Alaska Pictures Guide, USA

Grizzly bears fishing in Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, Alaska, USA

Alaska, USA. The Grizzly bear necessities provided at Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park.
Salmon sashimi for summer supper and then a nap, all winter long.

Alaska holidays

Massive, unspoilt, green and peaky panoramas inhabited by very few humans but plenty of wildlife going about their business – particularly bears, moose, foxes, wolves, seals, whales, eagles and deer.
Locals are friendly, thievery is most unusual and tourist activity options are good and varied.
Hiking, fishing, kayaking, white-water rafting and wildlife watching top the agenda.
And another thing. . . assuming you will be there in the summertime, daylight hours are very long so it’s possible to do a lot before bedtime.
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.

Mount McKinley view with road, Denali, Alaska, USA

Mount McKinley, known as Denali to most Alaskans, is the state’s #1 scenic view. It’s set in Denali National Park. Photo by Nic McPhee.

Downsides

The main downside of Alaska is the cost in getting there and hotels once you have arrived.
In addition, public transport in this monstrous state is infrequent and travelling from place to place is time-consuming, so getting around is an issue too.
All-in-all pretty good reasons to travel with a good tour operator who will organise discounted accommodation and transport, not to mention knowing the optimum routes for scenery, wildlife, activities and travel time.
Yes, we at bugbog prefer individual travel too, but get real, touring Alaska solo is not a good option unless you are content to see a small area – and what’s the point of that considering the expense of getting there? More downsides

Alaska’s main attractions

• The White Pass and Yukon Route railroad, a spectacular vintage tourist train ride (from Skagway).

• The fantastic variety of panoramic views from both the Seward Highway and the Alaska Railroad as they stagger across the Chugach Mountains.

• Taking eye-boggling hikes and bike rides among pristine white peaks as far as the eye can see. Glacier walks too.

Boat/ship cruising or even better kayaking near one of Alaska’s awesome glaciers.

• Seeing the swirling magic of Northern Lights/Aurora colours (mainly in winter; Fairbanks Sept-April is good).

• Watching bears fishing for salmon and humpback whales leaping or bubble-net-fishing (blowing large amounts of bubbles to confuse fish). Humans fishing seem to be content too.

• Seeing genuine native Ketchikan totem poles in the Tlingit homeland.

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over Bear Lake, near Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, USA

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) over Bear Lake, near Seward on the Kenai Peninsula.

Auroras are flowing, colourful light displays courtesy of Mother Nature’s ionosphere. They are seen in darkened skies, especially in polar regions.

Bear Lake is a large, lush 2 mile-long lake surrounded by mountain peaks that makes a brilliant year-round activity base. In summer there are canoes, kayaks and paddle boarders cruising quietly about, in springtime eagles and bears hunt for salmon in the stream a few hundred yards north of Bear Lake’s east side parking area, and when the lake freezes over in winter skaters and ice sailors take over until it snows. When the lake is covered with snow, as above, the space becomes a cross-country ski trail and winter sports center.

Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska, USA

Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Photo by Reywas92.

Alaska weather

The weather in this part of the world is erratic to say the least but place your bets on the summer months, mid-May to September. More on Alaskan weather

Alaskan Cities

Anchorage, Alaska, USA

Anchorage, South-Central Alaska. Photo by Frank K.

Anchorage is the tourist’s main entry point to Alaska. Not the prettiest city or culturally fascinating, but it features a couple of good museums, an Arctic zoo and is a convenient transit point and/or base for exploration. Car rentals, tours, buses and trains can all be organised from here.

Buses: Fairbanks is a nine hour bus ride from Anchorage, Denali five hours.

Trains: Alaska Railroad is pricey but spectacular and takes 12 hours to Fairbanks, eight to Denali.

Distances in miles: Seward 126; Homer 226; Fairbanks 358; Dawson City (Canada) 494; Haines 775; Skagway 832; Seattle 2234.

Fairbanks is a widespread low-rise city at the northern end of the Alaskan Highway; it can get down to -70C (-60F) in winter but zooms up as far as 32C (90F) in summer.
The city is not big on attractions but offers a couple of museums and quite nearby Chena Hot Springs resort, but best of all sights are the Northern Lights, aka Aurora, which generally occur September to April and are best seen outside the city limits in the light-free hills.

Tours to the Alaska’s Northern region often leave from here.

Distances in miles: Seward 484; Homer 584; Anchorage 358; Dawson City (Canada) 379; Haines 653; Skagway 710; Seattle 2121.

Juneau city, Alaska, USA

Juneau city and the Gastineau Channel as seen by Originallittlehellraiser.

Juneau is Alaska’s beautifully located state capital, surrounded by peaks, glaciers, rainforest, fjords, cruise ships and with an interesting old town.

