Alaska, “The last frontier

Otherwise known under the nickname of “The Last Frontier” (This state, which joined the Union in 1959, has nothing in common with the rest of the United States, even if only in terms of its history or its specific culture.

The largest state in terms of surface area but also one of the least populated in the country, Alaska remains a wonderful land of adventure and trekking with its wide open spaces and its wild fauna, its lakes and rivers, its forests, its mountains with peaks sometimes exceeding 5,000 meters, its fjords and its islands, its thousands of glaciers or its numerous volcanoes, some of which are still active.
In short, Alaska is just nature at its purest and the paradise of ecotourism!

Where is Alaska ?

Besides Hawaii, Alaska is the only U.S. state that does not have a direct border with the continental U.S.
With 1,717,854 km2 and a population of 730,000 inhabitants, 40% of whom live in Anchorage, it is the largest state in the country, but also the most northerly. Alaska is indeed located at the western/northwestern end of Canada, facing Russia. It is bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north, plus the Bering Sea and the Pacific to the south. It is also crossed by the Arctic Circle in its northern part.

Why did Alaska belong to Russia and why did the US buy it?

It is not necessarily known on this side of the Atlantic, but before being American, Alaska was Russian.

It must be said that Russia is located just opposite Alaska, on the other side of the Bering Strait, and that the Tsars have always been interested in the potential that this land, rich in minerals and furs, could represent.
This is how, at the end of the 18th century, the first Russian trading posts were established in Alaska and even beyond, to the north of California. They remained so for nearly a century, until Russia decided to sell its “colony” whose operating costs were becoming more and more astronomical when it came to repatriating goods and merchandise produced there to Moscow and the metropolis.

Thus, in 1867, the American government decided to buy all the Russian territories in America for 7.2 million dollars at the time, a good price.
Even if the United States made a very good deal through this transaction, it should be noted that the American government was originally only moderately interested in Alaska. It was only to counter the expansionist aims of the English of the Hudson’s Bay Company (in Canada), also candidates, that the Americans finalized the purchase. For a little, Alaska would never have been part of the United States…

Seven towns and villages to see in Alaska

It is the largest city in Alaska, with almost one out of two inhabitants living there, as well as its main air access point. If you can visit several museums, it is especially its surroundings that remain the most interesting. You can discover the fjord at the bottom of which the city is nestled, looking for the local wildlife (elk, bears, birds…), or go hiking, mountain biking or other outdoor activities.

See also :   These things you may not know about the world's flags

The capital of Alaska is nestled at the foot of a glacier, the Mendendhall, which is one of the attractions near the city. You can discover it by hiking or flying over it. The city is also a stopover for cruise ships and has the rare distinction of not being connected to any road network, which means that it can only be reached by air or sea.

This is the city of totem poles. Carved by the native Tlingit nation, they are scattered throughout the city and in dedicated sites in the surrounding area, to the point that Ketchikan is considered the totem pole capital of the world. It is not surprising then that tourism has developed in the region and that the port has become an important stop for cruise ships sailing along the Alaskan coast.

Nestled on Baranof Island, the city was the capital of Russian America under the name of Novo-Arkhangelsk until the sale of Alaska to the Americans in 1867. It is the place that has the most evidence of this Russian presence on the continent that can be discovered through various buildings and museums telling this little known period of American history.

Like California, Alaska also had its Gold Rush a few decades later. It was the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, immortalized in Jack London’s novels. There too, towns like Skagway were born from the event. Nestled in a beautiful natural setting, it still has many buildings from that era and is also a stopover for cruise ships that travel along the Alaskan coast.

From a tourist point of view, this village of about a thousand inhabitants offers two main attractions with a group of restored buildings dating from the beginning of the 20th century when the place experienced its little Gold Rush, plus the possibility of serving as a base for those who wish to discover the magnificent Denali National Park nearby. It is from Talkeetna that you can fly over it.

This town, founded by the Russians in the mid-19th century on the island of the same name in the “Inside Passage”, is known for its fishing. It is home to a variety of Tlingit native culture.

Ten natural sites in the state not to be missed

Admiralty Island National Monument
This island on the southern coast of Alaska, with the status of “National Monument”, is known for its important concentration of bears and grizzlies. It is also a good site for canoeing.

Denali National Park
Denali, formerly called Mount McKinley, is with its 6,190 meters the highest mountain in North America. The entire region around it, covering 25,000 km2, is classified as a national park and offers magnificent landscapes rich in fauna and flora. Of course, this is also a paradise for outdoor activities since, in addition to the ascent of Denali (reserved for experienced mountaineers), you can make countless treks or discover the area by canoe, raft or even from the air.

