All roads lead from Anchorage, so start with the scenic train ride along Cook Inlet, and through the tunnel to Whittier, a bizarre relic of WWII. Afterwards, jump on an Alaska Maritime Highway ferry across Prince William Sound to Valdez for views and scenic grandeur more typical of a cruise than an inexpensive ferry trip.
Valdez is ground zero for information on the Valdez Exxon oil spill: the pipeline may end in Valdez, but it's a fishing village at heart. From here, take the road to Chitina to check out the ingenious salmon-catching fish wheels before braving McCarthy Road and the ghost towns of McCarthy and Kennecott. Now's your chance to get to grips with a glacier: take a glacier walk, go ice climbing and spend a chilly night camping on the ice.
Return to Anchorage by road or air and drive out to the Kenai Peninsula. Escape the tourist crowds with ocean kayaking from Seldovia, hunt for king size razor clams at Clam Gulch or Ninilchik, or just hanging out at laid-back Homer, Alaska's Sausolito.
Sampling the remote Alaska ‘bush’ takes time and a ferry; or cash and a plane – roads don’t go there. Nome is a stone’s throw south of the Arctic Circle and not much further east across the Bering Strait from Siberia. Go there to sample the Wild North atmosphere or to join the ongoing search for gold. It's also a great place to get a feel for native Alaskan life, culture and history.
Or head west to remote Kodiak Island – incredibly beautiful, very untouched and in a state where everything is big, Kodiak’s brown bears are the biggest.
Tony Wheeler travelled to Alaska on assignment for Lonely Planet. You can follow his adventures on Lonely Planet: Roads Less Travelled, screening internationally on National Geographic.