Alaska High School Expedition

In Alaska’s undeveloped wilderness, towering peaks preside over massive glaciers, wild rivers cut through thick pine forests, and the Arctic tundra seems endless. Head to America’s wild northern frontier to discover these spectacular landscapes and the wildlife that inhabits them—from moose and grizzlies to seals and orca whales.

June 26 - July 8, 2019
July 9 - July 21, 2019
Airfare is not included. We have arranged round-trip group flights from Seattle to Anchorage. Alternately, students may meet the group in Anchorage.

Trip Highlights

  • Hone your wildlife and landscape photography skills as you hike across Denali’s taiga and tundra, training your lens on moose, wolves, and caribou.
  • Learn about glacial morphology while trekking atop the Matanuska Glacier, and try your hand at ice climbing alongside experienced guides.
  • Go tide pooling in Kachemak Bay with naturalists from the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, and help collect marine data for ongoing research initiatives.
  • Delve into Alaska’s vibrant cultural heritage, meeting some of its indigenous people.

Itinerary | 13 days

Days 1-2

View Images

Our adventure begins in the far northern city of Anchorage. We’ll get to know each other during an orientation covering Alaska history, geography, and wilderness skills, and then set out to explore Anchorage in our On Assignment teams. Go for an acclimation hike, and get acquainted with the native peoples of the north at the acclaimed Alaska Native Heritage Center. At the center, try your hand at native Alaskan games, hear stories that have been passed down for generations , or visit with cultural ambassadors at their authentic dwellings. Examine the threats facing Alaska’s native cultures and the steps being taken to preserve their endangered languages.

Days 3-6

Travel north to Denali National Park and Preserve, a remote and unspoiled wilderness cradling the icy summit of Denali, North America’s highest mountain. The park encompasses six million acres of subarctic taiga and tundra and is populated by an astounding range of wildlife. From our base at the eastern edge of the park, meet our National Geographic expert and set out to explore one of America’s most pristine natural settings. Venture deep into the wilderness to observe and photograph herds of caribou, a moose wading in a lake, or a grizzly bear feeding on blueberries. Track a wolf pack loping along a glacial riverbed, or catch a glimpse of white Dall sheep perched high on a mountainside. Learn about dogsledding at the historic kennel of the National Park Service, hike along the Savage River, or trek to remote ridges to get a once-in-a-lifetime view of the colossal mountain the Athabascan people call “the great one”: Denali.

Day 7

Travel south to Anchorage, and stop along the way to spend the day trekking and ice-climbing on the Matanuska Glacier with expert guides. Hear how the glacier has receded over the last several decades and how glacial morphology continues to carve the valley and surrounding landscapes.

Pull Quote
Denali is one of the world's greatest destinations for large wildlife encounters. You can play with the colors of the tundra and create photographs of wild animals on their own turf.
Kiliii Yüyan, National Geographic Photographer

Day 8-13

Continue south to Homer, our jumping-off point for exploring Kachemak Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. Then cruise across the bay and settle into yurts at the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies marine research station. Paddle a sea kayak through the fjords, taking in the incredible scenery and keeping your eye out for sea lions, otters, puffins, and orcas. Hike the glaciated coastline with naturalists, learning about the region’s rich marine life and the effects of climate change on the Bering Sea ecosystem. Go tidepooling along rocky shorelines to scout for octopus dens, starfish, and sea urchins, and scan the coast for bald eagles perched amid the treetops. Gather around a campfire and conclude your time at the research station by sharing your On Assignment project. Fly home from Anchorage.

Our community service trips are for students in grades 9-12. Students settle into a community and get involved with collaborative service projects that focus on infrastructure, education, or sustainability. Students work alongside local people, and document their experience through photos, journals, and video. Collaborative community projects provide an opportunity for deeper cultural interactions and insight into daily life in our host communities. Students travel alongside a team of highly-qualified trip leaders—college graduates with extensive experience in the field, who love working with students. Our community service trips are limited to 18 participants, and the student-to-trip-leader ratio is usually between six and eight to one and never more than nine to one.
This expedition includes several active excursions such as full-day hikes, as well as kayaking and glacier trekking. To get the most out of the program, participants should be physically fit and enthusiastic about outdoor exploration.
In Anchorage and Denali we stay in family-run hostels. In Homer, we stay at a wilderness education center, and on Kachemak Bay we stay in yurts at a marine research station.

Boone Smith, Wildlife Conservationist

Meet Our Experts

Conservationist and wildlife tracker Boone Smith has traveled the world helping scientists study big cats. He has developed some of the best and safest techniques for attaching radio collars to large mammals so we can learn about their lives and reduce human-predator conflict. Boone is a host on National Geographic WILD, and has assisted National Geographic magazine photographers in the field. Currently, Boone is working in Alaska’s backcountry, searching for lynx dens and studying the population and health of kittens. Boone will join the June 26 departure of the Alaska high school expedition.

Kiliii Yüyan, Photographer and Conservationist

Award-winning photographer Kiliii Yüyan specializes in Arctic photography and has traveled throughout the polar regions to document indigenous cultures and wildlife. On assignment, he has fled collapsing sea ice, chased fin whales in Greenland, and found kinship in some of the most remote corners of the world. Kiliii’s four-year project on the subsistence whaling culture of the Alaskan Iñuit will be featured in the December 2018 issue of National Geographic magazine. His work has also been published by National Geographic Traveler (China), TIME, NPR, and The Nature Conservancy; and his images have won awards from Communication Arts and The World Photo Organization. Kiliii will join the July 9 departure of the Alaska high school expedition

On Assignment Projects

Take advantage of long summer days to capture different light on glaciers, fjords, and snow fields. Zoom in on Denali’s wildlife, or try for a rare shot of a breaching whale or a bear fishing for salmon. There is a supplemental fee of $150 for this On Assignment project.
Observe bears, wolves, seals, and other wildlife in their natural habitat; and learn to identify the plants and birds of the tundra and taiga. Talk to conservationists about challenges and opportunities in Alaska’s national parks.
Hone your filmmaking skills as you venture across Alaska. Develop a story about local conservation efforts, interview park rangers about the effects of climate change in the far north, and capture Alaska’s spectacular landscapes and wildlife. There is a supplemental fee of $250 for this On Assignment project.