Alaska, the United States’ last true wilderness is changing. It isn’t as wild as it used to be, and the landscape doesn’t look quite like it used to. That’s why I’ve put together this list of the 4 things you need to see in Alaska before it’s too late. Because things are changing in Alaska and it will never be the same again.
Many of Alaska’s gorgeous glaciers are disappearing. They’re falling victim to climate change just as glaciers are all over the world. Colombia Glacier in Prince William Sound, a popular destination for Alaskan cruises has lost 50% of its ice in just 35 years. Every study conducted on the glaciers of Alaska paints a more and more grim picture than the one before it. In 2019 it was discovered that they are melting 100 times faster than previously thought. In 2022 scientists released data that showed glaciers may contain 20% less water than they previously thought. All of this is disastrous news for the hundreds of thousands of people who rely on these glaciers for their jobs and more importantly, their drinking water. What will happen to the tourism industry that has built up around these glaciers when there aren’t any glaciers left?
To many Alaska is the final frontier, the last true wilderness of the United States. But that is changing. Alaska’s population has been growing consistently decade after decade for the last 100 years and Alaska is on the verge of a population explosion. Thanks to popular Alaskan Youtubers more and more people are getting a glimpse into what life is like in Alaska and falling in love with it. Alaska is also identified by many climate scientists as the one part of the United States that is sure to be safe if climate change is allowed to run completely out of control. All of that means that Alaska’s wilderness isn’t going to be so wild anymore. There will of course always be some wilderness, it seems extremely unlikely that the national parks will ever be opened up to allow people to live in them. But that wilderness is shrinking and life in Alaska is changing, forever.
Ice caves are magical. If you’ve never been in one before I highly recommend it. Of course you should only ever go into an ice cave that has been looked at by experts and deemed to be safe enough to go inside because when they collapse they will be taking you with them. Alaska is home to a number of ice caves that have until recent years been incredibly stable and so reliable that they have become tourist attractions in their own right. Sadly for places like the Mendenhall Ice Caves, just a few hours outside of Juneau time is running out. As the glacier retreats the risk of the ice caves there being lost grows. For now though, you can still see the ice caves any time of year. Though getting there is a bit of a challenge as you need to cross a lake to do so.
Seal populations in Alaska have been in decline since at least the 1940s, if not even earlier than that. Since 1940 the seal population has gone from above 2 million to just barely 1 million and those numbers are still dropping. Clearly, this isn’t related to climate change, though the changing climate will certainly have an impact on their population decline at some point if it hasn’t already. What is the cause? Scientists aren’t sure yet. There are a number of proposals out there but no solid data yet. If you do go out seal watching keep in mind that these are protected animals and it is required by law that you observe a number of rules to keep the seals safe and stress free. Your best option is to go with a guided tour that will take you to see all of the amazing wildlife Alaska has to offer.
A Big Surprise
While researching this article I came across something that really surprised me, something that I would have known if I lived in Alaska but as an outsider, I had no idea. I looked at the average snowfall, expecting to see as you do in much of the rest of the United States, and indeed the world, that snowfall has decreased and there was the possibility that one day we might have an Alaskan winter that didn’t include snow…
But it turns out the exact opposite is true. The snow is falling harder in Alaska than ever before. On average across the state, snowfall has doubled in recent years. Right now it’s impossible to know if this trend will continue or not into the future. But at the moment, it looks unlikely that we will look at the stunning mountain ranges of Alaska and not see snow. Of course, that could change, and who knows what the future holds. But for now, Alaska will keep its snowy peaks.
Remember to practice good Leave No Trace policies while you’re out and about in Alaska. This will help reduce your impact on the environment and keep Alaska the beautiful untamed wilderness that it is for just a little while longer. Are there any other things you need to see in Alaska that aren’t on this list? Let me know!