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    What to see in Alaska: Top 10 of the main places of interest

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    Lluis Enric Mayans

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    Alaska is the largest US state and it is therefore difficult to visit it completely in a single trip, also considering the fact that most of the territory is not connected by roads or railways and some points of interest can only be reached by ship, by small aircraft or by one's own legs. Human settlements are few, but things to see are not lacking for this, indeed: the limited presence of man makes Alaska one of the best suited states to dive into uncontaminated nature and to lose your gaze in breathtaking landscapes.

    Given the vastness of this territory and the wealth of beauties it offers, it is really difficult to reduce the list of things to see to ten. With this list I do not want to exclude all other points of interest, man-made or natural, from a possible itinerary, but to suggest some of those places that make Alaska unique and different from the other 49 states of the federation. If you are planning a trip to the far north of America, you cannot fail to include at least one of these places in your travel itinerary.


    • 1 Denali National Park
    • 2 Inside Passage
    • 3 Glacier Bay
    • 4 Aleutian Islands
    • 5 Sitka: the Russian city of the USA
    • 6 The Kenai Fjords
    • 7 Railways and Gold Rush Trails
    • 8 Fairbanks
    • 9 Alaska Native Heritage Center
    • 10 The small Sahara of the Kobuk Valley
    • Map of attractions

    1 Denali National Park

    Snow-capped peaks and glaciers crisscrossed by meandering streams, pristine forests and wild animals galore: we could define this natural park as the symbol of all Alaska. We are not talking about a small, limited green area that can be visited in a few hours, but about a reserve with the extension of Sardinia (24.000 sq km), within which there is, among others, the highest mountain in North America. With its 6194m, the monte McKinley dominates this large geographical area and on the slopes of the mountain range develops an intricate forest where bears, moose and numerous other species live undisturbed.

    Easily accessible from Anchorage, both independently and with organized tours, the park can be explored mainly in two ways: by car or on foot. From Anchorage, taking the Parks Highway, which runs along the southeastern side of the park, is a thrill in itself for lovers of mountainous landscapes. Once you get to the Denali National Park from the Visitor Center, you enter what is one of the most beautiful roads in all of Alaska: the Denali Park Road. Only the first 24km of this route that crosses the park can be covered by one's own means, after which, the only alternative is to get on an official park shuttle. If you can spot wild animals in the first stretch, it will be child's play when entering the internal area of ​​the reserve to spot bears, wolves and large herbivores such as moose and caribou.

    The second way to visit the park is to use your own legs. The possibility of trekking on these mountains they are endless: you can undertake routes of a few hours or several consecutive days, ranging between dense woods and rugged ridges. Moving on foot, the possibility of encountering wild animals is growing: this is good for the photos that can be taken, but in order for the experience not to become negative, those who undertake a trek in these paths must rely on a guide or be well prepared to manage risky situations.

    • Tour in quad del Denali
    • Shuttle to Denali 
    • All Denali activities

    2 Inside Passage

    The southeastern coast of Alaska is not only indented: it is dotted with a dense archipelago of hundreds of more or less large islands, which protect it from the elements of the ocean. The sinuous strip of sea that winds between these islands and the coast is theInside Passage. We are talking about one real marine highway, which allows you to connect Vancouver to Skagway by ship, touching many other towns including capital of Alaska, Juneau. There is no doubt: traveling through the Inside Passage is one of the best experiences you can have in Alaska. Marine and land animals, fjords and glaciers: every day spent on these waters makes your eyes open in amazement. The question is which medium to use.

    The main alternatives are 3: cruise ships, small local cruise ships and ferries. Who loves the cruises, for the luxury and comfort they can offer, you will discover that here they sail among the best ships in the world and will be able to enjoy breathtaking views immersed in total relaxation, with the possibility of excursions along the way. The smallest ships, which offer short and medium-range cruises, do not have the same comforts but offer numerous advantages: not only is the price lower, but the reduced size allows ships to dock even in smaller ports and to get closer to the coasts , giving tourists a much better view.

    • Inside Passage tours available
    • Cruises available to Alaska

    THEAlaska Marine Highway System it is the state service of the ferries that cross this marine highway. This choice, albeit more spartan, is that ideal for those who want to immerse themselves in the local culture and also venture into the less touristy and little known places. The widespread network of connections also allows you to tailor your route, deciding how long to stay in each town, based only on the ferry timetables.

    3 Glacier Bay

    To the north-west of the Inside Passage there is a place where it seems to go back millennia back in time, to the ice age, but which it did not exist until two centuries ago. In 1778 James Cook documented an immense and impenetrable expanse of ice hundreds of meters thick in this area. A few years later, as early as 1794, George Vancouver discovered that some of the ice had melted, revealing an eight-kilometer bay. Glacier Bay has continued to expand with the melting of the ice: while at the mouth of the inlet the ice has given way to a forest, now ships can creep up to 105 kilometers in the bay, which continues to expand with numerous ramifications.

