The possibilities for fun and adventure in Alaska are endless. Below are some of the most popular tourist activities.
Get Up Close with Glaciers
Come see the truly ancient, enormous rivers of ice that sculpted Alaska's mountains and calving icebergs that hit the ocean with thunderous roars. How big are they? Often more than a mile wide and dozens of miles long. Alaska has so many glaciers that hundreds don't even have names.
- Glacier Day-cruise
- Simple glacier day hikes
- Kayaking in fjords
- Helicopter flightseeing
- View from the roadside
- Inside Passage/Gulf cruise
Take-Off for Flightseeing
Distinctively Alaskan, flightseeing by plane or helicopter is an ideal way to really feel the magnitude of Alaska. A variety of tours, excursions and charters are available, from 30-minute hops to full-day outings.
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the U.S.
- The Inside Passage for views of forests, islands, glaciers and whales
- Glacier-landing tours
- Tours of Denali from Talkeetna
Watch the Wildlife
If you want to see wildlife, Alaska is the place to visit. Bald eagles gather by the hundreds. Moose cause traffic jams. Wild Dall sheep skip along roadside cliffs. State and national wilderness lands blanket the map.
- Flightseeing trips that specialize in wildlife viewing by air
- Drive to or visit likely areas - especially wildlife refuges or national parks
- Guided wildlife tours by motorcoach or bus
- Guided tours that specialize in bear viewing, whale watching or bird watching
- Guaranteed viewing and self-guided tours
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Alaska SeaLife Center
- Anchorage Zoo
- Alaska Raptor Center
Get to Know Native Cultures
About 15 percent of Alaska's population is composed of distinct indigenous cultural groups, including Eskimo, Aleut, Indians and numerous subcultures. Alaska Natives are interested in sharing their cultural traditions with visitors. There are a number of venues that provide opportunities to interact with Native Alaskans, to learn about traditions, crafts, music and other cultural distinctions.
- Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage
- Take a guided tour to Barrow, site of the Inupiat Heritage Center
- Go to the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak
- Join a tour to Kotzebue, featuring the Museum of the Arctic and Culture Camp
- Tour the famous Totem exhibits in Ketchikan
Explore Russian America
By the time America bought the Alaska Territory (for about 2 cents an acre), Russians had been living here for over 120 years. Sitka was the capital of Russian-America and Alaska's first state capital. The Russians also had headquarters in Kodiak and outposts all along the coastline. The strength of Alaska's Russian heritage is still visible in the onion-shaped domes of Russian Orthodox churches that rise above many Alaskan towns.
- Visit museums with exhibits exploring Russia's role in the span of Alaskan history
- Join historical tours in towns and regions with strong Russian connections
- Walk among old Russian buildings, and learn about Russian and Native cultures at the Sitka National Historical Park
Visiting in winter will give you a distinctively Alaskan experience.
Activities that visitors often enjoy the most include:
- Watching the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
- Anchorage Fur Rendezvous
- Fairbanks World Ice Art Championships
- Snow shoeing
- Viewing the Northern Lights
- Dog sledding
- World-class downhill skiing, heli-skiing and cross-country skiing
- Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race
Explore the Wilderness
You can experience true Alaska wilderness during the day - and sleep in a warm comfortable bed at night. Guided trips and tours take you to a variety of remote (and not-so-remote) places, where you can enjoy almost any outdoor interest, from kayaking and river rafting, to fly fishing and bear watching.
- Consider day excursions if you don't have a lot of outdoor experience
- Try a wilderness lodge for remote adventure, combined with luxury accommodations
- Fly-out to a remote fishing lodge for a uniquely Alaskan experience
Catch Gold Fever
The lure of gold touched almost every corner of Alaska. Juneau is named for the prospector who started Alaska's first big gold rush. The towns of Skagway, Haines and Dyea offered gateways to the Klondike. Nome's golden sands beckoned tens of thousands.
- Join a ranger-guided walking tour through the restored buildings of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway
- Pan for gold in Juneau, Fairbanks, Girdwood and Nome
- Take a day-trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway to experience gold-rush era travel
- Pan for gold or find some of the 44 abandoned gold dredges in Nome
Alaska's 570,373 square miles is one-fifth the size of the continental U.S. and over twice the size of Texas.
Of the nation's 20 highest peaks, 17 are in Alaska. That includes the legendary Denali, the tallest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet.
Alaska has an estimated 100,000 glaciers, which cover almost five percent of the state. There are more active glaciers in Alaska than in the rest of the inhabited world.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline transports approximately .5 million barrels of oil a day from the North Slope to the port of Valdez in Prince William Sound. Oil moves at a rate of five to seven miles per hour and takes under six days to travel the 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to tankers in the port of Valdez.
Alaska has its own time zone, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Time. The westernmost Aleutian Islands are on Hawaii-Aleutian Time, two hours earlier than Pacific Time.
Alaska Marine Highway System
Alaskan ferries travel a route covering 3,500 miles and serving 30 Alaskan ports.
The largest known concentration of bald eagles, over 3,000, converges near Haines from October through January to feed on late run salmon in the Chilkat River.
Alaska has 3 million lakes, over 3,000 rivers and more coastline (47,300 miles) than the entire contiguous United States.
Alaska has 12 National Parks and Preserves, 16 Wildlife Refuges, 2 National Forests, 4 National Monuments, and 3.2 million acres of State Park lands.
Alaska is Affordable
A common misconception is that a trip to Alaska is expensive. This idea is likely a holdover from the boom-days when the trans-Alaska pipeline was under construction. Back then everything was in short supply - from housing to coffee - so naturally costs ran high. The same thing happened during the gold rush, when a pound of bacon cost 40 cents (that's about $10 in modern-day currency).
But today, Alaska has lower prices than many other places in the U.S. According to the national Consumer Price Index, Anchorage is a lot more affordable than San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Honolulu.
According to an annual AAA survey of vacation costs, Alaska is a less expensive destination than about one-fifth of the American states - an average of 22 percent less. In other words, Alaska is priced fairly near the middle.
Lodging and Dining Costs
Accommodations in peak season are typically $130 and up. Restaurants in Alaska charge similar prices as found in most major U.S. cities. Those numbers offer a good starting point for your budget planning. But you also need to consider your individual circumstances and whether meals are included as part of a tour package.
The average Alaskan visitor spends about $140 a day per person on lodging, meals, and activities - essentially everything except the cost of getting here and going home.
However, with a wide range of travel options, from luxury lodges to charming inns, from rustic cabins to backpacking, the cost of an Alaskan vacation can vary. Ultimately, the cost of your trip will be determined by your personal travel style and preferences.
Getting to-and-from your destination is often a large part of a vacation budget. The cost of getting to Alaska can vary widely, depending on your means of transportation. For example, transportation costs can be low, if you find a bargain airfare on the Internet. On the other hand, the cost of a package tour or cruise would include transportation - as well as lodging and meals, and might save money in the long run.
The Bottom Line
Research shows that you'll probably spend about the same as you've spent on past vacations that take you beyond your state borders. So whatever your budget, an unforgettable Alaskan experience really is within your reach!
Ways To Save
1. Check TravelAlaska.com for travel deals and specials
2. Search online for "Internet-only" specials
3. Consider traveling in the "shoulder seasons" of May and September
4. Take advantage of early booking discounts usually in January and February
5. Save on transportation costs by focusing your trip on one region
6. Ask about discounts for seniors and children
Alaska State Symbols
Tree: Sitka Spruce
Fish: King Salmon
Sport: Dog Mushing
Bird: Willow Ptarmigan
Insect: Four-Spot Skimmer Dragonfly
Motto: North to the Future
Song: The Alaska Flag Song
Nickname: The Great Land
Highest Point: Denali, 20,310 ft
State Flag: Eight stars of gold on a field of blue, representing the Big Dipper and the North Star
- Make your presence known; avoid surprises. Sing, talk, wear a bell. Avoid thick brush.
- Give bears plenty of room. Watch and photograph from a safe distance.
- Be on the watch for bear kills. A bear will defend its food. Detour areas where you see or smell dead animals or fish.
- Cook away from your tent. Keep a clean camp. Store your food in airtight containers away from the tent site.
- A bear standing on its hind legs usually only wants a better view and more information.
- On four legs, a bear may show agitation by swaying its head from side to side, making huffing noises, and clacking its teeth.
- Flattened ears and raised hairs on the back of the neck can be an indication of aggressive intent.
- If a bear runs with a stiff, bouncing gait, it may be false charging.
- Direct eye contact is often interpreted by a bear as a challenge or a threat.
- If you do encounter a bear at close distance, remain calm. Remember, bear attacks are rare.
- Identify Yourself. Talk to the bear in a normal voice.
- Wave your arms to help the bear recognize you as a human being.
- The bear may come closer or stand to get a better look or smell.
- Back away slowly in a diagonal direction, but if the bear follows, stop and hold your ground.
