By Lisa Maloney
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- Strategic itineraries, whether you have a week to hit the top sights or a month to explore the whole state, with ideas for outdoor adventurers, history buffs, road-trippers, wildlife enthusiasts, and more
- The top outdoor activities: Embark on a glacier hike, cast your line in the halibut capital of the world, or take an intrepid "flightseeing" tour to secluded glacier landings in Denali National Park. Experience the thrill of spotting wild bears, moose, wolves, or even a walrus, or hop on a boat at Columbia Glacier to watch sea otters, harbor seals, and whales glide through the water. Kayak on tranquil lakes or camp under a crystal-clear sky full of stars
- Unique experiences: Learn about Alaska's native cultures, visit quirky small towns, and discover the best spots to witness the enchanting northern lights
- Honest advice from Anchorage local and outdoor aficionado Lisa Maloney on when to go, what to pack, and where to stay, from campsites and hostels to B&Bs and resort fishing lodges
- Full-color photos and detailed maps throughout, plus a full-color foldout map
- How to get there and get around by plane, train, ferry, cruise ship, or guided tour
- Thorough background on the culture, weather, wildlife, and history, plus health and safety tips
Headed to Canada? Try Moon Vancouver & Canadian Rockies Road Trip or Moon Banff National Park.
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10 TOP EXPERIENCES
Planning Your Trip
TRAVEL LIFELINES: ROADS, FERRIES, PLANES, AND REGIONAL HUBS
IF YOU’RE LOOKING FOR...
Best of Alaska
IF YOU HAVE…
ALASKA’S TOP TOWNS
Best Scenic Drives
The Inside Passage
THE ALASKA RAILROAD
CHASING THE NORTHERN LIGHTS
Explore the Interior
ALASKAN CRUISE PORTS OF CALL
What are the first things that come to mind when you think of Alaska? Steep-walled fjords, charismatic bears, soaring eagles, breaching whales, or glaciers creeping down the side of a mountain and into the sea? Then you’re already in tune with some of our state’s grandest sights. But there’s so much to Alaska that it can’t possibly be summed up in just one image—and every part of the state is a little bit different.
In Southeast Alaska the evergreen rainforest dominates the landscape and totem poles stand silent witness to the passage of time as humpback whales, each one the size of a school bus, cavort in the glacier-fed waters.
Southcentral Alaska and the Interior are a road-tripper’s dream clad in boreal forest, with paved two-lane highways leading from Fairbanks—land of gold mining, the midnight sun, and the aurora borealis dancing overhead—to Homer, often considered the pinnacle of Alaskan art, food, and fishing in one small town.
Southwest Alaska holds some of the state’s best bear watching on Kodiak Island—also known as Alaska’s Emerald Isle—and nearby Katmai National Park. You’ll also find some of the continent’s best bird-watching at Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and on the remote, windy Pribilof Islands, where millions of seabirds and more than half the world’s fur seals congregate to breed.
In Arctic Alaska, people are outnumbered by the caribou that migrate en masse between their winter ranges and summer breeding grounds. Small planes are the only way to travel between remote communities that still hold deep roots in traditional Native ways, and dogsleds are still a viable mode of winter transportation, although the iron dog—the snowmobile to anyone else, but “snowmachine” to Alaskans—reigns supreme.
As amazing, exotic, and even otherworldly as Alaska’s pristine landscapes may be, our “peoplescapes” are just as special. Alaskans are known for being warm and friendly despite—or perhaps because of—our cold winter temperatures.
Believe it or not, the number of people who visit Alaska every year is more than double our year-round residents. Over one million people visit during the summer alone, and winter vacations in Alaska are starting to catch up in popularity as brave tourists come to see the Iditarod or watch the northern lights dancing in the night sky. We never get tired of seeing people who genuinely enjoy and are awed by their visit to Alaska.
Welcome, and enjoy every moment of your visit to this most remarkable state.
15 TOP EXPERIENCES
1 Bear Viewing: Seeing a bear is a guaranteed adrenaline rush. Visitors have their choice of excellent viewing areas such as Katmai National Park and Preserve, Admiralty Island, and Sitka’s Fortress of the Bear.
2 Marvel at Massive Glaciers: Visit active glaciers while you still can: Mendenhall, LeConte, Matanuska, and Columbia.
3 Whale-Watching: Don’t miss the orcas and humpback whales in Southeast Alaska, especially Frederick Sound.
4 Watch the Northern Lights Shine: The dancing aurora borealis lights up Alaska’s nighttime skies.
5 Learn about Alaska Native Culture: Learn about Alaska’s 11 Native cultures and see them alive today.
6 Cheer on Iditarod Mushers and Dog Teams: Be a spectator of Alaska’s great race at the ceremonial start and the official restart or the finish line.
