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Alaska Outdoors

Rent an RV
Alaska Outdoors
Alaska is all too often thought of as a bucket-list destination or a spot for hard-core adventurers. But the state provides quite the wide range of experiences between those extremes. Whether you prefer leisurely nature drives or want to attack a mountain, Alaska is waiting for you.
By Jenna Schnuer, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Jenna Schnuer
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    Rent an RV
    Rent an RV
    For independent travelers or families who prefer to skip out on cobbling together a hotel plan, renting an RV is the best and most affordable way to explore Alaska’s outdoors and still sleep in the same bed each night. Head to Denali National Park for day hiking or, come late August, the chance to see the northern lights. For the fishing curious, drive down the Kenai Peninsula to catch fresh salmon and halibut. Or strike out on the Richardson Highway from Fairbanks to Valdez to catch some of the state's most stunning scenery.
    Photo by Jenna Schnuer
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    Winter Biking
    Winter Biking
    Biking Alaska may pop to mind for summer adventures first, but thanks to fat tire bikes, the state offers plenty of winter biking, too. Hit the trails around Anchorage for ups and downs that’ll have you giggling like a happy kid. Prefer something easier for your first outing? Try the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage. (Just don’t squish the cross-country-skiing tracks, and watch for wandering moose hiding among the trees.) Other Alaska locations that are fat tire friendly (and easy to get to) include Eklutna Lake, Eagle River, and Fairbanks.
    Photo by Kevin Smith/age fotostock
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    Observe the Wildlife
    Observe the Wildlife
    Alaska is home to unbelievably diverse wildlife. Bird-watchers 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, on the Seward Highway near Anchorage, is nicer for those who want more than just bird-watching. Of course, it’s eyes open when exploring the national parks, including Denali, Wrangell–St. Elias, and Brooks Camp at Katmai for some up-close and personal time with brown bears. The wide open spaces are home to creatures large and very small (including the squeaky ground squirrel).
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Take a Hike
    Take a Hike
    Whether you want a simple stroll or an up, up, up trail that includes scree fields and, even in midsummer, some snow, Alaska has your perfect hiking trail. Head to Spencer Glacier for a good trail for families with young kids. When you’re ready to go (quite) a bit bigger, head out on the Resurrection Trail out of Hope. For beginners who aren’t too bear aware and want some in-the-know company, consider taking a guided hike with a ranger in a national park or join organizations including the Audubon Society for one of their outings.
    Photo by Paxson Woelber
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    Fly Above the World
    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 Jenna Schnuer
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    Strike Gold
    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 Midnight Sun—or Northern Lights
    Pitch a Tent under the Midnight Sun—or Northern Lights
    To experience the true unbridled Alaskan wild, a lot of tourists choose to pitch their own tents. Head out on a kayak camping outing in Blackstone Bay. 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 bring plenty of bug dope (the mosquitoes and no-see-ums can be unbearable) during the summer months. 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 Ray Bulson/age fotostock
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    Mountaineering and Ice Climbing
    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. Approximately 1,200 people each year try to climb Denali, which stretches 20,310 feet into the clouds. Summiting takes at least two or three weeks and demands a great deal of strength, patience, and experience. Ice climbers should check out the glistening Sukakpak Mountain northeast of the Dalton Highway, or the Delta River, three hours from Anchorage. Just getting into the sport? Head to Spencer Glacier or Matanuska Glacier for a guided day climb.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Glide across the Water
    Glide across the Water
    Kayaking, rafting, canoeing, even snorkeling—Alaska offers everything for the aquatically inclined. Denali’s pounding Nenana River is perfect for kayaking and messy white-water rafting, and gear rental stations are nearby. For calmer seas in the southeast, Juneau’s Mendenhall Lake 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. If you would rather get in the water, Ketchikan's Snorkel Alaska will introduce you to some of Alaska’s fantastical sea creatures.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office
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    Unconventional Outdoors
    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-hiking. Juneau is the zip-lining capital of Alaska, where you can whiz through a panoramic aerial view of the Herring Cove rain forest, soaring alongside eagles and flying over bears. Or try heli-hiking on a volcano or a glacier.
    Photo courtesy of Brian Adams/State of Alaska Tourism Office