The featured photo, above, is used under a Creative Commons license by Frank Kovalchek.
If you’re a lover of the great outdoors, visiting Alaska is like being a fisherman in a bait and tackle shop. From hiking, biking and skiing across some of the world’s most dramatic mountains to dropping a line into the water and snagging a few salmon, there is more to do here than you can possibly fit into one vacation.
If you’re like us and you can’t stand leaving when there’s so much more to do, you can always come back for a second (or third or fourth or fifth) visit to experience everything you missed last time.
A few great options for your second-time-around itinerary:
1. Take a Dip in the Hot Springs
If relaxing in a hot bath after a hard day at work is a tempting prospect, we’ve got one we guarantee is 99.9% better: steaming it up in a natural hot springs. While we’re sure the tiles in your redone bathroom are nice, there’s no way they’re as picturesque as a hot spring lined with green trees in the summer, or elegant ice sculptures in the winter. With year round access, both Chena Hot Springs and Manley Hot Springs are popular options, with resort lodging available.
Alternatively, turn your trek into an adventure and head instead to Tolovana, Hutlinana or Kanuti Hot Springs, accessible in the winter via trails that will require a compass and orienteering skills. Cabins are available for overnight stays.
2. Ride with the Sled Dogs
What’s the best way to travel across the fields of Alaska? By sled dog, of course! Join up with a tour operator in Seward to explore a small portion of the 1,000-mile Iditarod National Historic Trail (not counting the full 1,300 miles of alternative routes). Or, hop onto a helicopter, fly out to a glacier and get ready to yell “mush!” as your team of pups pulls you across the ice fields. If you come in the summer, tour operators offer wheeled options so you can still have yourself a full sled dog adventure. Later, if you’d like to learn more about the history of dog sledding in Alaska, head to the Dorothy Page Museum in Wasila, the Musher’s Hall of Fame Museum in Knik, or the Seward Museum.
3. Tour the Totem Poles
In Alaska, our most striking art isn’t cloistered in a museum – it’s nestled into the landscape for all hikers, skiers and trekkers to see. An essential part of Native Alaskan culture, the colorful carved figures that adorn each totem pole tell a story you’ll have fun trying to decipher. Stories generally fall into the categories of family ancestry, obituaries, or major events, like a wedding.
4. Go Ice Fishing
If you’re looking for an authentic Alaska experience, look no further than ice fishing, one of our most popular and unique wintertime activities. Fishing sites abound (we’ve got a lot of lakes here), as do the kinds of fish you’ll find at the end of your line. Local fish range from winter King salmon to Rainbow Trout, Dolly Varden and Arctic Char if you’ll be fishing near Anchorage, Palmer or Wasila. The Quartz Lake area is especially renowned, as are Birch Lake State Recreation Area and Sand Lake. Guides are available, and keep your eyes peeled for events like the Jewel Lake Fishing Jamboree, which features pre-drilled holes and a celebratory atmosphere.
5. Snap Photos at the Wildlife Conservation Center
Want to snag a photo of a brown bear in its habitat, but scared of encountering one on the trail? Head to the Wildlife Conservation Center, just an hour’s drive south of Anchorage, to see injured and rehabilitated animals wandering against a backdrop of mountains and blue sky. Depending on the season, it’s common spot bald eagles, moose, elk, musk oxen, lynx, caribou and black-tailed deer. Don’t forget to say hello to our personal favorite, Snickers the Porcupine!
6. Take in an Athabaskan Dance Performance
In Alaska, the name “Athabaskan” refers to a large family of native Alaskan tribes, each with their own unique culture. Common to all is the practice of ceremonial dancing to the tune of drums and rattles while dressed in traditional costumes. Take a deeper look at native Alaskan culture by attending one of these performances, announced in the local newspapers and hosted by local native cultural center and groups.
7. Go Horseback Riding
The peak of a mountain might provide a breathtaking view, but you’ll also find a stunning vantage point from the horse’s saddle. Gallop through fields of wildflowers, wade over water-polished rocks at the bottom of a stream, and stop to graze on the side of a mountain in bloom. Tours can often be arranged through your hotel, and there are plenty of independent tour operators to be found in hot spots across the state, especially in Seward and Denali.
There are plenty of reasons that one trip to Alaska isn’t enough. In fact, you’re going to have to come back for a third and a fourth visit, as we still have only brushed the very tip of this wonderful iceberg. The real question is: What will you do first?