Alaska Uncovered: Explore Beyond the Ice and Into the Wild

Alaska

Alaska Bucket-list: The Ultimate Travel Guide for the Last Frontier

Known as the Last Frontier, Alaska offers vast expanses of untouched land, remote communities reachable only by air or sea, and fascinating characters who have chosen to make one of the most wild and breathtaking settings in the world their home.

Creating an Alaska itinerary is challenging given the endlessly appealing destinations and activities here. From majestic wildlife and awe-inspiring national parks to native villages and the spectacular northern lights, every corner of Alaska promises a unique and unforgettable experience.

So, let’s explore the wonders of this state together, with my Alaska Travel Guide!

🇺🇸 Best Things to do in Alaska? 🇺🇸

1. Embark on an Alaskan Cruise

Cruising is a booming industry in Alaska and is an amazing way to explore the state. Each summer, cruise ships traverse the waters of Alaska’s Inside Passage, visiting isolated communities like Sitka, Ketchikan, and Juneau.

On-board activities vary depending on the port, with offerings such as aerial tours over expansive ice fields, fishing adventures in the deep Alaskan waterways, and cultural expeditions that highlight Alaska’s indigenous communities.

This is actually how I explored Alaska – aboard the Celebrity Millennium Cruise Ship on its ‘North Bound Alaska Cruise.’ Unbelievably, we only paid $399 each for this once-in-a-lifetime expedition! In my opinion, cruising is the best way to get a real taste of Alaska, without the need for extensive travel planning.

Alaskan cruise

2. Bear Watching at Katmai National Park

Situated near King Salmon, Katmai National Park is a realm untouched by time and where nature reigns supreme. Home to the world’s highest concentration of brown bears, Katmai offers an unrivalled opportunity to observe these gorgeous creatures in their natural environment.

Bear watching at Katmai National Park is more than a sightseeing adventure; it’s a voyage into the authentic Alaskan wilderness. Between June and September, the park becomes a playground for over 2,000 brown bears. They converge on the park’s rivers to feast on salmon, preparing for the long winter hibernation.

One of the best vantage points for bear watching is Brooks Falls. Here, you can witness the spectacle of bears catching salmon mid-air as they leap up the falls. Safe viewing platforms ensure you can watch this unfold at close range but without disturbing the bears.

Katmai National Park

Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a photographer, or simply an adventurous traveler, bear watching at Katmai is an experience that deserves a spot on your Alaska bucket list.

3. Awe-Inspiring Whale Watching

Alaska offers out of this world whale-watching experiences, with humpback whales, orcas, and beluga whales regularly seen in its nutrient-rich, coastal waters.

The best time to see whales in Alaska is typically between May and September when migratory whales return to the Alaskan waters to feed. This time of year provides the best opportunities to witness the humpback’s mesmerising bubble-net feeding behaviour and hear the orca’s calls echoing across the water.

Orca in Alaska

I did whale watching in Juneau (the state capital), where you’re guaranteed to see these majestic creatures (or your money back). It was truly one of the best things I did in Alaska and possibly in my life! So, if you’re heading here, I strongly recommend adding whale watching to the top of your Alaska itinerary.

If you’re in Juneau, I also recommend heading to Tracy’s King Crab Shack for the ultimate seafood experience. Here, you can feast on delicious Alaskan king crab legs and other seafood dishes, all while enjoying stunning views of the waterfront. With its deliciously authentic food and reasonable prices, this is easily one of the best restaurants in Alaska, especially if you’re looking to try classic dishes. It’s also an ideal thing to do in Juneau from a cruise ship, as it’s located just a few minutes from the port.

4. Explore the Wilderness of Denali National Park

Denali National Park offers an unparalleled wilderness experience, with its vast, unspoiled landscapes and iconic wildlife, this is a haven for Alaska’s “Big Five’’ (moose, grizzly bears, caribou, Dall sheep, and gray wolves).

Denali also boasts the tallest mountain in North America, Mount Denali, which is a snowy giant that towers over the Alaska Range.

Denali National Park

Travel Planning tips: The best way to see Denali National Park is via official bus tours. Private vehicles are limited to the first 15 miles of the park’s 92-mile dirt road. The bus tours, however, reach deeper into the park and help reduce the environmental impact on this pristine wilderness. The ideal times to visit the park are during the summer and shoulder months of May and September, to avoid the crowds.

5. Check Out the Vibrant City of Anchorage

The Anchorage street art scene is breathing vibrant life and colour into the city’s urban fabric, proving it to be much more than just a gateway to natural wonders.

