If it seems like everyone and their mother is planning a trip to Alaska, that’s because it’s basically true. Tourism to the 49th state increased by 26 percent over the past 9 years, and even winter tourism increased 33 percent from 2008 to 2017.
Cruise ships added Alaska to their list of destinations, restaurants in Alaska opened, and excursions aimed at tourists are booming.
But while the glaciers may be trodden with camera-yielding tourists, there are still plenty of ways to avoid the crowds. Here are five excursions to take to explore Alaska sans tourists.
Bike the trails in Anchorage
Cycling is huge in Anchorage, and the locals use their bikes as a means of transportation. There are plenty of bike vendors available, and they offer road, mountain, and even winter bikes. The difficult part will be choosing where to go. There are plenty of guided tours, ranging from Alaska Trail Guides (they provide the bikes and gear for mountain biking tours, coastal trail tours, winter tours and more) to Anchorage Bike & Brew (an easier half-day trail with the afternoon learning about Alaska’s craft beer industry). Or, you could explore on your own: the Glenn Highway Trail is an easy route along the highway with smooth asphalt; or the Kincaid Park Trail is a 45-mile trail that’s popular in the summer (it’s used for cross-country skiers in the winter) because of the stunning views of Cook Inlet and the mountains.
Go fishing in Elfin Cove
This is a true throw-back Alaskan experience. Your Wi-Fi probably won’t work, and the phone reception is poor. Get here via an Alaska seaplane or boat from Juneau, which leaves multiple times per day. When you get here, book a charter boat to fish for halibut, salmon, rockfish, and more (eat your catch there or ship it home). There are no motorized vehicles, and there are only 25 year-round residents, though about 200 people live here during the summer. Take an easy trip from Elfin Cove to George Island, where you can see a World War II gun emplacement.
Hike the Tongass National Forest
The 17-million-acre national forest includes a rain forest, Hubbard Glacier, a national monument, and more. It could be a little overwhelming to explore, so it’s best to do a guided tour. These range from a Mendenhall Glacier Float trip, where you’ll glide along the lake to get close views of the glaciers; or you can do a black bear exploration through the rain forest.
Explore Kodiak Island
It’s not well known, but this is the second-largest island in the United States (walking it completely would take 11 days, and you’d wander over forests, grass and mountains). Kodiak contains more than 250 bird species and plenty of fish, though most of the fleets fish for King Crab and all six species of salmon. Take a guided tour to see the Kodiak brown bears, which tend to be located inside the protected Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. But this is no deserted island. It’s got its own microbrewery: the Kodiak Island Brewing Company, which features Alaskan berries in many of its beers. There are also tons of boutiques, coffee shops, and restaurants. There are daily flights between Anchorage and Kodiak island via Alaska Airlines.
Play with hundreds of puppies at dog camp
Every March, Alaskans gather to witness the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, a 1,000-mile race through blizzards, in which a team of 14 dogs pull a musher for about 14 days. But every good dog team needs to train, and you can watch them train in dog camp. Visit Sheep Creek Dog Sled Summer Camp, just 4 miles southeast of Juneau, where you could take your own mile-long dog sled ride, you can pet the Alaskan huskies, and you can even cuddle with their puppies and learn all about the history of the Iditarod races.
Wander through a ghost town
In the early 1900s, Kennicott was a prosperous copper-mining town, having produced hundreds of thousands of tons of copper, along with silver. But after the price of copper dropped during the depression, this area was abandoned in 1939, and is now a ghost town. Today, it still looks like it did in the early 1900s, so you can really get the feel of an old mining town. Take a guided tour, where you can enter the buildings and see the machinery — or simply hike to the mining spots in the mountains (9 miles round trip).