Some people still envision Alaska as frozen tundra, a place for only the hardcore like those ice road truckers, mountain men, or crab fishermen on the reality show “Deadliest Catch.”
While there is some of that, you’ll find a whole lot more, including a rather pleasant climate in the summer along with activities and attractions that everyone, including the non-adventurer type, can enjoy.
Is Alaska worth visiting?
Alaska remains one of the most isolated and gorgeous destinations in the US. The breathtaking scenery, unique wildlife, limitless wilderness, and world-class fishing make Alaska an outdoorsman’s dream. And, if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of the northern lights.
America’s largest state, covering some 600,000 square miles, offers some of the world’s most jaw-dropping scenery, with landscapes as diverse as it’s immense.
There are towering mountains, including more than 15 of North America’s tallest mountains, with the highest peak on the continent Mount Denali at over 20,000 feet.
Endless miles of rugged coastline with beaches to comb, mirror-like lakes, rushing rivers, glistening glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, tundra, and taiga, can all be discovered.
Its beauty has led many to wax poetic about it.
Over 140 years ago during the Gilded Age when milk was being sold in glass bottles for the first time, legendary naturalist John Muir was paddling a canoe from Wrangell to Glacier.
His trip would inspire writings that helped build the lore of the last frontier, with remarks like, “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”
There are few places left on Earth where you can see so many animals in their wild habitats.
While you could take an African safari, heading to Alaska brings the opportunity for bucket-list sights like watching a Kodiak bear catch salmon right out of cascading falls or seeing a humpback breach right from shore.
It’s possible to spot everything from black and grizzly bears, wolves, Dall’s sheep, caribou, and moose to whales, sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, bald eagles, puffins, and countless other creatures.
There are many excursions available that are focused on close encounters with Alaskan wildlife, including whale watching boat tours that can be joined in the top spots for the massive animals like Juneau, Ketchikan, Seward, and Glacier Bay.
A Glacier Bay wildlife cruise brings the chance to spot a wealth of animals on land and in the water, from whales and sea lions to bears and mountain goats.
Some of the best bear experiences can be enjoyed on Admiralty Island via Pack Creek Tours and Katmai National Park through multiple outfitters which typically include a couple of hours of flight time for aerial views of not only the bears but glaciers and snow-capped mountains.
The Outdoor Adventures
A trip to Alaska is all about the great outdoors.
You don’t have to be a hard-core adventurer as there are plenty of gentle pursuits like nature walks and easy hikes, along with flightseeing excursions over untouched landscapes that can’t be seen any other way.
Those who really want to get active will have a long list to choose from, with hikes for all levels, including multiday treks, opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, mountain climbing, and, of course, fishing, one of the most popular pursuits whether in the sea, on a river or lake.
When snow blankets the landscapes, alpine, cross-country, and backcountry skiing are all possible along with ice climbing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice skating, and more.
Glaciers draw many to Alaska.
With the world’s glaciers quickly melting and glaciologists predicting that many will be gone entirely within the next few decades, this is one of the best places to see them before they disappear.
There are several that are easily accessible, like Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park which you can walk right up to.
By hiking the scenic trail from it to Harding Icefield, you’ll be following alongside the glacier taking in dramatic views of the vast seracs and deep crevasses before reaching a stunning lookout over the icefield.
Margerie Glacier is a tidewater glacier, which means it starts on land and sprawls out to the sea.
A mile wide and 21 miles long, a cruise via Glacier Bay Lodge in Glacier Bay National Park can bring you close to the face where you’ll have the chance to witness calving, with the ice cracking and bergs breaking with a thunderous sound into the water below.
Alaska is one of the world’s most popular places for fishing.
If you’ve never tried it, this is the place to do it.
When you’re in the right spot, you’ll have good odds of a catch here and there are many outfitters that will take you out to the very best and even grill up your catch afterward so that you can enjoy it for dinner.
While your options are practically endless, head to Homer for saltwater fishing.
It’s renowned as the halibut capital but you can also catch all types of salmon.
Ketchikan is the salmon capital and offers the chance to learn from some of the world’s best anglers, while the Kvichak River in southwestern Alaska, running between the Katmai National Park and Preserve and Togiak National Wildlife Refuge is the top spot for trout.
The Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights
Alaska is known for its long hours of daylight in the summer.
The further north you are, the more daylight you’ll have.
In Juneau, you’ll enjoy more than 18 hours of sun around the summer solstice, while Fairbanks barely gets dark at all with around 22 hours – those two hours are twilight making it feel as if the sun never sets.
A phenomenon referred to as the Midnight Sun, the city celebrates it with the Midnight Sun Festival which starts at noon on June 21st and continues well past midnight.
There’s even an annual midnight baseball game with the first pitched tossed at 10:30 p.m.
If you visit in the winter, you’ll have the opposite experience, with the long nights bringing the best choice to catch the northern lights with swirling red, blue, green, purple, and yellow hues.
The best spots for watching are away from the city lights in the Fairbanks area and anywhere remote and north like the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve or Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), both of which lie above the Arctic Circle.
If you won’t be that remote while visiting Anchorage there are tours that will take you to places like Chugach State Park with high-elevation trailheads and viewpoints where there’s a fairly good chance to marvel at the dancing lights in the sky.
It’s Truly the Last Frontier
If you’re tired of the rat race, looking forward to a place where you can get away from the crowds, and immerse yourself in the wilderness with no one but four-legged creatures around, it’s hard to beat Alaska.
Other than Antarctica, the only continent with no permanent human habitation, this is truly the last frontier as one of the least populated places on the planet, an honor shared only with destinations like Siberia, the Gobi Desert, and parts of central Asia.
While it’s the largest state in the U.S. by far, the population is less than 732,0000 or 1.28 residents per square mile.
Alaska is where you can gaze out at some of the most awe-inspiring scenery without seeing another soul, while the only sounds are the songs of the birds, and perhaps the breath of a whale.