Ready for some fun facts about Alaska? Visiting Alaska was an amazing experience that tested me in many ways and proved extremely rewarding. Before we get into the details of my journey to the 49th state, here’s one last warm-up post with 35 odd facts you probably didn’t know about Alaska.
The List of Fun Facts About Alaska
Let’s start the countdown of my favorite interesting Alaska facts! They cover topics including coffee, reality television, weather, war, celebrities, earthquakes, state symbols, and polar bears.
1 It reached 100 degrees in Alaska – once.
Nearly a hundred years ago, in 1915, Ft. Yukon recorded an official temperature of 100 degrees, according to USA Today. Believe it or not, that mark of 100 degrees ties the all-time high temperature in the state of Hawaii.
Not surprisingly, Alaska also holds the record for the lowest temperature ever observed in the U.S. That bone-chilling figure of -79.8 degrees was recorded in the mountains of northern Alaska in 1971.
2 The Japanese attacked Alaska in World War II.
What, you thought Pearl Harbor was the only major attack on U.S. soil during World War II? Then you, sir and/or madam, are misinformed! On June 6-7, 1942, the Japanese took over Attu and Kiska, two of the Aleutian Islands, and held them for months, enslaving the small number of residents.
Finally, American troops arrived to take back the islands, but they had been trained in desert warfare and were woefully unprepared for the Alaskan climate. The ensuing battle lasted 15 days and resulted in 549 American deaths. More than 2,650 Japanese soldiers were killed, and the U.S. did prevail.
Interesting note: The Kiska battlefield, nearly 1400 miles west of Anchorage, remains nearly fully intact. There are probably some great stories worth digging up, for an intrepid travel writer who wants to seek them out. But the National Park Service discourages visitors, pointing out that there are likely bombs and ammunition that never detonated still buried in the tundra.
3 ‘Northern Exposure’ was reportedly inspired by the town of Talkeetna.
The popular ‘90s drama ‘Northern Exposure’ was set in the fictional town of Cicely, which was widely believed to be based on Talkeetna, a town north of Anchorage on the railroad line.
I visited there during my trip and will be filing a report about what life is really like in Talkeetna, whose entire downtown is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many climbers tackling Mt. Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley) make Talkeetna their homebase, and it has a laid-back, hippie kind of vibe.
4 Two other states have fewer residents than Alaska.
I would have guessed that Alaska was the least-populous American state, but I would have been wrong. Quick, can you name the two states with fewer residents than Alaska?
You might guess Rhode Island or Delaware, the two smallest states by size. But you’d be wrong as well. The two states with fewer residents than Alaska’s current population of 731,000 are Vermont and Wyoming. Until recently, Alaska also had more residents than North Dakota, but that state saw a huge increase in the 2010s, due to oil and other energy industries.
5 Alaska is showcased in some of the best reality tv shows.
My favorite was ‘Flying Wild Alaska,’ which documented the day-to-day affairs of Era, an in-state airline that transports travelers from one tiny town to another on bush planes. It was fun following the antics of the Tweto family, which runs the airline.
Other reality tv show favorites include ‘Alaska State Troopers,’ which is like Cops only with fewer rednecks in wife beaters, and ‘Alaska: The Last Frontier,’ which follows singer Jewel’s dad as he hunts for food and tries to survive the rough winter in an isolated part of the state. Bristol Palin apparently had a new reality show as well, but we’re not even gonna go there.
6 Most of Alaska is inaccessible by car.
This even includes the state capitol, Juneau. At least 75% of the state is unreachable by car. That’s where the bush planes and snow machines come in!
The main roads in Alaska are highways 1, 2, and 3, which loop north from Anchorage past Denali National Park and up to Fairbanks, and back down again, through Anchorage and down the Kenai Peninsula. Because many of these highways are only two lanes, there’s a law requiring drivers to pull over if at least five vehicles are behind them, to allow the faster traffic to pass. It’s a great state for a road trip.
7 Yes, there are polar bears in Alaska, but you have to go way north to see them.
Maps issued by the Alaska Department of Fish & Game show that polar bears are only found along the very northern shores of the state, and the northwestern side down as far as Nome.
You won’t see any while taking a cruise to Alaska or during a routine visit to Anchorage – unless you stop at the zoo, which has polar bears on the premises and boasts about them regularly.
8 Alaska famous people: You probably know athletes and musicians from the state.
These days, former governor Sarah Palin may be the most famous Alaskan, but you’ll probably recognize some other names from the worlds of pop culture and sports who were born there.
Before Palin, singer Jewel might have been the most widely-known Alaskan. Other musicians based in the 49th state include indie bands Portugal the Man and the Builders & the Butchers.
Other famous people from Alaska include painter Bob Ross and athletes such as the NHL’s Scott Gomez, the NBA’s Carlos Boozer, MLB’s Curt Schilling, and the NFL’s Steve Smith. Check out a more thorough rundown of Alaskans, including historical and political figures, here.
Palin, by the way, wasn’t even born in Alaska. She was born in Idaho.