One of the best free things to do in Anchorage is simply strolling around the city, which is filled with energy, colour, and imagination.

If you’re into hiking or biking, why not visit the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail: This scenic trail offers stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the coastline, it’s also free too, so ideal if you’re backpacking around Alaska.

In terms of Anchorage museums, my personal favourite is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where you can immerse yourself in Alaska’s rich cultural heritage through exhibits, demonstrations, and even performances by local Native groups.

The Anchorage Museum is also well worth a visit: This world-class museum showcases various exhibits on Alaskan art, history, and science, which is a great way to dive deeper into the region’s unique culture.

If you’re like me and need coffee 24/7, the best coffee in Anchorage can be found at the Black Cup. This charming coffee shop takes their coffee seriously! They offer a range of specialty coffee drinks and take pride in sourcing top-quality beans from around the world. Don’t forget to try their delicious pastries too.

I also highly recommend visiting Alaska Zoo, where you’ll get to see amazing Arctic wildlife like polar bears, musk oxen, moose, and more up close!

When it comes to waterfalls in Alaska, the world’s largest chocolate waterfall has to be my favourite! This is one of the lesser-known attractions in Anchorage and is a world of decadent delights that you’ll find at the Alaska Wild Berry Products factory.

With this 20-foot waterfall that contains over 3,000 pounds of creamy chocolate, you’ll be like a kid in a candy store! If you’re a chocolate aficionado, visiting this place is bound to be a memorable stop on your Anchorage itinerary.

World's Largest Chocolate Waterfall

6. Experience the Northern Lights

If you’re planning a winter visit, witnessing the dancing northern lights, or aurora borealis, is one of the most incredible things to do in Alaska.

Fairbanks, located in the central interior of the state, is the number one place to see the northern lights in Alaska, as it experiences over 200 nights of auroral activity every year.

Northern Lights in Alaska

Travel tips: The northern lights are only visible during the dark winter months, so dress warmly as temperatures regularly fall far below freezing. Also, plan for at least three nights to maximise your chances of clear skies and auroral activity.

7. Relax in the Chena Hot Springs

Just an hour’s drive from Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs attracts visitors throughout the year. This easily accessible hot spring is a perfect spot to unwind after a day of exploring or watching the Alaskan northern lights.

8. Visit the Running Reindeer Ranch

For a fun and authentic Alaskan experience visit the Running Reindeer Ranch, which is also in Fairbanks. Nestled amidst the vast Alaskan wilderness, Running Reindeer Ranch offers guided tours that let you get up close and personal with these adorable creatures.

Here you can walk alongside reindeer through the boreal forest, learn about their life cycle and habits, and discover the integral role they play in indigenous Alaskan culture.

One of the highlights of the Running Reindeer Ranch experience is the reindeer yoga classes, where you can find your zen amidst wandering reindeer! It’s an unforgettable encounter with nature and a wonderful way to support a local business committed to caring for these incredible creatures.

Running Reindeer Ranch Yoga

Note: You’ll need to book to visit the Ranch in advance, which you can do online.

9. Travel to the Quirky Town of Chicken

If you’re craving an adventure off the beaten path, look no further than Chicken Town! With a population that can be counted on two hands, this uniquely named town boasts a charm and whimsy that has drawn countless visitors to its off-grid location over the years.

Founded during the late 19th-century gold rush, Chicken got its peculiar name from the state bird of Alaska (the ptarmigan), which locals found too difficult to spell, so opted to name their settlement after the bird’s domestic cousin instead! Today, this amusing backstory stands as a testament to the town’s enduring spirit and quirky character.

One of the town’s main attractions, quite fittingly, is a giant chicken sculpture that proudly stands at the entrance of town, which has become a popular Instagram spot, adding a light-hearted flair to the rustic beauty of the Alaskan wilderness.

For a hands-on experience, you can pan for gold at the Chicken Gold Camp and unearth the glistening treasures that put this town on the map. A stop at the Chicken Creek Saloon is also a must for those seeking the authentic Alaskan experience, where you can share stories with locals over a cold brew.

10. Journey to Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park deserves a place at the top of every traveler’s bucket list. Located in southern Alaska, on the edge of the Kenai Peninsula, this 600,000 acre sanctuary offers an amazing tapestry of wildlife, glaciers, fjords, and trails, with adventures to suit every type of visitor.

Kenai Fjords is easily one of the best Alaska national parks, with it being an expanse of wilderness that’s virtually untouched and as close as you can get to the primal beauty of the Earth. The park’s name is derived from its most iconic feature: The stunning fjords carved by glaciers that slide down the mountains into the sea, creating natural artwork that’s truly awe-inspiring.

