By: Elissa Richard
Native arts. Calving glaciers. Arctic wildlife. Frontier quirk. Alaska teems with indelible highlights: Misty fjords, colossal glaciers, temperate rain forests, and sprawling tundra among them. And the 49th state is by no means a year-round wall of snow. While there’s certainly a lot of that (a quarter of the state stretches into the Arctic Circle), during the high tourist season from Memorial Day through Labor Day, you can pack in plenty of outdoor adventure during the long summer days, when temperatures in the interior reach 80 degrees.
Juneau and Glacier Bay National Park
TRIP 1: A SOUTHEASTERN ITINERARY
Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier
This gateway city provides a perfect microcosm of the state itself, from a picturesque Victorian downtown to the blue-tinged glacier next door.
Alaska’s capital and third largest city, Juneau, is physically cut off from the mainland. It’s bordered by Gastineau Channel, part of the Inside Passage (the waterway that covers the length of the state’s panhandle), and an extensive inland ice field. Yet despite its isolation, the city seems in many ways like Alaska in miniature. It has a small-town feel common to even the largest Alaskan cities—here, politicians hobnob alongside fishermen, vibrantly colored Victorian houses abound—and the influence of indigenous Native communities and gold miners lingers on every corner. Yet for all its cultural diversity and richness, the great outdoors—temperate rain forests that get more than 200 days of rain a year, rugged mountains, quiet beaches, massive glaciers—presses in from all sides, infusing the city with an earthy, adventurous vibe.
EXPLORE Nestled between forested mountains, downtown Juneau is a picturesque area, its bright 19th-century structures set on steep but strollable streets. The area is dotted with legislative and historic buildings—including the marble-columned 1931 State Capitol building and the octagonal, gold-domed St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (a testament to the region’s Russian heritage)—as well as a sprinkling of totem poles. The Alaska State Museum is a worthwhile stop to peruse Native art and artifacts as well as exhibits on the history of Russian and American settlements (museums.state.ak.us). Tourist-heavy South Franklin Street is lined with shops and galleries (when cruise ships are in port, this area is mobbed), and connects downtown to the waterfront and to the Mount Roberts Tramway ($25; goldbelttours.com), which whisks visitors up 1,800 feet on Mount Roberts for superlative views (on clear days) of Juneau and the water. You’ll also find hiking trails and the Timberline Bar & Grill.
Driving “out the road”—local lingo for cruising Juneau’s only (and ultimately dead-end) highway—leads along Auke Bay—where ferries ply the Alaska Marine Highway—and through Mendenhall Valley. The bay hosts kayaking tours, sportfishing charters, and whale-watching cruises—Four Seasons Marine Services has the best boats and guides, and guarantees whale sightings (4seasonsmarine.com). The valley is home to blue-tinged Mendenhall Glacier, one of Alaska’s most accessible and visited glaciers. It can be viewed from a lakeside overlook or via several trails. Adrenaline seekers can arrange glacial hiking through outfits like Above & Beyond Alaska (beyondak.com). On the way back, stop at Alaskan Brewing Company, an award-winning brewery turning out blends like Alaskan Amber, inspired by what original gold rushers imbibed (alaskanbeer.com). Cycle Alaska’s 4.5-hour, guided Bike & Brew tour is a fantastic way to visit glacier and brewery in one shot (cycleak.com).
WHERE TO STAY For a smart splurge, book a room at romantic Pearson’s Pond Luxury Inn, a deluxe waterfront retreat tucked into the rain forest on the outskirts of Juneau with its own secluded pond and Adventure Spa (from $399/night; pearsonspond.com). More central to downtown is Alaska’s Capital Inn bed-and-breakfast, set in a historic 1906 mansion steps from the capitol building, with personal touches like local art, handmade quilts, and evening wine receptions (from $165/night; alaskacapitalinn.com).
