Bears larger than bison, national parks the size of nations, and glaciers bigger than other US states. The word ‘epic’ barely does Alaska justice.
The Call of the Wild
Pure, raw, unforgiving and humongous in scale, Alaska is a place that arouses basic instincts and ignites what Jack London termed the 'call of the wild.' Yet, unlike London and his gutsy, gold-rush companions, visitors today will have a far easier time penetrating the region's vast, feral wilderness. Indeed, one of the beauties of the 49th state is its accessibility. Few other places in the US allow you to scale an unclimbed mountain, walk where – quite possibly – no human foot has trodden before, or sally forth into a national park that gets fewer annual visitors than the International Space Station.
All Creatures Great and Small
Who needs zoos when you can get close-up views of brown bears snatching leaping salmon out of angry waterfalls or see curious moose posing majestically on national-park roadsides? Alaska is a land for wilderness purists who desire to observe big fauna in its natural habitat. This is no place for the timid. Hiking in unguarded backcountry might sometimes feel like being a guest in a very big food chain, but keep your wits about you, and the musk oxen, gray wolves, bears, caribou and other creatures great and small will quietly accept you into their domain.
Life on the Frontier
Space might be the final frontier, but for those without billions of dollars and their own space rocket, Alaska can provide a pretty gritty alternative. With scant phone coverage and a dearth of anything that passes for urban sophistication, this is a region for ‘doing’ rather than hanging out in coffee bars. Get a skilled bush pilot to land you on a crevasse-riddled glacier, or hire a backcountry guiding company to take you on a bracing paddle down an almost-virgin river. Whether you go it alone with bear-spray, or place yourself in the hands of an experienced ’sourdough’ (Alaskan old-timer), the rewards are immeasurable.
Tales of the Unexpected
For savvy repeat visitors, the real joys of Alaska are the ones you least expect: ginormous vegetables, epic bus rides, half-forgotten Russian cemeteries, friendly, hassle-free airports, and dive bars where no one's rethought their hairstyle since 1984. Welcome to a state with as many offbeat attractions as off-the-beaten-track locations. Imagine a land where locals still go subsistence hunting, campers plan gold-panning expeditions in the wilderness and wi-fi is just a rumor. Pitch in with a quirky medley of contrarians, rat-race escapees, wanderers, dreamers, back-to-the-landers and Alaska Natives and discover what makes America's biggest state tick.
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These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Alaska.
Nature ReserveDenali National Park & Preserve
In our collective consciousness, Alaska represents the concept of the raw wilderness. But that untamed perception can be as much a deterrent as a draw. For many travelers, in-depth exploration of this American frontier is a daunting task. Enter Denali National Park & Preserve: a parcel of land that's easily accessible without losing its primeval feel. Things to do in Denali National Park Here, you can peer at a grizzly bear, moose, caribou, or even wolves, all from the comfort of a bus. On the other hand, if independent exploration is your thing, you can trek into 6 million acres of tundra, boreal forest and ice-capped mountains – a space larger than Massachusetts. This all lies in the shadow of Denali, once known as Mt McKinley and to native Athabascans as the Great One. Denali, at 20,308ft (6190m) is North America’s highest peak, rightly celebrated as an icon of all that is awesome and wild in a state where those adjectives are ubiquitous. Denali Of course the park's massive signature summit and namesake is a must-see. But despite its lofty heights, the mountain is not visible from the park entrance or the nearby campgrounds and hotel. Your first glimpse of it comes between Mile 9 and Mile 11 on Park Road – if you’re blessed with a clear day. What makes Denali one of the world’s great scenic mountains isn't its visual presence in the park, but the sheer independent rise of its bulk. Denali begins at a base of just 2000ft, which means that on a clear day you will be transfixed by over 18,000 feet of ascending rock, ice and snow. By contrast, Mt Everest, no slouch itself when it comes to memorable vistas, only rises 12,000ft from its base on the Tibetan Plateau. If you’re a seasoned alpinist you can mount an expedition to the summit yourself, or be among the 25% of Denali climbers who are part of guided ascents. If you’re looking for a local guiding company, try Alaska Mountaineering School, which charges $8300 to lead you up the mountain. Another acclaimed company with a high success rate is Seattle-based Alpine Ascents. Its trips start at $8400 excluding meals, lodging and flights to Alaska. Book at least a year in advance. Wildlife Because hunting has never been allowed in the park, professional photographers refer to animals in Denali as "approachable wildlife." That