In this article, we are going to look at the best places to visit in Alaska. There is something special about the frozen wilds of the northern tundra and the numerous magical views it has to offer the savvy traveler.
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They say that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder; however, while that is true, by the same tract, beauty changes the more the beholder sees. For example, many people may think that Alaska is just a frozen wasteland with nothing to offer but isolation and long periods of darkness. Those people could not be more wrong.
Alaska could well be one of the most beautiful places on earth. There are stunning views and mind-blowing visits seemingly around every turn. Whether you are cruising along the coast or traveling this seemingly isolated state by road, you are never far away from another perfect Kodak moment.
Sadly, the best Alaska tourist attractions often aren’t as well known as they should be. As a result, this great state is often not at the top of people’s bucket lists for visits. The double-edged sword of this is that while the best of Alaska remains a secret, it also helps preserve its beautiful and unspoiled views.
Beautiful Alaska: Preamble
Alaska is a US state to the northwest. Vast swathes of this impressive land have no human inhabitants. Yet, it is precisely this vastness that holds such a unique appeal to people—especially those living in cramped cities.
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The changing seasons transform the landscape on a gigantic scale: expansive forests and unique wildlife match slow-moving glaciers and enchanting icebergs. From the polar bear to the moose, and the ocean’s largest animal, the blue whale, Alaska has it all. And don’t forget the Northern Lights!
Are you planning to visit Alaska any time soon? Then, this is the article for you. Make sure you add at least a few of these must-see Alaska destinations to your itinerary. You won’t regret it!
Top 10 Amazing Places to Visit in Alaska
Whether you’re planning your first or your fiftieth trip to Alaska, this list will have something for you. The following list offers 10 Alaska vacation ideas–in no particular order, So take note and make sure to add at least one of these into your budding itinerary.
1. Denali National Park
To take in the majesty of this park that seats on a massive 6 million acres, taking a ride on a bush airplane is worth considering. Talkeetna is the nearest town to hire a bush pilot and plan your tour. View in gallery
Denali Park has stunning glaciers, grand valleys and is also home to the highest peak in North America. Mt. Denali rises to 20,310 feet (6,190 m).
Another attraction that makes a trip to Denali National Park memorable is the abundant wildlife. Caribou, grizzly bears, moose, wolves, and Dall’s sheep are some of the animals you can expect to see. The park also boasts an impressive number of beautiful birds.
When planning a trip to this Alaskan paradise, pay careful attention to the season because while a winter experience will be especially magical, the snow can make the roads impassable.
In terms of accommodation, you have options aplenty. There are several cozy campsites with facilities for fire and tents. Moreover, hotels and lodges offer cabins and rooms to make your stay comfortable. Then you have the specialty lodges that offer luxurious accommodation and front-row viewing of bears in the wild. You can thank me later
2. Alaska Highway
If you are a fan of road trips, the Alaskan highway offers a chance to go on a journey you will never forget. Covering 1,382 miles and worming its way through the state and into Canada by way of British Columbia and the Yukon, this road offers many opportunities for Alaska sightseeing and adventures.
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Mile Zero Park, located where the highway begins, has a pioneer village that shows the lifestyle of people in the 1940’s when the highway was built. There is also a museum nearby that documents its construction.
Fort Nelson in British Columbia is a former fur trading post with a robust community and an antique car and truck collection museum. Further along the road, you can also stop to take in the beauty of Muncho Lake. The aquamarine water of the lake contrasts beautifully with the mountainous backdrop.
Then you get to Summit Pass, the highest point on the highway. It’s important to note that this point is in Canada, so make sure you check your entry visa and carry your passport just in case.
As with the rest of Alaska, the highway offers glimpses of wildlife species browsing by the roadside. And in the lakes along the road, you can do a bit of fishing or water sport surrounded by nature in its unspoiled splendor.
Although most of the highway is not in Alaska, it introduces the visual treasures ahead. The best time to make the trip is between May and September when weather conditions are kinder. June and July give you the most daylight to enjoy the views within that window.
3. Kenai Fjords National Park
This is the home of the Exit Glacier. The ice is retreating at a rate of 3 feet a year due to ongoing climate changes. Commemorative posts are erected each year to mark the glacier’s steady retreat. (About 2mm per day–you might even be able to hear the ice moving!)
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What makes the Exit Glacier one of the best places to go in Alaska is that you can hike quite close to it and get a VIP seat as the bluish ice flows right past your vantage point. The mix of rushing rivers, ice, and the nearby forest is truly a magical mosaic, put together by nature for your enjoyment.
