Where does your mind go when you think about Alaska? Perhaps you dream about the highest mountains or the Arctic plains. The deep green of the old growth rainforest or the varying blues of the rushing rivers, tranquil lakes, deep oceans, and ancient glaciers.
Alaska is all you imagine and more.
Aptly called the last frontier, it is a place where natural forces continue to mould the land, still bearing vestiges of the last ice age, where traffic is just as likely to be held up by wildlife as it is by roadworks, particularly through Denali National Park. Join a bear safari during the yearly salmon-run and take in the sweeping panoramic of lush forests, meadows and turquoise lakes; venture up a mountain trail to see a spectacular landscape open up before you; or join a fishing expedition and witness seals basking on icebergs.
Alaska is the land of superlatives: largest national park, highest peak, longest coastline, biggest state, longest day and night. The list goes on, and with all of these unparalleled characteristics, you’d be hard pressed to cover even a fraction of this place in a typical one- or two-week holiday.
Although some have said Alaska is not for the faint-hearted, there is so much more to the 49th state of the US than untamed wilderness. You could holiday here for the rest of your life and never have the same experience twice. Immerse yourself in the Alaskan way of life, where you can watch native history come alive. Listen to their story-tellers, enjoy performances of dancers in full ceremonial costumes, and marvel at the beautiful carvings of totem poles. Whilst most towns in Alaska also have museums with impressive legacy, not all artifacts are found behind glass. Life-sized traditional dwellings invite you to explore and admire fascinating constructions and intricate crafts.
Set sail on the journey of a lifetime on an Alaska cruise. This elegant and relaxing option for travel is among the most preferred for travellers to Alaska, especially for their first trip. Cruises offer convenience, a wide range of services, and the ultimate in relaxation. You’ll unpack once and get to visit multiple communities and national parks without carrying your bags around or dealing with logistics.
Along the way, you’ll be offered a dizzying range of tour options in port cities. These range from rail excursions to zip-line tours to wildlife viewing or sportfishing. Many ships visit marine wonderlands like Glacier Bay National Park and Prince William Sound, where guests watch glaciers “calve” into the ocean in dramatic geologic displays.
Arts, Culture & History
If you’re addicted to the History Channel, you stockpile old issues of National Geographic, or prefer to visit places where people practice customs different from your own, Alaska offers endless options.
Alaska visitors can experience the state’s unique Native culture through many avenues including totem carving, Native dancing, the blanket toss, traditional music, crafts and festivals as well as cultural and historical museums, heritage centres and academics. Whether you want to explore Alaska’s vibrant Native culture or other artistic and intellectual attractions like music festivals, local artisan handiwork, Russian iconography or museum exhibits, a long list of things to do and see awaits you.
Hiking, Biking & Backcountry
It’s no secret that people come here to get outside, as Alaska has some of the most incredible scenery in the United States.
The list of opportunities to experience the Alaska backcountry is about as massive as the backcountry itself.
Hikers will find an amazing trail system that snakes through most major communities, and every state and national park. Alaska has a trail for everyone, from accessible nature paths to challenging mountain hikes, which almost always leads to places so breathtaking, you’ll think you’re in a scene from some blockbuster adventure movie. Endless trails also exist for cyclists, joggers and walkers, while long-distance riders can use the highways, which vary in road surface and shoulder width.
Alaska offers some of the most spectacular freshwater, saltwater, fly- and even ice fishing in the world. It can be as easy as pulling off the side of the road and casting a line, or you can charter a boat or float plane to whisk you off to a secluded fishing spot where you can reel in one of the more than 627 species that inhabit the Alaskan waters, including a variety of salmon, trout, halibut, arctic char, pike, grayling and Dolly Varden. With over three million lakes, 12,000 rivers and thousands more fish-filled streams, you can see the challenge isn’t catching fish, but deciding where and what to catch.
Alaska spills over with breathtaking sights you won’t find anywhere else: the crystalline blue of glacier ice, brown bears snatching salmon from a stream, the northern lights dancing overhead and 20,310′ Denali, the highest peak in North America, to name just a few.
The question isn’t whether you’ll see something life-changing here—it’s a given—but which type of sights you’ll choose to focus on. It might help to narrow your choices down to a few categories: Your urban sightseeing options cover local food, history and culture in Alaska’s biggest cities, including Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.
Adventurous travellers can get a true bird’s eye view from a helicopter or small plane tour, or make yourself the engine in a human-powered sightseeing tour as you kayak or hike your way through Alaska’s wilderness with the help of an experienced guide.
No doubt: Getting to see a majestic brown bear snatching salmon from an Alaska stream is the memory of a lifetime. But as iconic as these massive land predators are, they’re just the start of what Alaska has to offer. Keep your eyes peeled for soaring bald eagles, colourful puffins, stately sandhill cranes, shy black bears, acrobatic humpback whales and of course the regal, knobby-kneed moose, the largest member of the deer family.
Other types of wildlife are less common, but all the more exciting for their rarity. Alaska’s broad, uninterrupted swaths of wilderness are home to animals like lynx and wolves that are usually so shy, even locals are thrilled to catch a quick glimpse. And don’t forget about the smaller animals: From wood frogs with antifreeze in their veins to the tiny collared pika, which spends its summer harvesting piles of hay to be used as food during the winter, Alaska’s smallest year-round inhabitants have made astonishing adaptations to living in this northern climate.
Some of Alaska’s best wildlife sights are seasonal: Every spring, locals and visitors alike crowd onto day cruises in hopes of seeing gray whales migrating to their feeding grounds in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas. And if you travel to the state’s northern reaches, you might be lucky enough to see caribou travelling in herds so large, they blot out the horizon.
Needless to say, make sure you bring a pair of binoculars and a good camera. You won’t want to miss making a single photograph or memory on your Alaska wildlife watching tours.
Aurora & Winter Activities
The idea of winter in Alaska might seem cold and forbidding, but there’s more warmth and light than you might think, with average temperatures in the 20s (about -7 to -1 °C) and up to six hours of sunlight per day in the southern part of the state. As long as you dress properly for the weather, you can be comfortable almost anywhere in the state, all winter long.
It helps to have a healthy dose of wonder: Winter is an increasingly popular season in the Interior region of Alaska, where visitors flock to see the glorious aurora borealis, or northern lights, shining overhead, or to marvel at the handiwork of world-champion ice carvers. Winter is also dog mushing season in Alaska, with the 1,000-mile Iditarod sled dog race. Or you can join in wacky events that would only happen here, like the annual outhouse race (in which outhouses are mounted on skis and pulled or pushed down a racecourse by teams of people) and the Running of the Reindeer (think running of the bulls… but with reindeer), both part of the Fur Rendezvous festival in Anchorage.
In many places in Alaska, winter also means great rates on everything from hotels to rental cars and tours. There are plenty of indoor attractions, too: Although quite a few museums, cultural centres and gift shops shut shop or limit their hours during the winter, locally owned favourites almost always stay open year-round.
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