Eight Big Things You Might Not Know About Alaska

Amazing mountain views near Denali National Park | Jake Hutchins
Amazing mountain views near Denali National Park | Jake Hutchins

In Alaska, everything is big—wait, huge. The mountains are huge, the waterways are huge, the animals are huge, and the spaces are huge. 

And the experiences are enormous. 

Here are eight things you probably didn’t know you could experience in Alaska that’ll make you realise how big Alaska is.

1. The biggest mountains in North America

But Alaska doesn’t just have the biggest individual mountain in North America (6,190-metre Denali), it has 17 of the United States’ highest mountains. 

During your 386-kilimetre drive from Anchorage north, up the George Parks Highway toward Denali National Park, you’ll see a huge white front of mountains (or is that clouds?—wait, it’s both) matching over the horizon towards you. 

That incredible view—reminiscent of the Himalaya Front when traveling north through India—is the biggest, tallest, wildest cluster of peaks in North America.

Native Caribou enjoying the sunshine |  <i>Jake Hutchins</i>

2. The biggest national park in North America

As you fly to the tiny mining hamlet of McCarthy (they dug for copper here, not gold) via plane to do a bit of wilderness canoeing, you’ll be flying over portions of the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park, a park filled with animals, lakes, and (what else?) more mountains. 

And ponder this: at 13.2 million acres, Wrangell–St. Elias National Park is the size of Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Switzerland combined!

3. The biggest stretches of unpopulated country in North America

Alaska has very few people. In fact, it’s the least densely populated state in America, with just 1 person per square mile. 

If New York had the same density, there’d be 23 people in Manhattan. While the locals are quite warm and welcoming, you won’t come to Alaska to see people. 

You’re here to see those huge expanses of woodland, tundra and the classic taiga forest.

Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska |  <i>Amanda Mallon</i>

4. The biggest biome in the world

And speaking of taiga forest, it’s one of the things you’ll marvel at as you putter around Alaska. 

These forests can be thick and dark with larch, spruce, fir, and pine, or in places where the soil is less rich, the trees can be spindly and much less dense—reminiscent of trees drawn by Dr Suess. The taiga forest stretches across the entire northern hemisphere and scientists have described the taiga as the biggest biome (a geographical area that has similar plants as a result of similar physical environment) on earth.

Kayaking the breathtaking Shoup Bay |  <i>Jake Hutchins</i>

5. The biggest shoreline in America

Alaska sits at the junction of three huge bodies of water: the Arctic and Pacific Oceans and the Bering Sea. 

It has more shoreline than all the other US states combined (more than 54,500 kilimetres). Of course, having 2,600 named islands doesn’t hurt. While you’re peddling around Shoup Bay, one of the many arms of Prince William Sound, you’ll be able to take in parts of Alaska’s massive shoreline up close, including the Shoup Glacier.

6. The biggest glacier in North America

And speaking of active glaciers, Alaska has an estimated 100,000 glaciers which along with icefields cover an estimated 10 per cent of the state. 

The largest Alaskan glacier is the Bering. Combined with the icefields that feed it, it is 203 kilometres (126 miles) long and covers an area of more than 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 square miles).

Trekking on Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska |  <i>Sue Badyari</i>

7. The biggest numbers of brown bears in North America

There are 32,500 brown bears in Alaska, and at some point during your trip, you will encounter something bear-related. It might only be a paw print in the mud (and those are everywhere), or it might be a full-blown sighting (the author of this piece saw one in the suburbs of Anchorage). 

In Alaska there’s one bear for every 21 people, so keep your eyes peeled and more than likely you’ll spot one. (There’s a 98 per cent chance you’ll see a moose.)

Up close and personal with Grizzly Bear |  <i>Jake Hutchins</i>

8. The weirdest geographical records in America

Sitting close to the International Date Line, Alaska is home to both the easternmost (Pochnoi Point on Semisopochnoi Island in the Aleutians) and westernmost (Amatiginak Island in the Aleutians) points in the United States, as well as the northernmost (Point Barrow).

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Alaska, United States

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