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34 Best Things To Do In Alaska
Updated April 2020, 34 Best Things To Do In Alaska was originally written in February 2019
Alaska is the ultimate last frontier. With hundreds of thousands of glaciers, jagged ice-capped peaks, abundant wildlife, some of the US’s biggest and most remote national parks, the tallest mountain in North America and more wild landscapes than you can imagine, Alaska has an adventure on deck for just about any traveler. Here are some of the best things to do in Alaska.
Start here: The Ultimate Alaska Travel Guide
Explore Denali National Park
Home to North America’s tallest mountain and countless adventures. One of the best places to spot Alaskan wildlife like moose, grizzly bears, and dall sheep. Check out this Denali day trip here. Wanna see the park from above? Check out Denali flight seeing tours.
Wanna self drive? You’ll have to come in the latter half of September for that. Learn more about how to get a Denali Road Lottery Permit.
Plan the perfect trip: The Denali National Park Travel Guide
Go Whale Watching
Come May to September for the chance to see humpbacks and grey whales or in September for beluga sightings. Keep an eye out for Orca too as they can be seen in Alaska’s water throughout the year. Shop whale watching tours here.
Trek Out On The Gorgeous Mendenhall Glacier In Juneau
A short drive outside of Alaska’s capital of Juneau lies the mighty Mendenhall Glacier. Admire it from afar from viewpoints on Mendenhall Lake or even trek out on the glacier with a tour. Water hound? Take a kayak or canoe tour across the lake to the glacier.
More recent reports say the magical Mendenhall Ice Caves (that I was able to visit in 2016) have once again collapsed (as of 2018). It seems every few years this happens and they eventually reform or a new one forms elsewhere. While an extremely dangerous activity, it’s a magical one at that. Read more about the Mendenhall Ice Caves here.
Take A Halibut Charter
Wanna reel in a massive tasty fish? This is possible from many of Alaska’s coastal communities. Search halibut charters here.
Visit The Ghost Town Of Kennicott/McCarthy & Explore Wrangell St Elias National Park
This massive national park spans from southcentral Alaska clear over to the Canadian border. The easiest access point is to the small town of McCarthy and the nearby mining town turned ghost town of Kennicott. McCarthy of which is accessible by road.
Plenty of adventures are awaiting near to McCarthy and Kennicott but some of the best bits will require flying further into the park or backpacking for several days.
Check out this Root Glacier hiking tour from McCarthy.
Make Wrangell St. Elias a part of your epic Alaska road trip
Aurora Ice Museum Fairbanks
Don’t miss this year-round ice world on your visit to Chena Hot Springs. The museum is kept at 25ºF/-7ºC at all times to keep the ice from melting. Check out this Ice Museum tour including Chena Hot Springs and Aurora viewing.
Not sure what to do in Fairbanks? Check out my Fairbanks Travel Guide to find out
Take A Flightseeing Trip Over Hanging Glaciers & Mountain Vistas
A favorite way to see Alaska? Get high! Taking a scenic flight is a spectacular way to get in the best aerial views of the state’s outstanding natural features.
Personally if I’m going to splurge somewhere in my own travels it usually is on a flight seeing tour. Check out various Alaska flight seeing tours here.
Angle For Salmon
Go catch a delicious Alaskan salmon from the banks of numerous rivers in Alaska. Check out salmon charters here, or head to Alaska Dept of Fish & Game to grab a license (and tags you may need) and fish on your own.
Drive Through The Whittier Tunnel
Connecting Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula with the pint-sized port of Whittier on Prince William Sound. Take a drive through a mountain to reach Whittier. From here you can take fishing charters, glacier cruises and more to explore the beauty of Prince William Sound.
See The Shifting Sands Of Kobuk Valley National Park
Did you know there are sand dunes in Alaska? Well neither did I until a couple of years ago (lifelong, born and raised Alaskan here). Head to the uber remote Kobuk Valley National Park, accessible by flight charter from Kotzebue. Head here during the annual caribou migration across the park (though, keep your distance as to not disturb the wildlife) to get glimpses of wild caribou crossing the dunes in an Alaska-meets-Sahara experience.
Take A Hike
Alaska offers up countless hiking adventures from short one hour hikes to multi-day remote backpacking trips. Visiting Southcentral Alaska? Check out the 16 best day hikes near Anchorage.
Cruise Through Glacier Bay National Park
Head to Gustavus, accessible by ferry or flight from Juneau, and take a cruise out into Glacier Bay National Park to explore the stunning sceneries with over 3.3 million acres of mountains, fjords, glaciers, and rainforest. Keep your eyes peeled for massive grizzly bears on shore. Shop different Glacier Bay excursions here.
Headed up near Anchorage for a winter visit? About 40 minutes south is the town of Girdwood where you can ski or snowboard at Alyeska Resort.
See what all there is to do in Girdwood besides sking
See The Grizzlies Of Katmai National Park
Curious where that postcard picture of Alaska with the grizzly catching a salmon out of the waterfall is? That would be Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.
Getting out here is no cheap venture. Your options are to either shell out for a day trip or overnight here by tour, or book your own flight to King Salmon, get a charter to Brooks Lodge and then camp at the campground (reservations mandatory) or spend the night in the lodge. Check out these Katmai National Park bear viewing tours that include Brooks Falls (some include Lake Clark National Park as well).
Chase The Aurora
Many dream to one day gaze up and watch the northern lights dance across the cool night sky. Head to Fairbanks for the best chances of sighting the night time phenomenon. Shop various aurora viewing tours here.
Take A Glacier Cruise
Whittier, Seward, or Valdez on your itinerary? Why not take a glacier cruise to experience them up close? Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Shop Alaska glacier cruises here.
