When trying to list the best beaches in the United States, Alaska is probably the last place most people would think to include. When we think about the beach, we tend to focus on sunny, warm destinations like Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, and California. Alaska tends to be more commonly associated with snowy images of cold tundra and icy waters. However, some of the world's best beaches can be found in some very surprising places, and Alaska, despite being known as a frosty, snowy place, is home to some beautiful beaches that people of all ages can enjoy. In fact, Alaska has the unique distinction of having the longest coastline of any other state, with over 5,500 miles of coast in total. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Black Sand Beach
2.Fort Abercrombie State Park
5.The Homer Spit
5 Best Alaska Beaches
- Black Sand Beach, Photo: Blue Planet Studio/stock.adobe.com
- Fort Abercrombie State Park, Photo: daniking/stock.adobe.com
- Schooner Beach, Photo: jbach/stock.adobe.com
- Yakutat Beach, Photo: stock.adobe.com
- The Homer Spit , Photo: Lance King/stock.adobe.com
- More Info, Photo: Mathias/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of powerbold - Fotolia.com
Attraction Spotlight: Kenai Fjords National Park
Located along southcentral Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula near the city of Seward, Kenai Fjords National Park is a 669,000-acre wildlife reserve area operated by the National Park Service, containing the Harding Icefield and serving as the source for more than 38 North American glaciers. Though no evidence of permanent historic inhabitation of the Kenai Fjords area has been established by archaeological survey, the area is believed to have been the home of a number of indigenous sites that have been inundated and buried by rising waters and seismic activity.
Transient village sites dating back as far as 1200 A.D. have been excavated, with sites connected to mining activity in the area dating as recently as the mid 20th century. Inquiries into the development of a National Park unit in the area dates back to Alaskan surveys in the 1930s, though serious proposals did not coalesce until the early 1970s. Development of a park protecting the Aialik Peninsula in conjunction with the Seward National Recreation area was discussed in 1972 and 1973, though the Watergate scandal of the Nixon administration set back further developments.
Following the election of President Jimmy Carter, a 410,000-acre area was established in 1978 as Kenai Fjords National Monument under the Antiquities Act, which resolved allotment of Alaska’s public lands. After 1980’s Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the area was converted into a National Park, designated to protect the Harding Icefield, one of the largest extant icefield areas in the United States. Named in honor of the fjords carved by the icefield’s numerous glaciers, the park contains more than 38 glaciers, including Bear and Exit Glaciers.
Attractions and Exhibits
Today, Kenai Fjords National Park encompasses more than 669,000 acres along the southeastern side of Kenai Peninsula, divided into three primary visitor areas. As the fifth-most-visited National Park in Alaska, the park is headquartered in the nearby port town of Seward, a popular tourist destination for docked cruise ships and excursions. As one of only three national parks in the state accessible by vehicle, the park is bordered by the nearby Kachemak Bay State Park and Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Two visitor centers serve the park, including the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center in Seward’s harbor, which is open daily during summer months and offers showings of a short orientation film, “Waves Over Seward.” The Exit Glacier Nature Center, also open during the summer, serves as a trailhead and offers exhibits about the park’s natural history, along with an Alaska Geographic bookstore and informational services for visitors.
The park’s landscape is affected by the plate tectonics of the North American Plate and Pacific Plate, which gradually lowers the elevation of the Kenai Mountains and affects the movement of the park’s formations, forming its submerged fjord glacial valleys. More than half of the park is covered by ice, contained within more than 38 glacier formations. The park’s Exit Glacier Area is its most accessible glacier area and its only section accessible by vehicle, located 12 miles from downtown Seward. Though the area is open year-round, its roads are only open during the summer months, accessible from AK-9 Seward Highway. A network of trails within the area are accessible from the visitor center, including the one-mile Glacier View Trail and the moderate difficulty Edge of the Glacier Trail. Winter recreation activities are also offered, including dogsledding, snowmobiling, and cross-country skiing.
