Alaska is a vast state and has many natural wonders, historical sites and outdoor activities to enjoy. You will be entranced with the friendliness of the people, the panorama of sky, glaciers and mountains, and the wildlife at every turn. As you begin your journey through Alaska, you will both start and end your trip with the town of Tok. Tok is your fi rst Alaska encounter and offers plenty of opportunity to fuel up, eat and rest.
After driving through Canada, take a day or two to enjoy being in Alaska. The Tok Public Lands Information Center and Tok Chamber of Commerce “Main Street Alaska” Visitors Center are great places to collect trip-planning information, view museum exhibits and enjoy a wildlife fi lm. If you drive north on the Taylor Highway, stop in Eagle and visit the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. Visitors can enjoy fi shing, canoeing, backpacking and wildlife viewing. Travel further north along the Alaska Highway to reach Delta Junction where the road intersects with the Richardson Highway. Popular attractions in the area include the Clearwater, Big Delta and Delta State Recreation Sites, along with Quartz Lake State Recreation Area.
Your departure from Tok along the Alaska Highway will take you to the northern city of Fairbanks. Fairbanks is the second-biggest city in Alaska, with an overall population of more than 80,000. It is a busy place, full of life and holding all the modern conveniences, yet managing to keep that small-town feel. With a replica Gold Rush street at Pioneer Park and a real operating gold mine, Fairbanks shows obvious pride in its mining history. Take a step into the past at the Pioneer Museum or visit the university’s Museum of the North. Or take a half-day cruise on the Discovery III riverboat, which runs twice a day in the summer on the Chena and Tanana Rivers (reservations are a must for this, as it’s a very popular tour).
Just 125 miles (201 km) south of Fairbanks via the Parks Highway you will find Denali National Park and worldrenowned Mt. McKinley, North America’s tallest peak. Plan to spend several days to fully enjoy the area. Recreational opportunities include hiking, rock and ice climbing, river rafting, flightseeing and nature walks. Private vehicles are not permitted past the 14-mile checkpoint within the National Park but shuttle bus service and guided tours into the park’s wilderness offer spectacular views of Mt. McKinley. Wildlife viewing opportunities are plentiful inside and outside of the park. Bear, moose, caribou, wolves and Dall sheep sightings are commonly seen. Be sure to visit Eielson Visitor Center to learn about the culture and history of the area. Two hiking trails exist at Eielson: one, a short loop, and the other, a strenuous path up Thorofare Ridge. The Denali area offers hotels, campgrounds and many other visitor services just outside the park entrance. Be sure to stock up on necessary supplies before continuing your journey south to the Matanuska-Susitna Valley.
Driving from Denali to the towns of Wasilla and nearby Palmer will take three to four hours (possibly a bit longer if traveling via RV). Enjoy the sights, and watch for moose or even the occasional meandering bear. Stopping in Wasilla, you may consider a visit to the Nancy Lake Recreation Area, located off Mile 67.3 of the Parks Highway. This is a wonderful place for a day of canoeing through the interconnecting lake system, and you can rent cabins for overnight stays or longer. Another recreational area is Big Lake, just a bit further down the road. Big Lake offers swimming, camping and fi shing fun. The Mat-Su Valley is also home to the Iditarod Trail Headquarters on Knik Road. Heading a bit farther down Knik Road, you can learn some of the history behind the race at the Knik Museum and the Sled Dog Musher’s Hall of Fame. The township of Palmer is right next door to Wasilla, a 15-minute drive or so. In Palmer, you will find some great campgrounds and recreational areas. Take a drive through Hatcher Pass, which takes you through a mountainous area with breathtaking views all around. From July to September, you can drive from Hatcher Pass to Willow, and then back through Big Lake and Wasilla. Keep in mind, however, that this road is not readily accessible to larger motorhomes or vehicles towing trailers. If you happen to make your drive through Palmer in late August, you should stop in at the Alaska State Fair, with rides, food and the biggest vegetables under the midnight sun!
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With so many places to visit in this massive state, it makes sense to take a few side trips and enjoy as much of it as possible. We’ve highlighted a few options for you to consider:
From Valdez, you can hop aboard the Alaska Marine Highway ferry or fly across Prince William Sound to the beautiful little fi shing town of Cordova. This town is nestled in the heart of a spectacular wilderness located between Orca Inlet and Lake Eyak on the east coast of Prince William Sound.
With rich cultural heritage and colorful residents, Cordova is well worth exploring. The town is a jumping-off point to 14 U.S. Forest Service cabins, great alpine hiking and the Copper River Delta, a staging and nesting area for millions of birds each year and the home of the world-famous Copper River wild salmon.
Be sure to visit the Cordova Museum with displays on marine life, relics from the town’s early history and the Kennecott copper mine and Russian artifacts. Another must-see is the Ilanka Cultural Center with displays of Native artifacts, a full-sized totem pole and one of only five known fully articulated orca (killer whale) skeletons in the world.
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