If you want to make an escape to Alaska but are short on time, or you’re already there and want to enjoy a fun weekend getaway, these ideas are sure to fit the bill.
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This beautiful harbor town provides a little bit of everything the state has to offer, making it an ideal spot to experience those quintessential Alaskan sights and wildlife. Surrounded by wilderness, you can hike – the 5-mile Coastal Trail is known as one of the best in Alaska – paddle or head out on horseback to take in dramatic views of the shorelines of Turnagain Arm, the soaring craggy peaks of the Chugach Mountains, countless waterfalls, blue-tinted glaciers and dazzling lakes. Along the way, keep an eye out for moose, bald eagles, the arctic tern and even bears. Stand on the shores or paddle out onto Resurrection Bay, and you might spot humpback whales, orcas, harbor seals, porpoises, otters, sea lions and more.
Denali National Park
Located in Alaska’s Interior, Denali National Park and Preserve is home to North America’s highest mountain, Denali, with a summit elevation of 20,310 feet above sea level. As the park is home to diverse habitats that include forest at lower elevations, tundra in the middle and glaciers, snow and rock at its highest elevations, it lends itself as a perfect place for practically an endless number of animal species to live, making it one of the best destinations for wildlife lovers to experience. Moose are often seen feeding on aquatic plants in the swamps and small lakes, while Dall sheep climb the mountainsides, herds of caribou roam throughout the park, and there is also a good-sized population of black bears and grizzly bears.
Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, Alaska
Alyeska Resort has been acclaimed as one of the state’s top resort hotels, and it makes an ideal weekend getaway, less than an hour from Anchorage International Airport. This luxury chateau-style hotel is surrounded by lush forest and the dramatic peaks of the Chugach Mountains, set along the south central coast just below a popular ski mountain. Its relatively remote location makes it a fantastic spot for viewing the colorful northern lights, and staff will arrange wake-up calls that will allow you to enjoy them without having to stay up all night. You can also enjoy refreshing dips in the saltwater pool, hot stone massage, dog-sledding and snowmobile tours as well as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, biking and skijoring.
Kodiak Island is famous for its bears, as well as its outstanding fishing opportunities with the chance to catch five species of salmon, halibut and trout. Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, protects a diverse, nearly 3,000-square-mile area home to rugged mountains and lush alpine valleys, is one of the best places for viewing bears on the planet, with some 3,500 of the animals residing here. There are no roads into the refuge, so to see them, you’ll need to book an air charter or take an excursion from one of multiple wilderness lodges, but it’s sure to make for a weekend you’ll never forget.
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Alaska is one of the best states for whale watching of all types, with many species of cetaceans inhabiting or migrating through its waters, including orcas, beluga and humpbacks. But Glacier Bay National Park is an especially hotspot for watching humpback whales that are known to construct massive circular fishing nets with bubbles to catch the vast shoals of herring, launching themselves high into their air with their mouths open wide. Seeing this spectacle is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The true giants of these waters expel air at more than 300 miles-per-hour, creating a cloudy column of vaporized air that can be seen for miles. Come in the summer months, especially August, and you’re practically guaranteed a sighting with multiple boat tours available, and you’re like to brown bears and many bald eagles.
Homer is renowned for its breathtaking coastlines, deep fjords, towering mountains, old growth Sitka spruce forests, tranquil beaches and incredible tidal fluctuations. It offers great fishing, beachcombing and bird watching, with more bald eagles than you can probably count. The town itself is considered the cultural capital of southcentral Alaska, with a host of art galleries, museums, music venues and live theater, along with a wealth of outstanding eateries and coffee bars. One of the best ways to experience it is to rent a kayak and paddle across Kachemak Bay by kayak. You’ll be enveloped by the tranquility while watching porpoise and sea otters with the snowy mountain peaks and dense forest providing a stunning backdrop.
If you’re looking for a winter escape, there are few better places you could go than Chena Hot Springs Resort in Fairbanks, which offers the chance to soak in the warmth of hot springs while surrounded by snow, and possibly nature’s own dazzling light show, which frequently appears in the dark skies in fall, winter and well into early spring. While you’re here, you’ll also have the chance to embark on a dog sled ride or a horse-drawn sleigh ride, ice skate and experience flight-seeing over the Arctic wilderness.
Ketchikan is situated at the southern tip of the Inside Passage, the first city cruise passengers typically see on their way north. The downtown area is especially walkable, and lined with historically significant buildings and shops that showcase the work of local weavers, wood carvers, painters, jewelry designers, sculptors, photographers, writers, and more. It also boasts a number of live music venues, theater and a wide range of eateries. Of course, most people come for the outdoor adventures, like fishing in this “salmon capital of the world,” as well as hiking, whale watching, riding thrilling zip lines, flight seeing and more.
If you’re looking to experience some of Alaska’s especially remote wilderness, you may want to head to Nome. While it’s most famous as the end of the Iditarod Trail, it’s also home to active gold mines that can be explored, as well as making a good base to explore backcountry roads and Bering Land Bridge National Park, where numerous scenic hikes await. Throughout the area, musk oxen and reindeer can often be seen grazing right alongside the road, and other wildlife like wolves, bears and moose roam the area too.