For many travelers, Alaska conjures up images of snowcapped mountains, breaching whales, and crab fishing fleets. But the nation’s largest state brings so much more to the table. And while it would be impossible to explore everything that makes this great state unique on one tour, our Untamed Alaska small-group journey, we visit a few of Alaska’s lesser-known wonders.
A Local, Adorable Twist on Denali
Every visitor to Alaska should take time to visit Denali National Park. Home to the namesake mountain, America’s tallest peak (formerly Mount McKinley), this six-million-acre preserve comprises forest, alpine tundra, sub-arctic taiga, and snow-covered mountains. We enjoy a domed railcar journey into the area, a private coach ride with a local driver/guide who illuminates the region’s highlights, and an easy hike through the park’s tundra landscape.
But the highlight of our Denali discovery comes on the following day, when we have the opportunity to visit a local Iditarod sled dog kennel. Covering 1,000 miles of some of the roughest terrain in the world, the grueling Iditarod, “The Last Great Race on Earth,” draws nearly 100 competitive mushers and their dog teams annually. At the kennel, we learn about the history of the race and meet the kennel’s Husky puppies. Though they’ll soon start their training to become working sled dogs, the pups we meet are the picture of cuteness.
Remote, Wild, and Breathtaking Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
America’s largest national park isn’t Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, or any of the other big names. It’s Wrangell-St. Elias, an 8.3-million acre preserve in Eastern Alaska, stretching from the Canadian border to the Pacific Ocean. We board prop planes for the journey deep into the center of the park and spend two nights here in the park’s only lodge.
We make the most of our time in Wrangell-St. Elias, with a half-day hike along the massive Root Glacier, where we are fitted for crampons and treated to some of the country’s most unspoiled and magnificent scenery; an afternoon at leisure; and a full exploration of the historic copper mining town of Kennicott. It’s a side of Alaska that few take the time to see, but it adds immeasurably to our trip.
Visits to Wildlife and Cultural Centers
Alaska’s landscape defies description, but it’s the inhabitants, both human and animal, that give the state its unique stories. We dive into both of these worlds on separate visits, first in Seward at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
This non-profit facility is dedicated to providing quality animal care and preserving Alaska’s wildlife. With 200 acres of spacious enclosures, the center offers an opportunity to see injured or orphaned bears, moose, elk, lynx, caribou, and more display their natural behavior in a safe environment.
On our last full day in Alaska, we learn about the state’s diverse set of Native American cultures on a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Opened in 1999 to tell the story of 11 of Alaska’s major native cultural groups, this museum and exhibition space includes a theater, art museum, and demonstration space inside, and six life-sized Native dwellings outside. Here we enjoy a tour of the center and watch a dynamic Native Games demonstration.
Lunch and a cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park
The trip to Alaska wouldn’t be complete without a cruise, and we embark ours in the town of Seward, from where we explore the Kenai Fjords National Park.
This 600,000-acre coastal preserve comprises rocky peninsulas, long fjords, primeval glaciers, and tranquil bays. We head out late morning and enjoy lunch on board. During our cruise, we get close to one of Kenai’s many glaciers and keep an eye out for the diverse array of mammals and marine life who call the park home. A sampling of terrestrial and oceanic life we may encounter: brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose, bald eagles, peregrine falcons, otters, porpoises, sea lions, harbor seals, and several species of whales. We cruise for the balance of the afternoon, returning to shore early evening.
In just 10 days, we see a huge swath of Alaska’s treasures, and cover more territory, landscapes, and culture than many other similar-length trips. If you’re going to take one trip to the 49th state, make sure it’s our Untamed Alaska small-group tour.