“It is important in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong…to measure yourself at least once.” – John Krakauer, Into The Wild
Into The Wild is a philosophical book based on the real-life story of a young college grad from Atlanta who hitchhiked across America to Alaska. He left a series of letters for his sister and then disappeared. The man, Alex Supertramp, developed an entire outlook on life while he explored Alaska’s vast wilderness. This Alaskan philosophy rings true for any traveler today.
Alaska is one of the last unspoiled lands. It is one of the largest states, bigger than Texas and 22 smaller states combined! Yet it is one of the most uninhabited regions in the world. Here nature continues as it always has, mostly unmolested by human development. Every spring and summer, the flowers bloom and drape the land in beautiful brilliance. The bears forage while their cubs play. The salmon spawn upriver every year. The puffins do…whatever it is puffins do.
Its cities are places of culture. Juneau boasts one of the greatest culinary scenes outside of New York and California! Traditional native history and culture can be appreciated in all its glory in Fairbanks. For those who camp and fish, Alaska is the best place in the world you can be. Here are 20 reasons you should visit Alaska.
20 The Mountains
“Nothing is more damaging to adventure than the feeling of security.” – Into The Wild
Denali is the tallest mountain in North America. It towers nearly seven kilometers into the sky. Denali is also the third most isolated tall mountain in the world! You don’t need to go out of your way to see mountains in Alaska, however. There are thousands of them. Alaska is made up of mountains. The Alaska range, the Aleutian range, and the Rockies all jumble together on the roof of the continent. Bring your camera and your skis and a warm hat to truly enjoy Alaska’s mountains.
19 The Glaciers
“Don’t settle down and sit in one place. Move around. Be nomadic.” – Into The Wild
When the last ice age ended, the glaciers retreated to the top of the world as they melted away. What’s left of them can be found in Alaska and Canada’s far north. Alaska is full of glaciers. The Matanuska Glacier is only a two-hour drive from Anchorage. You can take a boat to Prince William Sound and view half a dozen ancient, towering glaciers. For the more adventurous, head deep into Alaska’s heartland and touch the McCarthy-Kennecott. It’s the only glacier in Alaska with a hotel next to it.
“So many people live unhappy lives, yet few take the initiative to make changes.” – Into The Wild
Alaska’s biggest city only has 300,000 people. Despite the small population, it has all the amenities of a larger city down south. Hotels, restaurants, bars, and music venues are found all over the city. For the outdoorsy, there are bike trails and waterfront walkways. If you want something more cultural, enjoy one of a dozen museums, galleries, and cultural centers. As the biggest port in the state, Anchorage receives millions of tons of shipping and is also the hub of Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. The US Navy and the US Air Force also have a large presence here, so boat watching from the waterfront is always surprising.
17 Russian Churches
The first inhabitants of North America came through Alaska more than 10,000 years ago. Several more waves of nomads followed. The next batch arrived in the eighteenth century in the form of Russian settlers. These hardy men and women established several small communities around Alaska, and when the US bought the land from Russia, many of them stayed. You can visit these “Old Believer” communities around Homer, Yukatat, Three Saints Bay, and more. Some towns still have very Russian names, such as Nikolaev, Alaska! Visit the Russian Orthodox churches they left, many of which are still functioning churches today.
16 Kodiak Bears
“I think careers are a 20th Century invention and I don’t want one.” – Into The Wild
The largest bears in the world live in Alaska, on the islands of the Kodiak archipelago. The average Kodiak weighs one ton, although a few monsters of over 1,500 lbs. have been recorded! As more and more people move into their natural habitats, the bears are becoming extinct. You should visit Alaska before they’re all gone if only to see one of these massive beasts yourself. Of course, you’ll want to keep a safe distance. Book a bear-watching tour and bring a good camera.
15 No State Taxes
“It is easy…to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve.” – Into The Wild
If you want to save money on your next adventure, then head to Alaska. The state has no sales tax and no income tax. They have huge reserves of oil and other natural resources which supplies them with all the money they need, so they don’t need to hammer their citizens with taxes. It’s the only jurisdiction in North America that has no tax, so when you see a price on a tag, that’s the actual price you’ll pay. Imagine!
14 The Northern Lights
“It is enough that I am surrounded by beauty.” – Into The Wild
The Inuit inhabitants of Alaska long-believed that the Northern Lights were the spirits of fish, deer, bears, and their departed loved ones, watching over the land. One of the best places in the world to see them is from a cozy cabin in the mountains around Fairbanks. You can rent a lodge or join the University of Fairbanks for their Northern Lights expedition. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because viewing them from the southern hemisphere or a crowded city is impossible. You won’t find a better place to witness the full beauty of nature than Alaska.
13 The Wildlife
“You are wrong if you think joy emanates only from human relationships.” – Into The Wild
There is nothing in the world that can awe you like watching a Kodiak bear catching salmon out of a waterfall. If you thought the giraffes in the zoo were cool, you need to head to Alaska and watch massive moose grazing in a meadow. There are few places left where you can see so many animals in their wild habitat, outside of an African safari. Head to Alaska to see the beauty of life in action.
12 Daytime At Night
“There is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – Into The Wild
The midnight sun is one of Alaska’s famous phenomena. For several weeks in the summer, the sun never sets. The further north in Alaska you go, the longer the sun stays up. Vampires hate this! To take full advantage of the midnight sun you’ll want to be in Alaska as close to June 21 as possible. The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere is when you can track the sun move around the horizon, instead of over it. There were no western shootouts in Alaska because there is no high noon. That’s just a theory but it works.
