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For the intrepid RVer, the ultimate frontier lies in the wilds of Alaska. Of course, just getting there is a journey unto itself. However, once there, this vast expanse is like nothing else found in the lower 48.
Let’s kick things off in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, with more than 250,000 residents. Summertime really brings out the best in this charming city. True, the summer months are rather short (and sweet), but these folks make the best of it. Birders always seem to enjoy a visit to the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge at Potter Marsh. Its more than 500 acres provides a vital habitat for its eclectic collection of coastal birds.
About 50 miles south of town lies the popular Portage Glacier, Alaska’s most-visited tourist attraction. Be sure to spend time at the impressive Begich Boggs Visitor Center, which offers informative tours of the area. If you happen to be in Anchorage during the month of March, though, you can experience the granddaddy Alaskan spectacle of ‘em all in the world-famous “Iditarod”, a 1,100-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome. Might we suggest bringing ear muffs? The Alaska Zoo, which showcases the local arctic and sub-arctic fauna that defines the region, is a great, year-round attraction.
Heading north along Hwy 3, let’s get lost (not literally) in the vast expanse of Denali National Park and Preserve. At six million acres, it ranks as one of the world’s largest parks and is home to more than 20 glaciers, sprawling mountain ranges, and huge herds of caribou and other stunning sub-arctic wildlife. Because Denali is known more for its pristine, undisturbed wilderness, the park offers surprisingly few trails; deep exploration of the park is limited to only the hardiest of explorers. However, one exceptional hike is the Mount Healy Overlook Trail, with dazzling vistas of the towering Alaska Range. At the park’s center stands North America’s tallest peak, at 20,320 feet, fabled Mt. McKinley.
From Denali, point the rig north on Hwy 3 and step on the gas. A couple of hours later you’ll come into the town of Fairbanks. During the spring and fall migration, birders can’t pass up a visit to Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, an important respite for thousands of waterfowl venturing to and from the south. To learn the history of life in this region, stop in at the Museum of the North, located at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Some of their more than 1.5 million artifacts are featured in displays to narrate Alaska’s natural and civilized histories.
Head south along Hwy 2, also known as the Alaska Highway. At the town of Big Delta, we’ll pick up Hwy 4 and keep going further south. Use the tiny village of Gakona as a base camp for exploring the expansive Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, which sprawls across the Alaska-Canada border.
From Gakona, let’s pick up Hwy 1 west again until we reach the town of Palmer. Formerly an outpost during the late 1800s, the town was an experimental farming colony during the New Deal period of the early 1900’s. Sadly, the experiment ultimately failed, but you can explore its legacy at the Colony House Museum. Another popular stop is the Musk Ox Farm, a truly unique experience. If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Palmer during September, you won’t want to miss the rollicking Alaska State Fair and its 12 days of family fun.