Alaska for a summer escape
Travel restrictions are loosening up, which is good news for those wishing to escape the Deep South’s apex of summer and head to cooler destinations, such as Alaska. While foreign-flagged cruise ships may not have returned full force to Alaskan waters, smaller ships within the 49th state offer great ways to explore individual regions, especially for those wanting to experience nature and wildlife up close. The popular Alaska Railroad has reinstated its summer schedule to several destinations. Best of all, travelers have more flying options to Alaska, including a direct flight to Anchorage and Fairbanks from Houston and Atlanta.
Spanning an area larger than Texas, Alaska offers much to visitors. Start with a list of what you hope to see, then determine your comfort level, whether a rugged cabin in the woods or a luxury cruise ship, and how you wish to get around. We have a few suggestions to help you decide the best course of action.
It’s a short boat ride from downtown Sitka to the small island that houses the Sitka Lighthouse. Visitors don’t come here to tour a lighthouse, however, they come to revel in the spectacular views of harbor and town, rest beside blazing fire pits, cook in the chef’s kitchen and brag that they’ve slept in a lighthouse. Visitors to the unique accommodations enjoy a private boat dock with kayaks, trails throughout the one-acre island and a chance to sleep in the lighthouse pinnacle, if one can endure the endless sunlight in Alaska in summer. The town of Sitka features charming boutiques and restaurants, wildlife such as bald eagles everywhere and a fascinating history.
For those who long to snare salmon or get on the water, Alaska Wildland Adventures offers three options: the Kenai Riverside Lodge that’s an easy drive from Anchorage or Steward, the Kenai Backcountry Lodge that requires a raft ride down the Kenai River and the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge accessible by boat from Seward. All include comfortable cabins and lodges, delicious meals and numerous chances to enjoy the outdoors.
Denali National Park and Preserve has extended private vehicle access through the park by reservation, meaning visitors can now drive to mile marker 30 instead of stopping at mile marker 15. We suggest parking the car and enjoying one of the park’s many guided tours, such as the Tundra Wilderness Tour that takes visitors 60 miles inside the park. A tour the whole family will enjoy — although outside the park — is the Husky Homestead Tour, where four-time Iditarod Champion Jeff King explains raising Alaskan Huskies.
FLY, THEN CLIMB ABOARD
The easiest way to visit the main areas of Alaska is to fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks, then rent a car and explore. Anchorage, the state’s largest city with an international airport, offers several state and national parks, the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and numerous attractions.
For those who rather not drive, hop on the Alaska Railroad that takes passengers between Anchorage and Seward, plus daily trips to glaciers and from Anchorage to Fairbanks with a stop at Denali National Park, home to North America’s largest mountain. In addition to being delivered to exquisite sites and viewing wildlife such as grizzly bears and moose, passengers are treated to delightful meals and drinks aboard the train.
Several Alaska-based cruise companies offer smaller, more intimate expeditions in summer. UnCruise Adventures, for instance, celebrates its 25th year this summer, offering seven to 14-day itineraries on Alaska’s lesser-known waterways. They cruise visitors to Glacier Bay National Park, only accessible by water. Alaskan Dream Cruises, operated by Alaska natives of the Tlingit tribe, also sails to Glacier Bay and Inside Passage cities such as Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan. Their new five-night “North to True Alaska Expedition” celebrates their 10-year anniversary. Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic will add additional voyages to their 2021 summer season, including a “Wild Alaska Escape.”