Wild, unspoiled, faraway, mysterious Alaska fires up the imagination and brings out your spirit of adventure.
It is now much easier to explore Alaska’s magnificent mountains, lodges, fjords, and glaciers and see whales, seals, grizzly bears, and other wild animals than it was even a few years ago. Visit the museums, restaurants and cafes in Juneau and Anchorage and explore Denali, Glacier Bay National Parks. Here are the best things to do in Alaska.
1. White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
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The White Pass and Yukon Route is a Canadian and American narrow gauge railroad that links Skagway in Alaska and Whitehorse in Yukon. It was built in 1900 during the Klondike Gold Rush – the fastest way miners could reach the goldfields. It operated until 1982 and was resurrected in 1988 as a heritage railway. It allows passengers to travel back to the past, riding the rails on a real gold rush train, past waterfalls, glacial rivers, steep gorges, and dense forests that have hardly changed since the time of the gold miners.
The train climbs up 3000 feet with passengers aboard parlor cars, both vintage and replicas and with huge windows and observation decks, along the 10-foot-wide train track carved into the mountain. The scenery is breathtaking, and the places the train passes by, such as Dead Horse Gulch or Inspiration Point, fire the imagination and take you all the way up to the headwaters of the legendary Yukon River.
231 2nd, Skagway, Alaska 99840, Phone: 907-983-2217
2. Kroschel Films Wildlife Center, Alaska
© Kroschel Films Wildlife Center
Located about 28 miles from Haines, Alaska, the Kroschel Films Wildlife Center is an amazing place where filmmaker and naturalist Steve Kroschel takes care of abandoned or orphaned wild animals from Alaska or Canada. It is not a zoo, though, and the animals live free and unmolested in their natural environment, providing you with some perfect photo opportunities as you walk along a well-groomed trail for about 600 yards through the magnificent Alaskan wilderness.
You will encounter 15 species of animals, including grizzly bears, foxes, wolves, lynx, moose, reindeer, owls and others. Steve combines his filmmaking and animal care with a message about the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and natural healing.
Mile 18 Mosquito Lake Road, Haines, AK 99827, Phone: 907-767-5464
3. Sealaska Heritage Institute, Alaska
© Sealaska Heritage Institute
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a nonprofit organization and institute in downtown Juneau, originally founded in 1980 to preserve and protect the region's Tlingit Tsimshian, and Haida indigenous cultures. The institute, which moved into its permanent home at the Walter Soboleff Building in 2015, strives to create a place where Native and non-Native Alaskans alike can learn about their heritage through permanent exhibits and special event programming. The museum's permanent cultural exhibit showcases a variety of works by prominent Native artists, including luminaries such as Wayne Price, Robert Davidson, Preston Singletary, and David Boxley. A traditional clan house dubbed as Shuká Hít is also showcased, along with space for rotating art and cultural exhibits. Three major public art exhibits are showcased on the museum's grounds, including a 40-foot panel exhibit by Robert Davidson paying tribute to a Haida supernatural figure known as "Greatest Echo."
105 S Seward St, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: (907) 463-4844
4. Kodiak Laboratory Aquarium & Touch Tank, Alaska
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The Alaska Fisheries Science Center is home to the Kodiak Laboratory Aquarium & Touch Tank, a 3500-gallon freestanding aquarium and touch tank containing species from the Kodiak Island waterways. Common species in the aquarium and tank include crabs, shrimp, snails, starfish and fish.
Children and adults alike will enjoy handling the residents of the touch tank. Tour guides are on hand to provide information about the sea life and answer questions. The science center's conference rooms provide fantastic views of the water and visitors can marvel at the massive, 25,000-square-foot complex that houses the aquarium.
301 Research Court, Kodiak, AK 99615, Phone: 907-481-1700
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5. Alaska Native Heritage Center
© Alaska Native Heritage Center
The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage is a cultural center, museum and gathering place where visitors can learn about the heritage of eleven of Alaska's major cultures by viewing exhibitions, watching artists’ demonstrations, songs and dances, and listening to stories. Alaskan Native dancing, Native games demonstrations and mesmerizing storytelling all take place in the Gathering Place. The Hall of Cultures features exhibitions by Alaskan Native artists.