    The home base for visiting Glacier Bay is Gustavus, reachable both by plane and by ship. From here you can reach it by car or bus Bartlett Cove, on the eastern shore of the bay, from where some paths in the forest branch off, for those who want to enjoy the beauty of the bay on foot. An alternative is to rent a kayak and paddle the coasts, but given the current depth of the inlet it is difficult to see the innermost areas. The wisest choice is that of embark on a boat and let yourself be fascinated. Some of the ice floes that overlook the sea drop daily numerous fragments, frequently the size of a car. Fortunately for the environment, larger icebergs they are rarer, but it cannot be denied that it is suggestive to witness the collapse of an ice cube the size of a house into the water.

    4 Aleutian Islands

    The archipelago that stretches east from the Alaska Peninsula is one of the most beautiful and unspoiled areas, but at the same time least visited, in all of Alaska. Both factors are linked to the same reason: the difficulty in reaching them. Only 8.000 people they live in the archipelago and more than half in Unalaska, the main of only 10 inhabited islands. Paradise for fishermen, the Aleutians can only be reached by tourists by ferry that travels twice a month in the summer or by plane. The easternmost ones, closer to the Russian Kamchatcka peninsula than to the American coast, are an even more difficult destination to visit.

    Over 60 active volcanoes dominate this vast archipelago, where the wild life of the most disparate marine species flows unaware of the presence of man. I am more than 2500 the islands and cliffs, most of them in the Aleut archipelago, which are part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge: the national reserve in which marine life lives undisturbed. Those who undertake a trip to the Aleutian Islands will be surprised above all by the birds: tens of millions of seabirds numerous species nest on these shores and there are rare places in the world comparable to this one for bird watchers.

    5 Sitka: the Russian city of the USA

    Everyone knows that Alaska and Hawaii were, in 1959, the last two states to join the US federation. It is not mentioned so often, however, that Alaska was not an independent state until 1867, but was subject to the Russian government. It was the Russians, crossing the Bering Strait, who were the first to colonize this geographical area, stealing from the natives the wild lands in which they had lived since time immemorial. And it is no coincidence that the American flag was raised in Sitka to replace the Russian one when the two superpowers carried out the sale of this gigantic and still wild piece of the world. Sitka in fact it was the capital of Alaska, and its main port, when power was in the hands of Moscow. Both architectural elements, such as the Orthodox cathedral of San Michele or the Russian Bishop's house, and cultural and religious elements still bear witness to this: in fact, here part of the population is of the Russian-rite Orthodox Christian faith.

    Being able to visit a city of Russian origin in the United States is already quite a special opportunity, but it is not the only reason why it is worth going to Sitka. Although it has lost its historic commercial importance, it remains the fifth most populous center in the state and one of the liveliest. But above all it is one of the places where it is more easy to see whales, so much so that every year between October and November the Sitka WhaleFest is celebrated there.

    Did we make you want to visit it? In this case, you need to know a few things. The city is located on an island and it is therefore impossible to get there directly by car, but even by ship it is not so obvious. Although the archipelago is that of the Inside Passage, Sitka is located on the coast facing the ocean, rather than on the internal passage traveled by cruise ships and local ferries. Thanks anyway to the aforementioned Alaska Marine Highway System it is connected with the capital Juneau, but keep in mind that it will take almost 10 hours of travel. Those who do not want to spend all this time on the ship can opt for the airplanes of the Alaska Airlines which, always starting from the capital, take about 40 minutes. Other flights are also available from Anchorage (about three and ten hours), from Ketchikan (about an hour) and from Seattle (about 4 hours).

    Activities and tours available in Sitka

    6 The Kenai Fjords

    The fjords are not only in Norway: even if Alaska is not known in the world for this, there is a place where the fjords are the main tourist attraction. And the Peninsula in Kenai, the region south of Anchorage, about the size of Belgium and composed mainly of swamps, lakes and glaciers. A kingdom of fresh water and ice that gives life to a complex ecosystem and contains one of the most evocative parks in the state: the Kenai Fjords National Park. Located on the opposite side of the peninsula from the capital Kenai (a city that like Sitka still carries Russian origins with it, especially thanks to the presence of the Old Believers community, a Russian-Orthodox ethnic group that also speaks Russian in addition to English), the park is one of the best places in alaska to see glaciers.

    There are those who choose expeditions on ice, but the most popular option is that of tour in barca or kajak along the coasts and inside the deep fjords, at the bottom of which the glaciers regularly lose iceberg at sea. As in Glacier Bay, waiting for a mammoth block of ice to detach and sink into the sea is one of the favorite activities of tourists, not without reason. The thunderous crunch and final thud are sounds that remain as etched in the mind as the sight of the icebergs themselves.

