Alaska's "Emerald Isle" is largely undiscovered country for visitors. The second largest island in the United States, after Hawaii, it is larger than Rhode Island and Delaware combined, yet is home to only 13,000 people -- and more than 3,000 of the magnificent Kodiak bears, the largest bears in the world.

Millions of salmon return to the hundreds of Kodiak streams, which are fed by an average of 6 feet of rain and 7 feet of snow the island gets every year. The heavy precipitation also gives the island a green covering that leads to its name and makes it look like a slightly more temperate version of Hawaii. With nearly all the residents clustered in either Kodiak city or the six Native villages on the island, most of the island is truly wilderness, a large portion of which is accessible from Kodiak's more than 100 miles of roads.

Kodiak is also the center of the early Russian history in Alaska, dating from the first settlement in 1784. It remained the capital of Russian America until Alexander Baranov relocated his operations to Sitka in 1808. Much of historic Kodiak was lost when a 30-foot tidal wave surged along the waterfront after the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, but one of the buildings that was spared was the 1808 Russian warehouse, the oldest building in Alaska, which now serves as the Baranov Museum.

Kodiak remains a major Alaskan fishing port and features the largest Coast Guard base in America. It is a working community that, thus far, has been only slightly touched by the wave of tourism that has swept over much of the rest of coastal Alaska.

There are six Native villages on and around the island. A flight to one of them and back on a clear day is a wonderful, low-cost way to see remote areas of the island and to get a taste of how Alaska Natives live. It's also popular to fly out to see the famous bears on a day trip, or stay at one of several wilderness lodges for wildlife-watching, fishing, sea kayaking, or hunting.