Alaska - Attractions
Just when you think you're in a northern version of the USA (check Kmart, check Wal-Mart, check Computer City), a black bear will unexpectedly join you for tea; or 20 hours come and go without the sun setting; or you don't see the sun at all; or a wolf slays a yearling moose in the park.
You can easily hoof around most of Anchorage's sights, or freewheel around them by bike. They include indigenous art and culture, panoramic parks, monuments, and within hoppping distance, the superb Alaskan wilderness, overlooked by Flattop Mountain.
Denali National Park
Situated on the northern and southern flanks of the Alaska Range, 237mi (382km) from Anchorage, Denali is the nation's premier subarctic national park, encompassing 6 million acres (2,400,000ha). Making its presence felt here at a towering 20,320ft (6096m) is Mt Kinley, undoubtedly the main attraction of the park and something to behold on a clear day. The park offers camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking and white-water rafting. It all comes at a slight price though, since nearly a million visitors queue up for permits and the shuttle buses during the summer months. Try to go in early June or late September to avoid the crowds, and remember, they all disappear once you get into the back country. There is camping within the park as well as other accommodation. Buses service the park from Fairbanks, but a better, if pricey, introduction to this natural spectacle is offered from the glass dome-topped cars of the Alaska Railroad, with trains departing daily from Fairbanks and travelling south to Anchorage.
Glacier Bay National Park
Sixteen tidewater glaciers spilling out of the mountains and filling the sea with icebergs of all shapes, sizes and shades of blue have made Glacier Bay National Park an icy wilderness renowned throughout the world. It is an area of green forests, steep fjords and icebergs. An added attraction is the variety of marine life, including humpback whales, harbour seals, porpoises, and sea otters, while other wildlife includes brown and black bears, wolves, moose, mountain goats and over 200 species of birds. Glacier Bay offers an excellent opportunity for kayakers to enjoy the protected arms and inlets where the glaciers are. It is a trail-less park, but it still provides enjoyable backpacking. The park is serviced by a small settlement, Gustavus, which can be reached by plane from Juneau.
Juneau isn't the most accessible of capital cities: you can't reach it by road and every year 200 scheduled flights never make it into the city due to bad weather. Once there, though, you'll appreciate this 'little San Francisco,' with a drastic elevation gain that gives it a picture-pretty skyline.
Though there is a downtown attraction or few worth your while, the real oomph of the place is its wild frontiers. In winter there's pristine, sculptural white, and summer months make the lush terrain really come alive: bears are done hibernating, wildflowers are whistling and streams are skipping.
The Kenai Peninsula to the south of Anchorage is the most popular recreational area in the state. The peninsula is a conglomeration of mountains, fjords, icefields and glaciers serviced by a range of hiking trails, numerous campgrounds and beautiful paddling areas. Kenai Fjords National Park covers 587,000ac (234,800ha) with an abundance of marine wildlife and glaciers, including Harding Icefield, measuring 50mi (80km) long and 30mi (48km) wide. Many towns in this area are delightful: Homer is a colourful fishing village that has a number of artists lured by the region's beauty. A handful of galleries display mostly local art. Camping is the most inexpensive way to experience the peninsula but you can also find reasonable accommodation in the towns of Seward, Homer and Soldotna. The Kenai Peninsula is 43mi (70km) south of Anchorage and is easily accessible by road. Buses run daily between Seward and Anchorage.
Rivaled by few for the sheer beauty of its surroundings, Sitka is fronted by the Pacific ocean and behinded (to the west) by Mt Edgecumbe, an extinct volcano.