47 Down, Three To Go
February 9, 2016 7:33 PM   Subscribe

There are only three states in the US that I haven't been to: Alaska, Maine, and North Dakota. I'd like to knock all three of them out this year. Your suggestions on where to go, when to go, what to do and see?
posted by spilon to Travel & Transportation around United States (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Where are you starting? How long do you have overall? What kinds of things do you like to do and what is your budget? Give us something to work with here.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 7:58 PM on February 9, 2016

All of Alaska is interesting, some of it spectacular. Anchorage is a suburb of Seattle. Fairbanks gives you a sense of what living in cold really means. The Kenai peninsula and its towns are nice, and rainy. Juneau, Ketchikan, etc. are good, but you can't drive and get there.

Bar Harbor, Maine is a scenic spot; somewhat touristy in the summer, but very nice. Kennebunkport. Augusta for a small capital city is pretty okay.

I suggest the badlands of western North Dakota. Eastern North Dakota; well, there's a lot of there, there. You can watch your dog run away for three days. I love North Dakota; my folks grew up in Devil's Lake. But I'd stay to the west for more spectacular scenery.

Again, like Joey Buttafoucault said, if you can provide more information, we can provide more suggestions.
posted by blob at 8:01 PM on February 9, 2016

If you go to Alaska, and go to Denali, and it happens to be a rare clear day, do whatever it takes to take an airplane tour.

Equally important, the best breakfast in Anchorage is at Snow City Cafe.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:08 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maine: Acadia National Park
Alaska: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry up from Bellingham
North Dakota: maybe start here?
posted by jessamyn at 8:09 PM on February 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park a few years ago in late September. It was sublime. We had the park to ourselves and the weather was perfect. I've also heard that it is wonderful in the spring, with the wildflowers.
posted by Elly Vortex at 8:16 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: For those asking for guidelines such as budget, time frame, etc. There really are no rules - just brainstorming at this stage and looking for interesting ideas. Each destination will be an individual trip, leaving from the NYC area. Assuming I'll just drive to Maine for a long weekend, but will fly to ND and AK.
posted by spilon at 8:38 PM on February 9, 2016

Yeah, Teddy Roosevelt Park really is beautiful.
posted by Area Man at 9:40 PM on February 9, 2016

In terms of when to go, the Wall Street Journal recently had a story about North Dakota's "Best for Last" club - if you go to the Fargo visitor's center and tell them North Dakota is the 50th state you have visited, you become part of the Best for Last club complete with t-shirt, etc. I haven't done it, but it sounds nice!
posted by Mallenroh at 9:46 PM on February 9, 2016 [9 favorites]

Acadia is the classic outdoors choice in Maine, but if you prefer more urban pursuits, Portland is a pleasant little city with lots of good food, tons of excellent local breweries, and easy-to-reach scenic locations, like the Eastern Promenade or the Portland Head Light on Cape Elizabeth. I'm also told the Portland Sea Dogs games are awesome if you're a baseball fan. I think Portland has a vaguely quaint vibe as cities go, with hipsters and tourists all mixed in with the traditional Mainer crowd, so the bearded dude in flannel might be an actual lumberjack or the bartender at the new speakeasy. Just north of there is Freeport, where you can find the humongous L.L. Bean flagship stores, open 24/7, just in case you are in dire need of boots and a canoe at 3 AM.
posted by Diagonalize at 9:50 PM on February 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

I’m Alaskan, as in really grew up here. I’m not going to pepper this with links because you can Google.

Southeast Alaska

Juneau, besides being the state capital and deep within the Alexander Archipelago environment of narrow ocean channels, forest, and mountains, has the Mendenhall Glacier within the road network (less than twenty-minute drive from downtown) which is fed by a huge glacial ice field behind those coastal mountains (helicopter tour will actually take you over and on it). A lot of other nature tours operate out of Juneau. If you were going to see Glacier Bay, Juneau is where you’d likely depart from.

Sitka, on the outer coast is beautiful and has Mt. Edgecumbe (a classic cone volcano) in view across Sitka Sound. It was the Russian capital during their occupation but also a Tlingit settlement long before that. The Alaska Marine Highway trip between Juneau and Sitka is a nice overnight trip for the scenery along the way, but otherwise it’s about a half-hour ride by jet between the two.

