Can't Afford Europe? Try Alaska

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If the weak dollar has killed your appetite for foreign travel, think about Alaska instead.

Alaska is as remote as another country, but your dollar goes just as far as it does at home -- and there's a lot to explore in what is, in many ways, the nation's last great frontier.

And no, an Alaskan vacation isn't just about the big boats. While it's true that most people who visit Alaska in summer do so from the deck of a cruise ship, there are many ways to shed the crowd here, and have an experience shared by few others. Here are four adventures to consider:

Chill with the bears: Admiralty Island, a 30 minute floatplane flight from Juneau, is known for its bears. It has a larger population of black and brown bears than in the lower 48 states combined, and there are special viewing areas that you can access to watch these great creature as they go about their day.

Stay on the island at Favorite Bay Lodge, which is well known for its fishing excursions. In late May, anglers will find high concentrations of king salmon, rockfish, trout and steelhead.

For non-anglers who want to get out on the water, there's also whale watching and kayaking.

Rates at Favorite Bay are $3,600 per person for three nights based on double occupancy, and include scheduled roundtrip transportation on seaplane from Juneau, all meals, lodging, a full day of guided activities each day and standard freight for your trip over to the lodge.
Fish and ski: If you love to fish and you love to ski, there's no need to choose between the two -- even in June. Tordrillo Lodge offers "King and Corn" packages that include helisking (on granulated spring snow known as "corn") and king salmon fishing in the same day.

This year, the lodge added "Rainbow and Corn" package which includes skiing and rainbow trout fishing. (June 2nd to June 8th, $7,900 per person.) Packages include guided activities, lodging, meals and round-trip transport from Anchorage.

Get Immersed in Culture: Visit places that plenty of people who are born in Alaska haven't even seen when you tour the islands of the Bering Sea with the Nature Conservancy and Alaska Native Arts Foundation.

The two organizations have planned a trip that combines a deep dive into Native Alaskan culture and art, with an on-scene exploration of climate change.

Alaska is a state that has experienced the largest impact of global warming to date. Indeed, the population of the island of Shishmaref, in the Bering Sea, will need to be evacuated within the next few years, as its land has started to erode into the sea thanks to warming ocean temperatures.

The tour starts in Fairbanks, Alaska's interior, and includes a stay in Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States. You'll then proceed along the Northwestern coast, experiencing Nome, and then head out over the Bering Sea near the Russian border to meet with noted Native Alaskan artists on St. Lawrence Island and Shishmaref.

The trip is scheduled for late August, and costs $15,000 per person, to and from Fairbanks. Contact the Alaska Native Arts Foundation for more information.

Cruise in peace: Okay, if you really love the idea of an Alaskan cruise, you don't need to do it on a big boat. Rent your own yacht -- with a full staff, including chef and captain.

A few options include Alaska Sea Adventures out of Petersburg, Alaska, plus The Boat Company and Alaska Adventure Charters, both out of Juneau at YachtAlaskanStar.com. Contact each company for prices and details.

Tips
• Most visitors from the lower 48 states land in Anchorage or Juneau. Both are well-served by Alaska Airlines.
• Summertime temperatures in Alaska are quite cool by most standards. In Anchorage, Juneau and Nome, July is the warmest month, with highs in the high 50s to mid 60s, and lows in the high 40s to high 50s.
• Most people who visit Alaska do so in the summer, but there's a good reason to start thinking about a winter trip now: The Iditarod.

This historic dogsled race goes from Anchorage to Nome in early March, and is a spectacle that you've got to experience at least once.
Start in Anchorage, and watch the huskies as they get ready to run, and their excitement during the ceremonial start in the city's downtown. But then take it further: Head up to Winterlake Lodge, an official checkpoint on the race. The lodge hosts veterinarians, dog handlers, race officials and spectators and you can watch it all unfold -- while you enjoy gourmet meals prepared by Kirsten Dixon, a noted chef. The lodge will arrange transfers and other details for guests, but lodging in Anchorage and at Winterlake fills fast, so it's not too early to start planning now.

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