Travel guide: exploring Alaska

Alaska is the 49th and largest state in the United States of America. Separated from the rest of the country, (the “lower 48”), by Canada, Alaska lies on the Arctic Circle. America’s final frontier is the size of California, Texas and Montana combined, making it huge in comparison to the rest of the states. Alaska is also home to the highest point in North America and all of the top ten highest mountains in the USA. Understanding Alaska

In 1867, the territory of Alaska was purchased from the Russians for $7.2 million (or about 2 cents an acre). For many years people referred to the acquisition as “Seward’s Folly”, named for Secretary of State William H. Seward (1801-1872) who made the deal. They viewed Alaska as a frozen wasteland, not realizing it would turn out to be one of the United States’ richest resources for gold and oil. It took until 1959 for the territory to become a State of the Union.

How to get in:

Anchorage, and to a lesser extent Fairbanks, are serviced by most major airlines. Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau are also served by daily jet service through Alaska Airlines flights originating in Seattle and terminating in Anchorage. Other communities within the state are served by an extensive system of regional and local air services connecting to Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan, the state’s four largest urban areas.

Air travel is the cheapest and most efficient form of transportation in and out of the state. Anchorage recently completed extensive remodeling and construction at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport to help accommodate the upsurge in tourism. Anchorage International is a very big and clean airport that isn’t very crowded. It has many different amenities for awaiting passengers to enjoy. They have everything from shops, restaurants,duty free shops, and even bars close to where you board your plane. The biggest problem with flying into Anchorage is that if you’re not staying in Anchorage, you are going to need to take a long drive to wherever your destination is; most people just rent a car, which can get very pricey. If you are visiting family, you are better off just having them come and pick you up from the gate. Nobody likes to take a long drive after a long flight, but the scenery you will see will make you forget all about the long flight and drive.

What to see:

Alaska is huge. It actually spans what once were five time zones. So big in fact you probably won’t scratch the surface of what it has to offer in terms of geography, wildlife, local flavor, or Alaska native culture.

You might visit a couple of the regions of the state during your visit. It is quite possible to experience the ancient rainforest of Southeast Alaska, camp in Denali National Park, and kayak among icebergs in Prince William Sound on the same trip.

Another option is to focus on a smaller (still huge) region of the state and spend enough time for a better look and then plan a return trip to explore a different region. Alaska does not have to be a once in a lifetime destination.

Three weeks in the Inside Passage, traveling from town to town by ferry, is likely to leave you wanting more time if you enjoy hiking, sea kayaking, fishing, wildlife watching, scenery, Native culture, biking.

The Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, is another region worthy of an extended stay and is easily accessed from Anchorage. Plenty of public campgrounds make this an extremely affordable do-it-yourself destination if you have a few folks to share the cost of a rental car.

An Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks, Valdez driving loop also offers plenty to see and do for two weeks or more and can be quite affordable with camping and a shared rental car.

What to do:

There are many things to do when traveling to Alaska. If you are the adventurous type then Alaska will be a great place to go. You can go hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing, and expeditions to see the wildlife of Alaska like wolves, whales, moose, and bears. There are also month-long expeditions to the top of Mt. McKinley.

A journey on the Dalton Highway provides a very unique experience. The highway crosses mountains and tundra, the Arctic Circle, and 414 miles of pristine wilderness.

Stay up late to see the midnight sun, it’s fascinating to watch in the summer when daytime seems endless.

Anyone traveling to Alaska should definitely make a trip to Mt. McKinley; it is absolutely beautiful. You can see it from most places in the state when there are clear skies. However, if you get the opportunity to take a trip to see it up close, do it. On the way up the path, you will see vegetation and wildlife that you can’t see anywhere else. Once you finally get to the top of the mountain, you will see one of the most beautiful sites in all of the United States. Digital cameras and photos doesn’t do the mountain’s beauty enough justice. The mosaic of blues, whites, grays, and greens will leave you absolutely astonished.

Not everyone is a fisherman; many people enjoy catching fish but hate waiting around to try and catch one. Well if you are one of those people, try fishing in Alaska. You will be amazed at how quickly you can catch fish there if you are in the right spot. You can definitely leave the river every day with your daily limit of fresh Alaskan salmon. There are plenty of commercial fishing companies that will take you out to fish in some of the best areas. However, if you really want to get a great experience, pay a local to bring you out on their boat and fish for the day. They usually know where the least crowded and best areas to fish are. When you are done, ask them to make you a dinner with your day’s catch, you will never have a fresher piece of seafood in your life.

What to eat:

Alaskans love their food, fresh or otherwise you need good food to keep up with daily life here. The portions in this state are huge. Almost every little town will have a local diner where one can get a filling breakfast and lots of hot coffee. Try the reindeer sausage with your eggs and hash in the morning and you’ll feel like a true Alaskan.

Some foods indigenous to this area are fireweed honey (distinctive and quite uniquely delicious), and spruce tip syrup made from the Sitka spruce which grows very commonly throughout Alaska; and of course there is perhaps the most well known of all Alaskan produce: seafood. Alaska’s fishing grounds are among some of the richest in the world and feature among other delicacies King and Snow crab which are exported the world over. Many local restaurants close to the shore serve fresh halibut and salmon daily, right off the boats. Unfortunately, most of the fish is served deep fried, and asking for a simple piece of grilled fish will usually result in an overcooked, dried out disappointment. Restaurant prices also tend to be rather high.

Most things in Alaska are going to feel like they are overpriced, but they are expensive because it is so expensive to transport goods and food to Alaska. If you are out to eat, don’t rob yourself by ordering pasta or spaghetti, get some type of seafood or meat. A lot of restaurants in Alaska serve “catch of the day” and other meats that were hunted locally. Chefs will almost always have a new spin on your favorite seafood that you’ll never have the opportunity of trying again.

Alaska is famous for their Alaskan King Crab legs. Many people think that they’ve had them before, but often times they are sold as Alaskan king crab legs in the lower 48 states and they aren’t technically Alaskan king crabs, and if they are, they aren’t even close to as fresh as they are in Alaska. Many restaurants will cook them in lemon juice, butter, and Old Bay seasoning. You will know when you’ve had an Alaskan king crab leg because the legs are about the same thickness as a woman’s wrist.

Beer is a big deal in Alaska with 7 breweries in Anchorage alone. Alaskan Brewing Company in Juneau is the best known brewery in the state and its Alaskan Amber leads beer sales.

Text courtesy WikiTravel, Creative Commons License

 

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Published: March 26, 2015 - Volume 13 - Issue 50