Artists sell their art and crafts around the hall. The theatre shows the Heritage Center-produced film, “Stories Given, Stories Shared”, and many other movies about the different cultures and peoples of Alaska. Even more interesting exhibits await outside the center building –there are six life-sized Alaskan Native dwellings scattered in the woods around nearby Lake Tiulana where visitors can see demonstrations of the traditional way of life of different Alaskan peoples.
8800 Heritage Center Dr, Anchorage, AK99504-6100, Phone: 907-330-8000
6. The Aurora Ice Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska
© The Aurora Ice Museum
Located in the Chena Hot Springs Resort, the Aurora Ice Museum is open year-round. Created with over 1,000 tons of ice and snow, the museum is kept at 25° Fahrenheit (-7° Celsius), so visitors are loaned parkas to tour the museum in comfort.
The museum contains a gallery displaying sculptures by world champion ice carvers Steve and Heather Brice, an observation tower, three bedrooms (polar bear, Christmas tree and children’s fort), a Northern Lights room and even an ice outhouse. An ice alter can be rented for onsite special events or weddings, and the museum’s chandeliers change color to evoke the aurora borealis.
17600 Chena Hot Springs Road, Fairbanks, AK 99712, Phone: 907-451-8104
7. Running Reindeer Ranch, Alaska
© Running Reindeer Ranch
Less than half hour from downtown Fairbanks is the Running Reindeer Ranch, where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about these curious animals of the north. The ranch owner and manager Jane, who has lived most of her life in Alaska, will take you on a walk through the beautiful, dense birch forest with the reindeer and engage you in reindeer games, tell you about the forest, the reindeer’s home, and explain all their adaptations to life in the Arctic.
You can watch the reindeer as they run free and happy in their forest world, untrained and often unpredictable, so what kind of adventure you will be having is pretty much up to them. Once the walk is over, Jane will take you to a nice, warm room by a fire, give you cookies and a hot drink and tell you stories about life in the north and, of course, about reindeer. In the summer, she will proudly show you her vegetable garden.
Goldstream Rd, Fairbanks, AK 99709, Phone: 907-455-4998
8. Things to Do in Alaska: Husky Homestead
© Husky Homestead
If you have ever wondered what it would feel like to stand on a dog sled speeding across 1000 miles of frozen Alaskan tundra, and you are not prepared to enter the next Iditarod race, then a visit to the Husky Homestead is your best alternative. Legendary Jeff King, four times winner of the Iditarod race and hundreds of other races across North America, has opened his home to those curious about the Alaskan lifestyle, including the hardships, challenges and, of course, the huskies.
You can hear great stories from Jeff and his staff, many of whom are also famous mushers, you can play with puppies and watch fully-grown majestic animals both at training and at work. Jeff’s home is located within Denali National Park and all visitors are brought in by Husky Homestead buses from Denali hotels.
PO Box 48,, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755, Phone: 907-683-2904
9. Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, Alaska
© Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
Located on the banks of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a regional visitor center for Interior Alaska and Fairbanks. The center is an interesting and very successful cooperation between the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.
There is a 9000-square-foot exhibit hall with dioramas and displays featuring rural Alaska seasons and landscapes from the interior. The information center part offers brochures, walking and driving tour schedules, and a vacancy listing, and answers visitor questions and inquiries. There is also a theatre with free films on Alaska’s natural and cultural history.
101 Dunkel St, Fairbanks, AK 99701-4806, Phone: 907-459-3700
10. Alaska Raptor Center
© Alaska Raptor Center
Even in remote and sparsely populated places like Alaska, wild animals suffer from human encroachment into their habitats and are increasingly injured or killed. Two Sitka ladies decided that someone had to do something about the injured raptor birds and so they developed the Alaska Raptor Center in 1980. They started in their backyard with one injured bald eagle. Eventually, their action attracted other volunteers and they were able to help more birds, so they first moved to a shed on the campus of Sheldon Jackson College and then, in 1991, to the current 17-acre space on the Indian River.
The center provides medical care and treatment to about 200 injured birds each year, mostly bald eagles. The main goal is to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild. Those birds that are too severely injured and would not be able survive in the wild stay in the center’s Raptors-in-Residence facility and are visited by tourists and school kids as part of the educational program on raptor birds and environmental conservation in general.
1000 Raptor Way, Sitka, AK 99835-9302, Phone: 800-643-9425
11. Haines Brewing Company, Inc.
© Haines Brewing Company, Inc.
