Geography Snapshot: Learn the Basics
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population of Alaska is 710,231 as of April 2010. That might not seem like a lot in relation to its sheer size, but various communities in the state buzz with the energy of any city in the Lower 48. Anchorage, for example, is the largest city in Alaska with a population of 291,826. It’s a main hub for airline travel, and boasts an excellent dining and shopping scene along with farmer’s markets, art galleries and cultural centers. A little more than 300 miles north of Anchorage is the city of Fairbanks, the heart of Alaska’s Interior. Fairbanks and the surrounding area is the second-most populated city in Alaska, at 97,581 residents. Fairbanks serves as another main transportation center for travel to and from the state, as well as a prime location from which to venture into the Far North region.
Nestled between Anchorage and Fairbanks is Alaska’s third-place finisher for total city/borough population, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. The Mat-Su Valley has 88,995 residents who mainly live either in Wasilla or Palmer (the Alaska State Fair celebrates its 75th year here this summer). Many visitors might be surprised to learn Alaska’s capital city of Juneau ranks fourth largest in the state, with 31,275 residents. Juneau has an international airport of its own and is a highlight on any visit to the Inside Passage region of the state. It’s also a main port of call on cruise itineraries.
Alaska is home to more than 3,000 rivers, the biggest of which is the Yukon River. The Yukon is almost 2,000 miles long, making it the third largest river in the United States. It flows west from Canada through Alaska’s Interior and Far North regions before emptying into the Bering Sea in Alaska’s Southwest region. During the gold rush era and for thousands of years before, it has been an important connection between remote communities. Today, visitors can embark on a variety of activities in and around the river, including fishing, rafting, hiking, kayaking and gold panning. Other popular rivers for recreational activities include the Kenai River, accessible from Cooper Landing, Kenai and Soldotna; the Copper River from Cordova or Gakona; the Chena and Tanana rivers near Fairbanks; the Stikine River near the Inside Passage town of Wrangell; and many, many more.
A number of travelers to Alaska have set their sights on one thing: viewing a colossal, glittering glacier. Five percent of the state is covered with glaciers, and before you consider that number small, note that five percent of America’s largest state equals around 29,000 square miles and an estimated 100,000 glaciers! The largest of these is the 850-square-mile Malaspina Glacier, North America’s largest piedmont glacier. It’s located at the northern end of the Inside Passage region, inside Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Visitor bureaus in communities throughout Alaska can provide travelers with a list of the most spectacular glaciers to see on a trip to any region in the state, many of which are accessible right off major roadways. Tours that offer guests access to these icy dazzlers include activities like glacier trekking or flightseeing and are widely available in communities throughout the state.