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Exploring Alaska’s Otherworldly Beauty

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Dec 3, 2020

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Denali, Alaska

Denali, Alaska

Head north to experience a rugged landscape awash in natural treasures.

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This itinerary is part of Travel Tales, a series of life-changing adventures on afar.com. Read more stories of transformative trips and inspired itineraries on the Travel Tales home page. Though COVID-19 has stalled many travel plans, we hope our stories can offer inspiration for your future adventures—and a bit of hope.

The 49th state showcases natural beauty at almost every turn, with snow-capped peaks, winding rivers, icy blue glaciers, ancient forests, and Arctic tundra—all packed with some of the planet’s most unique wildlife. A fascinating mix of history, cultures, and traditions only add to the magic. And experiencing it all couldn’t be easier. Here’s how.

The Marriott Anchorage Downtown

Begin in Anchorage

Check in to the 392-room Marriott Anchorage Downtown, right in the heart of downtown and close to the expanse of Delaney Park. Enjoy views of the craggy Chugach Mountains, shimmering Cook Inlet, and downtown from oversize picture windows on the higher floors. And enjoy a dip in the indoor pool before setting out on your adventure.

You won’t have to go far. Right in town, you can bike the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail while marveling at the amazing sea views or go fishing in the city’s lakes and creeks. Take a drive along spectacularly scenic Turnagain Arm to look for whales. Then get a better understanding of local culture and history at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum.

Calving glacier

Go See Glaciers

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Drive or take the Alaska Railroad down the coast to the tiny town of Seward, dramatically set between mountains and ocean, and hop on a glacier and wildlife cruise. A five-hour cruise speeds you out into the calm waters of Resurrection Bay, where you’ll sail among icy blue ‘bergs and keep an eye out for sea lions, otters, bald eagles, colorful puffins, and, depending on the season, even mountain goats and bears. Or opt for a longer, nine-hour cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park, which gets you closer to mammoth glaciers as they crackle, calve, and crash into the sea.

If you have time, stop at Exit Glacier, just 10 minutes outside of town. An easy half-mile walk brings you right up to the glacier’s face, close enough to touch the frozen river of ancient ice.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Explore Denali

Drive or take the train up to this iconic national park, with its namesake peak growing larger the closer you get. Private cars aren’t allowed very far into the park; instead, take a hop-on, hop-off transit bus or a narrated tour. Choose how deep into the park you want to go—if you have time, travel all 92 miles to the old Gold Rush town of Kantishna. You’ll get lessons in history and ecology as you marvel at the natural wonders around you, including wildlife such as bears, moose, Dall’s sheep, and the gorgeous birds that call the park home.

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You’ll also want to experience some of the thrilling, only-in-Alaska activities. Go flightseeing in a plane and circle the peak of Denali. Experience rafting down a glacial river, in waters as rapid or placid as you like. Take a helicopter to a glacier where you can go dogsledding, even in summer, while meeting dogs and mushers who have raced in the famous Iditarod. Or just lace up your hiking boots and head out for a spectacular walk out across wildflower-filled tundra, surrounded by the jagged peaks of the gorgeous Alaska Range.

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