The Haines Brewing Company, Inc. was established in 1999 by Paul Wheeler and Jeanne Kitayama. The passion started long before the brewery did, when friends and family would come from far and wide to have a sip of Paul’s fine brews. Growing off their original homebrew recipes, the company now offers a varied range or fresh seasonal and flagship brews on tap in their tasting room, outdoor beer garden, and brewery. They have become renowned for producing some of Alaska’s finest hand-crafted beers from the bold barley wine, Bigger Hammer, to an imperial stout, Black Fang – the latter is great for those who appreciate rich coffee and chocolate flavors.
327 Main St, Haines, AK 99827, Phone: 907-766-3823
12. Alaska SeaLife Center, Alaska
© Alaska SeaLife Center
Located in Seward, Alaska, on the scenic shores of Resurrection Bay, the Alaska SeaLife Center is Alaska’s main public aquarium and its only permanent rehabilitation facility for marine mammals. Since opening in 1998, the center works on preserving the integrity of the marine ecosystems of Alaska using research, conservation, rehabilitation and education. Most funds for the 115,000-square-foot facility came from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill restitution and its purpose is to remind visitors through interactive activities of the importance of the integrity of Alaska's nature.
Through viewing windows, visitors can watch a Steller’s sea lion swimming underwater, puffins diving into the waters of a carefully designed habitat, or harbor seals sprawled on rocky beaches. There is a discovery touch tank that engages your senses and the Chiswell Island exhibit, where you can watch what is happening at the Steller’s sea lion rookery in Resurrection Bay through a remote camera live video. The center offers self-guided tours as well as special behind-the-scenes tours and animal encounters.
301 Railway Ave, Seward, AK 99664-3801, Phone: 907-224-6300
13. Things to Do in Alaska: Talkeetna Air Taxi
© Talkeetna Air Taxi
To see everything that majestic Denali has to offer in its 8,000,000 acres of Alaskan wilderness would take more than a lifetime. The best way to see it all, ancient glaciers, sky-high mountain peaks and mile-high gorges, is from the air or by flightseeing.
Talkeetna Air Taxi promises to show you one of the most magnificent mountain landscapes on Earth from the comfort of one of their ten safe and modern planes as well as a helicopter that will not only fly over Denali but will also land on a glacier so that you can experience a world normally known only to mountaineers after a long, hard climb. All their tours are customized and depend on the weather conditions and current visibility.
14212 E 2nd St, Talkeetna, AK 99676, Phone: 907-733-2218
14. Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour, Alaska
© Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour
An adventure with the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour aboard the legendary F/V Aleutian Ballad is not quite the hair-raising death-defying battle with the sea you saw in the series Deadliest Catch. You will meet the same crew and board the same boat, but the boat has been made more comfortable with a heated amphitheater and a panoramic upper deck.
The boat will take you on a comfortable cruise through the calm, protected waters of the Inside Passage around the bays and islands surrounding Ketchikan until you reach the rich fishing grounds. You will watch the crew haul the catch and place some of the animals in a live tank so that you can see them and take photos before they are released unharmed back into the sea. Have a look around on the trip to the fishing grounds and you might spot some of the rich Alaskan wildlife such as bears, bald eagles and seals. The cruise lasts about three hours.
Berth #3 Tender Float, Ketchikan, AK 99901, Phone: 888-239-3816
15. Things to Do in Alaska: Kenai Fjords Tours
© Kenai Fjords Tours
Located about 125 miles south of Anchorage, the small town of Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Departing from Seward, Kenai Fjord Tours will take you on a close-up encounter with ancient glaciers, gray and humpback whales, sea lions, orcas, arctic birds, seals and porpoises. You can see Kenai Fjords National Park’s calving glaciers and magnificent alpine and cirque glaciers.
Learn about the history of the rugged cliffs of Resurrection Bay and travel deep into the park to experience the unspoiled beauty of the Northwest Fjords. You can choose one of their many day tours – the Resurrection Bay Tour, the National Park Tour, the Fox Island Tour with dinner and many others – aboard one of their large 95-foot specially designed vessels that can accommodate up to 150 people in the comfort of heated, enclosed cabins and with a large observation deck. The tours last from three to nine hours.
