The Aleutian Islands are harsh, beautiful and they are massive - extending some 1,200 miles from the Alaskan Peninsula and approaching Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula (which is one of the more extreme Russian destinations everyone should visit). They are made up of 14 larger islands and 50 smaller islands. Their 57 different islands form the northern extreme of the Pacific Ring of Fire. These islands are extremely sparsely populated with only around 8 thousand inhabitants. They are stunning and are an opportunity to see the most remote parts of the USA.

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History Of The Aleutian Islands

During the last glacial maximum North America was joined to Asia via the Bering landbridge. At this time the islands would have been joined and have stretched unbroken like a bridge. It was through this Bering Landbridge that the first people likely arrived in America.

The first Russian traders, explorers, and missionaries started arriving around 1741, one of the first was Vitus Bering a Danish man working for the Russians. While he discovered some of the islands he was ultimately shipwrecked and died on the Komandorski Islands. Thereafter the Siberian fur hunters started to move to the islands and the islands came under the control of the Russian Empire until they sold their Alaskan holdings to America in 1867. The islands were visited by that great explorer Captain James Cook in 1778 (he was the inspiration for Captian James T Kirk of Star Trek).

  • Previously: Part Of The Russian Empire

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The American government purchased Alaska in 1867 but it wasn't until 1924 that Congress extended citizenship to include all Native Americans including those in Alaska.

  • Date Purchased By USA: 1867

During World War II, Alaska was still a territory of the United States and not a state. Concurrently with the attack on Midway, the Japanese invaded the Aleutian Islands as a diversionary move. This was a wasted effort as the Americans knew that the Japanese were going to attack Midway and the Aleutian Islands were of no strategic value. This was the only invasion of US territory during the war.

More recently in 1976, the Aleutian Islands were designed a UNESCO biosphere reserve. They were declared the Aleutian Islands Wilderness in 1980 and today are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

Touring The Aleutians Today

Today the largest settlement is Unaslaka with around half the population of all of the islands at 4,376 in 2010. Unalaska is part of an Unorganized Borough and is located on Unalaska Islands and the neighboring Amaknak Island in the bay.

  • Largest Settlement: 4,376

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Camping And Hiking Tours

Today there are a few ways to see the islands but remember that these islands are very remote and untouched. One of the easiest ways is by cruise while other tours offer camping tours on the islands. One example of such a tour from Arctic Wild is a seven-day trip to Umnak Island - which is renowned for its hot springs, geysers, mud pots, and hot springs. The island is filled with green volcanic cliffs and flower-covered valleys.

Seven Day Umnak Island Itinerary

  • Day 0: Meet AT Unalaska For Pre Trip Meeting And Prep
  • Day 1: Exploring Dutch Harbor At Unalaska, Visit A Museum, World War II Sites, And More
  • Day 2: Board The Ms. Alyssa Boat Travel Along The Coast To Umnak Island See All Sorts Of Seabirds And Enjoy Fresh Sea Food Along The Way
  • Day 3-6: Hiking And Exploring The Geothermally Active Island. See Hot Springs And Mud Pots, Find Geysers, See Okmok Volcano, And Camp In This Remote Wilderness
  • Day 7: Board The Boat And Head Back To The Harbor. The Boat Trip Itself Up Here Is A Real Adventure
  • Price: Not Specified, But Requires A $750 Deposit

Cruising Tours

If you would rather explore these islands by cruise, then there are a number of companies offering these tour packages. One cruise company offering cruises to this part of the world is Aurora Expeditions. One of their cruises around the islands is:

  • Duration: 17 Days
  • Cost: $15,500
  • Starting Port: Anchorage
  • Ending Port: Tokyo, Japan
  • Destinations: Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, Katmai National Park & Preserve, Semidi Islands, Unimak Island, Baby Islands, Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Island, Adak, Kiska Island, Attu Island, Petropavlovsk Kamchatskiy (on The Kamchatka Peninsula, Russia - then Fly To Tokyo)

There are direct flights to Unalaska with Alaska Airlines via Anchorage. If you are planning your own trip, then you can easily fly into Unalaska and the settlement does have some accommodation options. Three accommodation options are the Royal Dutch Inn, Unisea Inn, and the Grand Aleutian Hotel. Prices are not displayed on their website.

The Aleutian Islands are all but uninhabited and they are remote - they are some of Alaska's best places to see. People going here are going to see some of the most extreme of America and some of America's most remote and unseen landscapes. Tours in this part of the country are not cheap and you can expect the prices of all the tours to be expensive. The hotels at Unalaska will also be pricy as is likely everything in the supermarkets. But it will be the trip of a lifetime. It is a zone rich in marine life and other wildlife - perhaps on a trip here you will see the Kodiak bear - the largest of all brown bears.

Next: 10 Things You Didn’t Know Existed In Alaska