means bear, moose, Dall sheep and caribou aren’t as skittish here as in other regions of the state. For this reason, and because Park Rd was built to maximize the chances of seeing wildlife by traversing high open ground, the park is an excellent place to view a variety of animals. On board the park shuttle buses, your fellow passengers will be armed with binoculars and cameras to help scour the terrain for animals, most of which are so accustomed to the rambling buses that they rarely run and hide. When someone spots something and yells "Stop!," the driver will pull over for viewing and picture taking. The best wildlife watching is on the first morning bus. Hiking If you’ve never veered off the beaten path, consider launching your trail-free hiking career in Denali National Park & Preserve. In most national parks in North America, hikers are constantly reminded to stay on marked trails in order to prevent soil erosion, deter damage to flora and fauna, and minimize the risk of getting lost. But Alaska – being Alaska – operates a little differently. Since most national parks in the state don’t have an extensive network of marked trails, visitors are actively encouraged to get off the beaten track and explore the backcountry on their own. Denali’s 92-mile-long Park Road provides an excellent transport link into the depths of the park with regular hop-on, hop-off shuttle buses plying the route. Additionally, thanks to its high altitude, most of the park is above the treeline, allowing hikers to enjoy broad vistas across obstacle-free tundra. Not only does this mean Park Rd will be rarely out of sight (even when it’s 5 miles away), it also prevents any surprise encounters with wildlife. Regardless of where you’re headed, remember that 5 miles is a full-day trip for the average backpacker in Denali’s backcountry. A good compromise for those unsure of entering the backcountry on their own is to take a ranger-led Discovery Hike: hiking without a trail but with a guide. To join a ranger on an easy, guided stroll (ranging from 30 minutes to 2½ hours) along the park’s entrance-area trails, check out the schedule at the Denali Visitor Center. There are also four hikes in the park entrance area that can be accessed from the Wilderness Access Center (WAC). Eielson Visitor Center Eielson Visitor Center, on the far side of Thorofare Pass (3900ft), is the most common turning-around point for day trippers taking the shuttle (an eight-hour round-trip from the park entrance). This remote outpost is built directly into the tundra slopes and the mountain seems to almost loom over you from the observation decks. Inside there’s a massive panorama to give you an idea of the mountain’s topography, as well as more utilitarian features such as toilets and potable water. The 7400-sq-ft facility cost around $9.2 million to build, and features several green design elements, including solar and hydroelectric power. You'll also find two steep trails – one that leads up to ridge lines that tower over the park, and one that plunges to a riverbed where wildlife spottings are not uncommon (and sometimes far too close for comfort). Two ranger-led hikes are offered daily in summer: a two-hour, two-mile alpine hike, starting at noon and heading up the ridge behind the facilities; and an easier one-hour, 0.5-mile loop, starting at 1pm. Polychrome Pass This scenic area, at 3500ft, has views of the Toklat River to the south. Polychrome Pass Overlook, which is a regular stop on Denali tour- and shuttle-bus routes, gets its name from the multicolored hues of the local rock faces. There's relatively easy access to ridge trails if you want to hike at higher altitudes. Denali's sled dogs Denali is the only US national park where rangers conduct winter patrols with dog teams. In summer the huskies serve a different purpose: amusing and educating the legions of tourists who sign up for the park’s free daily tours of the sled-dog kennels, as well as dog demonstrations. During warm months, the dogs briefly pull rangers in an ATV for the crowds. The 40-minute show takes place at park headquarters; free buses head there from the Denali Visitor Center, departing 40 minutes before each starting time. These demonstrations are incredibly popular – there's no cap on visitors, so just plan on experiencing crowds. Watching the dogs literally jump for joy when it's their turn to pull the ATV. It's clear that they not only love running and pulling – they live for the experience. The Stampede Trail and the Magic Bus The Stampede Trail was an overgrown, semi-abandoned mining road in April 1992 when an idealistic 24-year-old wanderer called Chris McCandless made camp in an abandoned bus west of Healy, equipped with little more than a rifle, 10lb of rice and a copy of Louis L’Amour’s Education of a Wandering Man in his bag. His quest: to attempt to survive on his own in the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness. McCandless’ death a few months later, in August 1992, was famously chronicled in the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer in 1996. But it was Sean Penn’s cinematic rendering of the book in 2007 that brought