WHERE TO EAT Breakfast at the state’s oldest operating bakery, laid-back Silverbow Bakery, where the sourdough recipe hasn’t changed in 100 years (silverbowinn.com). For lunch, The Hangar, in a converted floatplane hangar on the waterfront, offers American fare and a delectable selection of Alaskan microbrews (hangaronthewharf.com). The Art Deco Gold Room at the Baranof hotel is the finest eatery in the city, specializing in seafood dishes (entrées from $23; westmarkhotels.com/juneau-food.php). Chez Alaska is a new cooking school where you’ll learn to prepare gourmet dishes based on locally sourced ingredients such as sea cucumber and abalone (chezalaska.com).
WHERE TO SHOP Jade Shop sells jewelry handmade from jade mined near the Alaska/British Columbia border (alaskajadeshop.com). Juneau Artists Gallery in the old Senate Building and The Raven’s Journey on South Franklin are great places to pick up work by local artisans (juneauartistsgallery.com; ravensjourneygallery.com).
Glacier Bay National Park
Take in glacial giants via boat or plane.
Situated about 50 miles northwest of Juneau is Glacier Bay National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site showcasing a mélange of marine and terrestrial habitats, as well as mammoth glaciers that flow into the sea from the surrounding mountains (nps.gov/glba). The 3.3-million acre preserve is accessible exclusively by plane or boat, with the exception of a few trailheads near the park’s headquarters at Bartlett Cove (see below). Flightseeing through Air Excursions offers maximal views of the ice rivers and glacial giants (airexcursions.com), but for a more human-scale view, charter a yacht from Gustavus Marine Charters (gustavus marinecharters.com) or a sea kayak. Daylong trips (guided or solo) can be organized by Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks (glacierbayseakayaks.com). A comprehensive eight-hour Glacier Bay Tour aboard a high-speed catamaran, with lectures by National Park Service naturalists and lunch, can be arranged through Bartlett Cove visitor services (visitglacierbay.com). Dress in layers and bring binoculars—humpback and orca sightings are a near guarantee.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT The best local rooms are in nearby Gustavus at Glacier Bay’s Bear Track Inn, an extraordinary shoreside log cabin bordering a field of wildflowers—rates include locally sourced meals and flights to and from Juneau (from $544/night per person; beartrackinn .com). Family-run Gustavus Inn at Glacier Bay is well-regarded for home-cooked meals and friendly, personalized service (from $190/night per person; gustavusinn.com). The area’s smart splurge is just outside Gustavus (right near the airstrip) at the Glacier Bay Country Inn, which caters to every sort of fishing enthusiast with guided trips (from $198/night per person, includes meals; glacierbayalaska.com). Glacier Bay Lodge offers the only lodging situated within the park itself and boasts a good restaurant, the Fairweather Dining Room (from $160/night per person; visitglacierbay.com).
GETTING THERE FROM JUNEAU Flights can be arranged from the capital to the tiny town of Gustavus (Alaska Airlines operates a daily route in summer). Gustavus is situated about 10 miles from Glacier Bay’s headquarters at Bartlett Cove (accessible via shuttles, taxi, or rental cars). Charter boats are available, too, or take the newly reinstated ferry service from Auke Bay to Bartlett Cove (courtesy of Glacier Bay Lodge). Book ahead because there’s just one circuit each day ($75 one way; no cars; visitglacierbay.com).
To Seward and Kenai Fjords via Anchorage
TRIP 2: TO SEWARD AND KENAI FJORDS VIA ANCHORAGE
A short stretch of coastal highway packs a lot of scenic punch on its way to the quaint town of Seward and the dramatic Kenai Fjords National Park.
The Seward Highway serves as the thread linking Anchorage to the charming portside town of Seward at the head of magnificent Resurrection Bay. The 127-mile highway traverses the Kenai Peninsula, cutting through diverse landscapes—from glistening glaciers to alpine meadows, with vistas of jagged peaks and majestic fjords. Many miles of the route wind past waterfalls, wildflowers, and wildlife, hugging the base of the Chugach Mountains and overlooking Cook Inlet down the shoreline of Turnagain Arm (where twice daily there’s a bore tide—a wave that can roar up to 10 feet tall). Watch for grazing sheep and mountain goats among the cliff tops, and beluga whales swimming the frigid waters below. Designated an All-American Road by the U.S. Department of Transportation, the highway provides access to terrific fishing spots and campgrounds. For those who prefer riding to driving, the Alaska Railroad follows a near-identical route.
