Alaska is the 49th and largest state in the United States of America. Separated from the rest of the country (the “lower 48”) by Canada, Alaska lies on the Arctic Circle. It is still the least densely populated state in the union and for a long time was home to the lowest population. America’s final frontier is the size of California, Texas and Montana combined, making it huge in comparison to the rest of the states! Alaska is also home to the highest point in North America and all of the top ten highest mountains in the USA. Across the Bering Strait lies the country of Russia and the continent of Asia.
- Juneau – State capital and third largest city.
- Anchorage – Alaska’s largest city.
- Barrow – Northernmost city in the United States and North America
- Deadhorse – Alaska’s oil center, the production facilities can only be accessed by tours
- Dutch Harbor-Unalaska – Largest community in the Aleutian Islands
- Fairbanks – Alaska’s second largest city
- Homer – Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, Kachemak Bay State Park, Katmai National Park
- Ketchikan – Alaska’s southernmost city and the first Alaska port for northbound cruise-ship travelers.
- Kodiak – The Island Town
- Cape Krusenstern National Monument – North of the Arctic Circle, Cape Krusenstern National Monument stretches 70 miles along the Chukchi Sea shoreline. Beach ridges provide evidence of 5000 years of human activity.
- Denali National Park – Whether climbing or admiring, the crowning jewel of North America’s highest peak is the awe inspiring 20,320-foot Denali
- Gates of the Arctic National Park – Traveling through this vast wilderness you will discover craggy ridges, glacier carved valleys and fragile flowers
- Glacier Bay National Park – marine wilderness of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve includes tidewater glaciers, snow-capped mountain ranges, ocean coastlines, deep fjords, and freshwater rivers and lakes.
- Katmai National Park – famous for volcanoes, brown bears, pristine waterways with abundant fish, remote wilderness, and a rugged coastline
- Kenai Fjords National Park – a land where the ice age still lingers where glaciers, earthquakes, and ocean storms are the architects.
- Upper Kenai River – a great place almost every time of year to catch rainbow trout and salmon, if you know what you’re doing so long as the river isn’t frozen there are fish for you. Also a great place for roadside bear viewing; just don’t get too close!
- Kobuk Valley National Park – noted for the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes and caribou migration routes. The park offers backcountry camping, hiking, backpacking, and dog sledding.
- Lake Clark National Park and Preserve – The Park was created to protect scenic beauty (volcanoes, glaciers, wild rivers and waterfalls), populations of fish and wildlife, watersheds essential for red salmon, and the traditional lifestyle of local residents. Lake Clark’s spectacular scenery provides a true wilderness experience for those who visit.
- Skilak Lake – another great place for monster rainbow trout, also one of the most beautiful areas of the state, camping, hiking, boating, fishing, and hunting are all great options for a fun time. Just a great place to spend a quiet weekend with family, friends, or just the fish.
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve – Chugach, Wrangell, and Saint Elias mountain ranges converge here in what is often referred to as the “mountain kingdom of North America.” It has the continent’s largest assemblage of glaciers and greatest collection of peaks above 16,000 feet.
- Yukon – Charley Rivers National Preserve – along the Canadian border in central Alaska
In 1867 (two years after the end of the Civil War), the territory of Alaska was purchased from the Russian Empire for $7.2 million (or about 2 cents an acre). For many years people referred to the acquisition as “Seward’s Folly”, named for Secretary of State William H. Seward (1801-1872) who made the deal. They viewed Alaska as a frozen wasteland, not realizing it would turn out to be one of the United States’ richest resources for gold and oil.It took until 1959 for the territory to become a State of the Union. Still today, most of the land is wilderness; nicknamed The Last Frontier, Alaska keeps the spirit of the Wild West alive.
Most maps of the US represent the size of Alaska inaccurately. Despite what you might think, the state is positively huge and most of its Northern Parts are incredibly sparsely populated. Many places are only reachable by air or water and roads take a toll from the harsh climate, so carefully plan your itinerary before heading out. That being said a truly breathtaking environment will more than make up for the hardships of getting there and around. With the size, climate also varies with moderate rainy climates in the South and Ice Desert in places like Barrow.
