Over the years, the state of Alaska has gone by a number of unique nicknames. In the language of the indigenous Aleuts, it has been called “Alyeska,” which translates roughly to “The Great Land.” Alaska’s long summer days have also earned it the moniker “Land of the Midnight Sun,” which is quite fitting, considering the nearly 24 hours of daylight the state experiences in June and July.
But perhaps the most well-known nickname for Alaska is “The Last Frontier,” which was how it was generally viewed by most pioneers and explorers at the close of the 19th century. Now, more than a hundred years later, little has changed and Alaska remains just as mysterious and inviting as ever.
It’s big — really big
Part of what makes Alaska so alluring is the sheer immensity of the place. In fact, it is so huge that the next three largest U.S. states — Texas, California and Montana — could all fit inside its borders with room to spare.
Measuring from north to south, it covers a distance of 1,420 miles, and east to west it runs another 2,500 miles. That alone puts Alaska in a class all its own.
With 14 distinct mountain ranges, more than 3 million lakes and nearly 22 million acres of national forest, Alaska is easily one of the wildest places in the U.S. — if not the entire world. It is also home to 20 national parks, preserves and monuments and has a longer coastline than all of the other U.S. states combined.
All of those rugged and untamed natural features give Alaska an undeniable allure for outdoor enthusiasts and adventure travelers alike. If you’re truly looking to escape modern life and immerse yourself in the wilderness, Alaska is the place to go.
It’s largely unexplored
Due to its massive size and wild expanses, there are large sections of the state that remain mostly unexplored. Sure, the landscapes have been mapped by satellite, and planes have flown over much of the area. But there are vast portions that are incredibly remote and difficult to reach, resulting in few (if any) people ever visiting.
If you’re an adventurer looking to make your mark, there are still plenty of unclimbed peaks, challenging mountain passes and winding rivers to be explored in the Alaskan interior and beyond.
There are very few roads
Unlike most other U.S. states, Alaska has a relatively small number of roads and highways. In fact, more than 70 percent of the state, including the spectacular Gates of the Arctic National Park, is not accessible by any kind of road at all.
Because of this, there are whole sections of Alaska that remain remote and almost entirely cut off from the outside world. That’s why the favorite mode of transportation for many Alaskans is by small aircraft, which grants access to certain parts of the state that simply can’t be reached by any other means. This has resulted in Alaska having six times the number of pilots per capita than any other state, and 16 times the number of aircraft per capita too.
It’s home to the tallest mountain in North America
Standing 20,237 feet in height, Mount McKinley — or Denali, as it is known in mountaineering circles — is the tallest peak in North America. Each year, hundreds of climbers flock to its slopes in an effort to reach the summit.
Well known for its unpredictable weather, massive prominence and extreme technical challenges, Denali is often used as a training expedition prior to moving on to larger peaks such as Everest. Because of its extreme latitude, Denali is more difficult to climb than its altitude alone would seem to indicate. As a result, it just might be the closest thing to climbing a Himalayan peak that you’ll find on the North American continent.
It boasts unmatched wildlife
Because Alaska’s natural environment remains so wild and untamed, it makes the perfect home for a large number of species of wildlife to thrive. Moose are incredibly common throughout much of the state, as are mountain goats and Dall sheep. Wolves, coyotes and mountain lions roam the interior, and large herds of caribou migrate across the extreme northern regions.
Along the coast, dolphins, seals, walruses and at least a dozen varieties of whales (including humpbacks, belugas, killer and blue) can be spotted. But it is Alaska’s large bear population that truly sets it apart from most other places. It’s estimated that about 130,000 bears live in Alaska, with the black bear being by far the most common.
The massive brown bears found on Kodiak Island are the most impressive, however, as they have been known to grow as large as 1,500 pounds. Just imagine what it’s like coming across one of those creatures while alone on a remote trail.
There are unparalleled opportunities for adventure
Outdoor enthusiasts and adventure junkies will find a lot to love in Alaska. Not only is it an amazing place to hike, camp and backpack, but it has some of the best mountain biking, climbing, backcountry skiing and whitewater rafting found anywhere in the world.
It is a place where you can wander far from civilization and explore landscapes that few other humans have ever seen. That alone sets it apart from most destinations, where often you get the sense that even wilderness trails have been well trodden. At times, Alaska can be an incredibly demanding place, but it is also wildly rewarding.
In an era when nearly every blank spot on the map has been filled in, and there are few places left where man has yet to visit, Alaska still manages to conjure images of adventure and exploration. That alone makes it worthy of the title of The Last Frontier, even today.