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Alaska

Alaska is a US State that is superlative in every way. For example, did you know that you could you fit the country's three next largest states, Texas, Montana and California, within its borders and still have room to spare? Or that in the 20,310 foot Denali Mountain it also has the highest peak in America?

These two facts alone should be strong enough clues that this is a landscape built on a dramatic scale that can more than match almost anywhere in the world.

Within its 633.268 square miles you will find huge glaciers like the Bering, also the largest in North America, enormous areas of forest, stunning national parks and more than three million lakes. Alaska's many islands, inlets and fjords also mean that it has the longest tidal coastline of any US state at around 34,000 miles.

 

Alaska

One of the last great wildernesses, the population is just 736,000 people, around half of whom live in and around Anchorage in the south of the state. Five recognised groups of indigenous people represent around 15% of Alaskans and you'll find 24 different languages being spoken.

There are countless natural wonders to enjoy, not least the famous Northern Lights that can be seen from the portion of the state that lies within the Arctic Circle.

As you might expect, it's also a wildlife lover's paradise. Among the creatures that are regularly encountered are brown and black bears, cranes, puffins and the official state bird, the willow ptarmigan. Visits during spring are also often rewarded with the sights of flocks of migrating birds and huge herds of moose on the move to their seasonal feeding and breeding grounds.

Local sites to see

Denali National Park

Located in the Central region of Alaska, Denali National Park covers over six million acres and attracts over 400,000 visitors each year. It includes the highest part of the Alaskan Range, including North America's highest peak, the 20,310 ft Mount Denali. One of the best places to view this is from the Eielson Visitor Center where there is also a huge model of the mountain on display.

Only the hardiest of plants thrive in the sub-arctic conditions of much of the park but in the more southerly and lower-lying regions you'll find boreal forest and over 650 kinds of flowering plant. There's also wildlife in abundance, including the only sled dog team in the United States used to patrol a national park.

Talkeetna

The town of Talkeetna may be small with a permanent population of just 1,200 people but it promises a big welcome for visitors. Situated in the heart of the Denali National Park, walking down Main Street offers spectacular views of the surrounding scenery.

While it was first established as a gold-mining town in the early years of the 20th century, today it is listed on the national Register of Historic Places and many of its inhabitants still live in simple log cabins.

The Susitna River runs through Talkeetna and taking a boat trip along it is a very leisurely way to see the landscape from a very different perspective.

The town is also very famous for its many restaurants serving traditional Alaskan seafood and other foodie delights.

Skagway

A visit to Skagway is like taking a step back in time to of the legendary Klondike Gold Rush of the late 19th century. That's because more than twenty of its historical buildings have been preserved by Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. One of these is the Mascot Saloon which was once described as "the roughest place in the world". Luckily, today it has been transformed into a museum that aims to give a warts-and-all picture of life in a gold rush town.

The town's oldest building is The Moore Homestead, built in 1887 for the town's founder Captain William Moore. Today, however, it is not in its original location as the Captain had to have it moved when it was over-run by gold-rush stampeders in the 1890s.

Glacier Bay National Park

In Glacier Bay National Park you'll find spectacular peaks, fjords carved out by ice over many millennia and awe-inspiring glaciers. The most common approach to the park is made by cruise ships travelling up the Inside Passage and this is the route taken on The Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise.

Marine waters take up nearly 20% of the Park's total area so the main activities tend to focus around this. Especially popular is spotting the incredible array of wildlife on show. Fortunate visitors may get a glimpse of some of the humpback and killer whales that inhabit the area. There are also otters, mink, seals and porpoises in abundance. Looking to land, there is a large bear population including the rare blue glacier variety as well as moose, deer and mountain goats.

Ketchikan

Known by many as "Alaska's First City" this isn't because Ketchikan is the largest or the most important. Rather, it's because it sits at one of the southernmost points of the state so for visitors heading up the Inside Passage by ship it's their first introduction to Alaska.

Its main street is called Tongass Avenue. On one side of this the buildings are built on stilts and stretch out over the water, on the other they are built against the steep slopes of the hillside.

Downtown you'll find one of the major attractions in Creek Street. This, too, is built on stilts, and crosses the Ketchikan Creek.

A short walk away is the Totem Heritage Center which has many 19th century totem poles retrieved from uninhabited village sites nearby and which also provides a fascinating insight into Alaskan native culture and history.

Anchorage

Wrongly assumed by some to be Alaska's capital, that's Juneau, Anchorage is the state's largest city with a population of some 300,000 people. It offers a compelling combination of big city amenities with a stunningly beautiful location. Situated between the spectacular Chugach Mountains and the Cook Inlet, the state's wild and rugged scenery is never very far away.

Its location at one of the state's southern-most points also means its maritime climate is a little kinder to visitors. But for days when strolling round the city's Kincaid Park or Alaska Zoo may be a little on the chilly side there's always Anchorage Museum. It's recently undergone a $75 million renovation and will tell you all you need to know about Alaska from pre-history to the present day.

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