Views of the park’s Harding Icefield Area are offered via the 8.2-mile roundtrip Harding Icefield Trail, as well as a number of private flight seeing excursion companies offering scenic overflights. The park’s Coastal Fjords Area may be primarily explored by boat, with boating and wildlife excursions offered by a number of local touring companies. Two coastal cabins within the area, the Aialik Public Use Cabin and the Holgate Public Use Cabin, are available for arranged visitor use during the summer months and offer up-close views of wildlife and natural areas. A number of camping and landing beach areas are also located within the coastal area, accessible via water taxi. Kayaking is permitted along the coastline, though recommended for advanced boaters only due to turbulent water conditions.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A variety of ranger-led walks and programming are offered by the park, including educational programming for elementary and secondary students focusing on marine wildlife, native botany, and the area’s indigenous cultures. A Junior Ranger program offers certificates and badges for young visitors in exchange for completion of park activities via an Explorer Journal app, and an Art for Parks Backpacks program offers rentable art supplies. Tours offered through Seward-area excursion companies also provide up-close experiences with the park’s marine wildlife, including Steller sea lions and Dall’s porpoises. Periodic public programming is also offered as part of the park’s partnership with the nearby Alaska SeaLife Center.
PO Box 1727, Seward, AK 99664, Phone: 907-422-0500
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Attraction Spotlight: Mendenhall Ice Caves near Juneau, Alaska
Only a short distance from downtown Juneau are the Mendenhall Ice Caves. The Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area is possibly the most well-known natural feature of Juneau. The Mendenhall, one of thirty-eight glaciers emerging from Juneau Icefield's 1500 square miles, stretches thirteen miles towards sea level, ending at the Mendenhall Valley's north end. This area is a section of the Tongass National Forest.
The Mendenhall Ice Caves fascinate both visitors and locals alike. The striking blue color of the glacier is created by air being squeezed from ice and frozen snow, so that the glacier ends up absorbing every color except for blue. New caves are carved regularly throughout the glacier as a result of melting water running through and under it. The caves collapse over time from the general shifting and retreat of the Mendenhall Glacier.
These forces are constant and make a trip to the Mendenhall Ice Caves both dangerous and thrilling. Visitors can expect unstable footing, falling rock, fast-moving streams, and dripping water during the summer. Due to the trek to the caves involving hiking on a largely unmarked trail, it can be easy for hikers who are unfamiliar with the area to become lost on their way back. It's recommended that visitors hire an experienced guide who know the area well, including the ice caves' current conditions, if they want to visit the glacier.
Visitors should also be sure to allow plenty of time to explore the area. It can sometimes take up to eight hours round-trip depending on the conditions, and the way to the ice caves is mostly unmaintained and unmarked. The right equipment, plenty of water, and waterproof, sturdy footwear are also needed. Also, it's best to dress in layers and quick-drying clothes. Access to go inside the ice caves isn't guaranteed. They may be closed to visitors at any time due to conditions. There are other way to enter the Mendenhall Ice Caves, but they require knowledge of ice caving methods or a guided tour.
One trail in the Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area is the West Glacier Trail, starting in a forest. The trail is mostly level for a while, but gets pretty steep. The trail can also be slick and muddy at times in some area, and there are uplifted roots and rocks throughout the trail. The trail includes stairs, switchbacks, and bridges. There is also a large boulder, but a knotted rope is provided to help visitor climb up it.
Along the way is a scenic overlook, with the trail ending at an area with exposed rock near the glacier and shrubbery. Other hikers have created cairns, or orderly rock piles, to help mark the trail. From the end of the trail, visitors can follow a primitive path, or carefully make their own path, to the glacier's summit. Once visitors have reached the Mendenhall Glacier, they can walk over the ice and loose rocks north, following along the edge until arriving at a ravine at which was the former entrance to the Mendenhall Ice Caves.
