Adventure unlimited: A very big state with endless escapes

by • May 23, 2018 • Feature, HighlightsComments (0)182

Pick a direction and look for your next wild experience; the options are unlimited

Michael Jones captured this image of a hiker enjoying the view at Dew Pond, near the Eagle River Nature Center.

 

When we use the term “Adventure Unlimited” to describe our annual tribute to the many places to see and things to do in Alaska, we are not exaggerat- ing. Not only is Alaska the largest state in the country, but it also has arguably the most ad- ventures on its menu. From an easy stroll along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail in Anchorage to the roped-in, white knuckled challenge of scaling a cliff face, there really is plenty of room in between to find something that fits your level of adventure.

Even when it’s raining sideways or the mosquitoes are eating you alive, there’s just something so fulfilling about being surrounded by mountains and views.

even when it’s raining sideways or the mosquitoes are eating you alive, there’s just something so fulfilling about being surrounded by mountains and views. I’ve spent hours kayaking into quiet bays, hiking along lonesome trails and running dogs far into the back- country. I’ve gone running on gravel roads that peter into dirt trails and cycled up mountains that made my quads scream. And still it doesn’t get old.

This year, Coast turns to the compass, looking to all points leading away from southcentral Alaska. If we had to point the compass north and pick a spot on the map, where would it be? Read on to find out. If we headed south instead, where would we end up? Hint: The road ends here.

When I first moved here more than 20 years
ago, I found the daily options almost overwhelming. In the winter, it was a choice between running sled dogs or skiing in the backcountry. In the summer I waffled between joining friends for an afternoon pickup game of soccer or taking off for an impromptu hike. It seemed like no matter where I turned, the opportunities overflowed and the temptation to let work slip by and play my time away overcame me.

Each year we share with readers a few of our favorite places, and it’s always hard to narrow the list. Just about every outdoor adventure I’ve had in Alaska has been worthy of mention, because

If these locations don’t pique your interest, turn to your own compass. Check out the vast shorelines of the Kenai Peninsula or the well-trodden paved pathways of Downtown Anchorage. Visit the local zoo (it’s surprisingly entertaining!) or put on your helmet and peddle into the backcountry. Point your car (or airplane, because here in Alaska, you can’t always “get there from here”) in any direction, and find an unlimited adventure.

North

Denali National Park is blissful wilderness beyond the crowds

COURTESY ALASKA GEOGRAPHIC A hiker explores Denali National Park during one of the Murie Science and Learning Center’s education programs held there each year.

 

e careful not to let the mosquitoes fly in when your jaw drops at the views and wildlife in Denali National Park and Preserve. This national park – nearly the size of Hawaii – is one of the most- visited national parks in the country, and it would make one think – “Don’t do it!” Just the idea of all

those throngs of people makes one leery about joining the masses. The thing is, though, you don’t have to follow the hordes to experience it. (www.nps.gov/dena)

Savor the sights. Absorb the vastness of North America’s tallest mountain, 20,320-foot Denali, from the seat of a Bush plane. Or better yet, land on a glacier and walk at the mountain’s flanks. Fly out of Talkeetna, a couple hours south of the park entrance, to save driving time, and to experience this small town, which is a favorite among locals for day trips from Anchorage. (www.talkeetnaair.com)

Elevate the mind. Educate your mind, and soul, with weekend field seminars deep within Denali. The Murie Science and Learning Center offers small-size classes on wolves, wildflowers, geology and more, with your own personal guide. (www.akgeo.org/field-courses/)

Dine fine. Fusion cuisine in the heart of the wilderness can be found at 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern, named for the milepost and highway from which it’s found, and off the main drag off the bustling Denali Park entrance. Owner Laura Cole has been nominated twice for the coveted James Beard Award, pretty much the Oscars of chef’s awards. The locally grown fare includes fresh, in-season greens, wild-caught seafood and house-made pastas and dressings. (www.229parks.com).

Experience real Alaska. Hold a sled-dog puppy and watch the working dogs of four-time Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race champion Jeff King show you their enthusiasm for running. King’s Husky Homestead Kennels offers a glimpse into the world of Alaska’s most well-trained canine athletes. (www.huskyhomestead.com)

South

Visitors enjoy Sea kayaking on a sunny day in Eldred Passage, Kachemak Bay. SCOTT DICKERSON / ALASKASTOCK

Kachemak Bay is, simply put, magical. This end-of-the- road destination epitomizes Alaska and is where Alaskans often go to play. The town of Homer, which literally pops up where the Sterling Highway ends, is flanked by scenic Kachemak Bay, where jagged-peaked mountains meet the ocean in stark contrast. Funky and fun, this town mixes “laidback” with “high energy,” and it works. (www.homeralaska.org)

Savor the sights. Even locals love sharing tales of their bear sightings, and this is a good place from which to find the bruins. Take a short trip across Kachemak Bay to “Bear Central,” Katmai National Park, for an up-close view of these majestic creatures. (www.katmaial- askabearviewing.com)

Elevate the mind. Go kayak- ing in Kachemak Bay State Park and State Wilderness Park, the first Alaska State Park, established 40 years ago. Take a water taxi to the Bay’s protected coves and lagoons, where paddlers can share the water with sea otters, puffins, gulls, seals and other curious bay creatures. (www.homerkayaking.com)

