Accessible Wilderness is a companion website to Northern Passages | Coming Home to Wilderness, which is Bob Osborne's website and blog on the ethics and esthetics of conservation and wilderness. Click here to go to www.NorthernPassages.com.
The State of Alaska contains about twenty percent of the landmass of the entire United States. Relative to this vast area, the state’s population of 700,000, about half of them living in or near Anchorage, is very sparse. According to my daughter, who lives in Anchorage, "if Manhattan had the same population density as Alaska, there would only be 16 people there."
There are comparatively few miles of roads and highways in Alaska, which is why so much travel requires the use of small boats or airplanes. It is possible, however, to have a wilderness experience in Alaska without venturing far beyond the major system of roadways that links the Municipality of Anchorage with other parts of the state. The sections that follow describe some of the principal areas of road-accessible wilderness: the Chugach Mountains that ring Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, and the Interior of Alaska, which includes Denali National Park.
In addition, the sample itinerary at "Two Weeks" suggests a vacation of about two weeks duration, with individual segments in the maritime environment of Kachemak Bay and the sub-arctic ecosystem of Denali National Park that would be suitable for shorter trips.
My friend Jerry and I first used the phrase “accessible wilderness” about 25 years ago in reference to a northern Wisconsin retreat where our families rented rustic cabins on a regular basis. We used the term "accessible" in the sense of being able to get there by car from Chicago and enjoy the northwoods on a family basis, including with young children, not in the narrower contemporary meaning of compatibility with wheelchairs and physical disabilities. I continue our original usage here. The suggestions are eminently “do-able” for people, especially families, covering a wide range of ages and general fitness levels, but are not geared toward those with significant limitations on personal mobility.
I used to subscribe to the theory that Anchorage isn’t really part of Alaska, but you can see it from there. However, I have come to appreciate Anchorage on its own terms. A layover upon arrival will also help you adjust to the change in time zones from your home location.
You can drive from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. The mountain and ocean views are majestic, and keep an eye open for Beluga whales in the water to your right and moose and mountain goats alongside the road to your left.
At just over 20,000 feet, Denali (Mt. McKinley) is the tallest peak in North America. However, most other large mountains rise from a plateau of surrounding landscape that is already pretty high. The land around Denali is only slightly above sea level, so its north “face” is the highest vertical rise of any mountain in the world.