This is the perfect jumping-off point for warm cruises or icy walks around Glacier Bay or Mendenhall Glacier, bear-watching on Admiralty Island or nearby hikes and canoeing, fishing, rafting, biking just about everywhere. There are over 90 hiking trails around Juneau. Cruise ships frequently visit.

Get there via Alaska Air from Seattle or Anchorage, or via ferry from Haines, Sitka or Skagway, but not by road.

Sitka seen from Gavan Hill, South-East Alaska, USA

Sitka seen from Gavan Hill, South-East Alaska. Primary activities around this little town are sport fishing, culture tours, biking and hiking.

Sitka on Baranof Island (flight), a charming, historic townwith a Russian cathedral, castle and other relics left over from Russian colonial days.

Sitka National Historic Park combines native and Russian history with Tlingit Totem Poles and Russian artifacts while whale watching is possible from the city park, especially during the fall, or take a wildlife cruise for close-up action.

Other than whale-watching primary activities are sport fishing, culture tours, biking and hiking.

A glorious day from Sitka on an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry through the fjords gets you to Juneau (photo above), with nearby icefield, the Mendenhall Glacier and some superb hiking trails.

Haines town view, Alaska, USA

Haines, South-East Alaska. Photo by Colin Lea.

Haines, tightly girdled by water, glaciers and mountains, makes an excellent hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, climbing and wildlife-spotting base (especially Black and Brown bears in the Chilkoot area mid-June-September, whales, moose and eagles).

In addition Haines is the major hub to/from Alaska’s Yukon or Interior via the Alaska Highway and from Juneau and Sitka by ferry.

By road Haines to Skagway is 359 miles, to Dawson City 498 miles, to Fairbanks 653 miles, to Anchorage 775 miles, to Seattle 1774 miles .

Winter Activities

Anchorage is easy to fly into and has a lively winter culture program including mad competitions in February and March such as the Fur Rendezvous and Iditarod dog-sled racing, as well as good access to lake skating, dog sledding tours and training, downhill skiing and cross-country skiing. Not to mention eco-nasty but nice snowmobiles.

More winter activities information.

Dog-sledding tours in a wintry Alaska, USA

Dog-sledding tours in an Alaskan winter. This Denali photo was taken by Jacob W.

Summer Activities

Hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, rafting and fishing. With too many amazing tours, trails and routes to list and most tourist towns surrounded by mountains and water Alaska is really an activity paradise. Apart from those little devil mosquitoes and some quite steep bits!

More detailed activities information

Hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska, USA

Hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Photo by Ilya Ktsn.

Native Culture

Ketchikan, totem poles in the Tlingit homeland at the Heritage Center, the Totem Bight Park and Saxman Native Village Totem Park.

– Sitka, fine Tlingit totem poles and native art as well as plenty of outdoor activities.

– Anchorage, Alaska Native Heritage Center, a museum celebrating native culture with exhibits as well as live shows, dance, music and meetings.

– Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, another lively native display and meeting place.

Tlingit tribal totem pole in Ketchikan, Southeast Alaska, USA

A Tlingit tribal totem pole in Ketchikan, Southeast Alaska. Photo by Jeremy Keith.

Rail Travel

The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is popular narrow-gauge vintage tourist train that heads up the steep slope built originally by Klondike gold prospectors. Or there’s the magnificent Alaska Railroad that struggles across the Chugach Mountains.

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, Alaska, USA

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway from Skagway, steep and scenic. The vintage carriages are sometimes pulled by a steam train, sometimes by diesel. Photo by Nils Oberg.

Alaska Cruises

Cruise Ship in Prince William Sound, South Alaska, USA

A sizeable cruise ship on Prince William Sound, South Alaska, east of the Kenai Peninsula. The Sound is ringed by the Chugach Mountains and offers endless views of islands, fjords and glaciers. Photo by UNH-edu.

The Best Months for cruising Alaskan waterways are June-August though the season runs from May to September. Remember that glaciers have their own micro-climate so there are no sunshine guarantees, even if port area weather is fine.

Cruises generally run for either 7 days or 14 days and leave mainly from Vancouver in Canada or Seattle in USA, though San Francisco and Los Angeles are used from time to time.

Shore activities include guided glacier walking, dog sledding, train rides (especially the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, see photo above) and kayaking. Pricey flights by helicopter and float planes are also usually offered but beware changeable weather conditions near glaciers.

Cruises take travelers into the wilderness and allow immediate access to the natural delights of Alaska’s ecology. Wildlife sightings are common and the landscape is dramatic. Cruises often explore isolated areas only accessible by sea via zodiacs and kayaks.

Gunsight Mountain on Glenn Highway, Alaska, USA

Gunsight Mountain on the Glenn Highway, South-Central Alaska. Photo by Frank K.

Alaska offers stunning views for sit-on-your-butt and drive tourists as well as activity types. Panoramas pop up just about everywhere but the stretch around the Seward Highway and Alaska Railroad as they struggle across the Chugach Mountains are particularly memorable.