Whether you love cold weather or not Alaska is something that you have to see in your lifetime. I’m not a big fan of cold weather but the scenery made me forget about that fact at all. There is something about the snow-capped mountains and the vast ocean that kept my jaws dropped the whole time.
Alaska is really in a far-away spot in the world so traveling can be complicated or expensive if you wish to follow environmentally friendly practices. It is hard to avoid any flight to get to Alaska but once you are there you have a little more options. You can explore Denali National Park by Alaska Railroad (https://www.alaskarailroad.com/) from Anchorage to Fairbanks stopping at Denali and get into nature.
You can also opt for a small cruise ship and discover it from aboard and on land. Smaller ships may have less negative impact on the environment but they will definitely cause less overtourism.
Alaska is only ‘open’ for a few months from May to September so you have to decide whether you like cold weather with a real winter environment or you like warmer weather with a spring looking scenery. May and September is the harshest with very cold temperatures while June and August is a little milder but you still get the snowy surroundings. July is the month where you can actually wear short sleeved tops as the climate gets very warm at around the 70 F.
Here are 10 things you must do in Alaska:
1. Ziplining in Icy Strait Point (Hoonah)
ZipRider is the world’s largest zipline with a length of 5,495 feet long, 1,320 feet vertical drop and a 65 mph top speed. We went up to the top of Hoonah Mountain in a van and it took 45 minutes. We saw deers and other cute animals on the way up. The way down was the best though and it took 90 seconds! Actually, 90 seconds on a ziprider is a long time. You feel like flying like a bird and the scenery in front of you (or below you) was just mesmerizing. It is definitely worth the $160.
2. Dog sledding in Alaska
You can do dog sledding in many places in Alaska (Skagway, Juneau, Anchorage, Seward) The tours usually contain a helicopter ride, introduction of the mush camp and dog sledding. I went to Denver Glacier from Skagway where we had a mush camp with 200 dogs! They were beautiful animals and very eager to run so they are trained for Iditarod, the famous dog sledding competition. We heard stories from the mushers and were introduced to the new addition of the family, a small husky puppy.
3. The Aurora Ice Museum in Fairbanks
It is located in the Chena Hot Springs Resort and it is made of 1000 tons of ice and snow. It was built in 2005 January and it has 25 Fahrenheit cold inside all the time. They have special chillers that keep it cold in the warmer months. It is open every day and the entrance fee is $15.
4. Gold Panning in Skagway
I went on a tour in the Klondike Gold Fields, which is a living museum and had the opportunity to pan for gold. The museum restored a 1937 Gold Dredge and they reconstructed the sifting machine piece by piece to its original state. You can listen to the history and demonstrations of the Gold Rush era.
The best part of this tour is the ‘Gold Panning’. You learn how to do it correctly and don’t forget to shake it from left to right. Gold is heavy so it will sink to the bottom. My treasure was weighed in the Gold Shack. In the picture above is what I found! Pure gold was worth about $13 back in 2013. I guess it is worth much more right now..
5. Whale watching
Whale watching is something you should not miss when you are in Alaska. Whales are beautiful animals and if you are lucky you can even see orcas too. Whale watching tours are kind of unpredictable though. Most of the tour companies can not guarantee that you would see a whale. However, Rum Runner Charters give you a 100% refund if you can’t see any whale!
It is also important to choose tour companies that care for the environment and operate a responsible business. Watch out for tour companies with Whale SENSE accreditation. Here are two whale watching tours that are members of the Whale SENSE.
6. Wings Airways and the Taku Glacier Lodge
I did the Taku Lodge Feast and 5 Glacier Discovery Tour. This tour starts in Juneau and you get to fly in a seaplane doing a Glacier Flightseeing for 25 minutes before arriving at Taku Glacier Lodge. The whole tour is a true Alaskan experience with glaciers, Alaskan salmon feast, bears and wilderness exploration. Taku Glacier Lodge, built in 1023, is a historical landmark and it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once the plane lands on the water you get to explore the lodge’s surroundings. You can take a short interpretative wilderness tour while your Alaskan salmon feast is being made on the grill. The scenery is breathtaking with the Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier in front of you and bears walking around the property pretty close to you. The feast is a very delicious big meal with entree and many side dishes including a large piece of Alaskan sourdough bread.
7. Denali National Park
Denali – its previous name Mount McKinley – is the tallest mountain in North America with 20,310 feet as its highest peak. It has only one road with one entrance that runs from east to west. It is a very scenic drive through passes and forests but some parts of the road are only accessible by narrated and non-narrated buses. You can also hike on trails and off trails or stay in one of the six campgrounds. There are many tours offered with duration from 4 to 12 hours.
8. White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway
The railroad was built during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898. This train ride is one of a historical one that took settlers and miners up to the Canadian border to the White Pass. It was the first built train system of the Klondike Gold Rush era. After 1982 the metal prices plummeted and the mines closed. The railroad service turned into a tourism attraction in 1988. It is a three-hours train ride into the wilderness up to the White Pass where the train turns back. I took it in the middle of May therefore the weather was very cold and you could not see much. I suggest you do it in the warmer months like from the end of June to beginning of August.
9. Mendenhall Glacier and ice caves in Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier, a 12-mile long glacier, is located outside of Juneau. The ‘caves’ are actually formed within a body of the glacier and they are gorgeous crystal blue. You have to take trails from the Visitor Center to get to the ice caves and it is also accessible by kayak. Tours usually run from July to September. Unfortunately due to climate change it receded over time and also melts so it is advisable to book it with a tour company or with an experienced guide. They cannot guarantee that the ice caves will be there but they can inform you about it.
10. Visit the World’s largest Chocolate Waterfall in Anchorage
If you love chocolate and you happen to be in Anchorage in Alaska you should visit the world’s largest chocolate waterfall in Alaska Wild Berry Products’ main store. It’s 20-foot fall and uses 3000 pounds of chocolate, which was donated by the Peter’s Chocolate Division of Nestle Foods and Guittard Chocolate Company. The main store has the factory where you can tour the candy kitchen and in the summer they have entertainment including singing and dancing.