EXPLORE The premier attraction en route is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where injured and orphaned bear, moose, musk ox, bison, and caribou roam in large enclosures recalling their natural habitat (awcc.org). Once in the photogenic fishing town of Seward, most visitors schedule trips to the Kenai Fjords National Park, a coastal expanse of tidewater glaciers, fjords, mountain peaks, and a rich population of wildlife, especially seabirds (nps.gov/kefj). Since the fjords are the thing to see, the preferred touring mode is by water (flight tours can also be arranged). Kenai Fjords Tours offers six- to nine-hour cruises that include a salmon lunch; the tours of Resurrection Bay offer calmer waters but less dramatic views (kenaifjords.com). Guided sea kayak tours, another way to experience the rough coast, are available through Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking (sunnycove.com). Hikers have limited access to the park’s periphery but can follow the half-mile Exit Glacier trail, which leads through a forested path to the base of Exit Glacier or the more serious eight-mile Harding Icefield Trail, a fantastic day hike through otherworldly glacial landscapes. Further Seward highlights include the Alaska Sea Life Center, a rescue and rehabilitation center for marine mammals and seabirds—watch puffins and sea lions zip by from underwater viewing galleries (alaskasealife.org). Take some time to refuel while perusing local arts and crafts at the nearby Resurrect Art Coffee House Gallery (resurrectart.com).
WHERE TO STAY Seward is within striking distance of Anchorage, but overnight options include the rustic yet well-appointed Seward Windsong Lodge (from $139/night; sewardwindsong.com). Or pull off the Seward Highway in Girdwood and take the tram to Alaska’s most famous ski spot, Alyeska Resort, boasting a saltwater swimming pool, spa, plenty of summer activities, and rousing mountain views (from $259/night; alyeskaresort.com).
WHERE TO EAT Seward Windsong Lodge’s relaxed Resurrection Roadhouse (entrées from $9; 907/224-7116) serves craft-brewed beers and Alaskan specialties like venison and deep-fried halibut. On the harbor, Ray’s Waterfront (entrées from $20; 907/224-5606) is known for fresh-off-the-boat salmon and seafood chowder. For more indulgent dining, stop at Mount Alyeska’s Seven Glaciers (see Smart Splurges).
In the state's only true metropolis, urban sophistication lives alongside native culture.
Home to nearly half the state’s population, Anchorage has many food, nightlife, shopping, and culture options. Most visitors use it merely as a transit hub, but the city warrants a few days’ exploration. The state’s commercial and financial center is hardly disconnected from the surrounding wilderness; don’t be surprised to spy moose loitering on city streets or anglers hauling 40-pound salmon from Ship Creek, right in the middle of downtown.
EXPLORE Anchorage is laid out in an easily navigable grid (lettered streets and numbered avenues). Start your tour at the landmark Art Deco 4th Avenue Theatre (built in 1947, it survived the devastating 1964 Good Friday earthquake) and take in the nearby town square (plus the adjacent Wyland Whale Mural). Close by is the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the state’s largest, chronicling 10,000 years of Alaskan history through exhibits like a full-scale bisection of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline (anchoragemuseum.org). Anchorage has no sales tax, so it’s a fantastic place to stock up on souvenirs—in abundance at the weekly, open-air Anchorage Market (Saturdays and Sundays; May 10 to September 7), where hundreds of vendors sell crafts like fur dolls and jade jewelry, artisanal jams, and anything related to salmon (anchoragemarkets.com). You’ll need wheels to navigate outside downtown, where you’ll find the 26-acre Alaska Native Heritage Center Museum, celebrating Alaska’s diverse Native inhabitants with exhibits, a replica village, and dance performances (alaska native.net). Near the airport the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum hosts exhibits on the state’s rich flying history and displays vintage planes (alaskaairmuseum.org). On Anchorage’s doorstep lies the half-million-acre wilderness of Chugach State Park, where hiking, climbing, fishing, rafting, and more can be enjoyed, along with bird’s-eye views of Anchorage (www.dnr.state.ak.us/parks).