11 Nighttime During The Day
“A challenge in which a successful outcome is assured isn’t a challenge at all.” – Into The Wild
Newcomers to Alaska are called “Cheechakoes”. This may or may not be an insult. What is known is that the average cheechako goes a little off the rails during Alaska’s long, dark winters. The northern areas of Alaska suffer through nearly two months of permanent darkness. The sun never really broaches the horizon. Instead, an eerie sort of twilight pops up in the distance for a few hours. The southern areas of the state, such as around Anchorage, don’t get this, but head north for a few days and see for yourself. Vampires love this!
10 No People
“You don’t need human relationships to be happy. God has placed happiness all around us.” – Into The Wild
Alaska is the least populated state in the USA. It is also one of the least populated regions on earth, sharing that honor with places such as the Gobi Desert, Siberia, and parts of central Asia. It’s one of the only places you can travel where you can truly be left alone with yourself. The entire population of the state is just above 700,000. Almost all of these people live in one of the cities. Of course, tourists flock to Alaska every summer, but the state is big enough for everyone. When you get here, make sure you are safe. Bears and wolves and sudden changes in weather are common, so if you want to be alone, do it from a vehicle or a cottage.
“We have to have the courage to turn against our habits and engage in unconventional living.” – Into The Wild
There is no better fishing in the world than Alaska. British Columbia might run a close second, but even then, you won’t find the massive abundance of rivers and lakes and coastline teeming with fish like you will in Alaska. If you want a true fishing story to regale your friends with, come to Alaska. You don’t even need a boat and downriggers (unless you’re looking for massive halibut or a good fight with a strong salmon). You can dip your line and sinker into a river from the shore and pull up trout, bass, and a million other fish. Fish from the wild or an urban setting. You won’t regret it.
“He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.” – Into The Wild
You don’t need to stare longingly at a desktop screensaver of a meadow with mountains behind it. You could go to Alaska and see it for yourself. Alaska offers scenery like no other place on earth. You won’t want to play with your smartphone while you sit on a hillside, overlooking a glacial lake rimmed by purple lilacs. You won’t want anything. Just breathe and take it all in and feel the earth in your body and soul.
7 Native History and Culture
“Happiness is only real when it’s shared” – Into The Wild
Another reason to visit Alaska is to explore the rich historical roots of native culture. The original native inhabitants of North America can be found here. Siberian languages are still spoken and customs that stretch back to before the stone age can be viewed in real life. Head to the deep Arctic circle, 200 miles north of Nome, to Gambrell and see a village that still lives much as their ancient forefathers lived. Or visit one of many native museums and cultural centers in Anchorage, Juneau, and other cities. This is a fantastic way to immerse yourself in North America’s history.
6 The Iditarod
“This trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word.” – Into The Wild
Iditarod is the world’s longest sled dog race. It covers 128 miles in the middle of winter, from Anchorage to Nome. It’s the most competitive sled dog event in the world! You can join hundreds of other fans for the annual pilgrimage to Alaska and take part in this amazing spectacle. The racers embark on an epic journey which takes nearly two weeks to complete. You can follow along, but you don’t need to rough it like the competitors. There are hotels and comfortable lodges all along the route.
“You are going to live a long time, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life.” – Into The Wild
If you only visit one place in Alaska, make it the state capital, Juneau. Just over 30,000 people live here, yet this small bustling city is famous for its cultural scene. More importantly, some of the best culinary masters live and work in Juneau! The city was featured on Top Chef, and even Gordon Ramsay raved about his tour of Juneau’s restaurants. The city has an artsy, independent, hippy-like feel to it, which translates into funky restaurants, cafes, and bars. Everything you need is in Juneau, along with spectacular views.
4 The Kenai Peninsula
“I now walk into the wild.” – Into The Wild
When you’re in Alaska, and you’re not gorging yourself on fine foods in Juneau, be sure to visit the Kenai Peninsula. This is one of the most beautiful areas of the state. It’s a peninsula which juts into the Pacific for 150 miles, just south of Anchorage. The cities of Seward and Sterling are here, but what will blow your mind are the mountain ranges and some of the most pristine and rugged ocean coastline you’ve ever seen. They even have four active volcanoes!
“We like companionship, but we can’t stand to be around people for very long.” – Into The Wild
Don’t let the strip malls, fast food joints, and big box stores fool you when you visit Fairbanks. This city is the beating heart of Alaska. It is located deep within the rugged interior, and for a true Alaskan lifestyle, this is where you want to be. The Northern Lights can be seen from your bedroom window. You can pan for gold in the rivers. The Alaska Museum is here, which has some of the best gold-rush exhibits anywhere. This is also the best place to launch an Alaska road trip from. Everyone should visit Fairbanks.
2 Alaskan Road Trips
“The core of your spirit comes from new experiences.” – Into The Wild
Perhaps the single best reason to visit Alaska is to drive through this wild state. Rent a big comfy vehicle and be sure to bring a camera and a sleeping bag. You’ve never seen anything like what you’ll see on an Alaskan road trip. The Steese Highway runs through the center of the state, starting in Fairbanks. You’ll traverse mountain ranges and drive along wild coastline. You’re guaranteed to see bears, walrus, moose, elk, bighorns, and so much else. Nothing in North America comes close to a road trip in Alaska!
1 Natural Hot Springs
“That’s what was great about him. He tried. Not many do.” – Into The Wild
Once you’ve finished eating, photographing, fishing, diving, exploring, skiing, and glacier-climbing, relax in one of the two-dozen natural hot springs. Alaska is home to 24 fault lines, the biggest of which is the Denali fault. This makes Alaska a very volcanic stretch of land, which also makes it perfect for bathing. Hot springs abound. Check out the Chena hot spring. This Alaska’s most popular one, but if you want to get away from the tourists, head to White Sulphur Springs on Chichagof Island. Baranof Warm Springs is accessible by float plane and are as rugged as they come.