Alaska is a fascinating state, being the largest in the Union. It’s also a geographical phenomenon, being the country’s official north, east, and west ends.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, if you’ll excuse the cool reference, when it comes to interesting facts about Alaska. Alaska’s history, colorful personality, and environment offer tons of unusual tidbits for our perusal and pleasure.
Let’s trek through some of the most incredible and awe-inspiring facts about The Last Frontier.
27 Interesting Facts About Alaska
“Alyeska,” Aleut for “The Great Land,” is all about the love of true wilderness. Here are some facts to exponentially grow your love of this great state.
1. The US Bought Alaska From Russia
Alaska has been “owned” by lots of different countries. Before it was a part of the US, the last owner was the neighbor to the east (and west, depending on how you view the map), Russia. The then-Secretary of State William Seward was ridiculed for the deal back in 1867, as it cost the US $7.2 million. The public labeled the deal “Seward’s Folly.”
A few years later, gold was discovered in Alaska, resulting in a population boom, and all mention of folly was forgotten. In fairness, the price was a bargain because even in today’s adjusted dollars, it amounts to not much more than $30 million or so.
2. Alaska is a Huge Landmass
The idea of acquiring that much land for that low a price is astounding. Consider that Alaska by itself increased the size of the US by almost 20%. Sure, most of that land was wilderness, but it was also unexplored. Gold, presumably, might just have been the tip of the iceberg.
One downside is that the state isn’t directly attached to the rest of the US, as a part of Canada sits in the middle. It’s also cold. But the land, as they say, is the land, and Alaska is a beautiful land, potentially rich in resources yet untapped.
3. You’re in Largest State in the Union
If you grew up in the 80s, you’d be familiar with the musician Michelle Shocked, who famously educated the world on Anchorage being “in the largest state in the Union.” Alaska is indeed the largest of all the states. As mentioned, it is one-fifth of the US in total.
The state measures around 663 000 square miles or 425 000 acres. For perspective, that’s about twice the size of Texas (“Texas always seemed so big”). You could fit 19 other selected states into the area of Alaska.
4. A WWII Battle Happened on Alaskan Soil
Believe it or not, World War II physically reached continental North America. The battle of Attu took place in 1943. The Axis power Japan suddenly occupied the islands of Attu and Kiska in June 1942. This lasted almost a year.
In 1943, American forces engaged Japan on the island in what turned out to be a very bloody fight. 550 Americans died in the battle. Technically, this means that, at least for a time, Japan invaded part of the US, and the US reclaimed it.
Side note: Here are some more amazing facts about World War II.
5. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless State
The notion of eternal sun and darkness is well-known. The graphic novel and movie 40 Days of Night took this phenomenon and built a horror franchise from it. If you want to experience it for yourself, consider visiting Barrow, the northernmost city in Alaska.
Here, you can experience both the longest night and longest day you’ve ever known, depending on which time of the year you go. From May 10, the sun doesn’t set for three months. Conversely, from November 18, it remains dark as night for nearly two months. Which would you prefer?
6. The Northern Lights Can be Seen Most of the Year
In Fairbanks, near the North Pole, the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis can be seen for 243 days of the year. Visit any time between August 21 and April 21 — on average — and you will be treated to the breathtaking light show.
For the record, it’s there all the time, but it can only be seen when the sky is dark enough, as you could surmise. The cause? Charged particles emanating from the sun hit the atmosphere and create nature’s own light display.
7. Water, Water Everywhere
In terms of waterways, Alaska is a champion. There are more than 3000 rivers in the state, but that pales in comparison to its lake count. There are an estimated 3 000 000 (That’s three MILLION) lakes in the state of Alaska alone.
This might make a lakeside weekend a tough choice for a holidaymaker. On the other hand, and to put it in perspective, that’s more than three lakes for every person resident in Alaska. The state only has a population of around 730 000 people.
8. The Land Also Has Many Glaciers
Not surprisingly, the icy country that is Alaska has a significant amount of glaciers. The biggest is Malaspina Glacier, at around 850 square miles.