1304 4th Ave, Seward, AK 99664, Phone: 907-777-2852
16. AK Things to Do: Sitka National Historic Park
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Sitka National Historical Park is a day park run by the National Parks Service. The site uses programming and media to educate the public about the cultural battle that took place between Russian traders and the indigenous Kiks.ádi Tlingit people back when Russia was the dominating force in the North Pacific. Totem poles line the park’s coastal trail and are part of the visitor center’s display, along with other traditional Tlingit objects, such as the hammer that clan leader Katlian used as a weapon in the Battle of 1804.
The park also offers the rare opportunity to view an example of Russian colonial architecture in the form of the Russian Bishop’s House. There is a bookstore with titles on the area’s history and traditions and there are ongoing events run by park rangers and scientists. The park houses over 1,000 original glass plate negatives by Elbridge W. Merrill that document the cultural interaction between colonial Russians and the Tlingit.
103 Monastery St., Sitka, AK 99835, Phone: 907-747-0110
17. Alaska Railroad
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The Alaska Railroad offers a train service to Alaska’s most popular destinations, such as Denali National Park, Seward, Talkeetna, and Anchorage. The railroad operates two passenger classes, both with full-service dining and bar service; the GoldStar Service class is available on the Coastal Classic and Denali trains, while all trains features the Adventure class.
Meals, soft drinks and two alcoholic beverages are included in the GoldStar Service ticket price. Pre-packaged day and multi-day itineraries are available, with accommodation and activities included in the multi-day packages. Both seniors (65+) and military personnel qualify for discounted pricing. All trains accept credit or debit card payments for onboard purchases. Phone: 800-544-0552
18. Things to Do: Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage
© Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The animals at the AWCC are typically injured or orphaned and have been brought to the center for care. If the animals cannot be released back into the wild or sent to another center after treatment and rehabilitation, they become a permanent fixture at the AWCC.
The center holds public feeding sessions several times a day and during the summer, hour-long shuttle bus tours let visitors watch and learn about the different wildlife. Also during the summer, you can, for an additional fee, take a behind-the-scenes tour where a chaperone takes you through the center so that you can see food being prepared and have a one-on-one visit with an animal resident.
Mile 79 Seward Highway, Portage, Alaska 99587, Phone: 907-783-2025
19. Things to Do in Alaska: Totem Bight State Historical Park
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Totem Bight State Historical Park hosts 15 totem poles and a model indigenous village. Totem poles tell visual stories through symbolic characters carved into the pole, and the totems on display in the park speak of the rich natural resources in Alaska. The village’s clan house is typical of those built in the early 1800s, sized for 30 to 50 dwellers with a central fireplace in the one large room.
The house’s carved posts recount stories, while the front of the house displays a painting which is historically uncommon and signifies abundance. The park teaches young artists totem pole carving and also repairs or creates copies of totem poles left by indigenous people when they moved to find work in the early 20th century.
550 W. 7th Ave, Suite 1260, Anchorage, AK 99501-3557, Phone: 907-269-8400
20. Things to Do in Alaska: Juneau Whale Watch
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There is so much to do in Juneau, which is surrounded by lush rainforests and ancient glaciers and has more trails than roads and more wildlife than people. However, nothing can compare to seeing your first humpback whale slowly emerging from the cold depths of the sea with breath-taking majesty. Juneau Whale Watch is an established local company that will make your encounter unforgettable.
Their whale watching adventure takes three to five hours and starts on a bus that takes you from downtown Juneau to the Juneau port at Fisherman’s Bend in Auke Bay Harbor, where you board one of their custom-made whale watching boats. While cruising the bay looking for whales, keep an eye out for bald eagles, sea lions, seals, black bears, and other Alaskan wildlife. You can see the humpback whales and orcas who often hunt in these waters. Once the whale is in sight, the captain will shut down the engine so that whales can approach the boat, as if posing for the photos. You can stand outside or in the heated cabin with a large viewing window.
76 Egan Dr Suite 300, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-723-9209
21. Alaska Tourist Attractions: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
© Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Located in the Wedgewood Resort and Bear Lodge in Fairbanks is the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, an amazing collection of antique cars and historic fashion that showcases how the design of both clothes and cars changed dramatically between the demure Victorian era and the more cheerful Art Deco age. There are more than 80 antique cars, from horseless carriages, electric cars and steamers to speedsters, midget racers, cycle cars and 30s classics.
