When many people think about Alaska, their minds go straight to cold weather, gray skies, and massive amounts of powdery snow. However, the largest state in the US has so much more to offer, including breathtaking scenery, unique and fascinating wildlife, and compelling history and culture that many people know nothing about. There are many ways to see Alaska: challenging hikes, relaxing cruises, and boutique hotels, just to name a few. If you’re tired of taking the same old beach vacation every year, consider giving “The Last Frontier” a chance.
Here are our picks for the 20 best places to visit on your Alaskan vacation.
1. The Alaska Railroad
If you’re interested in seeing a variety of places in the 49th state to become part of the US, the Alaska Railroad is easily one of the best places to visit in Alaska. A ticket on one of these trains will allow you to travel between Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Girdwood, Seward, Whittier, and the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. On each ride, you will have the guidance of a knowledgeable Alaskan reservationist to learn all about the beauty of the state’s wilderness. The trains have dining options and glass-enclosed viewing platforms on the second story to make every ride both comfortable and compelling.
2. The Hubbard Glacier
Natural beauty is one of Alaska’s greatest assets, and the Hubbard Glacier is one of the most breathtaking sights in the state. This glacier is actively advancing and is considered the largest tidewater glacier in North America. You can hop on a boat to get an excellent view of this natural wonder as a knowledeagble guide narrates your journey. This view will also afford you a peek at some of the state’s native wildlife, as a variety of seal species are known to frolic on the glacier.
3. The Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
You probably don’t think of rainforests when you think about Alaska, but the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary is one of the largest rainforests still existing in the world. This amazing spot offers a variety of tour options including zip lines, planes, and carts that you can use to take in the scenery in whatever way best suits you and your activity level. Wildlife is abundant at the sanctuary and includes a variety of bears and eagles native to the state. At any time of the year, experienced tour guides can take you on the trip of a lifetime to truly immerse yourself in nature.
4. Running Reindeer Ranch
Everyone knows that Alaska is just a stone’s throw away from Santa’s workshop. At the Running Reindeer Ranch, you can get a close-up look at St. Nick’s favorite furry companions. The ranch’s group of seven reindeer roam free on the grounds and knowledgeable ranchers will take you on a tour that allows you to watch them romp and to interact with them up close. This popular site is by appointment only, so be sure to book your tour in advance for a once-in-a-lifetime wildlife adventure.
5. Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Both the gearheads and the fashionistas in your group will love a chance to explore the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks. This fascinating museum houses over 85 vintage handmade cars paired with over 100 examples of the fashion of eras gone by to give you a unique look back in time. The museum also features displays on the history of Alaskan motoring and the very first car ever built in the state (by someone who had never even seen an automobile before)!
6. Misty Fjords National Monument
If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy photo opportunity, the Misty Fjords National Monument needs to be on your travel itinerary. This gorgeous spot features hundreds of rivers fed by the waters from melting glaciers. In the spring, you’ll even be treated to the sight of breathtaking waterfalls formed by the melting glacial ice. The area offers cruises and seaplane rides to give you an amazing view of the fabulous scenery to help you get the perfect shot. A must for anyone looking for the best places to visit in Alaska.
7. Nugget Falls
Nugget Falls is one of the most talked-about natural wonders in Juneau. This beautiful waterfall is downstream from the Mendenhall Glacier, so the massive falls are fed by the crystal-clear water from the melting ice. Visitors can walk up close to the waterfall for a spectacular view if the visitor’s center isn’t close enough to take it all in. However, a word of caution: if you hike up to the falls, you will get wet, so plan accordingly!
8. Husky Homestead
The Iditarod sled dog race is one of Alaska’s most famous annual events. If you’ve ever been curious about how sled dogs are trained or what they do when they aren’t racing, check out the Husky Homestead. This rural site is the home of an Iditarod champion and his team of sled dogs. Visitors to the site get an up-close look at the lives and training of the Huskies, and even have the opportunity to cuddle with the latest litter of Husky puppies! This tour is a unique opportunity to learn from a sled-dog master.
9. The Jewell Gardens
The Jewell Gardens truly live up to their eloquent and beautiful name. Visitors to this site can wander through its spectacular organic show garden before watching artisans at work in its glassblowing hot shop (the only public glassblowing shop in the state of Alaska). You can even try your hand at glassblowing and create a lovely glass ornament to take home as a souvenier and then dine on dishes made from produce grown in the organic gardens on the grounds.
10. The Mendenhall Ice Caves
For those wanting a truly unique look at the natural wonders of Alaska’s glaciers, the Mendenhall Ice Caves are a sight to behold. With an experienced tour guide, visitors can walk into a hollow cave inside the Mendenhall glacier and take in the spectacular glowing blue ice above their heads and running water on the rocks below. Visitors to this unique spot have called the experience surreal and otherworldly, so you won’t want to miss this rare opportunity to get an up-close look at the entire water cycle.
