Travel to Alaska?
This is the biggest
state in the USA by far and many Americans consider it to be practically a foreign country with so few roads but such enormous and little-explored wilderness areas, monumental peaks and glaciers, abundant
wildlife and spooky northern
If you enjoy the unspoilt outdoors and are looking for big, bleak mountains, crystal lakes, massed trees and more wild things than people, then Alaska offers the bear necessities, but don't ignore winter time, when the pristine whiteness becomes a huge snowy playground with even fewer tourists, lower prices but lots of activities.
This is a place to discover raw and pristine nature, not museums or man-made sights; it's also the only part of the USA within the Arctic Circle but is
under threat from road building for mining and oil extraction so get there
before the bulldozers do.
• It's very cold and inhospitable for much of the year while the
wilderness areas are massive so if things go wrong you're a long
way from help, so it's serious self-sufficiency if you're not travelling with a tour or package.
• mosquitoes thrive in the summer.
• Alaska is a long drive from the USA. Even Seattle to Anchorage is 2,200 miles (3,500kms) - though you could put the motor on a ferry from Belligham to Haines - so a flight and vehicle hire may be required.
• Many consider an inclusive tour or cruise to be the best way to visit this monster destination.
Mt McKinley and Wonder Lake
The weather in this part of the world is erratic to say the least but place your bets on the best months: mid-May to September (though there may still be mud or slush on some trails and Denali NP only opens late June). Early September provides best weather, best prices and least trouble booking stuff. July is good and warm but getting 'crowded' while August can be wet and will be busy (by Alaskan standards).
Worst: Oct, Nov, April due to constant freezing rain, mud and slush.
Dec-March is extremely cold but splendidly white as communities drag out their skis, snowshoes, sleds and fire up their dogs, while skies go psychedelic with Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis).
n.b. many tourist facilities don't open till mid May and some not until June but winter sports are good value and hotels cheap.
• White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, a spectacular vintage tourist train ride (from Skagway).
• fantastic high and low views from the Seward Highway and Alaska Railroad as they struggle across the Chugach Mountains.
• taking eye-boggling hikes and bike rides among pristine white peaks as far as the eye can see.
• boat/ship cruises or kayaking through the fjords, near the awesome Grand Pacific Glacier, or any one of Alaska's many glaciers.
• the swirling magic of Auroras (Northern Lights) colours (mainly in winter, Fairbanks Sept-April is good).
• watching bears fishing for salmon and humpback whales leaping for joy. Humans fishing seem to be content too.
• seeing genuine native Ketchikan totem poles in the Tlingit homeland.
Bearing in mind the staggering size of Alaska, it's not advisable to try to do it all in two weeks, particularly since each of the two main tourist areas - Southeast and Southcentral Alaska - offer the same basic attractions of huge mountains, spectacular views, glaciers, wildlife, attractive little towns and well-organised hiking trails.
Getting to these two tourist-friendly zones is relatively straightforward outside winter. Adventures further afield are more complicated, time consuming and expensive.
Thousands of islands and a thin stretch of
mainland running along the western edge of Canada make up a route
known as the Inside Passage. This is the nearest part of Alaska
to Washington State.
Many short vacation visitors will fly into Anchorage then make another short air hop over to one of the Southeast's tourist centres, such as Sitka or Gustavus.
For road warriors, if
coastal Highways 1 and 101 from Mexico to Canada weren't enough
of an ultimate west coast road trip, then take the Alaskan Ferry
from Bellingham, British Columbia to carry on up north.
The state ferry links the main islands of the Southeast to the start of
the Alaskan Highway and interconnects with the Southcentral and
Southwest regions during the summer, so this is a fun and economical way to see some magnificent fjords, mountains and glaciers, stopping off from time to time for a walk or kayaking.
Sitka is a charming, historic town with a
Russian cathedral, castle and more...
Juneau is Alaska's beautifully located state capital, surrounded by peaks, glaciers, more...
Admiralty Island National Monument is a superb, mountainous wildlife reserve, 96 miles long, and one of the best places in the state to see more...
Haines, tightly girdled by water, glaciers and mountains, makes an excellent
hiking, biking, more...
Skagway is a small waterside town with museums and buildings harking back to the
19th C when it was a gold rush town. It's best offering is the White Pass and Yukon Route railway, a spectacular vintage tourist train ride. The best way to get there is by ferry.
A mobile homer cruising for glaciers
Glacier Bay National Park is yet another magnificent area, glaciers obviously but also speckled with islands, mountain peaks and humpback whales in the Icy Strait. Possible activities include camping, hiking, backpacking, kayaking, rafting, fishing, bird-watching, whale-watching, boating/cruising and mountaineering for the really hardy.
From Gustavus, the main town, there are some terrific walks, or head back to the Cove for boat rides to see glaciers and varied marine life or rent a sea kayak for a close look.
