By far the largest American state, Alaska accounts for approximately one-sixth of the entire country, though its populace nudges just past 700,000. Alaska’s beauty has to be experienced: tidewater glaciers, braided rivers, the mountains of Denali. The wildlife viewing during the 18-hour summer days includes caribou, grizzly bears, bald eagles, orcas and gray whales.
The luxury properties here are remote, unique and set amid jaw-dropping natural splendor. Minimum stays are often required. The Bristol Bay area offers some of the world’s finest fishing for salmon and rainbow trout; guests at the Tikchik Narrows Lodge take daily floatplane expeditions to secret rivers. Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge, set in a cove on the Kenai Peninsula, is especially popular with families. Several exclusive cruise operators (UnCruise, Lindblad, Entrée Yachts, Midnight Sun) journey through the stunning Inside Passage.
In Alaska, I recommend a journey aboard a smaller ship, which can take you places not accessible to larger ones. The intimate vessels of UnCruise Adventures bring you close to the pristine scenery and remarkable wildlife.
Wildlife professionals favor Swarovski field glasses, which range from $1,800 to $3,500. However, the Zeiss TERRA ED 8x42 binoculars, at around $400, are more than adequate.
“Whelks to Whales: Coastal Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest,” by Rick M. Harbo, is packed with clear photographs and concise text. “The Nature of Southeast Alaska: A Guide to Plants, Animals, and Habitats,” by Robert H. Armstrong, is not quite as far-ranging but goes into depth about ecosystems, which puts things into useful context.
Alaskan lodges are certainly not inexpensive, and minimum stays are generally required. In compensation, the fly-fishing is often absurdly good.