Accessible Solitude in The Last Frontier: Seven Great Places in Alaska

By Mike Dunham & Kris Capps
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Mount McKinley rises above a clear lake, Alaska
Mount McKinley rises above a clear lake, Alaska  (Jupiterimages/

In Alaska’s nickname, the key word is “frontier.” Not only is the state’s immense wilderness it’s biggest draw, but also, very little in the state is easy to reach. And the select accessible destinations are thronged by bus and cruise sightseers during the summer season. Even Alaskans themselves mob some sites, like popular salmon streams when the fish are running or Flattop Mountain above Anchorage. In general, to experience the wild without another person in sight, you need the help of a bush pilot or river guide. Unless, like a few (and a very few at that) natives of the state, you know where to go. Here are seven prime insider spots that are off the beaten path yet still accessible to anyone with a car… or 4WD vehicle. 

Denali Highway
Once the only land route to Mount McKinley, the Denali Highway remains much the same—an unpaved and lonely stretch of road. It runs 135 miles between Paxson and Cantwell, along the south side of the Alaska Mountain Range. The scenery is grand, with snow-capped peaks visible on all sides and Mount McKinley itself appearing on the horizon as you approach Cantwell. Camp virtually anywhere along the roadside but keep in mind that this highway closes after the snow falls. There are just a couple roadside cafés/motels along the way, so pack plenty of food and water, as well as a set of spare tires.

Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival
Fairbanks is a popular destination, but the best kept secret is one of its events of the past 30 years: the Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival. Every July, hundreds of people from around the world gather here for two weeks of study and performance. This festival is unique because it offers everything from healing arts to classical music training to visual arts.

Top of the World Highway/Eagle
This two-lane gravel road branches off the Taylor Highway, which connects the Alaska Highway with the Yukon River at Eagle. The trip to Eagle adds 66 miles each way on a winding, narrow dirt road (plan two hours driving one way). It’s worth it. Eagle is a village frozen in time, a treasure of a gold-rush town with many original buildings full of original artifacts from a century ago. It’s authentic and non-commercial and features the basics: a store, a café, a motel, and B&B.

Published: 11 May 2012 | Last Updated: 29 May 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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