Jutting into the Gulf of Alaska, the Kenai Peninsula is about the size of Belgium. Fewer than a tenth of Alaska's residents inhabit this southcentral extremity, and with mountains, glaciers, rivers, lakes, fjords, forests and fish galore, the area is an unparalleled recreational playground.
Anchorage offers the comforts of a large US city but is only a 30-minute drive from the Alaskan wilderness. Founded in 1914 as a work camp for the Alaska Railroad, the city was devastated by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake but quickly rebounded as the industry headquarters for the Prudhoe Bay oil boom.
Prince William Sound
The glaciers may be melting but Prince William Sound, the northern extent of the Gulf of Alaska, is still flanked by mountains and features abundant wildlife, from whales and harbor seals to eagles and bears. Don’t pass through without splurging on a marine-wildlife boat tour or a kayak adventure.
A spread-out, low-rise city, Fairbanks features extremes of climate, colorful residents and gold fever. In a city that can hit -60°F (-70°C) in the winter, summer days average 70°F (21°C) and occasionally top 90°F (32°C). Downtown is roughly centered on Golden Heart Park, and Cushman St is more or less the main street.
Starting at the corner of Gambell St and 10th Ave in Anchorage, Seward Hwy parallels the Alaska Railroad south 127 miles to Seward. Expect lots of traffic, a frightening percentage of which involves folks who have (1) never seen a Dall sheep before and (2) never driven an RV before; it's a frustrating and sometimes deadly combination.
Russians established Southeast Alaska’s first nonindigenous settlement here in 1799, and the town flourished on fur. Today Sitka sees itself as both the cultural center of the Southeast and its most beautiful city, because it’s the only one facing the Pacific Ocean. The Sitka Convention & Visitors Bureau (907-747-5940; www.sitka.
Ketchikan, the first stop of the Alaska Marine Highway, is a thin town: several miles long, never more than 10 blocks wide and crammed with Alaskan character, adventure and the scenery you came looking for. Ketchican Visitors Bureau (907-225-6166, 800-770-3300; www.visit-ketchikan.com; 131 Front St; 7am-5pm) Helpful staff will book tours and accommodations.
Denali National Park
This breathtaking wilderness area, which includes North America’s highest mountain, attracts a million visitors a year. A single road curves 91 miles through the heart of the park, leading to off-trail hiking opportunities, wildlife and stunning panoramas. The Denali Park Rd can be used only by official shuttle buses, which have limited seating.