49 Places to go in the 49th State

 

Planning a trip to Alaska?  Or looking for somewhere off the beaten path? Here are some spots that should not be missed. { By the Editors of Alaska magazine }

There are so many places to go in Alaska, the choices can be overwhelming — after all, there are more than 570,000 square miles of Alaska to see. So, at Alaska magazine, we put our heads together to come up with 49 suggested destinations for your trip of a lifetime.

 

1) Childs Glacier

If you want to see a calving glacier, this one, along a road outside Cordova, will oblige about every 15 minutes in the summer. But be careful, the falling ice can send a 10-foot wave across the river and onto the opposite shore. (Check for salmon that have been splashed up into the forest.)


2) Matanuska Glacier

Near the crest of a hill at Mile 100 of the winding Glenn Highway, Matanuska Glacier dominates the landscape north of Palmer. Pull over to look down at the roadside wonder, walk the Edge Nature Trail for a closer look, or pay a small fee at Glacier Park Resort and drive to a terminal moraine where you can walk on the ice.


3) Ruth Glacier

Granite cliffs tower 5,000 feet above aqua-colored ice peeking from beneath snow on this glacier, which drops more than 2,000 feet across 10 miles. Catch a flight above the ice from Talkeetna.


4) El Capitan Cave

With more than 13,000 feet of passageways, “El Cap” Cave, on Prince of Wales Island, is the largest known cave in Alaska and one of the longest mapped caves in the Americas. Black-bear skeletons found in 1990 in a newly discovered passage were dated at almost 12,300 years old. Free, guided tours are offered by reservation in the summer—without a guide you can go in only about 200 feet to a locked gate.


5) Hatcher Pass

Twisting and turning as it follows the Little Susitna River, Palmer-Fishhook Road is equally dramatic in winter and summer. Hatcher Pass, north of Palmer, is a popular skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling destination in winter and a great place to hike or pick berries in summer.


6) Cape St. Elias Lighthouse

At the tip of 20-mile-long, one-mile-wide, uninhabited and inhospitable Kayak Island, 62 miles southeast of Cordova, sits a lighthouse built in 1916. The lighthouse and light keeper’s residence are unsafe, but the boathouse has a wood stove, water tank, propane oven, blankets and bunks to accommodate up to 10 visitors. Contact the Cape St. Elias Lightkeepers Association to reserve it.


7)  Eldred Rock Lighthouse

First lighted June 1, 1906, this is one of the most remote lighthouses in North America and the oldest original lighthouse building in Alaska. The octagonal Eldred Rock Lighthouse was built after several shipwrecks during the 1898 Gold Rush, when Lynn Canal was full of steamships bringing miners to Skagway for their climb over Chilkoot Pass.


8) State Capitol Building

Even before Alaska was a state, groups lobbied to move the capital to Anchorage. But it’s still in Juneau—for now—and the Capitol is worth a trip if you’re there.


9) Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

An area larger than Rhode Island and Vermont combined, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is named for the two mountain ranges that form its backbone. Only two roads penetrate the park, which also contains the largest designated wilderness area—nearly 10 million acres—in the National Park System.


10) Kachemak Bay State Park

For beautiful scenery, wildlife viewing and solitude, Kachemak Bay State Park is among the best. The park has few visitors, compared with many of Alaska’s popular state parks, because it can be accessed only by water or air, but it offers options for the serious backcountry adventurer and for the upscale tourist.


11) Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

This is where politicians are always arguing about drilling for oil.


12) Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve

This is the northernmost national park—it’s entirely within the Arctic Circle—and the second largest—it’s about the size of Switzerland.


13) Shuyak Island

Off the north tip of Kodiak Island, this 47,000-acre island is mostly state park land covered by huge Sitka spruce and grassy meadows. You can kayak its craggy coastline, hike its misty forests or cast for salmon in its many streams.


14) Pribilof Islands

St. Paul and St. George are the largest of the Pribilof Islands, known as a top spot for birders and for the largest congregation of Northern fur seals anywhere. St. Paul also has the harbor entrance that challenges crab boat captains on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.


15) Little Diomede Island

You really can see Russia from here.


16) Round Island

This protected walrus sanctuary in Bristol Bay has limited primitive camping by permit.


17) Kodiak Island

The second largest island in the United States, Kodiak is mountainous and heavily forested on the north and east but fairly treeless on the south. Peppered with small Native communities, the island’s many deep, ice-free bays provide sheltered anchorages, and with just less than 100 miles of roads, the island is ripe for exploring


18) Tracy Arm

Cruising through scenic Tracy Arm—passing bobbing icebergs, steep cliffs, and flocks of Arctic terns and pigeon guillemots—to the face of Sawyer Glacier is unforgettable. Watch harbor seals and their newborn pups as the glacier calves.


19) Bristol Bay Watershed

Developers hope to dig an open-pit gold, copper and molybdenum mine here and conservationists hope to protect the area’s nine rivers, home to the world’s largest commercial salmon run.


20) Kenai River

For about six weeks starting in mid-July, thousands of fishermen migrate to the Kenai to catch a world-famous king, red, silver or pink salmon, trophy-size rainbow or Dolly Varden.


