September 25, 2008
Alaska tourism is nearly synonymous with cruising, but what if you want to arrive in the 49th state without a boatload of tourists? Or what if you want to visit between fall and spring, when the Northern Lights dance but cruise ships dock further south? IgoUgo members recommend seven ways to navigate Alaska without the help of a jumbo ship.
1. In a car
Alaska is a massive state, with large-scale highways to match. So what better place to jump in a rental car for the road trip of a lifetime? Just remember to call the shotgun seat early for best viewing. “Take yourself to Alaska at the end of the season, after the last cruise ship has departed Seward for the south and the tour buses have been parked,” advises samepenny. “You can stay in Anchorage and make day trips out or rent a car and meander down the road of your choice. Don't worry, Alaska is just around the corner.” Fearless driver ssullivan says of the Seward Highway, “This is one of the most scenic drives in all of the US, with countless incredible views of mountains, glaciers, water, and wildlife.” You might try the Dalton Highway like pva and son, who found it “wild and beautiful from the beginning to the end.” Or head for Denali in the tire tracks of Jack Ventura, who says, “My friends and I rented a minivan at Anchorage to drive north on Parks Highway to get to Denali. It’s a great way to go.”
2. On a small boat
Idler did one better than journey up the Inside Passage on a small yacht; the self-proclaimed “novice sailor” served as a crew member on a private sailing from Bella Bella, BC, to Ketchikan, AK. “You don't have to be particularly knowledgeable about boats to help crew one,” she says, “provided that the skipper and other crew members are willing to teach you the basics.” If you don’t have friends with a boat and an exceedingly adventurous spirit, Idler recommends looking into the public ferries that ply the same waters.
3. On a train
Linda Kaye recommends the Alaska Railroad for covering ground in luxury: “It is a wonderful way to get from Anchorage to Denali and beyond, and a good way to unwind after the flurry of activity to prepare for the trip and the long airplane ride to get there. We rode in a domed car that afforded every passenger a terrific view of the passing scenery with a dining area below for lunch.” J. Stephen took an “amazing” four-hour trip on the same railroad from Talkeetna along the Susitna River and notes that it is a “particularly interesting trip because it is the only ‘whistle stop’ train still operating in America.”
4. On a plane
Everyone who has taken flight in Alaska, particularly to flight-see above mighty Denali, has a story to tell, from seeing the stunning “turquoise” colors of glaciers to soaring “frighteningly close to Denali’s fabled Wickersham Wall.” J. Stephen calls his Mt. McKinley summit tour “one of the best travel investments” he’s ever made (and he’s the one who nearly ran into Wickersham!). According to smmmarti guide, Juneau is a particularly enjoyable—and practical—place to get around by plane. She writes about its floatplanes’ relationship with its birds: “With a huge concentration of bald eagles hanging around town, sightings are guaranteed; run-ins are possible. At least one floatplane has encountered turbulence when an eagle soaring overhead lost his grip on the salmon in his clutches and dropped it onto the airplane’s windshield.”
5. On a dogsled
Since dannynosleeves made good on his unusual dream to go to Alaska and work as a dog handler for an Iditarod musher, the least the rest of us can do is take a test run. RPH/RPT flew to Fairbanks for the annual World Ice Art Championships, where they hopped on a sled with a Yukon Quest racer and, of course, his eight dogs. Nearby, MilwVon put four miles under her sled, and it sounds like she left with the bumps and bruises to prove it. We're guessing that she quickly forgot about any pain, though, thanks to the hot tea and banana bread that was ready upon her return (the dogs recovered with Milk-Bones).
6. On a bicycle
Another intrepid traveler, bike_americas, set off from Alaska on a quest to cycle to Argentina. Most of us probably wouldn’t make it from Alaska to Canada on a bike, but he recommends portions of the route we’d be happy to tackle. For example, “the Alaska Highway has heavy traffic consisting mostly of RVs and motorhomes, but the Cassiar Highway is a great alternative...less traffic, more scenery.” You’ll want to try Alaska on two wheels, too, when you see his trip photographs.
7. On foot
As bike_americas viewed the summer solstice from his bicycle (the sun never set!), others were viewing it from the tarmac during the Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage. Ems was there, for one: “The marathon was a challenge, considering that it was on both trails and road with many ‘altitude adjustments.’ The beauty of the course, however, is unparalleled! The scenery definitely takes one's mind off the race!” Texan cgwolf5 agrees: “Gorgeous scenery, beautiful weather, lots of water stops, and great people. We saw a bear on the route the night before as we surveyed our relay points and there were two to three moose on the trail during the run.” One last (much shorter) option for seeing a chunk of Alaska on foot is to participate in the outhouse races or other off-the-wall activities at the annual Chatanika Days celebration near Fairbanks. A more intimate Alaskan experience cannot be found.