Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in the world, which makes it one of the hottest tourist attractions for people from all over the globe. Being located far north in the continental North America it boasts unique climate, flora, and fauna. Alaska is not only large and untouched; it’s also extremely picturesque and nodiverse.
Population and Geography
Being a relatively young administrative territory of the United States, Alaska is rather undeveloped state in terms of population, infrastructure, and technology, which, however, makes it even a more desirable sightseeing land. Currently the population of Alaska is a little over 600,000 people, not including millions of tourists and visitors, visiting every year, even though it is the largest state in the US territory-wise. The majority of inhabitants reside in the southern portion of the state, which may be easily explained by the climate conditions and the terrain.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, hosting almost half of the state population. Juneau is the state capital. The northern part of Alaska is rather unpopulated due to severe weather conditions. Most of the people living above the polar line are the Native Alaskan tribes or military.
The state government encourages the migration to Alaska from the other states by providing the following benefits: no state income tax, no sales tax in the majority of the territories, and permanent fund nodividend. Even though those seem to be rather attractive, along with higher salaries compared to nationwide averages, it does not appear inviting enough for most people to relocate.
The first persons have stepped on the Alaskan soil about 10,000 years ago. It is believed that they have arrived from Siberia either on boat or by foot by the ground that is now hidden beneath the Bering Sea. The first European that has traveled to Alaska was Vitus Bering (mid-18th century), whom the Bering Sea is named after.
However, the massive migration to Alaska started with the Gold Rush of 1898, the biggest event in the Alaskan history, when non-Native population arrived in the search for riches. That was the period, when the active development of the modern Alaskan infrastructure started.
Transportation network is not as developed as in the continental states – there are only few highways, the rest are just paved or gravel roads, even though automobile is the most commonly used transportation method. Certain areas seem to be very hard to reach, especially in wintertime, when some of the roads are closed for the season. Train is another popular mean of travel, connecting the southern towns with Anchorage. The state makes an enormous effort in maintaining roads and rail tracks, providing the amount of snow, frequent earthquakes, and avalanches in mountain areas. Public transportation is only somewhat developed in Anchorage, Stewart, Juneau, and Fairbanks to include bus transportation, taxicab, and trolleys during summertime.
Alaskan residents boast the highest ratio of the airplanes owned per capita. According to statistics, nearly every fifth household owns an airplane. It appears to be the most attractive method of transportation for tourists is the cruise ship – nearly every large cruise operator in US is heavily focused on Alaskan cruises.
Alaska is truly the coldest state in the country. Winter temperatures normally range from 25 to 75 below zero, summer – from 40 to 85 on the Fahrenheit scale. The climate largely depends on the location, ranging from relatively warm Anchorage due to closeness of warm ocean streams, to above the polar circle areas, where normal living appears to be impossible to an average person. Winter may be characterized as snowy, windy, and unpredictable. Summers are very nice, with sometime prolonged periods of rain and fog.
There are truly only two seasons in Alaska – summer and winter. Spring and autumn are hardly noticeable, literally “atrophied” times of the year, and only represent a short transition between lovely green summer, and snowy white winter.
Polar day and night is another important nature trait worth to be mentioned. There is no darkness during nighttime in July and August opposed to traces of light during daytime in December and January. The other months are a transitional switch between the polar night and day. It takes rather long time to adopt for an average person, with 3 to 4 day periods of insomnia and other sleep disorders not being uncommon for an unprepared innodividual.
Wildlife and Nature
Probably the major reason for travel to Alaska is its unique wildlife. You come across it when you drive the car on the highway, look outside the window, or even walk in downtown Anchorage. Your sightseeing experience may vary by watching the whales in the ocean, passing a moose on the way to work, or meeting a bear on the hiking trail.
Alaskan wildlife is an enchanting addition to millions of lakes, thousand of peaks, the majority of which do not even have official names. Not to mention the gorgeous ocean views and cascades of Northern Lights. Without any exaggeration one may say that Alaska is truly one of the most picturesque places on the planet Earth.
