Alaska triggers images of snowy mountain caps, endless untouched landscapes and huge brown bears. The largest state in the U.S. at nearly 600,000 square miles, Alaska offers almost countless destinations to immerse in stunning natural beauty, including the highest mountain in North America, giant glaciers, pristine forests, glistening lakes and abundant wildlife. This natural beauty can be enjoyed while hiking, paddling, and fishing in the great outdoors. Here are few places which you must visit on your trip to Alaska.
Denali National Park
Located in Central Alaska, Denali national Park enjoys a top position among the many national parks of America. The moment you enter, the very first view that you are greeted by is that of snow covered Denali. Dubbed as Mount McKinley by the modern explorers, the 20,320 peak is the highest mountain peak in the entire North America continent. Summiting Denali is a dream that many mountaineer have. But even if you cannot climb to the top, you can take in the views from below as the mountain is the centerpiece of this park.
Encompassing of 6 million acres of wilderness, Denali National Park is a vast stretch of land with a splendid ecosystem. The park with wide river valleys, tundra, high alpine ranges, and glacier-draped mountains looks purely spectacular. Denali National Park is open throughout the year. However it is in the summer when the slopes of the mountain are covered with some 650 species of flowering plants looking like a dream. Denali National Park is a protected wilderness area where all kind of wildlife can be seen. You will find grizzly bears, wolves, reindeers, elks and more than 167 species of birds here.
Visit Lake Wonder, a shimmering blue lake with one of the most beautiful backdrops. In the early 1900s a miner reached this lake and asked himself “I wonder why we didn’t notice this lake before?” That’s how it was named. So stop wondering, and start wandering towards it. Mirror Lake, Thunderbird Falls, Eklutna Lake are some of the other major attractions in the area.
Other activities include whitewater rafting or canoeing through Nenana River with some breathtaking scenery passing by. You can go on hiking excursions and explore the trails and attractions of this amazing park. The park is beautiful even at nights. The pitch-black night sky of Alaska provides the perfect backdrop for stargazing and getting a close-up look of the Northern Lights.
It was near Denali National Park where Christopher McCandless went ‘Into the Wild’. The Stampede Trail lies here and was recently in news again after the Fairbanks 142 bus was moved from the famous location. You can read more about it here!
Kenai Fjords National Park
Step back in time to the ice age at Kenai Fjords National Park. Located near Seward, the national park is home to colourful and vibrant Aquatic life and mighty glaciers. This is one of the most unusual parks you’ll see. Nearly 51 percent of the park is covered in ice, but there’s still plenty to see and do within Kenai Fjords. There are no roads leading into Kenai Fjords National Park. The only way to visit the park is by going out onto the open sea.
While cruising through the pristine waters that flow through the cliffs, you will be able to witness the magnificent sights of marine life with otters, puffins, harbour seals, sea lions, starfish, and orcas. You can also see water sprouting which might belong to fin, gray, humpback, minke or sei whales. On land, you may spot moose, mountain goats, river otters, snowshoe hares, lynx, gray wolves, wolverines, and black and brown bears. And up in the air, you will see one of the many birds flying high including bald and golden eagles. Here you thought who could survive this cold weather!
Visit Exit Glacier, the only part of the park accessible by road. Its main feature is the Harding Icefield which covers more than half of Kenai Fjords National Park and is source to more than 38 glaciers. You can go a strenuous hike along the Harding Icefield Trail. You’ll start out in a forest, ascend to a meadow, and finish with panoramic views of the icefield below. It feels like another world here.
Witnessing the dancing Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights is in bucket list of many. You dream of going to Iceland, Finland or Norway to see the mysterious curtain of swirling, flowing, ever changing purple, yellow, green, and red lights that brighten the night skies. But let me tell you that Fairbanks in Alaska is one of the top places to see the Northern Lights.
Fairbanks is located in the area around North Pole called Auroral Oval, and its continental climate allows for more clear nights than other places on the coast. In this area, the lights appear more often and are more vivid and mesmerizing than almost anywhere else. According to the Fairbanks Visitors Bureau, if you visit Fairbanks for at least three days between September and March, you have an 80 percent chance to witness the spectacular phenomenon.