The fact that it was only colonized relatively lately (Russian presence never amounted to more than a few thousand fur trappers along the coast), makes for a relatively strong presence of native populations who – along with state and federal government entities – still own large parts of the land (see the map above).
Anchorage, and to a lesser extent Fairbanks, are serviced by most major airlines. Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka and Juneau are also served by daily jet service through Alaska Airlines flights originating in Seattle and terminating in Anchorage. Other communities within the state are served by an extensive system of regional and local air services connecting to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan, the state’s four largest urban areas. Air travel is the cheapest and most efficient form of transportation in and out of the state. Anchorage recently completed extensive remodeling and construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to help accommodate the upsurge in tourism. Anchorage International is a very big and clean airport that isn’t very crowded. It has many different amenities for waiting passengers to enjoy. They have everything from shops, restaurants,duty free shops, and even bars by where you board your plane.
The Alaska Marine Highway System operates a ferry service from Bellingham, Washington up the beautiful Inside Passage to Haines. Plan your travel early as this service tends to fill up fast. A connecting ferry can take you to Whittier (although this service is much less frequent—suggest you call for details) from which the Alaska Railroad connects to Anchorage.
Various cruise lines sail up the Inside Passage as well, typically ending in Seward or Whittier Cruises depart from cities such as Seattle, Vancouver, and even San Francisco.
Boats are a necessity in a lot of areas of Alaska. There are still many natives that rely on the use of their boats to get them into town for things such as shopping. If you are going on a fishing or hunting trip, chances are you are going to have to take a boat to get to your destination. You can drive into town from the airport and park your car at a loading dock for either short-term or long-term parking. From there, you can either board your own private boat or take a commercial boat to where you need to go.
Alska’s size as compared to the lower 48 states
Most cities and villages in the state are accessible only by sea or air. The Alaska Marine Highway System also serves the cities of Southeast and the Alaska Peninsula. Cities not served by road or sea can only be reached by air, accounting for Alaska’s extremely well-developed Bush air services—an Alaskan novelty.
Small planes are a great way to get around Alaska if you are fortunate enough to be able to afford doing it. After you have touched down from your main flight to Alaska, you can board small planes that can transport you fast and efficiently. Many places aren’t accessible by car or truck; so small planes are commonly used to get to destinations quickly. If you are going on a hunting trip, chances are that you will need to board one of these planes to get there. Hunting areas in Alaska are sometimes commercialized for tourists. The areas that they bring you to are commonly hunted by other tourists. This continued use has made it a lot easier for pilots to land. A pilot can land on flat ground that is continuously used for landing small planes on.
The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks to North Pole, with spurs to Whittier and formerly Palmer. The railroad is famous for its summertime passenger services but also plays a vital part in moving Alaska’s natural resources—primarily coal—to ports in Anchorage, Whittier and Seward as well as fuel and gravel for use in Anchorage. The Alaska Railroad is the only remaining railroad in North America to use cabooses on its freight trains. The route between Talkeetna and Hurricane (between Talkeetna and Denali) features the last remaining flag stop train service in North America. A stretch of the track along an area inaccessible by road serves as the only transportation to cabins in the area. Residents board the train in Talkeetna and tell the conductor where they want to get off. When they want to come to town, they wait by the side of the tracks and “flag” the train, giving it its name.
One of the best ways to see Alaska is by cruise ship. Cruise ships bring you wonderfully close to glaciers, whales and rocky coasts. Larger boats offering more amenities, while small ships and yachts carrying 12-100 passengers go where the big ships can’t, getting you up close to Alaska’s nature and wildlife. Many vessels include naturalist guided hikes and sea kayaking right from the ship, perfect for active and casual travelers.
Cruise ships have 2 main itineraries: The Inside Passage Route going roundtrip from either Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, Canada and the Gulf Route running Northbound and Southbound cruises between Vancouver and Seward/Whittier.
Companies offering cruises in Alaska include:
- Holland America. The Glacier Discovery Cruise offered by Holland America Line, runs between Seward and Vancouver, BC.
- Princess Cruises, offers both Inside Passage and Glacier Bay routes as well as round trips from San Francisco..
