Nearly 60 percent of visitors to Alaska see the state's Native culture: totem carving, Native dancing, the blanket toss, art and traditional music and museums. Whether travelers want to explore Alaska's vibrant Native culture or other artistic and intellectual attractions like music festivals, local artisan artwork, Russian iconography or museum exhibits, a long list of things to do and see await them.
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Southeast Alaska Totem Poles, Chamber Music and Petroglyphs
In Southeast Alaska, cultural attractions abound. Sitka is home to Sitka National Historic Park, which houses an impressive collection of totem poles. Visitors to the park can wander forested trails while learning about stories the poles tell. Tour St. Michael's Cathedral, a bright blue, onion-domed Russian Orthodox Church that dominates Sitka's skyline. If visitors get their timing right, they can attend the Sitka Summer Music Festival. Held every year in June, it emphasizes chamber music and attracts an international group of professional musicians.
Working along the coast of the Inside Passage is the town of Wrangell. Wrangell holds the distinction of being the only Alaskan city to have existed under four nations and three flags—the Stikine Tlingits, the Russians, Great Britain and the United States. The Wrangell Museum features cultural exhibits, such as the oldest known Tlingit housepost in Southeast Alaska, a rare spruce canoe and spruce root and cedar bark basket collections. Wrangell is best known for its impressive collection of petroglyphs. The Alaska State Park at Petroglyph Beach features a newly constructed, fully accessible wooden boardwalk where guests can make rubbings from reproduced petroglyphs.
In Ketchikan, the cultural traveler can find authentic totem poles. The Totem Heritage Center houses 33 totems and fragments retrieved from deserted Tlingit and Haida Indian villages. In fact, this national landmark houses the largest collection of original totems in the United States. Saxman Totem Park houses totems as well, but includes carving demonstrations and performances by the Cape Fox Dancers at the Beaver Tribal House. Galleries galore are found on Ketchikan's bustling waterfront. The Blueberry Arts Festival, held annually in August, features arts and crafts, performing arts, a juried art show and other fun activities.
Haines, meanwhile, has a rich tradition of Tlingit culture. The area was originally named Deishu, meaning beginning of the trail. The local Native community of Klukwan is considered to be the mother village and the cradle of the Tlingit people.
In Haines, visitors can experience Native heritage in many ways. Known as an artists' haven, there are numerous art galleries. There, visitors can find beautiful pieces of Native artwork, from intricately carved jewelry to limited edition prints, hand-carved masks and basketry. The Sheldon Museum has an impressive collection of Chilkat Blankets and is a wealth of information for those interested in the history of the local Chilkat and Chilkoot tribes.
Local Native-owned businesses offer custom tours through the Chilkat Valley and into the Village of Klukwan, as well as daily catamaran service to Skagway. Alaska Indian Arts, located in historic Fort Seward, is a world-renowned center for totem carving and other Native arts. Open to the public and free of charge, visitors can enjoy watching master carvers at work while learning a little bit about the traditions of the Tlingit people. Nearby is the Totem Village, with a collection of totems surrounding a Tlingit Tribal House. This is where the Chilkat Dancers Storytelling Theatre performs contemporary interpretations of traditional Native legends. The show is performed most evenings throughout the summer and is a "must see."
Juneau also is rich in Tlingit culture, specifically art—totem poles, carvings, weaving, jewelry and demonstrations. Many of Juneau's public and private business and buildings are decorated with Tlingit art, and the local Native corporation owns and operates visitor attractions and activities in Juneau as well as Glacier Bay National Park and Glacier Bay Cruise line. At the Mt. Roberts Tram, also Native-owned, visitors can view the award-winning film "Seeing Daylight," a celebration of Tlingit culture and history. The Alaska State Museum has on display not only many artifacts of the local Native culture, but also of the Native culture of the entire state.
Southcentral Alaska Home to Alaska Native Heritage Center
Alaska's south-central region, encompassing Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula and the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, features some of the best the state has to offer for cultural travelers. Anchorage is home to the impressive Alaska Native Heritage Center, a unique cultural site dedicated to educating visitors about Alaska Native groups. The Center presents programs in academic and informal settings, including workshops, demonstrations and guided tours of indoor exhibits and outdoor village sites.
After visiting Anchorage, cultural travelers may want to rent a car and drive south on the Seward Highway to the Kenai Peninsula. The Seward Highway was named an All-American Road in 2000 and boasts some of the country's most spectacular scenery. A stop in hip and funky Girdwood is a must on this road trip. Located at the base of Mount Alyeska, the ski town is home to a group of artists who like the small-town feel of the place. Visitors can visit any number of small, unique galleries year-round or time their visit to coincide with the Girdwood Forest Fair, a midsummer arts and crafts event.