Alaska Travel, USA
A double rainbow in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska. Photo by Eric Rolph.
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.
**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.
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.
• Hiking: with too many amazing trails to list, Alaska travel is really a hiker’s heaven, well, apart from those little devil mosquitoes and some quite steep sections!
• Biking: there’s a huge number of bike and more especially mountain bike tracks in Alaska, with varied tours available locally, some guided, some self-guided cycle tours and some mixed with a bit of trekking or kayaking or both. Many cycle routes start in Anchorage – because it’s Alaska’s tourist gateway – while some favoured areas are Haines, Skagway and Seward. If in doubt or can’t make up your mind where to go biking do your face-to-face research in Anchorage.
• Sea Kayaking: mainly around the rugged coastline of islands and fjords in the southern regions, there’s plenty of availability since most towns are on the water’s edge.
• Whitewater Rafting and Canoeing: the Nenana River, Kenai River and Matanuska River are where the main action happens.
• Fishing: lodges and incredible salmon fishing at Kenai River (including King Salmon); Bristol Bay; Copper River Delta (Cordova) for trout, salmon and few other anglers; Kodiak Island, some of the best salmon fishing in the USA; Halibut from Homer (huge fish, huge charter fleet)
• Cruising: this is a very easy option, all the comforts of a hotel yet surrounded by magnificent views and generally with shore excursions, walks and knowledgeable guides.
Alaska Travel: Winter Destinations
• Anchorage is easy to fly into and has a lively winter culture program including mad competitions in February/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 snowmobiles.
• Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s best ski resort, in a gorgeous setting.
• Chena Hot Springs (90 mins from Fairbanks) for winter activities, hot springs and Northern Lights.
• Sitka for culture, whales in early winter and the white stuff.
Alaska Travel: Safety
Generally Alaska travel is pretty cool but large towns and cities have a bad reputation for sexual assaults, probably due to the disproportionate number of wild males on the prowl, so women should take care walking alone in the evenings, even if it’s a late-sunset summer day.
Bears and Moose
Not normally a danger but take the usual precautions. Keep food in sealed containers away from camp sites, make plenty of noise when hiking in dense vegetation in order not to surprise them, never go near young animals or try to edge past a bear or moose, both are capable of sudden and damaging attacks if they feel threatened.
If you come across a bear unexpectedly make a lot of noise, wave your arms and slowly back away. Do not run.
If the bear attacks, fall and play dead, curl up, face down with your hands protecting your neck. It should go away. If, very unusually, it does not, you’ll be in for a fight.
Bear pepper repellent sprays are on sale in Alaskan Outdoor Stores.
Do not go into back country snow without a guide or experience of avalanche avoidance/survival.
Ensure that you go hiking with an experienced navigator, carry emergency kit (space blanket etc), inform someone of where you’re going and when you expect to be back, possibly with a written itinerary. Mobile (cell) phones will probably not work unless they are costly GPS satellite jobs. These are rentable in many Alaska trekking locations.
Attacks by mozzie squadrons are a pain but deliver neither malaria nor other diseases in Alaska (so far. . . ). Some hikers wear heavy clothing and even netting hoods in buzzy places/seasons. And don’t forget the DEET heavy repellent, 25 – 50% for skin, up to 100% for clothing.
avoid drinking untreated river or lake water which may be home to the Giardia bug courtesy of ducks. Either boil, filter or add iodine (yuk) to drinking water. Done that, been orange.
Just like the rest of the USA credit cards are accepted just about everywhere and ATMs are found in every town.
Costs of Alaska travel are fairly high but if that’s an issue hiking (also hitch-hiking? ) and camping is the simple way to keep costs down.
Wifi for laptops is available from many hotels and large cafés but comparatively costly. However, web usage is heavy throughout Alaska and even small communities have some kind of public web access so doing without your own computer may be the way to go.
Alaska Travel: most scenic drives
The Seward Highway. Photo by Meghas2.
• The Seward Highway through the Chugach Mountains, south of Anchorage.
• Denali Highway, superb landscapes and no shortage of wildlife.
• Richardson Highway, north from Valdez. More staggering views, many from high altitude.
• The Dalton Highway, built to supply the Prudhoe Bay oilfields, runs parallel to the Alaska oil pipeline from Fairbanks 414 miles (667 kms) north across the Yukon River to Coldfoot, across the Arctic Circle to Wiseman and finally Deadhorse near the Arctic Ocean, but sadly not by the ocean as that area is restricted to company vehicles only. Still if you fancy a hair-raising drive alongside massive, speeding 18-wheel juggernauts with occasional whiteouts and are not bothered about your destination then Dalton will deliver.
The views en route are spectacular as are some of the slopes such as The Roller Coaster and the bends such as Oh Shit Corner. 4WD is vital as the road is mostly 2-lane gravel and CB radio is advisable to check what’s coming round the mountain in the other direction. Spares and winter survival gear also recommended.