- Norwegian Cruise Line, offers only roundtrips in Seattle and Vancouver.
- Carnival Cruises, has only one ship deployed in Alaska annually doing mainly Northbound and Southbound cruises.
- Regent Seven Seas Cruises, luxury cruise line with all inclusive cruises to Alaska.
- Cruise 118, Cruise 118 Holiday Cruises from Southampton to the Mediterranean, Alaska and the Caribbean.
- Disney Cruise Lines Inside passage trip to Tracy Arm, Ketchikan, Skagway, and Juneau leaving from Vancouver~This is a great way to see the glaciers in Tracy Arm, as it is smaller than Princess or Carnival, so it can get closer, farther, and do a 360° turn
- Alaska Marine Highway System, +1 800 526-6731. Alaska’s Marine Highway consists of over 8000 miles of coastal ocean routes connecting 31 port communities throughout Southeast, Southcentral and Southwest Alaska. Two additional ports are located outside of Alaska – one in British Columbia and the other in the state of Washington. It forms an essential method of transportation for many local residents in towns to which there is no road access. The Marine Highway system also allows walk-on travelers, bicycles and commercial vehicles. You can arrange your own cabin on the ferry, pitch a tent, or roll out a sleeping bag on the upper decks. Naturalists sometimes on board to give commentary on sights and wildlife.
Of course, after you get off the boat, you’ll want to stay and explore Alaska’s inland destinations. Don’t get straight on an airplane and head home—you’ll miss out on some of the best Alaska has to offer!
Also try a fishing charter at any of Alaska’s fine coastal communities and send your catch home to your family or friends.
Denali (Mt. McKinley) in Denali National Park
Alaska is huge. It actually spans what once were five time zones! So big in fact you probably won’t scratch the surface of what it has to offer in terms of geography, wildlife, local flavor, or Alaska native culture.
You might visit a couple of the regions of the state during your visit. It is quite possible to experience the ancient rainforest of Southeast Alaska, camp in Denali National Park, and kayak among icebergs in Prince William Sound on the same trip.
Another option is to focus on a smaller (still huge) region of the state and spend enough time for a better look and then plan a return trip to explore a different region. Alaska does not have to be a once in a lifetime destination.
Three weeks in the Inside Passage, traveling from town to town by ferry, is likely to leave you wanting more time if you enjoy hiking, sea kayaking, fishing, wildlife watching, scenery, Native culture, biking.
The Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, is another region worthy of an extended stay and is easily accessed from Anchorage. Plenty of public campgrounds make this an extremely affordable do-it-yourself destination if you have a few folks to share the cost of a rental car.
An Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, Valdez driving loop also offers plenty to see and do for two weeks or more and can be quite affordable with camping and a shared rental car.
There are many things to do when traveling to Alaska. If you are the adventurous type then Alaska will be a great place to go. You can go hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and expeditions to see the wildlife of Alaska like wolves, whales, moose, and bears. There are also month-long expeditions to the top of Mt. McKinley.
- A journey on the Dalton Highway provides a very unique experience. The highway crosses mountains and tundra, the Arctic Circle, and 414 miles of pristine wilderness.
- Stay up late to see the midnight sun, it’s fascinating to watch in the summer when daytime seems endless.
Anyone traveling to Alaska should definitely make a trip to Mt. McKinley, known to Alaskans as Denali; it is absolutely beautiful and the highest point in North America. You can see it from hundreds of miles away when there are clear skies. However, if you get the opportunity to take a trip to see it up close, do it. An ATV ride up the side of a mountain can be one of the most eventful experiences of your trip. On the way up the path, you will see vegetation and wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else. Once you finally get to the top of the mountain, you will see one of the most beautiful sites in all of the United States. Digital cameras and photos don’t do the mountain’s beauty enough justice. The mosaic of blues, whites, grays, and greens will leave you absolutely astonished.
Not everyone is a fisherman; many people enjoy catching fish but hate waiting around to try and catch one. Well if you are one of those people, try fishing in Alaska. You will be amazed at how quickly you can catch fish there if you are in the right spot. You can definitely leave the river every day with your daily limit of fresh Alaskan salmon. There are plenty of charter fishing operators that will take you out to fish in some of the best areas.