Explore Hatcher Pass
This recreational area located in the Matanuska-Susitna Valley has hiking trails that range from barely an hour to several-day-long backpacking adventures unfolding into the idyllic Talkeetna Mountains.
Want a great magnificent and challenging hike? Try the epic Bomber Traverse.
Hike Up Flat Top
Anchorage’s famous hike that from the top gives picture perfect views over the city of Anchorage.
Helicopter To A Glacier
The easiest way to explore a glacier? Hop on a helicopter and land on one! While this isn’t a cheap excursion it’s a truly epic one. Shop various helicopter tours with glacier landings here.
This coastal community on Alaska’s Panhandle is one of the most beautiful parts (if not the most) of the state. Fish, hike, kayak, and explore your way around gorgeous Sitka Sound. Check out Sitka excursions on offer here.
Get Alaska Weird At Chickenstock
There are countless festivals in Alaska, but Chicken’s annual Chickenstock Festival is one of the quirkier ones with its chicken dances, bluegrass music and annual peep drop.
See The Massive Abandoned Igloo
Near Cantwell, about halfway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, not far from Denali National Park sits a massive fake igloo off the side of the road, trust me, you can’t miss it. This igloo, which was named ‘Igloo City’ was constructed in the 1970’s and has never been opened for business.
The port of Valdez has great fishing for those wanting to hop on a charter. Get on a day cruise and visit the Columbia Glacier.
See The Unique Graves At The Eklutna Cemetery
Eklutna is a Dena’ina Athabaskan village about 25 miles north of Anchorage. Until Russian influences spread across the land native Alaskans tended to cremate their dead and leave them wrapped in birch bark next to a tree or riverbank where their spirit could make the journey to the high country. In the 1800s Alaskans were converted to Russian Orthodoxy, which forbids cremation. It was then that the ‘spirit houses’ began to be used as a place for the spirits of the dead to go until they were ready to make their journey to the high country. Now colorful little houses dot the Eklutna Cemetery.
See The Beautiful Kenai Fjords National Park
Epic fjords, calving glaciers, and whale & wildlife spotting more up your alley? Take a glacier cruise around Kenai Fjords National Park. After taking a Kenai Fjords National Park wildlife cruise with Major Marine Tours I can recommend them as the best option for comfort and sighting wildlife. More of a landlubber? Try the walk to Exit Glacier from the national park office, or continue on the day hike up to Harding Icefield. Book Exit Glacier and Harding Icefield trekking tours here.
Plan your visit to Seward & nearby Kenai Fjords National Park with my Seward Travel Guide
Drool At The World’s Biggest Chocolate Waterfall, Not In It
Head to Alaska Wildberry Product’s Anchorage shop and visit the world’s biggest chocolate waterfall. While not officially recognized by Guinness, it is assumed the largest one in the world.
Shrine of St Therese & Auk Bay
A short drive out of Juneau, just north of picturesque Auk Bay is a gorgeous shrine set on a tiny island with only a narrow isthmus connecting it to land. Keep an eye out for sea lions and otters frolicking in the bay as you walk out.
Read more about the Shrine of St. Therese here
Go Dog Mushing On A Glacier
Dream of trying your hand at dog mushing? Even in the dead of summer, you can take the opportunity by taking a helicopter and dogsled tour out to a mountain glacier. Check out different dog sledding tours here.
Head Out On The Homer Spit
Head south on the Kenai Peninsula to Homer where a narrow strip of land juts out 4.5 miles into Kachemak Bay, surrounded by Glacier-studded mountains and crashing waves. From here you can take charters out on the open sea, or head across the bay to explore beautiful Seldovia. Don’t forget to grab a drink at the historic Salty Dawg Saloon.
Explore Homer & Kachemak Bay with my Homer Travel Guide
Cycle The Coastal Trail
The Coastal Trail connects Downtown Anchorage to the community of Girdwood along the beautiful Cook Inlet Arm. It’s a long trip but can be done in a day by bicycle. Check out Coast Trail bicycle tours here.
Plot out the rest of your time in Anchorage with the Anchorage Travel Guide
Ride (Or Watch) The Bore Tide
Thanks to the moon cycle this phenomenon happens every day in Cook Inlet, however, the largest ones tend to happen around the dates of new and full moons. For adventure lovers grab a kayak or paddleboard and ride the Bore Tide (though it can be dangerous).
Portage Ghost Town
The town dropped about 10 feet in the aftermath of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, forcing its residents to flee and putting the town of Portage below the high tide line. Little remains of Portage, however, some of the dilapidated homes can still be seen from the Seward Highway.
See The Engineering Feat Of The Alyeska Pipeline
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline can be seen from several viewpoints spanning between Valdez and Prudhoe Bay. It’s one of the largest pipeline systems in the world, carrying crude oil from Prudhoe Bay down to its terminus in Valdez where the oil is loaded onto ships.
Go See Portage & Byron Glaciers
These are the two easiest glaciers to visit from Anchorage, both reachable by road. Portage has receded substantially, however you can take a cruise around the lake or hike the Portage Valley traverse for closer views.
Nearby Byron glacier is a short walk to a scenic viewpoint. Those more adventurous can continue onto the glacier. Sometimes there are ice caves on the glacier. Getting up onto the glacier is of course at your own risk. Ice caves do collapse, invisible crevasses exist and can be fell into and this valley is no stranger to avalanches.
Use by Byron Glacier Travel Guide to learn everything you need to know to visit the glacier
Where To Stay On Your Trip To Alaska?
Looking for cheap places to stay in Anchorage? Check out my Best Hostels In Anchorage post.