Skagway has its history as the place people got off boats to get into Yukon Territory during the gold rush, but it is boring by Alaskan standards and the town itself is largely a tourist trap for cruise ship passengers. The only reason to go there is if you were putting your car on the ferry and were driving to/from Canada.

Haines is another port in the northern panhandle which has road access to Canada and is better than Skagway.

Ketchikan has little to recommend it over other towns in Southeast Alaska as a destination but is a common stop as the first/last port in Alaska for cruise ships due to location.

Southeastern Alaska as a whole is the land of the Tlingit and Haida people.

South-Central Alaska

I’d disagree strongly with the assessment that “Anchorage is a suburb of Seattle”, but Anchorage itself is not a place i’d go out of my way to see; it is mostly a product of the oil boom. It’s a place you’d fly to in order to travel elsewhere by land.

The Kenai Peninsula is nice and where you’d want to go to see coastal Alaska and glaciers if you were not going to Southeast Alaska.

If not driving, Denali and Fairbanks are reachable by train. This would be this region’s closest equivalent to taking the state ferry in Southeast Alaska.

Fairbanks, being in the interior, is cold in the winter. Being close the the Arctic Circle it’s the closest you’d be to seeing “midnight sun” in June without going to one of the small villages farther north to really see it.

North Slope and Western Alaska

If you want to see the Arctic (with tundra and polar bears) you could go to Barrow.

Similarly, Nome on the far west coast and Bethel in the southwest are the largest towns in those regions. Large expanses of flat, marshy land between the ocean and mountains.

These areas are Inupiat and Yupik territory.
posted by D.C. at 9:55 PM on February 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I suggest you fly into Anchorage, take the train to Denali, then fly back to Anchorage, and rent a car to visit the Kenai. That should work out to about a week's worth of fun and incredible landscape.
posted by artdrectr at 11:33 PM on February 9, 2016

I've only ever been to Maine, but there are no bad places to go there. Literally everything is great. You can't make a bad choice. My favorites were York Beach, downtown Kennebunk, and the Congress Street area/downtown Portland (although, I learned from a previous AskMe that my favorite restaurant there closed). If you do go to Portland, get a pizza from Pizza Joint. My wife recommends the Portland Headlight.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:31 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

I've been to Anchorage in the summer. I went to cheer on a friend who ran a marathon. There wasn't a lot to do in town, it seemed that Alaska was more about getting out into nature. We did a trip to a national park and that was really cool.

I think that for ease of seeing as much as you can in as much comfort as possible, I would recommend an Alaska cruise. They'll have day trips to all the beautiful parks and villages. Of course being a cruise person...you either are or you aren't. I like them because once you're there you make no real decisions and your ability to truly relax...it's fantastic.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:29 AM on February 10, 2016

My parents did an Alaskan Cruise last fall and had an absolutely great time. It was 7 days on the boat and 4 days on land, then flew out of (whatever the last city was).
posted by getawaysticks at 5:23 AM on February 10, 2016

I have a full Maine summer weekend itinerary to share with you I put together and have loved. I call it lobsters and lighthouses and it's 2 days of beautiful stops at historic lighthouses and eating great seafood and staying at a historic Inn. Oh and eating fresh blueberries and picking them too.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 5:38 AM on February 10, 2016

If you're interested in seeing Alaska in the winter, Fairbanks in mid-March is usually pretty great. There's still snow on the ground, but it's beautifully sunny for a long time, and it'll have warmed up, usually to a bit below freezing. The (XC) skiing's great. And you can see the world ice art competition, which is kinda fun. I don't think Denali's open yet though. You'll have to come back.
posted by leahwrenn at 5:45 AM on February 10, 2016


Contact these people and go horseback riding from their property in the middle of Denali Park.


Go on a Windjammer cruise.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:09 AM on February 10, 2016

Late to the game, but North Dakotan here:

Yes, TR National Park, with the Painted Canyon, is excellent and not to be missed, especially if you like nature walks. I don't know how familiar you are with territory days out this way, but Fort Union is worth a stop, maybe schedule to attend the rendezvous, which is sort of like LARPing as fur trappers and indian traders, a similar but an interesting tributary compared to Rennaisance Faires and Civil War Reenactments. If you go to Fort Union, also hit Fort Buford, which is similar in time period, but less touristy . Stand on the hill with the graveyard and look out over the rolling plains, it's not much different from when first settled.

