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Ice, nature and wilderness

Alaska probably wouldn’t top many people’s list of where to go on holiday. Images of glaciers and snow spring to mind.

But this is a fascinating, beautiful US state which has much to offer the enterprising and adventurous tourist.

More than twice the size of Texas, Alaska is the largest state in the USA, a land of vast natural splendour, abundant wildlife and few people. It has 34,000 miles of tidal shoreline and offers unique experiences such as walking in unspoilt wilderness, spectacular cruising through the fjords of the Inside Passage, frontier towns rich in gold rush history, glaciers and even moose wandering the streets of downtown Anchorage.

You can see whales gliding through the ocean and feeding near the shore as bald eagles soar overhead. Look out for seals relaxing on sparkling glaciers hundreds of years old.

Alaska’s sense of undiscovered wilderness and promise of adventure is still as strong today as it was in the past and, having attracted thousands of pioneers in search of gold, fur, fishing, logging and oil, this last frontier today lures travellers in search of an unspoilt beauty and close encounters with nature.

To enjoy Alaskan cuisine one must love fish. Salmon, halibut and trout feature heavily on most menus. The delicious caribou stew is another favourite. Alaskan delicacies include smoked salmon, wild berry products and reindeer sausage. The legal drinking age is 21 but Alaska has several “dry” villages where any possession of alcohol is illegal

Unique Alaskan products and crafts include gold nugget jewellery, items carved from ivory and jade, handmade clothing and toys, items made from skin, fur or bone and woven baskets of beach grass, bark and baleen.

Native sea-oil candles, beaded mittens, fur mukluks and miniature hand-carved totem poles are also popular souvenirs. The Made in Alaska logo indicates that an item has been genuinely manufactured in Alaska, and a silver hand logo identifies native Alaskan handicrafts.

Alaska offers some of the most spectacular fishing in the world. Rivers, lakes and streams throughout the state provide a chance to hook trout – rainbow, cutthroat and steelhead – as well as other, more challenging game fish, including arctic grayling and sheefish.

Skiing is another popular option. But the official sport of Alaska is actually dog mushing. Visitors can take a team of spirited huskies on a sled-dog tour or watch the experts at work in one of the many annual sled-dog races.

Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, is both a popular tourist destination and the centre of commerce for the region. There’s plenty to do here with something for all ages.

Local wildlife museums include the Alaska Zoo and Potter’s Marsh, where up to 130 species of waterfowl can be viewed from a boardwalk. Geographical reminders of the 1964 Good Friday earthquake can be seen at Earthquake Park . To appreciate the wealth of local history, you can visit the Heritage Library and Museum and the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.

A short trip north of town leads to the Eagle River Visitor Center and the alpine beauty of Chugach State Park. At Eklutna Village Historical Park, highlights include St Nicholas Russian Church and the brightly painted “spirit houses”. South of Anchorage, visitors can make like the Klondike gold-rushers and try their luck by panning for gold nuggets at Crow Creek Mine.

The most popular excursion is to Columbia Glacier, which can be reached by day cruises, charter boat, flight-seeing tours and the state ferry. It’s a must for photographers.

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