They don’t call it The Last Frontier for nothing.
After all, this land used to belong to it’s nearest neighbor Russia, Alaska doesn’t border any U.S. states, and its capital, Juneau, is not accessible via any roads.
It’s just different from the contiguous United States, both geographically and culturally. That’s exactly why I love it.
There’s a congeniality among native Alaskans, but also a no-nonsense durability. It’s cold, it’s massive, and it’s untamed in most parts. During the six months of winter, temps dip to 50 below and the darkness sets in — up to 20 hours of it. Locals say the cold is endurable — it’s the lack of sun that makes you crazy.
How to Explore Alaska
I explored Alaska by plane, train, car, and boat and I recommend all four.
Start with a cruise from Seattle or Vancouver to Anchorage or Seward. Sailing through the Inside Passage is breathtaking. We watched the Margerie Glacier calving in the midday sun with massive chunks of snow and ice crashing into teal waters with a thunderous splash. Killer whales sped under our boat while seal lions sunbathed on nearby islands. A curious otter even splish-spashed around our boat while docked at the glacier. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot the tale of a massive whale and possibly see one breaching.
Cruise ships port at Haines, Juneau, and a few other quaint towns with colorful houses and plenty of shops and restaurants for tourists.
After your cruise, take the Alaska Railroad as far north as you like. We rode it comfortably for 12 hours to get from Fairbanks to Anchorage. There are great views along the way from two decks.
Get off at Denali National Park and Preserve and spend a day or two on a bus with a tour guide or hiking and camping. Polychrome Pass and the Eilsen Visitor Center stop are not to be missed. On a good day, you just might see the top of Denali, the highest peak in North America.
From Fairbanks, you can fly north to the Arctic Circle to explore the mostly desolate Dalton Highway. Overnight at Coldfoot Camp and book a guide to explore the Brooks Mountain Range. There are few places in the United States where you can feel this kind of isolation and natural beauty. It’s simply glorious.
Just a few hours from Fairbanks, you can dip your travel-weary body into Chena Hot Springs. Be sure to take an ATV to Chena Dome to get a birds-eye view of the landscape. I hear it’s stunning in winter when the Aurora lights up the bowl-shaped valley below. Walk through the freezing but magical Aurora Ice Museum and sip an appletini from an ice glass. It’s touristy but totally worth it.