11. The Aurora Ice Museum
Ice sculpting is a truly distinct and challenging art form that is widely practiced in Alaska. At the Aurora Ice Museum, you can wander through numerous extraordinary exhibits crafted entirely from ice, including depictions of jousting knights and even a polar bear bedroom. The exhibits are beautifully lit, allowing you to appreciate even the smallest details of every sculpture on display. After your tour, don’t forget to stop by the ice bar for perfectly chilled cocktails!
12. Goose Creek Tower
If you’re looking for a touch of whimsy, visitors to Alaska can’t beat the Goose Creek Tower, also known as the Dr. Suess House. This unique piece of architecture truly looks like a creation straight out of a children’s book. This 185-foot structure is hidden in the woods outside Talkeetna and features a precarious series of log cabins stacked on top of one another and bursting through the treeline. The cabin doesn’t actually have any connection to Dr. Suess, but it’s clear how this feat of architecture got its nickname!
13. The Glacier Gardens
The Mendenhall Glacier may be the main attraction in this area of Alaska, but the Glacier Gardens are a unique experience that no traveler should miss. In this topsy-turvy garden, the trees are planted with their branches in the ground and their roots thrust into the air. The roots form a basket where begonias, fuchsias, petunias, and other beautiful flora trails down from the upside-down trees. A walk through this garden is both beautiful and surreal.
14. The Barrow Whale Bone Arch
The native Iñupiat people of the town of Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, are a whaling people; it is for this reason that they built the Barrow Whale Bone Arch along the coast. This monument, created from the massive jawbones of an actual whale, was erected on the beach as a gateway between the whalers and the sea that provides their livelihood. Little is known about the history of the monument, but it now stands on the beach as a beautiful historic and artistic artifact.
15. Kennecott Ghost Town
Kennecott was once the richest copper mining town in the world. These days, it is almost completely abandoned: it has fewer than a dozen permanent residents. The copper mine was in operation for 27 years before the copper deposits were exhausted. Now, visitors can tour the eerie stillness of the ghost town in the beautiful setting far out in the Alaskan wilderness. This site can only be reached on foot, so you’ll get a lovely hike in the process!
16. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Not everyone is as respectful of the natural beauty of Alaska as they should be. In an effort to protect the native wildlife of the Last Frontier, the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation was established. At this site, conservationists study and care for animals that have been displaced from their natural habitats. They have also dedicated themselves to educating others about the creatures of Alaska. Visitors to the center can view a myriad of animals while learning about the environmental problems that have forced them onto the conservation. This site is a great way to learn about wildlife while contributing to its preservation.
17. Talkeetna Air Taxi
If you want the absolute best view of the Alaskan glaciers and mountains, you can’t beat the Talkeetna Air Taxi. This service provides unparalleled tours of the glaciers of Talkeetna. Unlike many other glacier tours, this one actually lands you right on a glacier for a hands-on look at one of nature’s most magnificent wonders. The tours also provide an up-close look at Mount McKinley, North America’s highest peak. You can view the mountain at any time from the company’s webcam!
18. Sealaska Heritage’s Walter Soboleff Building
At the Walter Soboleff Building, opened by the Sealaska Heritage Institute in 2005, visitors can get a one-of-a-kind look at the cultures of the ancient Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. The important work of the scholars here includes preserving the culture and languages of these people and creating programs to help cultures better understand one another. One of the most magnificent aspects of this building is its art: each tribe is represented in the large art exhibits on display in and outside the building.
19. The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
The Klondike gold rush is a vital part of Alaska’s history. The White Pass and Yukon Route Railway is a relic left over from that time. The narrow gauge railroad was built for mining purposes and now travels to Skagway, Fraser, Carcross, and Whitehorse. While on board, riders are treated to beautiful scenery including mountains, glaciers, trestles, and tunnels. The railroad itself is an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, so riding the rails here is a truly unique experience of the environment and engineering of Alaska.
20. Northern Lights and Chena Hot Springs Tour
Nothing says “arctic” like a tour of the Northern Lights and Chena Hot Springs. This unique tour gives visitors an opportunity to soak in the relaxing natural hot springs near Fairbanks before setting out with a small group to hunt for the Northern Lights with an experienced guide. Although the guides can’t guarantee that the Northern Lights will appear, touring with an experienced hunter gives you the best chance around! The Northern Lights offer a truly indescribable beauty that can only be viewed in a few select parts of the world easily making this one of the best places to visit in Alaska.
Hope you enjoyed this post and got some great ideas for your Alaskan trip. What are some of your best places to visit in Alaska?