If you’€™re not one for stepping off the pavement after a long flight to Alaska and exploring nooks and crannies of endless wilderness, stop reading now.

If a trip to the last frontier is the last check box on your bucket list, the agency-booked option might be right for you. Book a tour bus, rail car or cruise ship and you get to lumber past the glacial rivers, towering peaks and dark forests that lie beyond.

But I’€™m here to tell you how to take on the Alaskan Wilderness without summoning a travel agency.

Unfortunately, no, this is not the most convenient way to explore. You will have sore muscles. You will have a few headaches. But on the other hand, you will leave with wanderlust for more. And you will get to stop and smell the Arctic roses.

Step 1: Find a car

Once you land in Anchorage, renting or–if you’€™re lucky–€”borrowing a car is your first step to freedom in Alaska. You can go for a bike touring option, but you might regret it when you realize everything of interest comes in 50-mile increments. With the varying climate, your vehicle will allow you to chase some better weather if your current location isn’€™t favorable.

Step 2: Hit the trails

The greatest tragedy in Alaskan tourism today is that the charters that many book pass by hundreds of the most breathtaking hiking trails on Earth. With your handy-dandy car, you can explore the trailheads that look interesting to you. The Matanuska Valley often gets overlooked due to its residential feel. Don’€™t be fooled. The towering mountains and glacial river valleys that make its borders are host to endless adventure opportunities and life-changing scenery. An extra bonus: Most fees in Alaska’€™s recreational areas are less than $10.

Step 3: Get on the water

Alaska has about 3,197 lakes (that’€™s named lakes of which there are over 3 million unnamed lakes!), 9,728 named rivers and 6,640 miles of marine coastline. Getting in some kind of boat, at least once, is a must. Whether it’s kayaking Eklutna Lake’€™s powder-blue waters, rafting the Nenana River or meandering around glacial fjords watching for whales, there’€™s no better way to appreciate Alaska than on its water. I’€™d recommend visiting Homer, Seward and Whittier ports for viewing both wildlife and glaciers.

Step 4: Take to the air

If you’€™ve never seen a braided river from above, traced a mountain ridgeline through the window of a de Havilland Otter or touched down on the uppermost part of a glacier–€”book a flight. This experience will change the way you view wilderness, beauty and our planet. Talkeetna, an artsy town on the Susitna River, offers several flightseeing tour options through their commercial airport. If the skies are nice and you’€™re in the area, spend the cash. It may be the biggest splurge you make all year.

Only have time for a few stops? Here are my top 5 places to wander:

  1. Upper and Lower Reed Lake in Hatcher Pass
  2. Flat Top Mountain near Anchorage
  3. Alyeska Peak near Girdwood
  4. Portage Pass Trail near Whittier
  5. Chugach State Park near Eagle River

– Munk Pack Explorer, @luke_hyce