Although our road trip to Alaska appeared to end when we crossed the
Canadian border into the Lower 48 in mid-September, we're still playing it out in our
minds. We'll probably continue to do so until we head that way again.
Jim and I had a great time in Alaska for almost three months this summer
and fall. It was all we expected from our research, and more.
Like many first-time visitors to the "Last Frontier," we want to go back
in a few years -- after we forget the long drive there and back!
The long and lonely road along the
mighty Liard River in northeastern British Columbia (9-9-12)
Even after traveling through the South Central and Interior parts of the
state from June 12 to September 6 we don't consider ourselves experts on
No way. We were there longer than most summer tourists but feel like we
barely scratched the surface of the things we were interested in seeing
We do have some observations to share with readers, however, and tips
for other intrepid travelers who are considering their first trip to the Far
Much of the information in this series of pages applies to travel by passenger vehicle or RV
from the Lower 48 states through Canada and within Alaska. Some of the
information should also be useful to anyone who flies into Alaska or
gets there on a cruise ship, then explores the state on their own.
Even if you don't plan to visit Alaska, scroll through the photos to see
the state through our eyes. Maybe you'll decide to go someday!
Colorful fireweed blooms in the foreground at the
North Denali viewpoint along
the George Parks Hwy. east of Denali National Park.
If you explore Alaska in
your own or a rental vehicle your schedule is more
flexible than on a tour. (8-5-12)
Keep in mind that Jim's and my perspectives are
from RVers, not travelers who ate meals at road houses and restaurants
or spent the night in cabins, B & Bs, motels,
or resort hotels along the way.
I originally planned this series of entries to be just a couple of
pages. Like most things I do, it mushroomed into much more than that! I'll
try to organize the topics into a coherent flow of information and may
update the series as I think of more things to include.
Enjoy! I hope this inspires you to visit -- or re-visit -- Alaska.
SOMETHING FOR ALMOST EVERYONE
Why would anyone want to visit the "Last Frontier," one of
Alaska's nicknames, in the first place?
It's a long way to reach from many places in the USA and the rest of the
world, it's cold and under snow much of time, and it's not as developed
as the other 49 states.
Some folks see those as negatives. Many like us see them as great reasons to
visit! A trip to Alaska appeals to different people for many different reasons.
My #1 priority was seeing Denali Peak on a clear
day. We totally lucked out and had many
opportunities to see The High One in its full
glory, with and without a few little clouds. (8-11-12)
One of many reasons Jim and I wanted to go to Alaska is simply because
we've never been there before. We wanted to experience a very
different part of the continent and it's a place we could reach in our
Jim has now traveled in all 50 U.S. states. I was happy to add Alaska as
my 49th state.
(Hawaii is the only other U.S. state I haven't visited. I'll go there
when they build a long enough bridge! I love to fly but it's too much of
a hassle since 9-11.)
A motorboat overtakes a sailboat
in the picturesque bay at Seward. (7-8-12)
We found all we were seeking and more in Alaska.
We enjoyed the solitude of the wilderness, the awesome
scenery, the abundant wildlife,
lots of friendly people,
years of cultural history, millions of years of geological history, and
unique things we hadn't seen or done before.
We learned many new things about living in a totally different kind
of world than the one we're used to in the Lower 48.
All that, and the residents even speak our language!
DON'T FORGET YOUR CAMERA
Alaska is a photographer's, nature lover's, and sightseer's dream.
The scenery is endless -- coastlines, mountains, lakes,
glaciers, ice fields, fjords, tundra, river valleys, dramatic skies,
boreal forests, meadows full of flowers:
There are numerous state and national parks and preserves,
including the biggest national park in the USA and the highest
mountain in North America:
Deep-water harbor and pier at
Valdez in northern Prince William Sound (6-15-12)
Wildlife is abundant. In one day you have the chance to see grizzly
bears, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, lynx, foxes, moose, and more at Denali National
Park -- or at a wildlife preserve:
20,320-foot Denali Peak (officially called
as seen from the
shuttle bus along the park road on August 11
Alaska is also a birder's paradise, with many species
migrating in and out and others tough enough to live there
A handsome male caribou with
showy rack saunters past a tan tour bus and green
shuttle bus at Denali NP like he
owns the road (critters do have priority!). (8-15-12)
Above and below: thousands
of ducks, geese, sandhill cranes (the tall birds below), and other
feed at Creamer's Field in
Fairbanks. Hundreds of acres have been set aside as a park and preserve.
The changing seasons offer a variety of visual delights --
colorful spring wildflowers, a profusion of summer rainforest plants,
bright fall leaves, pristine winter snow:
There is interesting architecture to photograph and enjoy all over
the state --
Russian Orthodox churches, abandoned hunters' cabins, modern urban
structures, and more:
Intense fall colors along a trail above the Savage
River rest area in Denali NP (8-30-12)
There are old gold and copper mines with relics from the Gold Rush
days, usually in scenic mountain settings:
Old homesteader's cabin at the
Kenai Natl. Wildlife Refuge near Soldotna (7-12-12)
You'll never run out of subjects to photograph along the coast,
from boats to wildlife:
Jim and Cody explore some of the
many buildings that remain
at the old Independence Mine north of
Old fishing boat graveyard along the road on Homer Spit,
framed by lupines in the foreground (7-14-12)
BE A GOOD SPORT
Alaska is a year-round recreational paradise (if you like snow
You can enjoy hiking, running, trail and road cycling, rock and mountain
climbing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, camping, fishing, bird-watching, hunting,
skiing, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and other sports.
