Located on the on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Resurrection Bay is a perfect example of pristine Alaskan wilderness. Littered with glistening glaciers, majestic fjords, secluded coves and small islands set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, otherworldly rock formations and dramatic fog, this is a haven for those who enjoy striking landscapes. Not only is Resurrection Bay beautiful, it’s also filled with opportunities for outdoors recreation.
Those interested in bird-watching and wildlife spotting should be on the lookout for puffins, bald eagles, Dall's Porpoises, Stellar Sea Lions, orca and Humpback Whales, harbor seals and sea otters. Additionally, the waters are popular for kayaking, sailing and flightseeing. And because Resurrection Bay never freezes, the waters are easily navigable for tours.
Encompassing 1,047 square miles (2,711 square kilometers), the Kenai Fjords National Park is named after the many glacial-carved fjords, or glacial valleys that sit below sea level. These fjords run down the mountains and into the iconic Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States with 40 glaciers flowing into it.
There are many ways to experience the park’s beauty, like taking an aerial tour, kayaking on the fjords, hiking to the top of the Harding Icefield Trail or exploring the trails around Exit Glacier. You can also fish for salmon and Dolly Varden within the park’s backcountry. For those interested in wildlife spotting, the parks icy waters and dense woodland are home to a number of creatures like mountain goats, black bears, bald eagles, Steller sea lions, puffins, Dall's porpoises, and humpback and orca whales.
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a 48-inch oil pipeline that traverses 800 miles (1,300 kilometers). It was built by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in 1977 to transport crude oil from Prudhoe Bay’s oil fields to a port in Valdez to be loaded onto tankers and shipped to U.S. refiners. The cost to construct the pipeline was $8 billion, making it one of the largest privately-funded construction projects in Alaska. Moreover, it’s one of the largest pipeline systems in the world, and because much of the ground that it is laid on is frozen sections of the pipeline are either built above ground or buried and insulated.
It’s astonishing that the pipe has withstood the harsh Alaska weather for so long. Today, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a popular tourist attraction, especially for those who want to get a photograph of themselves touching it.
Not far from the town of Seward, there are nearly 40 glaciers making up an icefield that spans more than 300 square miles, all contained within Kenai Fjords National Park. The largest of these is Bear Glacier.
It's not far from Seward to Exit Glacier, the most easily accessible glacier in the park, but it's also possible to reach Bear Glacier from Seward – if you head out on the water. You can go on cruises that visit the many fjords in the park, and you can even go sea kayaking through the fjords.
Sea kayaking up to Bear Glacier gives you a chance to see the glacier and its iceberg-filled lagoon up close. You can also choose an overnight adventure, camping near the glacier. Even if you opt for a day cruise, you'll be treated to incomparable glacier views, plus the chance to see puffins, whales, and sea otters.
Animal lovers heading to Sitka should consider visiting Fortress of the Bear, a non-profit bear rescue facility and the largest of its kind in the United States. Focused on educating the public on bears and how to help their populations, Fortress of the Bear takes in orphaned bear cubs and creates a protective and enriching environment for them. The operation was started by couple Les and Evy Kinnear who transformed Sitka’s old pulp mill into a place where baby bears could be cared for. Visitors can watch the bears being fed, observe and photograph bear interactions, and hear the story of each bear and how it ended up at Fortress of the Bear.
Keep in mind this is not like a typical zoo where you see an animal in a cage. Instead, you’ll watch the bears playing with large barrels and tire swings and being active in a large expanse of land. Additionally, the attraction has a non-touristy, non-commercial feel, allowing for a more authentic experience.
Encompassing 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the United States. Originally the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve, a project of Theodore Roosevelt started in 1902, the park was developed and renamed in 1908 to pay homage to the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit Indians. Visitors to Tongass National Forest have an enormous array of activities and experiences to choose from: bird-watching, trekking, fishing (there are five species of salmon here, among other fish), camping, visiting glaciers, lake canoeing, off-roading and just relishing pure fresh air and pristine natural beauty. In fact, there are 17,000 miles (27,359 kilometers) of lakes, creeks and rivers to enjoy within the forest. Wildlife is also prevalent, with chances to view otters, brown and black bears, wolves, eagles and Sitka black-tailed deer.
