Southeast Alaska is a varying landscape of rugged mountains, fearsome glaciers, dense forests, jagged coastlines, and fast-moving rivers, punctuated by towns that have retained the character of their Native and pioneer forebears. Even in cozy Southeast, glaciers and rain forests are larger than some of the states of the Lower 48. Many think tourism is the way of the future. Long after North Slope oil has run out, the glaciers and the forests and the animals will still be around—more sought after than ever in a world where true wilderness is fast running out. 

Why is glacier ice blue? It absorbs light’s short-wave colors (reds) and reflects longwave colors (blue). The effect is heightened on overcast days when the ice looks its bluest.

And bubbly? This is caused by pockets of air trapped inside the ice that create a phenomenon called ice sizzle. As the ice melts or moves along, the bubbles burst, and you can hear the glacier’s interior snap, crackle, and pop.

See Bears Fishing In Alaska

Brooks River Falls: Near Brooks Camp with its private lodges, Brooks River Falls attracts some of Alaska’s largest creatures. During July and September, 900-pound brown bears amble by on their way to the falls for a meal of migrating salmon. Trails lead to the river and falls. Viewing platforms allow travelers to see the fish and bears. All visitors must watch a Park Service video on bear safety before exploring the area. Be forewarned, the place draws a crowd: from 75 to 200 visitors a day during peak season. The lodges book overnight stays a year in advance, so careful planning and reservations are essential.

Where are the biggest bears?

The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge takes up two-thirds of Kodiak Island. Its most famous inhabitants are the Kodiak brown bears. Kodiak bears can weigh up to 1,000 pounds, while the Denali bears seldom attain 500 pounds. Kodiak bears get fat feasting all summer on spawning salmon while bears in the Interior must make do with berries and the occasional fish.

For the Adventurous Golfer

Muskeg Meadows Golf Course in Wrangell is the only course with a rule that states that if a raven steals your golf ball, it can be replaced without penalty provided the golfer has a witness. 

In Gustavus, The most formal leisure pursuit is golf at the Mount Fairweather Golf Course, where Rule 4 allows golfers to move balls submerged in moose tracks without penalty.

Packing for your Alaskan Adventure

A few long-sleeve shirts, long pants, a wool sweater, jacket, or raincoat usually come in handy. Gloves and a wool hat can be useful for boating, close-up glacier viewing, and wildlife spotting. Entering those beautiful glaciers is somewhat like entering a refrigerator. It’s cold! Some ships provide blankets for those watching from deck chairs while sipping a hot beverage.

Comfortable shoes with good traction are important, plus sturdy shoes if hiking is on the agenda.

Travelers might need a sun hat, sunglasses, sun block, and insect repellent. The mosquito may not be Alaska’s official bird, but it can be a nuisance almost anywhere in the state from a few days after the breakup to the first hard frost of autumn. People who are planning significant outdoor activity should check with the tour operator for suggestions. In mosquito-filled areas, avoid dark colors, the bugs’ favorite shade. Head nets or entire mesh jackets doused with repellent are needed in some remote areas.

In winter, clothing is more of an issue. Skiers in Southcentral do well with standard alpine or Nordic gear. But cross-country skiing in the Interior requires warmer clothing. Specialized activities, such as dog mushing and snowmobiling, require the warmest clothing possible. Tour operators are a source for requirements. Operators generally provide specialized equipment and clothing or furnish a detailed list.

Backcountry travelers in winter need thermal underwear, insulated snow pants, a heavy down parka with hood, thick mittens, wool hat, facemask, and heavy-duty insulated boots. If tour participants arrive without cold weather gear, the outfitter will either provide it or direct people to a retailer. Such gear can be costly.