In Alaska cruise ports (especially Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway) the tourist shopping experience is dominated by jewelry, tee shirts, and trinkets that could be purchased at any major cruise port in the world (perhaps from the same chain shop). Yes, there are good buys occasionally (especially at the end of the season), but local products can be difficult to find.
If you are on a cruiseship, don’t be afraid to visit stores not listed on the “preferred business'” list provided by the cruiseline. Those businesses paid a premium to be listed and don’t necessarily represent higher quality or better selection.
Local Alaskan artists are found in co-op and locally-owned galleries. There are many books, from fiction to photos to nonfiction to children’s, by Alaska writers, photographers and illustrators.
Be sure to look for the distinctive ‘Made in Alaska’ sticker on products in gift shops and stores. When purchasing Native-made handicrafts, keep the laws of your home country in mind; foreign travelers may find that they cannot bring their purchase home due to regulations regarding one or more the materials used, which frequently range from whale baleen and bone to various furs, skins, teeth and other wild animal products, and may in some cases include artifact materials such as fossilized bone or tusk.
Beware of the Wildlife
A word about bears: There’s an old joke about how to determine if you are in bear country in Alaska. Take out a map of the state and make a circle around the downtown area of Anchorage. If you are outside the circle, you are in bear country. Although a humorous way of phrasing it, this is absolutely true. Assume bears are present in any area of Alaska, even if you do not see them. Both black and brown bears are present in Alaska. Polar bears are also present in the far north but you probably won’t be going all the way into their territory. If you do, it would be wise to make peace with whatever higher power you may believe in before walking around anywhere without a very large gun. If you see large claw scratches on a tree you are in a bear’s territory. Be especially cautious just after sunset and just before dawn. Never leave food, water, or garbage unattended outdoors or it may attract a bear. Bears are wild animals and their behavior can be capricious. Never approach a bear. Never run from a bear as it will see you as food and it can run faster than you. If you encounter a bear you should stand your ground. Make lots of noise and wave your arms. If you have any metallic objects bang them against one another. In most cases, even when bears charge humans, they do not attack. But if you run towards one, surprise it while it is eating, run from it, or get anywhere near a cub, the chances of an attack are greatly increased. While it is amazing to see bears, the safest thing for you and for them is to observe them quietly from a distance and never approach them closely. Keep in mind that if you leave food or garbage out and a bear eats it, even if you don’t see it happen you have endangered the bears life. Studies have shown that the previously employed tactic of trapping and relocating bears that have become habituated was not effective. the bears either returned to the same areas eventually or sought other sources of human foods. So now “trouble bears” are killed by park rangers or law enforcement agencies instead.
Moose are even more common in most areas of the state, and are just as dangerous, and attack humans more frequently than bears. Moose may be herbivores and seem like slow-moving, lumbering animals, but they have sharp hooves and can strike with surprising speed and accuracy. Moose are not territorial, but they do have a strong desire to defend their “personal space” especially mothers with calves. Signs that indicate a moose is agitated include the laying back of their large ears, lowering the head, snorting and stomping their hooves. Unlike with bears, it is wisest to simply run if a moose acts aggressively towards you or charges. They just want you to leave them alone, so keep your distance. Be aware of moose as well when driving. Every years dozens of moose are killed and many humans injured or killed by collisions between vehicles and moose. The long legs make it dangerous as often the bumper of the car will strike the moose only in the legs and its enormous body will impact the windshield, so slow down if moose are present and be aware they sometimes get “spooked” by cars and will suddenly sprint in unpredictable directions.
If you are traveling with a dog, keep it restrained at all times. Dogs have been known to antagonize moose, wolves, and even bears and are often injured by the quills of porcupines. It is no fun to pull little spikes out of a dog’s face with a pair of pliers, so for the sake of both the wildlife and your dog, keep it under your control and don’t let it run free.
Alaska. (2015, August 31). Wikivoyage, Free travel information around the globe. Retrieved 00:58, September 13, 2015 fromhttps://en.wikivoyage.org/w/index.php?title=Alaska&oldid=2847944.