What remains of the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. and North American history is best viewed from the beautiful Earthquake Park. The 1964 Anchorage earthquake lasted roughly four minutes, registered a 9.4 on the Richter scale, and slid a whole section of south-central Alaska into Cook Inlet. Now the trail into the park offers guests unparalleled views of the Coastal Trail, Anchorage, Cook Inlet and Mt McKinley (otherwise known as Denali), and is a preferred resting spot for a day in the wilderness or an afternoon picnic.A well-loved day hike and quick escape from Anchorage, the Earthquake Park is not to be missed.
A watershed extending from Anchorage to the Gulf of Alaska, the Cook Inlet encompasses 180 miles (290 km) of beauty and recreation. It’s surrounded by mountains, waterfalls, glaciers and volcanoes, including the active Augustine Volcano and Mount Redoubt, linking the area with tsunamis and earthquakes in the past. The Upper Cook Inlet is also one of few places in the world that experiences a tidal bore, allowing visitors to see the unusual phenomenon of waves crashing against the current rather than with it.
The Cook Inlet also holds much history, from Russian fur hunters to European explorers like Captain James Cook—after whom the site is named—visiting and mapping out the area as they tried to find the Northwest Passage in 1778. Around Upper Cook Inlet were Native Alaskans from eight different villages, with some descendants of these families still living there today.
In pioneering days every red-blooded gold-rush town had a red-light district, and during Ketchikan’s frontier past it was Creek Street.
This historic bordello hub was built over Ketchikan Creek, hence the neighborhood’s name. In Ketchikan’s gold-mining heyday, more than two dozen houses of ill repute lined the boardwalk. Prostitution wasn’t outlawed here until 1954, and was legal as long as business wasn’t transacted on dry land. This explains why Creek Street isn’t a street at all, but an elevated boardwalk built on wooden pilings. Things are a lot more tame these days, and the red-trimmed Dolly’s House museum is Creek Street’s most colorful remnant. The boardwalk stretches over the creek, and gaily painted wooden buildings line the waterfront here.
Known as Alaska’s most accessible lighthouse, the historic Guard Island Lighthouse lit up for the first time on Sept. 15, 1924. The original 34-foot wooden structure deteriorated over the years due to severe weather conditions, but the lighthouse was rebuilt in the 1920s using white concrete to stand up to the elements, and the original fog bell was replaced with a diaphone fog signal.
Before the U.S. Coast Guard took over the lighthouse in 1969, two families lived on Guard Island and operated the structure. There are also chilling tales of two murdered bodies that may have been found in a vessel drifting nearby during Prohibition.
The Guard Island Lighthouse was particularly important during the Klondike Gold Rush, as it aided in shipping along the Southeast Alaska Inside Passage. In 2004, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and it is now known for its historical significance, peaceful beauty and abundance of seals.
Alaska is home to three million sparkling lakes, but you won’t want to swim in cement-fringed and square-edged Lake Hood. Three miles southwest of Anchorage, this lake serves as the runway for one of the world’s busiest seaplane hubs. Large swaths of wilderness and remote Alaskan communities are made accessible by seaplanes departing from Lake Hood. Nearly 200 daily flights hydroplane off the water when its not frozen over—to the delight of on-lookers—ferrying supplies or passengers on quests to find grizzlies, caribou, secluded fishing spots and wild mountain and glacier landscapes. Across from the Five Fingers docks, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum tells the story of the importance of aviation to the vast state. Bush planes have been instrumental in Alaska’s recent history, and the museum is an homage to both pilot and craft with twenty-five planes housed inside its hanger.
