Jaw-dropping photos of the Last Frontier
High on any traveler’s wish list should be Mount Denali, North America’s tallest peak which rises a dizzying 20,310 feet (6,190m) above sea level. Located in south-central Alaska, the Native Koyukon Athabascan people named it Denali, which translates as “The Great One”. However, in 1896, a gold prospector decided to name the mountain after then-presidential nominee William McKinley, spurring a naming dispute between indigenous people and settlers which would last more than a century. After a 40-year stint of being officially called McKinley, the name was changed back to Denali in 2015.
Tracy Arm Fjord
A 27-mile (43km) long fjord surrounded by razor-sharp cliffs lined with waterfalls, this dramatic natural wonder around 45 miles (72km) south of Juneau is mesmerizing. Highlights include the Twin Sawyer Glaciers (pictured), bright blue icebergs and an array of wildlife including bald eagles, harbor seals and mountain goats. True Alaskan Tours offers a day trip to the fjord from the city of Juneau, requiring travelers to wear face masks while inside the ship and practice social distancing.
Alaska is home to some of the most awe-inspiring stretches of road on the planet. Alaska Highway, which stretches 1,387 miles (2,232km) between Dawson Creek in British Columbia, Canada and Delta Junction in south-central Alaska, certainly doesn’t scrimp on beautiful scenery. If you’re planning a road trip on the Alaskan side of the route, stop off at Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge to see an array of birds migrating to and from Canada, backdropped by a landscape of expansive forests, wetlands and tundra. See more of America’s most scenic roads here.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Despite being one of the state’s smaller national parks, Kenai Fjords National Park certainly gives you bang for your buck when it comes to jaw-dropping scenery. Situated in the south-central region, one of the park’s most impressive features is the Harding Icefield, a 714-square mile (1,850sq km) sheet of ice that’s up to a mile thick in places, which feeds more than 30 glaciers. Visitors can drive to the fjord between May and October, when the road into Exit Glacier is open, or arrange a flight-seeing trip from Seward at other points in the year, subject to weather conditions.
Named after early travelers who turned around after getting cold feet, Coldfoot is the furthest-north truck stop in the US, situated at Mile 175 on the Dalton Highway near the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Today, visitors who brave the journey to the Arctic Alaskan village are rewarded with miles of unspoilt tundra and rugged mountains. What’s more, its northern location makes it one of the best spots in Alaska for catching the Northern Lights. See more stunning images of the Northern Lights here.
Stretching 550 miles (885km) from the Endicott Mountains in the central Brooks Range to the village of Koyukuk, the Alaskan Koyukuk River is a must-see for anyone wanting to catch a glimpse of Alaska’s epic wilderness. Koyukuk River Tribal Tours usually offers either three-day or six-day inclusive guided tours of the river, including air travel from Fairbanks to Hughes, with an emphasis on educating guests about Koyukon Athabascan cultural practices and providing jobs to local people.
The former Klondike Gold Rush town of Dyea was visited by thousands of people in the late 1890s as they poured through on their way to gold fields. Long before that, Dyea was used as a seasonal fishing camp and base by Chilkat Tlingit people, from where they traveled up the Chilkoot Trail to trade with people in the interior. Today, the town has been reclaimed by nature, having been abandoned due to successive natural disasters and a lack of transport links. However, it offers a fascinating insight into the rich and overlapping histories that coexist in Alaska. Discover more abandoned ghost towns in America here.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
The largest national park in the US at a whopping six times the size of Yellowstone, Wrangell-St. Elias is filled with an outstanding array of mountains and glaciers, a diverse wildlife population and stunning views galore. Roughly 70% of the park is designated and managed as wilderness, meaning the landscapes are about as unspoilt as they come, and the park is also home to some of the largest glaciers in North America. See more of the world’s most wonderful wildernesses here.
One of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers, Mendenhall Glacier is located a mere 13 miles (21km) from the town of Juneau and can be reached by car, on foot, by air, or by boat. Part of the 1,500 square mile (3,900sq km) Juneau Icefield, the glacier has been retreating since the Little Ice Age between the 16th and 19th centuries. The glacier is accessible all year but May to October, when the weather is warmest, is the most popular time to visit (when COVID-19 restrictions allow).
