ALASKA IS AN easy place to encourage a child’s natural sense of curiosity. With diverse environments and unique individuals, every 49th state vacation destination assures that someone or something different will be waiting at the end of the road.
Turning a vacation into a cultural (or scientific, or historical) opportunity is easy, requiring only a little preparation and research ahead of time. Many fascinating experiences lie right under our noses, yet are often bypassed for the sake of more flashy opportunities. Especially in Alaska, where folks are generally happy to speak freely with children, we’ve found it helpful to call ahead and do a little information-gathering ahead of time. Many are happy to chat with our son, or provide an up-close look at a particular exhibit with a little prior warning, especially in smaller Alaska communities. Below are some opportunities that might interest kids, in all regions of the state.
Juneau: Mt. Roberts Tramway, Living Tree Carvings. A surprising discovery for our family, these trees, known as “culturally modified,” have been carved only through the bark and inner layer of the tree in such a way that the tree keeps itself alive and grows a protective barrier that lasts a lifetime. Faces of warriors, spirits, and various creatures adorn the trees, and it’s a bit of a natural treasure hunt to find them all along the popular Alpine Loop Trail. It’s also fun to guess the story behind each carving before reading the interpretive brochure (grab at the trailhead).
Sitka: New Archangel Dancers. I was worried when the Sitka Visitors Bureau offered us the chance to view this all-woman dance troupe last summer. My son, at the age where dancing and girls are equally yucky, was not too thrilled, and initially sat like a sack of potatoes in his seat. However, when the catchy music started, and the dancers began whirling around like tops and shouting “Oy!” at the tops of their lungs, he sat up and took notice. Great music, beautiful costumes (they make all costumes themselves), and very personable dancers who like talking about their dancing with kids.
Anchorage: Alaska Botanical Garden. Pretend you’re in a hidden fairy forest, explore edible plants and interesting new varieties, or attend the annual Garden Fair and Children’s Garden each June. Whatever you choose, this 110-acre spruce and birch woods is a wonderland of botanical delights for kids of all ages. Staff and volunteers have created accessible trails that wind through the different garden areas, and the Lowenfels Family Nature Trail is a self-guided, 1.1-mile walk from the gardens to busy Campbell Creek. The organization also has a fantastic Junior Master Gardener program and day camp, where kids can learn the mechanics of gardening, and the role gardens have played in Alaska’s history.
Fairbanks: Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center. More than a hub for gathering information on area attractions, this beautiful building is also home to the Public Lands Information Center and Tanana Valley Chiefs Conference. From towering sculptures at the entrance, to interactive displays throughout the center, this facility is a must-see for the whole family. A favorite area for our crew is the Athabascan Elder’s Hall, an intimate, quiet room where we have been able to observe an Athabascan fiddle lesson, drumming circle, and storytelling session. Outside, visit the little log cabin and talk about how difficult it must have been to live without running water, gas heat, or television, and admire the beautiful garden beds.
For more information about these and other Alaskan family hotspots, visit AKontheGO.com.