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Alaska National Guard Iron Dog snowmobile race, Camp Denali, Alaska

Although it is the largest state in America, it is also the most unknown territory. Being one of the least populated states in the country, Alaska is full of beautiful and alluring landscapes like no other. Alaska has an astonishing array of wildlife that you will feel lucky to experience.

Alaska is the northernmost state in the United States and lies in the Arctic Circle, very close to the eastern borders of Russia. It is said that many of the Paleo-Indians crossed over to North America by the Bering Strait Land Bridge that once connected North America and Russia. In more recent times, Alaska was purchased by the United States from Russia. At first, the citizens scoffed at the idea of buying the territory, thinking that it was a frozen wasteland that would not be beneficial to America. However, it turns out that it is one of the richest resources for the Unites States for its gold and oil.

Only a few areas of Alaska are accessible by road to the rest of the United States. For all other areas of Alaska, you will have to begin your trip by air or sea. Alaska is home to many beautiful cruises that will explore the coastline and even travel to the more southern states such as Washington and California. Cruise-ship tourism is a large piece of commerce for many of the coastal cities in Alaska.

If you are in the area, be sure to stop by these Alaskan hot-spots:

Juneau

The state capital of Alaska is one of the many territories that are only accessible by air or sea, but has much to offer once you arrive.

Head downtown

Most of the attractions of the downtown area are accessible by foot and can be easily explored in a day. There are many historical points to visit such as House of Wickersham, the home of Judge Wickersham, who was an architect of Alaska’s territorial legal system. You can also visit the Alaska State Capitol, the Alaska State Museum and the Convention Centre. This is also a great area for shopping, where you will find Made in Alaska merchandise galore.

View the Mendenhall Glacier

Sitting around 20 kilometers from downtown Juneau is the Mendenhall Glacier. This beautiful natural wonder is 19 kilometers long and can be viewed from many of the foot trails surrounding the lake. The wondrous blue hue of the glacier along with the natural surrounding will make for spectacular photography.

Hike the trails

With over 90 trails surrounding Juneau, there will be many options from the most novice of hikers all the way up to the advanced trail lover.

Anchorage

Alaska’s largest and most sophisticated city, Anchorage will give you an exciting and adventurous trip. With the permanently snow-covered peaks of the surrounding mountains and the volcanoes of the Alaskan Range to the west of the city, you will feel as though you’ve been transported to a different planet completely. With a truly special daylight cycle, it may take you a few days to adjust if you go during the peak of summer or winter. Summer boasts around 19 hours of sunlight at its height and winter has only five hours of sunlight. Regardless of when you visit, you will find much to do and will value what sunlight you have.

Experience the Alaska Zoo

Home to the widest variety of animals native to the state, the Alaska Zoo also contains many exotic animals such as the Siberian tiger, Amur tigers, Bactrian camels and yaks. You can also see grizzly bears, moose and a polar bear among others. Along with being a place for visitors to view and learn about animals they wouldn’t normally see in day-to-day life, the zoo is focused on wildlife conservation and offers animal rehabilitation. Many of the animals in the zoo were orphans or injured, taken in to ensure survival.

Explore the outdoors

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a great area for walking or biking and provides amazing views. Starting at the downtown, this 22-kilometer paved track runs up the coast and provides views of the ocean on one side. You can also kayak around the glaciers and experience the majestic beauty from up close, making for a unique trip.

Shop 'till you drop

There are two notorious malls in Anchorage that will be sure to offer all the amenities that travellers seek. The Dimond Center Mall is the largest in Alaska and offers many basic stores. For a more upscale experience, the Fifth Avenue Mall will provide a greater selection of slightly-pricier American chains such as Apple, Banana Republic, Coach and more.

See the highest peak

Denali National Park has attracted many outdoor adventurers and photographers alike. Holding the highest peak in North America at 6,168 metres above sea level, Mount McKinley is a spectacle to see. Many experienced trekkers have taken on this peak, and even moderate climbers can achieve ascension to the peak with the help of guides. The park also plays host to Wonder Lake, made famous by renowned photographer Ansel Adams. Also, for a more native experience, the visitor centre gives dog sled demonstrations daily or you can take a wildlife safari to experience nature on a more personal level.

Climate

Different areas of Alaska can have vastly different weather patterns. Understand, though, that because of Alaska’s northern position, it is considerably cooler most times of the year, with significant rainfall. Some areas of the state can have such diverse patterns as sun, wind, rain and snow all in one day. This could make packing difficult so it may be best to consult with a local visitor centre shortly before your trip. At the very least bring weather-resistant clothing that may be easy to transition into if needed.

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Image courtesy of Flickr user The US Army; cropped from original