Showdown: Hawaii or Alaska?

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The United States’ two non-continental states are both laden with reasons why paying them a visit should be high on your list of priorities, but what if you absolutely had to choose one of them?

Do you opt for sun-soaked beaches, densely forested volcanic mountains, and sipping drinks from a coconut shell? Or do you pull up your hood, grit your teeth against the cold, and hike in some of the most beautiful and dangerous terrain the world has to offer?

I know it might seem a no brainer; it’s a holiday! It should be relaxing!

But I don’t think the decision is that easy. I think that upon closer inspection, you’ll find that these two very different places offer up plenty of reasons why either one of them would be a remarkable addition to your traveling life.

So, like Turkey vs Egypt and Beijing vs Shanghai before, it’s time for a showdown!

Natural Beauty

Let’s launch right in with the biggest draw of either spot: their immense natural beauty. Volcanic, tropical Hawaii and the icy mountains and deep lakes of Alaska couldn’t be more different, but neither is without considerable charm.

The beauty of Hawaii has been well documented. Its verdant mountains, its wind-swept cliffs, its white sandy beaches, and the volcanoes that make it all possible are all ample reason to pay a visit to the 50th state. You can stand on the same beach as the characters from Lost by visiting Mokule’ia Beach on Oahu, take a scenic drive along the winding coastal roads, or check off one of my bucket list items by climbing a volcano.

green beach hawaii
Just a typical stretch of gorgeous beach in Hawaii. Photo property of cleber.

That sounds like a landslide, but let’s hear Alaska out. The glaciers, mountains, and arctic tundra of Alaska might not scream paradise, but you’d be hard pressed to find a place on earth with more stark beauty.

There’s a truly indescribable sense of isolation that gives you a real sense of perspective about your place in the world when you’re standing miles of civilization with an icy wind whipping by and the ageless beauty of a mountain range towering overhead. It’s a feeling I’m quite familiar with from my recent visit to Xinjiang as well as having grown up in the mountains in Australia, but Alaska would take that to a whole other level.

Savage River, Alaska
The beautiful Savage River in Denali National Park. Photo property of TheDreamSky

I said it was indescribable, but I didn’t say I wouldn’t try.

Both countries boast a slew of national parks to preserve the beauty, so you’re spoiled for choice when you do visit. For me? I’m giving the edge to the snow swept, big sky country that is Alaska.

RESULT: Alaska win
SCORE: Alaska – 1 Hawaii – 0

Relaxation

What sounds more relaxing to you? Tropical songbirds chirruping as you take breakfast on a sea-view balcony with a warm spring breeze tickling your nethers, or wearing three layers and trekking out into the frozen wilds to do a wee bit of moose spotting?

I don’t doubt one or two of you opted for the second choice, but I daresay the vast majority would take the beach over the ice any day of the week.

Hammock in Hawaii
Don’t lie. You’d much rather be lying on this hammock than reading this post. Photo property of Ross Mayfield.

Hawaii’s agreeable climate and excellent tourist infrastructure make it a logical choice if you’re looking for a relaxing few days or weeks away. Hell, the place is renowned for its laid back lifestyle! You’re not going to get that at fifty below in a place where you only lie down to die in the snow.

I’m not saying that Alaska couldn’t be relaxing, mind. A mountain cabin with a crackling fire and the serenity of a snowy forest outside sounds wonderfully peaceful to me, but there’s likely to be a lack of spas and catered resorts.

In this one, Hawaii gets the edge for me.

RESULT: Hawaii win
SCORE: Alaska – 1 Hawaii – 1

Adventure

If it looked like something of a landslide for Hawaii on the relaxation front, it looks much the same when you consider adventure. Alaska’s harsh environment just begs survivalists and nature enthusiasts to get out and live a little.

If you’re looking for more ‘conventional’ adventurous activities such as sky-diving, bungee jumping, and water sports, Hawaii has the edge. But it’s all so manufactured! If you want a real adventure, try loading up everything you need on a pack and roughing it in the Alaskan wilderness; just don’t do it the Alexander Supertramp way when there are plenty of companies offering camping tours of Alaska. There are hiking tours as well for those not wanting to sleep in the cold.

surfing in hawaii
Surf’s up, dude! Hang ten! Gnarly! etc etc. Photo property of Lee LeFever.

To me, there’s plenty to like about the relative safety of western extreme sports in a tourist oriented place like Hawaii. But if you’re really looking for adventure, it’s not going to be found on a glossy brochure and come with a t-shirt. Sure, you can climb a volcano in Hawaii – but can you see a fucking bear or play chicken with a glacier? I didn’t think so, man!

Alaska is where the real adventure is at and it gets my vote.

