Lovers of the outdoors visiting Alaska, whether on a cruise ship or by air and land, can enjoy many of the 'great lands' exciting vistas, glaciers, wilderness, wildlife, and history.
Most first time visitors to Alaska take a 7-day 'Inside Passage cruise' an excellent introduction to the 'last frontier'. More adventurous visitors like to explore the towns and villages further north in Alaska, where just getting there is an adventure in itself. However the majority of visitors to Alaska come to enjoy both modern day Alaska in the big cities of Juneau - the Capital; Anchorage the largest city and the jumping off point for seeing the nearby wildernesses, glaciers and wildlife; and Fairbanks, the most northern of the large cities, it encompasses a bit of both the far north and modern day Alaska.
Here are my top 5 reasons to visit Alaska, most of which can be found where ever one might travel.
Alaska has been blessed with some of the world's most magnificent glaciers, foremost of which are:
(a) Mendenhall Glacier, just outside Juneau, in the 1,500-square mile Juneau Icefields. This is one of the most accessible glaciers where one can land on the glacier by helicopter, or hike to it.
(b) Glacier Bay National Park, one of the most included areas on Inside Passage Cruises, it is located about 50 miles from Juneau and has 12 tidewater glaciers that calve icebergs into the bay.
(c) Columbia Glacier one of the largest, it can be visited by boats, water taxi's and helicopters and is also included on many Inside Passage cruises.
(d) Portage Glacier with it's hanging glaciers is accessible from Anchorage, located in the community of Girdwood, along the Turnagain Arm of Cook Inlet.
The ports, along the Inside Passage, are filled with the history of when Alaska belonged to the Russians, as well as showcasing the heritage of the Indians, who occupied these lands for thousand of years, and still do to this day.
(a) Totem Bight State Historical Park is dedicated to Southeast Alaska Native cultures, art, and architecture from the 19th century.
(b) Saxman Native Village where over 30 Totem poles can be seen in the Totem Heritage Center;
(c) relive the gold rush days of the 19th century at the Gold Rush Museum and Gold Rush Cemetry;
(d) visit the home of the Tinglit Indians since 1799, and learn about their culture
3. Vistas in the Far North
Places like - (a) Prudhoe Bay located on the coast of the Artic Ocean and home to the Inupiat Eskimos; (b) Wiseman just three miles off the 'Dalton Highway' near the "Gates of the Artic National Park & Preserve is a century old mining town that enjoyed it's heyday in the 1920's. Today's visitors can sleep in the 30 cabins, from the gold-rush era, that are still in use. (c) Bettles, the smallest incorporated city in Alaska, is also the gateway to four major federal parks and areas which have wilderness lodges and camps specializing in adventure.
4. Accessible wilderness areas
It is possible to see some of Alaska's wilderness areas without having to travel to the far north. Areas such as
(a) Denali Park between Anchorage and Fairbanks is the best known, with Mt McKinley towering behind;
(b) Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Southwestern Alaska includes many streams and lakes, lots of recreational activities, and is only about 100 miles from Anchorage .
(c) Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is located on the Kenai Peninsula, south of Anchorage, it includes wetlands, alpine areas, and Taiga forests. The Refuge protects all of Alaska's wildlife and birds, has several campgrounds with boat launches, numerous lakes and the Kenai river.
(d) one of the closest places to see wildlife is at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge where both Moose and bird life are plentiful. Accessible from Fairbanks it has farmhouses, barns, and 12 acres listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
This is perhaps the number one reason people go to Alaska hoping for a chance to see the over 430 species of birds which includes the elusive 'bald Eagles'; the largest carnivorous land mammals the Brown and Black Bears, and the Polar Bears which are actually marine mammals; Dall Sheep which stay mainly in the mountains requiring visitors to do some hiking; Orcas the giants of the deep that can be seen on many Alaska cruises; and Moose the easiest of the wildlife to spot as they can be found in many urban areas and near large cities.