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Top 14 Things to Do in Alaska

Alaska is renowned for its wild, breathtaking scenery with everything from dramatic mountain ranges and waterfalls to sparkling lakes, fjords, and glaciers. While simply relaxing while soaking up the natural beauty can make for a fabulous retreat, there are plenty of things to do. Whether you want to spot some of the state’s iconic wildlife like bears and whales or embark on a thrilling adventure, these activities can help complete a trip of a lifetime.

 

Watch for Whales in Juneau Whale watching with Jayleen's Alaska in Juneau
Credit: Whale watching with Jayleen's Alaska in Juneau by Jayleen Bydlon of Jayleen's Alaska

Watch for Whales in Juneau

What Is It? While there are multiple destinations throughout the state for watching whales, Juneau is often ranked as the top spot for wildlife watching, with opportunities to see many humpbacks and the occasional orca, along with Dall’s porpoise, harbor seals, stellar sea lions, and more.

Why Do It? Seeing whales in their natural habitat, perhaps even breaching the water’s surface, is something you’ll never forget.

Good to Know: For the best experience, join a small group tour operated by a knowledgeable local like Jayleen’s Alaska.

Travel Denali Park Road Denali National Park, Alaska
Credit: Denali National Park, Alaska by bigstock.com

Travel Denali Park Road

What Is It? Denali National Park is home to North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali, and includes over six million acres of mountains, lakes, and abundant wildlife. The 92-mile Park Road is one of the best ways to see it, although you’ll need to hop on a tour bus or take the shuttle at Mile 15 as private vehicles aren’t allowed past the point.

Why Do It? You can spot some of the park’s most iconic animals like wolves, moose, caribou, grizzly and black bears, and Dall’s sheep. Foxes, marmots, arctic ground squirrels, and red squirrels are frequently seen too.

Good to Know: It’s possible to hop on or hop off at just about any point along the journey via the shuttle bus.

Take the Glacier Bay Boat Tour Through Glacier Bay Lodge Boat cruising through the waters of Glacier Bay on Glacier Bay Tour through Glacier Bay Lodge
Credit: Boat cruising through the waters of Glacier Bay on Glacier Bay Tour through Glacier Bay Lodge by K.C. Dermody

Take the Glacier Bay Boat Tour Through Glacier Bay Lodge

What Is It? Located in Glacier Bay National Park, the Glacier Bay Boat Tour offers the chance to cruise from Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove into Glacier Bay for a close-up look at stunning glaciers like Margerie and experience the sights and sounds of iceberg calving. Along the way, a myriad of wildlife can be spotted in the water, on land, and through the skies, including everything from whales, sea lions, and sea otters to bald eagles, coastal brown bears, and mountain goats.

Why Do It? You can witness glaciers before they melt while enjoying the scenery that includes dramatic peaks and turquoise water in every direction. You’re likely to capture some of the best photos of your trip too.

Good to Know: With 360-degree views of pure wonder, you’ll want a good camera. But even without the fancy equipment, you’re sure to have a good time capturing photos here.

Hike the Exit Glacier Trail in Kenai Fjords Kenai Fjords National Park
Credit: Kenai Fjords National Park by bigstock.com

Hike the Exit Glacier Trail in Kenai Fjords

What Is It? Located in Kenai Fjords National Park just outside of Seward, hiking the Exit Glacier is one of the top things to do, with the route providing a face-to-face view of the Glacier, dramatic vistas that include deep glacier crevasses, and vast seracs. It leads to Harding Icefield, which spans nearly 714 square miles with ice that’s up to a mile thick.

Why Do It? It provides a rare opportunity for an up-close view of these blue tidewater glaciers along with impressive marine life while passing stunning views that include heather-filled meadows.

Good to Know: Self-guided audio tours are available on The Alaska App, narrated by the Park Service’s chief interpretive ranger.

See Countless Eagles at Eagle Beach Bald Eagle at Eagle Beach, Juneau
Credit: Bald Eagle at Eagle Beach, Juneau by K.C. Dermody

See Countless Eagles at Eagle Beach

What Is It? Located about a 30-minute drive north of Juneau, Eagle Beach is aptly named as a wild stretch where a very high concentration of bald eagles can be seen as they arrive to feast on the salmon that swim through shallow streams on the flats.

Why Do It? While it’s one of the best destinations to see bald eagles up close in their natural habitat, few visitors make it out this way which means it’s likely to be just you and the birds. Plus, the views of Lynn Canal, the Chilkat Mountains, and the Juneau Mountains provide more magnificent photo-ops.

Good to Know: Late June through early August is the best time to go as the beach is abundant with salmon during the peak of summer. It’s also possible to camp here so that you can wake up to the sounds of the birds.

Marvel at the Northern Lights Fairbanks, Alaska
Credit: Fairbanks, Alaska by Beverly & Pack via Flickr

Marvel at the Northern Lights

What Is It? The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, is a breathtaking display of some of Mother Nature’s most impressive works of art, which occurs when solar particles enter the earth’s atmosphere, and on impact, emits burning gases that produce various colored lights.

Why Do It? The chance to watch the northern lights is something that shouldn’t be missed, and Alaska is one of the most well-known places for this bucket-list experience, with Fairbanks often noted as one of the best places in the country for viewing.

Good to Know: Venture away from city lights to places like Cleary Summit, Murphy Domes, or Haystack Mountain, or take a guided tour with many outfitters that can take you aurora hunting.

