Alaska

Conserving the Last Frontier
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Smithsonian Student Travel  |  Student Journey  |  Alaska

Though nicknamed the “Last Frontier,” Alaska was the first path for human settlement of the Americas. On this high school student journey through the 49th State, investigate Alaska’s thousands of years of pre-European history, engage with its thriving and diverse Indigenous cultures, and immerse yourself in its stunning, wild landscapes. Learn from experts in linguistic and genetic anthropology, and from archaeologists working to uncover evidence of the first North American settlements. Meet young Gwich’in (or Yupik) cultural ambassadors who keep their language alive through song, story, and artwork, and chefs who create modern interpretations of traditional moose and caribou recipes. Observe brown bears, moose, and elk, and discuss the pressures they face with wildlife conservationists and climate scientists. Experience the state’s wild side as you float down wide braided rivers, kayak beneath glaciated peaks, and hike historical and cultural trails.
June 23, 2022–July 10, 2022 (18 days)
July 13, 2022–July 30, 2022 (18 days)
Students completing grades: 8–12
Tuition: $7,590 + airfare
Typical Group: 16–18 + 2 leaders

Highlights

  • Practice traditional beading, weaving, or boatbuilding with master artisans

  • Take a traditional Russian banya and jump in one of Alaska’s icy lakes

  • Raft the Nenana River and spot moose along the shoreline

  • Join archaeologists on a dig at an important prehistoric site

Itinerary

This itinerary represents our best projection of the group’s schedule. However, we may implement changes designed to improve the quality of the program.

Departure • Travel Day • Meet your student travel group and one of your trip leaders in Seattle, and fly together to Juneau, Alaska. 

Juneau & Tongass National Forest • 3 days • Begin your journey exploring the Inside Passage, using the capital of Juneau as your home base. Settle into your seaside accommodations and get to know your leaders and fellow students. Discover the surrounding wilderness area of Tongass National Forest, spotting orca whales, sea otters, bears, and eagles as you traverse fjords and glaciers in this lush temperate rainforest environment where mountains and islands collide. Dig into the complicated history of the creation of this U.S. National Forest, which is the ancestral home of the Tlingit and Haida people, as well as current struggles over its protection. Meet with a curator at the Alaska State Museum and build a foundation of understanding of the anthropological and natural history of Alaska. Visit the Sealaska Heritage Center and immerse yourself in art from native Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian Peoples, who have a history in Southeastern Alaska dating back over 10,000 years.

Anchorage3 days • Board a flight to the state’s largest city, Anchorage, and continue to unpack 10,000 years of history through hands-on activities and lectures. Meet with a professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage and attend a lecture on Alaska Native cultures. Then, at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, play traditional games, practice beading with master artisans, and learn about ancient artifacts and their uses. Listen to songs and stories and attend a dance performance. Spend an afternoon hiking and exploring the nearby Chugach Mountains, training your eye to identify local flora and fauna. Understand the importance of glaciers in Alaska’s history and geology, and how their recession is affecting local people and communities. 

Denali National Park • 3 days • Travel north to Denali National Park and Preserve. Head out on hikes across the taiga with guides from a nearby education center. The park and preserve comprises six million acres of subarctic taiga and tundra, is populated by impressive and iconic wildlife, and is home to North America’s tallest mountain, Denali, at 20,308 feet. Hike to remote ridges to get a once-in-a-lifetime view of the colossal mountain the Athabascan people call “The Great One.” Unpack the complex history of national parks and of the Athabascan people, the original stewards of the land. 

Village3 days • Continue to a small Gwich’in village in Northeast Alaska. Witness how community members continue to preserve traditions on their ancestral lands, and steps they are taking to protect it. Discuss oil development plans in a nearby wildlife refuge, how landscape shapes cultural identity, and the importance of caribou to the local diet and customs. Share locally grown and prepared meals, interview Gwich’in cultural ambassadors, and learn how they are preserving their language through song, storytelling, and art. 

Fairbanks • 4 days • Head to Fairbanks and meet your Smithsonian Student Travel expert. Develop an understanding of how the changing environment is impacting local communities. Discuss how the thawing of permafrost is re-shaping the landscape and explore the different ways communities are responding and adapting. Float down the Nenana River and observe the stunning and expansive Alaskan landscapes from your raft. Meet with a linguist from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and gain an understanding of the roots of Athabascan languages and what is being done to preserve them. Join archaeologists on a dig at a nearby site and meet with a researcher at the Museum of the North, digging into prehistoric artifacts both in the field and at the museum. Reflect on the importance of preserving diverse histories, the evolution of cultures and landscapes, and current work to preserve, restore, and protect natural spaces.

Return • Travel Day • Fly from Fairbanks to Seattle with your group and a trip leader, then continue on to your final destination.

What to Expect

Physical Activity • This is a physically active summer travel program. You can expect to hike, raft, and kayak while on the trip. You do not need to be at peak fitness to participate, but it is important that you have a desire to be physically active, and that you are excited about trying all activities. 

Accommodations • While in Anchorage, the group stays in dorms at the University of Alaska. Rooms are doubles with shared bathrooms. In Denali, we stay in cabins and canvas tents near the edge of Denali National Park. While in Juneau and Fairbanks, the group will stay in small locally run hotels and hostels.

Climate • Highs during the day in the summertime can vary from around 60-75 degrees, while during the night it could reach 50 degrees. Rain is less frequent during the summer months, but expect some light showers and sunlight for around 17 hours a day.

Meals • We eat breakfast and most dinners at our accommodations. For lunches we head to the market to buy supplies for a picnic lunch.

Cuisine • You can find most types of cuisine in Alaska, from tacos to local vegetarian food. Common breakfast items include reindeer sausage and large portions of hotcakes. Expect a bounty of fresh caught fish, especially salmon, which is caught fresh every day.

Sign up for two programs & save $500!

$300 tuition discount + no application fee