Geography of Alaska

Learn Information about the 49th U.S. State

watercolor map of Alaska

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Population: 738,432 (2015 est)
Capital: Juneau
Bordering Areas: Yukon Territory and British Columbia, Canada
Area: 663,268 square miles (1,717,854 sq km)
Highest Point: Denali or Mt. McKinley at 20,320 feet (6,193 m)

Alaska is a state in the United States that is located in the far northwest of North America. It is bordered by Canada to the east, the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south and west. Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. and it was the 49th state to be admitted into the Union. Alaska joined the U.S. on January 3, 1959. Alaska is known for its largely undeveloped land, mountains, glaciers, harsh climate and biodiversity.
The following is a list of ten facts about Alaska.
1) It is believed that Paleolithic people first moved into Alaska sometime between 16,000 and 10,000 B.C.E after they crossed the Bering Land Bridge from eastern Russia. These people developed a strong Native American culture in the region which still thrives in certain parts of the state today. Europeans first entered Alaska in 1741 after explorers led by Vitus Bering entered the area from Russia. Shortly thereafter fur trading began and the first European settlement was founded in Alaska in 1784.
2) In the early 19th century the Russian-American Company began a colonization program in Alaska and small towns began to grow. New Archangel, located on Kodiak Island, was Alaska's first capital. In 1867 though, Russia sold Alaska to the growing U.S. for $7.2 million under the Alaskan Purchase because none of its colonies were ever very profitable.
3) In the 1890s, Alaska grew considerably when gold was found there and in the neighboring Yukon Territory. In 1912, Alaska became an official territory of the U.S. and its capital was moved to Juneau. Growth continued in Alaska during World War II after three of its Aleutian Islands were invaded by the Japanese between 1942 and 1943. As a result, Dutch Harbor and Unalaska became important military areas for the U.S.
4) After the construction of other military bases throughout Alaska, the population of the territory began to grow considerably. On July 7, 1958, it was approved that Alaska would become the 49th state to enter the Union and on January 3, 1959 the territory became a state.
5) Today Alaska has a fairly large population but most of the state is undeveloped due to its large size. It grew throughout late 1960s and into the 1970s and 1980s after the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968 and the construction of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1977.
6) Alaska is the largest state based on area in the U.S., and it has an extremely varied topography. The state has numerous islands like the Aleutian Islands which extend west from the Alaska Peninsula. Many of these islands are volcanic. The state is also home to 3.5 million lakes and has extensive areas of marshland and wetland permafrost. Glaciers cover 16,000 square miles (41,000 sq km) of land and the state has rugged mountain ranges like the Alaska and Wrangell Ranges as well as flat tundra landscapes.
7) Because Alaska is so large the state is often divided into different regions when studying its geography. The first of these is South Central Alaska. This is where the state's largest cities and most of the state's economy are. Cities here include Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla. The Alaska Panhandle is another region which makes up southeastern Alaska and includes Juneau. This area is has rugged mountains, forests and is where the state's famous glaciers are located. Southwest Alaska is a sparsely populated coastal area. It has a wet, tundra landscape and is very biodiverse. The Alaskan Interior is where Fairbanks is located and it is mainly flat with Arctic tundra and long, braided rivers. Finally, the Alaskan Bush is the most remote part of the state. This region has 380 villages and small towns. Barrow, the northernmost city in the U.S. is located here.
8) In addition to its diverse topography, Alaska is a biodiverse state. Arctic National Wildife Refuge covers 29,764 square miles (77,090 sq km) in the northeast part of the state. 65% of Alaska is owned by the U.S. government and is under protection as national forests, national parks and wildlife refuges. Southwest Alaska for example is mainly undeveloped and it has large populations of salmon, brown bears, caribou, many species of birds as well as marine mammals.
9) The climate of Alaska varies based on location and the geographic regions are useful for climate descriptions as well. The Alaska Panhandle has an oceanic climate with cool to mild temperatures and heavy precipitation year round. South Central Alaska has a subarctic climate with cold winters and mild summers. Southwest Alaska also has a subarctic climate but it is moderated by the ocean in its coastal areas. The Interior is subarctic with very cold winters and sometimes very hot summers, while the northern Alaskan Bush is Arctic with very cold, long winters and short, mild summers.
10) Unlike other states in the U.S., Alaska is not divided into counties. Instead the state is divided into boroughs. The sixteen most densely populated boroughs function similarly to counties but the rest of the state falls under the category of unorganized borough.
To learn more about Alaska, visit the state's official website.
References (n.d.). Alaska: History, Geography, Population and State Facts- Retrieved from: (2 January 2016). Alaska - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: (25 September 2010). Geography of Alaska - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from:

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Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Alaska." ThoughtCo, Oct. 3, 2021, Briney, Amanda. (2021, October 3). Geography of Alaska. Retrieved from Briney, Amanda. "Geography of Alaska." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).