- Resist the urge to run. You cannot outrun a bear. Like dogs, a bear will instinctively chase a fleeing animal.
- Bears often make bluff charges within 10 feet.
- Continue to wave your arms and talk to the bear.
- If the bear gets too close, raise your voice and be more aggressive.
- Bang pots and pans.
- Never imitate bear sounds or make squealing noises.
- If a bear actually makes contact, fall to the ground and play dead.
- Lie flat on your stomach or curl up in a ball with your hands behind your neck.
- Remain motionless as long as possible.
- In rare instances, particularly with black bears, a bear may perceive a person as food.
- If the bear continues to bite long after you have assumed a defensive posture, fight back vigorously.
The following information is summarized from the bear viewing resources located on the Alaska Public Lands Information Center website at www.alaskacenters.gov/bears.cfm.
Polar bears, found in the Arctic regions of Alaska, are the most dangerous.
They fear nothing and anything that moves is a potential meal. There are approximately 4,000-6,000 of these predators ranging the pack-ice and coasts of northern Alaska.
Brown bears are big and powerful predators, but unlike polar bears they do not indiscriminately hunt anything that moves and are as likely to be found eating berries and grass as ground squirrels or moose. There are approximately 35,000-45,000 of these giants roaming throughout Alaska and they are the most sought after by bear viewers.
Black bears are the most numerous and the smallest of the bears and are found throughout Southeast, Southcentral and Interior Alaska. Numbering over 50,000, they are the ones you most likely will see in an urban setting. Black bears have even been seen wandering downtown Anchorage in search of food.
The point here is that you do not have to travel far to see bears in Alaska and as such, any outdoor activity needs to take bear safety into account. This in mind, it should be noted that bear attacks are very rare in Alaska because most bears (other than polar bears) do not consider humans as food and try to avoid human contact. With proper bear safety precautions, your experience in the outdoors should be a safe and rewarding adventure.
- Make your presence known; avoid surprises. Sing, talk, wear a bell. Avoid thick brush.
- Give bears plenty of room. Watch and photograph from a safe distance.--Be on the watch for bear kills. A bear will defend its food. Detour areas where you see or smell dead animals or fish.
- Cook away from your tent. Keep a clean camp. Store your food in airtight containers away from the tent site.
The following areas are known for their concentrations of bears and quality of bear viewing. In addition, many flightseeing and fly-in fishing companies will take you to undeveloped, incidental bear viewing areas.
To connect with more bear viewing resources and tours, visit Wildlife Viewing in Things to Do.
McNeil River State Game Sanctuary
What You See: Brown bears fishing for salmon and interacting with each other
Best Viewing Times: Mid-June (at Mikfik Creek) or July to mid-August (at McNeil River)
Location: Alaska Peninsula, southwest of Anchorage, adjacent to Katmai National Park
Access: By charter air service from Anchorage or Homer. There is no road access.
Management: Alaska Department of Fish & Game
Facilities: Primitive camping in designated camping area only. Four mile (6.4 km) round-trip hike to bear-viewing pad. Bring your own tent, sleeping bag and pad, hip boots, cookstove and cooking gear, clothes and food. Good physical condition is essential. Because of the hike and confinement to the viewing pad, traveling with children is not recommended. Pets are not allowed.
Reservations: Permits are required and awarded by lottery drawing. Applications are available in January each year. Applications must be postmarked by March 1st and received in the Sanctuary office no later than March 15th and must include a nonrefundable fee. Your name may only appear on one application. Applications must be mailed: they will not be accepted in person or by fax. Up to three persons may apply as a party. Winners of the lottery pay a user fee. Through the standard application, you can also apply for a standby permit, which allows access to the viewing pad if a regular permit holder decides to stay in camp, but access is not guaranteed.
McNeil River Sanctuary Manager
Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game
333 Raspberry Road
Anchorage, AK 99518-1599
Brooks Falls Katmai National Park
What You See: Brown bears fishing for salmon and interacting with each other
Best Viewing Times: Peaks in mid-July and again in September (prepare for cool, wet weather)
Location: Alaska Peninsula, southwest of Anchorage
Access: By commercial air service to King Salmon, then charter air service to Brooks Camp. There is no road access.
Management: National Park Service
Facilities: All visitors to Brooks Camp, including lodge guests, day visitors and campers, must pay a user fee. The National Park campground is about one mile (1.6 km) from Brooks Falls by trail. Backcountry users are not charged a day use fee. Reservations for both camping and day use must be made prior to your visit through the National Parks Reservation Service. From the U.S. or Canada, call 1-800-365-2267; outside those areas, call 1-301-722-1257; or reserve through www.reservations.nps.gov. Brooks Lodge, with private accommodations and food service, is about 1/2 mile (1 km) from Brooks Falls. Reservations are required for Brooks Lodge. For more information, contact Katmailand, Inc., at 1-800-544-0551 or (907) 243-5448
Katmai National Park
PO Box 7
King Salmon, AK 99613-0007
Pack Creek-Stan Price State Wildlife Sanctuary
What You See: Brown bears fishing for salmon and interacting with each other
Best Viewing Times: July and August
Location: Admiralty Island National Monument/Kootznoowoo
Access: By charter boat or floatplane from Juneau. There is no road access.
Management: This U.S. Forest Service area is co-managed with the Alaska Department of Fish & Game
Facilities: A bear-viewing tower is accessible by trail one mile (1.6 km) from the beach. The main bear-viewing area is on the creek bank about 1/2 mile (1 km) from the beach. This is a designated Wilderness Area. No camping is allowed in the viewing area. There are no overnight accommodations, developed campsites, outhouses, picnic tables or other facilities. Leave No Trace camping is allowed on nearby Windfall Island and Swan Island. You must have your own boat to camp on these islands.
Reservations: Advance reservations for permits are required between July 5 and August 25 when the number of persons allowed each day is limited. Half-price discounts are available for seniors and juniors. Applications, with attached check or money order, may be postmarked no sooner than February 20 (Feb. 10 from overseas). Permits are awarded on a 1st-come, 1st-served basis after March 1 and are for a 3-day maximum stay. From June 1-July 4 and August 26-September 10, permits are still required but do not require advance reservation. Pack Creek permits are available online through www.recreation.gov or by calling toll free 1-877-444-6777. Access permits must be obtained through this service provider or through one of the approved guiding companies.
Nearly 430 species of birds can be found in Alaska, including ducks, geese, swans and the millions of seabirds that nest in colonies along Alaska's coastlines. Some migratory birds travel up to 20,000 miles on their round-trip journeys to Alaska. The spring concentration of shorebirds is one of the most impressive wildlife sights in the world. Alaska truly is a birder's heaven.
May ushers in millions of birds to Alaska, and many communities celebrate with festivals that are designed to be both fun and educational, including Homer's Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival, Cordova's Copper River Delta Shorebird Festival, Tok's Upper Tanana Migratory Bird Festival and Anchorage's International Migratory Bird Day.
Alaska is also the best place in the United States to see our national symbol, the American Bald Eagle. The Chilkat River near Haines is home to over 3,000 bald eagles each fall when they arrive to feed on the late run of salmon.
For more information on bird viewing in Alaska, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.
Federal and State campgrounds are available throughout Alaska. A few even have electrical hookups and dumping stations.
For fee information contact the Alaska Public Lands Information Center at (907) 271-2737 or www.nps.gov/aplic/camping.htm.
Private campgrounds are also available throughout the state. Visit Places to Stay for more information private campgrounds. You can also contact the Alaska Campground Owner's Association, PO Box 111005, Anchorage, AK 99511-1005, or visit www.alaskacampgrounds.net.
A Southeast Alaska Inside Passage vacation would not be complete without learning about its fascinating Gold Rush history. While hiking either all or part of the Chilkoot Trail just outside of Skagway, visitors will literally find history at their feet. Hundreds of discouraged gold miners ditched their supplies as they gave up their dreams of Klondike gold and headed home. Old pick axes, wagon wheels, shovels and countless other items are found along the 33 mile trail. Less adventurous travelers can walk just part of the trail, while hardcore hikers will want to take on the once-in-a-lifetime trek.
You can get to Skagway by driving Highway 2 from Whitehorse in Canada or by taking a ferry or cruise into the town's port.
The Chilkoot Trail is administered by the U.S. National Park Service and Parks Canada as part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. A permit is required to hike both the U.S. and Canadian portions. The Park Service cautions that hikers must be properly equipped and prepared to be self-sufficient on this trail. Information on permits and fees, customs requirements, regulations, camping, weather, equipment and trail conditions are available from the Chilkoot Trail Center in Skagway at (907) 983-9234 or visit the National Park Service's Chilkoot Trail website at www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/chilkoottrail.htm. Visit Communities-Skagway to find more information and links to Skagway businesses.
Choose Your Season
Peak Season: Mid-May to Mid-September
This is when most of Alaska's visitors travel. The days are longest, and the temperatures are the warmest. Some activities or accommodations may only be available during this season.
