Did you know Alaska has its own time zone?
If you thought everything was bigger in Texas, Alaska is geographically more than 2.5 the size of the Lone Star state. It’s called “The Last Frontier” for good reason. Out of 365 million acres, only approximately 160,000 of those acres are inhabited by people. That’s less than 1% of the entire state!
You can’t drive to Alaska from the United States (you have to go through Canada) and their capital Juneau is only accessible by boat or plane. It is arguably one of the most interesting states, and is home to over 30,000 bald eagles. If you plan to visit, it’s hard to figure out a route to even begin and not become overwhelmed by how vast it is. A great way to experience glaciers, small towns, whale watching and dog sledding is through a cruise line. I took my mom on a Holland America cruise which is a great way to cover a lot of ground and the views from our balcony were simply mesmerizing.
This Honest Travel edition is set up a bit differently because there’s simply so much to see and I'm trying to keep it concise. Here’s where I went in Alaska and what you should know for your own adventure.
I hope you like seafood because Ketchikan is known for its fresh salmon. Totem Bight State Park is home to one of the largest stands of totems in the world. You’ll learn about the stories represented through these intricately carved sculptures which are by the Northwest Coastal Natives.
Also this might seem super touristy to do but you have to do it. The Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show is peak Alaska and it’s actually insane what these lumberjacks can do. They’ll chop, saw, tree-climb and axe-throw.
Save enough time to wander through this small town. There’s a strip of shops built over the creek where you’ll find local artisans, homemade jams and more.
Juneau, with a population of 32,000, is by far the strangest state capital in the country. Surrounded by water, forest and the mountain views, visitors can hike a glacier, go whale watching, venture through town and see the capital. My mom, being the Greek woman that she is, wanted to walk to the top of the hill in town to see their Greek Orthodox Church.
You definitely want to see wildlife here. On our 10-minute bus ride to go whale watching, we literally saw more than a dozen bald eagles. I’ve never been whale watching before and it’s anxious and serene all at once. I say that because this is not a zoo – there aren’t any guarantees that you’ll actually see a whale but we fortunately saw quite a few.
Skagway is perhaps my favorite land stop on the entire trip and is like a real life Wild West. A popular stop on Holland America’s cruise line, the town Skagway is home to the Klondike Gold Rush which is a National Historical Park. It captured a time in Alaska when gold mining ruled the Yukon Territory. Six blocks of downtown Skagway is the National Historic District which preserves the buildings and culture dating all the way back to the 1890s. One building is the Mascot Saloon, which opened during the gold rush and closed in 1916 due to prohibition.
Make sure to visit Skagway Brewing Company for a chill vibe and local brews.
Glacier Bay National Park
You’ll find some of the biggest tidewater glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. The best way to get up close to the West Arm and Margerie Glacier is by cruise ship. On Holland America, National Park rangers come onboard for the day to give presentations and commentary as the ship sails through the park. The ship will also go through College Fjord glaciers.
You can take a hundred photos, but no picture will do these views justice. Take it all in.
The 10-hour McKinley Explorer Train
After Glacier Bay, we left the cruise to make our way up to Denali National Park. The McKinley Explorer train to Denali offers panoramic views with glass ceilings and travels through parts of Alaska that can only be accessed by the train. You also can enjoy a sit-down lunch on the lower level.
Denali National Park
This has been on my bucket list for a long time. Denali National Park is one of the most coveted parks to visit in the United States. On hikes or a bus tour, if you’re lucky you’ll see bears, moose and bald eagles. It’s home to the tallest peak in North America, standing at 20,310 feet. If you’re not equipped to try to hike this feat, you can take a surreal, less-strenuous helicopter ride.
If you go to Denali, go for more than 2 nights. Our stay was too short because for the first night we got in late.
After Denali we took a bus to Anchorage to fly home. If we didn’t take a cruise, we would not have been able to cover nearly as much ground. It lives to the hype and if you ever get the chance to go to Alaska…go! You’ll see a different side of America that’s rooted in nature and removed from the fast-paced environment you’re used to.
Be good, JB
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