Alaska Day: Annual flag raising ceremony in Sitka, AK (Photo: Sitka CVB/William Greer)
Hooray for Alaska Day! All the talk of American exceptionalism may have taken a little hit lately, especially from our friends in Russia, but today there’s something to cheer about: In commemoration of the official transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States in 1867, a special ceremony will take place in the southeastern Alaskan town of Sitka. Down goes the Russian flag and up goes Old Glory at Castle Hill, one of the most historically important sites in Alaska, once occupied by the Tlingit, an indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest Coast, and later by the Russians.
A Little Russia … in Alaska
No word on whether Putin will be on-hand for all the Alaska Day festivities. But hundreds of locals will be — receptions, auctions, barn dances, kayak races and a whole lot more are all planned, capping off a month-long series of events that have already included a hat tip to our Russian counterparts, like a Russian food festival (check out our own Russian food tour), as well as performances of traditional Russian folk dances and a tea break at the Russian Bishop’s House, one of the few surviving examples of Russian colonial architecture in the US.
But let’s be real: You didn’t come to Alaska to see Russia … not primarily, anyway. A trip to the Last Frontier State is probably on any outdoor lover’s bucket list. But just in case you can’t take advantage of all the Alaska travel discounts that typically accompany October, fear not — this is a good time to start planning a trip to America’s 49th state over the coming months. Here’s a primer of the best times to visit Alaska and special anniversaries ahead:
Winter Travel: November to April
November is a great time to see Alaska’s northern lights and share in the excitement of the Trail Sled Dog Race (the “Last Great Race on Earth,” from Anchorage to Nome). Plus, you can watch the World Ice Art Championships in Fairbanks (Alaska’s “Golden Heart City”). This season is also a great time to enjoy outdoor Alaskan activities such as heli-skiing in Alaska, as well as snowmobiling, snowshoeing and dog mushing.
Peak Season: Mid-May to Mid-September
You’ll be among the many visitors to Alaska during peak season, but for good reason: The days are at their longest, and the temperatures their warmest, affording plenty of opportunity for hiking, river-rafting, camping, fishing and flightseeing, as well as a chance to take an Alaska road trip.
Alaska’s Marine Highway System turned 50 this year. (Photo: State of Alaska/Reinhard Pantke)
Alaska Marine Highway System: Turns 50
Explore 31 ports of call in Alaska, courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System. Spanning an amazing 3,100 miles, this ferry service, which turns 50 this year, operates along Alaska’s south-central coast. Upon arrival in ports, offers visitors a variety of activities, such as authentic native culture (totem carvings, dances, traditional music and more), as well as day cruises with local tour operators, fishing charters and more.
Under-the-Radar National Parks
Sure, Denali is a once-in-a-lifetime trip. But don’t forget Alaska’s other national parks, especially in 2014, which marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the 1964 federal law that protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in states throughout the US and is now considered one of America’s greatest conservation achievements. About 32 million of those acres can be found in Alaska — more than anywhere else in the country. Check out under-the-radar national parks like Gates of the Arctic, Lake Clark and Wrangell-St. Elias.
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