You can see Alaska’s first car, an 1898 Hay Motor Vehicle, 1920 Argonne, 1921 Heine-Velox Victoria and 1906 Compound, all kept in excellent shape and still going strong. The museum also features over 100 antique costumes in its clothing exhibit.
212 Wedgewood Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99701, Phone: 907-450-2100
22. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
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The Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park offers three historical tours led by park rangers. The 30-minute tour of Jeff Smiths Parlor Museum recounts the story of Soapy Smith, the notorious conman and influential Skagaway citizen who was murdered in an 1898 gunfight.
The museum also contains Gold Rush period artifacts and local folk art. The tour of the historic district covers four blocks and several of the 20+ buildings managed by the park during the one-hour session. You can also spend 90 minutes learning about the history and wildlife of Dyea, a boomtown during the Gold Rush and current a National Historic Landmark.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Skagway, AK 99840, Phone: 907-983-9200
23. Things to Do in Alaska: Santa Claus House, North Pole
© Santa Claus House
At the Santa Claus House, you can experience Christmas any day of the year. Started by Con and Nellie Miller in 1952, Santa Claus House began as a community trading post where locals could buy supplies, pick up their mail or simply stop in for a few minutes of chit chat and a soda.
During the 1970s, the store began to increasingly focus on Christmas items, and today you can find a huge assortment of Christmas gifts, including food, clothing, merchandise, and toys. Take a photo with the 42-foot tall, three-dimensional Santa outside the house or in the photo sleigh, visit the reindeer team, or enjoy some holiday food and drink while browsing.
101 St. Nicholas Dr., North Pole, Alaska 99705, Phone: 907-488-2200
24. AK Things to Do: University of Alaska Museum of the North
© University of Alaska Museum of the North
Located on the Fairbanks campus of the University of Alaska, the University of Alaska Museum of the North is a great introduction to vast, mysterious Alaska, including its people, history, art, culture, plants and animals, through a range of galleries with permanent and temporary exhibits. A new wing, added in 2005, is an art exhibit in itself, evoking glaciers, alpine slopes and the legendary Yukon River, and has won many awards. The gallery showcases two thousand years of Alaska art – from old Eskimo carvings to contemporary sculptures and paintings, both Native and non-Native.
Exhibits in the Gallery of Alaska represent Alaska's major cultural and ecological regions, with Alaska's biggest gold display, major displays of Native artifacts, and the world’s only fully restored steppe bison mummy from the Ice Age. The exhibit The Place Where You Go to Listen is a fascinating light and sound display that is constantly changing with the current position of the moon and the sun, aurora borealis activity and the frequent earthquakes.
Guests are welcome to relax in the common room with a TV and DVD player, puzzles, and areas for reading. There is also a deck with a gorgeous view. The restaurant features East Coast, seafood, and Tex-Mex dishes so there is something for everyone. Breakfast is always included in the stay and later in the day you can enjoy lunch, supper, or appetizers.
1962 Yukon Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99775, Phone: 907-474-7505
Denali Visitor Center
Before venturing into the magnificent 6,000,000-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, stop by the highly informative Denali Visitor Center, the main park’s information and welcoming facility. It includes a restaurant, gift shop and bookstore, bus stop, bag check, and railroad depot.
The center is an ideal place for visitors to learn more about what to expect in the park as well as its most interesting features by talking to park rangers, by watching the film "Heartbeats of Denali", and by checking out a small but interesting exhibit area. Many ranger-run activities in the park start at the Denali Visitor Center. Also, most of the trails in the Denali park have an easy access from the center, where you can get the map of all trails.
Denali National Park and Preserve, Phone: 907-683-9532
Russian Bishop's House
In 1741, Captain Aleksei Chirikov of the Russian Navy landed in Alaska and the period of Russian colonization in Alaska began. After the Battle of 1804, the Russian settlement of Sitka was founded. From 1808 until 1867, when the Tsar sold Alaska to the United States, Sitka served as the Russian colony’s capital. The Russian Bishop’s House was built in 1842 and is a rare example of Russian colonial architecture.
The house served as the administrative center for the Russian Orthodox Church, which had locations across North America, and is a lingering reminder of Alaska’s Russian history. A 16-year project by the National Parks Service began in 1973 to make the building look as it did in the early 1850s. The house lets visitors experience life in Sitka during the Russian-American period.
501 Lincoln St, Sitka, AK 99835, Phone: 907-747-0110
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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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