Things to do in Alaska

Things to do in  Alaska

Northern lights, camera, action!

Even after decades of statehood in the United States, Alaska is still known as America’s Last Frontier, with its extreme, frozen winters and cities sprinkled in among untamed wilderness. But, if that alone doesn’t impress you, its midnight-sun and northern-lights phenomenas will. Alaska is an ideal, must-visit location for anyone who loves the outdoors or beautiful scenery. Some of the best things to do in Alaska include spending time in Kenai Fjords National Park, Chena Hot Springs, Denali National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, and Tongass National Forest.

Top 15 attractions in Alaska

Tongass National Forest

Encompassing some 17 million acres (70,000 square kilometers of Southeast Alaska, the Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the US and the world’s largest temperate rain forest. Named after the Tongass clan of the Tlingit Indians, the park is home to the Alaskan capital (Juneau as well as the Mendenhall Glacier.More

Kenai Fjords National Park

Encompassing 1,047 square miles (2,711 square kilometers), Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park is named after its numerous glacial-carved fjords—beautiful ice valleys that sit below sea level. The fjords run down the mountains into the iconic Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States with 40 active tidewater glaciers flowing into it. The stunning landscape is also a wildlife watcher's dream, thanks to its abundant marine animals, birds, and other native wildlife.More

Dalton Highway

A 414-mile stretch of gravel and dirt, the Dalton Highway is one of the wildest roads in the world. It runs from Livengood—north of Fairbanks—to Deadhorse, just a few miles from the Arctic Ocean and the Prudhoe Bay Oil Fields. Originally for ice truckers, this mountain-traversing, wildlife-rich, ultra-remote highway is technically open to the public year-round. However, it’s best left to those looking for off-grid adventure in Alaska’s interior.More

Saxman Native Village

Saxman Native Village celebrates all things Alaskan and Tlingit—totem poles, folklore and dance, lumberjack exploits, and woodcarvers. The village introduces visitors to the customs and culture of Alaska’s Indigenous population, and features the largest collection of totems you’re likely to see.More

Fortress of the Bear

Black and brown bears are the main attraction at this wildlife rescue site. Here, animals that are unable to return to the wild have free access to playgrounds and open space to roam. It’s one of the best places in Alaska to safely see a black bear or grizzly from a short distance away.More

Mt. Roberts Tramway

Rising 1,800 feet (550 meters) above sea level from the Juneau waterfront up Mt. Roberts, the Mt. Roberts Tramway is a favorite for those visiting the Alaska state capital. The ride itself provides views of Chilkat Range, Gastineau Channel, downtown Juneau, and Douglas Island, while the summit area features outdoorsy and cultural things to do.More

Chena Hot Springs Resort

An hour’s drive from Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs Resort is renowned for its natural hot-springs lake, year-round ice museum, and Northern Lights viewing opportunities. Discovered over a hundred years ago by gold miners who saw steam rising from the Chena River Valley, the curative waters have been soothing weary travelers ever since.More

Sitka National Historical Park

Created in 1910 to commemorate the 1804 Battle of Sitka between the native Tlingit people and the Russian colonists, the Sitka National Historical Park is Alaska’s oldest cultural and historic park. Highlights include the traditional totem poles that line the trails throughout the grounds, and the Russian Bishop’s House, one of the few remaining examples of Russian colonial architecture.More

Matanuska Glacier

Originating within the Chugach Mountain Range, the Matanuska Glacier is a 27-mile-long (43-kilometer-long) river of ice and Alaska’s largest road-accessible glacier. A popular day trip from Anchorage, the glacier draws tourists year-round to gaze at the impressive ice formations and go ice climbing among crevasses and glacial water in brilliant meltwater pools.More

Mendenhall Glacier

No visit to Juneau is complete without a close-up look at the Mendenhall Glacier, one of Alaska’s most popular attractions. The 13-mile-long (19-kilometer-long) glacier ends at Mendenhall Lake and is easily viewed from the historic Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. The glacier is beautiful on sunny days but arguably even more impressive on cloudy, drizzly afternoons when the ice takes on a deeper shade of blue.More

Alaska Raptor Center

What started out as an effort to save one injured bald eagle in a Sitka local’s backyard, the Alaska Raptor Center is now the state's largest bird center, rehabilitating between 100 to 200 eagles, falcons, owls, and other birds of prey each year. Visitors are drawn to the center to see raptors up close, hear their stories, and watch them relearn how to fly.More

Totem Bight State Historical Park

Totem Bight State Historical Park protects and displays 14 intricate totem poles, sourced from abandoned native villages and restored to their original splendor. Each tells a unique story of Tlingit and Haida carvers, offering insight into Ketchikan’s rich Native Alaskan heritage. There is also an onsite replica Native village with a Clan House.More

