For nature lovers, Alaska is the USA’s last frontier. Some of the most remarkable wildlife viewing opportunities can be found in Kenai Fjords National Park, where almost 40 glaciers flow downwards from the Harding Icefield to form a landscape that can only be described as epic. Here, where creaky rivers of ice meet the North Pacific Ocean, you can spot seals and sea otters in the shallow coastal waters, as well as orca, humpback and minke whales out in the open seas. Look closely and you may even spy a furry black bear prowling the rocky beaches.
When it comes to viewing land mammals in their natural habitat, nowhere in Alaska is as stress-free as Denali. It may not be the largest national park in the state but it’s definitely one of the most accessible, with a bus service that takes you deep into the boondocks, allowing you to strike out on your own. According to the National Park Service, Denali scientists have documented 39 species of mammals within its boundaries, from short-tailed weasels to wolverines. Grab your bug spray and binoculars and try to spot the big five: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and grizzly bears.
Not only is sea kayaking a simultaneously tranquil and adventurous activity, it’s a great way to discover parts of the coastline inaccessible to larger boats. In the waters of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, you can paddle into craggy coves and slender tidal channels, as well as out into the open ocean alongside sea cliffs teeming with tufted puffins and gulls.
Kachemak Bay feels like the end of the earth. Its shoreline is dotted with remote communities like the halibut fishing town of Homer, where a thin gravel spit juts out into the sea taking the southern extremity of Alaska State Route 1 with it. It may be the end of the road, but where the highway ends, water-based safaris begin. Homer Spit is the perfect jumping off point for kayaking tours, with porpoises, seals, sea otters and swooping bald eagles all tantalisingly common. Throw in a cinematic backdrop of rugged mountains and wildflower-strewn slopes and it’s easy to see why visitors find Alaska so enthralling.
When even the state capital is inaccessible by road, you can be pretty sure the surrounding scenery is worth seeing. At the northern end of the Inside Passage, the city of Juneau squats on the edge of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield – home to over 140 glaciers – and the only way to explore this vast primeval landscape is by boat or plane.
Sandwiched between the Gastineau Channel on one side and looming mountain peaks on the other, Juneau is a major hub for small ship cruises into the innermost corners of Southeast Alaska. Heading south towards the unparalleled grandeur of Misty Fjords National Monument, you’ll glide through a network of coastal waterways and deep green fjords, before venturing into moody bays where pods of humpbacks and orcas come to feed. Stop off at isolated outposts to explore Tlingit and Haida cultures, and keep an eye out for bears, moose and the Sitka black-tailed deer.
For a back to nature experience unlike any other, nothing comes close to a wilderness camping adventure amid Alaska’s grand expanses. Home to the tallest mountains in North America, Denali National Park encompasses six million acres of untrammelled land, where getting off the beaten track and exploring the trail-free, heather-clad tundra is positively encouraged. Setting up camp here offers the chance for a rough-and-ready, authentic experience, where in summer the sun barely dips below the horizon, and the foothills are awash with blue lupines and larkspur.
More thrills await in magnificent Wrangell St. Elias, the largest national park in the USA. Covering an area six times larger than Yellowstone, it’s hard to get your head around the sheer scale of what you’re witnessing, but a spot of glacier hiking or ice climbing will soon make it all feel real. When it comes to camping, this is just about as remote as it gets, so don’t expect any luxuries like showers. What you will get, however, is a feeling of unadulterated freedom you’ll want to hold on to forever.
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With an average of 20 hours of daylight in the summer months, you will have plenty of time in Alaska to take in all of the wonderful wildlife and scenery – especially with the help of Grand American Adventures. This small group holiday specialist put a genuine emphasis on adventure: not just taking you to Alaska, but helping you really experience it. Through their range of Alaska itineraries, you can be wilderness camping one day, then bear spotting the next.
Discover their itineraries here