What’s So Great About Alaska?
March 10, 2017 / By Chris Oudean
Alaska is one of those constantly marketed places. Some of its catchphrases are “The Last Frontier” or “Big. Wild. Life” . There are probably millions of Ulu knives that say “Made in Alaska” proudly stamped on them. So what’s the “big wild” deal? Coming from someone who lived in Alaska for over 20 years, I’d like to think I know a thing or two about the finer things in this gigantic state.
For one thing, the daylight is particularly interesting. In Alaska, you are far enough above the equatorial plane that when the earth tilts towards the sun in summer, the sun doesn’t really dip that far beneath the horizon. As a result, the night is just one long twilight until the sun rises back up again. If you go far enough north, the sun doesn’t even dip below the horizon. This causes all kinds of mental havoc on residents. For people not trying to stick to an 8-5 job and are having fun, this basically instigates the masses to party all night long.
The summers are chock-full of music festivals and parties all over the state. Between June and September, you can practically go to a new music festival every weekend. You’d better like bluegrass and folk music though if you’re thinking about going. Bluegrass is the main music staple of this state. Thousands of individuals embrace simple music patterns to bring inspiring musicians together and create songs that inspire you to dance the night away. Bluegrass’s simplicity allows music to be more accessible to the masses. When bands come together though, the good ones turn that simplicity into incredibly complex solos that are nearly impossible not “hoot and holler” about.
You’d better love nature if you come here. When they use the term “big”, they mean it in every sense of the word. Alaska has some of the largest parks, and more square acreage of protected park land than any other state in the nation. That abundance of nature constantly spills over into cities. In the summers, there are daily sightings of Moose and Bears in town. They cross roads, get into trash, and scare the hell out of you at times. Out in nature, you are in their kingdom, and they love the hiking trails just as much as you do. Be sure to have some sort of protection and a plan in case of an encounter. At a safe distance though the wildlife is stunning. Alaskan Moose are found all over, weighing up to a recorded 1800 lbs. and are one of the largest land dwelling herbivores in the state. The Alaskan Brown Bear is the 2nd largest bear species in the world (next to the Polar Bear, which is also in Alaska), and its many subspecies can be found all over the state. Another large native animal, the Bald Eagle, carries a wingspan up to seven and a half feet. If you’re in Anchorage, you can visit Potter Marsh where they regularly nest. Alternately, Homer is a migration stop for them by the thousands.
Fishing is a pretty big thing here too. Unfortunately though, due to its popularity, there have been many new rules and imposed bans in place to protect species population levels. If you go on a rainy day, and pick your spot in advance, you can still find plenty of quiet places to fish in solitude along the popular Kenai River and catch a big one. Just keep an eye out for the bears. They do love to steal your catch.
There is a large marketing campaign for big game hunting, but I see it as overhyped. Most people that can get a license to hunt come back empty handed. There is a ton of wildlife, but in turn there is also an insanely huge amount of land for them to roam around on, so you could easily traverse a hundred miles and never see a single moose. If you are satisfied with the chase alone, then go for it. If you’re looking at it from an investment risk, then the reward of a pile of meat is unlikely and you’ll want to avoid this financial pitfall.
Alaska has an abundance of seafood. In fact, the Bearing Sea is known to be one of the most biodiverse oceans on planet Earth. As a result, Alaska has some of the best restaurants in the nation. If you’re a foodie, Anchorage is a Mecca of restaurant bliss. Over the last decade, Anchorage has seen a sort of boom in industry and many new restaurants have flourished here. From Sushi to Cajun, the seafood eats are divine. Some of my favorites are Suite 100, Simon & Seaforts, Thai Village, Jimmy’s Sushi, and Flying Machine Restaurant. If you’re up for a forty-five minute drive out to Girdwood, then don’t miss out on the award winning, world renowned Double Musky Inn.
“You can live a lifetime in Alaska and never take on every trail there is.”
