The lower 48 are great and all, but Alaska is an endless backcountry frontier that deserves your exploration.
Alaska is the call of the adventurous wild: Even the biggest city slickers will find themselves falling head over heels for the state's surreal vistas, bucolic beauty, abundance of wildlife, and emerald forestry.
Overwhelmed by the possibilities of what to do in Alaska? Here are a few not-to-miss gems that are sure to get your heart racing. (Can't get all the way out to Alaska? Consider adventuring in Boulder, CO, instead.)
Get a runner's high in Fairbanks.
This city is affectionately referred to as the Golden Heart of Alaska (due to its central geographic location). Famed for dog mushing, serene northern lights, and extreme temperatures (-40° to 100°F), it was once the largest city too, thanks to the 1890s Gold Rush.
Travel to Fairbanks to kick it into high gear with the Ultra Equinox Marathon. Considered one of the most challenging races in the country, you run up and down Ester Dome with an elevation gain of 3,285 feet. You'll certainly feel the burn but it's well worth the long strides. Not up for 26.2? You can opt to run the race solo or as a team. It takes place every September, and the exact date always falls around the autumnal equinox (September 21). (Or consider running one of these bucket list–worthy half marathons.)
A sample of edited photos of the Equinox Marathon that I just posted to my smug mug site. I only edited 76 of the 600 or so photos I took. Contact me if you are interested in any of these photos or believe I might have some of you that I haven’t edited yet. It was tougher to watch than to participate. #equinoxmarathon #marathon #fairbanksalaska #alaskamarathon #alaska #sportsphotography #running #marathonrunning #fallleaves #runningclubnorth #alaskasports @alaska_sports_hall #runnersworld #marathoning #explorefairbanks
Take a helicopter ride over Denali and go exploring all it has to offer.
Alaska is home to America's highest peak, Denali, which is surrounded by its namesake national park featuring 6 million acres of wilderness.
Prepare to lift off with Temsco Helicopters: Take off from their riverside heliport and soar through the Alaska Range alongside fluffy clouds with views of Denali National Preserve below. Then land in the heart of the Yanert Glacier and trek on its ancient land. In addition to brag-worthy Insta snaps, the coolest feature is the opportunity to drink straight from the source: pristine water from the glacier that's over 20,000 years old.
If you're keen to feel the burn, your go-to trek while in Denali National Park is up and toward the Mount Healy Overlook. Take the Taiga Trail to the trailhead for the Mount Healy Trail; it's about 2.7 miles one way, with an elevation gain of 1,700 feet. It's a strenuous but rewarding climb with opportunities to spot Dall sheep, caribou, moose, and brown bears in the distance.
Want to get off your feet? Opt for a wet and wild thrill while river paddle rafting down Nenana River. With Class III to IV category waters, be prepared to get soaked as you journey 11 miles down the river. But fear not: You'll be in good hands with Raft Denali's mullet-wearing Mudflap (yes, that's his real name). His personality is eclectic and hilarious, and his exhilarating demeanor means that he encourages you to "take it in the face(!)" when slapping up against a rapid and to luxuriate in the river's (frigid) "glacier facials."
Get a gold rush climbing in Skagway.
In the 1890s, Skagway was a bustling hub for those who sought to strike it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush. Today, there are still ample discoveries waiting to be made. With only 27 inches of moisture a year, the city is often referred to as the sunshine capital of southeast Alaska—a big draw for those wanting to meet their vitamin D quota on vaca.
Award-winning Skagway Excursion pairs you with professional mountaineers and rock climbing guides to scale the granite walls of the White Pass (aka Dead Horse Trail, a mountain pass) that straddles the Alaska and British Columbia border. There are 12 climbs to choose from that range from 25 to 60 feet in height and that accommodate all skill levels. Difficulty ranges from beginner/easy (5.4) to intermediate (5.9). At the top, be rewarded with stunning views of the Skagway River and Haines State Forest—then rappel back down higher cliffs (70 to 80 feet) fearlessly. (It's not just worth it for the views. Here are more reasons you should try rock climbing, stat.)
Roadies, look no further than Sockeye Cycle Co. to get those wheels in motion. Since 1988, the company has specialized in a gamut of bicycle tours that range from endurance-testing multi-day rides throughout Haines and Skagway to leisurely day trips that trace iconic and historic landmarks. A favorite is the Klondike Bike Tour; the three-hour, 15-mile ride begins at the top of the White Pass Summit (3,292 feet above sea level) and finishes at the sealine. With a moderate intensity, it's just enough to work up a nice sweat but easy enough to not leave you breathless (or sore for tomorrow's hike). On pit stops, soak up narrated stories from locals about Skagway and its once gold-crazed population.
Go mountaineering in Juneau.
Founded as a gold-mining camp in the 1880s, Juneau became the state capital in 1959. Today, the city still enchants with glacier gardens, dog sledding treks (Alaska's state sport), and whale watching.
For an epic glacier flight and hike, get fully geared up like a mountaineer and board NorthStar Trekking's chopper for an unforgettable experience. While airborne, absorb the sights below: dense spruce trees, craggy nunatak peaks, the Mendenhall Valley, and Herbert Glacier. Land smack in the center of Mendenhall Glacier camp at 1,400 feet elevation. Then channel your inner mountain goat as you scale a 90-degree-incline valley glacier that's 400 feet tall.
Photographer @lauragriertravel is taking over our Instagram this week! Follow along to see her Alaska adventures "What a welcome to Alaska by the elusive Northern Lights! The Aurora made their stunning debut over the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge just after dinner and dripped in neon greens and pinks across the sky. What a spectacular start to my Dad's bucket list trip to Alaska! Thank you @princesscruises for making this happen!"
Sail the ocean blue.
Okay, sailing likely isn't the first thing you think of as "active travel." Cruising often gets a bad reputation for its sedentary scenarios (and yes, its excessive buffets)—but leave it to Princess Cruises to change your mind. Cruising can be cool, literally and figuratively. Princess is celebrating 50 years of sailing to the Last Frontier (with stops that include Juneau, Skagway, and Glacier Bay) where they encourage guests to #ComeBackNew. Its land and sea North to Alaska programs' thoughtfully curated trip itineraries and excursions are exemplary of their mantra; it's a full immersion into all things actively Alaskan. From hooking you up with a lumberjack to throw axes in Ketchikan to connecting with Mother Nature via a helicopter landing and hike through Talkeetna's boreal forest, the highlights are so worth celebrating with the seafood feasts you're bound to indulge in. (These other adventure travel companies do all the work of planning your trip for you.)