Although it is physically separate from the rest of the United States, Alaska is one of the most scenic and fascinating parts of the country. Its seclusion only adds to the beauty and mystery of the 49th state, making it an appealing getaway spot for intrepid travelers and nature lovers. Along with the major cities like Anchorage, it is important to get out and experience the natural landmarks and attractions that make Alaska so beloved. As you plan your next trip’s itinerary, be sure to include as many of the following best places to visit in Alaska as possible.
Three mountain ranges called the Chugach, the Wrangell and the St. Elias converge in an area that is known as the Mountain Kingdom of North America. In the heart of this kingdom, you’ll come across the vast Wrangell St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the U.S. The park is home to a number of informative visitor centers and ranger stations, but you can also get off the beaten track with ease and explore glacier hiking trails or overnight camping adventures. Hunting, fishing, mountain biking and kayaking are other popular pastimes in in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
Although it isn’t the capital, Anchorage is the largest city in the state of Alaska. Almost half the state’s residents live in or around the city, as Anchorage serves as the economic heart of Alaska. It offers the comforts of a large US city but is only a 30-minute drive from the Alaskan wilderness. You may want to start your time in Anchorage by visiting the Anchorage Museum of History and Art, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center or the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Then, drive along the Seward Highway to Potter’s Marsh for incredible bird watching or set off on a hike along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.
The southernmost city in Alaska is Ketchikan, a scenic destination known for being the first stop for many cruise ships that head north along the coast. Located at the foot of Deer Mountain, Ketchikan is home to a wide range of attractions. Visitors may want to stop in at the Totem Heritage Center, the Tongass Historical Museum or the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. The most scenic downtown stretch is historic Creek Street, which is only a short distance away from the cruise ship docks. Once a rowdy red-light district, these days Creek Street is home to a quieter class of establishment but still retains its delightful historic charm. Ketchikan is a hub for outdoor adventures, and there is no shortage of guided day tours to do things like salmon fishing, hiking through the Tongass National Forest or ziplining through the tree canopy.
In what is known as the Panhandle of Alaska is the Glacier Bay National Park, a world-renowned spot to admire glaciers, get active outdoors and see wildlife. Kayaking is an amazing way to get around the park and see a lot at the same time, and kayaks are available for rent or through guided tours. In Bartlett Cove, hiking trails wind in and around glaciers. Two of the most visited and most photographed spots in the park are Muir Inlet, which is off limits to motorized boats, and the John Hopkins Glacier.
If you’re interested in exploring nature or doing some fishing, then Homer should absolutely be on your Alaskan itinerary. Located on the Kenai Peninsula, Homer is known as the fishing capital of Alaska, and it serves as a gateway to a number of national parks. While you’re in Homer, you can walk along the beach to the iconic Homer Spit, drive up Skyline Drive for fantastic views or spot wildlife in Kachemak Bay State Park, where you’ll find mountain goats, bald eagles, sea lions, humpback whales and black bears. Day-long halibut fishing trips are incredibly popular, and you’re all but guaranteed an impressive haul that local restaurants will happily cook up for your dinner.
The capital city of Alaska is Juneau, which serves as a major port for cruise ships through the area. It is also home to major attractions such as the Alaska State Museum, the Alaska State Capitol and the incredibly serene Shrine of St Therese. For excellent views over Juneau, ride on the Mount Roberts Tramway, and from the top set off on one of the many hiking trails overlooking the city. Juneau is also home to a number of breweries, and there are multiple companies offering brewery tours to warm you up on a cold day. Head to Front Street for plenty of excellent souvenir shops and local restaurants where you can sample regional cuisine.
Just a short drive from the city of Juneau is the Mendenhall Glacier, an enormous glacier that is calving, or separating, into its own adjacent lake. There are a number of different ways to experience the glacier, ranging from a simple shuttle ride to see it up close or a helicopter ride to truly appreciate the sheer size of the glacier. The fittest visitors may want to try out the Mendenhall Glacier West Glacier Trail, which is very challenging but provides incredible opportunities for photography. Also worth a visit is the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which includes exhibits about the glacier as well as several viewing platforms.
Visiting the Kenai Fjords National Park is like stepping back in time to the ice age. Glaciers and ice caps still exist and touch the edge of the ocean, creating dramatic and unforgettable views. Half of the park is covered in ice year-round, and there are deep fjords that have resulted where the water valleys are formed. These fjords are the ideal home to a lot of aquatic wildlife, and you’ll easily spot migrating whales as well as birds swooping down to feed on the fish in the water. Because of the icy conditions, many visitors choose to visit the Kenai Fjords National Park on a guided day tour, although there are limited accommodation choices in the park itself.
In Southwestern Alaska is the Katmai National Park, a scenic retreat close to both Homer and Kodiak Island. At the heart of the park is the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, an enormous ash flow that remained after the 1912 eruption of the Novarupta Volcano. Also in the Katmai National Park are incredible opportunities to get up close and personal with the local wildlife. In particular, you can spot brown bears who feed on the local salmon. Fishing is also a popular pastime thanks to the abundance of rainbow trout and salmon.
One of the famous and most popular places to visit in Alaska is the Denali National Park. Home to the iconic and towering peak of Mount McKinley, which is the country’s highest mountain, Denali National Park is a protected wilderness area where all kind of wildlife can be seen. Spot bears, moose, wolves and more while walking along the Savage River, admiring the stillness of Wonder Lake or hiking through Polychrome Pass. Hiking, whitewater rafting and back-country camping are popular ways to explore the national park, but there are also bus tours for a climate-controlled and safer way to get around. Short, ranger-led trail walks are available from the Denali Visitor Center, where you’ll also find informative and educational exhibits.