The Harding Icefield provides various activities, including ice climbing courses and fjord kayaking adventures. Another option for those who prefer a more laid-back approach is to go on a boat tour in the summer.
As with most excursions in Alaska, pre-planning is key. First, check the best time of the year for sightseeing and any other activity you would wish to undertake. Next, get guidance from the local authorities in charge of the park and make sure you carry appropriate clothing and footwear.
4. Chena Hot Springs
Warmth is a scarce ingredient in the Alaskan wilderness, but sometimes, nature decides to surprise us. Behold, the Chena Hot Springs, located 56 miles northeast of Fairbanks.
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Besides being one of the most scenic hot springs worldwide, Chena Hot Springs water is reputed to have therapeutic benefits. Rumor has it that the miners would make a trip to the hot springs in search of a cure for their aches, bruises, and ailments. Today you can get the same benefits without the hard labor.
The Chena Springs resort also has an ice sculpture museum. This is one spectacular museum you have to visit. Here, leading sculptors from around the world have come together to craft amazing figurines from ice. The surreal place features statues of animals, humans, and objects in their frozen splendor.
Drinking apple juice from a goblet made of ice is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to enjoy at this beautiful Alaskan destination.
Chena Springs is one of the places where you can view the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis), which is just another reason why this hot spring is one of the best things to visit in Alaska.
5. Tangle Lakes
The Tangle lakes stretch for 16 miles and are fed by the Tangle River, which exits at the end as the Delta River. Snow-capped mountain ranges stand watch over the lake, adding to the majesty of the location.
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Traveling along the length of the lakes, you will come across several breathtaking waterfalls. In addition, there are rapids where the water churns and boils as it negotiates the rocky bottom. So, if you are a white-water rafting enthusiast, you can have a great adventure on the Tangle lakes.
Since fish abound in the lakes, you can also try out a bit of angling. Did you know that Tangle Lakes are reputed to have one of the world’s largest populations of grayling? So whether you want to wear your waders and try your luck in the shallows or fish for elusive trout in the deeper parts of the lakes, you cannot go wrong in Tangle Lakes.
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast, the lakes have quite a variety of options for you. Grizzlies and black bears turn up occasionally. However, caribou and moose munching on the greenery are more common. You might also come across a pack of wolves as they stalk their prey. And smaller creatures such as otters can also be seen frolicking in the water.
The beauty of the Tangle Lakes would be incomplete without its birdlife. The cliffs act as nesting grounds for some of the species. Various species of eagles, seagulls, swans, and even grouse are among the sightings you can expect here.
6. White Pass and the Yukon Route
The discovery of gold in the Klondike brought hordes of fortune seekers to Alaska. But, to get to the mines, they had to transverse ragged terrain with deep valleys and soaring peaks. At the height of the gold rush, over 3,000 horses died as stampeders made for the gold mines. Thus, the need for a railroad was born.
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The White Pass begins at Skagway and rises for 3000 feet. It opened in 1898 and was 4 miles long but later increased and eventually became 120 miles long.
The White Pass railroad operated steam locomotives until diesel and electric trains replaced them in 1954. After the plummeting of the prices of metal, mining operations ceased. However, you can go sightseeing on the train as it rumbles past some of the best sights in Alaska.
On this route, glaciers and the Bridal Veil Falls are among the things to see. Also, look out for the Tormented Valley and the Gold Rush Cemetery in Skagway. The trip also has a running commentary to point out areas of interest.
You get to marvel at the determination of man as you pass through the tunnels that were blasted in the mountainside by those early miners. So not only does the train transverse through some of the best places to visit in Alaska, but you also get to learn quite a bit of history.
Juneau is the capital city and also happens to be one of the most beautiful places in Alaska. Its appeal has seen many tourists come to the town, fall in love with its charm, and decide to make it their home.
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One strange thing about Juneau is that it is inaccessible by road despite being a capital city. However, this has not stopped it from being the destination for 90,000 cruise ship passengers annually and a further 100,000 from other modes of transportation.
One of the key attractions is the abundant wildlife in the area. Being one of the largest municipalities in America, Juneau boasts both black and brown bears along with over 250 bird species and other wildlife.
The Marine life is special too. You can take a boat trip to see the various fish, including five salmon species. However, the most spectacular display comes from the whales. Orca and hunchback whale watching allows you to get close to some of the largest mammals on earth as they come up for air or slap the water with massive tails and make Juneau one of the most beautiful places in Alaska.
On June 21, you can experience sunlight at midnight if you are in Juneau. That is when the area has the most prolonged period of daylight in the year. Sunlight lasts for 18 hours and 18 minutes on this day.
