Trumpeter swans descend for landing, skiing across the water as they touch down. A moose wades into the lake past its knees to munch on aquatic plants, seemingly oblivious to anything around it. Ducks dip their heads into the water and disappear, popping up elsewhere.
These are a few of the sights we were blessed to witness while boondocking in our fifth wheel RV in the great state of Alaska. We fell in love with the 49th state’s incredible beauty, serenity, and magnificence.
Before we set out on our RV trip to Alaska, we wrote down five things we wanted to experience there: glacier calving, dog mushing, whale watching, northern lights, and the Arctic Ocean. We also thought it would be nice to observe a salmon run, catch some Alaska-size fish, and visit with family in the area.
I’m proud to say we accomplished all those things in one truly amazing summer. Not all of the five “high-priority” items made it to our list of favorite things about our summer in Alaska, but we’re glad we experienced them. After much thought and consideration, we agreed these were our five favorites, in no particular order:
1. Trip to the Arctic
Making a trek up the Dalton Highway to the Arctic Ocean was a truly unique experience. It took us through a snowy mountain pass, gave us a chance to witness the midnight sun, and exposed us to the tundra and native sounds. We enjoyed driving the isolated road, following the Alaska pipeline, and dipping in the frigid Arctic Ocean (just so we could say we did it).
Our favorite part about this experience was staying in a hotel in Deadhorse and briefly immersing ourselves in the lives of pipeline workers. It gave us a greater appreciation for them and the hard work they do.
2. Remote Cabin
With 571,000 square miles of land and a population of 733,583, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Alaska is the least densely populated state, offering numerous opportunities for remote living. It’s not uncommon to meet someone there who has a cabin in the woods. The state even offers more than 300 remote cabins for public use, according to Alaska.org.
Perhaps what’s most unique are the cabins that are only reachable by boat, seaplane, or snow machine (as snowmobiles are called in Alaska). It doesn’t get much more remote than that. We had the privilege of visiting one such cabin with my cousins. Having watched a number of survival shows, we felt like we were in a movie. We liked the adventure so much that we considered buying one of the cabins nearby.
3. Proximity to a Calving Glacier
Alaska is home to around 100,000 glaciers, according to Alaska Kids. Of those, only 650 or so have been named. The named glaciers are generally easier to get to and see. We put eyes on Matanuska Glacier, Portage Glacier, and Worthington Glacier, among others.
While observing the immenseness and mystery of Columbia Glacier, the largest in Prince William Sound, from about a quarter of a mile away, we watched it seemingly throw itself into the water below, creating a thundering crash and making waves.
One section would tumble into the water. Many minutes would pass, and another section would fall. We spent about an hour at the glacier, making for an incredible experience.
Our glacier-calving encounter took place while on a boat tour from Valdez, an absolutely beautiful place. The more than two-hour drive into the city provides breathtaking views of mountains, glaciers, rivers, and waterfalls. That served as the “cake” of our wonderfully enjoyable time there.
Viewing the salmon run, catching Alaska-size fish one after another, and taking the boat tour to spot aquatic wildlife and the Columbia Glacier were the icing. Camping with our back window overlooking Port Valdez gave us a nice, picturesque bonus. We’re really glad so many people we talked to raved about Valdez.
5. Northern Lights
Experiencing the northern lights is a lifetime dream for many who aren’t privy to their seasonal wonder. The conditions have to be just right for the naked eye to capture this amazing phenomenon: darkness, clear skies, solar activity, and the right time and place. Seeing the lights is more common in some areas than others.
We’re super fortunate to have been able to witness the aurora borealis on our summer trip to Alaska. We nearly missed the spectacular display. In fact, we tried to catch the splendor again on a clear night two days after our first sighting, but two hours of watching the sky yielded nothing.
Every time I think about the night we caught the natural light show, I can’t help but smile. It was a truly magnificent experience.
In addition to these five favorite things about our summer in Alaska, we enjoyed gold panning, touring an ice museum, and seeing areas of the state that many tourists don’t visit. What a fabulous summer!
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This is the travel blog of full-time RVers Bob and Lana Gates and our truck, Gulliver, and fifth wheel, Tagalong.