Often it’s not just the warm and tropical destinations that make us want to travel. No, we’re happy to be fascinated by foreign worlds, admire bizarre landscapes, or simply be completely enchanted by the beauty of nature – and that’s exactly why travellers find Alaska so fascinating. I’m going to show you those places and natural phenomena that people keep falling in love with.
Northern Lights, steep cliffs, glaciers, national parks and wild animals – Alaska has a lot to offer nature lovers. I’ll reveal to you now which places you should definitely pay a visit to.
Denali National Park
Alaska’s most famous sight by far is Denali National Park. It’s here where you’ll find North America’s highest mountain, Mount McKinley, which serves as the central point of the park and can be conquered by experienced mountain climbers. The park is open every year between May and September and can only be reached by one road, the Alaska Highway. The national park is only a two hour car journey away from Fairbanks, the largest city in Alaska’s hinterland. Once you arrive at Denali you’ll pay a $10 entrance fee and receive a pass which gives you access to the park for 7 days. Shuttle bus services run all day long through the park and will bring you to all the important places – your car will unfortunately have to stay outside.
If you want to experience something particularly special I recommend a guided tour with a Jeep, where you’ll be accompanied by a guide who’s familiar with the area and get the chance to get some unique insights into the wildlife of Alaska. Even more exclusive is a round trip in a small aeroplane with the local airline Denali Air. This will cost around €300 per person, and you’ll be shown around the National Park with a bird’s eye view during a one hour flight. An experience that isn’t exactly cheap, but it’s one that’s definitely unforgettable.
Alongside the opportunity to stay the night in luxurious lodges and wooden huts, you can also go camping in the park as well. This isn’t just the most reasonably priced option, but also the most exciting way to spend a night here. In the park there are a few camp sites where you can pitch your tent up. If you like things a little more adventurous, then you can even set up camp outside the designated areas. To do this you’ll need a special permit which can be issued to you for free from one of the park rangers once you’ve completed some safety training. During this training you’ll learn how to properly interact with animals – bears in particular, as you’ll come across them time and time again in this park. Experienced campers and nature lovers will definitely get their money’s worth when camping out in the open, as you can’t get any closer to nature than this. In the park you’ll be able to observe bears, elks and other species in the wild.
In Denali National Park there’s a special highlight for dog lovers: several agencies offer dog sledding demonstrations. You’ll see the impressive power of the dogs for yourself and during a visit to the Husky Homestead you’ll learn everything about these robust four-legged friends. If you’re more of a fan of water sports, then a rafting tour is just the perfect thing for you! Get to know the national park from the water and sail along the rapids! You’ll be guaranteed to have a real adventure.
- Visitor centre: George Parks Highway, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK, USA. Open daily from 15/05 to the 20/09 at 8am to 6pm.
- Park opening times: Mid-May until mid-September
- Entrance fee: $10 for 7 days
- Hotels in the national park
Glacier Bay National Park
While you’ll be greeted by views of forested landscapes and tundra steppes in Denali National Park, you’ll bump into numerous fjords and glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park in the south of the state. The entire national park and the centuries-old glaciers belong to the UNESCO World Heritage list and are heavily protected. If you’ve always dreamed of seeing calving glaciers up close, this is the place to be. In the glacier bay enormous blocks of ice sometimes break off and fall into the sea, but of course you’ll need a little bit of luck if you want to observe this natural spectacle. The noise created when the ice breaks off is something that’ll you’ll remember for a long time. The glaciers in the park were formed hundreds of years ago and are constantly changing. While some glaciers are retreating, some are even expanding. The most famous glacier of them all, the Muir Glacier, has shrunk by nearly 100km in the space of just 100 years. You can take part in a day tour on a small ferry for around £60 per person, where you’ll sail past the gigantic glaciers. You can also observe marine mammals such as whales and seals. It’s also possible to book special whale watching tours, which specifically travel to the places where humpback whales and killer whales stay. If you yourself want to be more active, you an book a kayak or hiking tour – Glacier Bay National Park is the perfect place for it! One more thing: the park can only be reached by ferry or sea plane. There are regular ferry services between May and September.
There’s only one hotel directly in the park, Glacier Bay Lodge, but there are several other hotels in the surrounding areas which will definitely serve as a great starting point for a trip to the national park. Alternatively there’s also the opportunity to camp out in the open between May and September.
- Visitor centre: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, 1 Park Road, PO Box 140 Gustavus, AK 99826. Open daily from 10:30am to 8pm.
- Park opening times: Open all year round (recommended months: May – September)
- Entrance fee: none
- Hotels in the area
Alaska just wouldn’t be Alaska without the Kodiak bears! We all know the impressive documentaries about the bears that stand in the island’s rivers during spawning season to catch (or try to at least) the salmon swimming upstream. Wouldn’t it be great to experience this sight for yourself and observe the brown bears there? That’s exactly what you can do on the Kodiak Islands, an archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska that can only be reached by seaplane. You’re best to book one of the day tours, as that way you’ll be able to get right up close with the bears and other impressive animals, such as eagles. Besides day tours, many agencies also offer complete packages with hotels and catering – but of course these are a little higher in price. Unfortunately, observing bears is no cheap opportunity, much like safaris in Africa, but if you’re ever in Alaska you should never miss the opportunity to see the Kodiak bears for yourself!
Juneau is the capital of the state of Alaska. But don’t expect a big city like Vancouver, as this place is home to just 32,000 people. But that doesn’t mean that Juneau is boring, because like everywhere else in Alaska you’ll be surrounded by spectacular landscapes. One of Alaska’s most famous sights, Tracy Arm Fjord, is just 20km away from the town. In the fjord you’ll come across the the impressive Mendenhall Glacier which contains ice that’s over 150 years old. Where else in the world can you get so close to the history of the earth? The Mendenhall Glacier is just one offshoot of the Juneau Icefields, a gigantic collection of glaciers with ice over 1,400 metres (!) thick – dimensions it’s difficult to get your head around! The icefield is still growing as well. Deep caves have formed under the glaciers that you can visit with the help of an experienced guide. In the Juneau Icefields you’ll also find Nugget Falls, a 115 metre-tall waterfall that’s fed by waters from the glacier.
Juneau has an international airport so it’ll be dead easy to travel to and from there. If you still haven’t been lucky enough to see whales or bears you can book various day trips to catch up on the experience. If you’re a fan of beer you can even go on a tour around one of the local breweries. Just as interesting is a visit to one of the old gold mines, which contributed to the local wealth during the heydays of the Alaskan Gold Rush. Hundreds of Americans went to Alaska then to try their luck at gold mining – some of their descendants still live here today.
Alaska – a real dream destination
When it comes to Alaska there’s only one thing I can think – wow, what a destination! The nature and primitiveness that you can sense everywhere is just awesome. Where else can you experience such adventure? Would Alaska appeal to you as a destination or do the cold and wilderness put you off?
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