It's hard to believe that not even a century ago, Alaska's most sophisticated city was simply a collection of tents. Founded in 1914 during the construction of the Alaska Railroad, Anchorage has since blossomed into the Last Frontier's financial and commercial hub and now houses a massive 40 percent of the state's population. But while you're sure to find all the amenities of a cosmopolitan American city, that's not what draws tourists. Most people only catch a glimpse of this major northernmost U.S. city on their way to discovering the snow-capped peaks of the surrounding mountain ranges or the vast wilderness that lies beyond.
Fairbanks, a gateway to northern Alaska and the Arctic region, is known as the land of the midnight sun, boasting endless daylight hours in the summer. Winter is another matter, but intrepid travelers in search of the northern lights will want to brave the minimal daylight and frigid temperatures for this spectacular nature show.
Juneau is a pit stop for most travelers. Cruise ships pull into harbor, dump their passengers at the dock and allow them to wander around town for a few hours. However, the astute journeyman (or woman) will see Alaska's capital city as a gateway to Mother Nature. While the seriously intrepid may venture to Glacier Bay National Park and Admiralty Island National Monument, less-experienced nature lovers will find incredible scenery right in Juneau's backyard at Mendenhall Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord. This small town (with only about 30,000 residents) is no longer fueled by mining, fur trading and whaling; outdoor enthusiasts are the economic driving forces here. And now, the citizens of Juneau brandish cheap souvenirs rather than hunting equipment. But don't take the bait: The best souvenirs will be the priceless photos you shoot with your own camera. Juneau's majestic setting leaves many in utter awe.