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Monumental scenery surrounds you in this remote corner of the world, where glaciers calve and whales cruise through inky waters, before an immense mountain backdrop. Almost totally submerged by the colossal landscapes around it, Seward – and the wonders of Kenai Fjords National Park – offer some of astonishing Alaska’s most thrilling scenery. Located in a deep gash in the Kenai Peninsula, Seward is a place to immerse yourself in nature’s majesty. View less
Fjords carve into the landscape, while the Harding Icefield – which caps Kenai Fjords National Park – reaches out its icy fingers, with glaciers spilling down between mountain peaks. Head to Holgate Glacier, to come face to face with a breathtaking stack of intense blue and white ice. Get up close in a kayak or boat ride, to slalom through the discarded confetti of ice chunks, and perhaps even witness the powerful spectacle of an ice ledge creaking and groaning, before plunging to the waters below. The city of Anchorage is easily within reach from here, offering an incongruous contrast to the wild wonders of Alaska. A place where deep-sea fishermen bump shoulders with businesspeople on the 9-5, it’s a fascinating, remote city. Home to almost half of the Alaskan population, Anchorage and its humble skyline is dwarfed by the snowy peaks of the wilderness beyond. Don’t miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the unique culture, traditions and heritage of the First Nation people of these lands too.
Extraordinary adventures amid nature’s wildest staging await at Juneau. The majestic Mendenhall Glacier sprawls down from Juneau Icefield, which provides an icy cap to the area’s rip-roaring scenery. State capitals simply don’t get more dramatic than this isolated, remote city lost amid the Alaskan wilds. Even the roads eventually peter out, absorbed by forests and viewpoints, firmly underlining the isolated location, hidden behind an impenetrable wall of rigid mountains. Rise up to Mount Roberts Tramway’s viewpoint, to see the city swallowed by this most colossal backdrop. View less
This is glacier country, and no fewer than 38 ice flows branch off from the main Juneau Icefield, slowly carving out valleys in their wakes. Taku Glacier cuts deep into the mountain, forming a colossal sculpture that is one of the world’s thickest – almost a mile deep. Mendenhall Glacier cascades down, just 12 miles away from downtown, terminating in its own lake and visitor centre. With 1,500 square miles of ice field to explore, one of the best ways to take in the magnitude and majesty of this epic ice sculpture is to hold on tight on as the propeller whirs, and you soar into the skies on an exhilarating sightseeing flight. Cruising up above the icy world that fills in these serrated mountain peaks is a once in a lifetime experience. The animals that inhabit the Southeast Alaskan wilds are just as inspiring as the landscapes – families of bears patrol the riverbanks, bald eagles survey the surroundings watchfully, and Pacific humpbacks migrate from Hawaii’s waters to feast on the krill rich, icy waters. Fish for huge catches, power across the ice in a snow-sledge, or kayak just below glaciers. However you choose to immerse yourself in it, Juneau’s incredible outdoor adventures never disappoint.
“North to Alaska” was the song sang by those rushing to the goldmines of the Klondike. Usually they meant Skagway. The White Pass and Chilkoot Trails were the gateways to the Yukon Territory.
The gold rush was a boon and by 1898 Skagway was Alaska’s largest town with a population of approximately 20,000. Hotels, saloons, dance halls and gambling prospered, attracting Skagway residents as well as the 10,000 people living in the nearby tent city of Dyea. But, as the gold dwindled in 1900, so did the population as miners quickly moved to Nome.
Today with a population of less than 1,000, the town retains the flavor of the gold-rush era in its downtown, a historic district.
Sitka began as a major Tlingit Indian village and was called “Shee Atika,” which translates roughly as “settlement on the outside of Shee.” “Shee” is the Tlingit name of Baranof Island.
In 1799, Alexander Baranof, the general manager of the Russian American Company, decided to move his base of operations from Kodiak and set up camp at what is now called Old Sitka, 7.5 miles north of the present-day town. He called the settlement St. Archangel Michael. The Tlingit Indians of the area resisted the occupation and, in 1802, with Baranof away, burned the fort and massacred the Russian settlers. Two years later, Baranof returned and besieged the Indian fort. The Tlingits withdrew and the area was once again in Russian hands. This time, the Russians built the new city on a different site and called it New Archangel.
For over six decades, New Archangel was the capital of the Russian empire in Alaska. By 1867, the Alaska colony had become too much of a financial burden to Russia. William Seward, U.S. Secretary of State, negotiated with the Russian Czar to purchase the Territory of Alaska for $7.2 million. The American press scoffed at Seward and the U.S. government for purchasing what they called “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s Icebox,” and “Walrussia.”