    Here are 2 cruises to consider:

    • Half day cruise between Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay
    • Kenai Fjords National Park Day Cruise

    7 Railways and Gold Rush Trails

    If the boundless territory of Alaska attracts more and more tourists from all over the world it is not only for its landscapes. Even today its countless natural resources they are a magnet for big investors, before the hydrocarbon boom, however, there was another commodity that made you look at the Alsaskane lands with dreamy eyes: their. Indeed, the area of ​​the North American continent historically richest in gold is the Klondike, the Canadian region right on the border with Alaska. We will ask ourselves: if gold is in Canada, what does Alaska have to do with it? It was from here that the American gold diggers started and still today the area near the border is purely characterized by this theme, complete with a national park called Klondike gold rush national historical park.

    One is due to the gold rush railroad (The White Pass and Yukon Route) which connects the Canadian city of Whitehorse with the Alaskan Skagway, a strategic port on the ocean that allowed the maritime connection with the United States. Many workers and many pack horses died during the construction of this railway for which the mountains were cut by force of dynamite. Today aVintage train connects Skagway with White Pass Summit, the border city between the two states: a trip of 64km (round trip) lasting 3 hours that we can consider among the most scenic in North America. Between spectacular waterfalls and dizzying bridges over glaciers, this steam train is a jaw-dropping experience.

    The drawback of the tourist train is the rather high costs, but there are other ways to admire these landscapes. Highway 98 runs for a large part of the route parallel to the railway and various paths allow you to do it trekking of various durations. The most famous is the Denver glacier trail.

    • White Pass Rail Tour
    • Train tour with bicycle excursion

    8 Fairbanks

    The capital of Alaska is Juneau and many think it is Anchorage, as the only major city in the country. Many Alaskans, however, see in Fairbanks the hub city of its state. Looking at the map, you immediately notice how Fairbanks is in the middle of nowhere, but knowing the history of the gold rush, of which it was one of the main starting points, one could advance the hypothesis that it was built precisely for this purpose. Indeed, the founder ET Barnette, who wanted to create a trading post on the Tanana River in 1901, was literally stuck in the middle of nowhere with his steamer and placed the first stone of the city on the Chena River. A year later, gold was discovered in the surrounding area.

    The isolated location has made Fairbanks a unique city of its kind and for this reason one of the most interesting destinations of a trip to Alaska. Grown and enriched with the gold rush, it now has about 30 inhabitants (which seems few, but makes it the second most populous city in the state) and is a excellent starting point for excursions throughout the north-central of the country. Among the most interesting attractions is the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center, which offers an interesting introduction to the Alaskan territory and to the peoples who have inhabited it over time, and above all the Fairbanks Ice Museum. As the name suggests, ice is the protagonist of this exhibition, perpetually kept at -7 °, composed exclusively of ice sculptures. The art of ice carving in Fairbanks also becomes a world event every March, when the city hosts the world ice sculpture championships, with artists who flock from all over the world to challenge each other with sometimes colossal works (up to 6 meters high).

    All activities available in Fairbanks

    9 Alaska Native Heritage Center

    The city of Anchorage is not itself one of the most interesting places in Alaska, but its surroundings are full of interesting destinations. Among the day trips to take from Anchorage, one of the most recommended is theAlaska Native Heritage Center, which is located on the northern outskirts of the city and can therefore be reached without difficulty. It is not a museum, but a grouping of villages where the representatives of 11 indigenous cultures. The different tribes of Alaskan natives exhibit their traditions and lifestyle here. Among handicrafts and underground common houses, visitors can discover in a few hours many curiosities about how life was (and partly, how it continues to be) in Alaska before the arrival of the foreign colonizers.

    Anchorage tour with Alaska Native Heritage Center

    10 The small Sahara of the Kobuk Valley

    Nobody, thinking of Alaska, can imagine fine sand dunes, completely comparable to those of the Sahara desert. Yet the great northern state offers this too. The Kobuk Valley National Park it is one of the destinations less traveled by tourists (especially for the difficulty in reaching it), but at the same time one of the most curious. North of the Arctic Circle, where the taiga ends and the tundra begins to take over, a territory of 730 hectares with no roads and paths opens up between two mountain ranges, which contains one of the most hidden treasures of North America.

    In the park dominated by grizzlies and overlooked by golden eagles, an area of 65 sq km of golden sand dunes, up to 30 meters high. Unlike other deserts, this small Sahara was formed over the millennia by the erosion that glaciers have operated on the rocks. It is possible to reach these areas only with small planes, but for those who can afford it, the landscapes of the Kobuk Valley are a very unique experience.

    Map of attractions

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