Exploring the Land
Hiking and Camping
Hiking and camping are the preferred outdoor recreations for the majority of Alaskans and visitors. These pastimes are available to practically anybody, from 3-month-old infants to 93-year-old great-grannies. Here, you don’t have to be in particularly good shape, you don’t need a big bank balance, and you don’t have to have the latest high-tech equipment. Most public land is open to free camping, though there are restrictions in the more populous areas.
For the size of the Alaskan outdoors, there are very few trails, but it’s easy just to pick a direction, especially in the vast taiga and tundra, and go. Also, the perpetual daylight during hiking season allows for additional deviation from normal hiking-camping cycles, providing further freedom. And the definite possibility of encountering a variety and abundance of wildlife is an incalculable bonus. For more information about hiking, contact the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers (www.alaskacenters.gov) in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Tok.
A number of organizations guide mountaineering expeditions in Alaska. For specific destinations, visit the Park Service or Forest Service websites for a list of permitted guides. Good wilderness guiding companies include Alaska Mountaineering School (907/733-1016, www.climbalaska.org), Alaska Mountain Guides & Climbing School (907/766-3366 or 800/766-3396, www.alaskamountainguides.com), Alaska Discovery (510/594-6000 or 800/586-1911, www.akdiscovery.com), and NOLS (907/745-4047, www.nols.edu). A good online source for info on Alaska climbing opportunities is www.akclimber.com.
The most popular mountain biking trails are in the Anchorage area and include many miles of paths (both paved and unpaved) along the shore and within a couple of city parks. Paved biking paths can also be found paralleling portions of the Seward Highway south of Anchorage, and in Fairbanks, Homer, Valdez, Juneau, and other cities. Many Forest Service trails are open to mountain biking, but some of these are muddy and challenging to ride. Especially popular is the Resurrection Pass Trail on the Kenai Peninsula.
The Anchorage-based Arctic Bicycle Club (907/566-0177, www.arcticbike.org) organizes road races, mountain bike races, and tours. Its website is an excellent source for anyone interested in cycling in Alaska, with links to bike shops and references to helpful books.
Even if you don’t go backpacking while you’re in Alaska, treat yourself at least once to a small plane or helicopter ride over some spectacular country. The flight from Talkeetna to Denali National Park is always a highlight—particularly with a landing on the Ruth Glacier. Flights over Glacier Bay from Juneau, Haines, or Skagway will leave you hyperventilating for two days. And you won’t believe how grand Columbia Glacier really is on the flight over it from Anchorage or Valdez.
The National Audubon Society (www.audubon.org/chapter/ak) has chapters in Anchorage (907/338-2473 birding hotline, www.anchorageaudubon.org), Juneau (www.juneau-audubon-society.org), and Fairbanks (907/451-9213 birding hotline, www.arcticaudubon.org).
In Fairbanks, the Alaska Bird Observatory (907/451-7059, www.alaskabird.org) conducts research on migratory birds and has banding demonstrations. Their website features links to most other Alaska birding organizations and online sites.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition