Stories from Alaska

An insider's journey through Alaska's best kept secrets

Our “Top 10” Best Alaska Highlights for 2019

In Alaska, every year brings opportunities for visitors to tackle unique adventures, find new favorite outdoor activities, and discover, explore and experience more of this gigantic state and its spectacular landscapes and lifestyles. Here are our top 10 Alaska highlights from a 2019 that was filled with some amazing adventures:

#1: Alaska’s 60th Birthday 

The most important 2019 milestone in Alaska happened right after New Year’s Day and was a celebration as big as the state itself: Alaska reached 60 years of statehood on January 3, 2019. Alaska was purchased from Russian for $7.2 million in 1867 – what a deal! But despite its natural charms, wonders and resources, access to the Arctic, and strategic location for national security, Alaska lingered in territorial limbo for more than 90 years. It even took six months after President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Act (on July 4, 1958), before Alaska officially became America’s 49th state, as well as its largest and most interesting one, on January 3, 1959. Happy birthday, Alaska!

#2: New Bridge and Boardwalk for Bear Viewing on the Brooks River

In 2019, the Alaska bucket list trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve to watch Alaska’s big brown bears feeding on fat and feisty salmon up-close-and-personal along the Brooks River got even better. The National Park Service added a new elevated bridge and boardwalk across the Brooks River, improving bear viewing angles and access to the area for visitors, as well as increasing safety for all mammals onsite. The bridge had its ceremonial opening on June 20, and yes, many bears and bear watchers were in attendance.

#3: Chef Laura Cole Joins Muse Showcasing “What, Why, How We Eat” in Alaska

Visitors to the Anchorage Museum are always treated to a fantastic feast for the senses when they take in the deep and diverse collection Alaska’s historic exhibits and modern art. In 2019, that Alaska art was literally delicious in two new ways: the yearlong “What, Why, How We Eat” exhibit and a reimagining of the museum’s restaurant, Muse. The “What, Why, How We Eat” exhibit explored the relationships between Alaskans and their foods: the countless ways Alaskans of many cultures acquire and harvest food, the equally-inspired ways that they prepare those foods, the independent subsistence and freezer-filling lifestyles of many Alaskans and families, and the delicate food security dependence of living so far away from primary food sources, among other tasty topics. The exhibit remains open through early January 2020. Meanwhile at Muse, the Anchorage Museum’s restaurant, Alaska’s celebrity chef Laura Cole moved in, bringing her James Beard Award-nominated talents and her Alaska-food-focused sensibilities to create a “sustainable food, Alaska-style” menu (Alaska bouillabaisse, rhubarb lemonade, reindeer ragu) that wowed diners from Alaska and all corners of the world.

#4: Alyeska Resort Celebrates 60 Years as Alaska Skiers’ Favorite Mountain

Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s largest and most welcoming ski resort, slid gracefully into its 60th year of operations in 2019. Alyeska is the center of Alaska’s downhill skiing/snowboarding action in winter. And whatever the season, no trip to SouthCentral Alaska is complete without a visit to Alyeska and the tiny and quirky ski hamlet of Girdwood, where it’s based. Year-round, visitors can take a breathtaking tram ride up the mountain for unmatched views of Turnagain Arm, the Chugach Mountains and Girdwood below. Once up high on the mountain, you can hike or mountain bike down, enjoy a luxurious meal or glass of pinot noir at the bar, or simply take in the scenery and ride the tram back down. For skiers and snowboarders, this is Alaska’s powder paradise, offering challenging slopes and runs for all levels. The resort also provides all levels of accommodations and dining options, from fast and filling to fine and fancy.

#5: Breaking New Records for Alaska Cruise Passengers

In 2019, Alaska cruise ships arrived here carrying a new record number of curious passengers (more than 1.2 million) for the fourth straight year. The Inside Passage Alaska Cruise route through Southeast Alaska remained the most popular itinerary featuring iconic Alaska wildlife and landscapes, gleaming glaciers, and charming communities like Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Sitka, Haines, and more. The Inside Passage’s unique Alaska history, cultural experiences and access to adventures make for never-ending options for off-ship fun.

There was also an uptick in visits to off the beaten path ports and travel destinations within Alaska. Way out near the end of the Aleutian Islands is Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the remote, rough and reality-TV-famous port for ships and crews from the television show “The Deadliest Catch.” In 2019, it hosted 18 cruiseship visits, a new community record. And then there’s the unlikely busy cruise ship port of Nome, far up Northeast Alaska along the often unforgiving Bering Sea. Nome is known more for being the final destination for many the most hardcore Gold Rush prospectors and remains the finish line of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. And now it’s also a stopping point for luxury cruise liners that travel via the Northwest Passage from Greenland, something that was improbable if not impossible just 10 years ago. When one particular vessel, the MS Roald Amundsen, arrived in Nome on Sept. 10, 2019, it staked a claim as the world’s first hybrid electric-powered expedition ship to traverse the Northwest Passage.

