In the heartland of Alaska, you'll find some of the state's most impressive natural wonders and a wealth of culture and history. Athabascans, gold prospectors, farmers, and fur trappers have all found a home in the shadow of Mt. McKinley, the continent's tallest peak.
Tok is the first large town encountered by visitors traveling the Alaska Highway. Located between the Tanana River and the Alaska Range, Tok is a trade center for several Athabascan Native villages. Visit the Tok Public Lands Information Center for museum displays, a wildlife film, and trip-planning information. The Chamber of Commerce "Mainstreet Alaska" Visitor Center also provides helpful advice. Local attractions include hiking, fishing, flightseeing, bicycling, and an Alaskan theme park.
Take the Taylor Highway north to visit the gold rush transportation center of Eagle, and park headquarters for the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve. From Eagle, take a week-long float-trip down the Yukon River to Circle, or take a cruise to Dawson City in Canada's Yukon Territory.
The Alaska Highway officially ends in Delta Junction. From here you can visit glaciers, tour a Trans-Alaska Pipeline pump station, or pick wild berries from July through September, fish for arctic grayling, or observe a herd of American bison at the Delta Bison Range. East of town, the Clearwater State Recreation Site offers fishing, camping, and boat access to the Tanana and Goodpaster rivers.
Travel nine miles north of town on the Richardson Highway to visit the Big Delta State Historical Park. The park museum features vintage photographs, pioneer relics, and Athabascan Native artifacts. Nearby Quartz Lake State Recreation Area offers camping, boating, and fishing for rainbow trout and silver salmon stocked by the Department of Fish and Game.
In 1902, Felix Pedro found gold in the region, and thousands of prospectors swarmed to the area in search of the mother lode. Nearly a century later, Fairbanks is Alaska's second-largest city (pop. 33,281) and a trade and transportation center for Interior and Far North Alaska. From mid-May through July, visitors can enjoy more than 20 hours of sunlight a day.
Many visitors strongly recommend a trip to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks Museum to see exhibits on Alaska's regions, wildlife, and Native cultures. You can also tour a gold mine, visit an authentic gold dredge, or cruise the Chena River aboard a reproduction sternwheeler. Get a taste of pioneer life at the Alaskaland theme park, featuring several museums, shops, and authentic turn-of-the-century cabins.
In July, attend the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics. This Native Alaskan competition provides a unique opportunity to watch traditional athletic contests and dances.
When the midnight sun sets, the aurora borealis lights up the sky, providing the perfect backdrop for winter adventure. Dog sledding, both cross-country and downhill skiing, and snowmobile riding are available from October through March. Throughout winter, Fairbanks hosts world-class sled dog races, ice sculpting competitions and other seasonal celebrations.
The nearby community of North Pole receives thousands of letters for Santa Claus every year. Regional Attractions include views of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and visits to the soothing waters of several hot springs in the area.
A fly-in excursion to Fort Yukon on the Arctic Circle will give you a picture of life on the Yukon River in Alaska's largest Athabascan village. Accommodations and some visitor services are available. The Dinji Zhuu Enjit Museum has excellent examples of old and new beadwork by the Gwich'in Athabascans.
Traveling south from Fairbanks, stop in Nenana on the banks of the Tanana and Nenana rivers. The town's name is taken from the Athabascan word Nenashna, which means "point of camping between two rivers."
Nenana's railroad depot is on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1905, St. Mark's Mission Church was recently restored. The pews are embellished with hand-carving and the altar cloth is made of moosehide decorated with Native beadwork.
From Fairbanks, travel south to Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park and Preserve. Denali is the Athabascan name for Mt. McKinley, meaning "the high one." The area offers hotels, campgrounds, and other visitor services. Recreational opportunities include hiking, rock- and ice-climbing, photography and wildlife viewing, nature walks, horseback treks, slide programs, sled dog demonstrations, and tours of the park from the air or the ground.
Take a shuttlebus or guided tour into the park's wilderness to see caribou, grizzly bears, wolves, moose, Dall sheep, lynx, ground squirrels, marmots, fox, and snowshoe hares. The majority of the park's birds visit during summer, but year-round residents include ravens, great horned owls, and three species of ptarmigan.
A 91-mile road traverses the park, offering views of Wonder Lake, Savage River Canyon, Polychrome Pass, the Outer Range, Sanctuary River, Muldrow Glacier, and the Kantishna Hills.
To the southeast of the national park, Denali State Park is famous for panoramic views of Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range.
The Denali Highway takes you through the Alaska Range, from Cantwell at the edge of Denali National Park, to Paxson. Just east of Paxson, spawning salmon can be seen in the Gulkana River from mid- to late summer. These fish are protected, but the region offers excellent fishing for trout and grayling.