If you want straight-up history, go to the State Museum on the capitol grounds. Fort Abraham Lincoln Park is a short drive away.

Medora is touristy fun, sort of a mini-Branson of the north.

The International Peace Garden might be worth a stop. Up that way, you can take in the natural surroundings of the Turtle Mountains too.

If you're driving, there's a giant cow on top of a hill you can walk up to, and a giant buffalo in Jamestown. The Enchanted Highway is supposedly interesting, but I haven't seen it.

One thing I always tell people, though: North Dakota is big. It takes six to eight hours to drive across it. Unless you're staying for a week, you won't be able to hit Fargo, and Bismarck, and TR National Park, and Fort Union, and the Peace Gardens, all in the same trip unless you spend 90% of your trip driving, which is no fun. Pick an area -- like Medora, Painted Canyon, and Fort Union, which is along probably a 3-4 hour stretch along the western border, and just hit those. Or, just Turtle Mountains and Peace Garden. Or just Fargo and Bismarck.

If you're going out west, make reservations early. Although the oil industry is drying up, it's still pretty busy out that way and hotels are likely booked up.
posted by AzraelBrown at 7:51 AM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Comment removed; I get the good intention but that's waaaaay too long to toss into the thread, just link the PDF or drop the asker a mefimail about it.
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:25 AM on February 10, 2016

I stayed in Camden, Maine a few years ago at a beautiful farm-to-table BnB. It was so quaint and an easy drive to Acadia National Park and the little towns that dot the coast. Good luck!
posted by orangesky4 at 11:05 AM on February 10, 2016

Thirding Teddy Roosevelt NP. Never been to AK or ME.
posted by desjardins at 11:17 AM on February 10, 2016

Sorry, i tried to add the travel itinerary to the thread per your request that you memailed me, but it was deleted. if you want it you're going to have to provide me an email address to send it to you.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 12:06 PM on February 10, 2016

Go to one of the states over 4th of July, and pick a small town to celebrate in. Everybody celebrates the 4th somehow, so you are most likely to get a real slice of americana this way.
ND was my 50th (wish i had known about the last best thing mentioned above) and i did it on a road trip from seattle. timing for the 4th was off, so we ended up in Miles City Montana on the 4th but it was still pretty great.
posted by OHenryPacey at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

That's awesome (I'm currently at 43 and jealous)!

I checked Alaska off my list last August. We were staying with a friend who lives in Anchorage, so we were using Anchorage as a base between other things but didn't spend a whole lot of there. Some stuff we did:
- Salmon fishing - we did this right outside of Anchorage and we had one of our local friends lending us gear and teaching us what to do, but I assume there are companies that can arrange something similar?
- Camping in Denali - we had time to take the bus in about a third of the way along the park road, go for a couple short hikes, and spend one night at our campsite - it was not enough but it was still a good time, and I achieved one of my major life goals of seeing a moose (several times over).
- Airplane tour - we used Talkeetna Air Taxi - spring for the glacier landing, it was the absolutely highlight of our whole trip. The tiny town of Talkeetna is probably epic tourist cheese, but I thought it was super charming.
- hiking in the Chugach National Forest - the Winner Creek Trail Hand Tram is a fun spot.
- Camping on Resurrection Bay near Seward - we had originally planned to do some kayaking, which didn't work out, but you definitely should get in some time on the water if possible! This is a gorgeous area and great for wildlife spotting (eagles, otters, etc.). I also really liked Seward itself.
I would happily go back again and stay for much longer and see much more, but this was a manageable and satisfying itinerary for a short trip. August seemed to me like the perfect time of year to go for decent temperatures, long days, etc. - the only thing it's not ideal for is northern lights. I'll also add that I was really pleasantly surprised by what awesome food (and beer!) we had the entire time - on the expensive side but delicious.

In Maine, I love Camden and the entire Penobscot Bay area, Acadia, and Moody's Diner in Waldoboro.
posted by naoko at 4:23 PM on February 10, 2016

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