Alaska Day by Day: guidebook review

Alaska. Vast, remote, land of bustling cities which still are not quite like anything you find in the lower 48 and back country and bush which are definitely not like back country you find elsewhere. In the south there are rain forests, and in the north, the Arctic. Wildlife from moose to polar bear to rabbit to deer, and sea life from crabs to whales to salmon — and that’s not even getting to the people, who have a varied mix of background from Native to newcomer. Then there’s Denali, and the glaciers, and the midnight sun.

That just begins to show the range of what is there to know and explore. Exploring Alaska has often been a tough subject for guidebooks, too, as the necessarily condensed and selective nature of that sort of writing comes hard up against dichotomies and vastness of modern day Alaska. Frommer’s Alaska Day by Day has a good approach, though, and more importantly, they’ve chosen a good writer to follow through on a structure that invites you to tailor your own trip to the north, rather than setting you out on a well beaten path.

Have no worries, though, those well beaten paths are covered, too. Author Charles Wohlforth is a long time Alaska resident whose writing on the impact of climate change in the state has won awards. He’s also worked on other Frommer’s guides, so he knows how to research and write about both the details of lodging and dining and the history and landscape that bring you there to enjoy those things.

The book is structured first by region and then by a range of itineraries, such as, for example, three day trips, seven day trips, traveling with kids, Wohlforth’s favorite experiences in a region, and the like. He tells you when he likes something, certainly, but he also speaks up when he thinks something doesn’t live up to its billing (and tells you why he thinks that). Frommer’s are not budget guidebooks, but for many areas there are good ranges of accommodations by price (hostels are included in some areas) and food options from pizza places to high end establishments. There’s good information with costs and practicalities on getting around by ferry and by air, as well as by road and rail, and suggestions on when and where you might want to do each. The basics of exploring the Denali region, how to see glaciers and wildlife, how to see the northern lights, what you might want to do and see in Fairbanks, Juneau, and Anchorage, and other highlights that define an Alaskan journey for many are covered too. Wohlforth comes across as a man with a deep background in his home state, and one who is able to follow the structure of a guidebook plan while writing well about a place he loves.

There are loads of photographs, and maps as well, to go along with the text. Informational photos, so to speak, give you an occasional flavor of a restaurant or the feeling of a lodging, maps help you find and keep your bearings as you think about traveling across the state, and shots of landscapes and the sea, glaciers and mountains and forests, may have you dreaming of an Alaska trip even if you weren’t thinking of doing so. There’s a lot to take in within Frommer’s Alaska Day by Day, but it should prove a useful guide and a good companion along the way in Alaska, or in your armchair.

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