Shoulder Seasons: Early May, Late September and October
There are fewer visitors in May, September and October. This is when you're likely to find discounts on travel and activities. The weather in the shoulder season is often very mild.
Winter: November to April
If you want to see the Northern Lights, go skiing or snowshoeing, attend Fur Rendezvous, watch ice carving competitions, or share the excitement of championship sled dog races... winter is the season for you.
Crossing the Border
As of January 2007, all persons traveling between the United States and Canada via air must have a valid passport. The Department of Homeland Security may also require passports for other modes of travel, including those traveling by land or sea. Please visit www.customs.gov for updated identification requirements in advance of your trip.
You can take your dog or cat through Canada with proof of a current rabies vaccination. Inquire ahead of your trip regarding permits for other animals or birds.
You cannot enter Canada if you have a criminal record (this includes DUIs).
As part of the United States, American currency is the standard. Communities closer to the Canadian border will accept Canadian or American currency and some local banks will exchange currency.
During the summer months, Alaska enjoys extended daylight hours throughout the state. The further north you travel, the more pronounced the difference. In Anchorage, for example, the sun rises at 4:30 a.m. and sets as late as 11:42 p.m. on the longest day. And in Barrow, the northernmost town in Alaska, the sun doesn't set for 84 days! This phenomenon is aptly called the "Midnight Sun."
During the winter, the sun moves lower across the horizon, giving the light a rich quality. While it's true that in Barrow there is no daylight for 64 days, places like Anchorage, on the shortest day in December, have 6 hours of daylight. From there, daylight begins to increase (up to 5 minutes a day) until it reaches 19 hours on summer solstice.
Visit the Sunrise/Sunset website for a detailed calendar for any city at www.sunrisesunset.com.
Disabled Visitor Services
Alaska offers a broad range of year-round vacation experiences for persons with disabilities.
For resources and referrals, visit the State of Alaska Department of Administration website at doa.alaska.gov/ada/.
For more information, visitors can also contact Access Alaska at (907) 248-4777, Challenge Alaska at (907) 344-7399, or Southeast Alaska Independent Living at 1-800-478-SAIL.
Alaska and Canada will honor a valid driver's license from any state or country for 90 days after entry.
Seat belts must be worn by all drivers and passengers while driving anywhere in Alaska.
All children under the age of four, regardless of weight, must ride in a federally approved child safety seat while traveling in Alaska. Children between the ages of five to seven under 4'9" and less than 65 lbs must be secured in a federally approved child safety seat or booster seat.
Please note when driving Alaska's highways, Alaska State law requires drivers on a two lane roadway outside of an urban area to safely pull over when there are five or more vehicles immediately behind.
You may carry firearms for protection or hunting in Alaska with proper permits.
Airline passengers must declare their firearms and check them as baggage.
Adults (18+) may take non-prohibited firearms into Canada for a lawful purpose. There are more restrictions on handguns than hunting rifles and shotguns.
Visitors must declare their firearms on a special form and pay a fee of $25 Canadian for up to seven in transit to Alaska.
For more information, visit the Canadian Firearms Center website or contact them at (800) 731-4000.
Unloaded rifles may be mailed to Alaska - if sent to a federal firearms licensee (be sure to check with the U.S. Postal Service for shipping requirements.
Mailing handguns or ammunition is prohibited. For further information, contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms at (907) 271-5701 or visit www.atf.gov.
Non-resident fishing licenses can be purchased just about anywhere from the corner grocery store to sometimes right on-board your charter vessel. You can even purchase your fishing license online.
Non-resident license fees are as follows:
1 day - $20
3 days - $35
7 days - $55
14 days - $80
Annual - $145
For more information, visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.
Getting Around Alaska by Air
Flying: Fast, Flexible
Scheduled Air Service
If you have a short time to spend in Alaska, fly between cities or take a pre-packaged tour. Most towns in Alaska have regularly scheduled air service, with connections from airlines based in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau. Alaska's airports follow the same security measures used at other U.S. airports, so always allow a little extra time.
Air Taxis and Charters
There are many good reasons to travel by small plane: a fly-out fishing experience, a visit to a Native community, access to a wilderness lodge, or the uniquely Alaskan activity of flightseeing. Helicopters are also widely used for flightseeing. "Bush plane" services are generally called air taxis or air charters. These small air carriers serve thousands of Alaskans and visitors every year. They know what trips to recommend and how to provide an unforgettable experience within your budget.
Getting Around Alaska by Ferry
Alaska Marine Highway System: Easygoing, Oceangoing
Sail point-to-point on the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) and trace hundreds of miles of breathtaking coastline. The entire AMHS network is a National Scenic Byway. For you, this designation means exceptionally spectacular scenery along all the routes, and rich cultural history in the port communities.
Designed for Alaska residents and with access to dozens of Alaskan communities, the ferry system is also a good choice for independent travelers. Bring your vehicle or bicycles, and when you arrive at a port, you're ready to go. You can also change your itinerary on the fly, adding stopovers at no extra charge.
Seniors can save up to half off regular fares, depending on the season and route.
Walk-on space is usually available - but vehicle spaces on most popular routes sell out in advance. As an option, consider renting cars at port destinations. There are also new, high-speed ferries available. Visit the Alaska Marine Highway System website at FerryAlaska.com for details.
Getting Around Alaska by Motorcoach
Motorcoach: From Casual to First-Class
A number of tour companies provide motorcoach services for visitors during the summer. Some companies focus on point-to-point transportation, while others specialize in day trips or longer excursions.
The terms to know are: bus, van and motorcoach. A bus or van is a smaller vehicle. A motorcoach is larger and comparatively luxurious, often with onboard facilities. The advantage of traveling by motorcoach is you don't need to worry about logistics or mapping out your route, and you are free to relax and enjoy the view.
Getting Around Alaska by Road
Driving: Take the Scenic Route
There are 9,241 miles of state and national highways in Alaska - and 1,382 miles that have earned the designation of "scenic byway." Mile-for-mile, Alaska has more scenic highways than any other state.
One of the great things about driving in Alaska is that you really can't get lost. For example, only two highways leave Anchorage, one going north, the other going south. Sooner or later, you're bound to arrive someplace wonderful.
And there's nothing especially difficult about driving in Alaska. Any valid U.S. or Canadian driver's license is honored here. Traffic laws are the same as in most other states. So if you feel comfortable driving at home, you'll feel comfortable driving here too.
Bring Your Own Vehicle
If you have time, drive one way and return using the Alaska Marine Highway System or ship your vehicle on Totem Ocean Trailer Express.
Rent a Car or RV
You can cover much of Alaska's road system in a standard rental car or RV. You don't need four-wheel drive to get around.
Getting Around Alaska by Train
Rail: Cover Distances in Comfort
The Alaska Railroad gracefully winds through indescribably beautiful landscapes - and since you're not driving, you can really enjoy the views. The rail corridor runs from Seward to Fairbanks, a distance of 500 miles. The train runs all year long, with seasonally adjusted schedules and routes. Railroad conductors and guides point out the highlights, offering commentary about scenery and wildlife along the way.
The route between Fairbanks and Anchorage includes a pass along the eastern flank of Denali National Park. To the south of Anchorage, at Whittier, you can connect with the State ferry system.
Alaska's Railroad offers unique, double-decker glass-domed cars that let you take full advantage of the scenery. Reservations can be made with the Alaska Railroad or through a variety of other cruise and/or tour companies.
The White Pass and Yukon Route
If you travel the Inside Passage, consider a trip on the narrow-gauge WP&YR. Built in 1898, at the height of the Klondike Gold Rush, this 110-mile private railway linked the port of Skagway to Whitehorse in the Yukon, giving prospectors access to the gold fields beyond. Today, the White Pass offers narrated excursions in traditional parlor cars, traveling the "Scenic Railway of the World." For more information on travel by train, see the Travel Within Alaska By Train section of this site.
Getting to Alaska by Air
Flying is Fastest
Flying to Alaska is as easy and affordable as flying to many familiar vacation spots. More than a dozen airlines have service to Alaska. Direct flights are available from a number of major cities.
The airports in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau are Alaska’s major ports of entry.
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the largest and most heavily trafficked airport in the state. Fairbanks is Alaska’s second-largest city and the chief transportation hub in the Interior region. Visitors can fly in and out of Fairbanks International Airport to destinations worldwide. Juneau is Alaska’s capital city, located in the Inside Passage.
The coastal communities of Southeast Alaska are accessible via Juneau International Airport. Jet service is also available from Seattle to the Inside Passage community of Ketchikan.
Jet flights from Seattle, Washington, take about two-and-a-half hours to reach Juneau, and three-and-a-half to four hours to Anchorage and Fairbanks. Alaska Airlines typically offers the most availability for travel to and within Alaska, and has partnerships with several smaller carriers for service between more rural communities in the state. Other communities with jet service in Alaska include Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Glacier Bay/Gustavus, Yakutat, Cordova, Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, Adak, King Salmon, Dillingham, Bethel, Nome, Kotzebue, Barrow and Prudhoe Bay.
