Alaska may be out of reach for many travelers, but one thing is certain – there is SO much to see there. These are some of the best places to visit in Alaska, including national parks, cities, and more!
Did we miss any worthwhile destinations in Alaska? Let us know your top picks for an Alaska bucket list in the comments. Thanks!
Best Places to Visit in Alaska
Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve
Located in the northern part of Alaska and the Arctic Circle, the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is the United States’ northernmost national park, founded in 1980.
The Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve is home to various wild animals like wolves, wolverines, moose, and grizzly bears, which inhabit 13,238 square miles of territory that partly includes the Brooke Range where the highest mountain, Mount Igikpak, is located.
To explore Gates of the Arctic, visitors need a place to stay because it’s a remote area and you can only fly or hike to get to the park.
Famous attractions at Gates of the Arctic include hiking in Arrigetch Peaks to the glacier, rafting, and fishing in lakes like Walker Lake in summer, meanwhile, in winter, you can go cross-country skiing and dog mushing.
Seward, Alaska is one of the most visited places in the state and one of the most charming seaside cities. Known as the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park (and more!), it is located about 120 miles away from Anchorage by car and is situated on Resurrection Bay.
The city marks the southernmost point on the Alaska Railroad and there are many things to do in Seward to keep occupied (as well as many places and cabins to stay at in Seward).
During the last week of July, Seward hosts the Balton Film Festival and throughout the year, you will also be able to enjoy the Seward Silver Salmon Derby, the Seward Polar Bear Jump-off, and more!
Kenai Fjords National Park
Stretched throughout a territory of 669,984 acres including the Harding Icefield, the gorgeous Kenai Fjords National Park is located in south-central Alaska near Seward.
This magical Alaskan wonderland is famous for its amazing ocean cruises where visitors can observe boats in the blue sea near the rocky beaches and ice glaciers, sea lions, otters, and even eagles.
During the springtime, you might possibly witness gray whales migrating to the Gulf of Alaska. Meanwhile, during the rest of the year, you can take a tour to see 40 tons of amazing humpback whales, killer whales, and many more.
Click here to read more about traveling to Kenai Fjords NP.
Located along the Alaska Panhandle, this small town has just over a thousand people and receives around a million tourists annually!
A popular cruise-ship stop, it is also renowned for its mining past since it was part of the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad. Today, you can still explore that railway as it has been repurposed for tourism.
Some of the most famous things to do in Skagway are to visit the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park along with the Chilkoot Trails.
The town is iconic for its historical district that has over 100 buildings from the gold rush era. This truly is a wonderful Alaska destination and one that should be on every traveler’s radar!
Denali National Park & Preserve
The 6 million-acre Denali National Park and Preserve is home to the highest peak in North America, Denali. Previously known as Mount McKinley, the mountain is an incredible 20,310-feet high!
Denali National Park and Preserve is home to unique flora and fauna in wild areas like the tundra, glaciers, and spruce forest, which is inhabited by animals like moose, grizzly bears, Dall sheep wolves, and many more.
In summer, the park and preserve area is a popular destination for bikers, campers, hikers, backpackers as well as fishing and boating enthusiasts.
The park also offers tours like flightseeing with spectacular views, off-roading on an ATV or other 4×4 cars, and a visit to the Denali Visitor Center where rangers will show you how they live in the park and give you information on why its history stands out.
Flora and fauna enthusiasts must definitely visit Talkeetna in Alaska, a small settlement, which you can go to from Anchorage in 3 hours on a panoramic train.
Downtown Talkeetna is only a 5-minute walk away from the train station. The tiny town is basically made up of one street filled with souvenir shops and small restaurants.
In Talkeetna, tourists have plenty of interesting and educational activities to choose from. For instance, taking one of the many cruises on the Susitna River that are carried out regularly during the summer season.
The 5-hour cruise to Devil’s Canyon is especially popular. If you don’t have that much time, we recommend going on a two-hour trip along the river with a visit to the reserve, where you can see the dwellings of pioneers and the seasonal station of local Indians.
