Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. at 586,000 square miles of land. It's two and a half times the size of the second-largest state, Texas, and larger than the next three largest U.S. states put together. Despite its size, Alaska is the third least-populous state with about 737,000 permanent residents as of 2018. The state's nickname is "The Last Frontier," its motto is "North to the Future," and the state anthem is "Alaska's Flag." The state capital is Juneau, but the largest city is Anchorage—about half of Alaska's residents live in the Anchorage metropolitan area. The U.S. purchased Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867 for about $7.2 million, or roughly two cents per acre. It became the Territory of Alaska in 1912 and the 49th state in the union in 1959.
Alaska's economy is primarily driven by oil, fishing, and tourism. Oil was discovered off the arctic coast in 1968. An 800-mile pipeline moving oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez was complete by 1977. Today, about 85% of the state's budget comes from oil revenue. Alaskan fishermen harvest nearly 6 billion pounds of seafood each year, and Alaska is the world's leading producer of wild salmon. Most importantly for our purposes, the tourism industry is Alaska's second-largest employer. The state welcomes about 1.1 million visitors annually.
Alaska offers a wide variety of activities and attractions, from scenic views to adventure sports to historical sites. Whether you're visiting to see stunning natural sights, to observe wildlife, to soak up the culture, or even just to enjoy some fresh seafood, Alaska has a little something for everybody.
Alaska is a prime ecotourism destination. Day cruises offer unforgettable views of glaciers and marine wildlife. Flightseeing tours in helicopters and small passenger planes provide a bird's-eye view of the region's most remote, inaccessible natural wonders. (Travel excursions involving helicopters or planes might require special insurance coverage. Contact us at ofni for details.) Similarly, aerial bear viewing tours will get you up close and personal with groups of brown bears in their natural habitat. If you happen to be in Alaska at the right time of year, the Alaska Northern Lights are simply unmissable. From guided hiking to dog sledding, rafting & kayaking to fishing charters, an Alaskan vacation is an outdoorsman's dream.
Denali National Park, located halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, is home to grizzly bears, wolves, reindeer, elk, more than 150 bird species, and sled dog kennels. It offers six million acres of river valleys, tundra, high alpine ranges, and glaciers. It's also home to the highest mountain in North America, Denali, sometimes known as Mount McKinley. The peak gained the latter name in 1896 when a gold prospector coined it after presidential candidate William McKinley. The re-naming was a point of contention among locals for some time, and the U.S. government changed its official name back to Denali in 2015.
The Tracy Arm Fjord, rimmed with glaciers and dotted with icebergs, is a popular site for cruise ships and boat tours. The fjord lies within the Tongass National Forest and leads to the Sawyer Glaciers. Finally, Kenai Fjords National Park provides some of the best sightseeing views in Alaska, including the 700-square-mile Harding Icefield.
Alaska offers just as many attractions as it does excursions. Museums include the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, and the Alaska State Museum in Juneau. Historical sites include Crow Creek Mine (open from May 15 to Sept. 15 each year), the Kennicott Mine & Ghost Town Walking Tour, Fort William H. Seward, and Anchorage's Four Original Neighborhoods.
If you find yourself in Alaska during the dead of winter, there are still plenty of events to keep you occupied. You can go dog mushing, take snowmobile tours, go ice fishing, downhill skiing at renowned resorts like Alyeska or the Eaglecrest Ski Area, cross-country skiing, and ice skating, among other options. Salmon Berry Tours offers dogsled tours and Northern Lights Excursions. Starting in February and March of each year, you can go ziplining in Talkeetna.
By Car or By Rail
If you'd rather set your own pace, there are a number of scenic drives allowing you to appreciate roadside glaciers, breathtaking valleys, and coastal panoramas from your own (or rental) vehicle. Popular routes include Parks Highway, Seward Highway, Glenn Highway, the Hatcher Pass Scenic Drive, Denali Park Road, and the Matanuska Glacier Scenic Drive.
On a similar note, as much of the region remains unconnected to the American highway system, Alaska offers numerous tours by rail. Glass-domed train cars allow for full views of passing mountains, forests, and glaciers. Many rail tours have a tour guide who rides along to indicate points of interest and offer tidbits about local history. Rail tours are available as both single-day trips and multi-day excursions.
Alaskan cuisine revolves heavily around one of its most abundant resources: seafood. A good Chinook salmon fillet has the consistency of fudge. Sockeye salmon is rich, meaty, and a staple of backyard barbecues. Chum salmon is popular in the more remote areas of the region, where it can be dried and used as winter sustenance for people and dogs alike. There's also fresh rockfish, crab, shrimp, scallops, oysters, clams, and more. If you're not a seafood fan, make sure to try reindeer sausage—a breakfast favorite—or ask a local hunter if he has any spare moose or caribou meat to prepare as steak, sausage, jerky, or stew meat.
It's worth noting that many insurance plans don't cover sicknesses, injuries, or accidents that occur under the influence of any mind-altering substances. Vacation can be a time to let loose a little, but make sure to check the fine print of your plan before you partake.
As you're planning your trip, we highly recommend that you purchase travel insurance. Visitors medical insurance covers unforeseen illness or injuries. If your travel itinerary includes any adventurous sports like skiing, rafting, kayaking, or snowmobiling, you'd probably benefit from purchasing an optional hazardous sports travel insurance package, as well. Trip insurance can protect you from travel-related issues like lost luggage, flight delays, and trip cancellation.
Our licensed, experienced representatives can help you select the travel insurance plan that fits your needs. Enjoy Alaska, stay safe, and dress warm!