Getting to Alaska by Cruise
Cruises are Convenient, All-Inclusive
Sail the world-famous Inside Passage aboard a ship that meets your personal needs, interests and budget. An Alaskan cruise is a convenient way to experience the best of Alaska; unpack just once and enjoy all-inclusive pricing on meals. The cruise line handles the logistics and details of travel, and partners with tour operators to offer add-on excursions and day tours (usually for an additional fee).
These are not "typical" cruises designed around shuffleboard and swimming pools. On an Alaskan cruise, the focus is on whales, bald eagles, Russian legacy, Gold Rush history, Native cultures and spectacular coastal scenery.
Large cruise lines and small specialty ship companies offer round-trip or one-way cruises to the Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska. Seattle, Washington or Vancouver, British Columbia are the major departure ports to cruise northbound. Southbound departures include the Alaskan ports of Juneau, Ketchikan, Seward, Skagway and Whittier.
The peak season for cruising to Alaska is May through September. Cruise packages can be purchased online, with a travel agent or directly with the cruise line.
Allow 4 days to reach Inside Passage destinations, or 7 days for cruises that reach ports around Prince William Sound (Seward, Whittier, Valdez). For cruiselines and agencies that book cruises, visit the Travel to Alaska By Sea section of this site.
Getting to Alaska by Ferry
The Alaska Marine Highway is Relaxed, Flexible
The state-owned ferry system is called a "Marine Highway" because it provides vital year-round transportation service for many Alaskan communities, and it sails through some truly breathtaking scenery.
Ferry trips can be round-trip or one-way, and travelers can board with or without a vehicle.
The ferry system services over 30 ports through the Inside Passage, Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands. Departures northbound leave from Bellingham, Washington and Prince Rupert, British Columbia. Tickets are affordable and the atmosphere is relaxed and informal.
Reservations can be made online at www.FerryAlaska.com or by phone at 1-800-642-0066. Make reservations early, especially for cabins.
Plan on 4 days to cruise the Inside Passage, and 7 days to reach Prince William Sound ports. Schedule extra days to take advantage of stopover privileges.
Getting to Alaska by Road
Driving offers Flexibility, Freedom
Some 50 years ago, the Alaska Highway (ALCAN) got a reputation as a rugged route for hearty travelers. Today the road is fully paved and modernized - only the scenery remains wild. Towns and traveler services (campgrounds, hotels, restaurants, service stations, etc.) appear at frequent intervals, giving travelers the freedom to drive at their own pace and stop anywhere along the way. The highway is open year-round; roads are clear in summer, and plowed and sanded in winter. Some businesses along the highway close for the winter.
The main access routes lead north from Seattle, Washington, and Great Falls, Montana.
Divide the drive into easy stages and reserve accommodations in advance during peak season.
If you are driving an RV, allow about 5 days for travel in each direction, plus time for travel in Alaska.
For more information on driving to Alaska or flying and renting an RV, please see Travel to Alaska By Road.
One of the most photographed scenes of an Alaskan vacation is the towering blue face
of a glacier. No wonder three of the top 10 most-visited attractions in the state are glaciers.
Of the 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, many are easily accessible by car, including Worthington Glacier
on the Richardson Highway, Matanuska Glacier on the Glenn Highway, Exit Glacier on the Seward Highway,
Portage Glacier on the Seward Highway and Mendenhall Glacier on Glacier Highway. You can also pack
numerous glaciers into a day with a boat tour of Glacier Bay National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound. Flightseeing trips over ice masses like Sargent Ice Field, Bagley Ice Field, Harding Ice Field and Juneau Ice Field allow you to experience the vastness of the glaciers from the air.
The greatest concentration of glaciers in Alaska is in the Alaska Range and in the coastal ranges where the annual precipitation is high. These ancient rivers of ice are always in motion. A glacier is formed when snowfall accumulates and compacts under pressure into a dense ice mass. Most glaciers refract all colors of the spectrum except blue, causing them to appear deep blue.
There are three different types of glaciers: Alpine or hanging glaciers, which cling to mountain tops; piedmont or valley glaciers, which result when one or more glaciers join and spread out; and tidewater glaciers, which are dramatic and spectacular when the leading edges of the glaciers calve (fall off) into the water. Some Alaskans have even been known to use the icebergs floating in front of tidewater glaciers in their coolers or as a crackling cube in a cocktail.
To connect with Alaska businesses that specialize in glacier tours, visit Day Cruises and Multi-Day Cruises are where you will find tours to tide-water glaciers. Check out Flightseeing for glacier viewing by air. You will also find some glacier viewing under Sightseeing and Adventure & Ecotourism for glacier raft and kayaking trips.
Traditional golfers will find well-maintained courses in incredibly scenic surroundings across the state including Fairbanks, Denali, Anchorage, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Soldotna, Kenai and Wrangell.
Many courses boast a healthy wildlife population - moose, fox and sandhill cranes have been known to cross the fairways and have often been accused of "slow play."
For a complete list of Alaska golf courses, go to www.AlaskaGolfLinks.com.
Homer fishermen call them "barn door" halibut because of their huge size. Of course, not every angler who visits Alaska will catch the big one, but respectable halibut are definitely here for the taking from Alaska's cold waters.
Charter a boat out of Homer, Deep Creek, Dutch Harbor, Seward or many places along the Inside Passage to the best fishing spots where the delectable white fish lurks below.
To connect with Alaska businesses, visit the Sportfishing section of this site.
Historic Mining Towns
Alaska has always attracted fortune-seekers and frontiersmen, as it did a century ago when thousands of prospectors stampeded north to Alaska in search of their fortunes. These adventurous pioneers left a trail of history in the form of abandoned mining towns, trails and larger-than-life legends. In just one year, 1897-98, over 60,000 adventurers made their way north to the rich gold fields of the Klondike. Today you can hike the famous Chilkoot trail, or visit the towns of Skagway or Dawson City and travel back in time.
The Klondike was not the only gold strike luring fortune seekers north. Juneau, Nome, Fairbanks, Sitka and many other communities have remnants of a gold mining past. Panning for gold is a popular activity when visiting these communities. The vast resources of Alaska have lured entrepreneurs to Alaska for its deposits of minerals and ores.
Early in the century one of the world's largest copper discoveries was made along the Chitina River in what is now Wrangell-St.Elias National Park. Now the largest ghost town in the world, Kennecott was once home to over 500 workers and their families. When the mine closed in 1938, everyone walked away, leaving behind a large-scale mining operation and dozens of supporting buildings and homes.
Highlights, Relics & Historic Buildings
Coldfoot – See the old cemetery. The visitor center has exhibits on mining in the area.
Nome – A few Gold Rush era buildings remain, including the Discovery Saloon and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. See mining equipment around town and at the city museum. The discovery sites on Anvil and Snow Creeks are just outside of town.
Wiseman – Many charming log cabins remain, the Wiseman Trading Company has photographs and mining artifacts.
Dyea – Dock pilings and the cemetery for victims of an avalanche at Chilkoot Pass are among the remains of the town that was at the base of the Chilkoot Trail.
Haines – Visitors can stay in buildings of Fort Seward, the last of the six posts established by the army to maintain order during the Gold Rush.
Juneau – Many Gold Rush homes, businesses and mine buildings remain, including the remnants of the Alaska-Juneau Mining Company and the great Treadwell Mines.
Ketchikan – See Gold Rush exhibits at the museum, visit Creek Street, the old town’s infamous red light district.
Sitka – The seat of government until 1906. Gold was discovered here in 1871. The museum has Gold Rush exhibits.
Skagway – Visitors can ride the White Pass & Yukon narrow gauge railway to the summit of White Pass. Many buildings from the Gold Rush era, some restored, remain in this National Historical Park.
Wrangell – Gold was discovered here in 1861. Supply town for prospectors heading to Cassiar, museum has Gold Rush exhibit.
Central – See the area’s only surviving roadhouse and a mining museum.
Chicken – Log cabins and the schoolhouse featured in the book “Tisha” still stand.
Circle Hot Springs – Many miners went to the hot springs to relax.
Delta Junction – Rika’s Roadhouse is part of Big Delta State Historical Park.
Eagle – A number of buildings remain, including Fort Egbert, the courthouse and water house. The historical society has tours and many exhibits.
Fairbanks – Mining relics include the Chena Pump House, Ester Camp, Chatanika Camp, Gold Dredge No. 8, and the Davidson Ditch. The University of Alaska Museum has mining exhibits, including a spectacular gold case.
Kantishna – Gold mining in the area started in 1905 and continues today. Stay at a roadhouse and explore the remains of cabins, equipment and mines in the area.
Livengood – Some buildings remain in this ghost town.
