Journey to Alaska

June 1998

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Sample travel itinerary in Alaska
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Suggested itinerary in Alaska

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This travel review illustrates a comprehensive journey to Alaska, going from the rain forests of the south-east, to the arctic tundra north of the arctic circle. This trip to Alaska was made in the middle of June, to take full advantage of the extra light given by the summer solstice and to avoid the busy months of July and August when there are more tourists. Travel through authentic natural wonders, experiencing brown bears (grizzly), whales, killer whales, glaciers, pristine rain forests and remote Eskimo villages.


In the fantasies Alaska is often seen as an unbroken expanse of snow, very cold even in summer, where there is nothing to see or do. Fortunately this stereotype is completely wrong and to visitors fond of animals or majestic landscapes, Alaska can be one of the most beautiful and fascinating place on the planet, characterized by an incredible variety of environments and ecosystems. Dominated by a green and often impenetrable rainforest in the south and by a boundless tundra north of the Arctic Circle, Alaska is home to a variety of wildlife often observable already just outside the outskirts of cities and towns, wildlife that includes three species of bears (black bear, grizzly and polar bear), elk, moose, caribou, wolves, eagles, seals, otters and an impressive amount of killer whale and whales. The accommodation facilities, sometimes located in areas accessible only by air taxi, offer a complete isolation and a deep contact with nature, where possible excursions by various means allow observation of glaciers, icebergs, huge rivers where salmon swim upstream, virgin forests and among spectacular landscapes. The villages north of the Arctic Circle offer instead a closer contact with the native people and their interesting traditions, giving also the opportunities for a more cultural trip in Alaska.


Alaska and especially Anchorage (the biggest city of the State) is well connected to the rest of the United States, in particular to the major airports of the west coast (above of all Seattle), but also with less frequent flights to major mid-west gateways. For travelers from Europe, the most practical and less expensive route to Alaska is probably via Seattle, enjoying one of the many daily direct flights available from major European airports. From Seattle there are same-day connecting flights operated by Alaska Airlines not only to Anchorage, but also to Ketchikan, Juneau, Fairbanks and other minor towns. For those who wish to get to Anchorage from the mid-west of the United States, several airlines offer flights onto Minneapolis, Chicago, Dallas and Denver. Occasionally, especially during the peak summer season, some airlines such as Condor offer non-stop flights to Anchorage from Zurich, Frankfurt or Munich at great value and impressively short travel time taking advantage of the polar route.


With a surface area of over 1,700,000 square kilometers, Alaska is not only the largest State of the United States, but is also one with the lowest population density and with less developed road infrastructure. At this point you're surely wondering how to move through such large distances where mother nature is the only thing that dominates. The best way to get around in Alaska depends primarily on the area you are visiting and where you are going next. In the Alaska southeast, you can move between the picturesque towns of Juneau, Gustavus, Sitka, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Petersburg by plane (flights sometimes last only a few minutes) or by boat: there isn't any road network connecting these towns between them and the car can be eventually used only within each town itself. As for Anchorage and the surrounding areas, there is a good road network that makes it advisable to hire a car in order to explore the beautiful surrounding nature with peace of mind. Such road extends from Anchorage south to the fjords and north to Fairbanks via Denali National Park. We may call Fairbanks the "limit of civilization", as the only road that crosses the Arctic in Alaska, north to the oil fields of Prudhoe Bay on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, is merely a track accessible only during certain periods of the year and only by vehicles suitably equipped. Anchorage, Whittier, Seward and Fairbanks are also connected by a railway: like the road, also the railway runs along Denali National Park, where you can make an overnight stop for some pleasant excursion. The villages of the Arctic like Barrow, Kotzebue and Nome, are connected only by plane through a couple of daily flights onto Anchorage and, unless you are an intrepid traveler with a lot of experience and plenty of time, there aren't other ways in addition to the plane, to cover long distances in Alaska or to reach the most isolated villages.


In absolute terms there is no best time to travel in Alaska, indeed, you will find that in order to enjoy everything that the nature has to offer, you'll have to visit Alaska several times in different periods of the year. Wanting, however, to schedule at least the first trip, you need to consider which is the main reason for your trip to Alaska and what are your interests. If you want to go to Alaska to experience the infinite daylight and the midnight sun north of the Arctic Circle, the month to be chosen is undoubtedly June. Instead, if you want to observe brown bears busy in fishing, it is best to go when salmons swim up the rivers, usually in July and August depending on latitude (July in the north, August in the south). If you want to see the northern lights, the trip to Alaska should be done when the days are short enough or in any case when there are at least a few hours of darkness: between October and March, but also in September and April at latitudes around Anchorage. If you prefer to enjoy the short winter days, December and January are the best months offering beautiful colors of the sky. For the rest of the activities, such as hiking or cruising among glaciers and icebergs or for whale watching, the best time is the summer between late May and early September, when the weather is more comfortable and guided tours are run on a daily basis.


Being able to see all the sights that Alaska has to offer may require several weeks of travel, and as only few people can afford very long trips, you will find below the main attractions that shouldn't be missed from any holiday to Alaska.

