 3 days • Arrive in 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. Spend three days camping and working on an educational farm perched on a hillside outside of town. Learn first-hand the challenges and opportunities Alaskan residents encounter in growing fresh produce in a region of steep, mountainous slopes, discontinuous permafrost, and 24 hour daylight during the summer months. Harvest fruits and vegetables, hike in the aspen and spruce forests behind the farm, try your hand at blacksmithing and woodworking, and care for the resident sheep alongside the farm’s staff. Prepare pizzas as a group in the community brick oven, and roast s’mores over the campfire at night. Learn the basics of pitching your tent and preparing your campsite as you prepare to camp at the edge of Denali National Park.

Students Glacier-Trekking on our Alaska Travel Program

Denali • 5 days • 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. Spend two nights in cabins at the park’s edge, then head to our campsite overlooking scenic Otto Lake to fully experience the great outdoors. Watch for moose and their young grazing in the early morning, take a canoe out for an afternoon paddle, or borrow some binoculars and spot a few of the over 100 species of birds that call the park home. Hike wilderness trails and scout for bears, wolves, caribou, and white Dall sheep on expert-led hikes. Try your hand at fly-fishing in a glacially-fed riverbed, then visit the last remaining sled dog kennel of the National Park Service and meet the rangers who undertake conservation and research missions throughout Alaska’s dark winters.

Girdwood • 3 days • Next, begin your journey south to the town of Girdwood, our base for exploring the coastal Kenai Peninsula. Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center along the way and listen to a storyteller, attend a traditional Athabascan dance ceremony,  or speak with members of Alaska’s native culture groups. Spend three days hiking and exploring the northernmost temperate rainforest in North America. Pan for gold at an 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 spot wildlife as you kayak along the glaciated coastline.

Anchorage • 1 day • Don crampons and ice picks and traverse the Matanuska Glacier with expert guides. Try your hand at ice climbing, learn how glacial morphology has transformed the landscape over millions of years, and witness glacial recession firsthand. Travel to Anchorage in the evening for a final celebratory dinner as a group.

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Anchorage to Seattle with your group and one or more of your leaders, 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: CAMPING IN DENALI

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

7:00 AM • Rise early to watch for wildlife along the lake’s edge
7:30 AM • Breakfast at our campsite
9 AM Morning hike to the summit of Mount Healy for views of Mt. Denali
12 PM Picnic lunch on the river
1 PM Intro talk on the subarctic ecosystem in Denali from a conservation specialist
3 PM Visit the working sled dog kennel of the National Park Service
5 PM Go canoeing on the lake in small groups
7 PM Form cooking and cleaning crews and prepare dinner
8 PM Group activity and nightly meeting around the campfire
10 PM Head to bed

Cultural Exploration Alaska students enjoy a meal at the campsite

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 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 Girdwood 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 • Accommodations on this program range from dorms at the University of Alaska in Anchorage, to shared tents in Denali, to sleeping in yurts on sleeping pads and sleeping bags on an organic farm in Fairbanks. Leaders reside together with students throughout the program.

Meals • We prepare and eat breakfast at our accommodations throughout the program. Lunches are eaten either as picnics or in restaurants and cafes. Dinners are prepared either in teams at our accommodations or in restaurants. During the camping portions of the program students will rotate through cooking and cleaning crews.

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 summer student travel programs, 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 ongoing archaeological 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, Iceland, and Alaska, and has twice led our Community Service programs in the West Indies. She coordinates our programs in Alaska and Iceland. 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 exploring Vermont with friends and family.