Misty Fjords National Monument

Just 22 miles (35 kilometers) outside of Ketchikan lies the vast and remote Misty Fjords National Monument—a collection of sea cliffs, deep-cut fjords, glacial valleys, thick rainforests, and roaring waterfalls. Accessible only by boat or floatplane, Misty Fjords is an outdoor playground for hikers, kayakers, and day cruisers.More

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park preserves the history of Skagway’s gold rush days. During the boom of the 1890s gold rush, Skagway’s population swelled from just a handful of residents to over 10,000 lured by the possibility of gold. Visitors can follow in the footsteps of these prospectors by visiting historic buildings, trails, mines, and even saloons built during the boom.More

Creek Street

During Alaska’s pioneering days, every gold rush town had a red-light district; in Ketchikan, it was Creek Street. Prostitution wasn’t outlawed here until 1954, and it was legal as long as business wasn’t transacted on dry land. This explains why Creek Street isn’t a street at all, but an elevated boardwalk built on wooden pilings above Ketchikan Creek.More

Top activities in Alaska

Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching

Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching

Juneau's Premier Whale Watching
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Juneau's Premier Whale Watching

Hoonah Whale-Watching Cruise
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Hoonah Whale-Watching Cruise

Wildlife Viewing Sightseeing and Whale Watching Quest
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All about Alaska

When to visit

Late May to early September is a safe bet throughout all of Alaska: restaurants, parks, tours, and services will be open or operating, and the weather will be largely temperate and enjoyable. Outside of those months, you may run into more “closed for the season” signs, but you’ll also nab discounts, run into fewer crowds, witness wildlife coming into or out of their slumber, and, with a bit of luck, you’ll catch the northern lights.

Getting around

Southeastern Alaska is the only portion of the state that has an extensive road network. Still, considering the size of the state—larger than Texas, Montana, and California combined—having access to your own wheels is helpful if you want to bounce from one spot to the next or drive the Dalton Highway. Otherwise, many visitors utilize the Alaska Railroad to get to spots like Denali National Park, and seaplanes, bush planes, or ferries will be necessary to go anywhere further off-grid.

Traveler tips

Keep your itinerary open and simple—you’ll be surprised how often you want to stop when you’re on the road. There are incredible roadside hikes (Lion’s Head on the Glenn Highway in the Mat-Su Valley), scenic viewpoints (Wrangell-St. Elias from the Richardson Highway), and you might even have to stop for muskox, reindeer, bears, and wood bison (especially on Seward Highway). Pick up a copy of The Milepost paper travel guide for mile-by-mile highlights of wherever you’re exploring.

Local Currency
US Dollar ($)
Time Zone
AKDT (UTC -10)
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People Also Ask

What is the number one attraction in Alaska?

By many accounts, Denali National Park and Preserve is the number one attraction in Alaska—it usually receives around 500,000 visitors a year, and it’s by far the most popular Alaska national park by the numbers. Beyond the state’s big-ticket parks, riding the Alaska Railroad is another popular attraction.

Is Alaska always cold?

No, Alaska is not always cold. In fact, even Fairbanks—the main hub of the colder Interior region—experiences temperate summers, with sunny days and temperatures around 70°F (21°C). While Alaska does win the “coldest state” contest, northern states such as Minnesota and North Dakota are sometimes colder than Alaska in winter.

What should I not miss Alaska?

What you shouldn’t miss in Alaska depends on your interests. Most visitors prioritize seeing wildlife (like bears), catching the northern lights (seasonal), relaxing in nature, learning about Indigenous history, and visiting national parks. Tours are good for seeing a lot in a short amount of time—and for eliminating transportation hassles.

What do people go to Alaska for?

People go to Alaska for all sorts of reasons. Some go to experience wild nature—in particular, Denali National Park. Some go for Indigenous or gold rush-era history; some go for the local cuisine and scenic small towns; and some for the hot springs and to take in the northern lights.

What should you avoid in Alaska?

As a visitor, avoid the urge to pack too much into one trip. Even if you feel like this is your one chance to see Alaska once, take your time. You’ll want to travel slowly—like via the Alaska Railroad—see the national parks, and enjoy time spent with Mother Nature.

What 3 things is Alaska famous for?

Many people know Alaska as home to the Iditarod, a world-famous long-distance sled dog race, held yearly in March. Two other things the 49th state is also known for is the Klondike Gold Rush in 1896 and for having much of the United States’ most untrammeled swaths of old-growth wilderness.

Frequently Asked Questions
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