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I spent 3 months living in Alaska -- here are the 7 things people always get wrong about America's biggest state

Mark AbadiThe author, during his three-month stint in Alaska.
  • A lot of people have the wrong idea about Alaska, the largest state in the United States.
  • After spending three months in small-town Alaska, I learned that a lot of what people say about the state simply isn’t true.
  • It’s not always frozen and dog sleds aren’t really a thing … but people do carry bear spray.

Alaska is a state most people only know from movies, TV shows, and stories about their family’s summer cruise.

So it’s not surprising that most people’s idea of Alaska is drastically different than reality in the state.

Back in 2011, I spent three months working for a small-town newspaper in Skagway, Alaska, and in my short time there, I learned that not everything people say about America’s biggest state is true.

Here are the biggest misconceptions about Alaska and what people are getting wrong:


It’s freezing cold and snowing all the time

Mark AbadiJuly in Fairbanks, Alaska.

If you ask the average American to summarize Alaska in one word, they’d probably say “cold.”

And they’d be right – for much of the year, Alaska’s temperatures dip below freezing, and it’s common for snow to fall anywhere between October and April.

But outsiders might be surprised to learn that Alaska warms up considerably in the southern months, especially along the southern coast and panhandle. In the hottest stretch of the year, in July and August, temperatures can soar upwards of 70 degrees Fahrenheit in southern towns.

Weather can be even more extreme in the sparsely populated interior of Alaska, where record temperatures on both ends of the spectrum were set. The statewide record low of -80 degrees Fahrenheit occurred in Prospect Creek, while the record high of 100 degrees was set in Fort Yukon.


You have to watch out for polar bears

Mark AbadiIt wouldn’t be the Skagway Fourth of July parade without a man in a bear costume trying to fight his way into a bear-proof dumpster.

Because of its icy reputation, people often assume polar bears run rampant across Alaska.

In reality, polar bears only live along Alaska’s arctic coastlines, far from most human settlements.

A much more common sight is a grizzly bear or a black bear, both of which roam freely throughout the state, at times causing a disturbance when they come into contact with locals.

For that reason, Alaskans know to use “bear-proof” metal garbage containers and often have in their cars a spare bottle of bear spray – that is, an extremely strong pepper spray – in case things get hairy.


People live in igloos and get around by dogsled

Mark AbadiA team of canoers paddle up the Yukon River.

Contrary to what you may have learned in elementary school, the Inuit people of Alaska don’t live in igloos, and only use them occasionally during hunting trips.

And as for dogsledding, you’ll rarely see it outside the world-famous Iditarod race and tourist excursions that try to recreate the experience.


Alaska is an island

Mark AbadiYakutania Point in Skagway, Alaska.

Thanks to maps like this one, an alarming amount of Americans grew up thinking Alaska was an island west of Hawaii.

Of course, Alaska is a peninsula, bordering Canada to the east.


TV shows like ‘The Deadliest Catch’ and ‘Ice Road Truckers’ depict daily life

Mark AbadiA home in Dyea, Alaska.

Shows like “The Deadliest Catch” and “Ice Road Truckers” cemented Alaskans’ reputation as rugged, wilderness-addicted daredevils.

While Alaskans do pride themselves on their individualism, everyday reality for most people in the state isn’t quite as extreme as its depicted on TV. In fact, day-to-day life is a lot like life in the Lower 48, albeit with much prettier scenery.


Sarah Palin speaks for everyone

Courtesy of Sara AbadiWasilla, Alaska.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin put her state on the political map in 2008, when John McCain picked her as his running mate on the Republican presidential ticket.

Although the Wasilla native boasted an approval rating as high as 93% during her first year as governor, her numbers sank as her public image grew, and earned positive marks from only 54% of Alaskans when she resigned in 2009.

By 2014, public approval of Palin among Alaskans was down to just 36%.


It’s nothing but small towns and villages

Wikimedia CommonsA summer solstice event in Anchorage, Alaska.

Alaska is by far the least densely populated state in America, averaging one person per square mile.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all small towns and villages in The Last Frontier. Around 300,000 people live in its biggest city, Anchorage, which boasts a growing music scene and plenty of local culture.

After Anchorage, however, the stereotype largely holds true – Alaska’s next biggest cities, Fairbanks and Juneau, have populations just over 30,000 people, and after that, no town has more than 10,000.

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