Your Alaska Pre-Cruise Guide: Anchorage, the Seward Highway, and Seward
Explore Alaska’s wildlands via a cruise. Voyages provide easy access to the state’s wild places that lack roads. Before sailing, spend time in Anchorage to learn about Alaska’s Native nations and to discover Alaska’s artists. Along the scenic highway from Anchorage to Seward, admire the snow-capped mountains and Arctic terns. At the Conservation Center, see eagles, black bear, bison and even a grizzly. In Seward, go dog sledding even if there’s no snow.
Alaska presents some of America’s last great wildlands, with expanses of glacial ice fields, fingerlike fjords, pristine lakes, and lush rainforests. Because much of this region is roadless, one of the easiest ways to see this spectacular terrain is to take an Inside Passage or a Gulf of Alaska cruise. Since more Americans are concerned about the safety of international travel, Alaska cruises have increased dramatically in popularity during the last two years.The ships typically depart from Seattle, San Francisco, Vancouver, Whittier or Seward, a popular port 127 miles south of Anchorage, home to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Spend time in Anchorage exploring Native culture and the work of Alaskan artists before driving the 127-miles to Seward. Along this scenic route, view snow-capped mountains across the silty water, and with luck, maybe a few beluga whales. Once in Seward, consider spending a day to dog sled and explore
Alaska Native Heritage Center: This museum and outdoor park introduces visitors to the beliefs, culture and crafts of 11 Alaska Native nations. “Stories Give, Stories Shared,” the film showing in the theater, provides background. Native dancers and storytellers perform and wood carvers and other artists demonstrate their crafts. Dwellings outside showcase traditional lodgings of six Native peoples: Athabascans, from the state’s interior; Yup’ik and Cup’ik from the west coast; Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik; Aleut and Alutiiq from the north Pacific; and Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian from the southeast.
Anchorage Museum: This museum, the largest in Alaska, uses art, history, and science to present 10,000 years of Alaska’s history. Outside the facility, sculptures evoke aspects of Alaskan culture. Figures by Rachelle Dowdy possess human legs but the torso and heads of a moose, a bear, a bird or a wolf. The main exhibit, “Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska,” features 600 objects loaned from the Smithsonian’s collections, including a Tlingit war helmet, an Inupiaq feast bowl, as well as clothing and other items. Kids can get hands-on at the Discovery Center.
The Polar Bear Garden uses archival and contemporary photographs and artifacts to explore the relationship between Alaska and Russia. On view through September 17, 2017. The museum’s $24 million expansion to create four additional art galleries is slated to be completed in September 2017.
Seward Highway and Seward
The 127-mile road connecting Anchorage to Seward is one of America’s great drives, affording views of icy blue glaciers, waterfalls, and slopes green with spruce trees and purple with wildflowers. Along the way, pause to enjoy the views and visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, milepost 84: The nonprofit organization rescues, rehabilitates and, when possible, releases the animals. On the facility’s 200 acres, you might see moose, bald eagles, black bears, muskox and bison as well as Hugo, a female grizzly bear and permanent resident because she’s lost the skills to forage in the wild. Book ahead for special tours that take you behind the scenes to the food preparation and other areas and can get you close to the animals.
Dog sledding: A working dog is a wonder to watch. Sled dogs, often husky and malamute mixes, have a fierce determination to run. In summer, when there’s no snow, several Seward-based companies harness their dog teams to wheeled sleds, pulling visitors through the scenery. The Seavey family, winners of three Iditarod championships, operate Ididaride Sled Dog Tours. Their dogs whisk you through a two-mile patch of wilderness. Back at the kennel, tour the facilities and see the husky puppies.
Alaska SeaLife Center: Steller sea lions, harbor seals, tufted puffins and other animals are displayed at this research and conservation facility. Want to discover what it feels like when a giant Pacific octopus slides one of her eight arms lined with suckers over yours? Then sign up for the Octopus Experience. During the Puffin Encounter, meet the birds and help feed them.