7 Explore Denali National Park and Preserve: Check out the highest peak in North America and the six-million-acre park around it.
8 Take a Spectacular Hike: For a wilderness adventure, start at Caines Head State Recreation Area, Hatcher Pass or anywhere in Southeast Alaska. You can even stay the night by backpacking, camping, or glamping.
9 Get to Know Alaskan Towns: These wonderful small towns redefine quirky.
10 Walk Through Gold Rush History: Visit Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway or pan for gold with Gold Daughters in Fairbanks.
11 Enjoy a Scenic Drive: The best way to see some of Alaska’s most beautiful places is on a road trip. Check out the Seward Highway or scenic highways starting in Tok.
12 Search Out Wildlife: Already seen bears and whales? How about moose, eagles, or even walruses?
13 Join a Fishing Charter: You’ll find spectacular fishing throughout the state, but especially in the seas off Homer, Valdez, and Petersburg, and on the Kenai River.
14 Enjoy Spectacular Vistas from the Skies: Take to the air to fully appreciate the incredible Alaskan landscape and majestic Denali.
15 Paddle Through Vast Waters: Kayak through the Columbia Glacier ice field, the protected waters of Prince William Sound, or Glacier Bay National Park.
Planning Your Trip
Where to Go
Juneau and Southeast Alaska
The lush, temperate rainforest and mild climate of Southeast Alaska’s island communities turn outdoor excursions into Jurassic Park-style adventures. With waters rich for fishing and whale-watching and tall trees perfect for ziplining, it’s wildly popular with both cruise ship passengers and independent travelers, who make use of the ferry system and convenient connections via plane. Juneau is not only the transit hub, but also the state capital and gateway to Glacier Bay National Park, where the wildlife outnumbers the people. Other popular stops include Ketchikan, with its rich mix of Alaska Native cultures; Skagway, which is all about the Klondike Gold Rush; Sitka, which exhibits the influence of Russian settlers; and authentic fishing towns like Wrangell and Petersburg.
Anchorage and Southcentral Alaska
With a population of about 300,000, Anchorage contains almost half the state’s population and offers a breadth of urban amenities. You can go kayaking, hiking, or even flightseeing by day, then enjoy big-city comforts by night. If you want the greatest range of Alaska experiences in the shortest time, this is the place to be—a launching pad for trips south along the Kenai Peninsula, north into the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, or east into the spectacular fjords of Prince William Sound. Choose from seaside towns like historic Valdez, which has survived both the Great Earthquake of 1964 and the Exxon Valdez oil disaster; Hope, where hiking and mountain biking await; the cruise port of Seward; and the fishing meccas Kenai, Soldotna and Homer, which is also renowned for its thriving art scene.
Denali, Fairbanks, and the Interior
If you want the most varied and accessible wildlife watching in the state, head for Denali National Park. You may see Dall sheep, mountain goats, wolves, and maybe even bears here in its wide swaths of untouched wilderness, centered around the highest peak in North America. Fairbanks has a fascinating mix of natural history and culture, with everything from Athabascan fiddling and gold panning to a chance to roam with reindeer. But the busy season is winter, when droves come to see the northern lights and quintessentially Alaskan activities like dog mushing and ice art.
Kodiak and Southwest Alaska
Southwest Alaska’s communities are small and remote—so they’re perfect for watching wildlife. Alaska’s “Emerald Isle,” Kodiak is popular for bear-viewing tours to nearby Katmai National Park; it also has a rich Alaska Native heritage. Farther west, Dillingham offers unparalleled fishing at the head of the world’s most ecologically intact (and most famous) salmon fishery, Bristol Bay. The lush islands of Dutch Harbor/Unalaska are a birder and ecotourist’s paradise. The Pribilof Islands contain some of the state’s richest coastline, dotted with colonies of walruses, fur seals, and seabirds.
In the Arctic Circle, the sun really does vanish for a while in the winter—then returns to provide 24-hour light during the summer. This creates an unbelievably lush, short-lived ecosystem. This is also the only part of Alaska where you’ll encounter polar bears. Remote Arctic communities can be reached only by small plane and preserve deeply rooted indigenous traditions.
Know Before You Go
High and Low Seasons
High season for most of the state is mid-June through early September. (In Southeast Alaska, high season starts in May and ends in late September. Southeast’s shoulder season is usually April and October.) Traveling in high season means you’ll have the best weather, the richest landscape, more touring and wildlife-viewing opportunities, and the most services available—along with the highest prices. July and August are the best months for salmon fishing.
You can save money—and still have a great time—during the shoulder seasons (May and September). May and June are the best months for birding trips. You’ll have few to no salmon-fishing options at that time of year, but halibut fishing is good. In Southcentral and Interior Alaska, spring may not start as early as May, but the rainforests of Southeast are always green.
