Land of Wonder

America's final frontier, Alaska is a rich and varied escape to a land that time forgot

Posted by: Xanterra on February 1, 2018

It’s home to North America’s highest peak, glaciers the size of small countries and wildlife at every turn.

Our sparsely populated but captivating 49th state continues to offer a resounding call to all those lured by epic scenery, spouting whales, vast expanses of tundra, sporting pursuits and the opportunity to sidle up to nature’s extremes. With few roads, and even fewer people, those who venture to America’s last frontier are rewarded with Mother Nature at her finest.

But what is it, beyond breathtaking vistas and rugged wonder, that makes Alaska so unique? Well, here’s a start…

Taku Glacier

The Taku Glacier Near Juneau

The blue-tinged ice of Taku Glacier – the largest, most impressive and only advancing glacier on the Juneau Icefield — is recognized as the deepest and thickest alpine temperate glacier in the world. It is measured at 4,845 feet thick and about 36 miles long.

After lift-off from a heliport, the epic beauty of Alaska’s glacier landscape unfolds below. Along with the Taku Glacier, advancing, retreating, cascading and rare floating glaciers provide a mesmerizing landscape. With a guide, you can walk on and explore the ancient terrain, peer into a crevasse and savor the purity of glacial streams.

Accessible only by helicopter, the time to visit Alaska’s shrinking glaciers is now. Visitors also can be ferried to the glacier’s edge, hike to nearby Nugget Falls and see exhibits at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, a wheel-chair accessible possibility.

Totem Polls

The Totem Poles in Ketchikan

Sitting at the southern end of the Inside Passage, north of British Columbia, history-rich Ketchikan provides a warm welcome for travelers to Alaska. Its centerpiece is nearly 100 tall, carved indigenous artifacts displayed around and near town. Some are visible from the street on the tourist bureau’s Ketchikan Walking Tour, and many more are at the Totem Heritage Center. The center boasts what’s billed as the largest collection of unrestored 19th-century poles, as well as masks, ceremonial garb, baskets and historic photographs of villages where the poles were found. You’ll see a “mortuary pole” honoring a dead person and used to store cremated remains and a “story pole” detailing a clan’s historical narrative.

Travel three miles south by shuttle or with a guide to see two dozen more totems at Saxman Native Village. Just north of the city, Totem Bight State Historical Park holds nearly 20 poles, including the imposing Eagle Grave Marker. Travel 10 miles north and see more at Potlatch Totem Park, where exhibits include five Native Alaskan clan houses.

Misty Fjords National Monument

It’s postcard Alaska: icy blue lakes, snow-capped peaks and vast glacial valleys, set within a 2.3 million acre preserve east of Ketchikan. Benefit from an eagle’s-eye view, paired with expert commentary from your pilot, when you explore the expansive wilderness area via float plane.

Wonder at waterfalls plunging down steep granite cliffs and deep valleys carved long ago by flowing lava. Be on the lookout for soaring eagles, brown and black bears, and foraging moose. If you’re lucky, you’ll return with a photo of a whale breaching the surface of Rudyerd Bay. Many tours include lake landings that enable a stroll in a forest.

Mush Huskies on the Snow

Hike! Gee! On by!

Board a helicopter for a quick flight over ice fields before touching down to take part in one of Alaska’s iconic pastimes. Learn the language of mushers while exploring a glacier via dogsled. It’s not quite the famed Iditarod long-distance race, but it is colorful fodder for a tale to tell back home.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Nearly 40 glaciers flow over this pristine wilderness area, where only small boats can navigate. Board a zodiac or kayak to see play-ful otters, sea lions and porpoises — perhaps even a humpback whale.

Big bear and baby bear

Bears Outside of Sitka

A visit to Alaska wouldn’t be complete without seeing some bears. Bear sightings in a safe environment are guaranteed at the Fortress of the Bear, the largest nonprofit bear rescue facility in the U.S. Not at all like a zoo, Fortress provides a home for orphaned cubs and makes it possible for visitors to observe the bruins being fed and at play on nearly an acre of land. Sitka itself, with Russian heritage that includes an onion-domed cathedral, is worth a stroll.

Explore by Ship

With multiple Alaska itineraries ranging from 12 to 27 days, Windstar Cruises offers Signature Expeditions featuring a team of experts that take guests closer to the Great Land. Learn more at windstarcruises.com or by calling 800-485-5239.

Explore by Road, Rail & Ship

Experience the breathtaking scenery and unique culture on a cruise, rail, and land adventures with Holiday Vacationsvariety of Alaska itineraries, up to 19 days long. Learn more at holidayvacations.com or by calling 800-826-2266.



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Kitty Bean Yancey

Written by: Kitty Bean Yancey

Kitty Bean Yancey is a Washington, D.C.-based award-winning former USA TODAY travel writer. She freelances for publications including AARP Magazine and AAA publications.