The Sum of Alaska

Ask 10 people what their must-see U.S. destination is and I bet you at least five will say Alaska.  Potters Marsh in Anchorage

How can I be so sure when there is the grandeur of New York, the lure of California or the friendly call of Tennessee? Because five members of my family, including myself, all want to go to Alaska, and all for different reasons.

It's true that this great state has a little something for everyone, fulfilling my mother's top interest, wildlife; my cousin's yen for adventure tours; my own penchant for fitness activities like hiking and biking; the fine dining preferred by my father; and my uncle's dream, fishing for Alaskan salmon.

This also shows how this long-popular pre- and post-cruise destination is blossoming into a destination unto itself. Many people within the travel industry are reporting an increase in direct travel to the region, specifically among families, who may be looking to leave the pressures of everyday life behind and spend time bonding in a place where it's easier to spot a moose than it is to find consistent cell phone reception.

Take, for example, Denali National Park—home to Mount McKinley, North America's tallest mountain, as well as to a number of grizzly bears, wolves and the aforementioned moose. If catching sight of wildlife is your M.O., then Denali is the place to be. You can even stay within the park at a locally run lodge or camp. Other options are a bus tour through the park or hiking or backpacking on a variety of trails. The glaciers in Prince William Sound are pretty impressive, too.

At Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve, you'll get to experience a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in the panhandle of Alaska. A select number of cruise ships stop here, as it's a great place to see Alaska in its truest form. But to really experience it, you'll need to get off the ship—and onto a smaller vessel. You can kayak through the major inlets or raft through the glacial rivers. If you don't quite have your sea legs, several hiking trails also begin in the Bartlett Cove area of the park.

There is always an adventure to be had in Alaska; it's just a matter of narrowing down your choices. You don't have to look far to find places that offer options for daredevils, like heli-skiing, snowboarding, snowcat treks and ziplining. In fact, Alaska recently laid claim to the world's largest zipline: 5,330 feet long, extending from a mountain top to the beach below in Hoonah. The excursion can be found at Icy Strait Point, a former salmon cannery that now operates as a tourist destination filled with family-owned shops and a museum, in addition to the zipline adventure, should you or anyone in your group prefer to keep both feet on the ground.

Metropolitan Pursuits

All this nature doesn't mean that there isn't a metropolitan experience to be had. Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, boasts art, shopping and fine dining. The Anchorage Museum of History and Art features traveling exhibits from around the world, and in 2009, an expanded wing will include a children's museum. Icy Strait Point is one of innumerable Alaskan destinations to fish for salmon–five species of it–and giant halibut.

Many fine restaurants serve increasingly refined cuisine as well as the catch of the day (maybe even yours). Speaking of fishing, it is impossible to visit any part of Alaska and not pick up a rod. In addition to salmon, there are opportunities to snag halibut, as well as king and snow crab.

Anchorage is also home to many breweries, including the famed Alaskan Brewing Company, making Alaska the perfect destination for those with a taste for hops as well as for adventure.

So ask around. Those around you are probably eager for a trip to the 49th state.

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