Alaska – the research starts here

Think of Alaska. What does it conjure up? In my imagination it’s a wilderness of rugged mountains and icy water, glaciers and whales. For our family it will, in about 4 years time, mark the start of our grand adventure, a trip that we hope will take us from Alaska’s glaciers to those at the tip of Argentina. We plan to travel the length of the Americas on a tour that will be taken by boat, car, train and, where necessary, plane. Most of the time we plan to travel on our own, forging our way across the landscape, leaning on each other for support and entertainment. At other times though, we will travel as part of a group, with a guide, using their expertise to take us through some of the more challenging regions. Travelling with young children brings responsibility, of course. Not like the relatively carefree days of the solo travelling I did in my twenties.

The summer holidays are well and truly over, the kids are back at school and nursery, so it’s a good time to start the research part of our grand adventure plan. Each month (or so) we will look at a different country (or state) that we will be travelling to. In each country we will take a similar approach, looking at key information, such as language, safety and visas as well as working out the best way to travel through it, and the top spots to see. Part of this research is intended to help us plan our journey, to work out the best way to see as much of a country as possible while not straying too far from our route. This information will also be used as a way of engaging the children, closer to the time, and talking about the places we are going.


  • Capital: Juneau – did you know it’s effectively an island city as the only access for transport is by plane or boat? It’s not connected to anywhere else on the North American mainline by car as the terrain is too rugged
  • Population: just over 700,000 people live in Alaska, in over 500,000 square miles of land. That amounts to just under 1 square mile per person.
  • Language: English is the main language, but 20 Alaska Native languages are also recognised by the state including Tlingit and Inupiaq
  • Currency: US $
  • National dish: does Alaska has a famed national dish? My research hasn’t revealed one but it seems like many places, the emphasis is on eating local produce, so fish, including black cod, and shellfish, including King Crab, wild berries, reindeer and moose all feature on an Alaskan food must-try list
  • Highest peak: Mount McKinley (Denali), at 6,193m (20.320 ft) it’s also the highest mountain on the North American continent. Denali, the Indian name for the peak, means ‘The Great One’
  • Literary fact: I couldn’t create a FACTFILE without including a literary fact, or adding to my TBR list. Writer and adventurer, Jack London spent the winter of 1897 in the Yukon and from that experience wrote the books, “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.”  The Guardian has helpfully also put together a list of ten books to read about Alaska.
  • Longest river: The Yukon River, almost 2,000 miles long, is the third longest river in the U.S. There are more than 3,000 rivers in Alaska and over 3 million lakes. The largest, Lake Iliamna, encompasses over 1,000 square miles.

So how best to travel from Alaska, we are thinking Anchorage, to Vancouver, Canada? The clue lies in the description of its capital – only accessible by boat or plane. With its mountainous landscape riddled with rivers and lakes, Alaska is not the place for a road trip, at least not a road trip with a specific timescale in mind. My early research has revealed a variety of boats that we can take from which we will still see some of the best that Alaska has to offer without straying too far from our route. There are big cruises, smaller cruises and ferries to consider. All of them have their pros and cons. It will be an exciting first step to make, choosing which type of voyage to join. We welcome any thoughts on your experiences. I love the idea of a small cruise, but fear that might be the most expensive option, though in a few years time, that may have changed.

mountainous landscape riddled with rivers

Whilst we are away it will be important to make the most of any clear educational opportunities that each country and region presents. Alaska will certainly tick some key topics off the list – glaciers, both how they are formed and the fact that they are under threat due to climate change; the diversity of marine life as well as the animals that live in its national parks; its northerly latitude and how the population have adapted to thrive in the cold climate; and, finally, life at sea, which can encompass tourist boats, as well as harbour life, fishing, conservation expeditions and commercial shipping.

Next stop – Canada


Published by grandadventurestory

I’m Debbie. Together with 'MrP' and our 7 and 9 year old boys every day trip and holiday we take is an adventure of sorts. We’re planning a family sabbatical, our Grand Adventure, but in the meantime we love exploring closer to home

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