The Last Frontier is formidable in scale, and superlative adjectives barely do justice to its vast expanses of natural beauty. Twice the size of Texas but home to only 710,000 people – the lion’s share of which are based in Anchorage – it’s an unexplored wilderness and home to both the US’s largest and most remote national park, Wood-Tikchik State Park, and Tongass National Forest – also the biggest of its kind.
For many it is the promise of adventure that inspires them to make the arduous journey to Alaska – and few are disappointed. Here are five reasons why Alaska is an adventure traveler’s paradise.
1. Its inaccessibility
Arriving to Alaska is no mean feat. In fact, it can take a week by road or cost hundreds of dollars by plane. Despite the initial costs of travelling to Alaska, the adventures awaiting you are priceless; its inaccessibility being one of the main reasons why tourists venture to this remote place of towering mountain and still tundra.
With only 20% of the state of Alaska accessible by road, this wilderness is one of the last truly untouched parts of the world, comparable only with places such as Antarctica, the pristine fjords of Chilean Patagonia and the Atacama Desert. In Alaska, you’ll find yourself learning what it must have felt like as one of the original pioneers to these lands. The chances are you’ll tread where no human foot has gone before.
2. The abundance of animals
Alaska is a wildlife lover’s mecca. During the summer, observe members of the 35,000 strong brown bear population feasting upon red salmon in the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary – a renowned spot where over 70 bears have been seen at once. The island of Kodiak is also an important habitat for its 3,500 brown bears; a subspecies that has evolved to be the largest in the world. Their unlimited supply of salmon is what enables them to grow to up to 1400lb (635 kg).
In November, adventurous souls are rewarded by a visit to the Chilkat River with the world’s largest population of Bald Eagles – a location where over 3,000 have been counted at one time.
The Denali National Park and Preserve also presents unrivalled opportunities for wildlife spotting, as grizzly bears, moose, caribou and gray wolves inhabit the lowland forest areas through which the road passes.
3. The thousands of glaciers
Alaska is home to an unimaginable 100,000 thousand glaciers or 34,000 sq. miles of ice, enough to cover the entire state of Maine. The best known are found in Glacier Bay National Park, where the calving of enormous chunks of ice from the 50 named tidewater and alpine glaciers can be observed from the safety of a cruise ship.
Another method of exploring Alaska’s disproportionate share of North America’s glaciers is by car. Discover the famous Mendenhall and Matanuska Glaciers, both of which are accessible by vehicle from the highway. Grab an ice axe and crampons and get ice climbing across the tops of these monumental legacies of Alaska’s glacial past.
4. The colossal mountains
Alaska’s craggy mountains are certainly spectacular, with all 10 of the highest major summits of the United States located here. The centerpiece of the Alaska range is Denali (formerly Mt McKinley). Impressive not only in height – she stands at 20,237ft (6168 m) above sea level – she dominates the surrounding landscape as her base-to-peak elevation is the greatest of any mountain completely located above sea-level.
For climbers with a desire to conquer one of the globe’s great mountains, Denali provides the perfect challenge and is another example of Alaska’s status as an adventure traveler’s playground.
5. The offerings of unique, utterly adventurous activities
If climbing one of the world’s most epic mountains isn’t enough to slate your adventurous thirst, Alaska has other unique activities. Sea kayaking excursions paddle through the Kenai Fjords National Park and up to one of the park’s most beautiful attractions, the Aialik Glacier, where sea lions bob in the waters and black bears pace the shores.
Heli-skiing, where a helicopter drops skiers and snowboarders off at the top of remote, backcountry slopes is another option for the most diehard of ski-enthusiasts. Experienced skiers can discover Alaska’s virgin off-piste trails, all while gaining spectacular views of the state’s breath-taking landscapes.