Alaska holds the distinction of being the state with the most glaciers – although that isn’t surprising, given its proximity to the North Pole.
9. The Longest Coastline
Sticking to the water theme for a moment. Alaska also happens to have the longest-measured coastline of all the states. The land touches the sea for more than 34 000 miles along the coastline.
Fear not, though. If you are intent on visiting the beach, chances are you’ll find these beaches a lot less crowded than the ones in California or Florida. Incidentally, Florida comes in at number two in terms of length of coastline, and a mere 8 400 miles or so. No competition.
10. The Alaskan Flag Has a Remarkable Origin Story
Here’s something you should know about the Alaskan State Flag. A 13-year-old boy designed it. The flag has eight stars set on a sea of blue. And the concept is simple – the stars represent the constellations of the Big Dipper and Polaris.
It is something a young boy with an admiration for the night sky might come up with, and that’s precisely what was adopted as the state flag. Benny Benson had designed the flag 33 years earlier in 1926, but Alaska was only adopted into the union in 1959.
11. Alaska has a Low Population Density.
If you do the quick math around Alaska’s square mile area and the aforementioned total population, you come up with a remarkable number. One. That’s one person per square mile as a population density for Alaska. Mathematically, that means you could go out for a walk and not meet anyone else at all.
For perspective, the next least dense state in terms of population is Wyoming. That state (which has its own wilderness charms) has a rate of six people per square mile. It’s crowded, by comparison.
12. Alaska has Lots of Bears – Sort Of
There is one bear for every 21 people in Alaska. You could read that a number of ways. On the one hand, that’s a lot of bears, but only in comparison to the number of people.
Alaska has lots of species of bears – black bears, brown bears, grizzlies, kodiak bears, even polar bears – they’re all here. In fact, when it comes to brown bears, Alaska is home to 98% of America’s entire population.
13. Kodiak Bears May Be The Most Impressive
While we’re on the subject of bears, it’s worth noting the majesty of the Kodiak. The sheer size is intimidating – Kodiaks standing upright on their hind feet can stand as much as ten feet tall. They can also weigh 1500 lbs – that’s a lot of beef, as they say.
14. Bears are Also Residents in Anchorage, Alaska
It’s not uncommon to encounter a bear in Anchorage. The reasons for this are not exactly ideal (habitat encroachment, for example), but the city has recognized this and tried to mitigate the phenomenon by declaring the bears de facto residents of the city.
In part, the bears have learned that scavenging garbage near the city is easier than hunting for food in the wilderness. As suburban Anchorage is prime bear habitat, bears will frequently wander the area looking for an easy meal. Some estimates state that there are at least 300 bears living in or around the city.
15. Alaska Is the Northern-, Eastern-, and Western-most Point of the United States
Wait, what? How is that even possible, you ask? Let’s start with the facts. In the north, it’s Point Barrow. The eastern point is Pochnoi Point on Semisopochnoi Island, and Amatignak Island is the westernmost point.
It’s these east and west Aleutian island points that cause the confusion. The islands cross the 180-degree meridian, putting one side in the east, and the other in the west.
16. There is No Road to Juneau
The city of Juneau cannot be reached by road. How exactly a major settlement came to be without road access is unusual, but there is it. The only way you can get into Juneau is by plane or by waterway.
This makes Juneau the only capital city in the US you can’t drive to in your car. It also happens to be the largest capital city in the country, spreading across 3255 square miles, including 705 square miles of water and another 930 square miles of ice cap.
17. The Juneau Road Situation isn’t Unique in Alaska
When you think about it, this shouldn’t be that extraordinary, given Alaska’s terrain, and it isn’t. Many communities and towns aren’t accessible by road in Alaska. What’s eye-opening is that the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities estimates that this is the case for 82% of the communities and settlements in the state.
How do people get from town to town? By air, water, or dog – yes, mushing is the preferred way to get across land in the north.
