FOR US SOUTH FLORIDIANS, THE COLDER TEMPERATURES IN ALASKA PROBABLY SEEM INTIMIDATING, BUT DON’T BE DISCOURAGED! THIS GORGEOUS STATE IS ONE OF NORTH AMERICA’S FINEST TREASURES. CHECK OUT TONS OF WILDLIFE IN THEIR NATURAL HABITAT, HIKE DEEP FORESTS AND TALL MOUNTAINS, AND CATCH A GLIMPSE OF A LIGHT SHOW IN THE SKY!
Alaska is home to far too many gems to limit your exploration to just a couple of cities, so instead, in this piece, I will guide you through some of the best attractions to add to your itinerary, including national parks, museums, and nightlife spots from all over! Make sure to take note of the ones that interest you, so you can plan your trip accordingly! There’s so much to see in this year-round winter wonderland that it will be hard to choose!
Looking for a sweet hotel in the chilly state but don’t know where to start? The most impeccable option to make your home-away-from-home is the Alyeska Resort in the city of Anchorage. Book the Royal Suite to enjoy a two-level parlor with panoramic views, a marble bathroom, and sleek cherry wood accents. The resort also has a spa that offers yoga sessions, fitness classes, facials, massages, and more; gift shops, a pool and whirlpool, and multiple dining options including the Seven Glaciers restaurant, which won an AAA Four Diamond award. alyeskaresort.com
Once you’ve settled down in your hotel, you’ll want to get right to it by putting on your hiking boots. Choose from one of the numerous parks to get in touch with your wild side! Denali National Park & Preserve is one of the largest in the U.S., and is also home to our country’s highest mountain, Denali (Formerly Mt. McKinley), which clocks in at 20,320 feet. Six million acres of land await you with opportunities to spot grizzly bears, wolves, elk, and others. Once inside, you’ll also want to make a stop at the Sled Dog Kennels, home to the many adorable sled dogs who mush through the snow during the winter! nps.gov
If you’d rather check out marine wildlife rather than land, you’ll want to take a ride over to Kenai Fjords National Park! Nearly 40 glaciers are visible here, in addition to snow-capped mountains and plenty of animals who love chilly waters! Book a wildlife and glacier cruise with Kenai Fjords Tours to get up close and personal with Minke whales, sea otters, Steller sea lions, puffins, Dall’s porpoises, and more! alaskacollection.com, nps.gov
To brush up on your history skills, opt for a different kind of park adventure at Sitka National Historical Park. As the state’s oldest national park, Sitka contains Russian and Native artifacts, and informational exhibits that detail the Battle of 1804, which had both the Tlingit Indians and Russian colonists fighting for possession of the land. Take a stroll through Totem Trail to spot colorful and fierce standing totem poles that were constructed by Natives, and then relax on one of the park’s many beaches, which offer spectacular views of the surrounding mountains. nps.gov
Once you’re done discovering one or all of the fantastic parks and becoming one with nature, it’s time to dive into another significant part of The Last Frontier. One of the most famous periods in America’s past largely took place in the state, and at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park you can learn all about it! The 1898 Klondike Gold Rush occurred when three men found gold in Canada’s Yukon territory. This set off numerous amounts of gold seekers to begin the journey to that same spot in hopes that they would find riches as well. The starting point for this long, 600-mile walk to the goldfields was none other than the town of Skagway, AK, where voyagers would head out on Chilkoot Trail. At this history-rich park, you can attempt to hike the 33-mile long Chilkoot Trail as well, putting yourself in the shoes of many men and women that experienced hardships just for a shot at wealth, many years ago. There’s also an on-site museum and visitor center if you prefer to do your learning less hands-on, where they offer films, exhibits, and a bookshop! nps.gov
To switch gears from history to art, head out to a unique museum that you’ve certainly never experienced before! Aurora Ice Museum in Fairbanks offers the world’s largest year-round ice environment, where renowned ice carver Steve Brice conjures up all sorts of wacky sculptures and icy spectacles. From a two-story snowball fight structure to knights jousting on horses, every object is crafted from ice and available to see. When you’re in need of a refreshing libation, don’t hesitate to take a seat at the bar, where you can sip on cocktails in ice martini glasses! chenahotsprings.com
Now it’s time for a taste of the fabulous cuisine! Orso, located in Anchorage, prides themselves upon serving their food farm to table. Fresh Alaskan seafood from local waters will be laid delicately on your plate, and when in season, local produce is sourced from nearby Matanuska Valley. orsoalaska.com
As nighttime comes around, and the clear skies give way to shining stars, you’ll want to begin planning your night. Alaska isn’t particularly known for having the best bars or clubs, but there are some options that will keep you entertained throughout your stay. Chilkoot Charlie’s in Anchorage is a world-famous nightclub and has hosted acts like The Beach Boys and Metallica. Known as simply “Koots” to the locals, the club has multiple dance floors, ten bars, sawdust floors, and walls that are full of Alaskan memorabilia.
