Alaska – Discovering the Great Beyond

Angela Wood

Senior Contributor

Alaska, tucked away in the far Northwest of the U.S. continent, conjures images of rugged mountains, swarths of ice, fjords and people living in remote villages cut off from the outside world. This image is correct in part, however, there is so much more to see and do in Alaska all year round. With unique museums, national parks, historic gold rush towns, incredible walking trails and interesting cultural centres, this picture-perfect state welcomes visitors with open arms.

A Cultural Day in Anchorage

Anchorage is known as a city for those with adventurous spirit, those who love spending time in the great outdoors and connecting with nature. It is surrounded by wide open spaces where you can head off-road in a 4x4, fly fish, kayak, hike a glacier or even play a round of golf.

However, if you fancy an urban adventure, there’s also plenty to see and do in Anchorage itself. The city is home to museums and historical attractions which highlight the state’s mix of native American, Russian and pioneer heritage.

You can discover the stories which shaped the region at the Anchorage Museum. The 11,000 square foot discovery centre features interactive installations, artwork, photography and specific zones where you can learn how people survive and thrive in this remote corner of the world.

Alternatively, take a trip to The Oscar Anderson House – one of the oldest homes in Anchorage dating to 1915. Anderson was one of the city’s first business leaders, with interests in air transportation, media publishing and coal production, and the house was constructed in the same year as he arrived at Ship Creek.

If you are visiting Alaska solely to see the northern lights but realise it’s the wrong time of year – you can still do so at the Alaska Centre for Performing Arts. The theatre premieres Alaska’s finest Aurora Borealis display on film most days. Alternatively, you can see the real thing in the great outdoors between mid-August and mid-April each year, with more opportunities if you venture further away from the city lights!

Spend Time at a Husky Homestead

Alaskan adventurers can meet some of the world’s finest sled dogs and their pups at Husky Homestead in Denali National Park.

The dogs are trained by Jeff King, said to be the best winning musher in the world. He, and his dedicated team of huskies travelled 1,049 miles by sled during the Iditarod Sled Dog Race and have won several more races throughout Alaska. This fascinating tour – a must for dog lovers, takes a deeper look into rural life, husky breeding and training, amidst some of the most spectacular and challenging landscapes of Alaska.

Tours of the homestead are available twice daily, five days a week. On arrival, visitors can socialise with adorable husky puppies and watch action-packed summer training, before meeting the champion sled dogs!

During your time here, you will hear trail adventure stories, view the racing sleds and discover all the arctic survival gear and equipment needed to cross this unforgiving terrain. That’s not all! Husky Homestead also organises interactive day tours where you learn to mush and care for the huskies and speciality tours with multi-day and overnight excursions.

See Ancient Glaciers via Air Taxi

There are several ways to see the breath-taking Alaskan landscapes – by cruise ship, kayak, train, car, bicycle or by air.

If you opt for the latter and are staying in Anchorage, Alaska Helicopter Tours offer sightseeing expeditions to glaciers located a short flight from the city. Their dedicated glacier flights hover beside giant icy glacier walls and above waterfalls, even landing atop mountains so you can attain the best views.

One of the most popular excursions is a flight to Knik Glacier. Offering an elevated perspective of Knik River Valley, the helicopter lands in the middle of the glacier, where you disembark and spend around 30 minutes exploring magnificent ice formations, crystalline blue melt pools and crevasses which have been around for thousands of years. The company offers a GoPro video package too, so memorable moments can be captured, leaving you free to enjoy the scenery.

Travellers venturing into the Alaskan wilderness, following in pioneer footsteps, may prefer to see glaciers at Denali National Park. The Grand Denali Tour, organised through Talkeetna Air Taxis, takes in the Great Gorge of Ruth Glacier. This mile high granite wall is the deepest canyon in North America, filled with a 4,000 foot thick layer of ice. You will witness beautiful alpine tundra at the north side of the park and fly to The Wickersham Wall of Denali – a challenging mountain rising from an ice fall, with steep slopes and jagged peaks.

Train Ride on the Goldrush Railway

There are several notable train journeys to enjoy in Alaska, but none as thrilling as the Skagway White Pass Railroad. Relax in a vintage passenger coach as this train retraces the original route to White Pass Summit, slowly passing Inspiration Point, Bridal Veil Falls and Dead Horse Gulch.

As the train traverses the track aside wildflowers, mountains and gorges, you’ll glimpse the original Klondike Trail from 1898, paying homage to the prospectors who passed this way seeking their fortune during the Gold Rush.

Another amazing train voyage is along the Alaska Railroad. The train offers two classes of passenger services, including a Gold Star Service with outside viewing platforms and glass-domed ceilings in the carriages. Local tour guides provide interesting narration on route, pointing out landmarks and wildlife which includes moose, bears and bald eagles.

One of the most scenic sections of the route operates from Anchorage to Seward. On this day trip you have time for shopping, to enjoy a glacier and wildlife cruise at Kenai Fjords National Park, visit the Alaska Sealife Centre, or even go kayaking or dog sledding.

Time your return journey to Anchorage late afternoon and marvel at incredible summer sunsets over the Cook Inlet, an amazing feat of nature, along with the northern lights not to be missed during your Alaskan discovery.

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