See also :   Five tours to do from Marrakech

Kachemak Bay State Park
This seaside park, next to the small town of Homer, is accessible only by air or water. People come here for the scenery of forests, mountains and glaciers, the trekking, and the local wildlife among which you can see elks, bears, seals, whales…

Katmai National Park and Preserve
Located in the Alaskan peninsula, just before the Aleutian Islands, Katmai is a harsh and desert land, dotted with lakes and volcanoes, where a rich fauna of brown bears lives, of which the park hosts the largest concentration in the world. In terms of outdoor activities, you can camp, fish, trek, cross-country ski, kayak or take a boat ride along the coast.

Kenai Fjords National Park
This park near the city of Anchorage offers superb landscapes of glaciers, lakes, bays and fjords. You can see many birds and a rich marine fauna with seals, orcas and whales.

Kobuk Valley National Park
Just a stone’s throw from the Arctic Circle, this park is known for its sand dunes, some of which are fifty meters high, and the migration of caribou. You can hike here in the summer and go dog sledding in the winter. It is also a good place to see the Northern Lights.

Lake Clark National Park
This site, 100 miles west of Anchorage, offers a tundra landscape with forests, waterfalls, volcanoes and glaciers. Moreover, as in many places in Alaska, the fauna is very rich with bears, wolves, elks, birds, etc., which does not prevent it from being one of the least visited parks in the country because its access is only by plane.

Misty Fjords National Monument
Accessible only by sea or by seaplane from Ketchikan and Juneau, this area of fjords of the “Inside Passage” is one of the most beautiful and wildest in Alaska. It is best discovered by sea kayak.

Inside Passage
The Inside Passage is the seaway that runs along the coast from the U.S.-Canada border north of Seattle to Alaska for over 500 miles. Its beautiful scenery of islands, mountainous coastlines, bays and fjords can be discovered by ferry, cruise, or more “leisurely” by canoe or kayak.

Wrangell-St. Elias
These are two magnificent national parks, associated with two other Canadian sites, listed in their entirety as Unesco World Heritage Sites. They also form the largest park in the whole of the United States with 53,000 km2. Here, everything is huge and grandiose in terms of landscapes with a profusion of glaciers, fjords, lakes and a large fauna including bears, wolves, caribou … In terms of activities, we practice hiking, fishing, canoeing and rafting.

About hiking in Alaska

Hiking or trekking remains the primary activity – with or without a guide – for many during the summer months.

See also :   which island to choose for your trip ?

As one can imagine, Alaska with its vastness and unique landscapes is indeed a trekker’s paradise. This does not mean, however, that hiking there is always easy. Because, even if there are routes without real difficulties and not very long, the main routes require a certain experience (sometimes) of difficult environments, an ability to manage autonomously if you leave for several days, and above all an adaptation to the climatic constraints that you may encounter (cold, humidity, rain, fog, etc.) associated with the presence in summer of innumerable mosquitoes and gnats, not to mention potential encounters with bears.

In short, apart from a few exceptions, hiking in Alaska is more for the experienced and motivated hiker. On the other hand, the show is always there and the places to walk are numerous…

Weather, climate and temperature in Alaska

As one can imagine, Alaska’s climate is harsh with long winters (from mid-October to the end of April), very short days and above all extreme temperatures in some places which can easily exceed… -30°C. However, considering the size and the configuration of the state, this coldness is a little to be qualified.
The Pacific coast (Anchorage) is less subject to very cold weather (but more to fog) with winter averages not falling below -10°C. And if we go south (Juneau), this average is “simply” around 0°C between December and February.

As far as seasons are concerned, after winter, there is a brief spring in May which, with the melting of the snow, can complicate traffic in many parts of Alaska.
June-August is the summer period with, in contrast to winter, higher temperatures in the interior than on the coast where it rains quite a bit, especially in August-October. The only exception to this relative mildness is the whole northern part of Alaska (Barrow), facing the Arctic Ocean, where the average temperature does not exceed 5°C even at this time.
Mid September-October then marks the fall.

When is the best time to travel to Alaska?

Even if winter in Alaska offers a unique environment and experience, for a “classic” tourist discovery, it will be better to favor the mildest months when the days are also the longest.
June-July is the best time to visit, with a possible extension into August-early September, even if the coastal rains and the gradual drop in temperature make the visit less pleasant.

> More information: