Alaska’s unique history is practically as enormous as the state’s many ecosystems, climates, geology, and typography. It began at least 10,000 years ago and is told orally, visually, and physically at the many historic sites around the state.
Alaska is home to dozens of National Historic Landmark sites, National Historic Sites, National Historical Parks, National Monuments, and hundreds of properties recognized by the National Register of Historic Places. There are also four Alaska state parks (Chugach, Denali, Kachemak, and Wood-Tikchik), two National Parks (Kenai Fjords and Kobuk Valley), seven National Park and Preserves (Denali, Lake Clark, Glacier Bay, Katmai, Wrangell – St Elias, Gates of the Arctic, Noatak), two National Forests (Chugach and Tongass), and twenty-three national wildlife refuges. Now that’s a lot of history and ground to cover!
Thousands of archaeological sites, some dating back over 10,000 years, provide visitors with insights and evidence of the earliest humans and animals that roamed in Alaska. While sometimes a bit difficult to access, you can learn more about them at the Bureau of Land Management district offices in Anchorage and Fairbanks. Visiting Alaska’s historical sites can provide visitors with education, understanding, and an appreciation for the rich tapestry of Alaska’s past and a deeper connection to the state as a part of Alaska’s living legacy.
Alaska Native culture can be experienced in communities across the state. Start your exploration by visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage and then try the Alaska cultural centers and museums in Barrow, Nome, Skagway, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka.
Sitka was the capital of Alaska during the Russian era. Fueled by fur and religion, Russian exploration of Alaska began in the 1790s and early 1800s. From the Aleutian Islands to Juneau, Russian people and influences soon spanned the state. Today, you can still see and explore old Russian architecture and meet people practicing the Russian Orthodox religion.
One of Alaska’s most compelling and charismatic eras was during the Alaska Gold Rush, beginning in the late 1890s. Today, artifacts and remnants can be found in historic hot spots like Skagway, Fairbanks, Hope, Eagle, Nome, and McCarthy-Kennecott. You can even do a little mining of your own at historical stops in Fairbanks, Girdwood, and Skagway.
Alaska played a critical yet little-known role in World War II as a strategic location to fend off Japanese soldiers in the 1940s. Discover this via museums, artifacts, and bunkers galore in the Aleutian Islands, around Kodiak Island, and even as far east as Seward and Sitka. Some of Alaska’s most crucial infrastructure used today was developed during this time.
Alaska has a long history of oil exploration and discovery, but the big Alaska oil boom arrived in 1968 when oil was discovered on Alaska’s North Slope. Within ten years, the Trans Alaska Pipeline System was built, carrying oil 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. The Alaska pipeline is still in use today and can be visited in Fairbanks and seen at many stops along its route.
Discovering Alaska’s history will delight and amaze you!