Glacier Bay National Park
Sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and Canada, Glacier Bay National Park is home to some of the most incredible tidewater glaciers on the planet. The park also has an array of wildlife, including humpback whales, porpoises, sea otters, bears, wolves and moose. It’s best to explore this icy wilderness by boat – 95% of visitors usually do so – but avoid the big cruises and take a smaller ship for a more sustainable option. Responsible Travel usually offers an eight-day small ship tour starting at Sitka and finishing at Glacier Bay and Juneau, with opportunities to see wildlife up close and engage with local indigenous communities.
Flanked by the fall’s vibrant oranges and reds in this stunning shot, the seven-mile long (11km) Eklutna Lake is backdropped by majestic mountains, the tallest of which is Bashful Peak. It’s a favorite spot of hikers, with ample trails to try including the two-and-a-half mile (4km) Twin Peaks Trail, and the 13-mile (21km) Eklutna Lakeside Trail. Alternatively, thrill-seekers can take a three-and-a-half-hour quad bike tour with locally-owned Riding Alaska ATV Tours, which takes visitors through the Chugach State Park and traverses along the lake, up towards the Eklutna Glacier itself.
If you’re willing to brave the cold and visit Alaska’s Arctic region (when travel is allowed again), you’ll be rewarded by views of the awe-inspiring Brooks mountains. This epic mountain range extends out from Canada’s Rocky Mountains, spanning around 600 miles (1,000km) in total, with its highest peaks reaching between 8,500 and 9,000 feet (2,590-2,740m). Ideal for hiking, camping and mountaineering, it’s best to visit in the summer when the temperatures are mildest – although even then, temperatures typically only reach around 40°F (4°C) in the most northerly regions.
Lost Lake, Kenai Peninsula
Wonder Lake, Denali National Park
One of the most accessible glaciers in the Last Frontier, Exit Glacier is just a 10 to 15-minute drive from Seward and can be reached after a short walk from the parking area, making it popular with cruise tour groups. The stunning bright-blue glacier is retreating quickly, however, and has been held up as a symbol of the effects of global warming. According to local guide Rick Brown, speaking to National Geographic, the normal rate of retreat is 150 feet (46m) a year. Currently, the glacier is retreating by around 10-15 feet (3-4.6m) per day. See more historic sights and landmarks under threat from climate change.
It’s easy to get lost in Alaska’s breathtaking wilderness but its cities are every bit as spectacular. Take Anchorage for example, where shimmering lights are offset by jewel-toned skies and inky blue mountains in this sunset shot. Here, you’ll find everything from craft beer and coffee to museums such as the Anchorage Museum and the Oscar Anderson House.
Lake Spenard and Lake Hood
Aviation fans will love Lake Spenard and Lake Hood where the world’s largest and busiest seaplane harbor is – there are more than 87,000 take-offs and landings per year. The nearby Alaska Aviation Museum, which documents Alaska’s aviation history through interactive exhibitions, photographs, artifacts and memorabilia, is also worth a stop off.
At an immense 27 miles (43km) long and four miles (6km) wide, Matanuska Glacier flows north from the Chugach Mountains up to near the Glenn Highway, between interior and coastal mountains. It’s possible to visit in a day by traveling the 100 miles (161km) northward from Anchorage, making it an ideal day trip. What’s more, the glacier naturally pushes warm valley air upwards, meaning that the weather here is a little milder than at many other glaciers.
If you’re keen to see bears in Alaska, look no further than Kodiak Island. Alaska’s largest island, also known as the “Emerald Isle” for its lush green landscapes, is a designated wildlife refuge home to as many as 3,000 of the largest grizzly bears in the world. Kodiak Island also has several harbors including St. Paul Boat Harbor, which served as a major port during the Second World War, when the island was an important staging area for North Pacific operations. See the most amazing animal encounters in every state here.
Lake Clark National Park
Known for its diverse array of landscapes, including everything from tundra and volcanoes to lakes and glaciers in one fell swoop, you might be surprised to learn that Lake Clark is something of a lesser-known gem among Alaska’s many national parks. Along its center run the rugged Chigmit Mountains, while there are also two active volcanoes, Iliamna and Redoubt. It’s usually best to visit in summertime for the mildest temperatures – or go in September, to see the region lit up by fall colors.
With its log cabins, clapboard store fronts and hand-sewn signposts, former gold mining town Talkeetna is about as quaint as the come. This characterful little spot, located 115 miles (185km) north of Anchorage in the Mat-Su Valley, was once a thriving riverboat steamer station which supplied nearby gold miners and had a population of 1,000 at its peak during the First World War. There are plenty of ways to explore the surrounding area, from rafting and jet boat tours to hiking trails and guided walks.
Sitka, located on Baranof Island’s west shore in the southern tip of Alaska, is one of the few remaining places that nods at the state’s Russian influence. In the mid-1700s, the Russians arrived in Alaska and in 1804, they attacked a Tlingit fort and Sitka became America’s Russian capital four years later. Today, it’s a patchwork of pastel-colored buildings, reminders of Russian history and culture – such as St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral – and stunning views across the mountains.
Prince of Wales Island
A rugged wilderness that’s perfect for adventure-seekers, Prince of Wales Island is packed full of hiking trails, mountain biking tracks and canoeing spots. Yet it’s great for those wishing to take a scenic drive, too, with 1,300 miles (2,092km) of paved or maintained gravel roads that take in an array of scenic views as they travel through tiny villages and skirt along miles of coastline. When travel is back on the agenda, visitors should fly into Ketchikan, from where it’s a three-hour ferry to reach the island.
In 1778, British explorer James Cook was traveling up this narrow waterway when he was forced to “turn again” because he couldn’t proceed any further inland – and so the name “Turnagain Arm” was born. Today, a trip down the narrow channel usually delights visitors with its picture-perfect views, as well as providing opportunities to spot beluga whales and Dall sheep. There’s also the Seward Highway, an incredibly scenic stretch of road that provides ample access to hiking routes and stunning views of Chugach State Park’s mountains.
Virgin Creek Falls
White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad
For one of the most scenic train journeys you’ll ever experience, look no further than the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. Built during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898 for gold prospectors trying to get out of Skagway and into Canada, the 110-mile (177km) stretch can be traveled today via two excursions (when safe to do so). Either take a two-and-a-half hour Summit Excursion which retraces the original route to the White Pass Summit, or the eight-hour Bennett Scenic Journey between Skagway, Alaska, and Carcross, Yukon – the same route taken by gold prospectors. Here are more of the world’s most scenic train journeys.
Stretching 1,100 miles (1,770km) across the North Pacific from the Alaskan Peninsula, the Aleutian Islands are a bewildering mix of desolate and breathtakingly beautiful. The archipelago, consisting of 14 larger and 55 smaller islands, is home to numerous active volcanoes, such as Shishaldin Volcano on Unimak Island. First inhabited by the Aleut people some 9,000 years ago, at its peak the population was as large as 25,000, but the isles were stormed by the Russians in the 1700s and the majority of Aleut people were killed off. Today, only a small number of Aleut people remain, in communities including Akutan, Cold Bay, False Pass, King Cove and Sand Point.
Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
The volcanic-formed Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes gets its name from the fumaroles – holes in the valley floor which spout gas, smoke and steam – which can be found along it. The 56-square-mile (145sq km) valley was created in 1912, when the Novarupta and Mount Katmai volcanoes erupted, in what was one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded. Today, this wide and desolate expanse is like nowhere else on Earth, attracting intrepid explorers eager to experience its wild and untamed beauty for themselves. Discover the world’s most remote small towns here.
An essential stretch to explore on any Alaskan road trip is Dalton Highway, which travels through the most remote and northerly parts of the state. Often referred to as “America’s loneliest road”, there are just three villages along the entire 414-mile (666km) route, and from the midpoint at Coldfoot to the end, at Deadhorse, you won’t find a single gas station, hotel or rest stop. Clearly not for the faint-hearted, the road also has many steep, muddy sections so it’s necessary to travel in a well kitted-out vehicle with plenty of supplies.
Its quaint, colorful wooden houses reflected in the water make Ketchikan a picture-perfect spot which is popular with visitors. Known as Alaska’s “First City” – it’s the first settlement you reach when traveling northwards up the Inside Passage – Ketchikan has a rich history of salmon fishing, having been originally founded as a salmon cannery site in 1885. Don’t miss Alaska’s largest collection of totem poles housed in the Totem Heritage Center, which offers an insight into the traditions and cultures of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples.
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