Alaska’s vast wilderness and rugged beauty have attracted people to the state for hundreds of years. Known as The Last Frontier, the 50th and largest of the U.S. states is home to some of the most breathtaking views, rich cultural history, and unforgettable wildlife. It is also an ideal spot for outdoor sports like hunting, fishing, and hiking.
You may find yourself questioning the best places to visit in Alaska if you plan to travel to the magnificent state. There is so much to see and do that it can be overwhelming trying to narrow down the list to a handful of places.
This guide will talk about 15 of the best places to visit in Alaska and provide details on must-see sights and experiences any visitor should try.
15 of the Best Places to Visit in Alaska
Alaska’s unparalleled beauty can be experienced in various places, from bustling cities to uninhabited wilderness.
Read on to learn about some of the best places to visit in Alaska and the top attractions to be found there.
Ketchikan is a vibrant wild city located on the southernmost edge of the Inside Passage in the Tongass National Forest. It is a fishing town fondly referred to as “The Salmon Capital of the World.” As a result, the city attracts sports fishermen from all over the world who want to experience fishing in the famous blue waters for themselves.
Adventure seekers and wilderness campers also flock to the area during the summer months. There are numerous trails and lodging accommodations to choose from, some of which are located on salt water or fresh water sources and can only be accessed by floatplane.
Kayaking around this portside town is a highly recommended activity as well. Those who embark on their kayaking adventure will experience some of the area’s breathtaking scenery and peaceful solitude.
Ketchikan is also home to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary. This protected space features a wild Alaskan landscape in the form of temperate rainforest, waterways, and gorgeous mountainscapes.
In addition to the outdoor adventures in Ketchikan, the area has a vibrant arts and culture scene. The rich culture and storied past of the native communities that lived in the area are on display for those that want to learn more.
2. Totem Bight State Historic Park
The Totem Bight State Historic Park is a must-see attraction in Southeast Alaska. The 33-acre park has been around since 1938 and was created to salvage and rebuild the totem poles native villagers were forced to leave behind.
The original project connected older native carvers with young artisans. The experienced carvers taught the artisans the traditional ways of building, carving, and painting the totem poles. 15 poles were erected until World War II began. The poles are embodiments of stories for a particular clan or community.
Today, the park and its resources are preserved by the state’s Department of Natural Resources. Visitors can walk around the area and observe the stunning totem poles scattered throughout and learn about the native cultures that once resided there.
It is recommended that you stop by the Totem Heritage Center on your visit for more details about the project and its purpose.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, with over 300,000 residents. The city is a stunning combination of modern life and wilderness where city dwellers and outdoorsmen come together. It is also a beautiful place to view the Northern Lights from September through April.
Animal lovers will love visiting the city’s Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center or the Alaska Zoo. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a great place to learn about indigenous cultures, and the Anchorage Museum is made up of art and history galleries that tell the story of the state.
There are plenty of sightseeing opportunities to take advantage of in Anchorage. Brave visitors can take to the skies in a flightseeing excursion. These extraordinary explorations allow you to experience Alaska from the air, soaring over the glaciers and mountain ranges that make up the area.
Those that enjoy biking shouldn’t miss out on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This 11-mile trail features some breathtaking scenic views. There are also several bike rental companies in the city to choose from.
Whale watching and bear watching are also popular adventures in Anchorage. The area is rich with Beluga whales just off the coast, as well as brown, black, and polar bears.
4. Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Wrangell St. Elias National Park & Preserve is Alaska’s largest national park. It is also the largest national park in America. It consists of 13.2 million acres of wildlife that borders Canada and is home to numerous mountain peaks, glaciers, volcanoes, streams, and lakes to explore.
Wrangell-St. Elias was a mill town that housed several important mines. The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark is preserved to this day. There are many historic buildings located near the mine.
This preserve is popular for backcountry campers, hikers, and climbers. There are more than a dozen cabins for backcountry campers to use. However, they are only accessible by remote flights. Those that reach these areas have a front-row seat to an incredible array of wildlife that survives in tundras and temperate rainforests.
Juneau is a major port city in Alaska and serves as the state’s capital.
There are innumerable things to do in the city, from shopping and fine dining to hiking on short trails that overlook the city. The city is also known for popular attractions like the Shrine of St Therese and the Alaska State Museum. The Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway is an excellent way to view the entire city from up high and allows for some incredible photo opportunities.
Visitors to Juneau can embark on a whale-watching excursion, explore the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure to see all of the fantastic wild flora and fauna of Alaska, or take a tour of the AJ Mine Gastineau Mill.
Seward is a unique Alaskan town with a rich history and a connection to some of the state’s most visited attractions.
This pretty seaside town is known as the “Mural Capital of Alaska” and features 12 stunning murals painted by local Alaskan artists. The murals can be seen on a walking tour. Each is designed to illustrate a different aspect of the town and Alaska’s beautiful spaces.