Thrill-seekers can try their hand at a zip-line, rope trail, or American bungee. The three-hour adventure begins with careful instructions and training and then the tourists safely embark on their journey.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and Preserve is one of the rarest national parks. It is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kluane/Wrangell–St. Elias/Glacier Bay/Tatshenshini-Alsek. The National Park and Reserve was once again established in 1980.
The park is one of the largest in the United States as it is 13,175,799 acres big and partly includes the Saint Elias Mountains that border Canada.
Besides the many natural monuments like Mount Wrangell, Hubbard Glacier, Mount Blackburn, Root Glacier, Kennicott Glacier, and many more, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve are also home to wild animals like moose, mountain goats, brown bears, and others.
This park is a wonderful place for nature lovers all year round. For example, during summer, it is possible to camp, hike, backpack, horseback ride, and bike at the park.
In winter, activities switch to skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and riding snowmobile tours instead!
The city of Nome was founded in 1888 and was primarily used as a gold-mining settlement. Filmmakers absolutely “loved” creating movies in this city.
The film “The Fourth View” was shot there with Milla Jovovich as the protagonist. The film talks about cases of people being abducted by aliens.
The diphtheria epidemic that took place in 1925 in Nome was the inspiration for the plot of the full-length cartoon “Balto”. The city is also known for hosting the most prestigious Iditarod dog sled race in the world, in memory of the Great Race of Mercy that happened in 1925.
However, the climate in Nome is quite cold and the city is rather remote, making it a challenge to get to. Nevertheless, it is still one of the most beautiful places to visit in Alaska!
Katmai National Park & Preserve
Alaska’s southern peninsula is also known for another national park, which is made up of 4,093,077 acres: Katmai National Park and Preserve.
The park has wild and beautiful landscapes including forests, lakes, mountains, and span tundra. It is also home to brown bears who hunt for Brooks Falls’ fresh salmon, an amazing process you can observe from Brooks Camp.
Katmai National Park and Preserve has a unique natural spot as a result of 1912’s huge volcanic eruptions and the creation of formations from the ash and lava flow.
Lake Clark National Park & Preserve
Located about 100 miles away from Anchorage in the southwest of Alaska, 4,030,015 acres of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve were established in 1980.
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is home to Kontrashibuna Lake, Tanalian Mountain, Mount Neacola, Six Mile Lake, and many other popular attractions.
The wildlife at the park is very diverse and visitors can have an amazing opportunity to see black and brown bears, numerous Mulchatna caribou, and other mammals.
The park offers a wide selection of activities like kayaking, canoeing, wild animal watching, backpacking, camping, fishing, hiking on the Tanalian Falls Trailhead, and much more.
A large island off the southern coast of Alaska is Kodiak Island, the largest island in an archipelago of the same name. Kodiak Island is also the second-largest island in the US (and 80th in the world)!
One of the most remarkable features of the island is its varying landscapes. It is pretty much treeless in the south but has a lot of mountains and forest in the east and north. A vast area of it is also part of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.
Aside from being known for king crab and Kodiak bears, you’ll find plenty of trails and fishing opportunities on the island. The island is home to the Pasagshak River State Recreation Site and Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
Located west of Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve was established in 1980 and is yet another icy magic land in Southeast Alaska.
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is also a World Heritage Site because of the outstanding natural monuments like glaciers, massive mountains, breathtaking ice coastlines, and the diverse flora and fauna that are situated on the 3.3 million acre park territory!
Some of the main attractions and sites at the park are the Lamplugh Glacier, Muir Glacier, Mount Fairweather, Lituya Bay, Bartlett Cove AK, South Marble Island, and a variety of others.
Travelers from all over the country target this destination to experience more than one week of sailing and kayaking tours, hiking on Glacier Bay trails, flightseeing the park from the sky, and so much more.