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Make a visit to the Aurora Ice Museum. Located at Chena Hot Springs Resort outside of Fairbanks, the museum features ice carvings from some of the state’s most talented ice artists. There are ice crystal chandeliers that change colors to depict the Aurora Borealis. After the tour you can chill out in the Aurora Ice Bar. Those over 21 can enjoy an Appletini served in a glass made of ice.
When in Fairbanks, you should also visit the University of Alaska Museum of the North. The museum offers more than one million historical artifacts and natural history pieces. It takes through many ancient stories associated with Alaska. This museum puts on display Alaskan fine arts collection, archaeological discoveries from prehistoric periods, and artisanal articles that are still crafted and used by native people.
Apart from the northern lights, Fairbanks is the perfect base for epic adventures like exploring the Arctic, witnessing a dog sled race during the winter, taking a bush plane to a northern town, and so much more.
Lying in the Gulf of Alaska, Kodiak is the largest of the USA’s islands and is frequently called Alaska’s ‘Emerald Isle’. Kodiak is a renowned fishing destination that offers access to all five species of salmon along with halibut, rockfish, cod and trout.
Two thirds of the island is set aside as a wildlife refuge and it is home to as many as 3,000 of the largest grizzly bears in the world. The refuge is a diverse habitat that ranges from rugged mountains and alpine meadows to wetlands, spruce forest and grassland. It has no roads, so bear viewing is done as a day tour with an air charter operator.
Go for a whale watching tour near the island and get mesmerized by the largest mammal on the planet. Usually April is the main season for whale watching, as this is when Gray whales migrate North from their winter exile in Mexico back to the Bering Sea. But up until October/November you can easily spot whales in Kodiak Island.
You can hike up to Pillar Mountain for either sunset or sunrise. The mountain can be reached by car as well but the place is worth a hike. From here you can watch the waterplanes start in the morning and the impressive windmills that create power for Kodiak. You’ll overlook the harbour and the fishing boats coming back at noon. The views are stunning.
Kodiak Island is a place to visit for those who long for adventure. Ride through the mountainous terrains followed by a day off at river shores, catching fish.
Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “first city” due to its location at the southern tip of the Inside Passage. It is the first city you reach as you cruise north. You’ll see signs celebrating being the “First City in Alaska” and the “Salmon Capital of the World.”
Ketchikan is located on Revillagigedo Island in the Tongass National Forest, which is the largest forest in the US. Hiking in the national forest can offer wildlife sightings and unique terrain full of Sitka spruce, cedar, and waterfalls. One of the famous hiking trails is one to the top of nearby Deer Mountain. This 2.5-mile hike goes up 2,500 feet to the summit, providing excellent views of Ketchikan.
Learn about Totems and the Tlingit culture here. The Totem Bright State Park about 10 miles north of Ketchikan is in a beautiful setting. In 1938, the US Forest Services began a project to salvage, reconstruct, and create totem poles – a tradition that was dying out. Abandoned totem poles were restored or recreated and 15 poles were erected in Ketchikan Totem Bight State Historic Park which is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Misty Fjords National Monument about 20 miles from Ketchikan is another highlight of your trip. The 2.3 million acre park is stunning, with massive glacial cliffs and secluded bays. Living up to its name, the park is often foggy, with its peaks covered by clouds, giving it a mysterious ambiance.The best way to explore the region’s fjords is by kayak, as the narrow fjords are inaccessible to the larger cruise ships. You’ll have the chance to view some of the area’s wildlife, from killer whales and Dall porpoise in the water to black bear, moose, marten, wolf and mountain goats on land.
Walk through Creek Street and discover the colourful and quircky side of Alaska. With its brightly painted wooden houses renovated into restaurants, shops, and art galleries, Creek Street is one of the most visited places in Ketchikan today but it has a scandalous past. Creek Street was once home to 30 brothels frequented by the loggers and fishermen who worked in Ketchikan. But after protests from local church leaders and women’s groups, Ketchikan finally banned prostitution in 1953. The street became the town’s biggest tourist attraction and is also listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.