Alaska is one of those places people visit and never leave. It’s a nature lover’s paradise, an outdoorsman’s oasis, and a photographer’s dream. Natural beauty abounds at every angle and it’s such a wonder to behold.
The locals are extremely friendly and visitors should endeavor to talk to them whenever possible. They have truly unique experiences and advice. My favorite restaurant while visiting Alaska was not a place found in tour guides, but upon the advice of a local. It had a quaint, hometown feel and served good food for good prices. And I never would have known the bear and winter troubles some Alaskans face if I hadn’t spoken with the host of my bed and breakfast.
To get the most out of your epic journey to Alaska, I suggest taking part in as many of the experiences below as possible. Doing so will allow you to get the most out of your trip and get a good grasp on what this state has to offer.
1.) Denali National Park
Denali National Park was by far the highlight of my Alaska vacation. The hiking trails and wildlife tours are amazing and should not be missed. There are so many breathtaking views to be had, and pictures just don’t do them justice. Many visitors go to catch a glimpse of Mount Denali, but since this elusive mountain rarely peeks out from behind the clouds, focus more on the wildlife and beauty of the park. Perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to view the peak of magnificent Mount Denali, but at least you got to explore one of America’s great national parks.
2.) Kenai Fjords National Park
A fjord is a valley carved by a glacier and then filled with glacial water. Kenai Fjords National Park has many fjords, and they are great places to see a plethora of marine life. A boat tour is necessary to venture deep into the park and see the most wildlife, and it’s a great investment. On a day tour of this park, it is common to see more wildlife than an entire week-long cruise because the small boats can go further into the secluded fjords than a typical cruise ship.
3.) Climb a Mountain
If you think the view of Alaska’s landscape is beautiful from the ground, the view from above is breathtaking. While a great way to get an aerial view would be from a plane, a more satisfying one is from the top of a mountain. Climbing Mount Denali is a popular option, but for those of us who aren’t hard core climbers, Flattop Mountain in Anchorage is another great option. The journey only takes 2-3 hours, and is challenging enough to feel like a major feat once at the top. There’s even a flag pole at the summit that makes you feel super accomplished when taking a photo with it.
4.) Go Fishing
Opportunities to fish are available all over the state. You can fish in lakes and ponds, rivers and streams, and even in the wide open ocean. Go on a full day or half day deep sea fishing tour where the prize is an amazing catch. Or suit up in some waders and get in a small fishing boat with a local guide. Or even try your hand at fly fishing in a remote area where you’re knee deep in a river enjoying the peaceful scenery and the simple joy of catching fish. Even if you’re not the fishing type go anyway. This is definitely not an Alaskan experience you want to deny yourself.
5.) Get a Taste of Iditarod
Whether you go to the Iditarod Museum in Wasilla or take a sled dog tour like Seavey’s Ididaride, make sure to somehow get a taste of the great Iditarod race. This grueling 1,000 mile race has been a part of Alaskan culture for over 40 years. Dozens of mushers and hundreds of sled dogs train years for a chance to participate in this ultimate test of endurance and desire.
6.) Go Bear Watching
Combine two great Alaskan experiences into one and flightsee to go bear watching. While you can witness bears doing “bear things” in a zoo or conservation center, it’s more exhilarating to see them in their natural habitat, free from barriers and human influence. Often times, to view bears in their natural habitat doing something as cool as feeding off spawning fish, it’s necessary to take a flightseeing tour. Taking one of these tours is expensive, but it will most likely be an experience of a lifetime.
7.) Cruise the Inside Passage
Cruising is an excellent way to view the beautiful coastal scenery, fjords, and marine life of Alaska. The most popular Alaskan cruise is through the inside passage, which is a route that goes between the islands and mainland of Southeastern Alaska. Beautiful coastlines surround all sides of the ship, so there’s always something interesting to look at. Stops are generally made at cities like Skagway, Alaska’s largest Gold Rush town, and Juneau, the state’s capital. To fully utilize your time, book a one-way cruise that doesn’t back track.
8.) Hike to a Glacier
It’s easy to see vivid blue ice of a glacier while in Alaska, but it’s not as easy to get up close to it. Landing on a glacier is possible while flightseeing, but this is a luxury that comes at a hefty price. A more affordable option is to drive as close as possible and hike the rest of the way. Exit Glacier near Seward is a great example of this second option. There are three trails that come close to the glacier, where the first trail is a half mile wheel chair accessible loop, and the second and third trails are more difficult, but they lead to much more amazing views.
9.) Ride the Alaska Railroad
The main line of the Alaska Railroad was completed in 1923 and currently transports over 500,000 passengers per year. Riding the Alaska Railroad is a great way to get around, see the country, and not have to drive yourself! Routes go as far south as Seward and as far north as Fairbanks, connecting major cities in between like Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Denali. It’s even possible to day trip on the Alaska railroad. Relax in the cabin and watch the scenery unfold as you enjoy traveling on this piece of Alaskan history.
10.) Rough it in a Cabin
The quintessential Alaskan experience pins man against wilderness. A great way to enjoy this feeling is by renting a cabin in the middle of the woods. You don’t have to go out and kill or forage for your dinner, but just staying in the wilderness will make you feel like a true Alaskan explorer making a life from the fruits of America’s Last Frontier.
For some visitors, cruising the inside passage is the only one of these experiences they’ll get to partake in partly because of ease and cost. A vacation is so easy to plan when on a cruise, and cruises are such a great value because they provide room, board, transportation, and entertainment.
I challenge anyone who plans a trip to Alaska to enjoy as many of the above experiences as possible. A great way to do this is to explore Alaska by land. Read my Alaska 7 Day Land Tour article to get an idea of what’s possible on a 7 day itinerary. Even two entire weeks is not enough to conquer all of Alaska’s sights, but it’s a nice place to start!
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