Alaska is sometimes referred to as the Last Frontier. Admitted to the Union in 1959, it is the most sparsely populated state in the country. Outranking all other states in land area, it offers vast swaths of pristine natural areas to explore. Because Alaska is so large, it is difficult to see everything all in one trip. Here are a few adventures that you should be sure to schedule on your visit.
See a Tidewater Glacier
There are glaciers on land and glaciers that remain on the coast at the boundary between land and sea. The latter are called tidewater glaciers, and many Alaskan cruises give you the opportunity to sail by one from a safe distance. This is important because sometimes large chunks of the glacier break off and fall into the ocean in a process called calving. This is an awe-inspiring experience as the ice seems to move in slow motion and hits the water with a spectacular splash. If you’re really adventurous, try visiting the glacier in a kayak.
Observe Brown Bears Feeding on Salmon
Bears are omnivores that can feed on a wide range of both plants and animals. However, the brown bears’ favorite food is salmon, and they will gather together in huge numbers in rivers where the fish are swimming to catch them. There are two protected areas where the brown bears tend to gather and the viewing is best: Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park and the ABC Islands (Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichagof) in Tongass National Forest. Getting to these areas can be a little difficult, as Katmai National Park is only accessible by plane, but the chance to observe bears in the wild is well worth the effort. Be sure to time your trip between May and September to avoid the bears’ denning season.
Ride a Gold Rush-era Train
The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad is the closest thing possible to traveling back in time to the days of the Alaskan Gold Rush. The railroad is narrow-gauge, meaning the tracks are closer together than usual, which is historic in its own right. The route runs from Skagway in Alaska and crosses the Canadian border to the town of Whitehorse in the Yukon before returning. Along the way, it winds through areas of heart-stopping natural beauty. Before and after the trip, you can enjoy the museums and old-timey saloons of Skagway.
Go Whale Watching
Orcas are a perpetual presence off the southeastern coast of Alaska and delight visitors with their playful antics. Humpback whales go on yearly migrations so are only there for a portion of the year but make a big splash, literally and figuratively, when they breach the surface of the water. There are tours that will take visitors out to see whales, or you can charter a boat privately. Keep in mind that the whales don’t always show up on cue, but some tour companies will take you out again for free if you don’t see any whales on your first excursion.
Visit Denali National Park
Formerly known as Mount McKinley, Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America. You can camp almost literally in its shadow in Denali National Park. This vast and varied landscape offers privately-owned lodges for rent for those who are willing to pay a bit more to get close to the mountain and the wildlife. For those who are comfortable roughing it, you can find your own camping spot and carry all your supplies with you. Just be sure to observe the park’s leave-no-trace policy as this is strictly enforced.
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Take a Tour From the Air
A flightseeing trip over Alaska by helicopter or chartered plane allows you to see glaciers and mountains from a unique perspective while sitting in comfort in the cabin. Some of these areas are so remote and inaccessible by land that no human has ever set foot there.
A trip to Alaska also gives you a chance to interact with the people who live there. You will find Alaskans, reputed to be some of the friendliest people in the country, to be open and welcoming.