More than twice the size of Texas, Alaska is the largest state in the USA, a land of vast natural splendour, abundant wildlife and few people. It offers unique experiences such as walking in unspoilt wilderness, spectacular cruising through the fjords of the Inside Passage, frontier towns rich in gold rush history, glaciers, and moose wandering the streets of downtown Anchorage.
Its sense of undiscovered wilderness and promise of adventure is still as strong today as it was in the past, and having attracted thousands of pioneers in search of gold, fur, fishing, logging and oil, this 'Last Frontier' today lures travellers in search of an unspoilt beauty and close encounters with nature.
The southeast epitomises classic Alaskan scenery, with its fjords, mountains, forests and glaciers. Alaska is one of the top cruise destinations in the world and the main draw-card for visitors to this region is the lack of roads between towns and scenic wonders that make the waters of the Inside Passage a major marine highway ideal for ship travel. The number one attraction in the interior heartland is Denali National Park, an area of untamed magnificence that also encompasses North America's highest mountain, the snow-covered Mt McKinley.
Despite a reputation for high prices and inhospitable winters, millions of people have discovered a piece of America that is worth every dollar. Nowhere else can that frontier feeling be truly experienced, a place where wilderness surrounds every part of the Alaskan way of life.
Accessible only by sea or air, Alaska's 'Gateway to the Glaciers' is the state's scenic capital situated among spectacular mountains on the shores of the Gastineau Channel. The city of Juneau is however not as wild and uncultured as one would expect of such a remote destination. It affords all the pleasures of a large city, while also offering an abundance of activities and natural escapes for outdoor enthusiasts in its backyard. In 1880 the city swarmed with gold prospectors, but today it is the cruise ship passengers who pack the streets every summer, enjoying the shopping, dining and picturesque surroundings. Juneau's attractions include the Mt Roberts Tram and the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska's most visited glacier due to its easy access and proximity to the city. Glacier Bay National Park is one of the country's more dramatic regions and is also accessible from Juneau, by boat or plane. Helicopter rides, fishing, whale-watching, hiking and kayaking are popular activities in which to fully appreciate the vast wilderness surrounding Juneau.
When the early explorers and pioneers of the 18th century sailed this way, Glacier Bay was hidden under a huge sheet of solid ice, more than 4,000ft (1,219m) thick and up to 20 miles (32km) wide. Today the branching 65-mile (105km) long fjord is the work of the fastest-receding glacier on earth, the melting ice of the Grand Pacific Glacier opening up a spectacular carved terrain of steep rock walls lining deepwater fjords. Sliding out of the mountains are 16 active glaciers that fill the sea with different shaped icebergs, creating the icy blue landscape that is world-renowned. At the head of the fjord is the massive ice wall of the Grand Pacific Glacier, slowly melting and sculpting the still-unfinished land as it backs away from the sea, a natural work of art in progress. An added attraction is the variety of aquatic life including humpback whales, sea otters, seals and porpoises, while bears, moose, mountain goats and many species of birds inhabit the land. This rugged landscape can only be accessed by boat or small plane as most of the park is made up of water. Because opportunities to see this huge wilderness are limited, facilities can be crowded, especially on the tour boats; activities are also expensive, and wildlife sightings cannot be guaranteed. Gustavus is the small settlement that services the park, but the park headquarters is at Bartlett Cove from where boats can be arranged or alternate means provided to enjoy the park experience. Kayaking or camping in the backcountry, ranger-led programs or walks, hiking and fishing are all available.
For more information on traveling to Alaska call Linda at travLBudi.