20 Reasons to Visit Alaska this Year
Although the State of Alaska does not have an official nickname, it is often called the “Land of the Midnight Sun” or the “Last Frontier.” For people who have never visited, there may be some surprises and misconceptions about life in the 49th state. There is so much to see here, people who have visited many times may yet be surprised by an unusual Alaska experience.
There are dozens of good reasons to visit Alaska at any time of year to discover its beauty and mystery. Here are 20 ideas to get you started, including some not-to-be-missed experiences that will have you falling in love with the Great Land.
- Experience its Vastness: Alaska is huge. If you placed all of Alaska within the continental U.S., it would stretch from Canada to Mexico, and if it were a country, it’d be the world’s 19th largest. It may take several trips to see all the must-see sights, so consider taking multiple trips to this wondrous place, to see more of its beautiful places.
- Walk on Water with a Glacier Trek - Alaska has more than 600 named glaciers, and they are constantly moving and changing. This is the year to explore the ever-changing glacial plains. Join a guided tour and safely trek across glaciers with deep crevasses and natural ice sculptures.
- Be Dazzled by The Northern Lights – The aurora borealis, a breathtakingly beautiful phenomenon visible in the skies of the Far North, lights up the nights like a shimmering curtain. It’s fascinating, eerie, and unforgettable—and most easily spotted between August and April, when nights are dark.
- Fly on Land by Dog Sledding – Race down a snowy trail behind a team of Alaskan huskies for a thrilling high-speed ride into the past of Alaska transportation. Meet the playful puppies on a trip to the musher’s camp and learn about the care and training of sled dogs.
- Explore the Forest on Snowshoes – Strap on some snowshoes and take a wilderness walk in the winter wonderland. Soak in the quiet of an Alaska afternoon as you crunch through the woods, bundled up to the tip of your nose. After the walk, warm up with some hot chocolate in front of a roaring fire.
- Soak in a Hot Springs – About 60 miles from downtown Fairbanks is Chena Hot Springs Resort, a unique, rustic lodge that’s been there for over a hundred years. Soaking in the natural hot springs you’ll find there is said to cure your aches and pains, as it did for gold prospectors in the early 20th century. It’s also a great place to see the northern lights in the winter months.
- Sample Some of the Local Brews – The area in and around Alaska’s largest city has more than a dozen local breweries, including King Street Brewing Co., Anchorage Brewing Co., Midnight Sun Brewing Co., and Double Shovel Cider Co. Take an afternoon and visit the brewpubs that offer tastings. It’s an impressive array of tasty libations.
- Explore Denali National Park – Start your adventure at the Visitor Center and seek out North America’s Big 5: wolves, moose, brown bears, caribou, and Dall sheep. The scenery is beyond compare, with the tallest mountain in North America towering over flowered meadows and pristine lakes. Hike the many trails around the Nature Center or take a bus tour into the interior. Don't forget to visit the dog kennel featuring the four-legged park rangers (and their puppies!).
- Cruise through the Inside Passage – Between the coast of British Columbia and Vancouver Island is a stretch of calm waters called the Inside Passage. Cruise ships follow this passage to the seaside villages of southeast Alaska, sailing past steep forested slopes and marine wildlife. Look for humpback whales, orcas, Kodiak bears, seals, and lots of birdlife including bald eagles.
- Pan for Gold – Gold fever is still alive in Alaska, and when the spring thaw turns frozen roadside rivulets to running creeks, you can still find “color” in those creek beds.
- Visit the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan – The village of Ketchikan has the largest collection of Alaska Native totem poles in Alaska, including one that sits in the center of town. The Totem Heritage Center teaches classes in Native arts and houses a museum of Native artifacts.
- Tongass National Forest - The Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is the largest national forest in the United States at 16.7 million acres. It is a vast wilderness area that is home to Alaska Native peoples, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian nations. It is also one of the last remaining intact temperate rainforests in the world.
- Attend the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race – Nome is the finish line for the world-famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race. The town celebrates the race with festivities for a couple of weeks, and earns the nickname “the Mardi Gras of the north.” Nome residents have been known to rent out bedrooms in their private homes when all the hotel rooms are taken. Inquire at the Nome Visitors Center.
- See Glacier Bay National Park - The indigenous Tlingit people call it "White Thunder" when the glaciers calve with a loud crack and drop snow and ice into Glacier Bay. This is a place of such beauty, it is hard to describe. Take a cruise ship here or board the tour boat that leaves Glacier Bay Lodge every morning. It is an unforgettable place.
- Go on a Whale Watch – The local tour operators know where the humpbacks and orcas play, so climb aboard a whale watch boat and see the giant creatures in their own environment.
- Ride the Rails – The vast land area of Alaska is connected by railroad, and Anchorage is the starting point. Take a train to Prince William Sound, Denali, Talkeetna, Seward, or Fairbanks for a relaxing ride into gorgeous scenery. If you’re in Skagway, don’t pass up the White Pass Railroad tour. You’ll see a breathtaking panorama of mountains, glaciers, gorges, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles, and historic sites with narration.
- View bears in their Natural Habitat – Take a short flight to Katmai or Lake Clark to see the region’s legendary bears—both black and brown—playing or catching salmon in the water.
- Soar Above it All on the Alyeska Tramway – The famous Alyeska ski resort offers an aerial view from 2,000 feet up, swooping over trees, glaciers, ponds and a fjord.
- Taste the Seafood – Before you leave Alaska, treat yourself to some King Crab Legs, fresh from the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean, and try a little reindeer sausage. Of course, you can’t leave without trying some of the local salmon. For vegans and vegetarians, the Matanuska valley grows vegetables during the long summer days, resulting in some tasty (and large) varieties of broccoli and squash.
- Celebrate a Festival – If you’re in Alaska on Sat., June 20, 2020, great! You’ll be witness to the Summer Solstice Festivals around the State. Live music, food trucks, beer gardens, and dances happen over several city blocks in Anchorage, and there's drumming and dancing in the streets of Nome during the Midnight Sun Festival. Not sure you’ll be there in June? Visit TravelAlaska.com/Calendar for a calendar of events happening all year long.
Wait! Don’t go it alone! Get your free Alaska Vacation Planner here, and start dreaming of your trip to the Great Land.
By Kay D. Harrison
Signup for Vacation Deals
Exclusive access to private sales, customized specials & more