Points of Attraction
During our brief trip to Alaska we are going to visit quite a few places. Among them are: City of Anchorage, Denali National Park and Mountain Denali, Glen Allen, Alyeska resort, not to mention multiple scenic travel paths, adventurous hunting and four-wheeling. These are only the few major destinations among hundreds to visit; it is almost impossible to explore Alaska even in years, that is how huge and sophisticated it is.
Being a remote territory, separated from the other states by Canada, Alaska is rather hard to reach by any mean of transportation, other than the airplane. Depending on the season, time, and class, the round trip fare ranges between 350 and 6000 US dollars. As the best time to travel is summer, one should be prepared to an average out-of-pocket sum of $ 1500 for a set of tickets. Most commonly, given the length of the distance, you would get a flight with one or two connections.
Should you be an adventure-seeking personality, you may dare to take a car-trip through remote areas of Yukon, however, even heard of such trips being made during the wintertime, it is not recommended due to length, distance, and road conditions. Once you are a stubborn innodividual still looking to do such, at least get a full-wheel drive vehicle, additional supply of gas and food.
Best travel times
If you are intending to explore Alaska in its total beauty with a comfort, it is highly recommended to plan your trip during summer period, somewhere between June and August. The prime time is end of July – beginning of August, as the weather is the warmest, with least amount of rains and fog, however, prepare to challenge your wallet for a competition with hundreds of thousands of others, seeking to please their owners with maximum comfort and relaxation. Traveling during winter times is not recommended, as you would face the challenge of cold weather and arctic darkness, even though for a small fraction of summer-travel price.
Once you arrive, depending on your destination, you have a wide selection of choices of places to stay, ranging from upscale hotels and resorts, such as, for example, Captain Cook or Alyeska Prince Hotel, to Small Bed-and-Breakfasts to be found almost everywhere. Prices for hotel rooms widely range from $ 99 for a budget-minded traveler to about almost 1000 dollars for a sophisticated and demanding vacationer per night.
For our trip we have selected the Junior Suite at the Captain Cook Hotel, ranking four stars, and priced at 340 dollars per night for end of July travel. Captain Cook is a full service hotel located in downtown Anchorage, appealing for a tasteful tourist. Among the hotel amenities there are several restaurants and bars, ranging from a casual breakfast cafe to a fine-dining “Top-of-the-Rock” restaurant and a fancy Jazz nightclub, numerous boutiques and gift shops, cruise booths, and car rental.
To fulfill our transportation needs throughout Alaskan wilderness we have chosen is a mid- or a full-size SUV with the Global Positioning System, costing roughly $ 120-190 per day.
Provided with multiple dining options, it is rather hard to make a pick among various places, however, it is worthy to mention that overall dining in Anchorage and surrounding areas is very decent. Almost all the restaurants offer plenty choice of freshly caught seafood, lovely views, and friendly staff. Getting a bit away from the topic, it is necessary to mention that people in Alaska are very nice and always ready to help. To exclude franchise restaurants, that offer standard menus with standard pricing throughout the US, your options vary from small casual places to classy fine-dining ones. You should consider that prices on average about 25 percent higher for dining compared to other US cities. We would go over some examples later on in the text.
There are several things to keep in mind while preparing to and on the trip. The uniqueness of Alaska places greatly affects one’s proposed way to behave while traveling. Most of the major tourist’s concerns are associated with wildlife and terrain.
It is highly recommended to take a “crash” course in animal behavior, such as moose’s and bear’s, no matter if you are planning to stay in the city or travel thru remote areas. The matter of fact is very simple: a rather high percentage of people are getting hurt or killed by opposing the wild animals. There are several helpful hints for you below.
First of all, do not feed wild animals – it makes them associate people with the source of food; it may not directly affect you, but your irresponsible behavior may hurt someone else.
