Alaska unleashed: Discovering the Great Frontier’s larger-than-life wonders

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Alaska is a dream destination for many wandering souls. Every year visitors flock to Alaska to experience this mega-size state and to answer the question, “How big is Alaska?” for themselves. Living and working here, the residents of Alaska are still in awe at this giant-sized place they call home. 

Denali, the Great One rises above a boreal forest in Alaska.
Denali, the Great One. Photo Credit: Yay Images.

Just how big is Alaska?

Love to travel, have you been to Alaska? Save your pennies because Alaska isn’t a cheap place to visit, and get on up here to the biggest state in the union. Many people who don’t live here ask how big Alaska is. The square acreage is impressive, coming in at 365,000,000 acres, or 586,412 square miles. The state can stretch coast to coast across the rest of the United States, with the Aleutian Islands hitting the coast of California and Southeast butted up against the East coast. Many other characteristics of Alaska are record-breaking. 

“Alaska is truly one of those places that is bigger than it appears in photos. No words can explain the majesty of the views jutting from every direction in Alaska. Focusing on one town or one destination, like Wrangle St Elias National Park, and planning just for that adventure is my trick for making the most of every visit to Alaska.”

— Kita Roberts, Girl Carnivore

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The mighty Yukon

The rivers are big too. Such as the 1979 mile-long Yukon River. It stretches from British Columbia and Yukon, Canada, to the Bering Sea and cuts right through the heart of Alaska. It is so big and wide that paddlewheel boats used to travel up and down the river. 

Denali, the Great One

Of course, you’re thinking of Denali standing at 23,310 feet. Who wouldn’t? Denali is so big and monumental you can see her clearly from 300-plus miles away. And there are two parks dedicated to it, Denali National Park and Denali State Park. 

Brown bear fishing in Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.
Bears fishing. Photo Credit: Yay Images.

The bears

All three species of bears native to the United States live in Alaska. Polar bears, brown bears, and black bears. Grizzly bears and Kodiak brown bears are both subspecies of brown bears. Alaska even has the elusive and rare subspecies of black bear, too, the glacier bear. If seeing bears is on your bucket list of things to do before you’re 30 then you’re in luck. All three species of bears native to the United States live in Alaska. Polar bears, brown bears, and black bears. Grizzly bears and Kodiak brown bears are both subspecies of brown bears. Alaska even has the elusive and rare subspecies of black bear, too, the glacier bear. If seeing the bears is on your things to do before 30 bucket list, please make all your interactions with bears in bear country safe and respectful. And remember, all of Alaska is bear country.

Bear country

Speaking of bear country, you can sit amongst the bears in Katmai National Park in Western Alaska. They move down to the falls at Brooks Creek to feast on salmon before winter comes, and for the most part, here in a tiny area of the world, man and bears can live in harmony. Watch them on a bear cam in July when they’re feeding, or catch the highlight reel playing the rest of the year. Or come and see them in person.

The contiguous coastline and shorelines

The coastline of Alaska is the longest of any state in the United States, coming in at 6,640 miles long. Add the islands, and that number grows to 33,904 miles. With all that shoreline, you can bet there are a lot of islands too, 2670 named Islands, to be exact. Of the top 10 biggest islands in the United States, eight are in Alaska. Sadly none of the Alaskan islands made Food Drink Life’s 11 Best Islands to Visit!

Dipnet caught salmon on a hitch hauler, Kenai Alaska.
Dipnet Salmon. Photo Credit: Little House Big Alaska.

Bristol Bay, Alaska

This watershed boasts the largest natural salmon runs left in the world. An estimated 46 percent of the salmon in the world return each summer. 

Alaskans love to fish, whether it is commercial, subsistence, or sport fishing. And almost all of them utilize salmon in their diet. If you love salmon, you can enjoy it in nearly every town in Alaska, or make some of these salmon recipes at home. You won’t find beer batter salmon on the menu in many places, so use this delicious recipe to make it at home. 

“Once you visit Alaska, you will always want to go back. From glimpses of wildlife in the beautiful and expansive scenery to the unique cities with incredible seafood to eat, there is so much to explore.” 

— Susannah Brinkley Henry, Feast + West

That’s a school district

One borough in South Central Alaska, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, measures a whopping 25,000 square miles and is bigger than the State of West Virginia. The borough is also home to the Matanuska-Susitna School District, which serves just 19,000 students in that same 25,000-square-mile area. 

Love dog mushing?

You can get your fill here with the longest dog sled race in the world, 1,049 miles. Its commemorative race harkens back to the 1920s when a diphtheria outbreak in Nome on the west coast of Alaska was ravaging the population. The serum to save lives was run from Seward to Nome via a dog sled. 

Mountains in Alaska rising above a spruce forest.
Mountain Views in Alaska. Photo Credit: Yay Images.

Alaska is small, too

Now that the size of Alaska has been discussed, the focus can shift to its smaller aspects. What? Is it small? Yes, the population of Alaska is only about 732,000 people in a state with 365,000,000 acres. 

There are four just main highways (including the Alaska marine highway) clustered in South Central and the Interior, serving just 20 percent of the state. And for the most part, they all lead to the Alaska Canada Highway, also called the Alcan, which connects the state to the lower 48 but goes through Canada. Western Alaska and Southeast Alaska are not on this central road system. You might think Alaskans don’t like road trips, but they do. And they love all the Road Trip Snacks, too. 

“The magnificent aurora borealis, spectacular natural landscape, and holy life of St. Herman of Alaska make this state a fascinating and intriguing location to me. I hope to visit it one day in the summer when the sun never sets!” 

— Jessica Haggard

With so many reasons to come to Alaska, whether it’s to see Denali towering across Interior Alaska, go bear watching in Katmai National Park, or get out into the wide open spaces in the back country to watch the aurora borealis, what’s calling to you? And more importantly, will you answer? 

Laura Sampson of Little House Big Alaska is on a mission to teach modern family-oriented home cooks how to make old-fashioned foods new again. She shares her passion for home cooking, backyard gardening, and homesteading on her website and blog,

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