21) Chilkat River

Ice-free waters and late salmon runs attract the world’s largest concentration of bald eagles each winter to this river as it flows from the Chilkat Glacier through British Columbia and Southeast Alaska to Lynn Canal


22) Yukon River

From its source in northern British Columbia, the river travels 1,980 miles across the Yukon and Alaska. It’s said that you haven’t really visited Alaska until you’ve dipped a toe in the Yukon.


23)  Seldovia

The town’s motto is “Across the bay, a world away.” Take a water or air taxi from Homer to this quiet town.


24) Valdez

At the tidewater end of the trans-Alaska pipeline, this is where tankers fill up with North Slope oil bound for the Lower 48 or beyond. Surrounded by towering mountains, Valdez gets the most snow of any sea-level community in North America.


25) Sitka

The town has a rich history under Tlingit, Russian and American rule.


26) Dutch Harbor

Home base for the crab boats on Deadliest Catch, it’s one of the nation’s busiest fishing ports.


27) Metlakatla

The southern-most community of note in the state, Metlakatla is on Annette Island, home to a largely Tsimshian population and the only Indian reservation in the state.


28) Eagle

At the end of the Taylor Highway, Eagle is a checkpoint for the Yukon Quest, one of the coldest inhabitable places in Alaska and an access point for the Yukon River, which stretches 1,980 miles to the Bering Sea.


29) Meyers Chuck

The town, part of the borough of Wrangell in Southeast, is officially home to about seven people.


30) Chicken

There’s a funky little former mining town 68 miles down the Taylor Highway, with an even funkier annual music festival.


31) Nome

The end of the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race also has a fascinating Gold Rush history


32) Talkeetna

Visit Talkeetna for flight seeing, mountain climbing, fishing, boating and floating, great music, art and food. This is the place the town of Cicely in Northern Exposure was modeled after.


33) Salty Dawg Saloon

Once a post office, railroad station, grocery store, coal mining office and schoolhouse, it’s now a bar on the Homer Spit, with a lighthouse tower and thousands of hats and dollar bills hanging from the ceiling.


34) Skinny Dick’s Halfway Inn

Halfway between Fairbanks and Nenana is a bar and grill that sells some … interesting T-shirts.


35) The Double Musky

Looking for New Orleans-style eats in Alaska? This is the place. Be prepared to wait after the 40-minute drive from Anchorage to Girdwood, because they don’t take reservations. And try the pepper steak, it’s to die for.


36) The Howling Dog Saloon

This establishment in Fox, just outside of Fairbanks, touts itself as the farthest north rock ’n’ roll bar in the United States.


37) Kantishna Roadhouse

It’s at the end of the Denali Park Road, 100 miles and a six-hour bus ride into the park. Definitely an overnight trip.


38) Barrow

Dip your fingers in the Arctic Ocean, see the Midnight Sun, and learn about Inupiat culture in America’s most northern city.


39) Kennicott and McCarthy

Don’t miss the deserted Kennecott Mine and ghost town of Kennicott. They’re just beyond the town of McCarthy (population 42) at the end of a footbridge—and a 61-mile gravel road.


40) White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

A scenic, narrow gauge railroad between Skagway and Whitehorse, Yukon. Built in 1898 during the Klondike Gold Rush, it climbs 3,000 feet in 20 miles, makes sharp turns around steep cliff faces and hangs precariously above deep mountain gorges.


41) Kuskokwim River Road

There are 15,328 miles of roads in Alaska—in summer. In winter, that number grows as state road crews clear and maintain ice roads on major waterways. The Kuskokwim River ice road is as long as 100 miles some winters, depending on ice conditions. It’s the only time of year you can drive in or out of Bethel and its surrounding villages. No car? Don’t worry, you can flag a taxi on the river.


42) Hyder

It’s the easternmost town in Alaska, and the only way in is by road—from Canada.


43) The Haul Road

The road the History Channel’s Ice Road Truckers drive.


44) Denali Highway

This is a 135-mile gravel road between Paxson on the Richardson Highway and Cantwell on the Parks Highway. Beautiful views, great camping and fishing.


45) Alyeska Ski Resort

Ski, spa and enjoy the scenery at Alaska’s luxury ski resort.


46) Baranof Warm Springs

One person lives in the tiny town of Baranof Warm Springs, near Sitka, and there are no roads, just a boardwalk. But the town sees many visitors thanks to its nine hot springs with temperatures from lukewarm (hence the name of the town) to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.


47) Serpentine Hot Springs

Eskimo shamans gathered here to tap the power of the natural hot springs. Today, it’s the most visited area of Bering Land Bridge National Preserve, and where visitors can enjoy a soak amid soaring granite tors.


48) Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

The town of Whittier is 50 miles from Anchorage, but there is a mountain in the way. No worries, during World War II the Army Corps of Engineers kindly dug a 2.5-mile tunnel through the rock. At first it was only a railroad tunnel, but in July 2000, it was opened to vehicle traffic as well. The longest highway tunnel in North America is only one car width wide, so traffic switches direction every half hour. And it closes at night, so miss the last opening and you’ll be stuck in town until morning.


49) Aniakchak Caldera

This 10-mile-wide, 3,700-year-old volcanic caldera is a National Natural Landmark within Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve in the western Aleutian Chain. It last erupted in 1931.

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