WHERE TO STAY Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Historic Anchorage Hotel (from $215/night; historicanchoragehotel.com) is a lovely property dating to 1916. Its rooms have been elegantly refurbished with Queen Anne–style furnishings. Another fine choice is nautically themed Hotel Captain Cook (from $260/night; captaincook.com), where many rooms boast great views of the Chugach Mountains or Cook Inlet.
WHERE TO EAT For Tuscan-meets-Alaskan cuisine, Orso doles out innovative dishes like mushroom ravioli with Alaskan sockeye salmon; reservations are advised (entrées from $9; orsoalaska.com). Just next door, the Glacier Brew House specializes in handcrafted beer (there are dozens on offer) and gourmet bar food (entrées from $9; glacierbrewhouse.com). The best breakfast in town is at the Snow City Café, which draws a young crowd and serves all sorts of egg dishes, homemade sourdough pancakes, and a signature granola (entrées from $8; snowcitycafe.com). Jens’ Restaurant, with its Danish-inflected lunch menu (try the Frikadeller med rødkål, or pan-fried veal-and-pork meatballs with red cabbage), is well worth a visit (entrées from $11; jensrestaurant.com).
The Wilds of Denali National Park and Mount McKinley
TRIP 3: THE WILDS OF MOUNT MCKINLEY
Denali National Park
The sprawling park surrounding North America’s tallest mountain peak is a remote but can’t-miss destination that channels all the majesty of Alaska’s backcountry.
Denali National Park and Preserve is Alaska’s foremost attraction, rewarding visitors to this out-of-the-way country with wondrous alpine scenery capped by Mount McKinley—known as Denali, or the Great One, to the region’s Native people (nps.gov/dena). Visitors can easily make the drive on the George Parks Highway (Route 3) from Fairbanks (125 miles) or Anchorage (240 miles), or take Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star Train, which offers stupendous views en route between the two cities. Encompassing some six million acres, the park is marked by tundra, glaciers, and prolific wildlife—grizzlies, moose, caribou, wolves, Dall sheep, and much more. The park’s ecosystem remains much as it has for millennia due to careful stewardship. Case in point: Just one dusty service road cuts into the reserve, 91-mile Park Road, and beyond mile 15, even that road is closed to private vehicles.
EXPLORE Since there’s only one way into the park, make a pit stop at the Visitor Center for an introduction to the vast landscape through its elaborate installations. Beyond mile 15, access to Park Road is strictly reserved for bicyclists, limited tour buses, and park-sponsored shuttle buses. Shuttles ply the full loop, offering hop-on, hop-off service in both directions, and stopping for wildlife photo ops (a shuttle circuit takes between six and 12 hours). The areas around Wonder Lake provide terrific introductory hiking, and many of the trails there have great views of Mount McKinley on clear days. Guided bus tours offer extras like box lunches and commentary, and include the Denali Natural History Tour (four to five hours), the Tundra Wilderness Tour (six to eight hours), as well as the comprehensive Kantishna Experience, which takes 11 to 12 hours (denaliparkresorts.com). The one drawback to these tours, compared to unguided park shuttles, is that travelers are confined to the bus outside of designated rest stops. Keep in mind that the earlier the departure, the better the visibility, and the more animals you’ll see (and riding into Denali, seats on the left side of the bus have the best vistas). Bring binoculars for wildlife viewing and plenty of water and food, because there are no concessions within park boundaries. There are miles and miles of wilderness to explore, but most visitors make the trek here solely with snow-clad Mount McKinley in mind. The 20,320-foot behemoth can be viewed from many points within the park, though it is often obscured by clouds. (For info on climbing, see Talkeetna section below.) Reserve everything from bus tickets to hotel rooms as far in advance as possible (reservedenali.com). Other activities of interest in and around the park include sled-dog demonstrations at the park’s kennels, ranger programs, biking, backcountry hiking, river rafting, jet boats, and horseback riding. Small plane and helicopter flightseeing tours of the Alaskan Range and glaciers are a great way to take in the maximum amount of parkland in the minimum amount of time (Denali Air; denaliair .com; Era Helicopters; flightseeingtours.com).
