When in Alaska, the outdoors is the thing. The state’s 600,000 square miles of mostly undeveloped land contains over three million lakes, twelve thousand rivers, six thousand miles of coastline, two thousand mountain peaks, and boundless wildlife and natural scenery. While no list can appropriately capture the vast riches of this picturesque state, below are ten great ways to experience the beauty of Alaska:
1. Experience Denali National Park
What is surely already atop most visitors' to-do list, Denali National Park is home to six million acres of undeveloped territory. Animals roam the land as they always have while tolerating the presence of their bipedal guests. Many travelers will make the trek to Denali in order to view the tallest peak in North America, while others will go simply to bask in the scenic solitude afforded by this incredible national park.
For easy access to the park, book a rental in Healy!
2. Visit Anchorage
Not everyone who visits Alaska wants to feel like they're on the edge of the Earth. Anchorage is the perfect destination for those who want to experience this picturesque state without fully sacrificing the creature comforts to which they're accustomed. Anchorage is far-and-away the state's largest city with over 300,000 residents and is located along the southern coastline. Its proximity to the protected water of the Cook Inlet, a stunning area home to active volcanoes, and the scenic Chugach National Forest, make it suitable for enjoying a variety of outdoor experiences.
Top Things to do in Anchorage
1. Learn about the state's Indigenous people at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
2. Schedule an encounter with the big cats or a polar bear at the Alaska Zoo. To spend more quality time with the animals, sign up to be a Keeper for the Day and you may go behind-the-scenes with a tiger, brown bear, or snow leopard!
3. Come meal time, head over to Moose's Tooth, which serves up delicious gourmet pizza and award winning beer from Broken Tooth Brewing. For a fun dinner-and-a-movie night, visit the sister restaurant Bear Tooth Theatrepub, where guests can enjoy freshly prepared food, draft beer and a movie all at once!
4. For that morning cup of joe, there's no better place than Kaladi Brothers Coffee Company. With over 13 locations around the state, visitors can get their fix as they travel around Alaska.
5. Enjoy some microbrews with friends at the local-favorite, Midnight Sun Brewing Company.
3. Explore the Glaciers
Visiting Alaska's great glaciers is one of the state's most iconic activities, and certainly one of the most breathtaking ones. The ice beauties are scattered throughout the state and can be viewed on foot, as a climb, by boat, by plane, or by sled. Fortunately for tourists, they are highly accessible! In fact, the popular Exit Glacier, situated 15 miles from Seward, is road-accessible and the Mendenhall Glacier, located in the southeast part of the state near Juneau, can be reached by cab! If you're partial to a boat tour, make sure to cruise around Glacier Bay, which is home to more than 50 named glaciers!
4. Catch Your Own Alaskan Salmon and Halibut
Fishing is big business in Alaska. Commercial fishing is responsible for billions of dollars of economic activity in Alaska every year. Not to worry if Deadliest Catch-style excursions are not your cup-of-tea, there are plenty of recreational fishing opportunities to go around. Whether you're an amateur or a professional, in need of a guide or casting solo, staying close or going remote, Alaska's lakes, rivers, and streams will surely provide. Fishing season starts in May and goes through October, but the best time to go will depend on what you're trying to catch. Alaska is famous for its wide variety of Salmon and Halibut, so come prepared and you'll be sure not to go home hungry.
Visit the alaska.org fishing page to learn everything you need to know about fishing in Alaska, from best times to do so, to licensing information.
Top Fishing Lodges in Alaska
1. Waterfall Resort: This fishing lodge near Ketchikan is considered the top fishing spot for wild Alaska king salmon, silver salmon, and halibut in the state.
2. Wilderness Place Lodge: A fly-in Alaska fishing lodge, guests to this fantastic fishing stop will have to catch a plane out of Anchorage, as there is no road access to reach this remote Alaska river.
3. Jimmie Jack’s Alaska Fishing Lodge: Guests to this top-rated fishing lodge on the Kenai River will enjoy friendly, professional guides, the best fishing boats around, quality tackle and a fun, relaxing day! Visit their site to check out their package deals.
5. Go Dog-Sledding
Image Credit: Alaska.org
There are many parts of the world that offer coastlines, nightlife, hiking, camping, and even mountaineering. There are considerably fewer that offer dog-sledding. Dog-sledding is Alaska's official state sport and is showcased every year by the running of the Iditarod in late March. If you'd like a bit more of an immersive experience, you can take a tour of a mushers kennel or purchase a trip to a glacier that includes dog-sledding. Imagine yourself surrounded on all sides by brilliant white snow and ice as you hang on for dear life strapped to a wooden sled pulled behind of pack of well-trained canines. If you can fit that in your budget, you might as well consider it obligatory because, let's face it, you just won't have many other opportunities.
