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Travel highlights Alaska

Travel highlights Alaska

Barrow is the northernmost settlement in the USA, the largest Inupiat community in Alaska, and one of the most distinctive places you'll likely ever visit. You can see the midnight sun, which does not set for 82 days. Situated 330 miles above the Arctic Circle, it's a flat, bleak, fogbound place, patrolled by polar bears and locked in almost perpetual winter. It's also a town of surprising contradictions. Inupiat have dwelled here for a least two millennia, and nowadays they still run the place. The locals have retained much of their traditional culture, best symbolized by the spring whale harvests and seen during the Nalukataq Festival, staged in June to celebrate successful hunts.

Denali National Park
Watch for big game, such as grizzly bears, moose, and caribou.This breathtaking wilderness area, which includes North America's highest mountain, Mt McKinley, attracts a million visitors a year. A single road curves 91 miles through the heart of the park, leading to off-trail hiking opportunities, wildlife and stunning panoramas. The Denali Park Rd can be used only by official shuttle buses, which have limited seating. Numbers of overnight backpackers in the wilderness zones are also strictly limited.

Fairbanks was founded in 1901, when a trader could not get his riverboat any further up the Chena River. A gold strike made Fairbanks a boom town, with 18, 000 residents by 1908, but by 1920 it had slumped to 1000. WWII, the Alcan Hwy and military bases produced minor booms, but the town took off as a construction base for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1973 and still serves as a gateway to the North Slope. Just north of the city is Fort Knox, Alaska's largest gold mine.

Nome, in so many ways, is the Alaskan archetype: a rough-hewn, fun-loving, undying Wild West ghost town, thriving at the uttermost edge of the planet. With America's biggest concentration of Whites north of the tree line, the town is at once familiar and exotic: on one hand, with paved streets, grassy public squares, many saloons (more than in the rest of Bush Alaska combined) and palpable gold-rush history, it has the infrastructure like the rural West.Of the three major towns in the Bush, Nome, Kotzebue and Barrow, Nome is the most affordable and best setup for travelers. It has a range of accommodations, from topnotch hotels to free camping on the beach, a fine visitors center, and friendly watering holes in which to meet the locals. It lacks the vibrant aboriginal culture of Kotzebue and Barrow, but Nome has something else the other two don't: roads. No trip to Nome would be complete without renting a pickup truck to see the remarkable outlying region.

Portage Glacier
Portage Glacier may be hard to see but it's much easier to see where it has been. In the last few years the glacier face has begun retreating from the lake it created. A small section in the center has exposed bedrock but much of the glacier face is still in the water and extends down more than 100 feet into Portage Lake. Nearby are several "hanging glaciers," that is glaciers that come part way down a mountainside.

Talkeetna is an eclectic town at the junction of three rivers, where nature trails and optional activities abound. Since the 1950s, Mt McKinley mountaineers have made Talkeetna their staging post, and today the town is the most interesting along the George Parks Hwy by far.