Finding the Heart of Alaska

There is plenty to do when you head north.

Cruising the Inside Passage of Alaska is one thing, but to truly see the heart of Alaska, you need to go farther north.

The best place to start would be Anchorage, Alaska. You could either fly in to begin your journey or cruise here, crossing the Gulf of Alaska after sailing the Inside Passage. Either way, let Anchorage be the gateway to your adventures.

While in Anchorage, check out the Alaska Native Heritage Center as a launching point to learn about Native Alaskans. Besides exhibitions, it also has a display of indigenous housing. If you are traveling with children, they will enjoy the Discovery Center in the Anchorage Museum, where you can learn about the northern lights, earthquakes (Alaska has about 1,000 per month) and tidal pools in a hands-on environment.

During your journeys around Anchorage, be on the lookout for moose. There are estimated to be more than 1,000 of these members of the deer family in the area. If you want to see one and don’t while wandering around, head to the Alaska Zoo or Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you are sure to see one.

Did you know that the largest national park in the United States is less than a four-hour drive from Anchorage? Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park and Preserve encompasses 13.1 million acres and includes the Malaspina Glacier, which, at a size of more than 1,400 square miles, is larger than Rhode Island. The park is popular with ice climbers, hikers (both day and overnight) and mountain climbing, as nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. are in the park.

Wrangell-Saint Elias National Park also is home to Kennecott, considered the best remaining example of early 20th-century copper mining. Deposits of the commodity brought miners to Alaska in 1900 and the red buildings of the mill and surrounding town remain today.

Heading out of Anchorage the other way, you could drive to Denali or take The Alaska Railroad. Here you will have a chance to experience Denali National Park and Reserve, home to Denali (formerly Mount McKinley), the highest mountain in North America at 20,310 feet. The park and preserve are equally as impressive, covering an area the size of the state of New Hampshire. This area is perfect for spotting wildlife such as bears, moose, caribous, wolves and sheep. For the more adventurous, you can climb into a helicopter and tour the area from above or be taken to another location and head out on a hike. Or you can go white-water rafting and see nature from a different perspective.

Tour and shuttle buses offer options ranging from narrated tours to transportation for hikers and campers. The Denali Visitor Center is one of the best places to start a visit. It offers films, ranger-led programs and exhibits but is also home to a working sled-dog kennel. The sled-dog teams guard the park during the winter, but the dogs, and their puppies, are available for belly rubs and head pats at any time.

Beyond Denali, and even farther north, lies Fairbanks, Alaska‘s second-largest city and known as the Hub of the Interior of Alaska. From here, you can continue north to Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Ocean or east into Canada and then south to the lower 48.

In Fairbanks, you have the best chance to see the northern lights, depending upon the time of year of your visit. You also can take a riverboat cruise along two of the rivers that run through the city. Or you could take a plane heading north into the Arctic Circle to receive your official Arctic Circle Adventure Certificate as well as exploring Alaska from above along the way.

Fairbanks offers plenty to do, including kayaking, rafting, golfing, soaking in hot springs, fishing, cross-country and Alpine skiing, snowmobiling and even enjoying a locally brewed beer.

And from Fairbanks, it’s not that far to North Pole. No, not the north pole, but North Pole, Alaska, home to Santa Claus House, where it is Christmas every day. It features the world’s largest Santa statue and North Pole merchandise to purchase.

If you have only visited Alaska’s Inside Passage, you’ve only seen the foyer of the 49th state. And if you’ve never been, it’s time to contact your AAA Ohio Travel agent by calling 888-222-6446 or clicking AAA.com.

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