On October 18, 1867, the Russian flag was lowered at New Archangel and the Stars and Stripes were raised over newly renamed Sitka. The name comes from the Tlingit word “Sheetkah,” which means “in this place.” All Russian citizens living in the former colony were given the opportunity to become American citizens. Many went home, although a few stayed or migrated to California.
Sitka remained the capital of the Territory of Alaska from 1867 to 1906, when it was moved to Juneau. The move was a direct result of the gold rush. In plain terms, Sitka did not have any and Juneau did.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Sitka became a full-scale naval base. At one time during the war, Sitka had a total population of 37,000. With the end of World War II, however, the city settled into a quieter existence. The biggest boom in modern days for Sitka came in 1959 when the Alaska Lumber and Pulp Company built a pulp mill at Silver Bay, near the city.
Today, picturesque Sitka is known for its fishing and of course its many historic attractions.
The Salmon Capital of the World is a thrilling introduction to wild and wonderful Alaska, sitting at the southern gateway to the Inside Passage’s famed route of larger than life scenery. Cruise through the waters, or soar just above in a sightseeing plane, to take in the full majesty of the magnificent Misty Fjords National Monument. Home to grizzly and black bears – as well as cruising whales and swimming seals – the wildlife spotting opportunities in this majestic corner of the world are nothing short of spectacular. View less
Towered over by steep banks and valley walls, Ketchikan’s ocean inlet is peppered with granite stacks, looming from the waters. Surrounded by glorious landscapes, head to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, which is alive with bald eagles, black bears and remarkable, thick, yellow banana slugs – the squeamish are advised to keep well clear. Visit Ketchikan’s Heritage Centre, where a collection of intricately carved totem poles rise up, preserving the heritage of the indigenous Tlingit and Haida people of these lands. Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection, and some of the oldest and most precious totems in existence. This frontier city hasn’t always been so wholesome, however. See the colourful historic street that is built on crooked stilts over Ketchikan Creek, which has a crude history as the main red-light district in the city. The brothels closed in the 1950s, but you can explore this legendarily seedy past at Dolly’s House – a brothel turned museum. See the Married Man trail, a historical route used to enter Creek Street away from prying eyes.
Navigate through the intricate outlays of some of Alaska’s most staggering winter scenery, threading a needle between craggy, snow-dusted islands, and slipping glacial giants. To cruise this 500-mile stretch of Alaskan beauty is to sail through a living work of natural art – with perfectly sculpted mountains soaring from the shoreline, and clutches of islands scattered across the dark waters with delicate attention to detail.
A common sailing route due to its calm sheltered waters, gorgeous natural set pieces constantly play out here – whether it’s killer whales accompanying you through the breathtaking icy passages, harbour seals catching a break on floating hunks of ice, or wisps of cloud clinging to distant mountain peaks. Witness Mother Nature at her most dramatic and elaborate along this Alaskan coastline, where glaciers groan and creak melodramatically, before finally releasing colossal shelves of ice, allowing them to free fall into the waters below, and explode with angry booms and thunderous splashes. While fundamental displays of nature’s power always awe and amaze, it’s the tranquil beauty of this passage – amid still waters, splitting only to reveal the smooth backs of breaching humpback whales – that is relentlessly moving. A journey of glaciers, remote hidden villages, and carved fjords – the Inside Passage is a breathtaking voyage through the intricate mesh of Alaska’s fractured, raw and spectacular coastal landscapes.
Boasting mountains, sea, culture, art and so much more, many cities claim to have it all, but few can back it up like Vancouver. Famously livable, just visiting this highrise city – surrounded by staggering natural beauty – is a thrill. Offering all of the creature comforts of an ultra-modern, worldly metropolis – even downtown has a hint of mountain-freshness to its air – and part of Vancouver’s appeal is how easily you can swap the skyscrapers for whale-filled oceans and mountain-punctured skies. View less
Head up to the Vancouver Lookout Tower for the ultimate 360-degree views of the city glistening, amid the beautiful embrace of the beckoning wilderness beyond. But what to see first? Art lovers might choose the Vancouver Art Gallery or the Contemporary Art Gallery. Nature lovers might rush for the ferry to visit Vancouver Island – where they can encounter grizzly bears, whales and orcas. Culture vultures, on the other hand, will probably head for the sights and sounds of Canada’s biggest Chinatown. From steaming dim sum for lunch to Chinese apothecaries offering herbs to soothe any illness, it’s all here thanks to the migrant workers of the 19th century. The one-of-a-kind treasure of Stanley Park brings wild wonder and natural beauty to this cosmopolitan city’s doorstep, and the pine-tree clad park offers isolated trails and amazing views. Wander the Seawall that encircles it – a 20-mile coastal path, full of joggers, whizzing skaters and wandering couples. Grab a bike and cycle between Coal Harbour and Kitsilano Beach. You can top up your tan on the shore, as you soak in the glorious views of the mountains and cityscape from the sands.
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