Manley Hot Springs – The Gold Rush era lodge and hot springs are still in operation today.
Ruby – This Gold Rush town continues to serve gold miners today. Stay at the historic roadhouse and view displays of mining artifacts and photographs.
Stevens Village – Visit the wood yard, where wood was cut to supply the Gold Rush steamboat traffic on the Yukon River.
Tolovana – Stay at the restored roadhouse between Fairbanks and Manley Hot Springs.
Anchorage – The Anchorage Museum of History and Art and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center have exhibits on mining. The museum also has a collection of Gold Rush paintings
Chitina – Living ghost town, several mining era buildings remain. Learn about mining at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Visitor Center.
Girdwood – Tour mine buildings and pan for gold at Crow Creek Mine. Indian Valley Mine, west of Girdwood, is open for visitors.
Hope – Gold Rush buildings include the log community hall; there is a mining history museum.
Independence Mine – State Historical Park, tour mine building, study exhibits in the Manager’s House and Assay Office, hike to the underground mine entrances.
Kennicott – Stay at a lodge and see the buildings of the Kennecott Copper Mine and company town.
McCarthy – Copper miners came to McCarthy for recreation. There are historic buildings, lodging and a small museum.
Nabesna – Almost all the buildings still stand at the mine established in 1929.
Seward – This was the southern end of Iditarod Trail, the museum has mining exhibits and a park with Iditarod trail display.
Talkeetna – Visitors can see log cabins, stores, Talkeetna Roadhouse, Fairview Inn and a museum with mining memorabilia.
Valdez – Learn about the Valdez Glacier Trail, Trans-Alaska Military Road and mining in the area at the city museum.
Flat – Gold Rush relics include mining equipment, buildings and houses.
Iditarod – A ghost town, it was a supply center on the Iditarod Trail.
Russian whalers and fur traders established the first white settlement in Alaska in 1784 on Kodiak Island and later named it Sitka.
Much of the Russian influence still remains in Southwest and Inside Passage communities today. In 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward offered Russian $7,200,000, or two cents per acre, for Alaska. Many Americans called the purchase "Seward's Folly" and considered it a waste of money. But it wasn't long before gold was discovered, triggering several prospector stampedes north.
After the gold rush and during the depression era, most of America was preoccupied and thought very little of the vast Alaska territory. But during World War II, Alaska again became a valuable asset as a strategic staging area in the North Pacific. On June 3, 1942, the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and proceeded to occupy the islands of Attu and Kiska. The yearlong war on American soil was just as much a war against the harsh weather as it was against the enemy. During this time the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built the Alaska Highway in only eight months to supply a land route for military equipment and supplies.
Alaska became the 49th state on January 3, 1959, creating the largest state in the union (more than twice the size of Texas). The nation again recognized the assets in this young state when oil was discovered and confirmed in 1968 at Prudhoe Bay, North America's largest oil field. Today, Alaska is treasured for it's breathtaking beauty and vast supply of natural resources.
For more information please visit the Arts, Culture and History section of this site.
Hunting in Alaska provides the full range of experiences from mountain goats and deer to caribou and bear. It's famous for its huge moose, vast caribou herds, brown bears, Dall sheep, mountain goats and Sitka black-tailed deer.
For many residents of the 49th state, hunting for food is a vital part of their lifestyle and emphasizes self-sufficiency and sustainable use. To preserve this exceptional environment for future generations, hunting regulations are strictly enforced.
If you do plan to hunt during your visit to Alaska, please be sure you understand all the guidelines before you leave home. Hunting regulations and a wealth of other information are available from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Wildlife Conservation. For more information, visit their website at www.adfg.alaska.gov.
Dog mushing is Alaska's official sport, and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race held every March is the longest, toughest test of a professional musher's endurance. You don't have to own a sled to check out the trails traversed by the mushers and their fleet of dogs.
Drive down Joe Reddington Road in Wasilla to see Iditarod Trail Headquarters. You can stroll the famous trail or even take a sled ride with any number of tour operators offering summer and winter trips.
Visit the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race website for more information.
Kenai River Salmon
What Kodiak is to bears, the Kenai River is to salmon...home to the largest salmon in the world. In fact, the Kenai offers anglers all five species of salmon, and anyone can access it by making sure to buy a fishing license, driving to the Kenai Peninsula and casting a line into its distinctive green-blue waters. Guided charters are also available along the length of the river.
Sportfishing Businesses located on the Kenai Peninsula include Kenai, Soldotna, Cooper Landing and Sterling.
For the history buff, Kennecott Mine is a must. The mine is located off the McCarthy Road and lies within Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
Perched on the side of Bonanza Ridge next to Kennicott Glacier, the mill town was built by Kennecott Copper Corporation in 1907. An early-day misspelling made the mining company Kennecott, while the region, river and settlement are Kennicott. When the copper market died down in 1938, the company essentially abandoned the site, leaving it as a virtual ghost town. Tours into some of the historic red buildings are available through private operators. See the community page for Kennicott/McCarthy for more information.
Kodiak Brown Bears
is home to world-famous brown bears. Known for their huge size and large numbers, sighting a Kodiak brownie is the highlight of more than one traveler's trip to Alaska. Visitors craving views of the big beasts can take the state ferry to Kodiak, catch a scheduled jet or hop on one of many privately operated bear-viewing tours.
Kodiak Bear Facts
– Kodiak bears live exclusively on the islands in the Kodiak Archipelago.
There are about 3,000 Kodiak bears; a density of about 0.7 bears per square mile.
– Kodiak bear populations are healthy and productive. They enjoy relatively pristine habitat and well managed fish populations. In most areas the number of bears is stable, but there are some places where bear density is increasing.
– Male bears are called boars, females are sows and youngsters are cubs.
– Kodiak bears are the largest brown bears in the world. A large male can stand over 10' tall when on his hind legs, and 5' when on all four legs. They weigh up to 1,500 pounds. Females are about 20% smaller, and 30% lighter than males.
– The oldest known wild Kodiak bear was a 34-year-old sow. The oldest boar was 27.
– Cubs are born in the den during January or February. Weighing less than a pound at birth with little hair and closed eyes, they suckle for several months, emerging from the den in May or June, weighing 15-20 pounds.
Typical litter sizes are 2-3 cubs. Sows are sometimes seen with 5 or 6 cubs in tow, probably due to adopting cubs from other litters.
Most cubs stay with their mothers for 3 years. Over 25% of the cubs die before they leave, with cannibalism by adult males being one of the major causes of death.
– Bears that have recently left their mothers, at ages 3-5, have a high mortality rate as they face the world on their own. Some of these subadults are the "juvenile delinquents" of bear society and are also the ones most likely to cause problems with people.
– Kodiak bears become sexually mature at age 5 and can continue to produce cubs throughout their lives. The average interval between litters is about 4 years.
Kodiak bears begin entering their dens in late October. Pregnant sows are the first to go to dens, males are the last. Males begin emerging from their dens in early April, while sows with new cubs may stay in dens until late June. Some males may forego denning, staying awake all winter.
– Researchers from NASA and the medical professions are very interested in denning physiology. They are trying to figure out how bears can sleep for up to 8 months without eating, drinking, urinating or defecating, yet when they awaken they have lost little bone mass or muscle tone and have no signs of uremia. Understanding this could help astronauts during extended space flights or patients who are bedridden.
– Though Kodiak bears are often touted as the world's largest land carnivore (meat eaters), they are really omnivores (using a variety of foods). They actually spend more time eating grass, plants and berries than meat. Fish are an important part of their diets, but few Kodiak bears expend the time or effort necessary to chase and kill mammals.
Bears use the most nutritious parts of their food to maximize their weight gain. Grass and folage are only eaten while they are rapidly growing in the spring and early summer. Brains, flesh and eggs are preferred parts of the salmon. Internal organs of deer, elk and cattle are eaten first when one is killed or scavenged. Berries are used most often when they are ripe and sugars are at their highest level.
– Bears are naturally diurnal (active during the day), but when faced with competition for food or space, they adopt a more nocturnal (active at night) life style.
– Bears do not defend territories, but they do have traditional areas that they use each year (home ranges). Because of the rich variety of foods available on Kodiak, bears here have some of the smallest home ranges of any brown bear population.
– Mating season for Kodiak bears is during May and June. They are serially monogamous (having one partner at a time), staying together for a couple days or a couple weeks. As soon as the egg is fertilized and divides a few times, it enters a state of suspended animation until autumn when it finally implants on the uterine wall and begins to grow again.
– Although generally solitary in nature, Kodiak bears often occur in large groups in concentrated feeding areas. Because of this, they have developed a complex language and social structure to express their feelings and avoid fights.
– Traditionally, Kodiak Natives (Alutiiqs) hunted bears for food, clothing and tools. Arrows, spears and a great deal of courage were required hunting equipment. Bear heads were usually left in the field as a sign of respect to the spirit of the bears.
