Accessible Solitude in The Last Frontier: Seven Great Places in Alaska - Page 2

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Denali National Park, Alaska
Denali National Park, Alaska  (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Denali State Park
Although about 400,000 visitors head to Denali National Park every year to see Mount McKinley, Alaskans go to Denali State Park, further south of the national park along the George Parks Highway. It has a lot less traffic and the best views of the tallest peak in North America. Roadside camping is available and backcountry hikers can tackle three- and four-day treks along Kesugi Ridge. Easy day hikes start at Byers Lake, Little Creek, and other trail heads. Stop and rent a canoe to paddle Byers Lake. Watch for black bears—they are common here.

Independence Mine
Once a sprawling hard rock gold mine, the main buildings remain intact and are maintained as a state park. Located in the Talkeetna Mountains, the site is connected by road to both Palmer and Willow. It is about a half-hour drive from Palmer, on paved highway. After the mine, the road is gravel, open only in summer, and not suitable for large RVs. The alpine terrain provides excellent hiking and, in late summer, abundant blueberries. You can take a self-guided tour on trails with interpretive panels. A rugged half-mile trail leads up to the old mill, a picturesque ruin. Other buildings have been restored, including an assay office that is a museum and the manager’s house, now a visitor center. Listen for the squeak of alpine creatures like foraging pikas or chunky-looking marmots.

Eklutna Lake
This bright blue, 10-mile-long wonder is actually within the city limits of Anchorage and supplies much of the city’s water. High mountains on all sides keep their snow through the summer. Here, you can ride mountain bikes, hike trails, or rent a canoe or kayak to paddle the lake. For a fee through the local outfitter, Lifetime Adventures, you can rent a kayak, paddle eight miles, and then ride a bike back.

Manly Hot Springs
This is a seldom-visited outpost that offers a true flavor of Bush Alaska, located 135 miles west of Fairbanks on the Elliott Highway. It offers a hot springs and a roadhouse/community center, along with a campground for overnights. The hot springs are enclosed in a greenhouse where grapes and other non-Alaskan vegetation flourish. Sometimes daffodils line the path to the pool. Admission is on the honors system.

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