As the sun crests the mountains that border the Kenai River Valley, sunlight permeates the thin walls of lodge sales manager Chad Carter’s Yukon-style cabin tent, and the surrounding pine forest erupts in a chorus of birdsong. As if that weren’t enough to rouse Mr. Carter from slumber, there’s also the prospect of what he may spy when he looks out his window: a lone moose or perhaps bear cubs.
Mr. Carter, along with the rest of the Alaska Wildland Adventures staff, remain immersed in the Alaskan wilderness for the summer season, which has helped them develop an extensive knowledge of region. But even more significantly, Mr. Carter notes how the secluded environs have helped forge bonds between staff, who enjoy a close-knit community during summer months. “They become your family,” says Mr. Carter. “You go on adventures together—it’s definitely a teamwork approach here.” Guides strive to incorporate guests into that community, limiting expeditions by foot, raft, and kayak to small groups of 10 people. They also empower guests with the tools they need to navigate the region, including maps and safety tutorials. And, after a long day’s journey, they treat overnight guests to communal, home-cooked meals of Alaskan seafood.
Licensed by the United States Coast Guard, the captains at Stories and Legends ferry spectators over the sea and amid pods of cetaceans during guided whale-watching tours. When the season begins in late February, shuttles bring explorers from airports, hotels, or cruise ships to Auke Bay, where boats carrying up to 24 passengers depart at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. daily. If they wish, guests may provide their own transportation to the dock via car, bike, or land whale.
What began as a colony farm built by the U.S. Army in 1935 became, by the mid-1950s, the childhood home of Reindeer Farm's head honcho, Tom Williams. After studying the habits of Scandinavian and Siberian reindeer herders in high school, Tom began to understand why the antlered creatures were considered the "cattle of the North": The brisk Alaskan climate suited their dense coats and languid presence at pool parties. In 1987, after years of practicing law throughout Alaska, Tom ventured to Canada to meet his first herd of reindeer, which he kept corralled next to a tiny sign and donation jar on the modest farm. Since then, that initial herd has blossomed into 150 reindeer, who graze beside 35 elk, 13 horses, one bull moose, and one surprisingly well-adjusted bison. Now a petting zoo, the farm has grown alongside the herd, with guided tours, scavenger hunts, and horseback rides treating guests to an up-close and hands-on experience with the majestic animals. Located in the colony's original chicken coop, a gift shop provides guests with any number of collectibles to commemorate their visits.
"We don't judge a successful day on how many miles we rode, but by the smile on your face." With that motto as their driving force, the expert guides at MotoQuest play a role in each step of the tour planning—from manning the phones during initial queries to scouting out routes that's tailored to each group's comfort level. The multilingual team, who are also trained in First Aid and Professional Comedic Stand-Up, amiably lead groups of no more than 10 bikers all around the world, from Alaska to South Africa to Vietnam.
Riders board a fleet including Harley Davidson, Kawasaki, and Yamaha bikes and either follow guides down roads that veer off typical tourist paths, or pick up a road map and carve out their own epic journeys. They may also opt for hourly or weekly rentals of the motorcycles and scooters. Journeys may take riders across scenic landscapes or through bustling towns that acquaint them with the local culture.
Over sweeping evergreen pine forests and snow-capped mountains, the pilots from Above Alaska Aviation's FAR flight school hone their craft. FAA-certified instructors coach students in a range of specialized flight training in a fleet of 7EC Champ aircraft, as well as a PA-18 Super Cub and Cessna 180B. They train private pilot students in tailwheel aircraft from start to finish, tailwheel endorsements, and single-engine sea float ratings on the mountain lakes of Susitna Valley. Students learn the basics of flying tail-wheel aircraft?planes with landing gear on the tail?to hone skill sets, enhance their understanding of flight safety, and help them feel superior to carrier pigeons. When not teaching flight, bush pilots ferry passengers to remote wilderness areas where they can hike, fish, or hunt with rifles and bows.
Determined to help visitors not just see but experience the majestic beauty of Chugach National Forest and Chugach State Park, Alaska Backcountry Access's guides offer day trips and multiday wilderness outings all yearlong. Come summer, the landscape springs to life as plants bloom and migratory animals return to the area. It is during these months that the guides lead outings exploring the region by land and by water. On whitewater rafting and kayaking trips, they traverse the surrounding waterways as snowmelt streams down the mountainsides, and their hikes journey throughout the canyons and forests while occasionally stopping to explore gold-panning sites or noteworthy natural features.
But their excursions don't stop for the winter?the guides simply change their approach. Snowmobiles, snowshoes, and portable snow-cone machines become the equipment of choice as the guides continue to lead trips throughout the area's frozen landscape.