Alaskan holidays are unlike any other American vacations. In terms of geographical size, it is easily the largest state, twice the size of Texas. However, despite its great size, Alaska is in fact one of the least populated places in America, making it a largely unspoiled bastion of natural beauty with unique sights and experiences that you won’t find anywhere else. Of particular note is the Aurora Borealis (also known as ‘the Northern Lights’ or ‘Polar Aurorae’), the most spectacular naturally occurring lights show on Earth.
Alaska is surely the ultimate holiday destination for your inner geographer with a sense of adventure. The state has over 3 million lakes, presenting ample fishing opportunities – ice fishing is a particularly Alaskan pastime. With some 100,000 glaciers, Alaska contains roughly half of the world’s total. People say the ice age is over – they haven’t been to Alaska during the winter! For those of you who aren’t too keen on the colder side of things, fear not. While the wintertime temperature can hit -51, it actually reaches the low to mid 30s during the summer months, creating a totally different, balmy and warm, type of holiday experience.
Take a deep breath. Alaska is big. Vast. Come and you’ll see a fraction. The question is which fraction. Alaska is the ultimate Geographer’s and Adventurer’s destination. It’s twice the size of Texas. Its coastline is longer than all the other States combined. It has over 3 million lakes. With some 100,000 glaciers, Alaska has half of the world’s total and the Glacier National Park is an absolute must.
But it’s not like being in the icebox all year round. The temperature can hit -51 in winter, but reaches the low to mid 30s in the summer. Here’s some more about the best time to visit Canada and Alaska.
Come to hear music, see volcanoes and simply get about – Alaska Cruises are a great way. Musical influences include traditional native, as well as folk music brought by immigrants from Russia and Europe. Music festivals include The Athabascan Old-Time Fiddling Festival and The Sitka Jazz Festival. Active volcanoes abound in the Aleutians and in coastal regions. Mount Shishaldin on Unimak Island has the most perfect volcanic cone on the planet. And when it comes to travelling, places not served by road, sea or river can be reached only by dogsled, snow machine and Alaska’s extremely well developed bush air services!
Far and away the largest animals to grace the Alaskan territory are whales. At least nine different species of these majestic creatures live in Alaskan waters at various times of the year. While certain species live in the region all year-round, some are transient, only passing through Alaskan waters at certain times of the year as part of their migration, so it is worth reading up on their migratory patterns before booking your trip.
As far as whale watching tours are concerned, by far the most commonly spotted whale in Alaska is the humpback. These massive animals are surprisingly social and playful and can often be seen jumping out of the water and splashing down. No one really knows why they do this, but it is a remarkable spectacle nonetheless!
Some of the more easily identified and visually striking whales seen in Alaskan waters are the white beluga whales and orca killer whales, both of which are common to the area. If you’re very lucky however, you might just catch a glimpse of the colossal blue whale as it passes through the area. Far and away the biggest animal ever to have existed, weighing well over a hundred tonnes, the blue whale is an awe-inspiring sight – encountering one is a truly humbling sight.
For those who wish to experience the Alaskan countryside in all of its raw and untamed beauty, the Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is an absolute must. Declared a national monument in 1925, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979 and a Biosphere Reserve in 1986, the park covers an area of well over 5,000 miles, 4,000 of which are officially designated as being wilderness areas which are almost completely untouched by human interference.
Around 80% of visitors to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve arrive via cruise ships and typically stay at the accommodations available at the Glacier Park Lodge. Among the numerous and exciting outdoor activities available to Glacier Bay’s visitors are hiking, mountaineering, camping, rafting and kayaking.
In terms of local fauna, Glacier Bay is home to a rich diversity of Alaska’s iconic animals including mountain goats, snowshoe hares, wolverines and both black and brown bears. Sports hunting is considered a major draw to the Glacier Bay area. However, it is strongly regulated by the National Park Service in accordance with state regulations in order to manage and preserve the local wildlife populations, so a permit is required. Similarly, anyone who wishes to engage in sports fishing anywhere in Alaska must purchase a license whether they plan to fish in the state’s salt or fresh water. Halibut and rainbow trout are the most commonly caught fish in the area, and represent a good challenge for an angler as well as a delicious meal for anyone who catches them. After all, there’s no tastier fish than the one you catch yourself!
Whales aren’t the only awe-inspiring natural wonder of gigantic proportions to be seen around the coast of Alaska. The Aleutian Islands are home to several active volcanoes, including the bizarre looking Mount Shishaldin on Unimak Island. Known to be the most perfect volcanic cone on the planet, it looks like a near perfect triangle which stands close to 10,000 feet tall. It’s unmistakable appearance earned it the nickname ‘Sisquk’ from the local Aleut people. Roughly translated, the name means “the mountain which points the way when I am lost”. Steam can usually be seen rising from Mount Shishaldin, rising some 500 metres above the peak of the volcano.
Despite the fact that it is still active and the most commonly erupting volcano in all of Alaska, having erupted as recently as 2015, Mount Shishaldin attracts many brave climbers. Imbued with the spirit of adventure, experienced mountaineers can climb as high as 6,000 feet, but no further as anything above that level becomes too steep and ice encrusted to climb. It is not an uncommon sight to see people skiing down Mount Shishaldin as they complete their adventure. Take note though, that Mount Shishaldin is an extremely remote location, so only experienced adventurers should attempt the journey.