18. They Have Weird Moose Laws
On a fun note, Alaska has quite a few odd laws still on its books. Here’s one: It’s illegal to whisper in someone’s ear while hunting moose. The reason for this is unclear. But moose are responsible for more than one odd law in the state.
For example, you can’t push moose out of an airplane. The precedent for enacting this law is unthinkable, so it’s probably best to just obey the law and don’t mess with the moose.
19. Mushing is a Thing
Don’t worry; mushing isn’t some weird underground activity. It’s, in fact, the official state sport and involves dog sledding in competition. Dog sledding was the main form of transport in these parts for many years – and still is in many regions, to be honest. The annual Iditarod event is the largest single sporting event in the state.
Mushing has many variations, including carting, freighting, weight-pulling, and scootering. Mushing is a treasured pastime here. Famously, a dog sledding team carried diphtheria medicine nearly 700 miles in just over five days to save the town of Nome from an epidemic.
20. Alaska is Home to the World’s Largest Outhouse Race
The world’s biggest outhouse race is hosted in Alaska. Maybe it has something to do with all that wilderness to exploit. Nonetheless, this race first started in 2006 as a fundraiser lark, but has become a huge novelty attraction.
There are a surprising number of rules to the race, and there are even two categories in which one can enter: Traditional and Unlimited. A race usually involves four teams, with one person sitting in the outhouse in question, which is then pushed along a course. Maybe you have to be there to appreciate the idea fully.
21. The Two Largest Forests in the US Are Found Here
Getting Back to the theme of Alaska’s size, the state contains the two most extensive forests in the US. The largest is the Tongass National Forest, at an absolutely massive 16.7 million acres. It’s a rainforest that unsurprisingly contains several rare plants and animals.
A distant second is the Chugach National Forest, measuring around 7 million acres. It is also the most northern forest in Alaska. It is also, remarkably, classified as a rainforest.
22. High Mountains For Everyone
When most think of Alaska, they think of vast snowy landscapes and pristine lakes and forests. But Alaska is also a mountainous region. Seventeen of the 20 highest US peaks are found in this state.
Denali is the tallest peak in North America, standing at 20,320 feet. Interesting fact: There are nine different names for the mountain in the native languages of Alaska, all of which translate to some variation of “ The Great One.”
23. The Big Moose Dropping Scandal
Earlier, a law involving dropping Moose from airplanes was mentioned. This story has a somewhat hilarious origin, involving PETA, a Talkeetna moose-dropping scandal, and a supposed festival.
In a small town called Talkeetna, there used to be a fun sports day that involved dropping moose dung from a helicopter in order to hit a target. It was called the Talkeetna Moose Dropping Festival, and you can already see where this is going. PETA heard about this, misinterpreted the whole story, and caused an uproar by… well, causing an uproar.
24. Alaska has a Hammer Museum
Of all the things one can dedicate a museum to, hammers would not be top of most people’s lists. Yet, Alaska has its own, where visitors can be intrigued by all manner of historic bangers, bashers, tenderizers, thumpers, whackers, and mallets.
25. Alaska Gets Cold (And Hot)
Alaska has a record cold temperature recorded in the Endicott Mountains. Temperatures reached -80° F that day, and more than likely, people decided never to go back to those mountains again.
At the other end of the spectrum, Fort Yukon measured an impressive 100 °F one day in 1915. In related facts and figures, Alaska recorded one of its hottest Decembers in 2021. On Kodiac Island, temperatures reached 67 °F.
26. Welcome to Chicken, Home of the Ptarmigan
The town of Chicken may have a hilarious name, but the reason it has that name is even funnier. It all comes down to trying to avoid embarrassment, believe it or not.
The original idea, allegedly, was to name the town after the large ptarmigan bird population in the area. The problem was no one could agree on how to spell “ptarmigan.” In 1902, the argument came to a head, and everyone just decided to name the town after another bird.
27. Santa Might Live in Alaska
Finally, a mention that North Pole, Alaska near Fairbanks has a year-round Santa House gift shop, and thousands of letters flood the town’s post every year, all addressed to Santa. For the record, the zip code is 99705.