Check out these 12 unique things you can do in Alaska

Travelers come to Alaska to admire the glaciers; go fishing; see bears, whales, and other wildlife; learn about Alaska Native culture and gold rush history; eat king crab; and, in winter, watch the Northern Lights, and that list doesn’t even scratch the surface of things to do there.

The vast 49th state offers a new “wow” experience every time you visit, which I’ve learned from regularly traveling through Alaska since the mid-1990s.

My own experiences led me to partner with Midgi Moore, who runs food tours in Juneau, to write the book 100 Things to Do in Alaska Before You Die.

We both thought we knew Alaska pretty well, but our jaws dropped once we got into our deep research for the book.

These are some of my favorite discoveries of things to do in Alaska.

Practice yoga with reindeer

Running Reindeer Ranch offers yoga classes accompanied by reindeer. RUNNING REINDEER RANCH/FACEBOOK

Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks has a private herd of reindeer, and each animal has its own name and personality. In winter, it is a pleasure to walk with them through the snow and the boreal forest, to see them hop, jump and stroll through the trees and make themselves known. In summer, some of the reindeer join the humans for yoga classes.

As you pose for an hour-long Hatha or Vinyasa-style session ($20) with a certified instructor, reindeer calves move between the mats, sometimes peering up at you.

climb sand dunes

Kobuk Valley National Park and the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are 35 miles above the Arctic Circle and not easy to get to: You have to take an air taxi from the remote town of Kotzebue, about 80 miles from distance. However, adventurers will be rewarded with 25 square miles of shifting golden sand dunes up to 150 feet tall.

This is Alaska that looks like the Sahara, and sometimes has 125 degree temperatures to match. The dunes are a product of the Ice Age, some 28,000 years ago, when sand was ground up by retreating glaciers and washed down the valley. The park is home to unique wildflowers and wildlife, bears occasionally roam, and there is a herd of caribou that passes by twice a year.

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Sail the far north of the Pacific

Alaska has its own “Surf City” Yakutat, with a population of about 660 inhabitants. Given its beautiful location, about 30 miles from Hubbard Glacier, the world’s longest tidewater glacier, the town was once the cover of Surfer magazine. Outside magazine called Yakutat “one of the top five surf cities in America.”

Yakutat is about 200 miles west of Juneau. Cold 25-foot waves, plus a backdrop of rain forest and snow-capped mountains, attract surfers from around the world in summer.

Bear Watching at Kodiak Brown Bear Center

Owned and operated by the Alutiiq Tribe of the Kodiak Islands, the Kodiak Brown Bear Center & Lodge offers visitors a look into the life of the island’s most famous resident, the Kodiak Brown bear. Only eight guests are allowed at a time on this bear-watching experience, which runs from late July through September. Guests stay in comfortable private cabins and take daily tours to see bears and other local wildlife.

Bear viewing at the Kodiak Brown Bear Center is particularly unique due to its low-impact approach to bear viewing, which is based on traditional Alutiiq values ​​that honor and respect the land and its inhabitants. These values ​​are evident in everything the center does, from its renewable energy and sustainable business practices to locally sourced native ingredients in its food and, of course, its minimally invasive approach to wildlife viewing.

Snorkel in cold water

Alaska’s cold waters are teeming with colorful marine life. NON-CRUISE ADVENTURE/FACEBOOK

One of my personal favorite experiences in Alaska is putting on a wetsuit or dry suit and snorkeling in Southeast Alaska. The cool, invigorating, good-to-be-alive experience comes with bragging rights.

It’s amazing how colorful the sea creatures are in the raw weather: bright red, orange, and purple starfish, large red sea urchins, and pink sea anemones. if you go with Snorkel Alaska, located in Ketchikan, you may see salmon swimming by (the water there is usually 55 degrees or higher).

Jumping off a small UnCruise Adventures cruise ship, I once came face to face with an octopus.

See a drilling tide

Alaska is one of the best places in the world to see a drilling tide, when an incoming tide collides with an outgoing tide and sends a long wave traveling through a narrow channel.

Turnagain Arm, just south of Anchorage, is the Alaskan location for this phenomenon. First, the water stays very still; then, there is a roar, and a wall of water up to 10 feet high moves through. Waves arrive at low tide in Anchorage and move slowly enough that you can drive past them on the Seward Highway.

The best viewing is from April to October. Click on the Visit the Anchorage tide chart for time and size predictions.

