There are as many ways to explore Alaska as there are different landscapes and natural wonders. Only a portion of the state is accessible by road but for those willing to spend a little extra time and money, opportunities for adventure and recreation are endless. Most of these adventures don’t even require a lot of time – much can be accomplished in one day if that’s all you’ve got. Most cities have air-charter businesses or water taxi services that can take you to remote locations in the morning and pick you up at the end of the day.
One of the most popular flightseeing options in Alaska is to view Mount McKinley from the air. Most visitors to Alaska arrive with the hope of seeing the mountain referred to by indigenous Athabascans as “the great one.” Taking a flightseeing tour from Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali National Park or Healy is usually a fail-safe way to see the mountain and surrounding national park from as close as you can get without actually climbing the mountain. Many flight-tour operators offer the option (weather permitting) to land on a nearby glacier and experience the thrill of standing in such a magnificent and powerful place. For an even more uncommon flightseeing experience, consider booking a day tour to deliver mail to remote Alaska villages. “Mail run” tours are available from Fairbanks to villages along the Yukon River, offering the opportunity to get a good overview of several remote, off-the-road-system Alaska villages in a single day. And if tours aren’t your thing, consider arranging a charter flight to drop you overnight in the least-visited national park in the nation – Kobuk Valley National Park, located 30 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska’s Far North region.
Another measure of success when traveling in Alaska is how much wildlife you see. It’s not uncommon to hear visitors exchange stories while listing out which animals they encountered along the way. Few wildlife-viewing experiences, in Alaska or anywhere, rival the thrill of watching hungry bears snag salmon out of a stream or waterfall. While access is strictly controlled, visitor opportunities do exist to watch this happen in places like Katmai National Park and Preserve, Anan Wildlife Observatory, Pack Creek on Admiralty Island or Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. Tours to these locations, where bears congregate to feed and care for their young, are carefully supervised to ensure visitor safety while at the same time offering breathtakingly close access to some of North America’s most majestic creatures. For another only-in-Alaska wildlife viewing experience, consider connecting with a guide in Nome to see the resident population of musk oxen. Few sights are as hauntingly prehistoric as watching herds of these giant creatures feeding on the tundra of the Seward Peninsula. Several local outfitters can take you to the best locations for viewing musk oxen up close.
If terrestrial adventure isn’t your thing, consider an outing on one of the thousands of bodies of water in Alaska: oceans, lakes, glaciers, rivers and streams all present plenty of opportunities. If a fast-paced, blood-pumping adventure is what you’re after, consider hopping on an inflatable raft as it races down one of Alaska’s glacier-fed rivers. From challenging Class V rapids to scenic wilderness runs, there are several outfits that offer trips down Alaska rivers like the Nenana River near Denali National Park; Six Mile Creek on the Kenai Peninsula; Tana River in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve; the popular Lion’s Head run down the Matanuska River; a raft-hike combination down the Noatak River in the Far North; or the Alsek River, which flows into Alaska from the Yukon near Haines. If you’d prefer to explore a river of ice, many local guides can take you trekking or climbing on one of Alaska’s thousands of glaciers. Access to the glaciers is either by boat, trail or helicopter, and once atop these frozen geological masterworks, the breathtaking blues of the ice, deep crevasses, constantly shifting streams or giant rock deposits are sure to thrill.
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