- A lot of people have the wrong idea about Alaska, the largest state in the United States.
- After spending three months in small-town Alaska, I learned that a lot of what people say about the state simply isn’t true.
- It’s not always frozen and dog sleds aren’t really a thing … but people do carry bear spray.
Alaska is a state most people only know from movies, TV shows, and stories about their family’s summer cruise.
So it’s not surprising that most people’s idea of Alaska is drastically different than reality in the state.
Back in 2011, I spent three months working for a small-town newspaper in Skagway, Alaska, and in my short time there, I learned that not everything people say about America’s biggest state is true.
Here are the biggest misconceptions about Alaska and what people are getting wrong:
It’s freezing cold and snowing all the time
If you ask the average American to summarize Alaska in one word, they’d probably say “cold.”
And they’d be right — for much of the year, Alaska’s temperatures dip below freezing, and it’s common for snow to fall anywhere between October and April.
But outsiders might be surprised to learn that Alaska warms up considerably in the southern months, especially along the southern coast and panhandle. In the hottest stretch of the year, in July and August, temperatures can soar upwards of 70 degrees Fahrenheit in southern towns.
Weather can be even more extreme in the sparsely populated interior of Alaska, where record temperatures on both ends of the spectrum were set. The statewide record low of -80 degrees Fahrenheit occurred in Prospect Creek, while the record high of 100 degrees was set in Fort Yukon.
You have to watch out for polar bears
Because of its icy reputation, people often assume polar bears run rampant across Alaska.
In reality, polar bears only live along Alaska’s arctic coastlines, far from most human settlements.
A much more common sight is a grizzly bear or a black bear, both of which roam freely throughout the state, at times causing a disturbance when they come into contact with locals.
For that reason, Alaskans know to use “bear-proof” metal garbage containers and often have in their cars a spare bottle of bear spray — that is, an extremely strong pepper spray — in case things get hairy.
People live in igloos and get around by dogsled
Contrary to what you may have learned in elementary school, the Inuit people of Alaska don’t live in igloos, and only use them occasionally during hunting trips.
And as for dogsledding, you’ll rarely see it outside the world-famous Iditarod race and tourist excursions that try to recreate the experience.