9 Anchorage has more espresso stands per capita than any city in the U.S.
This doesn’t surprise me after spending some time there. These little roadside stands are all over the state and are especially prominent in its largest city. I always feel for the poor saps working in them, though, confined to such a tiny space all day long. At least they have plenty of caffeine to keep them going.
10 The most powerful earthquake in North American recorded history took place in Alaska.
At 5:36 pm on March 27, 1964, a huge earthquake measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale took place in Prince William Sound. It lasted more than four minutes and produced more than 10,000 aftershocks in the ensuing days.
Approximately 130 people died from the resulting tsunamis in Alaska, Oregon and California. Anchorage was severely damaged, and some communities southeast of the city saw the land drop by up to eight feet.
11 Alaska is home to 7 of the 9 largest national parks in the U.S.
The largest national park in America is not Yellowstone, Death Valley or the Grand Canyon, but rather Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in southeastern Alaska. Wrangell-St. Elias occupies more than 13 million acres along the Canadian border and contains more than half of the 15 tallest peaks on U.S. soil. Overall, Alaska is tied with California as the states with the most national parks (eight.)
12 Mosquitoes are the official Alaska state bird!
Not really, but that’s a joke I kept hearing, and it sure was accurate. I had to slather heavy-duty insect repellent over every inch of exposed skin, even my face, to keep the biting bugs at bay. Their fragile bodies kept coming at me, even in a driving rain.
The repellent did work in the end. I wound up with just a handful of small bites – a much better result than when I visited the Everglades. (The actual Alaska state bird is the willow ptarmigan.)
More Quick Interesting Alaska Facts
Now here are more interesting facts about Alaska, presented rapid-fire style. How many of these will surprise you?!
13. The name Alaska comes from the Aleutian word alaxsxaq, meaning “mainland” or “great land.”
14. Here’s one of my favorite fun facts about Alaska: The state flag features the stars of the Big Dipper and the North Star, and it was designed by a 13-year-old who won a contest!
15. Twelve of the 13 highest peaks in America are found in Alaska. The only one that isn’t? Mount Whitney in California.
16. The state’s largest lake is Iliamna Lake. The lake has been the focus of numerous reported sightings of an unknown creature, similar to the Loch Ness Monster. Current wisdom suggests that these might actually be Pacific sleeper sharks.
17. Alaska has an astounding 34,000 miles of shoreline if you include all of its islands. That’s more than the rest of the states combined!
18. The USA acquired Alaska from Russia in 1867 for the price of $7.2 million, or roughly the amount that baseball player Mike Trout makes every 30 games. That $7.2 million is the equivalent of more than $55 million today.
19. In the city of Barrow, the sun rises on May 10 and doesn’t set for three months, as the town experiences 24-hour daylight. In the winter, Barrow experiences three straight months of darkness.
20. Roughly 52% of Alaska’s population is male, giving it the highest percentage of men of any state.
21. You can see the Northern Lights in Fairbanks more than 240 days a year.
22. About 3% of Alaska is covered by glaciers, though not long ago that figure was around 5%. Sadly, they are continuing to shrink due to climate change.
23. Matanuska is the largest glacier in the state that’s accessible by road. You can drive almost right up the base and go hiking inside the glacier.
24. The Tongass is the largest national forest in America, at 16 million acres. You might see some of it on an Alaska cruise through the Inside Passage.
25. The kooky town of Chicken (official population: 7) supposedly got its name because its early residents didn’t know how to spell “ptarmigan.”
26. Alaska’s state motto is “North to the Future.” Its state nickname is “The Last Frontier.”
27. Alaska’s state land mammal is the moose, while the state marine mammal is the bowhead whale. I prefer orcas, which I fortunately got to see on a Kenai Fjords day cruise!
28. Alaska Day, October 18, is an official state holiday that celebrates the anniversary of the transfer of the territory from Russia to the U.S.
29. It is illegal to wake a bear to take a photograph in Alaska. (It is legal to hunt and kill them of course…)
30. It’s also illegal to push a moose out of an airplane. So don’t you dare do it! I know you were thinking about it. Just stop!
31. If your kids mail a letter to Santa Claus, chances are it will end up in the town of North Pole, a real place that has holiday-themed tourist attractions.
32. Alaska’s official state sport is dog mushing. That’s no surprise for a state that runs the annual Iditarod race!
33. During the global health crisis and lockdown of 2020 when much of the world’s air traffic was grounded, Ted Stevens Anchorage Airport became the busiest airport in the world. That was primarily due to cargo planes, which often stop in Anchorage on their way from Asia to the continental U.S.
34. The state capital of Juneau can’t be reached by road from the rest of the continent because it’s so isolated. You can only fly or take a ship to get here. There are roads within Juneau, but they don’t go far. The longest is the Glacier Highway, which runs for 40 miles north of Juneau.
35. And finally, this may be the quirkiest of all the interesting and fun facts about Alaska: It’s the only state whose name you can type using only one row of your laptop keyboard!
We’ve got lots more Alaska content. Wondering how expensive it is to visit Alaska? Or just want to get some frequently asked Alaska questions answered? Take a look at this essay of Alaska photographs.
Do you have any more interesting trivia or fun facts about Alaska to add?