I authored this piece on Lake Powell. pessimism, optimism and the age of climate change…
Wild and Rugged: A Guide to Traveling in Alaska
Massive and wild with scenes of spectacular natural beauty, Alaska is one of the last-remaining, untamed frontiers in the world, and one of the most rewarding travel destinations for outdoor adventurers. Due to the sheer size of Alaska, and the remoteness of some of its regions from any civilization, there’s no chance you’ll get to see all its splendor in a two-week tour. But here, we’ll try to break down your best options should you choose to visit this great frontier.
The best option for getting to Alaska is to fly into Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Anchorage will have the best road, rail and air connections for the intrepid traveler to access the rest of the state. As well, it’s worth mentioning the sheer beauty of the surrounding area and the abundance of things to do in and around Anchorage itself. If you plan to stay in Anchorage for the duration of your trip, you’ll still get the full experience. Walk on a glacier, visit one of the nearby natural parks and see wild roaming moose all in a day, then return to the comfort of any of Anchorage’s hotels by night.
Anchorage sits at the northern end of the Cook Inlet, a breathtaking 180-mile stretch of coast, which is home to crystal-blue waters, active volcanoes and named for the British explorer James Cook, who sailed into it during his legendary search for the Northwest Passage. More than one million people a year visit Alaska do so by cruise ship, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s an excellent way to well and truly take in the beauty of the Cook Inlet.
When to Visit
The main tourist season in Alaska is between May and mid-September. That’s when the weather is its warmest, and you’ll have the chance to see the most wildlife. If you’re a budding photographer, this would be the best season to visit. Bear in mind, however, that if you want to take in the jaw-dropping sight of the Aurora Borealis, you’ll have to visit in the colder season between November and January. Due to Alaska’s positioning, high up in the Northern Hemisphere, these months will only experience short periods of daylight. Therefore, the daylight hours are something to think about when visiting Alaska — Barrow, the northernmost town in Alaska is in perpetual darkness for 67 days out of the year, and during the summer, it has 80 days of uninterrupted sunlight.
The People: What to Know
Alaska is the largest and most sparsely populated American state, averaging only 1.2 people per square mile. The people themselves are friendly and welcoming to newcomers, and tourism is an accepted fact of life. Most Alaskans, except for the indigenous populations, are from somewhere else — primarily one of the other states. In fact, it’s easy to forget that Alaska is the 49th state, as it’s isolated and removed. You would think due to their proximity that Alaskans would identify more with Canada than America. However, this isn’t the case. Alaskans will quickly remind you that they are American. They have better trade and connections with the lower 48 than with Canada. They enjoy American culture and sports, and despite not having an NFL team of their own, they have widely adopted and are fiercely loyal to the Seattle Seahawks regardless of the Seahawks’ low chances of winning the Super Bowl.
What to See
There is no shortage of the wild and wonderful in Alaska. The state is well-known for its abundant wildlife, natural parks, glaciers and volcanic regions, so there is plenty for the outdoor adventurer to explore and see. Here are a few of the must-see attractions Alaska has to offer.
- The Inside Passage – A coastal route for ships that extends from southeastern Alaska into British Columbia, glaciers carved the area that is a popular tourist destination due to the stunning scenery, wildlife viewing opportunities and hiking trails. The most common way people explore the Inside Passage is by a cruise ship, with over two million visitors doing so each year.
- Flightseeing Trip Over Mountainous Regions and Denali – Flightseeing tours are a popular way to take in the majesty of the Alaskan mountain peaks and glaciers, and there’s nothing that quite compares to the views you’ll get from high in the air. The most popular destination for flightseeing tours is Denali. Formerly known as Mt. McKinley, Denali is the tallest mountain in North America at over 20,237 feet.
- Northern Lights – We’ve already mentioned the Northern lights or Aurora Borealis, but it’s worth mentioning again. Though you can see it in other parts of the world, Alaska is especially famous for the natural phenomenon due to its vast sky and crisp, clear nights. If you do visit Alaska during the correct season, make sure not to miss this.
- Whale Watching – Another popular tourist attraction in Alaska, it’s not hard to spot whales during the right season. Thousands of whales migrate annually from the warm waters surrounding Mexico and arrive in Alaskan waters around April. You’ll get the best viewing opportunities between the months of May and September. There’s nothing quite like seeing these huge creatures breaking water to preform graceful and breathtaking arches in mid-air.
- Alaskan Highway Road Trip – Otherwise known as the Alcan Highway, this is the main road cutting through Alaska, the Yukon territory and down into British Columbia. Driving it will truly give you a sense of the scale of Alaska, and there are plenty of jaw-dropping sights to see along the way. The best way to experience this is to rent a car and drive. Be warned, however, that this is a long road, stretching over 1,387 miles.
Alaska was first settled by early indigenous peoples as far back as 14,000 B.C. Many believe these groups found their way into the territory via a land bridge that existed between Russia and Alaska. This land bridge is now underwater, and the area where it would be now is known as the Bering Strait. In later years, the area came under Russian control from the late 1700s until the purchase of Alaska in 1867 when U.S. Secretary of State William Seward arranged to buy the territory from the Russians at the cost of two cents per acre or a total $7.2 million. Over the years, the construction of American military bases and the gold rush of the 1890s contributed to the population of the wide wilderness. Anchorage later established in 1914 as a port for the Alaska Railroad, built between 1915 and 1923. A city quickly grew up around the railroad headquarters and Anchorage officially incorporated by the United States in 1920.
So, that’s only some of the vital information you’ll need to plan your adventure in the last great and wild frontier in the world. As previously stated, Alaska is staggeringly huge, and it would take years to explore the territory fully, but with the local tourist industry and all the options they offer, you’ll be able to enjoy your trip and get a real sense of the beauty and grandeur of Alaska no matter how long you spend there. Happy travels!