– Kodiak bears were commercially hunted throughout the 1800s with the price paid for a bear hide being comparable to that paid for a beaver of river otter pelt (about $10).
– Bears and cattle ranchers have waged an ongoing battle for the past 200 years. Original Russian settlers were encouraged to bring large aggressive dogs to protect cattle from bears. As early as the 1930s, biologists and ranchers were exploring ways to reduce the number of cattle killed by bears. At one point bears where shot from airplanes, and a 9-foot high bear fence was proposed to bisect Kodiak Island and create a "bear-free-zone." All active efforts at bear control in Kodiak ended in the mid-1960s.
Concern over reduced bear populations prompted sportsmen to petition the Federal government to protect bears and their habitat on Kodiak. The results of their efforts were stricter regulations and creation of Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge in 1941.
– Today, hunters kill about 160 Kodiak bears each year under tightly controlled regulations. About 5,000 resident bear hunters apply each year for a chance at the 319 bear permits that are available for them. Hunters who are not residents of Alaska must hire a professional guide, paying $10,000-$15,000 per hunt. Over 70% of the Kodiak bears killed by hunters are males.
Only one person has been killed by a bear on Kodiak in the past 75 years. About once every other year a bear injures a person.
– Kodiak bear research, management and habitat protection is done cooperatively by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game and Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.
is the largest city in terms of population, with more than 254,000 residents. Fairbanks is the second largest with roughly 32,000 residents. In terms of total area, Sitka is the largest with 4,710 square miles, with Juneau being second largest with 3,108 square miles.
To connect with Alaska communities, visit the Communities section of the site.
Made in Alaska
Wherever you go the Great Land, you'll find unique, authentic Alaskan products and crafts.
These can include:
– Gold nugget jewelry and items carved from ivory and jade
– Handmade clothing and toys
– Collectors items made from animal skins, fur or bone
– Woven baskets of beach grass, bark or baleen
– Alaskan delicacies - canned and smoked salmon, wild berry products and reindeer sausage
– Native seal oil candles, beaded mittens, fur mukluks and miniature hand-carved totem poles
– Be sure to look for the "Made in Alaska" logo, which indicates an item genuinely manufactured in Alaska. If you find a silver hand logo, it identifies the item as a Native Alaskan handicraft.
– Handcrafted items made of walrus ivory and other by-products of subsistence hunting provide an income source for Native Alaskan artisans and a valuable investment for the buyer. Be careful though - some wildlife products cannot be transported through customs without special permits. Visitors are advised to mail these souvenirs home to avoid confusion at the border.
You will need to make as many pre-arrangements as possible for a trip to Alaska.
Hotel and rental cars can be expensive and hard to find if you wait too long. So you'll definitely want to reserve these ahead of time.
On tours, you will want to use sensible judgement. Tours that have limited space should be reserved ahead of time. Activities that are offered several times daily can probably be booked closer to travel.
Check with the tour company when you inquire for information about their reservation policies.
Much like wilderness areas in other parts of the U.S., Alaska has its share of pesky insects. Mosquitoes are perhaps the most widespread and persistent of insects in Alaska, occurring in Alaska's many miles of swampy tundra and lakes from early spring into the fall.
Mosquitoes are generally active in the early morning and at dusk and most bothersome in areas with stagnant water and little or no breeze. You can't plan your summer vacation around the mosquito, but they are easily dealt with. Every corner store, supermarket and outdoor center will have a good selection of bug repellent; be sure to keep some on hand.
Alaska's intriguing history is closely intertwined with that of the people who settled here thousands of years ago. Their diverse culture bears imprints of every group that has made Alaska its home, from the first Ice Age nomads to Russian fur traders to the gold miners who came to seek their fortunes.
Today, Native Alaskans comprise almost 16 percent of Alaska's population. These indigenous people interweave today's modern lifestyle with their own cultural threads and spiritual beliefs, preserving the gifts of tradition for the coming generations. Alaska Natives speak several different languages and dialects and practice lifestyles tailored to the resources of their home region. There are many cultural facilities in Alaska where one can listen to stories told by Native elders, learn how totem poles are crafted and participate in an Eskimo blanket toss.
Each region of the state has one or more centers that feature displays and hands-on exhibits of Native culture and arts and crafts.
To get a closer look at Alaska Native culture and this important lifestyle, many villages offer packages to their remote communities to visit, enjoy local foods, take in arts and crafts demonstrations and learn more about the people who first inhabited this vast land. From traditional music and dance to beautiful Native art, there are many opportunities and venues for Alaska visitors to experience an integral part of Alaska's culture and history. For more information, see the Arts, Culture and History section this site.
It doesn't take much imagination to figure out why this is a "can't miss" for travelers to the North.
The community of North Pole is located just south of Fairbanks in Interior Alaska. Visitors usually stop and take a picture with the giant Santa Claus and have their Christmas cards postmarked "North Pole." During the Christmas season, the local post office is besieged with letters to Santa from children all over the world.
There is more to North Pole than Santa Claus, however. Visitors should take time to explore Chena Lake Recreation Area for boating and swimming.
The specialized gear you will need to bring will be minimal.
As a general rule, you need to dress in layers when you come to Alaska.
And don't forget your sunglasses! Even in wintertime, Alaska can have bright sunlight. Compounded with the snow it can be almost blinding.
Any specialized gear needed for a tour will most likely be provided by the tour company.
Other items to be sure to bring along are a camera and binoculars.
Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound, the northern extent of the Gulf of Alaska, rivals the Inside Passage for the steepest fjords and the most spectacular coastlines and glaciers. The Sound is a marvelous wilderness area of islands, inlets, fjords, lush rainforests and towering mountains.
Flanked to the west by the Kenai Mountains and to the north and east by the Chugach Mountians, Prince William Sound covers 15,000 square-miles and has abundant wildlife, including whales, sea lions, harbor seals, otters, eagles, dall sheep, mountain goats and bears.
At center stage of Prince William Sound is the Columbia Glacier. The bluish wall of ice, named after New York's Columbia University, is one of the most spectacular tidewater glaciers on the Alaskan coast, as it covers 440 sq. miles. The glacier's face is three miles wide and in some places 262 feet high. When passing the glacier by boat, the stunning scene includes hundreds of seals sunning on the ice pack, a backdrop of mountains and usually the thunder of ice calving off its face.
There are countless other glaciers in the Sound and the best access is from Whittier, Valdez or Cordova. Board the state ferry or private day excursion boats in any of these communities for up close and personal views of these magnificent rivers of ice.
Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan operate public transportation systems.
Driving in the Last Frontier is unlike driving anyplace else in the country. Spectacular views, majestic lakes and rivers, towering mountains, glaciers, wildflowers and wildlife are all an exciting part of the Alaska Driving experience. Whether you drive your own vehicle or rent a car or RV, you'll have a truly unforgettable vacation.
The following routes have earned the designation of Alaska's "scenic byway," meaning they possess significant natural, historic, recreational, cultural and/or archaeological resources. Enhance your Alaska vacation by exploring any of Alaska's scenic byways.
Alaska also has two National Scenic Byways. It also has one All American Road, the Seward Highway, one of the top scenic roads in the U.S.
– Alaska Marine Highway: National Scenic Byway
– Alaska Railroad
– Dalton Highway
– Glenn Highway: National Scenic Byway
– Seward Highway: All American Road
– Parks Highway
– Richardson Highway
– Steese Highway
– Sterling Highway: Wye to Skilak Lake
– Sterling Highway: Anchor Point to Homer
– Taylor "Top of the World" Highway
For more information visit the Traveling Within Alaska section of this site, or the Department of Transportation's page on Alaska's Scenic Byways at www.dot.state.ak.us/stwdplng/scenic.
Inquire with the place you'll be staying in Alaska. Most places that have sportfishing available for visitors will have refrigeration and processing facilities nearby.
Those same processors usually sell commercially caught seafood as well. It can be packed and sent to your home for a fee.
For the angler, Alaska offers some of the most diverse and incredible fishing opportunities in the world. It can be as easy as pulling off to the side of the road and dropping a line into a roadside river or chartering a boat to help you reel in one of Alaska's enormous halibut. Fly-in fishing, boat charters, luxury wilderness lodges and fish camps offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences for anglers.In all, more than 386 fish species inhabit Alaska's salt and fresh waters, including all five species of Pacific Salmon: King (chinook), red (sockeye), silver (coho), chum (dog) and pink (humpback). Rivers, lakes and streams throughout the state offer the chance to hook trout - rainbows, cutthroats and steelhead, challenging Arctic grayling and sheefish, or even the feisty Dolly Varden.Alaska is an angler's paradise. You could even come away with a world record; the Alaska record for King salmon was set by a fish weighing over 97 pounds. However, before you drop that line in the water, be sure you know the state's fishing regulations. A complete guide to freshwater and saltwater fishing regulations is available from Alaska Department of Fish and GameSpecial license stamps are required for King salmon - these stamps are available at local sporting goods stores.Go to the Sportfishing area of the site for more information and to connect with businesses.