WHERE TO STAY Located less than a mile from the park entrance, McKinley Chalet Resort offers pine-paneled, two-room minisuites and several cedar lodges (from $159/night; denaliparkresorts.com). Inside the park, eco-friendly Camp Denali boasts cabins near Wonder Lake and naturalist-led programs, and is the only park lodge with views of Mount McKinley (from $435/night, includes transfers, all meals; campdenali.com). Those who prefer to sleep under the stars can’t beat the tent-only Campground at Wonder Lake ($16/night for camping permit; denali.national-park.com).
WHERE TO EAT The lively Overlook Bar & Grill (entrées from $16; denalicrowsnest.com), a mile north of the park entrance, serves craft beers, burgers, and great views over Nenana Canyon. Laura and Land Cole, proprietors of 229 Parks Restaurant & Tavern (eight miles south of the park entrance), use organic and local ingredients when possible, and offer several vegetarian and vegan options (entrées from $16; 229parks.com).
WHERE TO SHOP Shopping is scarce in the park area, but a few miles from the park entrance in Glitter Gulch, Denali Mountain Works sells outdoor gear, perfect if you plan on camping in the shadow of the Great One (907/683-1542).
This quirky outpost at the junction of three rivers attracts avid climbers and anglers.
Midway between Denali National Park and Anchorage lies the gold rush–era town of Talkeetna. The residents are lighthearted, artsy, and have a great sense of humor (the town hosts an annual Moose Dropping Festival). The tiny settlement of log cabins and clapboard buildings (population about 800) is said to have been the inspiration for the TV series Northern Exposure and is the primary base for Mount McKinley climbers. Considered one of the world’s most challenging climbs, some 1,200 attempt the peak each year. In the town cemetery, there’s a touching memorial to climbers who have perished on the mountain.
EXPLORE Located at the junction of the Susitna, Talkeetna, and Chulitna rivers, Talkeetna is a dream destination for river boating, rafting, and salmon fishing trips (Mahay’s Riverboat Service; mahaysriverboat .com; Talkeetna River Guides; talkeetnariverguides.com). Learn about the town’s rich climbing and mining history at the Talkeetna Historical Society (talkeetnahistorical society.org). Talkeetna Air Taxi offers flightseeing tours that actually stop on Ruth Glacier, near Denali (talkeetnaair.com). To make the full Denali climb, you will need to register two months in advance and pay fees totaling $200. Professional guides can be arranged through the local ranger station (nps.gov/dena). The Alaska Railroad stops in Talkeetna on its Anchorage-to-Fairbanks run.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT About two miles outside of town is the rustic Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge, surrounded by forest. Its best rooms are on the higher floors, offering Denali views (from $269/night; talkeetnalodge.com). Café Michele, back in town, offers mainly organic dishes with international flavors, like local salmon in a soy, ginger, and garlic sauce (entrées from $18; cafemichele.com).
WHERE TO SHOP Main Street has plenty of gift shops and galleries like Talkeetna Artisans, selling local arts and crafts, and Nagley’s General Store, one of Talkeetna’s most charming buildings (nagleysstore.com). For all your outdoor supply needs, hit up Alaska Mountaineering School (climbalaska.org).
Fairbanks: A City on the Arctic's Edge
TRIP 4: A CITY ON THE ARCTIC’S EDGE
The northern hub with a gold rush past.
Fairbanks serves as the hub of the state’s interior from its position about 360 miles north of Anchorage. Alaska’s “Golden Heart” was founded as a gold mining town, and mining is still a driving force in the area, though much has changed since the gold rush days. The University of Alaska adds a youthful energy to what would otherwise be a remote outpost sprawled along the banks of the broad Chena River. The city is so spread out that driving is pretty much the best way to get around. Fairbanks’ citizens are friendly, colorful, unpretentious, and a little idiosyncratic—who can blame them when summer’s baseball games are held under the midnight sun and dark, frosty winters pass beneath the surreal glow of the aurora borealis?
