15 Best Things To Do In Alaska

Alaska is huge. It’s more or less the contiguous half of the United States. That alone makes it hard to walk all the ground at once. Alaska is the kind of place you walk up to slowly, after a few trips. Along with its large size comes a plethora of aesthetics. Much of the state is uninhabited, which makes for fantastic outdoor adventures. Most visitors find that these cities, while always unique and interesting in their own right, are best used as base camps for exploring the wilderness beyond. Learning about the history of the 49th state is incredible, and there are many one-of-a-kind experiences.

Let’s explore the best things to do in Alaska:

1. Denali National Park

Denali National Park

Denali is home to the highest mountain in the United States. While the ancient name for the 20-plus-foot mountain was Denali, modern explorers have named it Mount McKinley—a hot topic among locals. Whatever you choose to call it, it’s surrounded by more than 6 million acres of tundra, alpine mountains, glaciers and river valleys. In short, it’s spectacular. Located between Fairbanks and Anchorage, the national park is home to caribou, wolves, elk, grizzly bears and nearly 200 species of birds. Enjoy the sled kennel in the park. They regularly demonstrate how huskies work together to pull sleds over great distances.

2. Tracy Arm Fjord

Tracy Arm Fjord

If you’ve ever thought about taking an Alaska cruise, you’ll almost certainly stop at Tracy Arm. Surrounded by beautiful glaciers, this fjord is just south of Juneau in the Tongass National Forest. Watch waterfalls pouring down rock walls, glaciers collapse and icebergs they form. Twin Sawyer Glacier is a welcome committee to this natural wonder. You’ll almost certainly see moose and brown bears on land, and seals and whales in the water. If you like what you see, you’ll also want to check out Prince William Sound in Anchorage.

3. Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

Imagine a 13-mile long glacier. hard? That’s because it’s an incredible sight. Mendenhall Glacier is located near the Coast Mountains and the Juneau Ice Field—1,500 square miles left over from the Ice Age. The best way to appreciate this expansive beauty is to visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. At the top of the observatory, park rangers will explain to you the natural history of the incredible scenery around you. The visitor center has a great movie to watch and the center has state-of-the-art exhibits. Don’t miss the Alaska Geographic Bookstore. If you want to explore, choose one of several trails of varying lengths that will take you to waterfalls, salmon streams, black bears, bald eagles, mossy rainforest, and more. A good game to pass the time is to count icebergs while walking. Kayak and rafters for better views from the water.

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4. Anan Wildlife Observatory

Anan Wildlife Observatory

Thirty miles from Wrangell is the Anan Wildlife Observatory. There, you’ll find Alaska’s largest population of pink salmon. Even if you’re not an angler, you’ll want to visit, as the abundance of salmon supports the large number of black and brown bears in the area. The observatory has a covered observation deck, shades, and even an outhouse.

5. Pack Creek Bear Viewing Area

Baoxi Bear Viewing Area

A great Alaskan experience is a seaplane ride. Why not take one to the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area in Tongass National Park. About 30 minutes by plane, it’s really a rugged and natural environment. There are no amenities and no cell phone service, which adds to the adventure of observing these wonderful animals. Get ready to get a little dirty on the island known to the Tlingit people as Kootznoowoo. Home to more than 1,500 bears (more than the other 49 states combined), you’ll love every minute of this outdoor adventure.

6. Kenai Peninsula National Forest

Kenai Peninsula National Forest

This is without a doubt the best sightseeing attraction Alaska has to offer. This really says a lot. Admire the Kenai Fjords, Harding Icefields, Glacier Outlet, and the Alaska Railroad. At Resurrection Bay on the forested coastline, you’ll see sea lions, otters, and even migrating whales. Due to the large number of bears, the local Alutiiq people have depended on the area for generations. While visiting, take a boat trip, kayak, enjoy ranger-led hikes, and more. Use Anchorage as your home base and plan a few days to visit.

7. Harding Icefield Trail

Harding Icefield Trail

The Hardin Icefields and trails within the Kenai National Forest are worth mentioning. There are more than 40 icebergs along the way, with a total length of about 8 miles. This is an unparalleled day hike. Pass through cottonwood forests, lush meadows, and finally climb the tree line for panoramic views across the ice sheet. It really is a trip back to the Ice Age. Endless ice and snow, with only the occasional nunataka, or lonely mountain, to mark the distance.