Possibilities - this is not a complete list - only a starting point.Get Up Close With Glaciers. Come see the truly ancient, enormous rivers of ice that sculpted Alaska's mountains and calving icebergs that hit the ocean with thunderous roars. How big are they? Often more than a mile wide and dozens of miles long. Alaska has so many glaciers that hundreds don't even have names.Opportunities:--Day-cruise--Simple glacier day hikes--Kayaking in fjords--Helicopter flightseeing--View from the roadside--Inside Passage/Gulf cruise Take Off for Flightseeing. Distinctively Alaskan, flightseeing by plane or helilcopter is an ideal way to really feel the magnitude of Alaska. A variety of tours, excursions and charters are available, from 30-minute hops to full-day outings.Opportunities--Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the U.S.--The Inside Passage for views of forests, islands, glaciers, and sometimes whales--Glacier-landing tours--Tours of Denali from TalkeetnaWatch the Wildlife. If you want to see wildlife, Alaska is the place to visit. Bald eagles gather by the hundreds. Moose cause traffic jams. Wild Dall sheep skip along roadside cliffs. State and national wilderness lands blanket the map.Opportunities--Flightseeing trips that specialize in wildlife viewing by air--Drive to or visit likely areas - espeically wildlife refuges or national parks--Guided wildlife tours by motorcoach or bus--Guided tours that specialize in bear viewing, whale watching or bird watching--Guaranteed viewing and self-guided tours--Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center--Alaska SeaLife Center--Anchorage Zoo--Alaska Raptor Center. Get to Know Native Cultures. About 15 percent of Alaska's population is composed of distinct indigenous cultural groups, including Eskimo, Aleut, Indians, and numerous subcultures. Alaska Natives are interested in sharing their cultural traditions with visitors. There are a number of venues that provide opportunities to interact with Native Alaskans, to learn about traditions, crafts, music and other cultural distinctions.Opportunities--Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, a "living Museum" in Anchorage--Take a guided tour to Barrow, site of the Inupiat Heritage Center--Go to the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository in Kodiak--Join a tour to Kotzebue, featuring the Museum of the Arctic and Culture Camp--Tour the famous Totem exhibits in KetchikanExplore Russian America. By the time America bought the Alaska Territory (for about 2 cents an acre), Russians had been living here for over 120 years. Sitka was the capital of Russian-America, and Alaska's first state capital. The Russians also had headquarters in Kodiak and outposts all along the coastline. The strength of Alaska's Russian heritage is still visible in the onion-shaped domes of Russian Orthodox churches that rise above many Alaskan towns.Opportunities--Visit museums with exhibits exploring Russia's role in the span of Alaskan history--Join historical tours in towns and regions with strong Russian connections--Walk among old Russian buildings, and learn about Russian and Native cultures at the Sitka National Historical Park. Explore the Wilderness - You can experience true Alaska wilderness during the day - and sleep in a warm comfortable bed at night. Guided trips and tours take you to a variety of remote (and not-so-remote) places, where you can enjoy almost any outdoor interest, from kayaking and river rafting, to fly fishing and bear watching.Opportunities--Consider day excursions if you don't have a lot of outdoor experience--Try a wilderness lodge for remote adventure, combined with luxury accommodations--Fly-out to a remote fishing lodge for a uniquely Alaskan experience. Catch Gold Fever - The lure of gold touched almost every corner of Alaska. Juneau is named for the prospector who started Alaska's first big gold rush. The towns of Skagway, Haines, and Dyea offered gateways to the Klondike. Nome's golden sands beckoned tens of thousands.Opportunities--Join a ranger-guided walking tour through the restored buildings of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway--Pan for gold in Juneau, Fairbanks, Girdwood and Nome--Take a day-trip on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway to experience gold-rush era travel--Pan for gold or find some of the 44 abandoned gold dredges in Nome. Other Possibilities. Reserve a Forest Service cabin and camp for the weekend
Plan a personalized outdoor adventure with the Alaska Public Lands Information Center
Drive the highways of the state, including several scenic byways, for the ultimate road trip
Take the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry from port to port
Explore the National and State Parks located throughout the state
Be on the lookout for wildlife, including eagles, moose, whales, bears, Dall Sheep, caribou, lynx, musk oxen and mountain goats
For complete temperature, climate and weather information for all regions of Alaska visit the Climate & Weather area of the site.
Things To Remember
Alaska's largest towns and cities have major medical facilities, full banking services and other traveler conveniences.
The electic current is standard U.S. 110-115V, 60 AC.
Alaska observes all major U.S. holidays, as well as Seward's Day on the last Monday in March and Alaska Day on October 18.
Almost all of Alaska is in the Alaska Time Zone, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Time. The western most Aleutian Islands and St. Lawrence Island are on Hawaiian-Aleutian Time.
Beginning in Ketchikan and extending north throughout many of the Southeast Alaska Inside Passage communities, totemic art can be found in galleries and ancient totems tower among the trees and rest in museums.Sitka is home to Sitka National Historic Park, which boasts a collection of totems near the visitor center and along the walking trail. The pieces, primarily from Prince of Wales Island, were on display at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.Ketchikan> has the Totem Heritage Center, which houses 33 totems retrieved from deserted Tlingit and Haida Villages. The Center is a national landmark and is the largest such collection in the United States. To get to either of these destinations, drive north to Prince Rupert, British Columbia and catch the Alaska state ferry, take a cruise ship shore excursion or fly via scheduled jet service.Visit the Inside Passage area of the site for more information and to connect with Alaska businesses.
Astronauts say they can see it from space, but visitors to Alaska don't have to go that far to see one of engineering's modern marvels, the Trans-Alaska Pipelline. Winding from the Arctic region of Prudhoe Bay to the ice-free port of Valdez, the pipeline is visible near Fairbanks, Glennallen, Delta Junction, Valdez and along the Dalton Highway. The Dalton, which is known in Alaska at the North Slope Haul Road, is a 414-mile road built during construction of the pipeline to provide access to remote construction camps. The highway begins at milepost 73.1 on the Elliott Highway north of Fairbanks and ends at Deadhorse. Permits are no longer required to drive the gravel highway. Services are very limited and are only available at milepost 56 and milepost 175 at Coldfoot. Travelers should be prepared to drive slowly as the gravel road is very rough. There are four designated campgrounds along the Dalton Highway, and several informal campsites.
Lake Hood, located in Anchorage, is the world's busiest floatplane base. It averages 800 takeoffs and landings on a peak summer day.
The state's record snowfall in a single season was recorded at Thompson Pass north of Valdez in 1952-53 at 974.5 inches.
The nation's two largest national forests are located in Alaska. The Tongass in Southeast includes 16.8 million acres, and the Chugach in Southcentral has 4.8 million acres.
There are more than 3 million lakes in Alaska. Lake Illiamna in Southwest Alaska is the second largest freshwater lake in the U.S.
The 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline has transported over 13 billion barrels of oil from the North Slope to the port of Valdez in Prince William Sound since its completion on May 31, 1977. Oil moves at a rate of 5.5 miles per hour and takes under six days to travel to tankers in the port of Valdez.
Alaska is home to 80 percent of all the active volcanoes in the U.S.
Dutch Harbor/Unalaska is the number one producing commercial fishing port in the nation.
Alaska has 12 species of big game, including moose, caribou, black bear, Dall sheep, musk ox, wolverine, brown bear, wolf, mountain goat, black-tailed deer and elk.
The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was 100 degrees F at Fort Yukon in 1915, and the lowest recorded temperature was -80 degrees F at Prospect Creek Camp in 1971.
If you have a week you have enough time for a thrilling, memorable Alaskan vacation. Almost any itinerary (see Sample Trips) can be adapted to match the amount of time you have. And with a wide variety of activities and tours to choose from, planning your perfect itinerary is easy. Here are some possible foundations for your travel plans.7 days--Fly to and from Alaska and spend most of your time exploring/experiencing.--Focus on one area of the state and take a variety of shorter excursions around that area.--Rent a car or RV and discover Alaska's unique roadside communities. You'll get a change to meet friendly people, see wildlife, and view unforgettable scenery. Stop where you want, for as long as you want.7 to 14 days--Fly round-trip to Alaska, or fly one way and take a cruise ship or state ferry in the other direction.--If you plan to travel by sea, add a few shore excursions to experience adventures such as flightseeing, kayaking, walking tours, guided rafting and fishing trips.--Add land-based day trips and tours to your itinerary. Plan on one low-key day for every two days of intensive touring.--Plan a one- or two-day visit to an Alaskan "bush" community for in-depth discovery of Alaskan history and Native culture.14 days or more--Combine two 7-day itineraries.--Travel to and from the state using different methods of transportation.--Drive to and from Alaska in your own car or RV and see several regions of the state by road, adding occasional flightseeing trips, land-based tours and day cruises.--Include a rail trip.--See more than one region.--Take a few days to visit the "bush" for explorations of gold rush history or Native culture.--Take a motorcoach tour from the lower 48 and allow the tour operators to handle all the details for you.