If hiking is your thing, then you’ll be in heaven. You can live a lifetime in Alaska and never take on every trail there is. I would venture to say there are thousands of miles of established trails all over the place. The weather can be tame in the valleys, but be especially cautious if you’re hiking above the tree line. Up here, weather can deteriorate rapidly. Aside from established trails, there are plenty of unestablished trails. With the sheer amount of backcountry there is, it’s very easy to get lost in it’s vastness. Be sure to plan for the worst just in case. Expect temperatures to range between the 40’s (F) and into the 80’s during the summer months of hiking.
With all the dangers comes stunning beauty. The sheer number of mountains clustered together as far as the eye can see are staggering. There are many places where you can look out on top of a mountain and know there isn’t a single residence established between you and the horizon. It’s like standing on the edge of civilization towards the unknown. I get goosebumps just thinking about it. One of my all-time favorite hikes is the Crow Pass Trail.
Camping is pretty amazing too. Once you get over the horror that is the mosquito, the rest is fan-freakin’-tastic. Alaska is very accessible to the spontaneous camper. Unlike many states where there is so much overcrowding that you literally have to book your entire summer camping endeavors in advance, Alaska is basically the exact opposite. Well for now, at least. Up until recently, you couldn’t even book a campsite in advance. Tent camping is certainly the camping style of choice here. With all the backcountry camping that’s allowed, it feels like there are limitless possibilities. There are very few places that can cater to big rigs. A good compromise though would be a small trailer or pop up camper. Most campsites are also paired up with good hiking trails too. Some of our favorite camping/hiking destinations would be Porcupine Campground, Byers Lake Campground, and Elkutna Lake Campground. All of these places have multiple hiking trails nearby to enjoy.
Believe it or not, the winters here have much to offer as well! Thanks to climate change, the winters are becoming a bit more temperate so the old days of extreme cold are becoming less and less of a thing in the south-central region. If you dress appropriately, there are many trails that are very serene and beautiful in the crisp winter air. Since most of Alaska is covered in pine trees, the forests will still feel robust and alive in winter. Also, the bears are all hibernating, so there is less concern over bumping into them. Of course you don’t want to stumble into one of their dens so be sure you know what to look out for.
The Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is also a big attraction here. Though it is true we have many occasions to see them, they are notoriously difficult to plan for. I wouldn’t plan a vacation from the lower 48 just to see them. If you live here though, or are lucky enough during a visit, the best viewing times are in the winter when the daylight is down to a minimum. As the opposite of the summer sun never setting, the winter sun sets very early. At winter solstice, Anchorage only gets about five and a half hours of daylight. In Fairbanks, it’s just under 4 hours! Plenty of darkness time to catch some electrically charged particles dancing in the sky.
I almost forgot about cruises. If you like wildlife, mountains, or glaciers, then a long Alaskan cruise will be certain to get you excited. It’s not uncommon to be followed by porpoises or killer whales on a cruise here. Porpoises love to swim alongside the boat and jump out of the water. It’s also a popular activity for whale watching. If you’re lucky, Grey Whales and Humpback Whales will sometimes perform a “breach”, which is when they thrust themselves vertically out of the water and splash back down, often on their backs. It’s a spectacular sight to behold. Some of the largest glaciers in North America reside along the coastline where a number of cruises roam and they are constantly calving into the ocean. It’s a breathtaking sight if you can catch a big one. With vast mountainsides, birds of all types, and little sea dwelling critters like the playful otter, Alaskan cruises are very much worth the money. I would highly recommend any of them that go through the Kenai Fjords National Park.
It is my opinion that Alaska is a wonderful place to visit, and a highly desired place to retire. Due to certain limits on economic opportunity, you may want to consider your options before raising a family here. There is also the concern over increased crime, although this may change over time. If you enjoy a slower pace of life, with plenty of open roads, and tons of weekend destinations full of music, nature, and food, then you’ll love visiting Alaska. One thing is for sure…. this state is made for adventure. If you’re planning to visit south central Alaska, feel free to ask us for tips and recommendations in the comments section, or send us an email. We’d be happy to give you some pointers! -Contact Us- -Title picture can be seen in Our Favorite Places Gallery.
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