Alaska is a big state, and as such there is no end to the places worth exploring. Adventures can be had just steps away from the city or in the middle of nowhere. They can take months to plan or be a spur-of-the-moment thing. The folks at Coast have brainstormed our favorite places – from easy strolls to weeks-long expeditions. We could spend the rest of our days enjoying all of these incredible adventures.
Shuyak Island State Park: This extraordinary kayaking destination is located at the northern tip of the Kodiak Archipelago, and at 47,000 acres combines some of the region’s best coastal forest and protected paddling. There are four public-use cabins and a limited number of trails. Access is via boat or floatplane. dnr.alaska.gov/parks – click on “Kodiak”
Tangle Lakes: Located 21 miles west of the Richardson Highway on the Denali Highway, this remote fishing and camping destination takes you into deep Alaska. The amenities are sparse but the scenery is rich with the Alaska Range just to the north. Enjoy wildlife viewing, boating and fine trout and grayling fishing. The Bureau of Land Management operates the campground. www.blm.gov – find your way to the Alaska recreation section.
Sitka National Historical Park: Walking among the giant Sitka spruce here and coming upon the massive Tligit totem poles scattered throughout the forest is almost a religious experience. Combine it with the sounds of the water lapping against the shore and the distant call of shorebirds, and this place gives new meaning to the word “tranquil.” A must-see, especially early in the morning, or off-season, when there are fewer visitors. www.nps.gov/sitk/
Eklutna Lake State Recreation Area: There’s nothing exotic about this location, except that it’s close and oh so convenient for getting “out there” and quickly. This high mountain lake is just 40 minutes from Anchorage and offers unparalleled views of the Chugach with 40 campsites, public-use cabins for camping, hiking trails and canoeing and kayaking on the lake. It’s a popular destination for cyclists, who enjoy riding the nine-mile lakeside trail. Hike, climb, bike or kayak. Local concessionaire, Lifetime Adventures (lifetimeadventures.net) offer bike and kayak rentals. Or go to dnr.alaska.gov/parks/ and search Park Maps under Resource Center.
Surprise Cove State Marine Park: Located on the west side of Cochrane Bay a short boat ride from the town of Whittier, the popular anchorage offers seven campsites in a spectacular and secluded setting. Enjoy kayaking, fishing, tide-pooling at Point Cochrane and hiking. For more information go to dnr.alaska.gov/parks and search for Surprise Cove.
Kenai Canoe Trails: Often overlooked by the salmon hungry hordes that flood the Kenai Peninsula each summer these canoe trails offer more than 120 miles of paddling among interconnecting lakes in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. Even at the height of summer you’ll find seclusion and peace and fall asleep to the mournful call of the loon. For more information visit www.alaskacanoetrips.com.
Tracy Arm Fjord: Located 45 miles south of Juneau in the heart of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness. The narrow, 30-mile-long fjords cuts into spectacular mountainous terrain and is usually chock full of floating ice, some the size of a basketball, others the size of a gymnasium. Get dropped off for some unparalleled kayaking. For more information visit www.seakayakalaska.com.
Chilkoot Trail: Follow the ancient Tlingit trade route from tidewater to the interior along the path made famous by Klondike stampeders. Plan to take three to five days to cover 33 miles, over Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett. It’s a popular trail so make reservations early. Visit nps.gov and use the Find a Park tool to get more information.
Serpentine Hot Springs: The remote hot springs located inside the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve offers a rustic bunkhouse and bath house. Enjoy the hot springs as Alaska Natives have for thousands of years and hike among the striking, chimney-like granite tors. Visit nps.gov and search Bering Land Bridge Preserve. There you’ll find a link to Serpentine Hot Springs. This is rustic at best, but a real slice of Alaska reality.
Shoup Bay State Marine Park: 8.5 miles north of Valdez. Two public use cabins grace the protected lagoon. Explore the glaciated landscape but watch for waves that can be generated by icebergs calving off Shoup Glacier that presides over the head of the lagoon. Enjoy salmon fishing, hiking, spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing. For more information visit dnr.alaska.gov/parks/cabins/pws
Sea Kayak, Yukon River from Eagle to Circle: You can also extend this trip to the Dalton Highway Bridge. This is a great trip because while there are a lot of road miles required to stage your vehicles, once on the river it is a fairly lazy float, with excellent sand bar camps and amazing fishing and wildlife viewing possibilities. You really get into the deep woods of Alaska. More information at: http://www.nps.gov/yuch/planyourvisit/floatingtheyukonriver.htm
Wreck diving in Resurrection Bay: This scuba trip is a quick-access outing from Seward, via a water taxi to Kayaker’s Cove, where you can dive down 99 feet to the bottom of a sunken freighter vessel. There’s enough room to swim through parts of the ship, and fish crowd your view as you descend to the ocean floor. More information can be found at Dive Alaska, Scott Anderson, www.divealaska.net.
McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge : This is truly a trip of a lifetime, and if bear viewing is on your bucket list, go here. The catch? You need to win the lottery. Really. To protect the bears, the people and the experience of bear viewing at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary and Refuge, visitors must apply, and win, a lottery before they can be selected to fly in via floatplane to this pristine wilderness area about 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. Tent camping is required, and short hikes bring you to the McNeil River falls, where up to 70-plus bears can congregate at one time. It is a photographer’s dream, as a multitude of different animals flock to this region to feast on the five species of salmon that go up the area rivers. www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=mcneilriver.main
Chena Hot Springs: This is an excellent road-system camping trip that affords the indulgent experience of natural hot springs and fine dining with the opportunity for rugged backcountry excursions in this hidden paradise 60 miles northeast of Fairbanks. While the hot springs are the real draw to this region, be sure to check out the hothouse tomatoes, the advances in self-sufficient energy resources the resort incorporates into its facility and the multitude of fun options at or near Chena Hot Springs Resort. Dog mushing, biking, hiking, canoeing, gold panning and wildlife viewing are just a few of the adventures awaiting you at Chena. www.chenahotsprings.com
Mountain biking the Kenai Peninsula trails: This trip can be as difficult or as simple as you want to make it. Be it a day-trip up to Crescent Lake and back (about 13 miles round trip) or a multi-day bike/camping trip that incorporates a large chunk of the Chugach National Forest trail system, including Russian Lakes trail to Resurrection Pass trail (about 60 miles. Tip: Reserve the public-use cabins early so you can leave the tent at home). www.fs.usda.gov/activity/chugach/recreation/bicycling/