Watch a rocket launch

Alaska has not one, but two places where you can see a rocket launch.

the Pacific Spaceport Complex Alaska on Kodiak Island conducts orbital and suborbital launches of government, military, and commercial rockets and satellites. The advantage of the location, on state-owned land about 44 miles from the city of Kodiak, is a wide horizon over the North Pacific. You can see the launch pads from a distance. When there is a launch, you can watch it from roads or ships.

The Poker Flat Research Field at the University of Alaska Fairbanks is the largest ground-based rocket research field in the world. It is also the only high-latitude rocket range in the US, located in the Aurora Oval. The launches take place on clear nights, mainly between January and March, a good time to study the northern lights (northern lights).

It’s a bit tricky to spot a rocket at Poker Flats as the launch window can be days or weeks, but you can follow the plans at the Geophysical Institute. twitter page or sign up for updates. The facility is sometimes open for tours.

See ancient petroglyphs

Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site preserves a large collection of mysterious petroglyphs. IMAGES BARRY WINIKER/GETTY

On a beach in the remote fishing town of Wrangell, there are mysterious rock carvings made by ancient indigenous people. Petroglyph Beach State Historic Site has the highest concentration of petroglyphs in Southeast Alaska, with more than 40 creations believed to be more than 8,000 years old.

The exact origins of the petroglyphs are unknown, but they are believed to predate the Tlingit people. Their purpose is also unknown, but some theorize they were a form of communication, perhaps directions to a fishing spot. Or, they may have simply been a means of artistic expression. The best time to see the glyphs is at low tide.

Learn more about Alaska Natives

For visitors interested in learning more about the indigenous communities living in Alaska today, Sitka Tribal Tours offer opportunities to learn not only about the history of the Sitka Tribe, but also how these traditions live on in the community.

Residents of the Sitka community take visitors on tours that explore the local culture, nature, and history of the area and tribe. Stops include the Sitka National Historical Park, where guests can get an overview of salmon cycles and learn about the area’s edible and medicinal plants, and the Alaska Raptor Center, which provides treatment for bald eagles injured which are then released into the wild.

Take a look at vintage cars and vintage clothing.

Since Fairbanks is pretty remote, you might not expect to find a world-class car collection there. However, that is exactly what you will find in the Fountainhead Antique Car Museum, one of the city’s top attractions.

The museum is owned by hoteliers and is housed in a warehouse on one of their properties. Inside is a collection of more than 95 restored or preserved cars, all pre-World War II; all but three are still drivable. Around 65 to 75 cars are on display at any one time.

The oldest car is a Hay motor vehicle from 1898. As you go back in time at the museums, you’ll find such delights as a 1936 Packard 1408 Series Double Windshield Phaeton.

Because luxury cars and glamor go hand in hand, the museum also has a world-class vintage clothing collection including drool-worthy Parisian dresses.

Visit the relics of a saint

Saint Herman of Alaska was born in Russia and came to Kodiak as a monk and missionary in 1794. He became known as a defender and protector of the local Alutiiq population, including establishing a school and caring for orphans. He was canonized by the Orthodox Church in 1970.

You can visit the remains of Saint Herman and the main relics, including an iron cross he used, in the impressive blue-domed Saint. Orthodox Cathedral of the Resurrection in Kodiak.

In the cathedral, Orthodox priests use holy water from a lampada (oil lamp) that burns continuously on the wooden reliquary to anoint visiting pilgrims from around the world. The oil is said to have healing qualities.

Another pilgrimage destination is the burial place of Saint Herman on Spruce Island, just off Kodiak.

More information about hammers

Quirky Haines is a fitting setting for the strangely fascinating Hammer Museum. IMAGES JOHN ELK/GETTY

If you remember the old TV show “Northern Exposure,” Haines is the kind of small, remote Alaska that comes to mind: quirky, fun, and full of interesting locals. One of them, Dave Pahl, started collecting old tools and became fascinated with their use, which eventually led to the largest collection of hammers in the world.

The Four-Room Nonprofit Hammer Museum has some 10,000 hammers in its collection, with a couple thousand on display at any given time. Why visit? The collection is a journey through history beginning with a rock hammer used to build the Pyramid of Menkaure in Giza, Egypt.

In addition to traditional nail-driving instruments, there are hammers used in medicine, by musicians, in battle, and to tenderize meat.

Additional reporting by Lynn Brown.

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