Alaska’s Anchorage is the biggest city in the state and the cultural center of its Native Heritage located near the Kenai, Talkeetna, and Chugach mountains.
A historic home to the people of Dena’ina, Athabascan, Anchorage provides a mixture of cultural heritage, art spots, cozy urban life, outstanding natural scenery, and last but not least, the opportunity to see the famous northern lights.
The city offers many activities that will truly amaze anyone. For instance, the biggest Anchorage Museum, the easy access to Chugach State Park, fishing, whale watching, observing the midnight sun, and trying local king crabs and salmon! Doesn’t that sound so dreamy?
Visiting Anchorage can be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure that you won’t be able to forget because of its truly unique nature as a city.
Fairbanks is the largest city in the Interior region of Alaska and it is surrounded by a beautiful landscape, through which the Chena River flows.
This city is Denali National Park’s back camp that visitors can experience at different times of the year, observing the aurora and midnight sun, especially in summer while staying at the coziest hotels and experiencing the Golden Heart of Alaska.
Fairbanks’ charming downtown is home to the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the University of Alaska Museum of the Northland, and various other art and cultural centers, cozy cafes, restaurants, and diverse authentic activities.
Ketchikan is one of the most beautiful coastal cities in the United States and one of the most impressive places to visit in Alaska. The city has just under 15,000 residents and has been increasing year after year.
The name ‘Ketchikan’ comes from Tlingit for the word ‘creek’ and the city’s downtown is a National Historic District.
The Alaska city was incorporated in 1900 and is located on Revillagigedo Island and it has the world’s largest collection of totem poles.
You will find them scattered throughout the city but large concentrations can be found in Potlatch Park, the Totem Heritage Center, Totem Bight State Park, and Saxman Totem Park.
The climate in Ketchikan is mild and very humid, giving it the nickname ‘Rain Capital of Alaska’. This truly is one of the most picturesque destinations in the state and deserves a visit!
Alaska’s capital city is a great place for outdoor recreation. There are many opportunities for hiking and camping along the coast or on nearby islands and you’ll find a lot of things to do in Juneau!
The Alaska state park system has over 100 parks with more than 1 million acres of land available for public use.
Popular attractions in Juneau include Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, Mendenhall Lake State Recreation Area, Admiralty Island State Game Refuge, Mt Roberts Tramway, Ketchikan Gateway Borough Parks System, and numerous other smaller recreational areas throughout town.
There are several trails around Juneau that lead into the mountains surrounding the city. Some popular Juneau trails include:
- Chilkoot Trail – This trail leads through dense forest up to the summit of Mount Juneau. It was used by prospectors during gold rush days as well as today and it serves hikers looking for an easy hike.
- Tongass Hiking Trails – These trails run through old-growth forests and offer views of glaciers and mountain peaks.
Outside of Fairbanks is the small city of North Pole, Alaska. Its wintry and festive name gives hint to what makes this Alaska city famous and that is because it is home to the Santa Claus House, a large gift shop.
Hundreds of thousands of letters are sent here annually from children looking to reach Santa Claus. You will even find some domesticated reindeer just outside of the house!
The affluent city is known for its Christmas image and the beautiful nature surrounding it. It is definitely worth a stop if you’re in or around Fairbanks.
On the Kenai Peninsula, you will find the city of Homer that is home to around 5,000 people. Often referred to as the ‘Halibut Capital of the World’, this scenic city can only be reached by the Sterling Highway (the only road leading to the place)!
A popular time to head to this Alaska destination is during the Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival that is held annually during May. More than 13,000 shorebirds flock into the area during their spring migration (and over 25 different species).
Some of the main attractions in Homer include:
- Pratt Museum and Park
- Homer Spit
- Alaska Maritime National Refuge Visitor Center
Be sure to also hit up the Homer Brewing Company and Grace Ridge Brewing Co. for a tasty Alaskan beer!
Chugach State Park
Spanning over half a million acres, Chugach State Park pretty much puts most other US state parks to shame. Located in south-central Alaska, the park was designated in 1970 and is home to some of the most impressive scenery in the US.