the story to international attention and turned the Stampede Trail and the so-called "Magic Bus" into a pilgrimage site for a stream of romantic young backpackers. The deluge of hikers has led to problems. Thanks to two dangerous river crossings along the Stampede Trail’s muddy if relatively flat route, some of the more amateurish hikers have found they've bitten off more than they can chew. As a result, search-and-rescue teams are called out five or six times a year to aid stranded or disorientated travelers and, in 2010, a Swiss woman tragically drowned while trying to cross the Teklanika River. Today the Magic Bus – a 1946 International Harvester (number 142) abandoned by road builders in 1961 – has been moved to the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks, but a replica of bus 142 sits outside the 49th State Brewing Company in Healy. You can still hike the Stampede Trail, however, which begins 2 miles north of Healy (the first 8 miles are accessible in a vehicle). Go prepared, preferably in a group, and take extreme precautions when crossing the Savage and Teklanika Rivers (and if they’re flowing high, don’t cross them at all). Bears are common in the area and the mosquitoes are savage. Alternatively, you can take an ATV tour along the trail in summer, or head out in winter on a dogsledding trip from EarthSong Lodge. Dining in Denali 49th State Brewing Company You can have the best evening out in Denali at 49th State Brewing Company, a multifarious place which is 1) a brewpub brewing its own fine ales; 2) a wonderful flame-grilled restaurant; 3) a live-music venue; and 4) a dedicated purveyor of dozens of whiskeys. A celebratory atmosphere is generated at the communal tables both inside and out, where fun games shorten the wait for your food. Brewery tours with free tastings take place on Fridays at 4pm. 229 Parks South of McKinley Village, a stylish timber-frame hideaway called 229 Parks is quintessentially modern Alaskan: locally owned, organic and fervently committed to both the community and environment. Everything is made on-site, including the bread and butter, and the menu changes daily, though it usually features local game dishes and a veritable cornucopia of vegetarian options. And don’t worry if you can’t finish every mouthful: scraps go to feed local sled dogs. Reservations definitely recommended. Prospector's Pizzeria and Alehouse Prospector's is perennially busy and with good reason! Set in the Old Northern Lights Theater building, this cavernous alehouse turned pizza parlor has quickly become one of the most popular eating establishments in the park area. In addition to a menu with two-dozen oven-baked pizza choices, there are some 50 beers available on tap from almost all of Alaska’s small breweries. Moose-AKas There are lots of young Eastern Europeans working the tourism season in Alaska, and this restaurant is testimony to the fact. Started by a Serbian former season worker turned American, Moose-AKa's serves fried crepes, schnitzel, Russian salad, stuffed peppers and of course, moussaka. It's vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, and a great departure from the usual bar food. Denali National Park hotels, hostels, camping, and lodges Aside from a few options in the community of Kantishna, lodgings are generally not available inside park boundaries, so if you want overnight shelter within the park you’ll need a tent or RV (recreational vehicle). That said, there are a lot of unique options close to the park well worth booking. You should definitely reserve something in midsummer – even if it’s just a campsite – before showing up. Note the Denali Borough charges a 7% accommodations tax on top of listed prices (except for campsites). The Earthsong Lodge North of Healy, off Mile 251 on the George Parks Hwy, this spotlessly clean lodge is pretty much on its own in green fields above the treeline. The private-bath cabins have an appealing at-home styling, with decorative touches such as sprays of wildflowers and hand-carved ornaments. Breakfast and dinner are available in the adjacent Henry's Coffeehouse and there are sleddog demos, a nightly slide show and dog-sled and cross-country-skiing tours in winter. The lodge is just a short climb away from stunning views of the mountain, and just in case you wanted to know more about that peak, proprietor Jon Nierenberg, a former Denali ranger, quite literally wrote the book on hiking in the park’s backcountry. Carlo Creek Lodge The 32-acre grounds here, nestled amidst the mountains, are nothing short of spectacular, and the hand-hewn log cabins are filled with genuine old-Alaskan charm. Maintained by the descendants of the original homesteaders who settled this scenic little plot by the creek, the lodge has a fresh feel but still a healthy respect for tradition. Communal amenities include a laundry room, spiffy shower block, barbecue and cooking areas. Denali Mountain Morning Hostel Perched beside the gurgling Carlo Creek, this is the area’s only true hostel. That's cool – it makes up in quality for a lack of hostel quantity. The setting is a dream – mountains to one side, a stream running