See the Bears on Kodiak Island Kodiak brown bear on Kodiak Island
Credit: Kodiak brown bear on Kodiak Island by Bigstock.com

See the Bears on Kodiak Island

What Is It? Kodiak Island is home to the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which protects over 2,800 square miles with everything from rugged mountains to alpine meadows and streams, although it’s most famous for its bears, with some 3,500 of them here, including males that can weigh more than 1,500 pounds and stand over 10 feet tall.

Why Do It? How often do you get the chance to see bears outside of a zoo? Plus, photographs often not only include the animals but a backdrop of snowcapped mountains, glaciers, and vast green fields. The scenery alone is reason enough to visit.

Good to Know: To view these incredible creatures, as there are no roads into the refuge, you’ll need to take an air charter or an excursion, available from Homer or Seward.

Kayak Resurrection Bay in Seward kayaking Resurrection Bay
Credit: kayaking Resurrection Bay by Bigstock.com

Kayak Resurrection Bay in Seward

What Is It? An independent or kayaking tour through Resurrection Bay in Seward that brings the chance to paddle among a stunning backdrop of wildlife and scenery.

Why Do It? Resurrection Bay has been named one of the Top 10 places to kayak in the entire country. As you make your way through coves nestled along the shoreline, you’ll be sharing the tranquility with the sea otters, sea lions, porpoises, a variety of whales, puffins, eagles, and other birds.

Good to Know: You can bring your own kayak, rent one in Seward, or join a tour with multiple outfitters offering the experience.

Go Halibut Fishing in Homer Fresh halibut in Homer, Alaska
Credit: Fresh halibut in Homer, Alaska by © Bounder32h | Dreamstime.com

Go Halibut Fishing in Homer

What Is It? An angler’s paradise, Alaska offers some of the world’s best fishing, and Homer is one of the top spots for halibut fishing, with the most productive catches from May through September.

Why Do It? The halibut off the shores of Homer averages between 25 and 35 pounds, although it’s not unheard of to catch one that’s over 100 pounds, and the record is a remarkable 459 pounds. Head out on your own or join an expert captain on a halibut fishing charter to experience the thrill of reeling in a really big one.

Good to Know: If you want to fish on your own, try your luck at the Fishing Lagoon on Homer Spit which stretches 4.5 miles into the bay. Or, you can choose from fishing charters offered as half-day, full-day, or multi-day trips from the harbor.

Take One of the Country's Most Breathtaking Drives from Anchorage View from Seward HIghway
Credit: View from Seward HIghway by © Wakr10 - Dreamstime.com

Take One of the Country's Most Breathtaking Drives from Anchorage

What Is It? One of Alaska’s top drives travels the 127-mile-long stretch of Seward Highway between Anchorage and Seward, winding through the unspoiled Alaskan wilderness.

Why Do It? Look forward to dramatic views of the Turnagain Arm shorelines, the soaring craggy peaks of the Chugach Mountains, cascading waterfalls, blue-tinged glaciers, and sparkling valley lakes.

Good to Know: Keep an eye out for a wide range of wildlife, including moose, eagles, bears, and even beluga whales.

Go Flightseeing Over Denali National Park Aerial view of the glaciers in Denali National Park
Credit: Aerial view of the glaciers in Denali National Park by © Glebtarro | Dreamstime.com

Go Flightseeing Over Denali National Park

What Is It? A flightseeing tour over Denali National Park.

Why Do It? From the air, you’ll get a bird’s-eye view that allows you to take in the diversity and enormity of the landscape, including areas that have never been touched by humans among a sea of mountains, glaciers, and wildlife.

Good to Know: Some flightseeing tours include the chance to land right on a glacier.

Hike Chugach State Park Near Anchorage Matanuska River, Chugach State Park
Credit: Matanuska River, Chugach State Park by bigstock.com

Hike Chugach State Park Near Anchorage

What Is It? Chugach State Park is one of the largest state parks in the state, covering almost a half-million acres with more than 50 trails that extend hundreds of miles into pristine landscapes for hiking.

Why Do It? While you’ll be headed into the wilderness, the park is easily accessible from Anchorage.

Good to Know: Flattop Mountain is a popular trek for reaching panoramic views and natural landmarks like the Chugach Mountains and the Chugach National Forest.

Visit the Anchorage Museum Exterior of Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
Credit: Exterior of Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center by Anchorage Museum

Visit the Anchorage Museum

What Is It? A museum focused on the history of Anchorage, the region, and all things Alaska.

Why Do It? It’s a great opportunity to learn more about local life, including Native American cultures and wildlife.

Good to Know: If you begin your trip in Anchorage, start here and you’ll have a better perspective while exploring the city and beyond.

Pan for Gold in Juneau Results of gold panning
Credit: Results of gold panning by bigstock.com

Pan for Gold in Juneau

What Is It? Gold panning was very popular in the 1800s and into the early part of the 20th century, particularly in places where there had been big finds, kicking off a gold rush, including Alaska. It’s a form of placer mining and traditional mining that extracts gold from a placer deposit using a pan.

Why Do It? Alaskan towns were built on gold through treasure hunters and those who supported them. You can enjoy the Juneau Underground Gold Mine and Panning Experience, which begins with a short ride along the Gastineau Channel before donning a hardhat and strolling 360 feet along a boardwalk into the state’s only underground tunnel tour. An experienced miner will demonstrate hard rock mining and provide other insights into the operation at the John Peterson Stamphill. You’ll get to try panning for gold and garnets too – in fact, you’ll even get to keep what you find with “pay dirt guaranteed,” as they say.

Good to Know: Visitors can also see the very first steam engine brought to Alaska along with informative displays and pick up souvenirs at the General Store.

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