EXPLORE The heart of downtown Fairbanks is, fittingly, in Golden Heart Plaza, where a lovely fountain holds a bronze statue of a Native family, speaking to the influence and importance of Native culture in this area. Head to the historic Lacey Street Theater, now home to the Ice Museum, where ice sculptures are on display in giant walk-in freezers, offering visitors a look at what the World Ice Art Championships (held in Fairbanks every winter) are all about (icemuseum.com). During the summer months, when the University quiets down, local cultural highlights include the Summer Arts Festival (July 13–27) and the Fairbanks Shakespeare Theatre (fsaf.org; fstalaska.org).
Heading out from the city center, several attractions warrant a visit. Historically themed Pioneer Park features gold rush and Native artifacts, a historic riverboat (the second largest wooden-hull vessel in existence), Warren G. Harding’s 1923 presidential rail carriage, and more (co.fairbanks .ak.us/parksandrecreation). A bit farther north, Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge is a birder’s paradise, hosting falcons, swans, cranes, and other birds. Close by and fresh from a $42 million expansion and renovation, the University of Alaska Museum of the North is an art, natural history, and science museum rolled into one; highlights include Ansel Adams photos, lots of gold artifacts, and Blue Babe—a 36,000-year-old mummified steppe bison (uaf.edu/museum). The Riverboat Discovery offers a 3.5-hour interactive Chena River tour (riverboat discovery.com). Chena Lake Recreation Area is a sprawling parkland perfect for outdoor sports of all kinds (co.fairbanks.ak.us/parksandrecreation). Chena Hot Springs, about 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks, has been soothing miners and other visitors in its geothermal pools since 1905 (chenahotsprings.com).
WHERE TO STAY Well-appointed Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge is set right on the Chena’s banks; many rooms have river views (from $199/night; princesslodges.com). Aurora Express Bed & Breakfast sleeps guests in seven Alaska Railroad cars (including a pair of 1956 Pullman sleepers and a caboose), each renovated to reflect a different historical period, and set in a spruce forest (from $135/night; aurora-express.com). Pike’s Waterfront Lodge offers comfortable rooms and log cabin suites (from $220/night; pikeslodge.com).
WHERE TO EAT Riverside Pump House Restaurant & Saloon has outdoor dining and a seafood-heavy menu; Seattle oysters are flown in fresh (entrées from $18; pumphouse.com). Lavelle’s Bistro serves elegant modern cuisine, like herb-crusted pork with currant sauce (entrées from $15; lavellesbistro.com), while homey Gambardella’s Pasta Bella specializes in Italian fare, including “the mother of all lasagnas” (entrées from $12; nvo.com/gambardellas). For a sweet ending, grab a cone at Hot Licks Homemade Ice Cream (cones from $3.25; hotlicks.net)—the seasonal wild berry flavors are lip-smacking good.
Smart Splurges in Alaska
SMART SPLURGES IN ALASKA
Denali from the Air
Denali often hides behind cloud cover, but flightseeing tours guarantee spectacular views. K2 Aviation offers daily summer departures from Talkeetna—add a landing on Ruth Glacier for an optimal wilderness outing (from $265; flyk2.com).
Mammoth Kodiak Island, 250 miles southwest of Anchorage, is home to verdant mountains, salmon-rich streams, glacier-moraine beaches, and 2,000 Kodiak bears (some of the largest bears in the world). Floatplane tours from the Kodiak airport get you to prime bear-viewing perches (from $450; andrewairways.com).
Avid travelers can add a notch to their belt by crossing into the Arctic Circle. Tours are best organized from Fairbanks, like those of Northern Alaska Tour Company, which visit the Yukon River, the Arctic Ocean, Native villages, and more (from $319; northernalaska.com).