  • Glacier Bay and Tongass National Forest: just a 20-minute flight or a few hours of sailing from Juneau, Glacier Bay is a system of fjords where countless glaciers coming from nearby ice fields, comes down to the sea, calving icebergs. The surrounding mountains are covered with a thick impenetrable forest home to many brown bears (grizzly) black bears and moose, while the glacier cruise becomes a good opportunity to see also whales, killer whales, seals, sea lions and otters. Since the gateway point is the town of Juneau, why not enjoy a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord?

  • Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords: not far from Anchorage and easy to get to by car or train, these bays are immersed in a spectacular landscape and are the perfect base for excursions or mini cruises to see glaciers, whales and other wildlife.

  • Brown bears at Katmai National Park: located in the west of Alaska, it is accessible from Anchorage by seaplane or by scheduled flights to King Salmon. Stunning scenery, pristine forests and huge rivers provide the ideal background to watch brown bears busy in catching salmon. Spending an additional day in the park, it is certainly worth visiting the nearby Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes (Valley of 10,000 Smokes), a volcanic area with amazing geology and colors.

  • Denali National Park: this is probably the most famous national park in Alaska, located around Mt. McKinley (with its 6194 meters above sea level, Mt. McKinley is the tallest peak in north American continent). In addition to pristine nature and beautiful landscapes, visitors may spot bears, moose, wolves, caribou and foxes, while the vegetation varies from arctic tundra to taiga. You can get to Denali National Park easily by train, car or private flights.

  • Towns north of the Arctic Circle: north of the Arctic Circle, both inland and along the shores of the Arctic Ocean, there are several villages inhabited by native Eskimos and a visit to at least one of these communities may also reveal the interesting ethno-cultural aspect of a trip Alaska. Some of the towns, like Barrow and Kotzebue are easy to get to thanks to the direct flights by Alaska Airlines from Anchorage, while others like Bettles, Kiana or Anaktuvuk Pass can be reached only by small aircraft operated by local companies usually based in Fairbanks

and if you have more time....

  • Inside Passage Cruise: this route connects the picturesque towns in the Alaska southeast (Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Haines, Skagway) through a dense labyrinth of fjords and islands covered with virgin forest. Depending on the itinerary, the cruise lasts for several days and options could be kayaking, trekking, sightseeing in the towns and wildlife viewing.

  • Excursion from Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay on the Dalton Highway: accessible only during certain times of the year, the Dalton Highway is the only road (actually just a track) that connects southern regions of Alaska to the Arctic. Crossing the mountains of the Brooks Range and then the huge arctic plain, the road shows a different variety of landscapes and offers the opportunity to observe herds of wild caribou and other wildlife (for security reasons, it is good to do the trip with a guide and a suitable vehicle).

  • Nome and the arrival line of Iditarod race: less than two hours flight from Anchorage by Alaska Airlines, Nome offers the possibility to step back into the gold rush. Planning the trip around March / April, you could also experience the arrival of the Iditarod Race, with runners coming all the way overland from Anchorage with their dog sleds.

  • Kodiak and the Aleutian Islands: located along the south-western Alaska, these islands offer remote landscapes rarely visited by tourists. The islands are home to bears, sea lions, otters, seals and a cruise also offers the opportunity to see numerous whales, all among a landscape dominated by mountains, forests and ancient volcanic cones.

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Juneau, Alaska Juneau and the Mendenhall glacier <<-- GO
Juneau, the Alaska's capital, is the ideal base from where short or longer tours to Alaska Southeast can be organized.
Gustavus, Alaska Excursions from Gustavus <<-- GO
Gustavus, in Alaska Southeast, is a small community in the middle of a rainforest, part of Tongass National Forest, from where many tours and excursions are available.
Glacier Bay, Alaska Glacier Bay cruise in Alaska south-east <<-- GO
Glacier Bay is a deep fjord with many smaller branches, where several glaciers flow from different ice fields, straight into the Pacific Ocean.
Barrow, Alaska Barrow day tour <<-- GO
Barrow, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, is the Alaska and USA last frontier, the northernmost village of the country, several hundreds miles north of the Arctic Circle.
Kotzebue, Alaska Kotzebue and Kiana day tours <<-- GO
Near the Bering Strait and just north of the Arctic Circle, these small communities still live on traditions, in a place far away from the civilization.
Nome, Alaska Nome, the ending point of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race <<-- GO
Nome, just south of the Arctic Circle, on the Bering sea, is known for the gold rush during the last century and to be the end point of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Katmai National Park, Alaska Katmai National Park and the brown bears <<-- GO
Katmai National Park has a huge concentration of brown bears (grizzly) and is a paradise because of the beautiful landscape, made of volcanoes, lakes, rivers and endless forests.
Anchorage, Alaska Anchorage and Portage day tour <<-- GO
Anchorage is the Alaska's biggest city and, from here, many tours leave to the natural wonders all around, like glaciers, forests and fjords where whales and killer whales can be found.

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