Today (March 30, 2015): Top 10 things to do in Alaska.
The final frontier is a dream destination for many travelers, an untamed wonderland with an abundance of things to do. In Alaska, you can catch sight of crashing glaciers, reel in a record-breaking halibut, encounter stunning wildlife in America’s most beautiful National Parks, or try to cash in while panning for gold. As if you needed any more reasons to visit, below is my list of the top things to do on your next great Alaskan adventure.
There is more info below the slide show. Think I missed one? Share your favorite Alaskan adventure in the comments section, or take my poll below!
10. GET AWAY FROM IT ALL IN KENAI FJORDS NATIONAL PARK
Situated near the town of Seward, this park was established in 1980. It is a popular destination for cruise ship travelers, who make port in the nearby town and take guided tours to enjoy the rugged seacoast, calving of massive glaciers, views of snow-capped mountains, and the abundance of wildlife, including bears, seals, and humpback and orca whales. But you can also immerse yourself in the quiet splendor of the remote Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, an exclusive lodge nestled within a Native-owned wildlife sanctuary on the edge of a protected lagoon. The lodge and its cabins enjoy breathtaking views of Pedersen Glacier, and the spectacular surroundings with its sheltered waterways provide unique opportunities to explore the area by kayak or boat.
9. FEEL ALASKA’S VASTNESS BY DRIVING THE SEWARD HIGHWAY
Alaska is a superlative in every sense. Everything in it is big — big bears, big moose, big glaciers, big mountains, big rivers, and big whales. And yet, it is deeply personal, tranquil and inspiring. And so is the scenery along the Seward Highway, connecting Anchorage to Seward and the most scenic drive in the US. The first 50 miles (80 kilometers) skirts the base of the Chugach Mountains and the shores of Turnagain Arm, where it’s common to see beluga whales, Dall’s sheep, waterfalls, and eagles. The remainder of the drive winds through the mountains of the Chugach National Forest, offering dramatic views of Alaska’s wilderness.
8. VIEW THE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN FAIRBANKS
This rare and mystical event is something worth waking up for in the middle of the night. Peak viewing season is in the dead of winter, when the weather is the coldest and when it is the darkest. However, there are opportunities to see the northern lights at the tail end of the summer season in early September. If this experience is a priority for you, hold out for winter and bundle up. While you can potentially see the Northern Lights all over the state, the most reliable spot is Fairbanks. Up and inland, Fairbanks is far away from any city lights, and geographically under the “aurora oval”, where auroras are seen most frequently.
- Fairbanks: website
7. CATCH A KING SALMON IN KETCHIKAN’S WATERS
Each year, huge runs of king salmon migrate from the open ocean into the protected waters around Ketchikan in southern Alaska. The abundance of fish and the construction of major salmon canneries is why Ketchikan became known as the “salmon capital of the world”. Whether you’re after one of those king salmons or whether you’ve got your mind set on catching a halibut, red snapper, lingcod, steelhead, Dolly Varden, grayling, rainbow or cutthroat trout, chances are very good you’ll get your heart’s desire. Fish from shore, use the services of a charter boat service, or hire a fishing guide to venture into out-of-the-way locations, and test your skills to fish a variety of species and to process all the fish you catched.
- Ketchikan town: website
6. WATCH A TIDEWATER GLACIER CRASH INTO THE OCEAN
Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines, and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site (one of the world’s largest international protected areas). Long before “global warming” became a headline, the glaciers of Glacier Bay began a rapid retreat, which has created a 65-mile (104 km) fjord of spectacular beauty that is still dominated by numerous large glaciers that cascade down from the surrounding mountain peaks. About 80% of visitors to Glacier Bay arrive on cruise ships. National Park rangers provide interpretive services aboard the ships and on the smaller boats that offer excursion trips to more distant park features.
- Glacier Bay National Park: website
5. CRUISE THE INSIDE PASSAGE ON AN ALASKAN MARINE HIGHWAY FERRY
Shaped by the staggering force of massive glaciers millions of years ago, Alaska’s Inside Passage is the area that makes up the southeastern region of Alaska and boasts spectacular fjords, lush rainforests, abundant wildlife, and vivid Native cultures. Granted, the cruise ships have the best amenities to travel in all comfort through the Inside Passage. But if you don’t like the cruise ship madness and want a more intimate and above all authentic experience, then the Alaskan Marine Highway System might be your answer. Taking the ferry is an excellent way to see a huge swath of Alaska’s coastline while visiting unique communities along the way, including Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Skagway. In addition to interesting ports of call, you will pass fishing and logging outposts, small villages, and see Alaska’s bustling maritime activity from the deck of your ferry.
- Alaskan Marine Highway System: website
4. RUB YOUR NOSE IN THE TUNDRA AT DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Denali is six million acres of wild land, bisected by one ribbon of road, where solitude, tranquility and wilderness await. Travelers to Denali will see the relatively low-elevation taiga forest give way to high alpine tundra and snowy mountains, culminating in North America’s tallest peak, 20,237 feet or 6,168 m high Mount McKinley (unfortunately obscured by clouds 4 out of 5 days). Wild animals, large and small, roam unfenced lands, living as they have for ages, creating outstanding opportunities for spotting them, like the occasional grizzly bear along the road, herds of caribou on the plains and dall sheep high on the cliffs. A single road leads into the park, and only park-approved buses are permitted to travel beyond Savage River, but you can get off everywhere for a stroll in the tundra.
- Denali National Park: website
3. FLY OVER WRANGELL-ST ELIAS NATIONAL PARK’S WILDERNESS
Flying over a sea of mountains, glaciers, and crevasses is an other-worldly experience. As you sit in the warmth and comfort of a plane or helicopter, you’ll see peaks and glacial formations that have never felt the press of a human foot. And while plenty of people assume that you have to tour Mt. McKinley to get the full effect (almost any flightseeing will do), don’t let that limit you as Wrangell-St. Elias National Park’s makes for an even better tour. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has been called the Himalayas of North America, and no wonder: this vast area includes numerous mountain peaks from 14,000′ to 19,550′, uncounted glaciers and the largest ice field in North America. With over 20,000 square miles of roadless wilderness, flying is the only way to see and experience its wonders.
- Wrangell-St. Elias National Park: website
2. KAYAK WITH WHALES AT POINT ADOLPHUS
Imagine the sound of a humpback whale’s blow as it gently swims past your kayak, or the incredible sight of a pod of killer whales, also known as orcas, near your kayak as a bald eagles swoops down to catch a salmon. No crazy sounds of other tourist on a boat trip, but just you, the whales, and the overwhelming silence of nature. There is no better places in Alaska to kayak with the whales than Point Adolphus near Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska. Wildlife remains unpredictable, but in this spots you have an excellent chance of spotting whales whilst seated in the safety of your kayak, and don’t be surprised to witness some whales breach just a few yards away.
- Kayak with whales at Point Adolphus: website
1. WALK WITH GRIZZLY BEARS IN KATMAI NATIONAL PARK
This may sound like an insane idea, but it is not, at least not in Katmai National Park, a remote and pristine wilderness area in the heart of wild Alaska, where giant coastal brown bears do not consider humans as a prey nor as a treat due to the abundance of food nearby and a 100+ years long wildlife protection program. A scenic flight in a small aircraft, followed by an exhilarating beach landing, will take you to the legendary meadows of Katmai National Park, where you will observe the bears in their natural habitat, and even walk amongst them with an unarmed guide. If this sounds like more stress than you can cope with, there are other locations (in Alaska and British Columbia) where you can spot these incredible animals in the wild from protected and secured observation platforms.
- Walk amongst grizzly bear in Katmai National Park: website