Weather and Clothing
For regional weather and clothing guides visit the Climate & Weather area of the site.
Whales and Other Marine Mammals
Alaska's shorelines are home to an abundance of marine life, including stellar sea lions, walrus, whales, seals and sea otters. The world's largest colony of seals, numbering over one million, breeds undisturbed on the Pribilof Islands. Sixteen species of whales have been identified in Alaska's waters. Increasing numbers of visitors arrange whale-watching tours during migration in hopes of witnessing the massive mammal "breach" high above the water level. Sea otters are amusing creatures to watch. They are playful and are often seen carrying their young on their chest.For more detailed information visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.Connect with Day Cruise businesses.
Wild Berries Caution
Until you can identify them yourself or you are with a botanical expert, you probably shouldn't eat any of them. Alaska's trail systems are full of many different kinds of berries. Some are edible, some are poisonous. Don't eat any of them unless you are absolutely positive they are edible. There are many books you can buy for identifying berries and other types of flora.
Alaska offers unparalleled opportunities to observe and photograph wildlilfe. The variety and impressive numbers of mammals, birds and marine wildlife in Alaska draw visitors from all over the world.Viewing TipsKeep a Low Profile
Binoculars, a spotting scope, or camera with a telephoto lens allows you to see animals up close without disturbing their natural behaviors. Polarized sunglasses cut the surface glare on water and make it easier to see fish and aquatic life.When hiking, scan for wildlife before stepping into the open of meadows, shorelines and riverbanks. When driving, use your car as a blind rather than jumping right out. Move slowly and quietly.Leave pets at home. Small animals can become prey for eagles and large mammals. Dogs, even when leashed, resemble predators and may disturb wildlife.Enjoy watching animals' natural behaviors. Resist the temptation to attract their attention with sounds. If your presence is causing an animal to stop feeding or act restless, give it more space. Be especially respectful of nesting and denning areas, rookeries and calving grounds, and critical feeding areas.Look for CluesTracks, droppings, trails, and twigs provide clues about wildlife in the area - what they are eating, where they live and when they passed through. Noticing and reading these clues adds richness to wildlife viewing.Time it RightDawn and dusk are when many wildlife species are most active. Midday warmth energizes dragonflies and butterflies and creates thermals for eagles and hawks. Tides also influence coastal wildlife viewing opportunities.Many wildlife species move daily and seasonally in search of food. By learning about feeding habits, you'll have a better sense of where to look for which animals, and when.Help Keep Wildlife WildNever feed wild animals. Doing so can cause them to associate people with food, which can get them in trouble in the future. Human food can also make them sick.Leave 'orphaned' or sick animals alone. Young animals that appear to be orphaned usually have parents nearby. If you're concerned, call the Alaska Departmetn of Fish and Game.Be Considerate of OthersPeople use and enjoy Alaska's wildlife in a variety of way.s Respect private property and give hunters, anglers, and others plenty of space.For complete information on what, when and where to view wildlife visit the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website.Connect to Alaska Wildlife Viewing businesses.
Wildlife Viewing Safety
Alaska is a wild land from our largest cities to our most remote islands. For safety, take a companion, let someone know your plans, and be prepared for emergencies with spare clothes, plenty of food and water, and a means of communication.Bears:Avoid surprising bears. Be alert along noisy streams, in thick brush, and when visibility is poor. Make noise (sing, clap, talk) when traveling. Always keep your belingings (backpack, food, fish, etc.) with you or in bear-proof storage.If you see a bear, stay calm. if the bear does NOT notice you, quietly leave, keeping your eyes on the bear. If it DOES notice you, face the bear, wave your arms and talk to it calmly. If it approaches you, stand still.If a bear is surprised at close distance, it may feel threatened and act defensively, especially if it has cubs or food. Stand your ground! If the bear strikes or bites you, lie on your front, protect your face and neck and remain still. In rare instances, bears may be predatory. Fight back if the attack is prolonged.Moose:Never approach, corner, or feed a moose. Moose, especially cows with calves, can be aggressive and need plenty of room. When in moose country, keep your dog in control. Pay attention to moose body language. Ears back, neck hair raised, and licking lips signal stress. Retreat quickly! If a moose charges you, hide behind a tree or something solid or run if you have a head start. If you're knocked down, curl up, protect you head, and lie still until the moose retreats.Visit the Alaska State Parks Staying Safe web pagebefore you head out.
Winter is a time when Alaska sparkles and shines, when much of the land is covered by a blanket of soft snow - crystalline shapes glistening in the sun. Northern lights span the skies in the evening dazzling the eye and the snow invites the child in everyone to come out and play - you'll find plenty of friendly company to show you how and where to have the best winter fun.For those looking for downhill skiing opportunities, Alyeska Ski Resort, located 40 miles south of Anchorage, offers three double chairs, two fixed quads, one high-speed detachable quad and a 60-passenger tram to whisk you 2,800 vertical feet above scenic Turnagain Arm. Other world-class downhill skiing opportunities can be found at Anchorage's Hilltop Ski Area, Alpenglow at Arctic Valley, Juneau's Eaglecrest Ski Area, Fairbanks' Moose Mountain and Mt. Aurora Skiland. Alaska has produced two winter Olympic Medalists, 1994 gold medal winner Tommy Moe and 1992 silver medal winner Hilary Lindh, both of whom grew up skiing on these exciting Alaskan slopes.If cross-country skiing is what you're after, Alaska's many trails offer opportunities to trek through mountain valleys, ski beside the sea, or even take advantage of groomed and lighted trails. Cozy mountain lodges, throughout the Interior and Southcentral, are idyllic cross-country retreats - accessible by highway or by ski plane for more remote locations. Near Fairbanks, ski to a hot mineral bath at Chena Hot Springs. Or try Anchorage's Kincaid Park, site of the 1994 Olympic Trials. Other favorite Southcentral cross-country areas include Chugach State Park, Hatcher Pass Recreational Area and Turnagain Pass. For skiers visiting the Inside Passage area, the Tongass National Forest provides terrain for all abilities and Eaglecrest Ski Area's trackset trails are great for limbering up.Dog mushing is Alaska's official sport - annual sled dog races show off the extensive training the dogs and drivers endure to prepare themselves for the racing season. The first Saturday in March marks the start of the 1,049-mile (1,678-km) Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race that runs from Anchorage to Nome. The Last Great Race on Earth grips the entire world for those nine days as racers vie for the championship title. Other incredible races include the Open North American Championship held in Fairbanks every March and the Yukon Quest International - considered by many to be the most difficult sled dog race - also held each year in Fairbanks.Throughout the winter season, many communities host winter carnivals and festivals. Take in the Tent City Winter Festival in Wrangell, the Iceworm Festival in Cordova or the Winterfest in Valdez in the third week of February. The Anchorage Fur Rendzvous, also know as the "Mardi Gras of the North," is a 16-day celebration that attracts thousands of celebrants to more than 120 events that include snowshoe softball, a carnival with rides and the World Championship Sled Dog Races. Fairbanks is home to the renowned World Ice Art Competition where stunning sculptures are carved from massive squares of ice. For more information on winter in Alaska visit theWinter section of the site.Wildlife viewing also offers an exciting dimension to winter, as many animals are easier to spot against a backdrop of white snow. At the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines, an estimated 3,000 bald eagles feed on salmon from late October through February - these eagles are easily seen from the highway. Arrange a photo safari with a wilderness guide, or look for caribou, moose and wolves while enjoying a flightseeing tour.Other PossibilitiesCross country ski on either groomed trails or backcountry terrain
Ice skate on frozen lakes and ponds in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau
Ride in a dog sled on short tours or longer, overnight adventures
Power your way through the snow in designated snowmobile areas
Ice fish for trout and char on area lakes and rivers
Watch the beginning or end of any number of sled dog races, including the Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, sprint and mid-distance sled dog races statewide and the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race
See amazing works of ice art at ice sculpture competitions
There are several ways to access one of the longest rivers in the North made famous by Robert Service.Drive to Whitehorse on the upper reaches of the Yukon or north to Dawson, Yukon Territory. From Dawson, drive the Taylor Highway into the small town of Eagle, Alaska. Eagle is perched on the south bank of the Yukon River below Eagle Bluff. The area is quiet and remote and offers canoe and raft rentals for visitors.From Fairbanks, drive to Circle, Alaska. Located 50 miles south of the Arctic Circle, Circle was the largest gold mining town on the Yukon River prior to the 1898 Klondike Gold Rush. Today Circle is a small, picturesque town with lots of summertime activities. Canoeists put in and take out on the Yukon, and visitors come and go on the Steese Highway.