through it all. The hostel features a hodgepodge of tent-cabins, log cabins and platform tents. Only open during summer. There’s a fire pit, and visitors can cook meals and swap tales in the "octagon" – the hostel’s common area. Laundry facilities are available and the hostel offers free shuttle services to/from the park's Wilderness Access Center throughout the day. Wonder Lake Campground This is the jewel of Denali campgrounds, thanks to its eye-popping views of the mountain. The facility has 28 sites for tents only, but does offer flush toilets and piped-in water. If you’re lucky enough to reserve a site, book it for three nights and then pray that Denali appears during one of the days you’re there. Note that there is a $6 registration fee added on top of the camp fee. Camp Denali Verging on legendary, Camp Denali has been the gold standard among Kantishna lodges for the last half century. Widely spread across a ridgeline, the camp’s simple, comfortable cabins elegantly complement the backcountry experience while minimizing impact on the natural world. Think of it as luxury camping, with gourmet meals, guided hikes, free bicycle and canoe rentals, killer views of the mountain, and staff so devoted to Denali that you’ll come away feeling like the beneficiary of a precious gift. If you can't handle the outhouses or the seven-minute walk to the bathroom, book the nearby, affiliated North Face Lodge with en-suite rooms for the same price. Denali Dome Home B&B This is not a yurt but a huge, intriguing geodesic house on a 5-acre lot, offering a fantastic B&B experience. There are seven modern rooms (with partial antique furnishings), an open common area with fireplace, and a small business area. Also: it's a dome home! How cool is that? The owners are absolute oracles of wisdom when it comes to Denali, and do a bang-up job with breakfast. They also offer car rental. Tips for visitors When to visit The summer months from early June until the second week after Labor Day is the main visiting season, when shuttle and tour buses operate and ranger-led activities are plentiful. Summer itself has many mini-seasons: during June you may see caribou, moose and Dall sheep calving, and alpine-zone wildflowers blooming. The park is at its most accessible in July, while in August, autumn colors start creeping in. In September, moose rut and the northern lights begin to make their presence known. Also, mosquitoes start thinning out. During the spring and fall, visitors may drive to Mile 30, but only until snow closes the roads, which can be as early as October and last until April. Also, if you swing by Cannabis Cache to pick up a smokeable stash, don't forget that Denali National Park is federal land and cannabis is only legal in Alaska. Leave your weed at the hotel and don't run afoul of the park rangers. Getting oriented The park entrance area, where most visitors congregate, extends a scant 4 miles up Park Road. It’s here you’ll find the park headquarters, visitor center and main campground, as well as the Wilderness Access Center, where you pay your park entrance fee and arrange campsites and shuttle-bus bookings to take you further into the park. Across the lot from the WAC sits the Backcountry Information Center, where backpackers get backcountry permits and bear-proof food containers. The Denali visitor center is the place to come for an executive summary of Denali National Park & Preserve, with quality displays on the area’s natural and human history. Every half hour in the theater, the beautifully photographed, unnarrated film Heartbeats of Denali provides a peek at the park’s wildlife and scenery. You can also pick up a selection of park literature here, including the NPS’ indispensable Alpenglow booklet, which functions as a user’s manual to Denali. The Park Road A straight shot into the heart of Denali, Park Road is also the jumping-off point for most hikes. It begins at George Parks Highway and winds 92 miles through the heart of the park, ending at Kantishna, the site of several wilderness lodges. After that the road passes the Savage River (Mile 14) – which has an established trail alongside the river – and then dips into the Sanctuary and Teklanika River valleys. Both these rivers are in excellent hiking areas, and three of the five backcountry campgrounds lie along them. Park Road continues past rivers, backcountry campgrounds, overlooks and mountain passes that afford stunning views on those rare clear days. Kantishna (Mile 90) is mainly a destination for people staying in the area’s private lodges. The buses turn around here, and begin the long trip back to the Wilderness Access Center. Backcountry camping Permits are needed if you want to camp overnight and you can obtain these at the Backcountry Information Center, where you’ll also find wall maps with the unit outlines and a quota board indicating the number of vacancies in each. Permits are issued only a day in advance, and the most popular units fill up fast. It pays to be flexible: decide which areas you’re aiming for, and be prepared to take any zone that’s open. If you’re picky, you might have to wait several days. The history