If you’re feeling a bit more Western, push through the swinging saloon doors to enter Red Dog Saloon in Juneau. This iconic bar is one of the city’s oldest, dating back to mining times. Live music and entertainment play here every night, and craft beers and cocktails are on the menu for your drinking pleasure! When you’re done partying it up at one of these two hip bars, head back to your hotel for a good night’s sleep! reddogsaloon.com
The next day, on a bright and sunny morning, start off your activities the right way, with a big breakfast! At Snow City Café in Anchorage, fresh ingredients are bought from local vendors and served right onto your plate! They’ve been voted “Best Breakfast” in the Anchorage Press since 2003, and you’ve got to experience it for yourself to see why. Order the Kodiak Benedict for a fully satisfying meal that includes poached eggs, Alaska king crab cakes, a toasted English muffin, homemade hollandaise, and green onion. Yum!
“Ice, ice baby” is what you’ll be singing at your next adventure: The Mendenhall Glacier. You can see this 12-mile long icy attraction by water by kayaking or rafting, or by foot on one of the many trails that extend out from the visitor center. You’ll get to see icebergs floating in the water, black bears, porcupines and beavers walking amongst snow-covered terrain, and the gorgeous Nugget Falls, a waterfall that drops 377 feet. If you choose to kayak, you can paddle to the end of the glacier, and climb over it to explore the Mendenhall ice caves. Once inside, otherworldly sights will surround you as you take in the blue, illuminating effect of the ice! fs.usda.gov
After seeing lots of blue, head to a place with some more greenery on Kodiak Island, which is off the south coast of the frozen state. The second largest U.S. island after Hawaii’s Big Island, Kodiak is most famous for its own subspecies of brown bears. They are huge in size on this island, with most weighing in at a whopping 1400 pounds! If you’re lucky, you can catch a beautiful photo of one snatching some salmon out of a river. Green mountains and large unfrozen lakes are part of the beauty on this island, as well as its prosperous wildlife that include red foxes, river otters, weasels, bats, reindeer, harbor seals, porpoises, and more! kodiakak.us
At the end of your trip, there’s one more road to travel before you can head on home to higher temperatures. The Dalton Highway extends over 400 miles into Alaska’s Far North region, and was originally built in 1974 as a supply road to support the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. Today it’s pretty remote and is used mostly by oil-field workers, but if you book a tour or plan a well prepared trip yourself, it provides a scenic drive into the Arctic Circle. Once inside the famous circle, you’ll either experience 24 hours of daylight, if it’s summer solstice, or 24 hours of darkness if its winter. If you’re there during the winter season, be prepared to see the world’s greatest natural lightshow: The Northern Lights. As dashes of green, blue, and purple electrify the night sky, you’ll forever be able to remember why Alaska is such a magical place! If you make your trip during the summer, you’re in for an equally fascinating treat. The sun will be visible for 24 hours, meaning that you’ll be able to say that you witnessed the reason why the grand state is called “Land of the Midnight Sun.”
By Aaliyah Pasols