Stateside: Summer in Alaska – 7 Dec 2006

Alaska is very, very different.

A wild and inaccessible world containing more than 650,000 square miles of mountains, glaciers and fjords, it spends most of the year blanketed in darkness.

But when the summer sun breaks the back of the long winter and melts away some of the ice and snow, Alaska becomes the ultimate nature lover’s playground.

Simply getting there is spectacular. Choose between a flight over the mountains into Anchorage or a cruise through the fjords into the capital, Juneau.

Alaska - mountainsThe cultural history of this former Russian-owned land and its gold mining boom is fascinating, but it is the great outdoors that really draws people in.

Visitors can catch a king salmon, kayak past glaciers or try out Alaska’s official state sport of dog mushing.

They can seek out moose and grizzly bear in their natural habitats, or wonder at the rugged scenery of Denali and Wrangell Elias National Parks.

They can spot leaping whales and diving puffins from the comfort of their cruise ship, explore the mining history of Glenallen and Juneau or soar over the wilderness in a spectacular flightseeing trip.

Where to stay

Hotel Captain Cook, Anchorage: In the heart of downtown Anchorage, this swanky place has 547 rooms with an indoor pool and the popular Crow’s Nest bar.

Westmark Baranof, Juneau: This opulent, historic 196-room hotel has a famous restaurant and a prime location in the centre of town.

Glacier Bay Hotel, Glacier Bay: Situated on the edge of the bay, this hotel offers smart comfortable accommodation, a good restaurant and a warming fire.

Denali Bluffs Hotel, Denali National Park: There is limited accommodation in this wilderness area but this moderate hotel is pleasant with views over the Nenana River Canyon.

By day

Alaska - lake and mountainsLight aircraft operate like taxis in Alaska and there are plenty of options for trips over the glaciers. Denali or the Chugach mountains can be reached from Anchorage or the Mendenhall Glacier can be explored from Juneau.

The awesome Wrangell Elias National Park, reached from Glenallen, offers the most spectacular trips. Flight prices start at around £100.

Cruising to see glaciers and wildlife is a must. Seward is best for wildlife; Tracy Arm in Juneau is good for calving glaciers. Pre-booked prices for both are around £160 per person.

Bear viewing trips are expensive but they’re a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A trip to Redoubt Bay, including a flightsee, from Anchorage, costs £339 per person. A trip to Admiralty Island, accessed from Juneau, costs slightly more.

Most cities offer easy access to spectacular glaciers by foot. Exit Glacier in Seward is a cheap 15-minute cab ride from town, the Medenhall Glacier is on most cruise itineraries from Juneau and Portage Glacier can be reached via the Turn- again Arm from Anchorage for about £40.

Don’t miss Denali National Park, which has impressive mountain scenery, wild bears and North America’s largest mountain, Mount McKinley. Access is restricted to the park buses, which operate an eight-hour trip, pre-bookable for £79 per person.

By night

One of Alaska’s great eating traditions is the salmon bake and Thane Ore House in Juneau has some of the best on offer. This simple fjord-side restaurant offers salmon, halibut and ribs with a range of sides.

Alternatively, head for the Glacier Brew House in Anchorage. It’s a typical American steakhouse offering a range of steaks and ribs alongside unusual Alaskan-style cuisine.

The Snow Goose Restaurant in Anchorage is a top spot to try out a local microbrew. The Sleeping Lady Brewing Company offers a large range of ales, while nearby Humpys also has a good selection to keep you going for the evening.

The lowdown

Who: There are no direct flights to Anchorage but Northwest, Delta and American Airlines have good one-stop options through the US for around £800 in August. Flights to Juneau are fewer and costlier. Alaska can also be reached on a cruise from Seattle (British Airways) or Vancouver (Thomas Cook, Air Canada) or by flying to the US and booking an onward flight with Alaska Airways.

Flight Time: Flights to Anchorage, via the US, take a minimum of 18 hours.

Transfers: Anchorage and Juneau Airports are 30 minutes from their respective town centres while Juneau cruise terminal is in the town centre.

Currency: United States Dollar; £1 = $1.89

Time difference: GMT -9 hrs

Weather: Alaska’s visitor window runs between late May and early September. During this time temperatures are around 10-15C and hours of light are long.

Sample product

First Class Holidays offer an eight-day Alaska highlights trip from Anchorage taking in Denali, Glenallen and Seward including accommodation and car hire for £939 per person for two or £1,699 for one, flights extra.

APT World Discoveries offers a 15-day cruise and tour from Vancouver taking in the Inside Passage, Juneau, Glacier Bay, Seward and Denali. All-inclusive land-only costs £3,895 with £1,495 single supplement.

Travel 4 offer an eight-day Alaska National Park Explorer trip from Anchorage taking in Denali, Glenallen and Seward including accommodation and car hire for £897 per person for two or £1,570 for one, flights extra.

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