The North Stars

At twice the size of Texas, Alaska isn't easy to boil down into a "best of" list. The fact is, just about every cranny of this behemoth state can be labeled with a superlative: the wildest, the most vast, the most breathtaking. Even though any intrepid family can land in Anchorage, rent a car, start driving, and come upon wildlife and characters that guarantee a memorable trip, these ten forays will ensure that the words "I'm bored" will never be uttered.

Snout of a breaching humpback whale     Photo: Corel

BEST WHALE-WATCHING
[Chiswell Islands]
The humpbacks and orcas may be the headliners, but boat tours around the Chiswell Islands in the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge have an enormous supporting cast: hundreds of Steller sea lions, the bulls protecting their harems, and thousands of oceanic gulls, including red-legged kittiwakes defending their cliffside nests against eagles. On a 110-mile day trip with Major Marine Tours from Seward, near Kenai Fjords National Park, you can watch glaciers crash into the sea while you eat Alaskan salmon for lunch. Some cruises include a junior ranger program in which kids join with Park Service rangers to spot wildlife and learn how the glacier got there in the first place.
DETAILS: A full-day cruise costs $109 per adult; kids under 12 cruise for $54. The lunch buffet costs $12. (Major Marine Tours, 800-764-7300, www.majormarine.com)

BEST TRAIN ROUTE
[Alaska Railroad, Anchorage-Denali National Park]
Traveling by rail is a hassle-free and photo-friendly way for families to negotiate the Alaskan interior. The legendary Alaska Railroad makes a seven-and-a-half-hour run from Anchorage to the eastern edge of Denali National Park, with photo ops of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, along the way. Take a three-day round-trip, riding the classic streamliner to the park on the first day (and availing yourself of the dining car, bar car, observation areas, and reclining seats in the passenger coaches) and overnighting at Grand Denali Lodge, perched on a rock outcropping with views of the Alaska Range. On the second day, spot moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and grizzlies on a park tour, then take in the Grand Denali Lodge vistas all over again. Ride back to Anchorage on day three.
DETAILS: Offered through the Alaska Railroad, the three-day tour includes train, wildlife tour, and two nights lodging, and costs $558 per adult, $183 per child age two to 11. A round-trip train ride costs $250 per adult; kids, half-price. (Alaska Railroad, 800-544-0552, www.akrr.com)

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