Alaska Outdoors

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Alaska Outdoors
Alaska is the great outdoors, with crisp northern air, unspoiled forests of hemlock and pine, clean-flowing rivers, and no shortage of towering mountains and majestic wildlife.
Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Rent an RV
    For independent and practical families, renting an RV is the best and most affordable way to explore Alaska's outdoors and still sleep in a bed each night. Head south to marvel at the electric-blue Exit Glacier near Seward, or across the Kenai Peninsula to catch fresh salmon and halibut around peaceful coastal towns like Homer and Anchor Point. With an RV you can also traverse north along one of the quietest roads in the world, the rugged Dalton Highway, snaking upwards beside the Sag River to Deadhorse, where America meets the coast of the Arctic Ocean.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Thrilling Mountain Bikes
    Summer is a biker's paradise in Alaska, and can make for some of the most cost-effective and thrilling outdoor adventures. Southcentral Alaska is peppered with mountain bike trails near Eklutna Lake, Eagle River, Alyeska Mountain, and Cordova. Most off-road hills tend to be rocky with mixed single-track road and dirt trails, so it's recommended that only intermediate or expert riders tackle them. Riders looking for a breezier, family-friendly ride should try Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage. You'll find bike rental shops at the trailhead and wandering moose hiding among the trees.
    Photo by Tom Bol/age fotostock
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    Observe the Wildlife
    Alaska is home to unbelievably diverse wildlife. Birdwatchers will thrill at the unique sight of trumpeter swans, horned puffins, and bald eagles. Creamer's Field in Fairbanks is perfect for spotting migratory waterfowl, while Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary, near Anchorage, is nicer for those who want more than just birdwatching. Mighty musk oxen and wood bison, meanwhile, live freely at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Visitors who want to spy animals in the purest wild should drive to the Kenai Wildlife Refuge: Nearly two million acres of protected boreal forests, alpine tundra, and wetlands conceal bears, wolverines, lynx, and hoary marmots.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Take a Hike
    The best way to experience Alaskan nature is from the ground-up—literally. Pack a picnic lunch and drive out to the Kenai Fjords National Park to trek across the Harding Icefield, with lofty regions blanketed in snow year-round. Or take an easy day trip north from Anchorage to Knik River or Eklutna Lake for scenic vistas of white spruce and brilliantly yellow quaking aspen. A local favorite is to hike some distance around Prince William Sound, mainly in and around the famous Chugach National Forest or curving around the invitingly named Two Moon Bay and Snug Corner Grove.
    Photo by Paxson Woelber
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    Fly Above the World
    You cannot fully appreciate the Alaskan landscape without the proper perspective. A bird's-eye view brings out every glacier crevasse and mountain summit, every winding creek and glacial lake, with razor-sharp sunlight casting deep shadows on gentle emerald valleys. You can soar in a helicopter over the powerful azure ice pillars of Juneau Icefield, or fly in a seaplane over the nearly insurmountable Denali and secluded Portage Glacier. Find a private "flightseeing" tour that docks in an untouched part of the world to enjoy a taste of the pioneering thrill.
    Photo by Neil Levitsky
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    Strike Gold
    To understand Alaska's history, you'll need to visit one of the state's many gold reserves. A metal detector is handy, but to revive the true old-fashioned spirit of gold fever, all you need is a plastic pan and a small shovel. Find an unclaimed creek, dip your pan into the glistening water, and swirl it around until the gold separates from the sand. You can also find gold mine tours in Fairbanks and Juneau, where you'll delve into a secure 100-year-old mine from the Klondike era with a local guide, who will show you all the tricks of the trade. Almost every tour guarantees that you'll walk away with your pockets literally lined with gold.
    Photo courtesy of Frank Flavin/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Pitch a Tent under the Clouds
    To experience the true unbridled Alaskan wild, a lot of tourists choose to pitch their own tents. Find a campground in smaller towns like Palmer, Homer, or Fairbanks to mingle with other visitors and locals around a roaring campfire. Or camp on the roadside almost anywhere for free. Note that if you do venture into the wilderness solo, you should understand what it means to be bear aware while camping, watch for caribou and moose, and be wary of riversides: Mosquitoes descend upon them in the summer. There are good secluded spots near McCarthy and Kennicott in the east, Atigun Pass on the Dalton Highway, and Denali National Park, which also offers unbeatable sunrise shots of Denali.
    Photo by Lynn Wegener/age fotostock
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    Mountaineering and Ice Climbing
    Alaska is home to nine enormous mountain ranges and hundreds of smaller ones, offering rock and ice climbing enthusiasts no shortage of opportunities for adventure. For true adrenaline junkies, no trip to Alaska would be complete without an attempt at Denali, North America's tallest mountain at 18,000 feet, located firmly in the middle of the monumental Denali National Park. Summiting takes at least two or three days and demands hard experience. Ice climbers should check out the glistening Sukakpak Mountain northeast of the Dalton Highway, or the Delta River, three hours from Anchorage.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Glide across the Water
    Kayaking, rafting, canoeing—Alaska offers everything for the aquatically inclined. Denali's pounding Nenana River is perfect for kayaking and messy whitewater rafting, and gear rental stations are nearby. For calmer seas in the southeast, Mendenhall River near Juneau offers a much quieter ride and boasts water so clean you can spot a crystal-clear reflection of the cosmic Mendenhall Glacier beyond. Fairbanks is excellent for canoeing, especially at Chena Lakes on its eastern edge. Alternatively, you can glide past flocks of ducks on Chena River, which snakes north along the city itself. Close the evening by stopping at Pump House, a traditional saloon-style restaurant and designated National Historic Landmark with a gorgeous riverside view.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Unconventional Outdoors
    Maybe you've done it all—mountaineering, ice climbing, kayaking, camping. The eternally restless will do well to look into Alaska's more unconventional outdoor sports, like zip-lining or heli-skiing. Juneau is the zip-lining capital of Alaska, where you can whizz through a panoramic aerial view of the Herring Cove rain forest, soaring alongside eagles and flying over bears. Or try heli-skiing and be swept up in a helicopter over plush white snow and dropped off on a mountain to ski down the most secluded peaks in North America. Heli-skiing is quickly becoming more popular than traditional downhill-style in Alaska.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office