Last week I shared three of five AKontheGO favorite adventures for kids and parents visiting the Last Frontier. As the most popular season for Alaska travel approaches with rapid speed, today I bring you the final two. Excellent destinations, they are, diverse in activity and environment, but similarly suited for family travel.
If you recall, I did offer the disclaimer that our five favorites might not be your favorites, but it is indeed a good starting point. Are you ready? Let’s go southeast and a bit northeast today!
Sitka: I’m charmed by this historic southeast Alaska community, every time, for Sitka always seems to have one more activity or event or opportunity for kids to explore their natural world. From walking paths to cultural dancing and hands-on science, the town of Sitka wants young people to learn about their community and world in a very global sense, important for a town located on an island. Sitka is located on Baranof Island, a large but inaccessible hunk of spruce and rocky shoreline reachable only by boat or plane. With strong Russian and Alaska Native influence, Sitka has always held a special place in Alaskans’ hearts, for it was here that the seat of government was established and merchant mariners stopped by on their way to and from the profitable seas nearby. Known as the “Paris of the Pacific,” Sitka was an international melting pot of culture, tradition, and money, evidence of which still stands today.
Reach Sitka by taking Alaska Airlines from Seattle, Juneau, or Anchorage. Or, take the Alaska Marine Highway (ferry) from other points in southeast Alaska, enjoying the leisurely pace and stunning scenery.
Take time to walk the downtown core, taking advantage of excellent pathways and interesting architecture. Be sure to stop by the Sitka National Historical Park and explore the many totems scattered around the treed site, or go beachcombing along the shoreline. A Junior Ranger program is available for kids, and parents will enjoy the story behind the totems, including a fascinating history of a bloody battle fought there between Russian fur traders and Tlingit Native groups.
Don’t miss the Sitka Sound Science Center, located just west of the National Historical Park, with a touch tank, kids’ programs, and lots of marine life visuals. The Alaska Raptor Center a few miles away hosts the only indoor flight center for injured raptors seeking to try their newly-healed wings. Kids will like the presentation about eagles or owls, too, and wooded trails are great for an afternoon stroll. NOTE: Do be bear aware everywhere in Sitka. Make noise, travel in groups, and keep kids close. The New Archangel Dancers are a women-only troupe (ask them why and they’ll share the story) celebrating Russian influences on Sitka, and Centennial Hall is where visitor information about lodging, restaurants, and other fun activities can be found.
Discover more amazing Sitka adventures beginning on page 240 of Alaska On the Go: Exploring the 49th state with children.
McCarthy and Kennecott National Historical Park: Looking for a family road trip into backcountry Alaska? The journey to Kennecott and McCarthy is unforgettable, especially for kids. Located at the end of a 60-mile dirt road that used to be a railroad bed, the town of McCarthy and adjoining former mining community of Kennecott is worth the time and effort to arrive.
Copper was hot in the early days of the 20th century, and the mine grew into quite a successful operation, inoperable now but still boasting enormous buildings and abandoned machinery. Currently under restoration by the National Park Service, Kennecott is a fascinating place to visit with kids; Junior Ranger programs, miles of trails, glaciers, and bike routes to explore, and equally-fascinating people, most of whom live in nearby McCarthy, five miles back down the road.
McCarthy is the result of Kennecott’s success; while the mine community was quite respectable and quiet during the work week, everybody went to McCarthy to party on the holidays and weekends, and it’s still like that. While only a handful of hardy souls reside there year-round, McCarthy folks love to hike, bike, flightsee, and climb, and they love to bring visitors along.
We bring mountain bikes and hiking boots for adventures around the mountains, staying overnight at the beautiful Kennicott Glacier Lodge (yep, two different spellings). With sweeping views of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the lodge offers hospitality we just keep returning to savor.
No non-resident vehicles are allowed in McCarthy-Kennecott, so one must park on the other side of a pedestrial bridge and walk/bike gear and kids across. It’s half the fun and provided us a worthwhile opportunity to explain the history and culture of this small Alaska community to our son.
Read about the road trip to McCarthy-Kennecott, and especially the precautions one must take if driving the Edgerton Highway between the town of Chitina and McCarthy, on page 312 of Alaska On the Go.