Alaska is an untamed and bountiful state. The icy mountain peaks seem tall enough to pierce the prismatic Northern Lights, which beautifully scar the night sky. From kayaking among glaciers and icebergs to getting cozy with bears, wolves, and moose on a wildlife expedition or taking a hike through a temperate ancient rainforest, any lover of nature will be in awe of what this state has to offer. And chances are, your visit will barely scratch the surface.
Though split into five regions — Southeastern, South-central, Southwestern, Interior and Arctic Alaska — most travelers only visit a handful of destinations within the state’s expansive territory. For a subarctic urban experience, Alaska’s two largest cities are Anchorage and Juneau. Anchorage, home to nearly 280,000 residents, is abuzz year-round with adventure, culture, seasonal festivities and outdoor sporting events. Check out Juneau, the state’s capital city, for some of the freshest seafood in the world, funky late-night brewpubs and countless galleries and exhibits shellacked with local, international and Native American artwork.
Adventure and ecotourism allow tourists to experience the exhilaration and unparalleled majesty of Alaska’s natural beauty. Considered to be the crowning jewel of this natural beauty is North America’s highest peak, Mt. McKinley. At home in Denali National Park, McKinley sits among 6 million acres of protected wilderness in which visitors and adventurers can tour, hike, climb, camp, photograph and raft through whitewater rapids. Arrive by helicopter and take a dogsled tour through the glaciers of Skagway in Alaska’s panhandle. Skim the wilderness in a bush plane and see Alaska from above as you glide over the Aleutian Islands or Arctic Circle.
The dining experience can be an important part of any traveler’s Alaskan vacation. Staples like Alaskan salmon, king crab, halibut, caribou, and moose are served in heaping portions at most any restaurant in the state. For a taste of some of the freshest seafood of the Pacific Northwest, Hangar on The Warf in Juneau is a local institution with an amazing waterfront location. Try Kincaid Grill of Anchorage for an upscale restaurant with a refined menu offering classics like smoked duck and giant red king crab. For international fair, inspired by local ingredients, check out Orso, which is also located in Anchorage and considered one of the best restaurants in the city.
Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in Anchorage is serviced by most major airlines and is the most widely used for Alaska travel. Fairbanks International and Juneau International airports are also used, but to a smaller extent. Many cities and villages are only accessible by plane or boat. Alaska Airlines offers frequent jet service for in-state travel, and serves several larger and smaller communities. The Alaska Marine Highway System consists of 8,000 miles of coastal routes that connect to 31 port communities throughout Southeast, South-central and Southwest Alaska. Taking a cruise is one of the best ways to experience the state. Cruise ships can bring travelers amazing close to glaciers and offer professionally guided off-boat excursions. Other modes of transportation within Alaska include buses, shuttles and trains. The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks to the North Pole, and is famous for its summertime passenger service.
Though it’s known for its legendary harsh winters, most travelers visit Alaska in the summer, when the temperatures are moderate and the days are long. Summer solstice brings about long days of 19 (in Anchorage) to 24 hours (in Barrow) of complete sunlight. Winter solstice has the same effect, bringing total darkness for almost a complete day. In the summer, the Inside Passage and Anchorage areas reach temperatures of 60 to 70°F and can get as cold at -30°F in the winter months. The Interior, including Fairbanks and Denali, often has summer temperatures that reach 90°F and winters in the bone-chilling -50°F range. The best time to visit Alaska is in the late spring to late summer months. For cruises, the season runs from May to mid-September.