Ride the Rails
Alaska Railroad’s first-class, double-decker Gold Star cars boast open-air observation decks and priority seating under glass domes, for spectacular views on the Denali Star route between Anchorage and Fairbanks ($304/one way; akrr.com).
The Alyeska Resort tram (just off the Seward Highway) will take you up 2,300 feet to the top of Mount Alyeska, where the Seven Glaciers restaurant serves up king crab and smoked salmon bisque to accompany stunning views (entrées from $29; alyeskaresort.com).
Anglers visiting Alaska have scores of options, but Winterlake Lodge (200 miles northwest of Anchorage) offers a great balance of deluxe lodgings, prime sportfishing (both on-site and through tours), and activities like panning for gold and cooking classes (from $1,235/night per person, all-inclusive; withinthewild.com).
Getting To and Around Alaska
GETTING TO AND AROUND ALASKA
GETTING THERE Direct flights from the lower 48 states operate out of about a dozen cities (most go through or originate in Seattle), via Alaska Airlines, Continental, Delta, and American. The majority of direct flights come into Anchorage, though there are routes into Juneau, Ketchikan, and Fairbanks as well.
GETTING AROUND Navigating Alaska’s big cities and attractions by land is easier than you might think—although the state is grand, most points of interest are contained within a relatively compact area and linked together by a few major highways and rail routes. However, the state’s extreme terrain can often render ground travel to outlying areas (referred to as the bush) treacherous or unfeasible. From Juneau—inaccessible by road from the rest of the state—visitors must fly or hitch a ferry to travel elsewhere. Yet any inaccessibility is remedied by ubiquitous aviation: Alaska has about one registered pilot for every 58 residents.
By Air Carriers like Alaska Airlines, Era Aviation, Wings of Alaska, Frontier Alaska, and L.A.B. Flying Service operate between most Alaskan cities, while bush planes, outfitted with wheels, floats, or skis, can be chartered
for more remote destinations. Flightseeing trips use small airplanes to access roadless Native villages or any settlements above the Arctic Circle, while helicopter tours usually cater to mountain and glacier visits.
By Road Renting both cars and RVs is easy in larger cities and offers maximum freedom in exploring the state via its scenic highways. Additionally, RVs are a great option for those seeking to take their time exploring the open country between destinations. Pay close attention to fuel, especially when driving off the major roads, because gas stations are not always easy to find.
By Train Rail journeys offer visitors the opportunity to let someone else do the driving while enjoying the stunning scenery, and with less development along rail lines than highways, those views are usually better. However, service is limited, with only two lines operating in the state. The remote White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad stretches between Skagway and Carcross in the Yukon Territory, while the much more tourist-friendly Alaska Railroad operates routes linking Anchorage and Seward, as well as Anchorage and Fairbanks, with a stop at Denali National Park en route (whitepassrailroad.com; akrr.com).
By Sea The most popular way to travel to Alaska is on a cruise ship. But even if you’re based on land, traveling on one of the state-run ferries operating on the Alaska Marine Highway is a scenic means of travel, particularly on routes between the water-bound coastal communities of the Inside Passage or from the Kenai Peninsula to Kodiak Island (ferryalaska.com). Day-cruise tours are the primary means of access to several major sights, including Glacier Bay National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park. Be sure to book ferry passage well in advance.
Long Weekend Fly into Juneau and use the city as a home base for forays into the surrounding wilderness (sea kayaking in Auke Bay, Mendenhall Glacier). Plan an overnight trip to Glacier Bay National Park.
One Week Start with three days in Juneau as above, then catch a flight to Anchorage, rent a car, and spend one day exploring the city. Spend the next day driving out to the Kenai Peninsula via the Seward Highway for a two-night stay in Seward, allowing time to visit the Kenai Fjords National Park. Return to Anchorage for the flight home.
Two Weeks Follow the above, but continue from Anchorage toward Denali National Park by road or rail. Consider spending one night in Talkeetna, or head straight to the park for a two-night stay. Continue to Fairbanks and spend two nights there, factoring in at least half a day for a flight excursion to the Arctic. Fly home from Fairbanks.