Now that you have found the time, and are aware it may be cool to chilly while you are there, all your excuses are removed. It is time to visit Alaska, so let’s talk about how to do it. I think I can break down how to tour Alaska into three methods: 1. cruise or cruise-tour, 2. ground tour package, and 3. self-guided tour.
The self-guided tour is our first adventure. If you have never been to Alaska, I would be remiss not to warn you that self-guided tours in Alaska are for the hardy and seasoned traveler, certainly not the novice. We have tourism vendors in many areas of Alaska who can assist and provide services. Much of Alaska’s appeal is between the stops, so just getting to a place is not how to visit Alaska. Knowing what you are looking at, or where to find what you want to see is 90% of the purpose of your trip. Your big visits should be to Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks, then perhaps down the coast to Glacier Bay, Juneau, and Ketchikan.
Anchorage is, of course, the largest city of Alaska, home to the University of Alaska. A not–to-miss visit is the Totem Pole Park and the Alaska Museum. Lodging in Alaska will run from well-known hotel chains to small lodges, where the attraction is personal attention and home-like feel. Don’t miss a cruise along the fjords to glaciers and a cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park from Seward.
Denali is the name of the National Park and Visitor Center, as well as the new name of the famous mountain formerly known as Mt. McKinley. It is the highest peak in Alaska, and most visitors wish for a view of the peak when cloud cover allows. Within Denali National Park, visitors should opt for the government-operated park tours, which afford them a chance to get as close to bear, moose, sheep, and many other species as park rules allow. On each of our visits, we were within 100 yards of moose as big as our bus, and bears grazing within twenty-five feet, with no fear of the humans present. The Denali Museum and Visitor Center is also a very worthwhile stop, especially for education.
Fairbanks is the end of the road for most tourists in Alaska. It certainly personifies wilderness, and accommodations there reflect this wilderness. A family member of a good friend of mine here in Mint Hill lives year-round in Fairbanks, where I believe he is a geologist. I say it is the end of the road because the Alaska Highway, after Fairbanks, is desolate, remote, foreboding, and very long between points of interest. This far north, the weather can be challenging, even during the short summer months.
South, along the coast, are the cities of Juneau and Ketchikan. These two coastal cities host almost every cruise ship visiting Alaska, so be prepared to work around these ships. They provide 90% of the tourism dollars that keep these two cities going. There is a myriad of activities that are available in each city. In Juneau, Alaska’s capital, the city is only accessible by water or air. You cannot drive into Juneau, making it one of the most remote capital cities in the world. Make a point to visit Mendenhall Glacier by plane, helicopter, or boat. In Ketchikan you can see Alaska in its natural beauty. Saxman Totem Park, or Totem Bight State Park, are more not–to–be–missed visits while in Ketchikan. Creek Street is an amazing place to see a unique series of buildings on the bay, where you will find art galleries and boutique stores.