- It’s the biggest state in the U.S. by far, covering more than twice the area of Texas, the next largest state.
- Alaska has more miles of coastline than all the other states put together.
- It’s home to over 100,000 glaciers, 3 million lakes, 50 active volcanoes, and dozens of the world’s most iconic species of large mammals and birds.
- Around 65% of Alaska’s 663,000 square miles is managed as public land.
Considering this, when you visit Alaska, you never suffer from the delusion that you can “see it all.” Instead, you have to pick the slices of the state that most interest you, as we did on our trip last month.
We began in Southeast Alaska, a land of islands and fjords, mountains and seaways. The majority of the region is protected by Tongass National Forest, the largest national forest in the country. One of its most famous features is the Mendenhall Glacier, just a short drive north of Juneau, the state capital. The glacier is perhaps best known for the caves that run beneath the ice at its terminus. These can be difficult to reach, but are accessible via guided hike.
Just west of Juneau is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, though it can’t be reached by road. To get there, you’ll either need to take a ferry or hop in a plane. Gustavus is the name of the tiny community where you’ll disembark, and from there it’s 10 miles to Bartlett Cove and park headquarters. Once you’re in, your options are wide open: Take a sea kayaking tour, go for an overnight backpacking trip, even tackle a peak in the Fairweather Range. You’ll do it all against one of the most dramatic and beautiful natural backdrops in the US.
Hundreds of miles to the northwest, in the state’s South Central region, the Alaska Range curves like a spine across the land. The highest sections are protected as Denali National Park and Preserve, with the 20,237ft massif of Denali itself serving as pinnacle. But there’s so much more than North America’s tallest mountain within this park. The lone road (accessible by park bus or bicycle) makes for one of the best wildlife-spotting experiences anywhere in the country—this is the home of grizzly bears, wolves, and caribou. Covering more than 6 million acres, Denali has more trekking and camping options than you could explore in a lifetime. And then there’s fishing, photography, hunting, dog-sledding, flight-seeing…they don’t call it the Final Frontier for nothing.
Many thanks to the National Park Service for making this trip possible. To learn more about these and other spectacular U.S. National Parks, visit http://www.nps.gov/.