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A region that’s ready for all manner of explorers, adventurers, and pathfinders, there’s a gritty, homespun vibe to Alaska that’s unlike anywhere else in the Americas. Amongst its glacial terrain and off-the-beaten-track charm, there’s plenty for budding discoverers to surround themselves with.
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Refreshingly unpretentious and boasting a rustic, provincial atmosphere that’s all its own, Alaska feels tailormade for the inquisitive, where a bustling wilderness and a plethora of natural wonders await those on the lookout for a truly memorable adventure.
Epic in scale, with glaciers the size of US states, the sheer mass means there’s a lot on offer in this neck of the woods. If you’ve booked a cruise to these incredible lands and the breadth and depth might seem somewhat daunting, we’re here to help with some tips and advice on what to see, do, and eat during your trip to Alaska.
What to see and do in Alaska
With 350 million acres of land, 28.8 million acres of waterways, and 10,700 kilometres of coastline to explore, the great outdoors are in rude health in Alaska. A word to the wise, however, much of Alaska’s wilderness is hard to reach for those on limited time or money. Unless you have deep pockets, some of its trails, paths, and parks could be off limits, but that doesn’t mean you’ll have to miss out on Alaska’s splendour. Even on a budget, you’ll be in for some real treats wherever it is you trek.
Whether you’re getting up close to the wildlife, seeing a glacier in all its stunning glory, or hiking through the incredible expanse of one of Alaska’s many, many parks, you’ll need to get to grips with getting around the place first.
Alaska is somewhat unique in that 75% of the state is inaccessible by road and as a result, doesn’t have a bus network in place. Most of the time, your cruise ship will be doing the bulk of the transport, but keep in mind, there are other ways to traverse the state.
Bikes are a great way to get around and can be rented from specific towns. Keen mountain bikers will be glad to know there are plenty of gravel roads, although less confident cyclists should probably avoid these. Despite a lack of any state-wide bus network, you can still find various shuttle buses in the summer – just be sure to check online in advance for schedules and prices. The major cities, like Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Ketchikan, have relatively extensive bus systems. Elsewhere, most of its cities and mid-size towns have taxi services, too.
Don’t forget about the Alaska Railroad either. Though cheaper methods of transport exist, the incredible views – and undeniable experience – make it a great way to move through the state.
View the Northern Lights
It’s entirely dependent on the timing of your visit, but viewing the Northern Lights is a delightful, unforgettable experience. Optimal viewing tends to be between September and April at midnight when the sky comes alive with daubs of green and pink hues that almost seem to resemble tendrils of smoke. Cast against the silhouettes of trees, this otherworldly sight, localised entirely before your eyes, is a patented Alaskan experience like no other.
Ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
Built during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1900, where it was the fastest way for miners to reach the goldfields, this astonishing railway links Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. Weaving around mountains and past waterfalls, steep gorges, and lush forests, the train, preserved and retouched to resemble its original look, reaches a mesmerizingly high 915 metres, allowing riders ample photo ops. It alights at the iconic Yukon River, so you can get even more snaps.
Tour the Kenai Fjords
Located in the unassuming town of Seward, Kenai National Park is home to the titular fjords, where you can view its stunning glaciers up close along with a selection of humpback whales, sea lions, orcas, arctic birds, and seals. Lucky sailors can watch the glaciers calve off into the water, creating an incredible explosion of frozen tundra below. You’ll also get a chance to learn about the history of these amazing natural wonders in all their unspoilt beauty.
Watch the Whales in Juneau
With more wildlife than people and surrounded by green fauna and glaciers centuries old, the Juneau whale watch is nature at its purest. The sight of a first humpback emerging from the freezing Alaskan waters from the incredible vantage point of your boat is something you’d probably not ever forget. Along with plenty other wildlife to see, the whales are more than happy to have their photo taken as your boat slows to a standstill.
Visit the Aurora Ice Museum
Fancy a sub-zero stroll through one of the world’s coolest cultural hotspots? You’re in the right place. The Aurora Ice Museum is so nippy that visitors are given parkas upon entry. Made from over 1,000 tonnes of ice and snow, you’ll find all manner of sights amongst its frosty confines. It can even be rented out for special occasions, such as weddings complete with a special ice altar.
Along with its more popular, iconic attractions, Alaska’s quaint vibe houses many a treat for those looking to delve deeper into the state’s plentiful charms. If the road less travelled is your kind of thing, be sure to track down these hidden gems whilst you’re here and do things like the locals.
Don’t be afraid to approach the locals for tips and recommendations if you’re after an experience that goes beyond the typical tourist hotspots. Wander through the quaint Alaskan towns and strike up a conversation with local shop owners to see what the beaten track has to offer.
Take a piece of the unique history and culture of Alaska home with you with any of these great souvenir ideas.
Originally used by Inuit women as an all-purpose knife for skinning, cutting, chopping, and even barbering, the many uses of the Ulu knife make it a great souvenir to bring back with you – though you’re unlikely to use it to build an igloo when you’re back home. You can get it from most places across Alaska although not all might be made in Alaska, so it’s worth double-checking if you’re after something properly authentic.
Glacier Water Vodka or Gin
Things really don’t get quite as pure as the water from Alaska’s glaciers, and the vodka and gin available at Skagway Spirits are about as good as booze gets. The shop itself is a pleasant, charming place complete with its own tasting room, and you can even get flavoured versions that are another level of excellence. They’ll even pack it for you properly, so it won’t get damaged when you journey back home.
Okay, whilst it’s not technically jade, Alaska’s state gem still catches the eye in a magnificent way. Similar to the Chinese semiprecious gem, Alaskan jade tends to be softer and a deeper shade of green. You can find it in all kinds of guises, too, including jewellery, figurines, and even knives, a tribute to the earliest indigenous people who used jade found in rivers as weaponry. Head to the Jade Store in Juneau or Ketchikan for a selection of Alaska’s best.
You’ll likely want to warm up with some hearty fare after a day of exploring Alaska’s vast expanses, here are a few of the local favourites to sample.
Although not native to Alaska, the state is big on making a meal of game meats. Squeamish types might flinch at the idea, but this is a street food favourite that locals swear by. During the summer, stands populate the state, offering regular or spicy versions of this speciality topped with plenty of garnishes for an added kick of flavour.
King Crab Legs
Alaska does crab like nowhere else. Fresh king and dungeness are the specialities here, with king crab being a particular delicacy because of its short, treacherous fishing season. With plentiful portions, liberal lemon juice, and garlic butter to intensify the flavour, make Tracy’s King Crab Shack your go-to if you’re looking for the best crab Alaska has to offer.
Unsurprisingly, seafood isn’t exactly in short supply, and the humble salmon becomes something else entirely in this part of the country. Salmon populates many a menu here, baking, broiling, and smoking the fishy favourite to cater to all tastes. But, for perhaps, the best example of the dish, head to Gwin’s in Cooper Landing, where their smoked salmon chowder bowl is a real must-try.
As spectacular as it is serene, Alaska feels like nowhere else in the world. Want to see it up close and in person? Check out our Alaskan cruises page to see our latest deals or ring our Austalia-based cruise experts on 1300 857 345 for more information.