Dine fine. Take the Danny J across the Bay to combine upscale dining with a glimpse at the arts- rich community of Halibut Cove. Walk the boardwalks, enter the artists’ studios (where you can pay for your treasures by the honor- system, leaving money behind) and wind down at the waterfront Saltry Restaurant, for a menu specializing in locally caught seafood and fresh vegetables grown right out back under the midnight sun. (www. halibut-cove-alaska.com)

Experience the real Alaska. The Salty Dawg Saloon may be the most iconic bar in all of Alaska, and no trip to Homer is complete without stopping there. Located
on the Homer Spit, this bar, dating back to 1897 and sporting a faux lighthouse, is open at all hours it seems, is wallpapered with old dol- lar bills, and carpeted with wood shavings to keep the beer stench down. There’s a lively nightlife, and it’s the go-to place to experience a real Alaska fisherman in the flesh and blood. (4380 Homer Spit Road, 907-235-6718)

West

Unalaska

Michael and Becca Shephard enjoy this campsite near Unalaska, offering a birds-eye view of the water below. DAN PARRETT/ ALASKASTOCK

 

To the edge of Alaska, Unalaska is frontier living at its purest

If you’re lucky enough to experience a trip to Unalaska/ Dutch Harbor, even we locals will be jealous. This place is simply unbelievable. Clinging to the westernmost edge of
the Aleutian Chain, this far-flung community offers outrageous

birding and fishing, and, as one of the largest commercial fishing ports in the world, is immensely important to Alaska’s economy.

Savor the sights. The crab may be plentiful, but if you want to reel in something truly impressive, hop aboard a charter boat for a day of halibut fishing. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor has, arguably, the biggest barn-door size bottom feeders in the state, and catch- ing them is half the fun. Eating them is the true reward. (www. unalaskahalibutfishing.com)

Elevate the mind. For avid birders, this is the place to seek out the elusive whiskered auklet, one of the most rare birds in the country. Birders the world over come here to check off birds on their life lists that may never been encountered anywhere else. In fact, this region is one of the most diverse and plentiful areas for checking such species as the Lapland longspur and snow bunting off that life list. It’s a destination of the ph.D.-minded folks who can tell you all about the birds of this corner of the world – and

then some. (Aleutian Birding and Natural History, sgolodoff@ gmail.com)

Dine fine. The fishing industry has brought a lot of money to a lot of people, and while the town may not outwardly show its extravagance, the Grand Aleutian Hotel is one place where the money shows. It’s not Biltmore Estates fancy, but out here in the middle of nowhere, the dining at the hotel’s restaurant is impres- sive with north Pacific-rim seafood dishes created from stock taken fresh from the surrounding waters. (www.grandaleutian. com)

Experience the real Alaska. Ever wonder where your deli- cious king crab comes from? Right here. See where the crews of “The Deadliest Catch” launch their operations and take breaks from the unforgivable Bering Sea, and call home during the relentless winter crab-fishing season. What you see on reality TV is worth checking out in real life – where the hardscrabble life of a commercial fisherman can be truly appreciated in a less polished version of what is shown on TV. In fact, Unalaska has worked hard to shed its “Deadliest Catch” image, saying that there is much more to its town than a television show.

East

Valdez

Fishermen anchor up just outside the port of Valdez during the season. Valdez has some of the most productive fishing in the state. KEVIN G. SMITH/ ALASKASTOCK

 

A fisherman’s dream in the waters of Prince William Sound

Valdez is a small port town best known for the Trans- Alaska Oil Pipeline terminal that runs 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay. But it’s also a great place to experience kayaking, hiking, day cruising and cycling. This seaside town is a gateway into Prince William Sound and is a favorite among fishermen (make sure to
take part in one of the many fish derbies over the summer), boaters, hikers and cyclists, the latter of whom like to challenge themselves climbing up and over the famed (and steep!) Thompson Pass. (www. valdezalaska.org)

Savor the Sights. Shoup Bay is a great camp spot for those wishing to reserve a public-use cabin (www.levitation49.com, a park concessionaire, manages reservations). From here, one can kayak, hike, go birding or just sit on the rocky beach and watch the nearby Shoup Bay Glacier as it sparkles in the sun. Fishing is good in this region too, so come prepared. A full week can be spent here without running out of things to do.

Elevate the Mind. The Prince William Sound Science Center

offers Tuesday Night Science Talks with experts from Cordova, the State of Alaska, and around the world to share their research and findings with visitors and locals. The series provides a venue for researchers to educate the community about their projects and find- ings. (www.pwssc.org)

Dine fine. Alaska Halibut House is a tried-and-true Valdez fa- vorite because it serves locally caught halibut – and it doesn’t get any fresher than this. It’s been a Valdez mainstay for 34 years — where you can get a great meal but not have to worry about changing out of your Xtratufs.

Experience the real Alaska. To keep it real, do as the Alaskan does – take part in the Valdez Fish Derbies. Anglers from the state over flock here in the summer for derbies ranging from the Hali-
but Jackpot Derby to the Silver Salmon Derby. After all, this is an angler’s paradise. There are $15,000 in cash prizes and charters going out almost every day in the summer that the weather permits. (www. valdezfishderbies.com)

 

 

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