Compared to other seasons, summer in Alaska brings warmer weather and longer days, so you can spend more time appreciating the towering mountains, pristine lakes and rivers, verdant valleys, and emerald forests. Look forward to unbelievable sightseeing, fine dining, thrilling recreational activities, and unparalleled opportunities for wildlife observation. As for accommodations, there are plenty of Alaska vacation rentals to choose from. Here are the best places to take a summer vacation in Alaska.
Ketchikan lies at the southern end of Alaska’s Inside Passage, making it the first city that many visitors encounter when they come by ship. The city serves as a gateway to amazing attractions such as Misty Fjords National Monument, Annette Island, and Prince of Wales Island. Taquan Air takes you in small seaplanes to these and other sightseeing and fishing destinations. Stroll through Ketchikan to observe the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles in the Totem Heritage Center, Potlatch Park, Saxman Totem Park, and Totem Bight State Park. Join Ketchikan Tours for a close-up, intimate look at local museums, waterfalls, and nature viewing spots.
Fairbanks, the largest city in Alaska’s interior, sits along the scenic Chena River. From Fairbanks, the Northern Alaska Tour Company takes you on excursions by plane beyond the Arctic Circle and over the Yukon River, the Brooks Mountain Range, the Arctic Coastal Plains, and the Arctic Ocean. Its Alaska Polar Bear Tour allows you to see these majestic creatures in their natural habitats. Closer to Fairbanks, take a cruise on the riverboat Discovery to explore the beautiful Chena River. For a fine dining experience along the riverfront, don’t miss a visit to the historic Pump House Restaurant. Every year, the city hosts the two-week Fairbanks Summer Arts Festival, which includes visual arts, culinary arts, music, dancing, and theater.
Located on the west side of Baranof Island in southern Alaska, the city of Sitka features historic buildings such as St. Michael’s Cathedral and the Russian Bishop’s House that reflect its Russian heritage. At Harrigan Centennial Hall, the New Archangel Dancers perform shows in ethnic Ukrainian and Russian costumes throughout the summer. Sitka Tribal Tours presents another dance troupe, the Sheet-Ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers, offering traditional indigenous Tlingit songs and dances. Visit the Alaska Raptor Center, a rehabilitation facility that aids wounded and sick raptors, to view majestic local birds such as bald eagles, golden eagles, falcons, hawks, and owls. Another popular family-friendly attraction is the Fortress of the Bear, which is a facility for orphaned bears.
Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, lies at the northern end of Cook Inlet with the majestic Chugach Mountains as a backdrop to the east. Often wildlife such as moose, bears, mountain goats, lynx, and beavers wander within the city limits. Rent a bike at Downtown Bicycle Rentals, and tour the city on the many miles of paved and unpaved trails. Adventure Guru takes you on guided mountain bike tours into the magnificent wilderness of the Chugach National Forest. Be sure to enjoy the flamboyant summer foliage at the Alaska Botanical Garden. Shop for fresh food, arts and crafts, souvenirs, clothing, and other items at the Anchorage Market and Festival, the largest open-air market in Alaska. Special summer events in Anchorage include the annual Salmon Derby, the Summer Solstice Festival, and the Anchorage Runfest.
Vacation rentals in Juneau, the state capital, sit in a magnificently beautiful area between Gastineau Channel on the west and the impassible Juneau Icefield to the east. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center on the north side of the city features exhibits on this amazing 13-mile river of ice, and trails take you to observation points for viewing the glacier itself, nearby waterfalls, a verdant rainforest, and local wildlife such as bears and bald eagles. Take the Mount Roberts Tramway to a tower where you have a panoramic view of Juneau and the surrounding mountains and waterways. Join Juneau Whale Watch for a trip through the Inside Passage to observe humpback whales, orcas, and dolphins. Annual summer events in Juneau include the Gold Rush Days and the Golden North Salmon Derby.
Kenai faces Cook Inlet on the western side of Kenai Peninsula at the mouth of the Kenai River. The city is renowned for its superlative salmon fishing, and Alaska Fish On Charters guides you to the best spots to angle for king salmon, silver salmon, red salmon, trout, and halibut. Check out the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center for fascinating displays on regional history, wildlife, and Alaskan Native American culture and artwork. Head for the Beluga Whale Lookout on the coastal bluff at the river’s mouth for a great view of the city and its surroundings as well as a chance to spot beluga whales feeding on salmon.
The town of Skagway lies at the northeast corner of the Inside Passage on the northern end of a fjord called Lynn Canal. The city is a gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. Several buildings in historic downtown Skagway comprise part of the park, which also includes the beautiful White Pass Trail to the Yukon River, the ghost town of Dyea, and the rugged Chilkoot Trail. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad offers excursions into the interior to view majestic mountains, valleys, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife. Be sure to visit Jewell Gardens and Glass, which features a lovely garden with ponds and flamboyant flowers as well as a fascinating tour of a glassblowing studio.
The city of Kodiak is on the east side of Kodiak Island, the largest island in the Kodiak Archipelago in the Gulf of Alaska. Popular activities include bear viewing and fishing, and Kodiak Salmon Riders offers guided tours into the interior on ATVs to observe massive Kodiak brown bears and fish for salmon, trout, and steelhead in the rivers and streams. Alternatively, Kayak Kodiak provides excursions with expert guides to explore the island’s waterways. Learn fascinating facts about local ecology at the Kodiak National Wildlife Interpretive Center. The Baranov Museum highlights the history of Kodiak through the Native American, Russian, early American, and World War II eras.
Located at the northeast corner of Denali National Park and Preserve, the town of Healy serves as a gateway to the park. The Denali Visitor Center has a huge relief map and exhibits that highlight the park’s topography and natural history. Black Diamond ATV Tours takes you on a thrilling adventure through the rugged terrain of the park. See the park at a slower pace with Denali Horseback Tours. To get a panoramic overview of majestic Denali Mountain and the surrounding countryside, ride a small aircraft with Denali Summit Flight. Another popular family-friendly activity is the Black Diamond Draft-Horse Drawn Covered Wagon Adventure, in which you ride a covered wagon amidst breathtaking scenery and have a picnic in the park.
The city of Seward lies on the eastern side of the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska. It’s a jumping-off point for spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park, an awe-inspiring landscape full of glaciers and forests that’s full of wildlife such as brown bears, black bears, moose, mountain goats, and otters. Kenai Fjords Tours takes you on a cruise for up-close looks at calving glaciers and breeching whales. Alternatively, paddle along the coastline with Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking. Summer events include the Seward Halibut Tournament and the Seward Silver Salmon Derby.
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