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I lived in Alaska for 21 years.  Here are 10 things tourists should know before visiting.


I moved to Alaska 21 years ago.Amy Newman; Jay Junon/Shutterstock

  • I moved to Alaska over 21 years ago and there are things tourists should know before visiting.

  • Learn about and respect Alaska Native history and traditions.

  • Don’t push your physical limits and be sure to wear the right clothes when venturing outdoors.

In September 2001, my husband and I loaded up our cars and drove across the country from Chicago to Alaska.

We spent the first seven years in the capital Juneau before moving north to Anchorage, which has been our home for 14 years.

Over the past 21 years I have 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 over 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 ancestry back several generations, is not a native of Alaska – it’s just someone who has fallen in love with the state and is not never left.

There are 229 recognized state and federal tribes in Alaska, and their histories, traditions, and peoples deserve our respect.

One of the best ways to show that respect is to learn more about that history by visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, which features permanent collections, life-size replicas of village sites, and programs. educational.

Keep your hands away from wildlife

I lived in Alaska for 21 years.  Here are 10 things tourists should know before visiting.

Large bull moose outdoors in Alaska by a fence

Bull moose are common in Alaska.Amy Newman

Moose, bears and eagles are common neighbors in Alaska. It’s not unusual for a large bull moose to stop traffic or for people to find evidence that a bear has been digging through their trash.

Seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat is a big reason people travel here, but for your safety and the animals’ safety, admire them from afar.

Animal attacks are rare, but when they do occur they can be deadly to both humans and wildlife.

Fortunately, there are plenty of safe options for viewing wildlife. In and around Anchorage alone, you can visit the Alaska Zoo, the Muskoxen and Reindeer Farms in Palmer, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward.

Step aside while you take pictures

While you’re visiting Alaska and enjoying your trip, you’ll probably want to take some photos, but don’t clutter the streets while you do.

Whether you’re admiring the scenery or snapping a photo of the whales swimming in Turnagain Arm, remember that people are also trying to get to work, school or hockey practice.

Please stay on the sidewalk and use the lanes if there are more than five cars behind you on the freeway.

The glaciers are definitely worth a visit

I lived in Alaska for 21 years.  Here are 10 things tourists should know before visiting.

People looking at a glacier in Prince William Sound

A glacier in Prince William Sound.Amy Newman

Alaska has 100,000 glaciers, the most of any US state. You can hike or kayak past some, enjoy a dog sled ride above others, or view the ice fields from a bird’s eye view with a helicopter ride.

One of the best ways to see them is on a half- or full-day small boat cruise through Prince William Sound from Whittier or Kenai Fjords National Park.

These cruises offer stunning close-up views and narration by a park ranger. You may be able to hear a glacier calving if you listen carefully.

While there’s no official guarantee you’ll see wildlife, it’s rare that a trip doesn’t come across at least one harbor seal, otter or Dall’s porpoise swimming in the icy waters.

Be sure to bring plenty of layers and protection for outdoor activities

The weather in Alaska is unpredictable. Sometimes you can enjoy winter, spring, summer and autumn all in one day.

Check the forecast before you go and dress in layers. Stay dry and warm with moisture-wicking socks – not cotton, as they don’t dry as quickly – as well as an insulating mid-layer, such as a fleece, and a waterproof jacket.

Sturdy sneakers or sandals should be fine for paved trails, but for more strenuous hikes or walks in the woods, opt for waterproof boots to keep your feet dry and protected.

If you’re heading into the woods, bring a bell or whistle to alert bears to your presence. Bear spray won’t hurt either. Just make sure you know how to use it.

And before you go, make sure someone knows your route in case you run into trouble.

It’s important to know your limits and not push them.

I lived in Alaska for 21 years.  Here are 10 things tourists should know before visiting.

A view of Anchorage, Alaska from Flattop.Jay Junon/Shutterstock

Alaska is as beautiful as it is unforgiving – even the most experienced adventurers can find themselves in trouble.

There is no shame in knowing your limits and taking it “slowly”.

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 city’s most popular destinations.

Remember Alaskans are still Americans

Unless you live outside of the lower 48 (what many Alaskans call the continental United States), don’t ask us if we can exchange your money, speak English, or airmail your postcards.

Some Alaskans may revel in their independent spirit, but we’re still Americans.

It’s not just seafood for dinner

I lived in Alaska for 21 years.  Here are 10 things tourists should know before visiting.

Seafood is abundant in Alaska.Dani_King/Shutterstock

Seafood is king in Alaska, and there’s no shortage of places that do it well.

But there’s more to Alaska’s culinary landscape than just seafood. Chefs across the state showcase fresh Alaskan ingredients, from garden vegetables to locally raised yak and pork.

There’s barbecue, Filipino-Hawaiian fusion, German and Danish cuisine, and steaks that can rival the fanciest steakhouse in the south (another reference to the continental United States).

The food truck scene is also thriving with various options. From fusion and Guatemalan-American pancakes to reindeer dogs and Mexican food, you’ll find it all at weekly carnivals and weekend markets, as well as outside local breweries, distilleries and cider houses.

Driving can be slow, so give yourself more time

Summer is construction season in Alaska, which often means longer than expected driving times.

Many roads also only have two lanes, so a crash or rockslide can add minutes to hours to your trip. Be sure to create a healthy cushion in your driving times to account for any delays.

Don’t try to explore all of Alaska in a week

I lived in Alaska for 21 years.  Here are 10 things tourists should know before visiting.

A view of Anchorage, Alaska.Tim Hancock/Shutterstock

Alaska covers 663,300 square miles, nearly two and a half times the size of Texas. It is therefore practically impossible to see everything in a single week.

Instead of stuffing everything, focus your visit on a single region or small area. The less time you spend in the car, the more you will have to truly explore.

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