Kenai Fjords National Park

If you’re a wildlife lover, you’ll find Kenai Fjords a paradise on Earth. Witnessing the playful antics of sea otters, spying harbour seals basking on icebergs, or catching a glimpse of humpback whales breaching in the emerald waters is an everyday occurrence here. On land, black bears, moose, and mountain goats roam the forested areas, offering incredible photo opportunities.

The Harding Icefield Trail is a must-do if you’re a keen hiker. This strenuous 8.2-mile round trip takes you to the expansive Harding Icefield, a relic of the last Ice Age, with mesmerising views of glaciers and their deep-blue crevasses.

But perhaps the crown jewel of the park is its marine tours. A boat trip through the fjords is an unforgettable experience. You’ll pass by towering cliffs, witness tidewater glaciers calving, where massive chunks of ice crash into the sea with a thunderous roar, and see colonies of seals and sea lions basking on the ice.

And if you are an adventurous spirit, you can kayak amidst the icebergs or try your hand at fishing in Resurrection Bay’s fruitful waters.

The Kenai Fjords National Park is an experience that’s hard to put into words. It’s a place where one can disconnect from the hustle and bustle of modern life and find a deeper connection with nature. It’s an untouched, wild beauty that’s both captivating and humbling. Whether you’re a passionate hiker, wildlife lover, or simply an admirer of Mother Nature’s artistry, Kenai Fjords National Park offers out-of-this-world experience.

11. Experience Dog Sledding in Skagway

The quaint town of Skagway feels like a page torn straight from a vintage storybook. It was once the epicentre of the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1800s, which earned it the nickname “Gateway to the Klondike.”

With a population of just over a thousand, Skagway exudes a small-town charm that’s hard to resist. Stroll through the downtown area, and you’ll be transported back in time with its preserved 19th-century buildings, now turned into shops, museums, and restaurants.

From the Gold Rush Cemetery to the Skagway Museum and Archives, every corner of this town whispers tales from its golden past.

One of the best things you can do in Skagway is Dog Sledding or ‘Mushing’, which is more than just a sport in Alaska; it’s a cherished tradition, a means of transportation, and a testament to the bond between humans and dogs.

In Skagway, dog sledding takes on an even more exciting dimension, as Tour companies like Viator offer a range of exhilarating dog sledding experiences that let you soak in the untouched beauty of the Alaskan wilderness while experiencing this age-old tradition.

After the ride, you may even get a chance to hang out with the sled dogs adorable puppies, like we did. So if you’re a dog lover, add this adventure to your Alaska itinerary immediately!

12. Marvel at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Glaciers occupy about 5% of Alaska and significantly contribute to its natural beauty. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, in the southeastern part of Alaska, offers an unmatched chance to witness an icy wilderness in all its splendour.

The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that spans over 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep fjords.

However, the park’s crowning glory is undoubtedly its glaciers. From towering, actively calving tidewater glaciers that plunge into the icy waters of the bay, to the more remote alpine glaciers nestled in the high mountain peaks, the glaciers here are truly otherworldly.

You can explore Glacier Bay National Park in numerous ways. One of the most popular is by boat tour, offering an up-close view of the majestic tidewater glaciers. Kayaking and camping are also popular choices (though require permits).

13. Feel the Rush on the World’s Largest Zip Rider

Daredevils prepare for the ultimate adrenaline rush at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah! It’s here where you’ll find the world’s largest Zip Rider, a breathtaking ride that will undoubtedly make your Alaska vacation a seriously memorable one.

The ZipRider boasts six 5,330-foot cables on which you’ll reach speeds of up to 60 mph. It all starts at a launching point 1,300 feet above Icy Strait Point. As you’re strapped into your secure harness, you can soak in the panoramic views of the Port Frederick waterway and the lush Alaskan forest.

Riding the ZipRider at Icy Strait Point truly embodies the spirit of Alaskan adventure. Combining speed, natural beauty, and an unparalleled sense of freedom, it’s an experience that is both thrilling and unforgettable.

14. Walk the Ancestral Totem Pole Trail

Venture deep into the heart of Alaska’s rich cultural heritage as you explore the Totem Pole Trail at Sitka National Historic Park. Renowned as the oldest national park in Alaska, it’s steeped in tradition, and its totem pole trail serves as an evocative testament to the area’s vibrant Indigenous culture.