As the United States’ third largest park, you will find the Chugach Mountains, Eklutna Lake, and the insanely beautiful Eklutna Glacier that is known for being a bright shade of blue.
The Eklutna Glacier Trail can be enjoyed by mountain bike, ATV, or horseback during the summer months and by snowmobile, snowshoes, or cross-country skis during the winter.
The Eagle River is another popular place to visit and it has a salmon and beaver viewing deck. The Iditarod Trail also passes by the nature center and winds through 28 miles of this park!
Chugach State Park is truly one of the most beautiful places to visit in Alaska!
Tracy Arm Fjord
Tracy Arm Fjord is located in the South of Juneau and is a popular destination for cruise ship and boat trips. This fjord is surrounded by emerald water.
Tourists are brought as close as possible during sightseeing tours and can sometimes see chunks of glaciers breaking away. At the head of the fjord sit the twin Sawyer Glaciers.
Another amazing scene you might get a glimpse of is the bathing of bears and deer.
If you’re an animal lover, dolphins by the fjord are used to people and often swim up to the ships and wildlife sightings are common on tours, from brown bears and elk on land to whales and seals that inhabit these waters.
Kobuk Valley National Park
Established again in 1980 with a territory of 1,750,716 acres, Kobuk Valley National Park is located in the northwestern part of Alaska and approximately 25 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The Great Kobuk Sand Dunes are known for being a destination to which, twice a year, more than half a million caribou migrate via the park near the Kobuk River.
The valley is home to the Great Kobuk Sand Dunes, Hunt River Dunes, and Little Kobuk, which are similar to little deserted islands in a green area.
Each year, travelers revisit the valley for summer activities like flightseeing, hiking, camping, boating, wildlife watching, fishing in crystal clear rivers, and much more.
As for winter, Kobuk Valley National Park offers unforgettable winter experiences like skiing and dog mushing near the Arctics. This is one of the least visited national parks in the United States.
Sitka is the Russian capital of Alaska, which until 1867 was called Novoarkhangelsk instead. The Orthodox Church of St. Michael is still open there and the geographical names clearly reflect their Russian origins.
Sitka is a great starting point for exploring the wildlife of Alaska. Located on the western side of Baranof Island, the beautiful city overlooks the Pacific Ocean and is often visited on Alaskan cruises.
On the east side, the city is surrounded by high mountains covered with forests while in the center of the neighboring island rises a majestic cone of a dormant volcano.
Misty Fjords National Monument
The Misty Fjords are about 20 miles from Ketchikan and are only accessible by cruise ship or plane. The remoteness of the area has allowed the wild nature to remain virtually untouched.
Hiking trails allow you to explore and admire the stunning park. Those interested can even go mountaineering, boating, or fishing in designated areas.
Gorgeous blue lakes, towering waterfalls, icy peaks, and rolling valleys of glacial forests await visitors. Regarding the amazing wildlife, you can view the area from above if you choose to go by plane or stick to exploring the water by going on a cruise.
Among the earliest newcomers to Yakutat were Russian hunters. The name Yakutat in the Tlingit language means “a place where canoes rest.”
Due to its remote nature, Yakutat is rarely visited by random tourists but this does not get in the way of surfers from all over the world enjoying the location.
During summer, Cannon Beach turns into one of the most famous high-wakeboarding spots. Yakutat stands out due to its mesmerizing views and the many peaks and glaciers in its immediate surrounding areas, including the Hubbard Glacier.
Yakutat is also an excellent destination to get to know the southeastern part of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and at a distance of 42 kilometers from it you can find: Lake Harlequin, Russell Fjord, and the Yakutat Glacier.
Hubbard Glacier is one of the largest glaciers on the continent and is the largest one in Alaska. Hubbard continues becoming denser and growing in size and it is shared with Canada.