In Fairbanks the high season is actually winter, when tourists arrive to watch the aurora borealis. The Iditarod sled dog race, which starts in Southcentral Alaska and ends in Nome, draws visitors from all over the world.
Book at least six months ahead to find high-season lodgings in your price range. If you’re aiming for a high-demand lodging, a very small community like Haines, or an annual event like the Iditarod or salmon fishing in July, do your best to plan a year in advance. The most spectacular wildlife-viewing opportunities, such as visiting the Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary, require you to secure a permit that may sell out nine or more months in advance or have a limited application period that runs about that far in advance.
If you’re planning to bring a car on the Alaska state ferry system or want a cabin berth, book as early as possible—ideally six months or more in advance. But if you’re traveling with no vehicle (or only a bike), walk-on spots are almost always available. The ferry system uses dynamic pricing based on customer load; all passengers will save money by buying tickets in advance.
Best of Alaska
Because Alaska is so big and the logistics of transport are challenging, it can take three weeks to hit the highlights. To plan a shorter trip, choose one or two regions from the following itinerary.
Plan additional rest time into your trip as you think you’ll need it. Those rest days also come in handy as time cushions in case of weather delays. If you travel much in Alaska, it’s not a question of if you’ll encounter weather delays, but when and for how long—and that goes double if you’re traveling in remote, rural communities.
Most Southeast Alaska communities are on islands, so travel takes place almost exclusively by sea or air. Ferries work more like a bus line than a cruise, stopping at each community for just long enough to load and unload passengers, cargo, and cars—but they don’t always come at the same time of day, and sometimes they’ll even come or go from port in the wee hours of the night.
That means that if you choose to disembark, you’re committed to staying for at least a couple of days until the next ferry comes through. With that in mind, the following itinerary features more air travel. (Unlike ferries, the planes come and go at predictable times of day.)
Arrive by flight (or ferry) to Ketchikan, the first port of call for seagoing visitors to Alaska. Ketchikan has the highest concentration of standing totem poles of any community in the state, so spend half a day exploring the many parks and museums where they stand. Top the day off with a two-hour flightseeing trip to stupendous Misty Fjords National Monument (or if you don’t like small planes, go fishing or take the only snorkeling tour in Alaska). Then end your day with a stroll along picturesque Creek Street, where the historic buildings stand on stilts over a creek that flows right through downtown Ketchikan. Turn in early for a good night’s sleep.
If the timing works out for an early-morning ferry, take the six-hour ferry ride to Wrangell. If there is no early ferry, catch the morning Alaska Airlines flight to Wrangell instead, then take an afternoon bear-viewing trip to the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory. This special place mostly showcases black bears, but sometimes you’ll get to see brown bears fishing here, too—or end up sharing the trail with them.
When you get back to Wrangell, take the time to visit the Chief Shakes Tribal House (which you can enter for a fee, prior arrangements required) and take the mile-long walk to Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park, where ancient petroglyphs are still out in the open. Get an early dinner (the few restaurants in Wrangell all close early) and turn in for an early night’s rest at your hotel.
Take the morning flight to Juneau, the state’s capital and the air transit hub of Southeast Alaska. This should leave you time to drop luggage at your hotel and stop by the spectacular Walter Soboleff Center in downtown Juneau, then catch a shuttle bus—or rent a car—and visit the beautiful Mendenhall Glacier. Many visitors also love riding the Mount Roberts Tramway in downtown Juneau, which carries you 1,800 feet up Mount Roberts to walking trails, a small gift shop, and beautiful views over Juneau and the Gastineau Channel, which runs between Juneau and the neighboring island suburb of Douglas. The tramway runs later into the evening than the shuttle buses to the glacier, so leave it for last.
On your second day in Juneau, take a big adventure. For most people, this will be a one-day bear-viewing tour to nearby Admiralty Island, which has the densest population of brown bears in the world, as well as one of the longest bear-viewing seasons. If you’re intent on seeing these massive, shaggy, and beautiful apex predators, this is one of the best places to do it. If you’d rather see humpback whales—also known as the ballerinas of the seas—go whale-watching instead. Southeast is one of the only places in the world where you might get to see humpback whales bubble-net feeding, a cooperative behavior in which several whales work together to “round up” schools of fish in a net made of air bubbles, then lunge up through the middle of the net to gulp the fish down.
Leave Juneau for an overnight trip to Skagway. Take the five-hour ferry ride (a jet is not an option here, although you could book a small plane shuttle) and spend an afternoon in the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. There are lots of historical buildings and shops to explore, some lovely day hikes in the area, an interesting brothel tour in the Red Onion Saloon, and a dinner theater show,
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- On Sale
- Dec 20, 2022
- Page Count
- 496 pages
- Moon Travel