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Attraction Spotlight: Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is a backcountry park on the Alaskan peninsula. There is no road access to the park and preserve; most visitors arrive by small plane. Varying terrain at the park includes the junction of three mountain ranges, two volcanoes, rainforests, tundra, glacial lakes and rivers. Many of the park’s streams and lakes are vital to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. The only maintained hiking trail system within the park is the Tanalian Trails system.
The trailhead is adjacent to the southernmost airstrip in Port Alsworth, deep within the heart of the park. Hikes range from moderate to rigorous. The Beaver Pond trail offers a moderate hike through birch groves and around a beaver pond; the hike offers excellent summer bird-watching. A more difficult hike takes visitors through spruce covered hillsides for a view of Lake Clark. At the top, the 30-foot Tanalian Falls are a waterfall of glacier waters over hardened ancient lava. Hikers who continue further into the backcountry will reach Kontrashibuna Lake. Tanalian Mountain offers difficult uphill hiking for a stunning panoramic view of Lake Clark. One of the more popular backcountry hikes to Teetering Rock begins at the cabin of Richard Proenneke, a famous wilderness enthusiast who lived in the cabin on the shore of Upper Twin Lake for thirty years. The hand built log cabin from 1967 has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 2007. The park’s Twin Lakes are popular for sport fishing for sockeye salmon and arctic grayling, among other species. Visitors also enjoy kayaking and canoeing, or paddling to the outlet of the Lower Twin Lake for white water rafting down the Chilikadrotna River. Guests who prefer not to camp can spend the night at rustic cabins at Priest Rock. The cabins are located on Lake Clark approximately 8 miles from Port Alsworth, and were originally built by Allen Woodward, a summer resident of Lake Clark from 1950 through the early 2000’s. A museum at the park manages a collection of over 200,000 herbs, fossils, journals, photographs and objects, many of which belonged to the late Richard Proenneke. Also at the museum is a double-ender Bristol Bay wooden sailboat belonging to Allen Woodward and once used in Alaskan commercial fishing in the mid-1900’s. The sailboat was donated to the park by the Woodwards in 2000. The museum is located at the Visitor Center in Port Alsworth.
History: The original name of Lake Clark is “Qizhjeh Vena,” or ‘place where people gather.’ This name reflects the region’s role in supporting the Dena’ina people who have lived there for thousands of years, and continue to live off the land today. In 1962, the American Richard “Dick” Proenneke was invited by friends to Upper Twin Lake. He loved it so much he returned year after year and in 1967, at the age of 51, was ready to scout out a site for his own cabin. When a location was found, he began to harvest spruce trees to build the cabin that was to be his home for the next 30 years. Dick was a master craftsman and built his home with local tools and materials. His simple lifestyle made room for an awareness of the wilderness, and he kept meticulous notes, journals and films during his time at Upper Twin Lake.
He recorded wildlife, weather, and the humans who visited him. He was not a hermit, and maintained correspondence with anyone who wrote him a letter. His life inspired the 1977 short film “One Man’s Alaska” and his journals have been published into books. Proenneke was a conservationist who aimed to live with the least impact possible on the wilderness around him. He matured from a sport hunter to a subsistence hunter, to a non-hunter during his time in the Twin Lakes region. His off-the-grid life resonates with many around the world and his wilderness ethos has been an inspiration. Proenneke, and fellow local Allen Woodward were among a group of World War II veterans whose skills as pilots allowed them to explore the Alaskan territory when it opened up after the war. Allan Woodward sold the first of his three cabins to the National Park Foundation in 1979, one year before the site became a National Park in 1980.
Ongoing Programs and Education: In the summer month, park rangers are stationed at Richard Proenneke’s cabin and offer tours to any guests who arrive. No reservations are needed. The site of the hand built log cabin includes a raised cache for the storage of food and a woodshed with an outhouse.
Port Alsworth, AK 99653, Phone: 907-781-2118
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