of Denali National Park The region that is now Denali National Park has been home to humans for over 11,000 years. For Athabascan people, this was a fertile hunting ground where the tribe would reliably encounter Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and even grizzlies. It was also game that attracted white settlers in the early 20th century, after gold was found near Kantishna in 1905 and big game hunters followed the miners' stampede. Conservationist Charles Alexander Sheldon began work the year following Kantishna's gold boom to protect the park's wildlife from the kind of wholesale hunting frenzy that decimated bison herds in across the Great Plains. Sheldon mounted a campaign, but it was a long play to get what was then known as Mt McKinley declared a national park. The concept of national parks – and conservation in general – were still new. Yellowstone National Park was just 34 years old and though Mesa Verde had just entered the club, it had been rammed through by President Teddy Roosevelt using his controversial Federal Antiquities Act of 1906. The kind of archeological discoveries found in Chaco Canyon were scant in the remote Alaskan backcountry. Instead, Sheldon turned to another invention of Roosevelt's – the Boone and Crockett Club, a conservation group dedicated to preserving wildlife and habitat for regulated hunting. The Boone and Crockett Club helped persuade Alaska's representatives and the Department of the Interior that Denali needed official protection as a national park. It wasn't until 1921 that the process of lobbying and legislating was complete. In 1923, when the railroad first arrived in Denali, 36 visitors enjoyed the splendor of the brand new park. Nowadays some 400,000 visitors are received annually. That's not the only change that Denali National Park has seen over the last century of its existence, however. As a result of the 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the park was enlarged by 4 million acres, and renamed Denali National Park & Preserve. However, it wasn't until 2015 that the name of the mountain itself was restored to Denali by President Barack Obama after almost 120 years as Mt. McKinley.
Going to Juneau and not seeing the Mendenhall is like visiting Rome and skipping the Colosseum. The most famous of Juneau’s ice floes, and the city’s most popular attraction, flows 13 miles from its source, the Juneau Icefield, and has a half-mile-wide face. It ends at Mendenhall Lake, the reason for all the icebergs. On a sunny day it’s beautiful, with blue skies and snowcapped mountains in the background. On a cloudy and drizzly afternoon it can be even more impressive, as the ice turns shades of deep blue. Is the Mendenhall Glacier retreating? Naturalists estimate that within a few years it will retreat onto land, and within 25 years retreat out of view entirely from the observation area and visitor center. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center sits near the face of the glacier, which houses various glaciology exhibits, including a fabricated ice face of the glacier along with a large relief map of the ice field; spotting scopes that let you look for mountain goats; and a theater that shows the 11-minute film Landscape of Change. Hiking and glacier trekking Outside you’ll find several hiking trails. The most popular are the 0.3-mile Photo-Overlook Trail and the Nugget Falls Trail; the latter leads a half-mile to a huge belting waterfall that empties into the lake near the face of the glacier. For many the most interesting path is Steep Creek Trail, a 0.3-mile boardwalk that winds past viewing platforms along the stream. From July through September you’ll not only see sockeye and coho salmon spawning from the platforms but also brown and black bears feasting on them. This is Southeast Alaska’s most affordable bear-viewing site (though it can be partially closed due to heavy bear traffic in summer). One of the most unusual outdoor activities in Juneau is glacier trekking : stepping into crampons, grabbing an ice axe and roping up to walk on ice 1000 years old or older. The scenery and the adventure is like nothing you’ve experienced before as a hiker. The most affordable outing is offered by Above & Beyond Alaska. Utilizing a trail to access Mendenhall Glacier, it avoids expensive helicopter fees on its guided seven-hour outing. The cost is $219 per person and includes all mountaineering equipment and transportation. Transport and information If you're traveling by car, the river of ice is at the end of Glacier Spur Rd. From Egan Dr at Mile 9 turn right onto Mendenhall Loop Rd, staying on Glacier Spur Rd when the loop curves back toward Auke Bay. The cheapest way to see the glacier is to hop on a Capital Transit bus ($2). The bus, somewhat bizarrely, drops you 1.5 miles short of the visitor center. Follow the paved path north along the Glacier Spur Rd. More expensive, but easier, is the 'blue bus' operated by Mendenhall Glacier Transport/M & M Tours, which picks up from the cruise-ship docks downtown for the glacier, making a run every 30 minutes. The last bus of the day depends on the cruise-ship schedule.
ParkArctic National Wildlife Refuge
The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a 30,625-sq-mile wilderness in Alaska’s northeast corner, straddling the eastern Brooks Range from the treeless Arctic Coast to the taiga of the Porcupine River Valley. Wildlife highlights Beyond the bragging rights it brings from visiting one of the most remote regions of the world, ANWR (an-wahr) attracts with its boundless wilderness and surprisingly diverse wildlife. This ‘Serengeti of the north’ is home to dozens of land mammals, including grizzlies, musk ox, Dall sheep and the second-largest herd of caribou in North America. Over 20 rivers cut through the region, several suitable for multiday paddles, as well as the four highest peaks in the Brooks Range. For adventurers, photographers and lovers of all things untamed and untrammeled, there are few more appealing destinations. Getting there and accommodation Even getting to ANWR is easier said than done. There’s only one place it can be accessed by car: just north of Atigun Pass on the Dalton Hwy, where the road and the refuge briefly touch. To get deep into the refuge, you will need to fly. For a list of charter companies, consult the refuge’s website or visit the Public Lands desk at the Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center in Fairbanks. Wilderness Alaska offers over 20 different ANWR trips, from rafting to following the caribou herds. Camping As tough as it is to get to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, staying here is even more challenging. There are no facilities of any sort. Literally millions of mosquitoes will decide you are an acceptable source of protein. The area is an Arctic desert, and giardia is present in the few water sources. You need to be comfortable camping around bears, and you must camp in such a way that bears won't come near you. ANWR is incredible, but only seasoned outdoors explorers should apply. Hotels One of the gateways to the refuge is Kaktovik, an Iñupiat village on the northern shore of Barter Island in the Beaufort Sea, 160 miles east of Deadhorse. Kaktovik is the place to see polar bears in the wild, especially in September when they feed close to the town. For more information (and accommodations), contact the village's Waldo Arms Hotel. Controversy around oil drilling in the ANWR For years, the refuge has been the subject of a debate over whether to drill beneath its coastal plain, which is thought to contain vast reserves of crude oil and natural gas. In late 2020 there was a controversial development – one of President Trump's last acts in office was to grant oil companies the right to purchases leases to drill in the area. This prompted an outcry from environmental campaigners over the potential damage to such a precious ecosystem. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was granted a reprieve by the Biden administration in 2021 when the leases were suspended pending a review. However, the battle to protect the area is most likely far from over.
National ParkTongass National Forest
Welcome to the largest national forest in the US, a tract of land almost the size of Ireland and significantly larger than adjacent Wrangell-St Elias National Park (itself the second biggest national park in the world). History Dedicated in 1907 by President Teddy Roosevelt, the forest encompasses most of the Alexander Archipelago’s 1110 islands as well as some mainland areas. In the 1930's, the indigenous Tlingit and Haida peoples brought a legal challenge to the US supreme court over their established rights to the land and won compensation. Both tribes are still very much involved in the preservation of this crucial ecosystem to this day. Can you live in the Tongass National Forest? Around 75,000 people live in the forest in a series of small towns and villages, all of which, bar Haines, Hyder and Skagway, are cut off from the main continental road network. Notwithstanding, the protected area gets one million annual visitors, nearly 14 times its actual population, most of whom arrive on cruise ships. Despite being the largest temperate rainforest in the world, packed with Sitka spruce, western hemlock and red cedar, 40% of the Tongass isn’t actually forest at all, but is comprised of wetlands, ice and high mountain terrain. Accommodation and information For adventurers, rustic off-the-grid accommodation is available in 150 scattered USFS cabins, most of them only accessible by boat or floatplane. There are also 13 campgrounds, four of them free of charge. Offering an extra level of protection in the forest are two national monuments, Misty Fiords and Admiralty Island. As a national forest, the Tongass is notably different to national parks such as Glacier Bay, which it surrounds. National parks are all about preservation. National forests, while highlighting protective environmental measures, are designed for multiuse. In the Tongass you can hunt, fish and take your dog for a walk on a trail. Agriculture and controlled logging are also permitted, and the forest hosts a number of important towns including the Alaskan capital, Juneau, with a population of 33,850.