Cruise Ship Arrival -HAL Collection

#6: Princess Cruises is 50 Years Old

Speaking of cruises, one of Alaska’s most popular and enduring carriers, Princess Cruises, marked 50 years of traveling to and from the state in 2019. It celebrated this historic year by sending its largest ever number of passengers north to Alaska, as well as one of its largest vessels. Back in its first year, 1969, the Princess Italia was its first ship to travel to Alaska, carrying 525 passengers. In 2019, the Royal Princess arrived with more than 3,500 guests, making it Princess Cruises’ largest ship to serve the state.

#7: Anchorage Airport Welcomes New Air Carriers and Expanded Flight Schedules

While Alaska waters welcomed cruise ships, those who wanted to get to Alaska as quickly as possible in 2019 boarded planes and set a summer record for traveling through Anchorage’s Ted Stevens International Airport Anchorage. The state’s hub airport saw a passenger increase of 2.5 percent (76,000 extra passengers) between May and September over 2018, setting a new high. It was the second summer in a row that passenger traffic increased. Officials credited the expansion of flights offered by its Alaska’s regular carriers and the addition of new airlines offering services to, from and around the Last Frontier. Each year, more than 5 million people fly though Ted Stevens International Airport.

#8: Alaska Brewery Tours Are A Hot New Trend

In recent years, Alaska-brewed beers and cold craft beverages have become hot topics around the state, country and world. As breweries keep bubbling up in Alaska’s urban areas and small towns, and established brands continue growing their cult-like followings, ambitious entrepreneurs offered increased access to thirsty beer connoisseurs and the inquisitive suds-sippers with more Alaska brewery tours than ever in 2019. These tours transport attendees to multiple breweries, and even multiple neighborhoods and communities, over the course of a few hours. At each stop, they can learn about the beer-building processes, appreciate the Alaska-infused ingredients, and, of course, sample the breweries’ best. Don’t have time to tour? Many Alaska-owned restaurants and bars proudly stock as many of the state’s beers as possible, appreciating the craving and curiosity around the craft brews.

#9: Alaska Fishing Derby Trophies Go to Talented Anglers (both Men and Women)

Alaska fishing fanatics traveling to the land of salmon and halibut, gear up! There are some whoppers out there waiting to be caught! Each summer, a series of fishing derbies take place around the state’s hottest angling spots, and in 2019, there were some legit lunkers landed. At the 64th annual Seward Silver Salmon Derby, Alaskan Michelle Murray of Eagle River won with her 15.99-pound catch. Meanwhile, the 13th annual Seward Halibut Derby was won by Guy Minske of Anchorage, who muscled in a 257.8-pound monster halibut. Valdez is also abuzz with derby action every summer: its 2019 Valdez Halibut Derby was won by Christine Ives of Fairbanks, who pulled in a 285.6-pound barndoor halibut, and its 2019 Silver Salmon Derby was won by Tom Karlsten of St. Cloud, Florida, who pulled in a 15.32-pound silver. In the 73rd annual Golden North Salmon Derby in Juneau, Steven Bogert of nearby Douglas reeled in the top fish with his 24-pound king salmon. And Alaska’s most urban and unexpected fisheries in downtown Anchorage hosted the Slam’n Salm’n Derby along Ship Creek. Robert George III was the 2019 derby champ with his impressive 30.35-pound king salmon.

#10: World Ice Art Championship  Moves to Fairbanks

The nicest ice carvings found a new home in Fairbanks in 2019, as the World Ice Art Championship (Ice Alaska) moved to the Tanana Valley State Fairgrounds for its 28th season. Each year, from mid-February to the end of March, ice carvers, volunteers and attendees come from all over the world to celebrate incredible ice art, outdoor Alaska fun, and the transition from the Interior’s deepest, darkest winter days to the impending warmer and brighter spring. While the temps and the ice might be cool, the competition remains fiery as artists create elaborate, delicate and fantastic carvings in one-person, two-person, single-block (1-2 people), multi-block (four people), youth and amateur classes. These ice sculptures and this ice park must be seen to be believed, especially at night when the area is colorfully lit, adding to the festive and frosty vibe.

World Championship Ice Art festival in Fairbanks.

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