8. Katmai National Park and Preserve
This park is one of the most beautiful places in Alaska. It boasts tundra, ice-capped mountains, volcanoes, and rivers cut deep into the terrain. The park was initially created to protect the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.
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The region got its name following the eruption of Mt. Novarupta volcano in 1912. There are 16 volcanoes in the area, with some of them still spewing steam. However, it is the wildlife that steals the show at the park.
Katmai’s most iconic inhabitants are brown bears. About 2000 of them have made Katmai their home. The reason for their high numbers is food-rich rivers that crisscross the land. Salmon use the shallow water of some of the river beds to spawn. To reach their spawning beds, they swim upstream during the summer, giving bears the opportunity to feast.
The bears take advantage of this annual phenomenon to fatten up on the salmon in preparation for the winter. Rainbow trout, a favorite catch for anglers, also abound in the park’s waters.
Brooks waterfall is the vantage point to watch the bears swipe the salmon out of the water. The tired salmon must jump up the waterfalls to get to their spawning grounds, making them an easy target for the bears which congregate there.
Katmai National Park also has mink, various types of otters, and other small animals. Moose, caribou, wolves, and foxes roam the terrain as well. Off the coast, you are sure to spot Beluga whales and orcas. Teeming birdlife also makes the park a birdwatcher’s paradise. In short, if you love nature, this is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful places in Alaska
The southernmost Alaskan town looks like a town right out of a fairy-tale book. With pastel-colored bungalows strung along the shore, the houses look like a string of colored cakes. Ketchikan nestles on the slope of forest-covered Deer Mountain. This is not surprising as the rain falls for most of the year.
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There are numerous hiking options close to the town, although leisure activities are also available offshore. Dude mountain is one hiking route that gifts climbers an incredible view with kayaks, boats, and cruise ships are a regular feature view around the island.
There are a plethora of rewarding wildlife viewing opportunities too. You can expect to see bears, seals, and several birds, including the bald eagle.
Of all the wildlife around Ketchikan, the most prolific is salmon. It isn’t for nothing that the town is called the salmon capital of the world. As an angler, the town’s waterways will ensure that you bag your catch with ease.
10. The Mendenhall Ice Caves
Since childhood, the idea that Santa lives at the North Pole has become part of popular lore. Of course, you will find reindeer, sleds, and snow in Alaska, so why couldn’t Santa’s grotto lie here too? Well, your answer lies beneath the Mendenhall Glacier.
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Mendenhall Glacier has been melting at an alarming rate because of global warming. Consequently, some pretty fascinating structures have formed. Some of the surreal formations beneath the Mendenhall Glacier are ice caves. These structures make this location one of the most fascinating places in Alaska to visit.
Accessing the caves needs some climbing over ice and slush. There is a risk of falling into some of the deep crevices. However, once in the caves, you’ll find a jaw-dropping sight to behold. The caves are enormous and have a turquoise hue. Icy water drips from the roof, and the air is frigid. Standing there, you really do get the feeling that you have discovered Santa’s storehouse, albeit empty of gifts.
Mendenhall Glacier has shrunk a great deal due to global warming, and sadly, the caves might not be there for long. Some naturalists estimate that the caves will be gone in 25 years, while others estimate that date to be less than ten years away. A trip to one of the most beautiful places in Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime view you don’t want to miss out on.
Other Reasons to Visit Alaska
The above list might document some of the most beautiful places in Alaska, however, the state has so much more to offer than those views alone. A trip to Alaska is something special. It is a break from the busy non-stop hustle and bustle of life. It is a reminder that there is always time to take a step back and enjoy the view, wherever you are.
Also, don’t be fooled into thinking that outside of the above-listed places, that Alaska has nothing to offer. If you were to visit in the fall, you would be blown away by the colors and the scenery.
In many ways, Alaska offers the total vacation package. There is quite literally something for everyone, and in abundance too. From wildlife to sports, to hiking and recreational activities to spas and pampering. Imagine your ultimate holiday experience and then place than in breath-taking surroundings and you are close to capturing the true beauty of Alaska.
Wrapping Up Our List of Alaska Attractions
Alaska is vast, and the land holds a lot of hidden gems. The above list gives a glimpse of what the 49th state has to; however, this is just the tip of the iceberg. So if you are planning a visit, make sure you add some of these top Alaska tourism spots to your itinerary. You won’t regret it.
Have you been to this magical part of the world? Maybe you sat beneath the stars and watched the Northern Lights or sat up until midnight to see the late-night sun shining. We would love to hear about your Alaskan experiences. Don’t be shy. Let us know in the comments what your best Alaskan memory is, or maybe for first-time travelers, which of these destinations would you love to visit first?