Second, follow the “Moose Etiquette”: a moose is a very big animal with strong legs, and therefore deserves some respect just in regards to that simple fact. Should you see one or more, which you most likely would, follow these rules:
– Do not make any rapid movements – they may make the animal think that you are going to hurt it;
– Never walk between two or more moose – they may happen to be a happy family, enjoying a sightseeing walk not less than you are – once you interrupt it by walking between a Moose-Child and Moose-Mom, the Moose-Mom would get very upset and simply kill you;
– Should you happen to run from the moose, as it happened to the author once, make sure you run circling around the trees or any other big objects – the moose is a better sprinter than you are, but easily gets confused and lost if not running on the straight line;
– And, last hint, while driving, consider concentrating on the sides of the road also – there are nearly 300 accidents involving a car and a moose collision every year just in Anchorage.
It is rater unlikely that you would face a bear or a wolf during summertime, anywhere in crowded place; however, you should be prepared for that.
Unlike the moose, which naturally have hearing disabilities, bears and wolves are sensitive to sounds. Should you see a bear or a wolf close to you, start making as many movements and noises as you can, most likely they would not bother and go away. Should they not, grab something big in size and wave around, while continuing yelling – your ability to rapidly change in size would surprise the beast and most likely make it walk away. It is also, quite obviously, not recommended to have any food in your hands – it would just stimulate the animal’s palate and increase the secretion of digestion ferments – you figure out the rest!
Due to high avalanche threat in certain areas it is better to refrain from listening to loud music while passing them. It is also recommended to follow the speed limit signs on mountain roads, as they usually are very narrow and full of sharp turns.
It is a good idea to visit a store and purchase a special CD or a VHS tape that would guide you how to behave in certain situations. It may be a good idea to purchase a special “scare-a-bear” whistling device in one of the stores – they are sold almost anywhere and cost a couple of dollars, but may greatly help your well-being.
After all the research and preparation, comes the culmination – the trip itself. Proposed below is the sample trip I would take and recommend to other young adventurous innodividuals. For the easiest comprehension it is written in the form of memoir.
After arrival to the Anchorage International Airport, the shuttle brings us to the Captain Cook Hotel in Downtown Anchorage. After check-in and short refreshment after a long flight we head to downtown Anchorage for a brief acquaintance with the city. Our sightseeing tour is interrupted by a brief lunch at the Island Cafe ($ 35 for two), recommended by the hotel concierge.
Later on, after changing attire and watching the weather forecast with hopes for a pleasant hiking trip tomorrow, we head up in the elevator to the “Top of the Rock” restaurant in the hotel to enjoy the Prix Fixe menu to include salmon caviar, fresh catch of the day, salads, along with complimentary champagne ($ 150 for 2). Our joyful dinner is followed by scary movie about wildlife in Alaska, and we go to bed early with doubtful thoughts about tomorrow’s hiking trip.
After early awakening, breakfast downstairs ($ 19), and rental pickup ($154 a day), in hiking outfits, fully geared, we take off to the Denali National Park. The tour guide is to meet us at 10 a.m., and it seems we’re right on schedule, having 2 hours for a 100-mile drive. The Denali Peak is seen from afar, so we aim at it, time to time checking with GPS. The tour guide appears to have a nice personality and is full of excitement for the day ahead; we are to take a 2-hour excursion with him ($ 85) before deciding whether to pick the novice or a pro trail. Not being used to mountain hiking, we unexpectedly found that, unlike our expectations, it is a lot harder to walk down, than to climb up. Despite the exhaustion from the trip, we are excited from the picturesque views of the terrain and our surprising meeting with a couple of goats. As advised by the tour guide, we are taking a longer curve to get back to Anchorage to take a ride on the scenic Old Glenn Highway. The 30-mile sacrifice was well-worth it, as we had an enjoyment of watching two bears catching fish in the stream and stopping at the mountain hunting lounge for lunch ($28). Even being back in Anchorage before 6 o’clock in the evening, despite our plans for early dinner, we settle on taking a nap for a couple of hours.
