Logo bar of the Alaska Public Lands Information Centers which are located in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Tok and Ketchikan
Picture of the ocean with two large whaling ships in the background and a small boat and breaching whale in the foreground
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Major Exploration in Alaska

The First Humans

No one is sure when the first peoples came to North America through Alaska, nor how, but it seems most likely that they crossed over the Bering Land Bridge sometime during the last Ice Age no more recently than about 10,000 years ago.  Evidence suggests that only about 70 individuals were successful enough to survive, as all American indigenous people have such similar traits after so long a time. These people were undisturbed for probably tens of thousands of years before they came into contact with the developing world...

Eagle perched on Holy Ascension Orthodox Church
Robert Spude
Eagle perched on Holy Ascension Orthodox Church
The Russians
The "Great Nordic Expedition" brought one Vitus Jonassen Bering to Southern Alaska in 1741 as he explored the area for the Russians. Legend says that 10,000 men took part in this venture, exploring the Aleutian Islands as well as the area that became Southcentral Alaska. His maps would be some of the first of the area, though the voyage would be his death; scurvy struck his crew as they were stranded on a desolate island and claimed many lives, including that of Bering.

Russian fur traders were next to come to the area, looking to exploit the luxurious furs of the sea otters, which were abundant at the time. Over time, the Russians established settlements along the area, concentrated in Southeast Alaska and the Aleutian Islands.


Captain Cook
British explorer Captain James Cook, on his search for the Northwest Passage, arrived on the coasts of Alaska in 1778. With him came a host of other renowned explorers including William Bligh, George Vancouver, and John Ledyard. Cook and his crew made contact with the Russians, and by combining their charts with his own was able to construct a drastically more complete view of the Northwest Pacific. He also traveled through the Bering Strait, crossing the Arctic Circle, traveling farther north than any European explorer had ever done before.

The Americans 

The United States purchased Alaska in 1867, (See the Alaska timeline at Within a few decades, they had penetrated not only into the interior, but well into the arctic as well. The population of these areas was largely due to the numerous gold rushes that took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

Portrait of early American explorer John Ledyard.
Adventures of John Ledyard
Come explore the unbelievable life of John Ledyard on our living history walking tour.
Hundreds of gold flakes in a green pan.
Gold Fever
Find out more information on gold mining or panning in Alaska!
Captain Cook
Walking Tours
Join a park ranger at 11:00 & 3:15 during the summer for a FREE Captain Cook walking tour!
Captain James Waddell aboard his ship.
Captain James Waddell
Learn about his time in Alaska during the civil war!
A bald eagle in flight Did You Know?
The largest concentration of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) in North America occurs during the fall and winter along the Chilkat River, in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, where up to 3,000 eagles congregate to feed on salmon.