The Totem Pole Trail, an easy, mile-long loop, winds through an enchanting rainforest, leading you to 18 magnificent Tlingit and Haida totem poles. These towering works of art, scattered along the trail and in the park’s Totem Hall, offer a fascinating glimpse into the cultural narratives and ancestral stories of the native peoples of Alaska.

The totem poles, intricately carved from cedar trees, depict various animals, mythological creatures, and symbolic figures, each telling its own story. As you walk this historical path, you’re not merely observing ancient art but engaging in a dialogue with centuries of Alaskan Indigenous culture.

When should you visit Alaska?

Whether you dream of cruising the Inside Passage, hiking in Denali National Park, or witnessing the enchanting Northern Lights, choosing the best time to visit Alaska will make your experience truly unforgettable.

Visiting Alaska in Summer

The Alaskan summer, particularly from mid-June to mid-August, is the most popular time for tourists. During these months, the Alaska weather is the warmest, with temperatures ranging from 60 to 80 degrees. It’s also the period of the famous ‘midnight sun,’ where certain regions enjoy up to 24 hours of daylight!

Summer is a great time for an Alaskan cruise through the stunning Inside Passage, where you’ll see breathtaking views of glaciers, mountains, and have the chance to spot incredible wildlife, including whales, sea otters, and seals.

If you’re an adventure enthusiast, the summer months are perfect for hiking, fishing, or camping in Denali National Park. This time of year, you’ll have a high chance of sighting Alaska’s Big Five.

Alaska in Fall

Fall (September through November) is the off-peak season and the best time to visit Alaska for anyone seeking fewer crowds and lower prices. As the Alaska weather begins to cool, the changing foliage will present a stunning array of autumn colours. At this time of year, you might even get a chance to witness the magnificent caribou herds migrating.

Winter in Alaska

Winter in Alaska (December to March) is for the true adventurers. Despite the cold Alaska weather, with temperatures often dropping below zero, winter offers some really unique attractions.

Winter brings popular events like the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the World Ice Art Championships. The Northern Lights are also visible on most clear nights during the Winter season. Don’t forget about winter sports either – Alaska offers some of the best spots for skiing, snowboarding, and ice fishing throughout this time of year.

Alaska in Spring

Spring (April to May) can be a transitional period in terms of Alaska weather. However, it’s a great time to see the state as it emerges from Winter, with days getting longer and warmer.

This time of year is ideal for bird watching as migratory birds return, and for viewing wildlife as animals appear after the long Winter. Spring is also a great time for a trip to the southeast or the Inside Passage before the Summer rush begins.

In essence, the best time to visit Alaska depends on your personal preferences. Whether you’re chasing the midnight sun, dreaming of the Northern Lights, or planning an Alaskan cruise, each season presents unique and equally amazing experiences.

Is Alaska Expensive to Visit? 💰

In comparison to other US states, Alaska can be pricier due to its remote location and high cost of living. However, the cost of your trip will naturally depend on factors like the time of year you’re visiting, where you’re staying, and what you plan to do!

Accommodation in Alaska

Accommodation in Alaska varies greatly in price. You can find luxury resorts, mid-range hotels, budget hostels, and campgrounds. During the peak season (June through August), prices can be higher, and reservations are essential.

If you’re traveling on a budget, visiting during the shoulder seasons (May and September), when rates drop is a great travel hack. This is what we did so we could prioritise spending our cash on bucket list experiences, away from the crowds.

To get the best accommodation deals, use Hotellook to find and compare prices! ⬇️

Alternatively, camping in national parks can be an affordable and authentic way to experience the natural beauty of Alaska.

Dining in Alaska

Dining in Alaska can also range widely in price. If you’re eating out, especially in tourist areas, expect prices to be higher than average US prices. However, you’ll find local seafood like salmon and halibut worth every penny.

For anyone backpacking around Alaska, self-catering can be a cost-effective option. Local grocery stores offer fresh, local produce, and lots of accommodations include kitchen facilities.

Transportation in Alaska

When it comes to transportation, it’s important to know that Alaska is vast, and distances between attractions can be huge. Flights are commonly used to cover long distances quickly, but they can be costly.

The Alaska Railroad and bus services offer more budget-friendly options for traveling between major tourist destinations. Car rentals are also available and provide the flexibility to explore at your own pace.

Driving to Alaska and cruising its iconic highways is actually one of the best ways to capture its vast beauty. So if you have the time, why not head off on an epic road trip along the Alaska Highway, Denali Highway, and Seward Scenic Highway. These are three of Alaska’s most legendary routes, with each offering an adventure unique to the Last Frontier.