6. Learn About Alaska's Native History
DNA and archaeological findings have led researchers to conclude that North America was first settled by nomads who crossed over the Bering Land Bridge from Russia. This means that Alaska is home to some very rich native history. With so much of the land being so remote and untouched, a lot of that history has been preserved and is now displayed in various museums and cultural centers all over Alaska. Better yet, go exploring in some of the smaller villages and coastal towns to be truly get a sense for the native Alaskan history. If you find yourself in Ketchikan in the summer, catch a performance of the Fish Pirate's Daughter, a fun musical comedy that portrays the city's early fishing days during the prohibition era.
Top Museums to Visit (not listed by ranking)
1. Anchorage Museum: View hundreds of indigenous Alaska artifacts in the museum's Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. While touring this 10,000 square foot center, guests can enjoy a video installation about contemporary Alaska Native life, among many other educational exhibitions.
2. The University of Alaska Museum of the North: Located at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, this museum is the number one repository for artifacts and specimens collected on public lands in Alaska and also a leader in northern natural and cultural history research.
3. Sheldon Museum: Located in Sitka, Alaska, The Sheldon Museum exhibits collections from each of Alaska's Native groups.
4. Alutiiq Museum: Home to over 250,000 items related to the culture and history of the Alutiiq people, which include everything from archaeological materials to film and audio recordings, the Alutiiq museum is the best place to learn about this people, native to the southern coast of Alaska.
7. View the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis)
This well-known natural phenomenon is not exclusive to Alaska, but if you're not from a northern territory and you find yourself on The Last Frontier (Alaska's official nickname) at the right time of year, then a viewing of the Northern Lights is definitely to be in the cards! Best viewed on a clear night in the dead of winter, these dancing beams of light are also viewable in the shoulder seasons of late summer and early spring. The viewing is better the further north you go, but even from Anchorage you can catch the brilliant, colorful rays of the Northern Lights.
8. Observe the Wildlife
There is perhaps no more appropriate a descriptor of what you will find in Alaska than 'Wild Life'. One of the things that makes Alaska unique, that Alaskans take pride in, is their proximity to and coexistence with the local wildlife. From caribou and moose to grizzlies and sheep, the Alaskan ecosystem is a vibrant and rugged web of life. You can opt for a guided wildlife expedition or visit a wildlife reserve like the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage or the The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Fairbanks. No matter what you plan, you'll be awestruck by the raw power and beauty of Alaska's wildlife.
9. Go Hiking and/or Camping
A popular way to explore Alaska's bountiful beauty is by foot, on trail. Some of its settings are only fit for an experienced outdoors-person so it’s certainly important you have the capacity to keep yourself (and your fellow travelers) safe. Many trails are safe for families and children, however. For those who lack much outdoor experience, a guided hike or camping trip would be more suitable, and maybe even more desirable. A guide will not only keep your party safe, they'll teach you about the local flora and fauna, and make sure you see the best sights along the way. While there are trails all over the state, the State Parks and National Forests probably offer the best opportunities for basking in the natural glory. This activity should be reserved for the summer months when the trails are warmer, safer, and more accessible.
Trip Tip: Feeling confident? Turn your mountain exploration up a notch by signing up for Seward's Mount Marathon Race.
10. Enjoy a Road Trip
Image Credit: Roger Norum c/o theguardian.com
Alaska is big: it's twice the size of Texas and has more acreage than the twenty smallest U.S. states combined. It is one of the least developed places in the world, with some of the most breathtaking scenery. There are remote villages and towns that aren't even connected to the road system (we're looking at you, Nome). You can drive all day and still be hours away from your destination. From Juneau to Anchorage, Fairbanks to Homer, you really get a sense for the vastness of the state, which is locally referred to as the 'Alaska Factor', when you hit the road. Bring camping gear and make pit stops along the way, take your time, and make sure, to take the beautiful surroundings. Check out this list of great Alaska road trips now!
Make sure to stop by the Tanana Valley Farmers Market (TVFM) in Fairbanks on Wednesdays, Saturdays, or Sundays to view their famous, giant vegetables. Some of the local growers, like Dave of Dave’s Greenhouse, will even have their enormous picks (as shown on the right) featured in agricultural competitions.
Image Credit: juneauempire.com
This article was written by Maxx Kaplan and edited by Tripping.com Content Specialist Lexi Perman.