Surprisingly truing to figure out what happened with our watches first, we decide to call the front desk and discover that we have missed all the dinner plans by sleeping thru until 5 a.m. Suffering from hunger, we skip a planned trip to a oceanfront view cafe; for breakfast, we comment on the convenience of having a room service ($ 154 for a huge breakfast with osetra caviar), while observing the harbor view from the window. Leaving the rental at the hotel, we are right on time to catch a tour bus ($ 90 for 2) heading us on Glacier trip. Observing the ocean view on our way, we share the expectations of the day. Once arrived to destination, we challenge our knowledge of physics by calculating the odds of a huge ice cube ending up in the lake with 82 degrees temperature. Having failed all the efforts, we quite enjoy an excursion on a boat ($ 20 per ticket), taking pictures of each other with the glacier in the background (by the way, the guide could not explain the phenomenon of this glacier either). Still being full from the breakfast, we give up our lunch in favor of sightseeing the surroundings, while the rest of the group was fitting the stomachs with grilled salmon, and get rewarded by observing a huge moose. The animal appeared to be rather innocent, probably due to the fact that he was enjoying his lunch, paying absolutely no attention to us; however, still having the scary movie images fresh in the memory, we did not attempt a closer contact.
Once the rest of the group gets done with the lunch, we slowly come down to the bus to head to Alyeska Prince Hotel. We decide to get in to our ski gear and meet with our instructor before dinner, as we figured the meal would be a lot more enjoyable after a little activity (by the way – $ 48 for rentals and passes and $ 72 for 2 hours of instruction). Being grateful for the instruction program, which teaches you how to stop on the skies first, before even putting them on, and having all the bones and teeth where they should belong, we start our dinner 3 hours later. Still amazed by the feeling of wearing shorts and polo shirts in snow, we kill the rest of the evening in the hotel’s bar.
After a good night’s sleep (for a special rate of $ 290 a night), we hear the complaints about the insomnia from the rest of the group. Even though it is light 24 hours a day, we have amazingly avoided any sleep disorders, which seem to be rather common for an average tourist. After returning back to Anchorage we go window-shopping for souvenirs and local arts on the 5th avenue. Three hours later and $ 1,240 less in our pockets spent on the souvenirs – a couple of tee shirts, smoked salmon, and a mink coat – we have returned to the hotel to spend an evening in the jazz club downstairs.
Salmon quiche was well worth its price – $ 22 per portion, as well as the trip to the largest chocolate waterfall in the world (should we say “chocolatefall”?), absolutely free, by the way. An observation of several thousand pounds of liquid chocolate, falling from 20 feet above ground, almost made my accompanier to take the second mortgage out to get some of every kind of each candy produced on the chocolate factory. Despite my strongest efforts to avoid the inevitable, our free excursion turned into a wholesale purchase of candy of various kinds and shapes ($ 130 for about 10 pounds of stylishly packed chocolates).
After enjoying onion soup with a goose liver pate platter as a light fare at a small French Cafe ($ 47 for two), we headed to our last destination – Four-wheel Madness on the Knick River Terrain. Only few minutes after the beginning, it clicked why it is called Madness and what was the reason for signing what-so-called release liability forms. It is a very mixed feeling trying to balance between almost flipping over while going up and down on the off-road track or trying not to sink in all the creeks we were crossing, however, only after getting off the truck and trying to maintain the vertical position, we have realized how exciting it was, doubting, though, any possibility of ever repeating that again. Having had enough adventures so far we moved back to Anchorage to get some souvenir for our friends and to spend the rest of the evening in peace and comfort at the Marx’s restaurant.
Hours later, after checking out from the hotel and turning the rental in, we were taking off in a plane, heading home. After giving it a second thought, both of us concluded our vacation was not bad at all and was quite well worth to be repeated some time in the future.