Purchased from the Russians in 1867 for the paltry price of $121 million dollars in today’s dollars, acquiring Alaska turned out to be one of the best deals Uncle Sam has ever made in its history, as its jawdropping scenery and seemingly endless resource wealth have been a nonstop net benefit to the Union ever since then.
Nicknamed The Last Frontier, Alaska still has that pioneer era feel to it even in the present day, as those seeking to reinvent their lives move here on a regular basis, build a cabin in the wilderness, and live life on their own terms.
While you might be concerned that this might spoil the pristine reputation of this part of the world, land isn’t exactly something that Alaska lacks: with 663,000 square miles, it is larger than all but eighteen nations on Earth, and it is bigger than Texas, California and Montana – combined.
No matter how civilized Alaska can feel in places (like Anchorage), endless wilderness is never far away, so if you are feeling harried by the ways of the world, or if you simply want to take in some of the best natural scenery on the planet, there are few places anywhere on Earth better than the most northern of American states.
What To Do – Culture & History
Long before European migrants to this wild territory, a variety of First Nations tribes called this state home for thousands of years. The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage tells this story eloquently, as it contains the cultural artifacts of eleven different groups. Life-size replicas of traditional dwellings, periodic ceremonies, and other aspects of these people’ lives can be witnessed here, making an excellent first stop on a cultural tour of Alaska.
If the prior attraction has got you interested in learning more about history of every sort with respect to this place, the University of Alaska Museum of the North has the information that you are looking for, all laid out in well-designed and researched exhibits. From earth sciences to human history, fine arts to natural history, this institution will make you a resident expert on this state by the time you walk out its doors.
While Alaska is thought of today as being part of North America, geographically, it is so far west that it is closer to the Eastern Hemisphere than it is to many parts of the lower 48 states. During the age of colonization in the New World, Russians had started to make inroads here prior to this state’s purchase from the largest nation on Earth in the 19th century.
Sitka National Historic Park commemorates this period in Alaska’s history, preserving a fort that played a central role in an armed skirmish between the Tlingit people and Russian fur traders. Totem poles sourced from nearby Haida villages are also a big attraction for visitors patronizing this park, as is the nearby Russian Bishop’s House, which is one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in North America.
Long before oil barons struck it rich in the oilfields of Alaska’s frozen tundra, it was gold that brought throngs of young men (and a few intrepid women) northward to this untamed territory in search of quick riches.
Independence Mine State Historical Park chronicles this rough and tumble period in this region’s history, as exhibits and demonstrations in a restored gold panning camp here will relay to you how they searched for those shiny nuggets of fortune back in the day, and the conditions they faced while doing so.
What To Do – Modern & Natural Attractions
With multiple mountain ranges, an endless sea coast, and a vast interior filled with wildlife that is largely unencumbered by any sort of a human presence, Alaska has more variety when it comes to national parks than most other states in the Union.
Whether you are looking for massive glaciers that descend from lofty heights right to the edge of the Pacific Ocean (Kenai Fjords), vast wildernesses larger than some European countries (Wrangell-St. Elias), or soaring peaks that constitute the roof of North America itself (Denali), you’ll find it throughout this naturally well-endowed state.
If you don’t have time to do a detour into one of the aforementioned national parks, but you are spending time on Alaska’s island capital of Juneau, make time to see Mendenhall Glacier, as this blue-iced beast is one of the more accessible ones in the state. While it has retreated markedly in the modern era (like most others in the world), it has fed a spectacular lake in its wake, making for some stunning pictures.
Possessing a coastline that surpasses that of the other 49 states combined, this state’s seaside wildlife habitats are a significant part of its ecology. The Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward plays a key role in helping rehabilitate injured marine animals while educating the public about them at Alaska’s principal public aquarium.
This attraction is an excellent place to include on family’s itineraries, as there is a touch tank that allows kids and other curious visitors to feel up sea stars and urchins, while other environments on site display various seals, sea lions and octopi.
If you have a little extra jingle in your pocket and want to give yourself and your loved one an experience that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, be sure to book some seats on the McKinley Explorer, a luxury train route that will gift you some of the most spectacular mountain views in North America.
Taking you from Alaska’s largest city (Anchorage) to Denali National Park, home to the tallest peak in North America in Mount McKinley (20,237 feet with a vertical prominence that is almost as high!).
Each leg spans the better part of a day, so be sure to book accommodation prior to setting out to Denali, as views like these are simply too painful to leave behind right away after having seen them for the first time.