Alaskans joke that if Texans won’t quit saying they’re the biggest state, they’ll split Alaska in two and make the cowboys third biggest. While a lot of Alaska is frozen solid year-round, it’s still a big state to explore. Because of its size, it’s not easy choosing which part to visit. It’s way too big to road-trip in a week or two so sacrifices will have to be made.
Regardless of which part you decide to see, there are a wide variety of reasons to go. Wildlife is one of the most obvious reasons people want to see the state. Alaska is home to many types of wildlife, including deer, elk, reindeer, moose, musk oxen, wood bison, red and gray foxes, marmots, porcupines, beavers, coyotes, wolverines, lynx, black bears, grizzlies, polar bears, and tundra wolves. Birds include puffins, osprey, bald eagles, and ten different owl species. Sealife includes harbor seals, dolphins, belugas, orcas, and humpback whales.
Denali is a good area to see almost any type of Alaskan wildlife. In salmon season (May through September), you can find car-accessible bear-watching spots in Hidden Creek. For a less wild experience, see the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where you can see much of Alaska’s elusive wildlife in huge but safe habitats. While you’re at it, check out the Alaska Sealife Center too.
If you’re interested in cruises off the coast, Glacier Bay and the Hubbard Glacier are some of the best. However, sealife and glacier tours are offered off the coast of many small towns and parks as well, so if you’re near the coast, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find one.
There is no one perfect place to stay to see everything you want to see, so you could consider staying in several places for a few days at a time. But if that’s off your budget, here are some of the most popular places:
- Anchorage is a popular place to stay due to it being a big city, but being surrounded almost entirely by wilderness.
- Seward, a few hours’ drive south from Anchorage, is close to many popular destinations, most notably Kenai Fjords. It’s also a hotspot for boat tours off the cost.
- Juneau, down in the “panhandle,” is a completely separate part of the state, which is worth a whole separate trip.
- Fairbanks, up north, is also a good place to stay if you don’t mind the snow and cold. It’s close to Denali, which draws in the most visitors, and it’s a good place for dog sledding. If you want to see the Northern Lights, Fairbanks is the way to go.
When it comes down to individual locations, it’s not an easy choice. There are way too many to choose from. However, since it’s unlikely you’ll get a chance to see them all, here are some of the most popular, most interesting, and most scenic, and best rated places in the state:
#11: Mendenhall Glacier. This one is located only a few miles from Juneau, which makes it one of the most popular glaciers in Alaska. It’s also one of the most easily accessible, since trails from the visitor center go right down to it.
#10: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. In this park and the small town near it, you will find museums dedicated to the history of Klondike, gold rush-era log cabins, and the largest gold nugget ever found.
#9: Hubbard Glacier. The Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America, and one of the fastest. Because of it’s (relatively) fast movement, it’s common for large chunks of ice to break off into the ocean, which is why boats can rarely get closer than a half-mile from the face.
#8: Sitka National Historical Park. While it’s known chiefly for its totem poles, there is a lot more to discover. It’s located on the site of a battle between the Russians and the Tlingits in 1804, and as a result, the park has an odd combination of Tlingit and Russian culture. But along with the artifacts and buildings, there is also a lush rainforest and a scenic coastline that make Sitka a good park for hiking and camping.
#7: Fairbanks. The town of Fairbanks in central Alaska is popular mostly because of how common it is to see the northern lights. It’s also a good place for dogsledding. However, know that temperatures go well below freezing day and night, and the snow can be heavy enough to keep people stranded at home.
#6: Seward. It’s proximity that makes this town a must-see. In addition to the town itself, it’s close to Kenai Fjords, Resurrection Bay, the Alaska Sealife Center, and many more popular destinations.
#5: Alaska Highway. The Alaska Highway a scenic route that runs all the way from British Columbia to Fairbanks. It’s a good route to take if you intend to drive to Alaska, and the views are worth seeing. The towns along the road offer places to stay, and there are plenty of attractions along the way.
#4: Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve. Glacier Bay is known for its whale-watching tours, but it’s also a good kayaking/camping spot, with over 700 miles of shoreline to explore. Sealife is the main attraction, which is plentiful and includes harbor seals and humpback whales. Tour boats and cruise ships are the easiest way to enter, since there is only one road.
#3: Tracy Arm Fjord. This is bigger and better version of the Mendenhall Glacier. The waterway is often no wider than a half mile, but the 3000-foot cliffs, glaciers, waterfalls, and wildlife, make it a spectacular natural wonder that’s a can’t-miss if you’re in the Juneau area.
#2: Kenai Fjords National Park. This park is located just a few miles from Seward, or a two-hour drive from Anchorage. Hiking, whale-watching, climbing, and visiting active glaciers are just a few of the activities found there. The Exit Glacier is one of the major attractions.
# 1: Denali National Park. Denali is simply a can’t-miss. It’s a big place, like everything in Alaska, so even within the park you will have to choose what to see and what to miss. In the spring, you will find endless fields of wildflowers in the pristine, untouched wilderness. Moose, elk, bison, reindeer, lynx, bears, and tundra wolves are no stranger to the park, though some of the above mentioned are elusive and hard to spot.