Alaska has long been a land of wonder and majesty, and untamed mystery that calls to us from the confines of civilization. Even while the rest of the world is getting smaller, Alaska is still almost as remote and rugged as it has been for centuries, with millions of miles of untamed wildlife, natural beauty, and desolate wilderness.
If you, too, feel the tug of the Last Frontier and want to experience its rugged beauty, here are 10 experiences that beautifully capture the essence of Alaska.
1. Watch the Northern Lights
The best way to see the Northern Lights is to bundle up in the dead of winter and head outside after midnight. Those who are brave enough to face the cold are rewarded with the most epic natural phenomenon that lights up the entire night sky in myriad colors of all shades. Join a Northern Lights tour that takes you away from the city lights for the best-uninhibited views, as well as offers places to warm up before and after the Northern Lights dance across the sky.
2. See Alaska's Wildlife Up Close
While much of North America’s wildlife has slowly disappeared or nears endangerment, Alaska is still home to a plethora of some of the most beautiful and majestic wildlife in the world. Wildlife in other states may mean visiting a zoo, but in Alaska one can sight bears, moose, caribou and many other arctic creatures in their natural habitat. The best way to get up close without endangering yourself or the animals in the wild is by joining a wildlife tour like a Bear Viewing Tour, where Alaskan tour guides lead you through some of the state’s most rugged scenery in order to get up close to the wild bear populations.
3. Whitewater Raft Glacial Rivers
Alaska’s huge river ecosystem provides plenty of opportunities for both novice and advanced level whitewater rafting. For those seeking a thrill ride, it doesn’t get much better than Six Mile Creek, which features plenty of both Class IV and V level rapids. If you are whitewater rafting for the first time or planning a trip with kids, Nizina Canyon and Copper River are great destinations for some gentler but still beautifully scenic whitewater rafting. Both are serviced by local outfitters who provide the equipment as well as river-rafting guides to lead you down the rapids.
4. Visit the Largest Mountains in the Country
Alaska has so many mountains over 14k that many haven’t even been named yet. Climbing up North America’s highest mountain may be a bit out of reach, but you can still tour Denali and Alaska’s other mountain ranges by sky via flightseeing tours that pilot you up close to the mountains in tiny airplanes.
5. Go Whale Watching
Alaska is home to an incredible diversity of whale species, each with their own beauty and importance in the ecological structure of the ocean. For instance, the Beluga Whales are best seen south of the Cook Inlet during the summer months, while Grey Whales migrate around Sitka and Kodiak during the spring months. Summer is also the best time to see the Humpback whales in the Barren Islands. Choosing the best whale watching tour really depends on the time of year you plan your visit, and the types of whales you wish to see up close.
6. Go Dog Sledding
Nicknamed the last great race on earth, Alaska is home to the famous Iditarod, a dog sled race that runs for 1,000 miles across Alaska's harsh snow covered terrain from Anchorage to Nome. While it takes years of preparation to run the Iditarod, you should have your own go at dog sledding, a true “Last Frontier” experience, and the primary mode of transportation in Alaska for hundreds of years. Alaskan tour guides outfit you with a pack of dogs and provide lessons for mushing; several outfitters even offer guided tours that last for several days, and take you on an expedition old school style through the backcountry.
7. Visit the Tundra
Alaska’s tundra is a horticultural phenomenon; the immense vastness of the Tundra and complete remoteness offer millions of acres of wildlife, pristine landscapes, and a true chance to marvel in the lack of civilization for miles and miles. While most people only visit the first few miles of Denali National Park and the Denali tundra wilderness, there are plenty of wilderness options that take you deeper into the heart of the tundra and allow you to truly experience Alaskan beauty up close and personal. The Tundra Wilderness Tour takes visitors over 50 miles into the heart of the tundra via bus, allowing you to reach the more remote areas of the park and experience more of the Alaskan wildlife up close.
8. Kayak Glacier Bay
Think of Alaska’s coastline, and the Glacier Bay National Park comes to mind. Miles of glacier covered peaks, incredible shoreline, and spectacularly colored waters define this park. The best way to appreciate the sheer beauty and impressive scale is by water, as you kayak your way around the rugged coastline. Kayaking itself is pretty easy to master, although sea kayaks are rather tippy and it’s best to practice a few times before heading out by yourself. If you’re still rather unexperienced, join a guided kayak tours that takes you around the park safely while offering more detail and history about the state’s landscape.
9. Go Salmon Fishing
It wouldn’t be a true Alaskan experience without at least attempting to fish some of the world’s best and most famous fish from Alaska's icy cold rivers and streams. There are plenty of spots along the Kenai River, from Moose Meadows, which is very easy to access and great for families, to the Moose River Confluence, which is a bit harder to find but offers diverse fishing waters from the two rivers. With restrictions and regulations, it’s best to utilize a fishing guide outfitter who can help streamline the paperwork and equipment needed, as well as get you to the best places, which can be a bit off the beaten path.
10. Visit the Capital
Juneau may seem a bit detached from the rest of the state, but this historic city is a great place to learn more about the history of Alaska, and the driving force behind its economic settlement and development. The city is beautifully built into the mountain lined harbor, making it one of the most picturesque state capitols in the United States. The best way to explore Juneau is to take a walking tour that takes you around the must see spots, from the upside down trees at Glacier Gardens to the historic church of St. Nicholas.
Bryn Wied is a full time travel writer/blogger from Lake Tahoe, California. She's authored several travel articles and her work has been featured on many travel websites and publications. When she's not writing, she's usually on the road traveling across the world with her hubby, Matt and their daughter, Jamison.
Image Details and Licenses: https://flic.kr/p/dRw2TE (NASA Goddard Space Flig, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/o2Ny6k (Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/8XHLoR (Sam Beebe, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/j5fDA (Nic McPhee, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/cVXXmY (Gregory "Slobirdr" Smith, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/bxwdnm (Jeff Walters, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/oaT1c (Nic McPhee, CC BY-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/6uYFsb (Kevin Harber, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/fb8aou (slashvee, CC BY-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/cz4TSU (oklanica, CC BY-NC 2.0)