Readers’ Choice: Alaska Is the Most Beautiful State
In America the beautiful, the competition for the most beautiful state is tough. We put the question to our readers, and 40.5 percent agreed that the crown should go to Alaska.
We could sit here and debate the choice for years, but the truth is the Last Frontier is unmatched in avoiding the encroachment of cities on its wild, untamed nature.
You'll find fjords, glaciers, grizzly bears catching salmon and a total of eight national parks. With so much to do, we've narrowed your choices to the top 10 most stunning spots in Alaska.
10. Kenai Lake
Often called the bluest lake in Alaska, Kenai Lake gets its intense hues from glacial silt. This happy accident of nature, coupled with imposing mountains in the backdrop, makes for one of the state's most picturesque spots.
If you visit when the weather is warm enough, you can go boating or fishing on the lake. However, some people prefer it in the winter when its blue hue contrasts with the mountain snow. At any time of year, you'll also be near the impressive Kenai Fjords National Park.
9. Sitka Sound
Rocky small islands covered in forest and snow outline the shores of Sitka Sound. This popular Alaska spot is known for its views of Mount Edgecumbe and its wonderful wildlife-watching opportunities. Hop on a boat tour and keep your eyes open for orcas, sea otters, bears and other exciting animals.
Most people visit the sound from the town of Sitka, once the capital of Russian Alaska. And which happens to be one of the best small towns in the United States.
Yes, we're focusing on natural beauty here, but we'll include this small town because it's impossible to separate it from the nature surrounding it. (As is the case with any place in Alaska, really.) Ketchikan is located on the southern tip of Alaska, near the border with Canada's British Columbia.
The town has many things going for it: the fluvial paradise of Tongass Narrows, the trails at Deer Mountain, fresh salmon galore and pastel bungalows that sit right at the water's edge. Black bears and bald eagles roam around Misty Fjords National Monument as well. And visitors never neglect the Totem Heritage Center, where you can learn about the indigenous groups that have lived in the area for centuries.
7. Eklutna Lake
Usually, lakes near large cities are, simply put, dirty. But Alaska is not like the lower 48. Instead, Anchorage is blessed with one of the clearest lakes in the state: Eklutna Lake.
Spanning over 15 miles, this spot is a favored place for water sports in the summer. Kayaking is the main thing to do, but you can also walk or camp along its shores.
6. Aleutian Islands
The often-forgotten Aleutian Islands stretch out toward Russia (in fact, some of them belong to the country) and away from the American continent. Because of their geographic location, they offer unique, often dramatic landscapes that include over 25 of the most active volcanoes in the United States.
It's not easy to get to the islands — and it's definitely not cheap. But if you're committed to seeing a side of Alaska most people can't access, visit this island chain. You'll likely spot some whales, orcas and various kinds of sea birds.
5. Gates of the Arctic National Park
Another remote-but-worth-it spot is Gates of the Arctic National Park. To say this vast swath of protected land is huge is an understatement — in fact, it's the second-largest national park in the country, and it's bigger than Vermont!
You can't reach this destination by road, so you'll have to take a small plane. Once you arrive, don't expect to be pampered with nice hotels. You won't even find bathrooms here unless you are hosted by one of the indigenous communities that have traditionally resided in this park on the Arctic Circle. But you can expect unspoiled wilderness like few people ever get to see and animals that are most definitely not used to seeing people.
4. Mendenhall Ice Caves
But you don't need to get away from civilization to enjoy the wonders of nature. Not in Alaska. Right outside of the state capital of Juneau, you'll find the 12-mile Mendenhall Glacier. And while there are glaciers all over this gorgeous state, this one is set apart by its glistening blue ice caves.
Kayak and hike into the heart of the glacier, and then head deep into its crevices, where you will be surrounded by water — just not in its liquid state. The glacier is surrounded by forest where you can spot bears, eagles, wolves and other species.
3. The Inside Passage
The Inside Passage may be one of Alaska's most visited destinations, but it's definitely for a reason. Stretching along the state's coast through numerous fjords, the passage is a popular destination for Alaskan cruises.
A water-only route, floating along the passage on a boat gives you access to a side of Alaska that you can't get on land. In the distance, you'll see evergreen forests from where a bear might emerge. You'll pass by glaciers, too. Be forever on the lookout for a breaching whale.
2. Glacier Bay National Park
Alaska's most visited national park is also one of its most accessible ones. The highlight of the landscape is, of course, the collection of over a thousand glaciers. And while some think this could make a visit monotonous, people are happily surprised to learn just how different one glacier can be from the next.
The park also has large forested areas where you can do numerous hikes. In general, trails tend to be safe, though highly frequented.
1. Denali National Park
We would argue that basically any natural destination in Alaska is majestic. But none can compare in our book to Denali National Park, which we have ranked as the state's best park. The area's most impressive feature is Denali Peak, North America's tallest mountain.
Some brave souls attempt to summit it, but you don't have to be a serious mountaineer to enjoy the park. Numerous trails take you around and up the mountain (without reaching the peak). Plus, the Nenana River crosses the park, providing water for moose, Dall sheep, wolves and bears as well as fun summer activities for humans.
Where to Stay in Alaska
Enjoy the great vast beauty of northern Alaska at Chena Hot Springs Resort. During the day, you can soak in the mineral-rich water of the natural springs, go dog sledding or take an ice-sculpting class. Stop by the on-sight Ice Bar for an appletini served in an ice cup. And if you come in the winter, plan to stay up past midnight, as you might have a chance to see the magical northern lights.
Those who can afford it should also consider splurging for a stay at Sheldon Chalet. This extremely remote accommodation can only be accessed by air since it's situated in Denali National Park. With five bedrooms, a live-in chef and the expansiveness of the park right at your front door, this is one of the most exclusive places to enjoy the Alaskan wilderness.
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