Wonder Lake in Denali National Park, Alaska

AAA’s Top Ten Recommended Experiences In Alaska

There are literally hundreds of great things to do, see and experience in our nation’s largest state, but here are just a few of AAA members’ most popular choices to get your travel dreams started.

1. Denali National Park
At more than six million acres (larger than Massachusetts), Denali National Park is truly one of the world’s last great wilderness frontiers and home to nearly 40 species of mammals including grizzlies, wolves, moose, and Dall sheep. The 20,000-foot Mt. McKinley gives the park its name – Denali means “The Great One” in the native language. Plan on at least one day to tour the park by road; if you’re on a group tour, you’ll likely have an included choice of park service activity or optional tour.

2. Flightseeing Tour
The most amazing way to experience Denali is to take a flightseeing plane and land on a glacier. You’ll soar over the ice fields of the Alaska Mountain Range, just 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, then land on the gentle slopes of Ruth Glacier. Nicknamed the ‘‘Great Gorge,’’ Ruth Glacier is one mile wide and drops almost 2,000 feet. Above the surface on both sides are 5,000-foot granite cliffs. The depth of the glacier and the height of the towering cliffs create an abyss that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon.

3. Take the journey to Denali on the world famous Alaska Railroad aboard a double-decker, glass-domed train
Downstairs is the restaurant and upstairs are the seats with the view. You’ll see the most unspoiled scenery and possibly spot moose and caribou. It’s about three hours between Anchorage and the national park, so sit back and relax. On your own the train can be expensive; it’s best done as part of a tour or cruise tour package.

4. Watch a glacier “calve”
There are more than 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, and these massive moving rivers of ice are amazing to watch. The densely packed glacial ice is a magnificent transparent blue. One of the most active is Hubbard Glacier, more than six miles wide and rising 400 feet out of the sea. Listen for the “white thunder” as huge chunks of ice crash into the bay. You can see glaciers by cruising past onboard a ship, gliding by in a kayak, taking a flighttour, or by a guided walking tour across a glacier.

5. Upgrade your cruise cabin to a balcony
You’re going to Alaska to experience the scenic beauty and wildlife, so consider upgrading your stateroom so you can spend an afternoon snuggled up on your private verandah, sipping hot cocoa and watching bald eagles, seals, and possibly even moose or bears on the shore from your own viewing area. The captain generally announces the sighting of whales, so you could even get more up-close than you thought.

6. Take a dog sled ride
When in Seward, try the six-hour “Real Alaska Tour,” which includes a tour of Seward, home of “Mile 0” of the Iditarod Trail. A short walk to Kanai Fjords National Park to the Exit Glacier is followed by lunch at the Resurrection Roadhouse, a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence recipient. The highlight is a 90-minute dog sled ride through the wilderness. The timing is perfect for cruisers with a full day in Seward.

7. Explore Native American culture
Learn about the traditions, craft, and music as you explore five traditional villages at Anchorage’s Alaska Native Heritage Center, a living history museum. In Ketchikan, visit Totem Bight State Park with its peaceful forested walking trails, boardwalks, and scenic rocky coastline. Take a bus from the city center (just across from the cruise terminal) for about $1 or splurge for a taxi and get free admission to the state park. Then visit Potlach Totem Park right next door, which is also free and worth the one minute walk to watch the carving at work. When you get back to town, walk along Creek Street, once home to the city’s red light district and now lined with funky stores and restaurants.

8. Gold Fever
Spend a day in a restored Gold Rush City. When gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory in 1896, Skagway became the gateway to fortune for tens of thousands of people. At the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, you’ll watch a short movie and then get a 45-minute guided tour of 15 restored buildings provided by friendly park rangers. Kids can become “junior rangers,” too. Admission is free but space is limited; get there early for a ticket to ensure your spot on the tour. Afterwards, take the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway on a two-hour ride up steep mountains and through tunnels, bridges, and trestles that were the tallest in the world when constructed in 1901. It’s an easy walk to this town from the cruise ship port, or you can take a shuttle.

9. Flight & Feast
Take a float plane from Juneau over the ice fields. This three-hour “Flight and Feast” excursion takes you over five massive glaciers by seaplane, and everyone gets a window seat and audio tour. Your runway is the Taku River, where you’ll land for lunch at the Taku Lodge to enjoy alderwood-grilled King Salmon. Walk it off along the local wooded trails before your return flight to Juneau; the landing pad is at the cruise ship docks.

10. Russian Influence
Explore the influence of Russian culture in Sitka, center for trade, diplomacy and the arts during the 1800s. Visit the National Historical Park where you can see St. Michael’s Cathedral with its iconic onion-shaped domes, and the Russian Bishop’s House. With a little extra time near Anchorage, you can tour the St. Nicholas Russian Church, the oldest standing structure in Alaska. In its cemetery, nearly 100 Athabaskan “spirit houses” stand to ease the passage of spirits from one world to the next.

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