Yes, Alaska is big. If it were its own country, the Last Frontier would be the 19th largest in the world. It is larger than the 22 smallest states combined and bigger than the next three largest.
And yes, it is far away, more than 500 miles from its nearest United States neighbor. But only three miles from Russia.
Alaska is the only one of the American states whose European roots trace back through Russia. The first Russian naval expeditions began arriving in the 1740s in search of sea otter pelts and a settlement was founded at Three Saints Bay on Kodiak Island in the Aleutian Islands in 1784. But Russian colonization efforts were never energetic and William H. Seward, United States Secretary of State who survived an assassination attempt in the plot against Abraham Lincoln, purchased Alaska in 1867 for $7.2 million, about two cents an acre.
Seward did not live long enough to ever hear the Alaska Purchase stop being called "Seward's Folly." Nor did most of his children. Only after gold rushes in the 1890s lured thousands of prospectors to the far north did Alaska become organized into a territory. Statehood came in 1959, and a decade later the largest oil field in North America was discovered in the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay. Oil has driven the Alaskan economy ever since.
Cities and Attractions
About half of Alaskans have settled in the south-central part of the state around Anchorage that has made the city North America's largest community north of the 60th parallel. The second strongest earthquake in recorded history occurred under Kenai Peninsula on Good Friday in 1964, and a destroyed area has now been turned into Earthquake Park to remember the event. Nature at its more peaceful can be viewed in the Alaska Botanical Garden where some 150 native Alaska plants grow. The Anchorage Museum is Alaska's largest, anchored by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center with over 600 rare Alaska Native artifacts.
Juneau, despite having no road connections to any highway system, has been the Alaskan capital since 1906 when the government left Sitka and sailed to Gastineau Channel. What the city lacks in convenience it makes up in beauty—no American capital can compare with its spectacular setting at the foot of Mount Juneau.
When exploring the "real" Alaska Fairbanks is the only city of substance in the mostly uninhabited interior wilderness as it spreads out towards the Arctic Circle. Alaska's second largest city is far enough north to have hosted the Midnight Sun baseball game at the summer solstice since 1906 that has attracted several ex-major league players. The game begins at 10:30 at night and has never used artificial light.
The Great Outdoors
All of Alaska is the "great outdoors," even in the cities where encounters with bears and moose are not out of the ordinary. All but about one percent of the state's 663,268 square miles are publicly owned. The Tongass National Forest is the largest in the country, and 17 of America's 20 highest peaks are found in Alaska.
The vast Alaskan park system spreads across all five named tourist regions of the state. Katmai National Park and Preserve on the Alaskan Peninsula in the Southwest formed in 1912, when the Novarupta Volcano covered the mountains with ash and punctured the valley with small holes and cracks fuming with steam and gas. Today the park is home to more than 2,000 brown bears making it one of the prime destinations for Alaskan bear viewing.
With its tidewater glaciers and abundant marine wildlife, Kenai Fjords National Park lures visitors out of Anchorage, two hours to the north, Reached via the scenic Seward Highway, the park's marquee attraction is Exit Glacier, with trails and a nature center. Denali National Park in Alaska's Interior is the gateway to North America's highest mountain - Mount McKinley at 20,237 feet.
Alaska publishes the Milepost, a mile-by-mile guide to its highways with detailed information on services and conditions for road travelers. There is more coastline in Alaska than the rest of the United States combined, and the Alaska Marine Highway System uses ferries to provide easy access to port communities. Both cars and RVs are welcome aboard both cars and RVs onboard.
Many Alaskan Native festivals are celebrated in the fall when the work to prepare for "when the sun sits down" in winter has been completed. The famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, takes place in early March and celebrates the spirit of the Alaskan people when diphtheria serum was conveyed to Alaska Native children 674 miles to Nome in 1925 by the traditional transportation method of sled dog teams.
Russian heritage permeates Alaskan culture even today, and wooden Orthodox churches dating to the 18th century are historical treasures found across the landscape. Visitors are encouraged to participate in traditional services that harken back to a time two centuries ago when Alaskan everyday life and the church were inseparable.