Take in these tales of Alaskan adventures to get psyched about your own.
Whether you’re leaving in a month or looking for something to read on the flight, here are 13 documentaries, movies, and books that will enhance your visit to Alaska.
Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kantner
A heartbreaking and beautiful novel from the far north, Seth Kantner’s novel follows the life of Cutuk Hawcley, who like Kantner is raised in a sod igloo in Alaska’s Arctic. Scorned and beaten by members of the nearby Inupiaq community, Hawcley must find his way in a world that has rejected him.
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
Arguably the most controversial and divisive story to come out of Alaska in the last 25 years, Into the Wild examines the life and travels of Chris McCandless. The book and subsequent 2007 film adaptation details Chris’s journey from college graduate to rambling tramp. Eventually he finds his way to Alaska and an abandoned bus on the outskirts of Denali National Park, where he eventually meets his demise. McCandless’s story has inspired countless imitators and has drawn criticism and intrigue alike from Alaska’s outdoor elite.
Call of the Wild by Jack London
No list of Alaskan literature is complete without London’s 1903 adventure novel. Inspired by London’s time in the Yukon, the story follows a husky named Buck who is kidnapped from his home in California and sent north to become a sled dog. As Buck becomes immersed in the competitive and grueling world of sled dogs, the remaining vestiges of his civilized world are stripped away.
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Set in the 1920s, The Snow Child is the story of a childless homesteading couple named Jack and Mabel whose lives are turned upside down by the sudden appearance of a little girl on their land. The girl, who refers to herself as Faina, seems capable of surviving in the harsh wilderness all by herself. Part fairy tale and part mystery, Eowyn Ivey’s debut novel was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for fiction and is a page-turner to the very end.
Hyperboreal by Joan Naviyuk Kane
Written in both English and her native Inupiaq, Hyperboreal is a collection of poetry that captures the far north of Alaska beautifully. With content ranging from the struggle to maintain her people’s culture and language to sense of place within the landscape, Kane’s work is an honest and real window into the lives of those that live in one of the planet’s harshest environments.
Blonde Indian by Ernestine Hayes
A real and at times sobering examination of Alaska’s native population since the arrival of Europeans, Ernestine Hayes’s memoir is obligatory reading for those wishing to confront the recent struggles and issues of the state. Filled with stories of the Tlingit people, Hayes’s book is especially significant for those who will be visiting the Tlingit’s home of southeast Alaska.
Wild Alaska’s National Parks, National Geographic
A great introductory documentary to Alaska’s parks focuses on highlights of the state like Denali, Katmai, and Glacier Bay. The National Geographic film includes fantastic footage from across the state and is a great starting point for determining which parts of Alaska you want to dedicate the majority of your vacation to.
Between Earth & Sky, Directed by Paul Allen Hunton
While Alaska may seem to be overflowing with natural beauty and wonder, it is also on the frontlines of the fight against climate change. From melting permafrost and depleting salmon stocks to whole villages falling into the sea, Paul Allen Hunton’s documentary examines how we got here, what is happening, and what we can do to make the world habitable for the generations to follow. The documentary features a mix of interviews with leading climate scientists and conversations with those that are struggling with the fallout of our changing climate on a daily basis.
30 Days of Night
Loosely based in the town of Barrow on Alaska’s northern slope (the film was actually shot in New Zealand), 30 Days of Night is a horror film about the month each year when the sun fails to rise around the winter equinox. As the sun sets, a gang of vampires descends upon the town threatening the lives of the inhabitants and it’s up to Barrow’s sheriff (played by Josh Hartnett) to beat back the horde and keep the survivors alive.
Raven Tells Stories
This anthology of native Alaskan writers features poetry, stories, journal entries, essays, and fictional pieces. The authors’ relationships with the natural world is a key theme throughout the book as is the oppression and now attempted revival of Alaskan Native culture. The book contains a mix of first-time published authors and well-established mainstays such as Mary TallMountain and Fred Bigjim.
Grizzly Man Directed by Werner Herzog
If Chris McCandless is the most controversial figure in recent Alaskan history, Timothy Treadwell, aka the “Grizzly Man” is a close second. A self-proclaimed grizzly bear expert, Treadwell spent several summers in the Alaskan bush communing with and carrying on one-way conversations with his four-legged friends before being killed by a bear in 2003. A sympathetic if naive character, Treadwell’s end is summarized succinctly by a native Alaskan, “My people have been living nicely with bears for thousands of years and we know enough to stay out of each other’s way.”
For a more light-hearted option, Brother Bear is a whimsical tale from Disney about a man who is turned into a brown bear in order to give him a different perspective of the world. The only way he can return to his human form is with the help of a talkative little bear cub and a couple of goofy moose.
Two in the Far North by Margaret Murie
This is the amazing true story of the “grandmother of conservation”, Margaret Murie. An original founder of the Wilderness Society, Murie’s autobiography follows her and her husband Olaus’s life in Alaska and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Two in the Far North is an incredible window into the bedrock of the conservation movement and captures the essence of Alaska’s wildest places.