This is the star glacial attraction in Prince William Sound – a large sea inlet named by British colonizers after a young English prince in the eighteenth century. The Colombia is a large tidewater glacier that flows directly into the sea, spilling forth from the Chugach Mountains. It ends with a face as high as a football field. Is the Colombia Glacier retreating? It is one of the most rapidly changing glaciers in the world and, unfortunately, it is retreating at speed like many ice floes in Alaska. The face of the glacier has retreated more than 12 miles since 1980 and lost a lot of its volume and thickness. This continued movement contributes to the rise of sea levels through the calving of icebergs from the Colombia Glacier. Getting there The voyage to see the Columbia is a popular day trip out of Valdez, either in a boat or on a kayaking excursion.
Just 30 miles north of Yakutat is Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America. The 8-mile-wide frozen behemoth is easily Alaska’s most active. The riptides and currents that flow between Gilbert Point and the face of the glacier, a mere 1000ft away, are so strong that they cause Hubbard to calve almost continuously at peak tides. The entire area, part of the 545-sq-mile Russell Fjord Wilderness, is one of the most interesting places in Alaska and usually visited through flightseeing or boat tours. Is the Hubbard Glacier still advancing? The 76-mile-long glacier captured national attention by galloping across Russell Fiord in the mid-1980s, turning the long inlet into a lake. Eventually Hubbard receded, reopening the fjord, but in 2002 it again surged across Russell Fjord, and it came close to doing it a third time in 2011.
Historic SiteSitka National Historical Park
This mystical juxtaposition of tall trees and totems is Alaska’s smallest national park and the site where the Tlingits were defeated by the Russians in 1804. The mile-long Totem Trail winds its way past 18 totems first displayed at the 1904 Louisiana Exposition in St Louis and then moved to the park. These intriguing totems, standing in a thick rainforest setting by the sea and often enveloped in mist, have become synonymous with the national park and, by extension, the city itself. Eventually you arrive at the site of the Tlingit fort near Indian River with its outline still clearly visible. You can either explore the trail as a self-guided tour or join a ranger-led "Battle Walk." Back in 1804, the Tlingits defended their wooden fort for a week. The Russians’ cannons did little damage to the walls of the fort and, when the Russian soldiers stormed the structure with the help of Aleuts, they were repulsed in a bloody battle. It was only when the Tlingits ran out of gunpowder and flint, and slipped away at night, that the Russians were able to enter the deserted fort. The visitors center (8am to 5pm) displays Russian and indigenous artifacts, and a 12-minute video in the theater provides an overview of the Tlingit–Russian battle. There's also a workshop where you can observe and talk to native wood-carvers.
This world-class facility is Anchorage’s cultural jewel. The West Wing, a four-story, shimmering, mirrored facade, adds 80,000 sq ft to what was already the largest museum in the state, while the Rasmuson Wing adds art from across the international North. The museum's flagship exhibit is the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center (with more than 600 Alaska Native objects, such as art, tools, masks and household implements), which was previously housed in Washington, DC.
What makes 20,310ft Denali (formerly Mt McKinley) one of the world’s great scenic mountains is the sheer independent rise of its bulk. Denali begins at a base of just 2000ft, which means that on a clear day you will be transfixed by over 18,000 feet of ascending rock, ice and snow. By contrast, Mt Everest, no slouch itself when it comes to memorable vistas, only rises 12,000 feet from its base on the Tibetan Plateau.
Whether it’s a guided tour of a historic landmark, private tasting of local delicacies, or an off-road adventure — explore the best experiences in Alaska.