Beginner's guide to Alaska

You don’t have to see the same places everyone else does. Here’s our guide to the coolest glaciers, biggest bears, and best small town

Find the quirky small town
Photo by Michael Hanson

Find the quirky small town

You grew up on Northern Exposure, fascinated by the eccentric small Alaska town? There are plenty to choose from—artsy Homer, cruise-ship-stop Ketchikan. But for the most quirk-for-the-buck, head to the lesser-known Southeast Alaska town of Wrangell.

False-front buildings make Wrangell (population 2,100) look like a Wild West prop; in fact, Wyatt Earp turned down the job of sheriff here. Strong on nightlife it isn’t: In Wrangell, the hardware stores have better hours than the restaurants. But the setting can’t be beat—the rugged landscape explains why John Muir lingered here before he founded the Sierra Club. Give yourself three days to take in the Stikine River, fastest free-flowing river on the continent, and Anan Wildlife Observatory for prime bear-watching. (There’s also Wrangell’s Bearfest, held in July.) Want more quirk? Wrangell has Southeast’s sole regulation golf course, with its only-in-Alaska rules: Moose play through, and a raven stealing the ball is a mulligan.

Info: wrangell.com

Where to stay & eat: Stikine Inn ($$; rooms from $134; stikineinn.com)

While you’re there: A short ferry ride ($33; dot.state.ak.us) from Wrangell, Petersburg is a fishing town with a Scandinavian feel—check out the Little Norway Festival (May 17–20). The deli at the local fish-packing plant, Coastal Cold Storage ($; 907/772-4171), offers superior fish and chips. petersburg.org

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