Alaska experts share their 2019 must-do lists

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Kennecott National Historical Landmark in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is an essential stop, says Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO.com.
Kennecott National Historical Landmark in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is an essential stop, says Erin Kirkland of AKontheGO.com. Photo Credit: Reinhard Pantke
Renee Brincks
Renee Brincks

As Alaska commemorates 60 years of statehood in 2019, the destination remains popular with leisure and business travelers from the Lower 48 and beyond.

Expanded capacity is projected to boost the state's cruise traffic by 17% in 2019, following a 7% jump in 2018. Air and ferry traffic were also up in summer 2018. New aurora tours, Alaska Railroad itineraries, dog-mushing experiences and other winter additions are drawing more seasonal guests, while hotel updates and self-drive packages have expanded year-round travel options across the state.

As destinations introduce new attractions and accommodations, Alaska's classic activities continue to lure travelers, as well. To help navigate all the options, we asked some of the state's travel experts to share their 2019 Alaska travel to-do lists.

Must-visit destinations

"The small communities of McCarthy-Kennecott are remote, but worth every hour of effort to get there. Part of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Kennecott National Historical Landmark is an exquisite renovation of the old Kennecott Copper Mine town, with hiking, glacier walking and climbing, and an amazing historical area to explore. Five miles down the road, McCarthy is tiny, with no outside vehicles permitted to visit. It was built to offset the 'no drinking/carousing' rules of Kennecott back in the 1930s, and now has somewhat of the same reputation, albeit a lot calmer today. Stay at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge (yes, two different spellings and guests will learn why when they visit)." -- Erin Kirkland, founder and publisher of AKontheGO.com

"Sitka is where it all started: a native settlement for 10,000 years, then colonial Russia's new world capital, and finally the last frontier for Americans. The entire Alaskan experience, including world-class sports fishing and wildlife viewing, is steps from your front door." -- Sherry Aitken, Visit Sitka director of tourism

"Travel to the Aleutians is becoming more popular, with cruise lines like Viking, Windstar and more stopping in Unalaska. This Southwest Alaska destination is a big draw for people who want to explore the untouched beauty of a remote destination. In Unalaska, visitors can go out on a day cruise to look for whales, hike on various trails or spend the day exploring World War II history." -- Alaska Travel Industry Association

Tours that shouldn't be missed

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage. Photo Credit: Brian Adams

"In 2019, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) in Portage will have a new wolf encounter where guests can get up-close with Dirus, the white wolf. Plus, AWCC always has something new to see, and in 2019 will have several new animals on display. The center welcomed five new wood bison calves, one female reindeer calf, five elk calves, one moose calf, one reindeer steer, one male porcupette (baby porcupine), one male musk ox calf, and one male ferret in late 2018. Guests can see those new animals and others like moose, bears, and foxes nearly every day of the year." -- Alaska Travel Industry Association

"Want to see bears? One must go beyond the usual and travel to Wrangell's Anan Wildlife Observatory, operated by the Tongass National Forest. It is the only place where black and brown bears congregate to fish for salmon, and it can only be reached by float plane or boat. Visitors must be able to hike about three-quarters of a mile through bear country to see the observation deck and the bears. It. Is. Amazing." -- Erin Kirkland

Activities to try

"Explore Knik Glacier from Knik River Lodge. The lodge itself has spectacular views of the Chugach Mountains, and then you helicopter out to the glacier to kayak, mush a dog team, trek around or simply sightsee. It's an amazing experience in a location that is one of Alaska's best-kept secrets." -- Casey Ressler, Mat-Su Convention & Visitors Bureau communications manager

"Alaska's four-legged athletes love to run, and accessing Alaska's state sport -- dog mushing -- has never been easier. Tour a working kennel, try a 30-minute ride in a dog sled basket, learn to drive your own team or fly to a remote lodge and mush your own team on an extended guided tour." -- Jerry Evans, Explore Fairbanks public relations manager

"In Whittier, Phillips Cruises & Tours will have a new catamaran welcoming its first guests in spring 2019. The M/V Bravest is a high-speed catamaran that can carry 285 passengers and includes USB charging stations at every table to make sure your phone doesn't run out of battery as guests snap pictures of the pristine scenery. The M/V Bravest will be used for the signature 26 Glacier Cruise, offering guests views of glaciers in Blackstone Bay and the chance of a whale surfacing at any moment." -- Alaska Travel Industry Association

Dream hotel stays

"The Sheldon Chalet is a dream Alaska experience. You fly into the Alaska Range from Talkeetna, and the chalet sits on a nunatak above the Don Sheldon Amphitheater just 10 miles from the summit of Denali. It is a luxurious stay in one of the most beautiful and remote places on the planet." -- Casey Ressler

"Winterlake Lodge or Tutka Bay Lodge: luxury, incredible cuisine, impeccable class and operated by a longtime Alaska family." -- Erin Kirkland

"Spend the night in a Borealis Basecamp dome and feel the magic. Spacious interiors provide plenty of room for aurora-viewing and relaxing. With comfortable beds and luxurious linens, guests snuggle in for a night of gazing upon the starry Arctic sky through an expansive, clear ceiling." -- Jerry Evans

"Orca Island Cabins offers visitors unique yurt accommodations on a private island in scenic Humpy Cove in Resurrection Bay, in Southcentral Alaska. The cove is a nine-mile boat trip from Seward and the perfect place to experience whale watching, kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, fishing, hiking -- or even just sitting back and relaxing by the fire with a glass of wine or perusing the island's art gallery." -- Alaska Travel Industry Association

Other only-in-Alaska experiences

"The annual World Eskimo-Indian Olympic Games (WEIO) will take place at the Carlson Center in Fairbanks from July 17 to 20, 2019. A four-day series of traditional Alaska Native athletic competitions, WEIO draws Native athletes and dancers from around the state, the United States, Canada and Greenland, as well as visitors, fans and media from around the globe. In addition to athletic competitions, WEIO also offers indigenous dances, authentic arts and crafts for sale, pageants and other cultural activities." -- Jerry Evans

"Try summer skiing in the midnight sun. You will definitely earn your turns in Sitka, but not many can brag about skiing a volcano or discovering a land-locked glacier." -- Sherry Aitken

"Legend has it the Mount Marathon in Seward began as a bet between two sourdoughs who argued about the possibility of ascending and descending the mountain in less than an hour. Billed as the toughest 5k on the planet, this race often ends with scraps, bruises, and glory as men, women and juniors speed-climb a mountain to the top and then run to the bottom. The 2019 race takes place July 4, 2019. The winner gets a trophy, bragging rights and a paid entry fee in future races." -- Alaska Travel Industry Association

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