To tour or not to tour in Alaska

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of May 21-27, 1998
Family vacationing at Acadia's Echo Lake Camp
To tour or not to tour in Alaska
Hiking (part of) the Na Pali Coast
Selecting a walking vacation that's right for you

To tour or not to tour in Alaska
Question: I'd like to go to Alaska in June 1998 to do some adventure kayaking, rafting, hiking, etc. but don't want to pay the tour companies $300 per day, when most of that is probably profit in their pockets. What do you recommend?

Steve Beinar
Auburn, Massachusetts

Adventure Adviser: Sure, you can do all of that stuff in Alaska on your own, but before you go, I'd do a serious, realistic self-analysis of your skills. Alaska is wild country and isn't very forgiving to folks who aren't prepared or skilled enough to handle its intense and remote wilderness. Have you ever read "Into the Wild," the Outside article, which was later turned into a book, by Jon Krakauer? It was about a 23-year-old guy who went up to Alaska to live off the land. When he decided he'd had enough of the bush, he headed for home, but was pinned in by a river that had swelled so much that he was unable to cross. He eventually died. Sorry to sound alarmist, but unless you are really comfortable with your survival skills, I'd recommend shelling out an extra few hundred dollars for a guide.

If, however, you feel you can handle Alaska on your own, you may want to consider investing in a few resource books that will give you some valuable information about how to do Alaska on your own. First and foremost, I'd go to your local bookstore or to Outside Online to check out Outside's June 1998 issue, which has a cover story on Alaska. The piece will give you valuable details about hiking the backcountry of Denali, kayaking in Wood-Tikchik State Park, mountaineering in the Brooks Range, biking the Iditarod Trail, rafting in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, and fishing at El Noo Taat Denh, a Native fish camp. The article also will provide you with a number of great resources to call. Another must-have guide is Bill Sherwonit's Alaska's Accessible Wilderness (Alaska Northwest Books, 800-452-3032, $21.95). This handy reference focuses on Alaska's little-known state parks that tend to be more accessible than their massive and remote counterparts. Finally, I'd call the Alaska Division of Tourism (907-465-2010) and ask them to send you their free North to Alaska booklet. This book lists names and numbers of pertinent Alaska references such as the Alaska Marine Highway System and Alaska Public Lands Information Centers. Plus, it lists the schedules and prices of all the ferry services and important mileage information.

If you decide to go the guided route, here's a list of outfitters to consider: Alaska Denali Guiding, Inc. (9-7-733-2649), Alaska Discovery (800-586-1911), Alaskan Bicycle Adventures (800-770-7242), ABEC's Alaska Adventures (907-457-8907), Tongass Kayak Adventures (907-772-4600), A Anadyr Adventures (800-865-2925), and Nova 9800-746-5753).

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