Alaska's interior offers mountains' majesty

FAIRBANKS -- For the purposes of tourism, Alaska is essentially two separate, major destination areas.

One is composed of the ports along the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska. The other area is the interior, home of Denali Park and the entry to the Yukon Territory and the historical Klondike gold rush region.

Here is a rundown of the attractions offered by the interior of the state and the Yukon.

  • Denali National Park. An estimated 1 million people a year enter the park in search of the wilderness experience. Environmentalists constantly argue that their presence threatens the very experience they seek; the tourist industry sees much room for properly managed expansion of that traffic without damaging the vast park's ecosystem.
  • Dominating all is North America's tallest peak, Mount McKinley, known to many locals as, simply, Denali ("the High One" in the Athabascan Indian language). McKinley, though, even at 20,320 feet, is by no means the only prominent mountain in the Alaska range that runs through the park; nearby are Mount Foraker (17,400 feet), Mount Hunter (15,573 feet) and Mount Grosson (12,800 feet). Wildlife abounds, from the small willow ptarmigan, the state bird that sometimes weighs less than a pound fully grown, to the grizzly bear and the moose, each of which can top 400 pounds.

    The Alaska Railroad operates trains daily into the park from both Anchorage and Fairbanks.

  • Fairbanks. Alaska's second-largest city, is in the middle of the state on the banks of the Chena River, about 120 miles from Denali. The city was founded, almost by accident, in 1901 when a riverboat captain refused to carry trader-entrepreneur E.T. Barnette as far up river as he wanted to go because of low water levels. Dumped on the shore, Barnette set up a trading post and when, within months, gold was discovered nearby, the city began to take shape.
  • Today, the highlights of any Fairbanks stay are a sternwheeler cruise on the Chena and Tanana Rivers, an inspection of the Trans Alaska Pipeline, a tour of a gold dredge and a visit to Alaskaland, a theme park housing original buildings and re-created early-1900s scenes.

    In the winter, Fairbanks is a prime location to view the aurora borealis.

  • Dawson. Nowhere are you closer to the Klondike gold rush area of the Yukon Territory than in this city. Just a few miles away are the waters of Bonanza Creek, where the first flecks of the precious metal were discovered in 1896, a find that led to the great stampede of 1898.
  • Located at the junction of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, Dawson is the home of Diamond Tooth Gertie's gambling Hall and burlesque show and the Fabulous Follies Gaslight Vaudeville, performed nightly during the summer at the Palace Grand Theater.

  • Whitehorse. Capital of the Yukon Territory of Canada, Whitehorse has less a frontier ambience than Dawson. As a government seat, it has large stretches of modern architecture, sophisticated restaurants and hotels and an international airport.
  • Among its attractions are the Old Log Cabin Church, which tells the story of the Anglican missionaries and their relations with the original inhabitants of the area, and the S.S. Klondike, a sternwheeler now designated a National Historic Site and open for public viewing May through September.

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