5 Really cool things to do in Alaska!
Alaska = love! In case you didn’t know yet, I can’t stop talking about it. Not when giving a presentation about it for work, not when talking about travel with random people and not even when I see it on one of the many shows at Discovery Channel or National Geographic. Just imagine us sitting on the couch watching “Alaska’s Ultimate Survival”, or something like that, me poking Martijn, while calling out “oohhh I’ve been there too” …. followed by my endless blahhhh about that particular experience…
Ovevr the past years, I’ve written quite a lot of posts about my favorite US state, go here to read all of them.. However, the one that’s most read is this one, in which I tell you about 5 really cool and cold things to do in Alaska!
1. Glacier flightseeing
When I was in Alaska for the first time in 2007 I was up in the air less than 12 hours after my arrival. I was sent up in a bushplane to find a place for a bush camp near the Knik Glacier. As I had never been in a bushplane before (or, in fact, any other plane smaller than a Boeing 737) I was just in awe by the whole experience. Flying over the glacier, seeing all the immense crevasses and bright blue lakes from above… Within an hour I was back at my cabin, trembling from excitement and the great experience I just had. Ever since, I’ve been on various other flightseeings. You just can’t go to Alaska without doing one!
Below you’ll see pictures of:
– Knik Glacier flightseeing (2007)
– Root Glacier, on the way to Kennicott and McCarthy (2009)
– Mount McKinley flightseeing (2011)
– Fourpeaked Glacier in Katmai National Park (2011)
Thinking of going to Knik Glacier? You can stay at the amazing Knik River Lodge, beautifully located right at the end of the Knik River Valley. I stayed there various times during my seven Alaska trips and love how passionate and dedicated the owners are. Alternatively, you can stay in the small towns of Palmer or Wasilla, which are just a few miles away from Knik River.
2. Seakayaking at Columbia Glacier
Probably one of the coolest things to do in Alaska is kayaking between the icebergs of Columbia Glacier. I was a bit anxious to step into a seakayak just 2 weeks after my canoe accident on a Belgian river (I can just imagine flipping into the water between icebergs would be even more unpleasant than the warm waters of the Ourthe) but usually there’s nothing I won’t try, even if it scares me. Kayaking between giant icebergs that calved off Columbia Glacier truly is something magic and not scary at all. I was incredibly lucky to have a beautiful sunny day and have many icebergs surrounding us, some even bigger than my house …
This trip can be made from the town of Valdez, also called Alaska’s Little Switzerland. Looking for the best accommodation in town? Options are minimal, I stayed Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn, right at the harbor side and offering comfortable rooms and quick wifi. Check all other options for staying in Valdez here.
3. Glacier hiking
Even though I had been on a glacier before in New Zealand, nothing beats glacier walking in Alaska. At least, not at Root Glacier. I was there in the spring and besides us (my colleage, me and our guide) there was no one else on the glacier. Just the three of us and loads of ice. While in New Zealand a group of at least 10 people stepped onto the glacier every 15 minutes or so I couldn’t believe we were all alone. We saw the giant Stairway Icefall and heard the ice creaking. Unfortunately we didn’t have a whole lot of time, I’d have loved to spend my day up on Root Glacier.
4. Glacier cruising
For those who are less adventurous and those who want to see wildlife, make sure to go on a glacier cruise. Not talking about the massive Holland America ones here, but the small boat trips that you can take for a day trip. I’ve done two and they were both incredible. On the first one I did out of Seward I saw orca’s and witnessed a glacier calving. Nothing beats the sound of that, truly nothing in the whole world. On the other cruise I did out of Valdez, I saw plenty of wildlife and there was a humpback whale right in front of the boat hitting his tail on the water (still one of my fave wildlife experiences ever). And we saw plenty of icebergs!
You can do glacier cruising from various places in Alaska. When going from Seward, have a look at the Seward Windsong Lodge which is located right in the middle of nature. Alternatively, you may opt to stay right at the harbor side at the Breeze Inn, another favorite accommodation of mine. Various cruises also leave from Whittier, not the best place to stay overnight to be honest. Better would be to overnight in Anchorage or Girdwood which is a short drive away only.
5. Camping at a glacier
Just imagine wanting to be really cool and deciding not to bring a tent, but just your sleeping pad and bag to a wilderness camp at the mouth of a glacier. Then imagine falling asleep, which is quite a challenge because it’s cold and it doesn’t get dark. But then, when you are finally asleep, the most amazing cracking sounds begins and you can hear a giant tear breaking up parts of the glacier. Ice hits the water, you hear the waves break on shore and then there’s an incredible silence. You get up, trying to witness what’s happening but then realize you can’t see it because your contact lenses are in the bear proof bin you brought because the fluids you use for them are perfumed. That was my glacier camping experience. I knew that a giant piece of ice had come off the glacier but I just couldn’t see it… Well, at least I wanted cool, and cool (or better said cold) is what I got. I was extremely cold that night, my sleeping bag couldn’t keep me warm and as a result I had to crawl out of it at least 6 times to go and pee. Next time I’m in Alaska, I’m putting this on top of things to do. This time however with my glasses. And a tent.
I’d promised you cool things to do in Alaska and I told you cool (and cold) things, no? Glaciers cover 3% of Alaska and therefore you shouldn’t miss out on them when you’re there. After having seen many glaciers in Iceland, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, you name it, I can truly say from the bottom of my heart that none of them have glaciers that are as amazing as they are in Alaska.
However as a bonus I’ll share one extremely great thing I did while in Alaska which has nothing to do with glaciers: bear viewing in Katmai National Park. The bears that live here are the real deal, the big brothers you see on Nat Geo tv and that will eat you if you are incredibly unlucky (Timothy Treadwell being the example of this). Out of the 5 times I’ve been in Alaska (and 3 times in Canada) I’ve never seen a brown bear just like that, stepping on to the road or chasing me for my salmon sandwich. Bear viewing right in their natural habitat was an event of a lifetime. It’s impossible to describe the feeling when those big, furry giants are walking past you at less than a 10 meter distance. Just brilliant!
Well, I hope I encouraged you to go and see Alaska. I know, it’s expensive and for some of you it’s far far far away, however, believe me when I say it’s totally worth it. Ever minute and every penny!
Which of the above would you like to do? And if you already did, how did you like it?
If you want to read more about cool things we did, you may like the following posts:
– Things to do in Seward, Alaska
– About the ‘Magic Supertramp Bus’ from Into the Wild, where to find it and why not to go there!
– Cook Inlet Photo Safari with Alaska Photo Treks
– Solo hiking as a female in bear country Alaska
For a daily dose of outdoor & adventure inspiration, follow me on Instagram and Facebook!
Thanks for sharing!