NORTH AMERICA

Alaska


Alaska is America's last frontier, with more parkland than any other US state has land. Vast unspoiled wilderness; icy glaciers; crystal clear waters; coastal villages and modern cities; bears, moose, whales; fishing, cruising and dog sledding, all offer visitors an experience like nowhere else on earth. Although far away, and often expensive, the opportunity to visit such a wild and beautiful place is a difficult one to pass up.

The magnificence of Alaska can be discovered via a variety of journeying styles: by self-drive, cruise, sail, rail or coach tour. If you're the road-tripping type, there's no better way to explore the largest US state than by RV. A trip along the Alaska Highway provides spectacular views of the Northern Rocky Mountains; roadside glimpses of bison, moose, and black bears; and detours to rest-spots like the Liard River Hot Springs. Cruise and sail adventures offer a comfortable passage through some of Alaska's knockout natural wonders such as Glacier Bay, Admiralty Island and Tracy Arm, where whales, sea lions, eagles and calving glaciers are ever-present. Rail journeys on domed, luxury railcars and open-air platforms allow passengers to breathe in the stunning landscapes and mountain-fresh air. Group excursions within coach or minivan tours not only access the most popular sightseeing and scenic areas but also provide the chance to experience local Eskimo cultures, and get close to Alaska's famous wildlife it's exciting to be near 400kg brown bears as they fish for salmon in Kodiak Island's streams!

Dog-lovers can experience a real thrill by signing on for a husky sled tour or ride. Mush a dog team deep into the heart of Alaska's most sacred place, Denali Park, in wintertime, or glacier sled at Seward on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula during the summer months. Alaskans have used dogs to pull sleds for centuries, but it wasn't until 1972 that dog mushing became the state's official sport. Those who aren't keen to jump on board can cheer on spirited husky-racing teams from the sidelines during the annual Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race held every February, or the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March of each year.

Hiking, kayaking, biking and rock climbing enthusiasts are drawn to Juneau's many trails and rugged mountain peaks which are all within short distance of the town's cafes, hotels, restaurants and bars. Valdez, the activity centre for Prince William Sound, is another must visit destination for Alaskan thrill seekers. Its five glaciers can be accessed by cruising, flying, walking, driving, glacier trekking, with winter adventures including helicopter and snowcat skiing, snowboarding, snowmobiling, and unparalleled ice climbing opportunities on frozen waterfalls.

Fishing is also a popular pastime in Alaska and landing a salmon is easy, even in Anchorage where a salmon stream runs through the middle of town. Homer proudly refers to itself as the Halibut Fishing Capital of the World, while Valdez is home to the oldest fish derbies in Alaska, awarding thousands of dollars in prize money each year. Keen anglers can fish from shore or take a charter, but the most memorable Alaskan fishing expeditions incorporate transportation by floatplane and luxury accommodation at scenic wilderness lodges.

So much fresh air builds up an appetite, so travellers will be relieved to discover there's a lot of good food here really good food. Alaskan cuisine is best-known for its freshly caught seafood and game meats. While salmon, halibut and trout feature heavily on most menus, some regional specialties include Caribou stew, Moose steaks and a delicious Eskimo ice cream known as Akutaq. Top off your meal with a hot cup of Alaska's own Heritage Coffee, or a chilled beer from the Alaskan Brewing Company; then head to a live music bar where, in the frontier tradition, things can get wild!

Alaska's vastness means the seasons change at different times in different parts of the state. June is the driest of the summer months, July the warmest, and August generally the rainiest. Summertime in the southeast averages temperatures in the low 20sC, with daily rains common throughout September and October, while warmer sunny weather is typical of interior Alaska summer (average summer temps in the low 30sC). The sun dips below the horizon in Anchorage for only 4 hours on June 21, the longest day of the year, and the sky is light all night. May and September are popular 'shoulder' months as the weather is mild and there are fewer tourists. For sightseeing, Alaskan scenery is at its best in winter (although there are fewer wildlife-spotting opportunities). Some tourism-oriented towns such as Skagway close down but inland, where winter sports are better, there is more to do. Visitors will experience long nights (-10C temperatures) and the mesmerizing northern lights.

Click here for our suggestions on events and places to go at various times of year

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