Discover Cars is an amazing car rental comparison website that we use to find, compare and rent cars all over the world ⬇️

If you’re planning an Alaskan cruise, it’s worth noting that while this option might seem like a higher cost up front, the price will include accommodation, transportation, and meals, which can actually make it a very cost-effective way to see the state.

Overall, Alaska can be pricier compared to other US destinations, but with careful planning and budgeting, it’s certainly possible to keep costs down. The key is to plan according to your budget and prioritise experiences that are the most important to you. Remember that Alaska’s beauty and uniqueness are priceless!

What to Eat in Alaska

Alaska is famous for many reasons, but there’s a hidden gem that doesn’t get the limelight it deserves — the unique Alaskan cuisine. In my opinion, these are all the top dishes you should 100% try on your next trip to Alaska:

Smoked Salmon

Alaska’s cold-water fish, especially the salmon, are world-renowned. Smoking salmon is an ancient tradition here, with each family having its own recipe. Whether cold-smoked or hot-smoked, it’s a must try and perfect to pair with some locally brewed craft beer.

On one of our Alaskan tours, I was also offered a ‘Jammin Salmon Sandwich’, which is literally salmon paste and berry jam on bread. I must admit, I was slightly horrified and almost didn’t try this local delicacy, but somehow it worked well. So, if you’re offered one on your own Alaskan adventure, do try it, as I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised! If you’re doing Alaska on a budget, this is also a tasty and cheap snack for your lunch box!

Eskimo Ice Cream

A surprising and delightful fusion of flavours, Akutaq (pronounced Ag-oo-duck), also known as Eskimo Ice Cream, is an Alaskan native dish that has been enjoyed for centuries. Traditionally, Akutaq was made from reindeer fat or seal oil mixed with snow, berries, and sometimes fish.

Nowadays, it’s commonly made with shortening, sugar, berries, and sometimes ground fish. This intriguing concoction, no doubt very different from any ice cream you’ve tried before, is a unique Alaskan delicacy you shouldn’t miss!

Alaskan King Crab

Alaska is synonymous with seafood, and King Crab is a delicious staple of Alaskan cuisine. These crabs are fished from the cold, pristine waters of the Bering Sea and their taste is unmatched — sweet, rich, and tender. King Crab is usually steamed and served with melted butter, allowing its natural flavours to take centre stage.

Alaskan Fry Bread

When we were in Skagway town, we noticed a huge queue outside an Alaskan Fry Bread shop and had to try it for ourselves! It’s also known as Eskimo bread and holds a significant place in the culinary history of Alaska.

Originating within the Native Alaskan communities, it was first prepared using ingredients supplied by the US government in the late 1800s. Over time, this simple, but versatile flatbread evolved into a beloved staple.

The dough is deep-fried until it reaches golden-brown, fluffy perfection, which can be enjoyed in lots of ways – sweetened with honey or sprinkled with powdered sugar, used as a base for hearty tacos, or served alongside soups and stews. I had mine with sugar and it was delicious.

Best Tours in Alaska

Viator is one of the best tour booking platforms out there. It has over 300,000+ experiences to explore… everything from simple tours to extreme adventures in Alaska (and all the niche, interesting stuff in between)!

Check it out for yourself ⬇️

Best Alaska Travel Insurance?

Travel insurance is essential in Alaska due to the extreme weather, risky outdoor activities, and high cost of healthcare. Getting the right insurance will save you thousands if something goes wrong.

Nomad Insurance with SafetyWing is amazing, as it covers emergency medical evacuation and bedside visits, starting at just $42 per 4 weeks.

You can use it as a subscription service, meaning you don’t have to pay for the whole year upfront. Instead, you’re charged every 28 days, until you cancel, giving you the ultimate level of flexibility. There’s also no limit on travel duration, so you don’t need a return date (and a return ticket) in order to activate your insurance. So it’s the perfect safety net for anyone on the move!

Check SafetyWing Insurance out for yourself here:

Conclusion

Overall, Alaska offers an unmatched blend of wild adventures, stunning scenery and vibrant local communities. Its vast landscapes, ranging from icy glaciers to lush rainforests, cradle a wilderness so raw and untouched that it transcends ordinary descriptions.

From the dancing Northern Lights to the towering majesty of Denali, every inch of Alaska’s terrain resonates with beauty. No photograph or narrative can truly capture the essence of Alaska – it’s a place that must be experienced firsthand. So if it’s not on your travel bucket list already, Alaska certainly deserves to be!

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