I moved to Alaska over 21 years ago and there are things tourists should know before visiting.
Educate yourself on and respect the histories and traditions of Alaska Natives.
Do not push your physical limits, and make sure to wear the right clothes when adventuring outside.
In September 2001, my husband and I loaded our cars and trekked across the country from Chicago to Alaska.
We spent the first seven years in the capital city of Juneau before moving north to Anchorage, which has been our home for the last 14 years.
Over the past 21 years, I’ve learned a lot about this beautiful place. Here are 10 things I think visitors should know.
You are a guest on Alaska Native lands
Alaska Natives called Alaska home long before colonizers arrived and took control of their lands, so it’s important to remember that we are all guests in their homeland.
Someone born and raised in Alaska, even if they can trace their ancestors back several generations, is not Alaska Native – they’re just someone who fell in love with the state and never left.
There are 229 state and federally recognized tribes in Alaska, and their histories, traditions, and people deserve our respect.
One of the best ways to show that respect is to learn about that history with a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, which features permanent collections, life-size replicas of village sites, and educational programs.
Keep your hands off of the wildlife
Moose, bears, and eagles are common neighbors in Alaska. It’s not abnormal for a large bull moose to stop traffic or for people to find evidence that a bear has rifled through their trash.
Seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat is a big reason people travel here, but for the safety of yourself and the animals, admire them from a distance.
Animal attacks are rare, but when they happen, they can be deadly – for both humans and wildlife.
Fortunately, there are plenty of safe options for wildlife viewing. In and around Anchorage alone, you can visit the Alaska Zoo, musk ox and reindeer farms in Palmer, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.
Step aside while you snap pictures
While you’re visiting Alaska and enjoying your bucket-list trip, you likely will want to take pictures, but don’t clog the streets while you do it.
Whether you’re admiring the scenery or snapping a picture of the whales swimming through Turnagain Arm, remember that people are also trying to get to work, school, or hockey practice.
Please stay on the sidewalk and utilize the pullouts if there are more than five cars behind you on the highway.
The glaciers are absolutely worth checking out
Alaska boasts 100,000 glaciers, the most of any US state. You can hike along or kayak past some, enjoy a dog-sled ride atop others, or get a bird’s eye view of the ice fields with a helicopter tour.
One of the best ways to view them is with a half- or full-day small-boat cruise through Prince William Sound out of Whittier or Kenai Fjords National Park.
These cruises provide stunning, up-close views and narration by a park service ranger. You may be able to hear a glacier calving if you listen closely.
Although there’s no official guarantee that you’ll see wildlife, it’s rare that a trip doesn’t encounter at least one harbor seal, otter, or Dall’s porpoise swimming in the icy waters.
Make sure to bring plenty of layers and protection for outdoor endeavors
Alaskan weather is unpredictable. Sometimes you can enjoy winter, spring, summer, and fall in a single day.
Check the forecast before heading out and dress in layers. Stay dry and warm with moisture-wicking bottoms – not made with cotton, since that does not dry as quickly – as well as an insulating middle layer, like a fleece, and a waterproof jacket.
Sneakers or sturdy sandals should be fine for paved trails, but for more strenuous hikes or walks through the woods, opt for waterproof boots to keep your feet dry and protected.
If you’re headed into the woods, bring a bell or whistle to alert bears of your presence. A can of bear spray won’t hurt either – just make sure you know how to use it.
And before heading out, make sure someone knows your itinerary in case you run into trouble.
It’s important to know your limits and not push them
Alaska is as beautiful as it is unforgiving – even the most experienced adventurers can land themselves in trouble.
There’s no shame in knowing your limits and taking it “easy.”
The views along Anchorage’s 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail are just as spectacular as those you’ll find at Flattop, one of the world most popular destinations.
Do not forget that Alaskans are still Americans
Unless you live outside of the lower 48 (what many Alaskans call the continental US), do not ask us if we can exchange your money, speak English, or send your postcards via airmail.
Some Alaskans may revel in their independent spirit, but we’re still Americans.
There’s more for dinner than just seafood
Seafood is king in Alaska, and there is no shortage of places that do it right.
But Alaska’s culinary landscape is more than just seafood. Chefs around the state showcase fresh Alaskan ingredients, from homegrown vegetables to locally raised yak and pork.
There’s barbecue, Filipino-Hawaiian fusion, German and Danish food, and steaks that can rival the fanciest steakhouse down south (another reference to the continental US).
The food-truck scene is also thriving with diverse options. Everything from Guatemalan-American fusion and crepes to reindeer dogs and Mexican food can be found at weekly carnivals and weekend markets, as well as outside of local breweries, distilleries, and cider houses.
Driving can be slow, so give yourself extra time
Summer is construction season in Alaska, which often means longer than anticipated driving times.
Many roads are also only two lanes, so an accident or rockslide can add anywhere from minutes to hours to your trip. Make sure to build a healthy cushion into your drive times to account for possible delays.
Don’t try to explore all of Alaska in a week
Alaska is 663,300 square miles – almost two and a half times the size of Texas – so seeing it all in a single week is basically impossible.
Instead of cramming everything in, focus your visit on a single region or small area. The less time you spend in the car, the more you’ll have to truly explore.
Read the original article on Insider