RESULT: Alaska win
SCORE: Alaska – 2 Hawaii – 1

Accessibility

Both Alaska and Hawaii are easily accessible by plane or cruise ship from the continental United States. I’ve heard wonderful things about the picturesque cruises to Alaska, while cruises to Hawaii are more in line with the decadent and relaxed atmosphere one thinks of when they think of a cruise. Deals can be booked to both destinations, courtesy of my friends at Cruise 1st. Obviously you can’t drive to Hawaii, while a drive to Alaska from the United States involves crossing the Canadian border twice. If it were that simple, Alaska would win 3 to 2.

alaskan cruise
The view from a cruise ship leaving Alaska. Stunning. Photo property of Maya Kamina.

But accessibility is also about having access to the comforts of home. While there are a number of developed cities across Alaska, it’s here that Hawaii reclaims some ground. Some might opt to go to Alaska to get away from malls and resorts and shopping, but these amenities are a part of Hawaii’s draw for families and young people.

If you are taking young children or looking to party like at home (only not), then Hawaii is going to get the win here for you. I’m going to give it the nod as well.

RESULT: Hawaii win
SCORE: Alaska – 2 Hawaii – 2

History & Culture

Both Alaska and Hawaii are perhaps best known for their natural beauty, but that isn’t to say there aren’t museums, galleries, and other cultural attractions to draw you in. It can’t all be sun & surf/snow & moose, after all.

The native peoples of both states have long and fascinating histories, but my edge goes towards Hawaii. Prior to becoming a part of the United States, the Hawaiian islands were a kingdom unto themselves and share quite a bit of heritage with the Polynesian pacific islanders that I am so familiar with.

To me, the opportunity to visit the Mookini Heiau (a 1500 year old temple) or experience Hawaiian life as it was in the past on Molokai sounds too good to pass up. Molokai boasts that it is like Hawaii used to be with claims such as “No building is higher than a palm tree” or “Aloha is not just a word, but a way of life”.

Mookini
Beautiful Mo’okini Heiau is over 1,500 years old. Photo property of badvoodoo404.

The opportunity to get up close and personal with such an ancient culture is a fascinating one and one that, sadly, isn’t quite as possible in Alaska where dynasties didn’t form and the native population left a less accessible mark on the land.

RESULT: Hawaii win
SCORE: Alaska – 2 Hawaii – 3

Result

As you can see, Hawaii wins it by a nose when you do a straight up comparison. It might have been ugly had I decided to compare beaches, but then, it might have looked grim for Hawaii if I’d compared the two on a wildlife front.

While Hawaii does get the win by the numbers, I’d probably opt for Alaska if given an all expenses paid trip to either. Hawaii is beautiful – there’s no doubt – but there are plenty of island paradises out there to tide me over. The chance to explore a place like Alaska isn’t one so readily available. Siberia isn’t exactly tourist friendly and the great white north of Canada is a little less hospitable.

camping in alaska
A troupe of adventurers heading out to hike and camp in Alaska. Jealous! Photo property of DCSL.

For mine, Alaska is too good an opportunity to pass up. I’d love to someday check a few of my manly survivalist type goals off my bucket list by visiting.

Your Say

What do you think? Would you prefer to visit Hawaii or Alaska?
Or have you visited one or both of them and have an opinion to share? Help make my decision easier!

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10 comments

  1. Thanks for this article, I have been contemplating going to either for a long time! I wish I had enough time on my solo-trip this Summer to visit North America. I was thinking of going by Hawaii on my way back to Sweden, but we will see what my wallet looks like then. 😉

    “but can you see a fucking bear or play chicken with a glacier? I didn’t think so, man!”
    That made me chuckle. Well written article!

    • Haha, glad you got a kick out of that one 🙂

      I’ve been to the States twice now for a total of about three months, but still no luck hitting Alaska or Hawaii. I daresay Hawaii is more likely given it’s on the way from China to the west coast :-p

  2. Having been to neither last year, I totally would have picked Alaska. But, now that I’ve been to Hawaii (and it’s my new favourite place), I’m fully biased and would choose that. Definitely want to go to Alaska and play chicken with glaciers though.

    • Chicken with glaciers – the new adrenaline sport.

      I’ve just had a friend invite me to visit her in Hawaii so she can win me over. While Alaska got the edge here, I don’t imagine I won’t love everything about Hawaii. It sounds like my kind of place.

  3. I would definitely be hitting Alaska. Hawaii has just never interested me. Perhaps it’s because I live in Florida and am jaded to the beach, etc., but I’m more impressed by the majestic scenery and vastness of Alaska…

    • It takes a bloody fantastic beach to impress an Aussie! That said, I do appreciate lying on the beach and reading regardless of how good the beach is.

      But Alaska’s scenery is something not so easily come by at home, so it got the nod from me.

  4. As someone who has been to both, I think you made the right choices on each showdown challenge. I love both equally and it just depends what you want. Alaska holds more adventure, but the weather turns a lot of people off. It’s always somewhat cold!

    • I’m definitely not a cold weather person at all – but I can see beaches in Australia. It’s a wee bit harder to see glaciers (impossible, actually) and mountain ranges, pine forests, and snow fields (slightly more doable).

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