Get to Glacier Bay's Bartlett Cove entry point via a 30 minute flight from Juneau - Gustavus or by boat. No roads.
Island Saxman Totem Park and Totem Bight State Historical Park for the
best in Totem Poles, natural beauty, wildlife and kayaking,
Misty Fjords National Monument.
Fairbanks, aurora borealis
Anchorage is the world's main entry point to Alaska. More...
National Park the main attraction in the region is white-capped Mt Mckinley, the highest mountain on
the continent, and the stunning wilderness surrounding it, penetrated by just one road, 91 miles long and used exclusively by public vehicles and shuttle buses, so there may be some queuing to be done.
Denali is terrific for hiking,
mountainbiking and wildlife watching,
including grizzly bears, wolves, moose, marmots and caribou.
Get there via a five hour bus ride from Anchorage, a three hour bus from Fairbanks or the Alaska Railroad from either city.
Wrangell - St. Elias National Park. A day's drive east of Anchorage, this spectacular park encompasses the usual mountains, glaciers, rivers, an endless variety of flora and fauna and abundant wildlife. Covering over 13 million acres, Wrangell - St. Elias is the largest park in the U.S.A.
Katmai National Park, south-west of Anchorage hosts around 2,000 brown bears, more...
Fairbanks a widespread but low-rise city
at the northern end of the Alaskan Highway, Fairbanks is not big on attractions but more...
Kenai Peninsula Map by Matthew Trump
Kenai Peninsula the southern edge of the
holds the Kenai Fjords National Park encompassing the Harding Icefield and stunning Exit Glacier with great hikes, kayaking and boat trips.
Seward town, just south of the Cook Inlet and 130 miles south of Anchorage,
is a good route to the park and loaded with activity information and has the excellent Alaskan Sealife
Buses from Anchorage take a couple of hours or the glamorous train takes 4.5 hours.
Kodiak Island this is worth a special trip for wildlife enthusiasts
to see the massive Kodiak Brown Bears.
Prince William Sound the first
ferry stops in the region are Valdez, Cordova and Whittier, on the
coast of the Sound. There are several islands, plenty of marine
wildlife and no shortage of mountains, with kayaking or boat cruises as the primary entertainment hereabouts.
Pass through the oil pipeline terminus town of Valdez to reach the
mountain wilderness of Wrangel St Elias Park.
Whittier has a train to Anchorage, and Cordova has skiing in splendid
**Homer is another gorgeously situated little town right at the end of the USA's hard-top road system, on Kachemak Bay and embedded among a cluster of snowy peaks. Homer, however, offers more than just the usual run of magnificent outdoor activities - their special niche is art, artists and new age hippies, styling themselves as the 'Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea'.
Get there by air, a 5 hour bus ride from Anchorage or drive yourself wild.
A local resident monitoring tourist movements
This huge plateau running north from the Alaska
Range to just below the Arctic Circle is crossed by a multitude
of rivers and lakes through the endless tundra and forests.
Rafting and canoeing are popular in the rivers especially in the
Yukon and wildlife watching opportunities are good, particularly
for wetland birds.
North of the Yukon river valley most of
the region is within the Arctic Circle and pristine wilderness.
Wilderness around the Brooks Mountain Range you will find the Cape Krusenstern
National Monument, Noatak National Preserve, Kobuk Valley National
Park and Gates of the Arctic National Park.
There is a gravel road which runs all the way to the coast and meets
the Arctic Ocean at Prudoe Bay, but to explore the Arctic National
Park you will need to fly to Bettle, and for the Bering Strait,
Nome would be your home.
Alaska is a long drive from the USA; even Seattle to Anchorage is over 2,200 miles (3,500kms) - though you could put the auto on a ferry from Belligham to Haines - so a flight and vehicle hire may be required.
The easy way to see Alaska
Flying in and renting a car is by far the most popular option; Anchorage is Alaska's main entry point.
Ensure you have full insurance, know the special engine heating systems if driving in winter and have emergency equipment. In summer beware rocks being spun off truck wheels; stop or pull off the road if a big vehicle is coming the other way at speed.
As in USA, RV's (motor homes) - owned or rented - are common, giving great freedom to stay/move anywhere, anytime in comfort though you still have to visit an RV park regularly to fill up and unfill. One-way rentals are an easy way to tour but inevitably pricey. Anchorage and Skagway offer RV rentals.
Another possibility is to use the Alaska Marine Highway System, large public ferries that runs Bellingham - Washington - Prince Rupert, BC - various towns of Southeast Alaska.
Internal flights will save a lot of time and private Bush Pilot planes are the most precise but, of course, pricey.
The final solution is taking a land tour or ship cruise which will be easy, efficient, economical, ensure you have a room to sleep in at the end of a busy day and see all the best sights at the best time although the downside is that you could be sharing all the awesome grandeur with not your type of people...or with a with a crowd of interesting, like-minded people...
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