At the same time, it is still in motion and is slowly heading towards the bay. The maximum age of the ice layers is 400 years. In summer, massive pieces break off the glacier and fall into the water creating a worthy spectacle that tourists specifically come to witness.
Icebergs separating from Hubbard are a serious problem for navigating ships in the region. Visiting this destination is usually included in the programs of major cruise lines.
Mendenhall Glacier can be found in the Mendenhall Valley. Since it’s not very far from the central part of Juneau, in the past, it carried the title “glacier outside the city”.
Climate change has greatly affected the size and location of the glacier but it is still accessible by road.
The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center looks over both the glacier and the iceberg waters while the trails go along the shores of Nugget Falls in addition to an impressive array of ice.
Rafting and kayaking allow visitors to sail among the bergs. Wildlife such as black bears, porcupines, and beavers are commonly spotted while exploring this dazzling blue landscape.
Utqiagvik is the northernmost settlement in the United States, formerly called Barrow. Most of the locals are Inupiat who continue to hunt whales and maintain other traditional ways of life in the high Arctic.
However, they struggle to find a balance between millennia of tradition and the changes that came with the oil and gas extractions on their land.
In Utqiagvik, you’ll find the highest prices, harshest unforgiving conditions, and the belief in an inextricable link between people and animals that sacrifice themselves to hunters.
Every winter, you’ll see the polar night setting, a period of continuous darkness. In Utqiagvik, this period lasts almost three months. The city becomes alive once again during the warm season when a barge begins to operate in the village carrying heavy supplies and equipment.
Prince of Wales Island
Prince of Wales Island is the 4th largest island in the USA. It attracts countless travelers with its exotic beauty and wildlife.
Kayaking and canoeing are some of the most popular activities in this area. Cyclists and hikers are also fond of the island as it allows them to enter secret forest areas and carry out their adventures there.
Visitors have aerial and sea options for entering the island. Flight options are from Sitka and Juneau while sea options include ferry rides.
This location is breathtaking as the blue fauna can make you feel like you’ve made it to paradise. The ferry rides are an excellent and comfortable option because visitors can bring their own vehicles with them.
The first highlight that should be mentioned about the Coldfoot community is that it is accessible by road, which is rare.
It is one of the northernmost stops on the Dalton Highway. This is a great spot to admire the mind-boggling phenomenon of the Northern Lights.
Coldfoot gets its name from the story that gold seekers went a bit too far, got cold feet, and came right back. The Alaskan town has a great camping area that offers travel information and has night tours to explore the natural and cultural history of the location.
The campsite is operational from June to September. Hiking and fishing are amongst the top activities here. Plus, special tours that can be either one or two-way with a return flight included are organized regularly.
Totem Bight State Historical Park
Totem Bight State Historical Park was established in 1939 in Ketchikan. In the past, it used to be a camping site. The historic area includes the original totem poles of the state’s Indigenous people.
Later, some other unique items were added, such as the restored chieftain’s accommodation. Tourists have access to dexterity tests, get to participate in rituals, and can go canoeing.
Every evening there are gatherings around a large fire. Fifteen poles have been put together at Totem Bate State Historical Park in Ketchikan that are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The site also houses a recreated clan house from the early 19th century. Additional heritage totem poles and local fittings are available at the Totem Heritage Center.
There are many incredible places to visit in Alaska and it is a state with a ridiculous amount to do that will leave all visitors in awe of its beauty and opportunity.
Did we miss any places that should be on an Alaska bucket list? Let us know in the comments! Thanks.
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Megan is a travel blogger and writer with a background in digital marketing. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now splits her time between Frankfurt, Germany and Arctic Finland after also living in Norway, Armenia, and Kazakhstan. She has a passion for winter travel, as well as the Nordic countries, but you can also find her eating her way through Italy, perusing perfume stores in Paris, or taking road trips through the USA. Megan has written for or been featured by National Geographic, Forbes, Lonely Planet, the New York Times, and more. She co-authored Fodor’s Travel ‘Essential Norway’ and has visited 45 US states and 100+ countries.