Kayaks for rent at Byers Lake in Denali State Park
north of Anchorage (8-4-12)
LESS ACTIVE ENDEAVORS
Some of the more sedentary activities visitors to Alaska enjoy are
cruising the Inside Passage, taking day cruises out of Valdez, Homer,
Seward, and other coastal towns, taking flight-seeing tours of
magnificent scenery (some land on glaciers), doing your own driving
tours to interesting places (like the Arctic Circle!) or letting someone
else drive, watching the aurora borealis, visiting museums,
Above and below: exterior and
interior views of the modernistic Loussac Library in Anchorage
admiring the beautiful flowers that grow in abundant summer sunshine,
wandering around farmers' markets held in every town, visiting the state
fair, sampling various restaurants, bakeries, wineries, and breweries, touring a musk ox or reindeer farm,
riding a gondola up a ski hill in the summer for a bird's-eye view of
Turnagain Arm, and shopping for unique
hand-made Alaskan items.
There are numerous things to do, many of them unique to Alaska, and
they appeal to a wide variety of people from all around the world. I'm
sure there are many other activities I didn't think of when writing this
SPRECHEN SIE DEUTSCHE?
I was a little surprised by how many foreign visitors we saw/heard in
Alaska, especially in late August and early September.
Makes sense --
after the prime tourist season ends in northern climates, airfares come down in price.
Flags from numerous countries are displayed at the
ranger station in Talkeetna.
This is where climbers from all over the world go
through a mandatory orientation
before they are permitted to climb Denali Peak in
late spring/early summer. (8-2-12)
The foreign presence was most obvious to us in Denali National Park because we were
closer to more people there on the shuttle bus trips, in the
campgrounds, and at ranger talks than we were in most other places we visited. Many
of the visitors were from the Pacific
Rim countries, particularly Japan. Lots were from Germany, Austria, France,
Great Britain, and
other European countries. I also talked with folks from South and
Central America and Australia.
Many Canadians travel to Alaska in the summer, too, but I could
rarely tell who was from the U.S. and who was from Canada -- they
all sounded alike!
A surprise was seeing some distinctly German RVs in both
Canadian and Alaskan campgrounds that folks shipped over here.
That's gotta be expensive:
We saw this German RV at
Teklanika Campground at Denali NP. (8-10-12)
Perhaps if they leave them over here, like German ultra runner
Hans-Dieter Weisshaar and his wife did for many years in the Lower 48,
it's more cost-effective than flying to Alaska repeatedly and renting an RV.
ABSORBING THE HISTORY & CULTURE
If you travel to the Far North I encourage you to spend time in as
many visitor centers, cultural centers, and museums as you can in both
Canada and Alaska.
The Chugach National Forest
Visitor Center in Valdez sits in front of a beautiful waterfall.
Colorful flowers lead to the
visitor center and cultural museum in Fairbanks. (9-4-12)
There is a museum for every interest and many of them are free or
The abundance of monuments, interpretive signs, and historical
markers will also enhance your understanding of the people and places
you are visiting.
"Whispering Giant," a 30-foot
tall tribute to Native Alaskans by sculptor Peter Toth.
It is made from a Sitka spruce
tree and is displayed in Valdez. (June, 2012)
ALASKA IS NOT FOR EVERYONE, HOWEVER
There are probably some people who shouldn't consider traveling to
Alaska. I think they already know who they are. Although the larger
cities have upscale restaurants, nice resorts (I assume, haven't been in
one), and a variety of cultural opportunities there isn't a lot of
pretension or sophistication.
And that's one of many reasons why we enjoyed Alaska so much!
The Alaskans we met are down-to-earth, hard-working, hard-playing,
friendly folks. Natives are proud of their heritage and transplants are
glad they chose to relocate there.
It's not an easy life for many residents, however. Among the challenges
are the rugged terrain, long distances, small population, harsh weather
conditions, minimal sunlight during the winter, and a high cost of
High on the saddle above the
Eielson Visitor Center at Denali NP.
Everyone we met on the trails was
very friendly, too. (8-11-12)
I took this photo at about the
same spot two weeks later,
just after the first snowfall at this level.
As "Outsiders" we felt welcomed wherever we went.
Tourism is one of the primary industries in Alaska. When your
livelihood depends on showing off the good things about your state and
making visitors comfortable, you do your best to cater to them so they
stay longer and/or come back again.
That's one reason why it's fun to travel in Alaska!
Next page: maximizing your chances of having a good time
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
and Cody the ultra Lab
© 2012 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil