For many, especially those who reside in North America, Alaska represents untouched beauty and wilderness that waits to be explored. Long ago it was the place for gold panhandlers hoping to strike it rich and explorers looking for undiscovered lands. Today, it is a goldmine for natural beauty and quaint towns filled with colorful stories and trinkets to share.
Ketchikan is the southeasternmost city in Alaska and the fifth-most populated city in the state. It is also known as the “Salmon Capital of the World”. It’s a quaint town with small, colorful buildings located along the water.
If you walk down from the pier, be sure to make your way to the pulp mill where you can catch a lumberjack show. It is a family-friendly event that lasts for about an hour. The show is heavily theatrical, yet fun and entertaining at the same time. When you walk along the city, be sure to walk along Creek Street, which is right outside of Ketchikan’s downtown area. Creek Street is built on top of a small river of water where you can often see salmon swimming while you walk along. Back in the early 19th century, Creek Street was known for being a significant red-light district. Today, you can see the colorful buildings from former days and signs detailing the history behind some of the buildings. Also, some places have tours of the buildings in their former glory days, while many others sell souvenirs with unique artwork from artists in the area.
The Totem Bight State Park is worth a visit. You can take the bus or a cab outside of town to visit the park and see the totem poles. Although the park is small, it is a very peaceful walk set along a winding path. Each totem pole has its own story that gives a glimpse into the Native Alaskan culture. There is no fee required to enter the park.
One of the most popular attractions in the area is the Misty Fjords National Monument. You can take a boat tour from Ketchikan or go by plane to visit what is called “The Yosemite of the North” due to the similarities in geography between Misty Fjords and Yosemite. Along the way, you can spot different types of wildlife such as the bald eagle, deer and maybe even a bear. As you visit, expect to be surrounded by tall mountains of granite and forests of trees as your ship (should you travel by water) drifts calmly into the ocean inlet. Misty Fjords is serene, untouched and fully surrounds you in its deep valleys.
Misty Fjords National Monument
Juneau is the capital city of Alaska. Did you know that it is the only U.S. capital city located on an international border? It is located along the Gastineau Channel and is the second largest city in Alaska by area. If you haven’t had the chance to use internet, you can walk over to the Juneau Public Library for free internet access.
Mendenhall Glacier is a must-visit when you are in Juneau. You can purchase tickets in town to take the bus. When you arrive, there is a visitor center that you can see for a small fee. Although informative, it is not necessary to go. The main attraction is the glacier. The glacier is easy to easy from far away, and you can walk down along the trail to get a good view of it closer up. Also, be sure to take the time to visit the nearby falls called Nugget Falls, which is adjacent to Mendenhall Glacier. The walk is around two miles round trip and is an easy walk. Going to the Falls also provides a close-up view of Mendenhall Glacier and you can feel the spray of water from the Falls.
In Juneau, you can purchase tickets to go humpback whale-watching, which is highly recommended. The bus ride is around fifteen minutes to the docks, where you board a boat to go out to see the humpback whales. The touring companies are so confident that the visitors will spot humpback whales that they offer refunds should there not be any whales that appear. When the boat is out, realistically you will just get to see the fin and tail of the humpback whales as they go out of the water and back in. You may also get to see a large group of seals lounging on land nearby. This experience is memorable and definitely worth a visit.
Should you find yourself in Skagway, you must take the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad to see the natural sights of small waterfalls, dense forests and epic mountains. Up north along the railroad is a town called Carcross, originally known as Caribou Crossing. Be sure to bring your passport with you as Carcross is located in Yukon, Canada. Here, you can see some small buildings such as the general store, barracks, and the old railroad track. Nearby town is the Carcross Desert, which is considered the smallest desert in the world. Although not a true desert, it gives the illusion of being one with its series of sand dunes.
White Pass and Yukon Route
If you stop by Whittier, be sure to hop onto a glacier cruise just outside of town. The cruise takes you into Prince William Sound to view glaciers in College and Harriman Fjord. You can also spot wildlife there, such as otters, seals and bears. A national forest ranger on board the ship explains the glaciers and is happy to answer questions that visitors may have. If you’re lucky, you can even witness calving, which is a process by which glaciers shed blocks of ice.
If you go along further outside Whittier, you can visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. If you didn’t get much of an opportunity to see wildlife up close, here’s your chance. An hour south of Anchorage, Alaska’s biggest city, the Center houses a variety of Alaskan wildlife and operates to conserve and educate. The Center takes in injured and orphaned wildlife in order to nurture them and either release them back into the wild or find them homes, should they be unable to life in the wild by themselves. Here, you can see up close bears, caribou, elk, eagles, various birds, bison and other animals in the outdoors along a path. The Center is a great way to spend an hour or so taking pictures while watching the animals.