Before we begin, let me make one thing clear – it’s not always cold in Alaska! Alaska isn’t a synonym for freezing/sub-zero temperatures! Thank you. Now we can move on.
Alaska is often called by its other name: The Last Frontier. And so, it is. I went to Alaska twice, first in 2016 and second time with Aga in 2019. I will try to tell you about both visits there but they were very similar.
During our trip we stayed in Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage. But don’t let that description fool you. Anchorage might be the biggest city in Alaskan standards, but in comparison with USA’s large cities, it’s a baby. Nevertheless, a very beautiful and charming baby, worth visiting.
Anchorage, like all Alaskan cities, is surrounded by nature, be it mountains, forests, lakes or glaciers. If you are a nature-lover like us, Anchorage and Alaska in general is a must for you! Sadly, we only stayed at The Last Frontier for a few days, so we had to use them to the fullest!!!
[Aga: Yes! I just needed to add this here – nature in Alaska is breathtaking. I feel like I’m using this adjective for any nature-connected topic but it really is. Driving through the National Parks or just from city to city was really an amazing experience because of the unearthly views.]
Here is a list of cool things to do when in Anchorage:
Scale models of the planets from our solar system, along with the Sun, are scattered across Anchorage. It’s already cool as it is, but if you are not satisfied, here’s what makes it a billion times cooler: the scale and the distance between planets makes it so that when you walk from one to another, you move with the speed of light. Amazed yet?
THE ALASKA ZOO
The zoo is placed outside the city, but during summer (May – September) they provide a free shuttle that will gladly take you there. The bus leaves from the Anchorage Log Cabin Visitor Information Center every hour [https://www.alaskazoo.org/summer-shuttle]. Once you arrive, you might wonder whether you did reach your destination. The Alaska ZOO is set in the middle of a forest, so it feels as if you’re taking a hike and encountering wildlife. Speaking of which, the zoo offers you so-called Special Encounters [https://www.alaskazoo.org/special-encounters]. You have to pay of course, but you get to meet the zookeepers and one of these four species: wolves, tigers, snow leopards or wolverine/lynx.
When we were there, they only (“only”) offered wolves and tigers. It is an incredible experience, since the zookeepers show you where they work and where everything for the animals is stored, all the while also telling you how every day with the animals looks like. The best part though is that you get to watch them greet the animals (with a barrier between them, of course) and you help putting enrichments around the enclosure, while the animals wait in a separate area. The whole experience might last merely one to two hours, but believe me when I tell you, it’s worth it.
Anchorage is surrounded by nature, so there are numerous options for hiking. We are talking about mountains, forests, also glaciers. We can definitely recommend:
There are a few trails, but you need to do some research and decide which one interests you the most before you arrive. Heads-up: it is a bear country, so please read all the signs and comply.
That one is outside Anchorage, so you’re gonna need a ride. The hike itself took us maybe half an hour and it turned out to be a very pleasant stroll between mountains, along a stream. You can’t actually walk up to the glacier itself, although that doesn’t make it any less stunning and breathtaking!
THUNDER BIRD FALLS
Also outside of Anchorage, so again you will need a ride. It is a nice hike with informational boards, cliffs and boardwalks. It ends with a far-away waterfall that you are still able to hear from where you stand on a wooden bridge. If you go in September like we did, you will fully experience a true Alaskan fall. The pictures just don’t do it justice.
[warning, stong language ahead]
You need to be fu*ing lucky to actually see the fu*ers 🙂 Anyway, there are many aurora borealis forecasts you can check online. All you need is a cloudless night. Sounds easy enough, right? Wrong, Alaskan nights are always cloudy and if they start to clear up it’s only because you are on your way to a town 4 hours of driving away. Or, you know, 6 because if in one place the sky clears, everything needs to accumulate right above you, because life hates you.
So have fun driving in the rain at night, when probably only one hour away some lucky people are looking outside their windows at the northern lights and saying: meh, same old crap, what else in new except Karen’s boobs.
[Aga: As you can see, we were just a little bit frustrated. Only a bit. Needless to say, if you go to Alaska, we hope you will have more fun and luck then we did.]
So few days, so many things done, so much more to experience. We were lucky enough to visit three other places in Alaska, including Fairbanks and Denali National Park. As you might know from the previous entries, we used to work in another American National Park – Yellowstone. Yellowstone is very accessible, with hundreds of marked trails to explore, five villages and decent roads. Well, Denali is something else entirely. You have the main road that is 92 miles long, but you can drive only for 15 miles and then only buses and NPS are allowed on it.
In Yellowstone, when you drive down any road, you have trees almost on the road with you, they are that close. Denali? Vast spaces, shrubs and some pine trees and there, a few miles away, the mountains. Nothing can prepare you for the feeling you get when you lay your eyes on them, rising to the sky, their peaks hiding behind snow or clouds, various colors covering their slopes.
[Aga: Yes, Denali is huge but even this small part of the road that was still accessible for cars was nice to drive on. We were taking our sweet time since there was literally no one else. We even went back there later at night to check if maybe we can spot moose somewhere next to the road as during the day it you had to be lucky to see them, but unfortunately, they weren’t there. Or they were but the didn’t particularly wanted to meet us.]
They stretch for miles and miles and miles. How much time would one need to explore them all? Probably not enough in a lifetime. Which brings me to another difference from Yellowstone: very few trails. You can do short hikes around the Visitor Center, there are also some trails deeper into the park, but mainly you just hike in the backcountry. Since we didn’t have enough time to even entertain that idea, you can learn more from this website:
Fairbanks was just a stop for us, a place we hoped to spot the northern lights at. During the day we walked around a bit, but with Fairbanks not being a big town, we quickly ran out of things to do. We enjoyed a cup of coffee at a local café and started on our drive back to Anchorage. No northern lights for us.
The third place is a surprise. It’s a dream of every kid in the world (no, there is no Disneyland in Alaska) and here both naughty and nice children *cough* and adults *cough* meet Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus!
[Aga: And since you are already there, it really doesn’t matter how old you are. Jump on Santa’s laps and take a picture! It will be easier to convince your kids later that he actually exists!]
We visited in-real-life North Pole and met the charming old couple that supplies people around the world with presents that one special night a year! They even gave us some tiny candy canes :3
What is also cute about North Pole, are the lamp posts we spotted during our McDonald’s break: they were made to resemble candy canes.
What you should be prepared for in Alaska:
- It’s expensive. Alaska is not connected with mainland US, being separated by Canada. The prices are not enormously high, but noticeably.
- People mover. Yup, they don’t have the ordinary public transport buses, oh no. Alaska has people movers. How can you not love Alaska is beyond me.
- Everyone deserves to be recognized and included:
- Bears. I know I mentioned them before but really, it’s a serious matter. Travel in groups, be moderately loud, carry bear spray, read the signs and comply.
- You might also encounter some more of Alaskan wildlife, including:
- Alaska is enormous, going from one city to another might take much, much longer than you expect. Plan accordingly.
- Prepare for cold weather if you are going there around September and later. It might sound obvious but it really IS colder than you think. It was a bit of a shock for us right after landing from hot Hawaii but we were prepared!
- Alaskan flag is an Ursa Major constellation with the Northern Star in the corner. What else do you need to start loosing your mind about that damn state?
In conclusion, Alaska is the freaking best and if you are not already in love with it and looking for the cheapest flights, I sincerely recommend evaluating your life choices and priorities. The Last Frontier is calling all its children home, are you one of them?
Thank you Asia for the post!
Stay tuned for our next adventures and follow our footprints!