8. Alaska Highway

Alaska Highway

Follow the Alaska Highway from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, to the Yukon Territory in Fairbanks, Alaska. Originally used only for military purposes during World War II, the highway was built in just 8 months and is the single most important route to most of Alaska. It’s a huge tourist attraction because it’s a great way to see much of the state in one go. It is about 1,387 miles (2,232 kilometers) long and has a junction every hour or so. Stop in towns like Lake Charlie, Fort Nelson, Upper Liard, Johnson Crossing, Jacks Point, and Tork to see a side of Alaska you’ll never forget.

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9. University of Alaska Museum of the North

University of Alaska Museum of the North

The University of Alaska Museum of the North houses a staggering one million artifacts. The permanent collection includes an impressive array of objects from indigenous groups, an Alaska-focused fine art collection, and archaeological finds from prehistoric cultures. The museum itself is housed in a unique building designed by Joan Soranno. This is the state’s only teaching and research museum, built to mimic the Alaskan landscape. Located in Fairbanks, a visit allows you to see millions of years of biological and cultural diversity. See the 36,000-year-old mummified bison, a sound and light exhibit that shows how time is determined based on the position of the sun or moon, learn about the aurora, see beautiful ancient ivory carvings, and more.

10. Internal channel

internal channel

Most people visit the Inner Waterway on cruise ships, charter boats or even yachts. Not only will you find amazing wildlife here, but the pass is also home to several indigenous tribes, including the Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit tribes. Part of the passage covers the Tongass National Forest, which at 17 million acres is the largest national park in the United States. The pass will also take you to Prince of Wales Island (one of the largest islands in the United States), the town of Skagway, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, the once important American-Russian town of Sitka (inaccessible by car), and Katy Chang, one of the most colorful cities in Alaska.

11. Northern Lights

northern lights

While Alaska does have some long, dark winters, one of the perks is seeing the otherworldly Northern Lights. Between September and April, Fairbanks is home to some of the best aurora borealis views on the planet. It’s below the aurora oval – the geographic area you’re most likely to catch a glimpse of. Every year, many tourists come here for it. The best viewing time is after midnight each night, and travel can provide many benefits – like knowing the best sights. This is one of the most mysterious natural phenomena on earth and should not be missed on any Alaska trip. There are also viewing opportunities in Anchorage and the Brooks Mountains.

12. Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska Native Heritage Center

The most unique aspect of the Heritage Centre is that many traditional Aboriginal dwellings have been relocated to a lake near the Centre. There, guides display handicrafts and artwork, dance and sing indigenous songs. Just outside of Anchorage, the Heritage Center aims to tell the true story of the North by expanding visitors’ perspectives and encouraging conversations about the North’s unique landscapes and people. The center has more than 26,00 artifacts, including pieces from native Alaska cultures. As an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, it was a powerful experience.

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13. Wrangell-St.Elias National Park

Wrangell - St.Elias National Park

Where can you find 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the country? at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Magnificent is a good word for a park. Formed primarily by volcanoes, Mount Wrangell is the only still active volcano in the park. Climbers love this park, as do kayakers, glacier skiers, and hikers. Visit the abandoned mine and Kennecott Mine, a once inhabited mill town. The park is the size of six Yellowstone parks, with peaks and mountains stretching for miles in every direction. Some of the main peaks include Sanford, Blackburn, Wrangell and Drum, but the sheer number of peaks can quickly get overwhelming and it’s best to stop and soak in the immersion. Despite the park’s popularity, most visitors leave feeling like they “I just saw something no one else saw. It’s that rustic.

14. Iditarod National Historic Trail

Iditarod National Historic Trail

The Iditarod National Historic Trail, once used by ancient hunters and later by gold rush prospectors, stretches from Bering Strait to Seward. It covers 2,300 miles and was once connected to tribes who lived in isolation. Most commonly used for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, it’s the perfect winter hike. There are five huts that can be used as shelters along the way. For the adventurous, this is a great way to visit Alaska and follow in the footsteps of ancient peoples.

15. Totem Heritage Centre

Totem Heritage Center

As early as the 1930s, the U.S. Forest Service recognized the need to preserve and rebuild existing totem poles in Alaska. This goal soon expanded to teach the art of totem pole making, as the art form was rapidly dying. Older generations of traditional carvers were commissioned to take abandoned totem poles and restore or rebuild them, teaching younger generations in the process. Totem Bay State Historic Park in Ketchikan now has 14 utility poles. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the connected heritage center as well as the traditional clan dwelling has more totem poles. The beautiful art and craftsmanship of this art form must be fully appreciated.

Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Alaska (AK)
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