There’s a kind of magic that hangs in the air during the Alaskan summertime. Chalk it up to the fact that we spend six to nine months of the year in cold and darkness, but once the snow melts and the temperatures start to rise, Alaskans are overcome with an almost religious fervor. We treat June through August like a marathon, attempting to squeeze as much enjoyment as humanly possible into the extended daylight hours as we fish, camp, and hike our butts off.
As we creep closer to winter, here are some of the summer experiences that us Alaskans live for.
1. Boating on clear blue days.
As soon as summer rolls around, Alaskans hitch up their boats and drag them to the nearest waterway. Harbors teem with SUVs trailing boats behind them and locals who are geared up for their next marine adventure. It hardly matters whether we get our fix on a friend’s 50-footer or a barely sea-worthy dinghy — few experiences beat the thrill of a clear day out on the water spent fishing, whale watching, or simply soaking up the sunshine.
2. Taking in panoramic mountain views.
Alaskans hit the trails hard in the summertime. Besides getting us our fill of nature and exercise, in our state a little gain in elevation comes with big payoffs — views of tens or even hundreds of miles of the surrounding wilderness. Depending on your location, you might overlook river deltas, glaciers, or temperate rain forests, but there is no shortage of trails to explore and peaks to climb.
3. Fishing past midnight on the river.
Once the salmon begin their journey upstream to spawn, Alaskans descend on the river in droves. Sporting hip-waders and with their preferred bait in tow, locals tend to get their fishing on from late evening into the early morning. We keep these odd hours mostly for the sake of efficiency — we can take home double the salmon if we bag our limit both before and after midnight. By 3 am we’re beat, but our coolers are stuffed with two days’ worth of fish.
4. Tending a bonfire into the twilight.
Bonfires are a quintessential part of every Alaskan’s upbringing, and in the summer they can become a bi- or even tri-weekly affair. Hit the beaches after 8 pm and you’ll see trucks and campfires with crowds huddled around them on makeshift driftwood benches. They’re the perfect spot to unwind with friends while roasting marshmallows and sipping Alaskan Ambers. And because it never truly darkens in the summer, we often tend the fire into the early morning, and take in a transfixing sense of calm as the sun dips behind the mountain and the world dims to twilight.
5. Summer solstice.
Solstice can be a bittersweet time for Alaskans – it’s the peak of our summer daylight, so from there, we can practically feel the winter months creeping closer. Although it can be nostalgic, we know our lives are at the mercy of the seasons, so we all pay homage to the longest day of the year with some kind of celebration. We might head to a local festival, gather friends to grill up some of the season’s catch, or post up in front of a bonfire. Whatever we do, we won’t head to bed until we’ve savored every last minute of daylight.
6. White-water rafting.
Alaskans are pretty much raised on a steady diet of camping and backcountry adventures. A favorite for many of us is rafting, where we can get some inland water thrills. If we want to go off the grid, we might hop on a plane with a few close friends and spend a week floating, camping, and weaving through white-water rapids on one of the state’s remote rivers.
7. Spending a serene day in a kayak.
Alaskans have been literally been kayaking for millennia. Alaska’s native peoples originally crafted their vessels by stretching seal skin over timber frames and used them for both hunting and general transport. Nowadays, the neon plastic varieties are easier to come by. But kayaks are still a great way to explore remove coves, check out some of the state’s monumental glaciers, or get up close and personal with wildlife.
8. Combing the beach for sea stars and urchins.
Alaska’s coasts can experience as much as a 20-foot change of tide every 12 hours. When the moon becomes full, the minus tides get even stronger, and the water pulls back a curtain to another world. Children and adults alike head to the beach to tidepool – aka explore the underwater ecosystems that the low tides reveal. There, we watch tiny krill and silvery fish swim through muddy pools and marvel at anemones, sea stars, and a host of other underwater creatures.
While summer is made for play, winter is never far from an Alaskan’s mind. Inevitably, the long summer nights will give way to winter, and opportunities to fish and hunt will grow sparse. So we need to dedicate a portion of every summer to filling our freezers (every Alaskan has a large deep freezer in their garage or basement.) One of the most fun ways to accomplish this is by dipnetting – spending the day waist-deep in the river, sweeping salmon into our nets until we’ve caught all 25 fish we’re allowed to keep for the day. After we finish, we’ll fillet and vacuum-pack our catch like madmen so we can enjoy them all winter long.
10. The Alaska State Fair.
Held in Palmer, the Alaska State Fair provides two weeks of non-stop, slightly-gimmicky fun. We’ll eat our weight in seafood and reindeer sausage and go nuts over the amusement park rides, since there’s no Six Flags or Disneyland this far north. Another highlight is the cabbage weigh-off, where farmers proudly display cabbages that have grown to 100 pounds or larger from soaking up the midnight sun all summer.
11. Berry picking and jamming.
Few fruits grow in Alaska – even in the summer, the temperature rarely rises above 70 – but each year there is an abundant crop of berries. By mid to late summer, we’ll spend at least a day wandering around a thicket, filling our buckets with raspberries, blueberries, and salmonberries (and eating some along the way). Once we return home, we’ll then boil and can them into our favorite jam recipes so they’ll last us through the winter.
12. Partying at local music festivals.
Even if they can’t quite rival Coachella, small music festivals are a staple of the Alaskan summer. Rather than big headliners, these events are usually stocked with local bands playing a steady stream of rock and bluegrass. We’ll spend the day dancing, but sans the festival wear – instead, we’ll be sporting our finest hoodies and Xtratufs.
13. Getting off road.
Four-wheeling (the local name for ATVs – but please don’t try to convince us to call them that) is a favorite Alaskan pastime. Nothing spells adventure like fording a stream in your off-road vehicle or driving through muddy trails beyond the road system’s reach. Many Alaskans have their own little getaways – cabins on lakes, or other parts of the wilderness – that are only accessible by four-wheeler or snow-machine. And in some Alaskan villages, these little vehicles even serve as the primary mode of transportation.
14. Pitching a tent in the middle of nowhere.
Alaska’s population’s density is just 1 person per mile, so we’re accustomed to having our space. Still, we’re not immune from the need to disappear into the wilderness every once in a while. Luckily, our state is home to some incredible remote camping. So when we’re craving a summer escape, we can jet out to our favorite retreats via boat, plane, or four-wheeler. Upon arrival, we’ll take a deep sigh of relief –there’s simply nothing refreshing than spending a few days in nature, knowing you’re the only person for miles around.