Size Alaska is larger than Texas, California and Montana combined. Alaska’s 586,412 square miles measure 2,400 miles east to west and 1,420 miles north to south. Mountains Alaska has 19 mountain peaks higher than 14,000 feet. Seventeen of the 20 highest peaks in the United States are in Alaska. Mt. McKinley is the highest peak in North America at 20,320 feet high. Yukon’s Mt. Logan is the highest in Canada at 19,551 feet. Coastline Alaska has 6,640 miles of coastline. Include all its islands and there are more than 33,900 miles of shoreline, which is double the amount in the Lower 48. Volcanoes Alaska has more than 70 volcanoes, with several erupting recently. Volcanic smoke is often visible to the west of the Kenai Peninsula. Valdez was near the epicenter of North America’s strongest recorded earthquake with a force measuring 9.2 on the Richter Scale that struck on March 27, 1964. Glaciers Alaska has about 100,000 glaciers. There are more active glaciers and ice fields in Alaska than the rest of the inhabited world. The 850 square mile Malaspina Glacier in southeast Alaska is the state’s largest and is the largest piedmont glacier in North America, spanning 60 miles across. (A piedmont glacier is a steep valley glacier glacier which has spread out into bulb-like lobes from spilling into flat plains.) Exit Glacier, near Seward, is one of Alaska’s most visited glaciers. Lakes Alaska has more than 3,000 rivers and over 3 million lakes. The 1,000 square mile Lake Iliamna is the largest. The 1,980 mile long Yukon River, which originates near Atlin, British Columbia and flows through Yukon, is the third longest river in the U.S. Highway Passes The highest highway pass in Alaska is Atigun Pass at 4,800 feet on the Dalton Highway. Maclaren Summit, 4,086 feet on the Denali Highway (Cantwell-Paxson) is the second highest. Eagle Summit, 3,685 feet, on the way to Circle is ranked third. Most visitors won’t drive over those passes but will cross over the fourth highest pass, Eureka Summit, 3,322 feet, which is on the Glenn Highway between Anchorage and Glenallen.
Regions of Alaska
Far North Alaska is a land of tundra, rolling hills and mountain ranges. The Arctic experiences polar day, or midnight sun in the summer, where the sun does not dip below the horizon, while during the winter, polar night occurs, where the sun does not rise for several months. Many communities can only be reached by air or snowmobile. The 216 mile Dalton Highway is the only US highway to reach the Arctic Circle and ends at Prudhoe Bay. The Inupiat people still live in the Far North, relying on hunting and fishing for food and passing their history from generation to generation. Some villages have been occupied for more than 10,000 years.
Southwest Alaska encompasses a large area with a wide variety of terrain. The Aleutian Range of volcanic mountains, runs along the entire length of the Alaska Peninsula. The Aleutian Islands stretch 1000 miles from the Alaska Peninsula towards Asia, forming part of the Pacific Ring of Fire with their 57 volcanoes separating the Bering Sea from the Pacific Ocean. The mountainous, forested Kodiak Island is the second largest island in the United States. Bristol Bay’s freshwater streams make it the largest source of red salmon in the world. Inland, there are tens of thousands of square miles of relatively remote and unspoiled terrain including boreal forest, swamps and highlands.
Interior Alaska boasts a large area of wilderness as well as Alaska’s second biggest city, Fairbanks. Denali National Park is more than 6 million acres of forest, tundra, glaciers and home to a wide variety of wildlife, visited by 400,000 people each year. The Alaska Range in Denali National Park includes Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America at 20,237 feet. The wilderness of Interior Alaska can be explored via a wide range of guided tours and activities including ATV and Jeep tours, whitewater rafting and scenic river trips, fishing as well as flightseeing. During the winter, dog sledding and aurora borealis viewing are popular. Interior Alaska has a number of hot springs, many a short distance from Fairbanks. Fairbanks itself offers a number of activities including riverboat tours, gold mining tours and Pioneer Park, an historic theme park.
Southcentral Alaska is the most populated region in Alaska. With it’s relatively mild climate, mountains, oceans and glaciers, it is also a popular destination for visitors. Anchorage, with over 300,000 residents, is Alaska’s largest city and has easy access to glaciers, fjords and mountains. Bear viewing, golfing, fishing, river rafting, dog sledding and ice climbing are all activities within a short distance of Anchorage. The Kenai Peninsula, only 200 miles from Anchorage, boasts the colourful coastal towns of Seward, Whittier, Homer and Kenai, popular destinations for recreational activities including sailing, kayaking and fishing. In the interior of Southcentral Alaska, is the Matanuska-Susitna (Mat-Su) valley, a fertile farmland and Alaska’s major agricultural area, protected by mountain ranges.
Southeast Alaska, or the Alaska Panhandle, was the first area of Alaska settled when Alaska was acquired by the United States. Most of Southeast Alaska is covered by Tongass National Forest, the largest US National Forest. Tongass National Forest includes Glacier Bay National Park and the Alexander Archipelago where the tops of submerged mountains of the Coast Ranges form 1100 islands separated by channels and fjords. Some of these channels form the inside passage, part of the Alaska Marine Highway. The Inside Passage is popular with visitors for its scenery, whale watching, kayaking and canoeing. Juneau became the capital city of Alaska in 1906 when the government was moved from Sitka and it is still the capital city today. Mendenhall Glacier is only 13 miles from downtown Juneau and can be seen from the road or from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center.