(from the February 2012 issue)
Planning a trip to Alaska? Or looking for somewhere off the beaten path? Here are some spots that should not be missed.
There are so many places to go in Alaska, the choices can be overwhelming— after all, there are more than 570,000 square miles of Alaska to see. So, at Alaska magazine, we put our heads together to come up with 49 suggested destinations for your trip of a lifetime.
- 1 | Childs Glacier If you want to see a calving glacier, this one, along a road outside Cordova, will oblige about every 15 minutes in the summer. But be careful, the falling ice can send a 10-foot wave across the river and onto the opposite shore. (Check for salmon that have been splashed up into the forest. ↓
- 2 | Matanuska Glacier Near the crest of a hill at Mile 100 of the winding Glenn Highway, Matanuska Glacier dominates the landscape north of Palmer. Pull over to look down at the roadside wonder, walk the Edge Nature Trail for a closer look, or pay a small fee at Glacier Park Resort and drive to a terminal moraine where you can walk on the ice. ↵
- 3 |Ruth Glacier Granite cliffs tower 5,000 feet above aqua-colored ice peeking from beneath snow on this glacier, which drops more than 2,000 feet across 10 miles. Catch a flight above the ice from Talkeetna.
- 4 | El Capitan Cave With more than 13,000 feet of passageways, “El Cap” Cave, on Prince of Wales Island, is the largest known cave in Alaska and one of the longest mapped caves in the Americas. Black-bear skeletons found in 1990 in a newly discovered passage were dated at almost 12,300 years old. Free, guided tours are offered by reservation in the summer—without a guide you can go in only about 200 feet to a locked gate.
- 5 | Hatcher Pass Twisting and turning as it follows the Little Susitna River, Palmer-Fishhook Road is equally dramatic in winter and summer. Hatcher Pass, north of Palmer, is a popular skiing, snowboarding and snowmobiling destination in winter and a great place to hike or pick berries in summer. ↓
- 6 | Cape St. Elias Lighthouse At the tip of 20-mile-long, one-mile-wide, uninhabited and inhospitable Kayak Island, 62 miles southeast of Cordova, sits a lighthouse built in 1916. The lighthouse and light keeper’s residence are unsafe, but the boathouse has a wood stove, water tank, propane oven, blankets and bunks to accommodate up to 10 visitors. Contact the Cape St. Elias Lightkeepers Association to reserve it. ↓
- 8 | State Capitol Building Even before Alaska was a state, groups lobbied to move the capital to Anchorage. But it’s still in Juneau— for now—and the Capitol is worth a trip if you’re there. ↓
- 9 / Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve An area larger than Rhode Island and Vermont combined, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve is named for the two mountain ranges that form its backbone. Only two roads penetrate the park, which also contains the largest designated wilderness area—nearly 10 million acres—in the National Park System.
- 10 | Kachemak Bay State Park For beautiful scenery, wildlife viewing and solitude, Kachemak Bay State Park is among the best. The park has few visitors, compared with many of Alaska’s popular state parks, because it can be accessed only by water or air, but it offers options for the serious backcountry adventurer and for the upscale tourist. ↓
- 11 | Arctic National Wildlife Refuge This is where politicians are always arguing about drilling for oil. ↓
- 12 | Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve This is the northernmost national park—it’s entirely within the Arctic Circle—and the second largest—it’s about the size of Switzerland. ↓
- 13| Shuyak Island Off the north tip of Kodiak Island, this 47,000-acre island is mostly state park land covered by huge Sitka spruce and grassy meadows. You can kayak its craggy coastline, hike its misty forests or cast for salmon in its many streams.
- 14 | Pribilof Islands St. Paul and St. George are the largest of the Pribilof Islands, known as a top spot for birders and for the largest congregation of Northern fur seals anywhere. St. Paul also has the harbor entrance that challenges crab boat captains on the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch.
- 15 | Little Diomede Island You really can see Russia from here.
- 16 | Round Island This protected walrus sanctuary in Bristol Bay has limited primitive camping by permit.↓
- 17 | Kodiak Island The second largest island in the United States, Kodiak is mountainous and heavily forested on the north and east but fairly treeless on the south. Peppered withsmall Native communities, the island’s many deep, ice-free bays provide sheltered anchorages, and with just less than 100 miles of roads, the island is ripe for exploring. ↵
- 18 | Tracy Arm Cruising through scenic Tracy Arm— passing bobbing icebergs, steep cliffs, and flocks of Arctic terns and pigeon guillemots—to the face of Sawyer Glacier is unforgettable. Watch harbor seals and their newborn pups as the glacier calves.
- 19 | Bristol Bay Watershed Developers hope to dig an open-pit gold, copper, and molybdenum mine here and conservationists hope to protect the area’s nine rivers, home to the world’s largest commercial salmon run.