Lake Spenard (along with Lake Hood, which it is connected to by canals) is the world’s busiest and largest floatplane runway. Visiting is a truly memorable experience, and in the summer it’s a popular place to enjoy a picnic and watch a free air show. Aircraft are almost constantly taking off and landing—about 200 per day–and heading in and out of the lesser-explored parts of Alaska.
Even if you aren’t an aviation enthusiast, there are other activities to enjoy at Lake Spenard. Along with a playground and swimming area with a lifeguard—perfect for families with children—there are picnic tables, volleyball courts and other areas for sport and recreation. Additionally, photographers will love capturing the action, especially with the sparkling glaciers and soaring peaks in the background.
At more than 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares), Denali National Park is a breathtaking wilderness area, which includes North America’s highest mountain. A single road curves 92 miles (148 kilometers) through the heart of the park, leading to off-trail hiking opportunities, abundant wildlife, and stunning tundra panoramas.
Wildlife in Denali National Park, including mammals such as marmot and moose, is easy to spot. Caribou, wolves, and brown bears are crowd favorites. The park is also well known for its bird population, especially during late spring and summer. Birdwatchers may find waxwings, Arctic Warblers, and the majestic tundra swan. Predatory birds include a variety of hawks, owls, and the striking golden eagle. Ten species of fish, including trout, salmon, and arctic grayling share the waters of the park.
Bald eagles have a safe home at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Created in 1982, the huge park protects the world’s largest collection of bald eagles and their habitat.
Natural salmon runs are also protected in the preserve, where the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers meet. For the best views of the eagles, head to the Haines Highway by the river flats surrounding the Chilkat River. To ensure the eagles aren’t spooked by your presence, stay off the river flats themselves and keep to the area near the highway.
From October to February, the eagles are attracted to the wetlands by the spawning salmon. During these months around 3,000 bald eagles have been known to stay at the preserve; the number of year-round inhabitants is between 200 and 400.
The Klondike is synonymous with the gold rush days of the late 19th century, when the frontier settlement of Skagway exploded from a population of just two to 20,000 in a mere 10 years.
The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park protects the memory of these days, preserving the trails, towns and buildings of the gold rush era. Skagway was the gateway town to the gold of the Klondike, which lay 550 miles (885km) north, near the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in Dawson City.
The Chilkoot Trail is the most famous of the gold rush routes followed by the miners, originally created by the Tlingit people. The park also preserves the downtown Skagway Historic District and its prized collection of authentic 100-year-old wooden buildings, including the fun Mascot Saloon and historic Moore House and Cabin.
Drop into the park’s visitor center to watch the video about the area’s gold rush history and pick up information about the local trails.
The Dalton Highway runs for 414 miles to Alaska’s northernmost mountains in the Brooks Range and nearly all the way out to the Arctic Ocean. Running through valleys surrounded by jagged peaks, the highway connects Interior Alaska to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and is technically part of the northernmost highway in the U.S. Also one of the most remote, the Dalton Highway parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Visitors who take the drive themselves will need to note that much of the road is still mostly gravel. Unless you’ve appeared on Ice Road Truckers, you might want to skip the ride in winter. Public access ends at the small town of Deadhorse, just before the Arctic Ocean, and if you want to reach those last 8 miles of private road out to the coast, it’s possible to join private tours from Deadhorse.
The Misty Fjords National Monument encompasses 3,594 square miles (5,783 square kilometers) of wilderness and lies between two impressive fjords - Behm Canal (117 mi/188 km long) and Portland Canal (72 mi/115 km long). The two natural canals give the preserve its extraordinarily deep and long fjords with sheer granite walls that rise thousands of feet/meters out of the water. Misty Fjords is well named; annual rainfall is 14 feet (4 meters).
Misty Fjords National Monument draws many kayakers, who head for the smaller but equally impressive fjords of Walker Cove and Punchbowl Cove in Rudyerd Bay, off Behm Canal. Dense spruce-hemlock rainforest is the most common vegetation throughout the monument, and sea lions, harbor seals, killer whales, brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose and bald eagles can all be seen there.