A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: 41°/65°/Mostly cloudy
The round-rumped grizzly bear ambled toward us, and I swallowed a scream and the urge to run. It had 6 million acres of Denali National Park and Preserve wilderness in which to roam, yet somehow this bear had managed to find my backpacking partner and me, alone on the Savage River.
Southcentral towns outside Anchorage often have a wide selection of lodging to accommodate visitors who come to town for a weekend's relaxation, to fish or to show off the state to relatives.
Western Alaska's grand expanse of terrain, water and wildlife attracts many visitors with an interest in the outdoors. Its larger cities -- Kodiak, Bethel, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Nome -- put up quite a few visitors and governmental and commercial guests for the night.
Hotels in Barrow and Kotzebue, in Northern Alaska, cater to tour groups, which arrive by plane from Anchorage or Fairbanks.
Denali Star rolls past big rivers and historic towns
The Alaska Railroad was once the sole means of getting to Denali National Park. Now there are more and faster options, but the romance of the rails is still there.
Between the 1920s and the 1950s, the railroad carried sightseers to the park. Vehicles that were to be driven on the park's road were ferried to the park on flatcars.
The Denali Star, which links the park with Anchorage and Fairbanks, carries hundreds of passengers to and from Denali north and south each day. Although the line provides the actual transportation, it's also a destination in itself. A speed of about 30 mph gives passengers in the regular and dome cars plenty of time to watch as the city becomes forest. Moose, bears and eagles -- and sometimes caribou -- can been seen from the train as trundles along and across mighty rivers such as the Knik, Matanuska, Susitna, Chulitna and Nenana.
For just about the entire route, the train passes through gold-prospecting country. The first miners arrived a century ago. Some small operations are still worked back in the hills.
North of the park, the Denali Star edges along the Nenana as it makes its way out of the Alaska Range. Before the train reaches the coal-mining town of Healy, it will slip through tunnels and give passengers on the river side of the tracks a white-knuckle view of the silty river far below.
Daily service for Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks is offered between mid-May and mid-September. (During the winter, weekend service is available as a small train motors from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back.)
Souvenirs and casual dining are available on the train.