Seward is also home to several popular festivals, including the Silver Salmon Derby, and is an excellent place to go flightseeing or fish. Water taxis are available for those that want to explore the surrounding waterways or access a specific trailhead.
The small town’s SeaLife Center is one of its biggest attractions. A wildlife rehabilitation center is a place where guests can get up close to sea lions, octopuses, and harbor seals, among many others.
7. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a massive 3.3 million acres and is made up of rainforest, fjords, rugged mountains, and numerous glaciers. It is a lovely place to explore by boat, hike, or watch for wildlife.
The preserve is also home to the Huna Tribal House called the Xunaa Shuka Hit. This special place is dedicated to connecting and educating visitors on the Tlingit culture and traditions and is the first permanent clan house in the area in over 250 years.
8. Kenai Fjords National Park
Located in the Kenai Peninsula, the Kenai Fjords National Park is one of Alaska’s most beautiful places to visit. This majestic wilderness is a place where lush forests and icy seas meet. A large portion of the park is covered in ice all year.
This national park sits on a large swathe of uninhabited coastline. It is home to a 700-square-mile icefield called the Harding Icefield. There are over 40 glaciers in this particular icefield. If you are an experienced hiker, you can tackle the 8.2 round trip day-hike of the icefield for some spectacular up close and personal views of the glaciers.
There are many other ways to see the national park. For example, you can view the fjords on boat tours or travel by car the view the magnificent Exit Glacier. You can also kayak through the Kenai Fjords or camp at one of the park’s summer cabins. Guided day tours are necessary for those that wish to travel on foot due to the icy conditions.
9. Tracy Arm Fjord
45 miles south of Juneau is a glacier-edged fjord called the Tracy Arm. This beautiful Alaska attraction consists of sharp rock faces and powerful waterfalls which have created numerous small icebergs. It is a lesser-known spot for glacier viewing, but it has stunning, undisturbed scenery thanks to its highly remote location.
The fjord is located within the Tongass National Forest in the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness. Visitors can see seals and whales in the emerald green water, bears, and moose as they travel through the fjord. It is also a chance to see the famous Twin Sawyer glaciers.
Many who visit the fjord do so on a boat tour or cruise ship.
10. Mendenhall Glacier
The 132-mile-long Mendenhall Glacier is one of Alaska’s largest glaciers. It is located in the Tongass National Park near Juneau and can be accessed by helicopter or a shuttle bus. The best times to visit the Mendenhall Glacier are from mid-summer to late fall.
This glacier connects to the icy Mendenhall Lake, a place where icebergs float beneath the towering coastal mountains. It is also located near the Juneau Ice Field, which is 1,500 square miles and has been around since the Ice Age.
Experienced hikers can traverse the challenging Mendenhall Glacier West Glacier Trail, while less athletically inclined folks can stroll through the rainforest and search for the area’s abundant wildlife. Black bears, bald eagles, beavers, Coho salmon, and various other birds and waterfowl live peacefully within this protected space.
Black bears, in particular, are a large draw for this popular location. Several Steep Creek platforms allow visitors to view black bears up close safely.
The Visitor Center at Mendenhall Glacier is a great place to learn more about the area’s history, the wildlife, and how climate change affects both.
11. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is one of Alaska’s most famous spots. Located between Anchorage and Fairbanks, this area is a protected wilderness made up of six million acres. It is populated by bears, wolves, elk, moose, and other wildlife and features stunning river valleys, mountain ranges, and alpine ridges.
It is also home to the peak of Denali, which was previously dubbed Mount Mckinley by modern explorers. This is the tallest mountain in the United States which stands 20,320 feet high and has a base of 2,000 feet wide.
Denali National Park is a popular locale for outdoorspeople. Hikers, backpackers, and back-country campers often frequent the area. Those that aren’t avid outdoorspeople can also enjoy the area, however. Bus tours and Park Ranger-led walks can take you to some unforgettable spots in the park.
Other attractions in Denali National Park include the Denali Visitor Center. The visitor center houses educational exhibits and information about the area and its wildlife. There are also several lakes, including Wonder Lake and the Horseshoe Lake Trail, stunning overlooks of the mountain range, and scenic trails.
One of the most popular attractions at Denali National Park is the Husky Homestead. Here visitors can meet an Iditarod champion and many of the huskies and their pups who will one day train to run the race.
12. Katmai National Park
Katmai National Park is a treat for the senses. Located near Kodiak Island and Homer Island, this special space is full of natural wonders and is a haven for brown bears and salmon.
The Katmai National Park is home to the Novarupta Volcano, which last erupted in 1912. The volcano sits in the park’s center, an area known as the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes for the gigantic ash flow that remained after the volcano erupted.
Brooks Camp is the park’s most popular destination for visitors. The camp is located along Naknek Lake and Brooks River. It attracts fishermen, hikers, backcountry campers, and those who simply want to catch a glimpse of the bears who live there. The camp is accessible via floatplane and has a lodge, a visitor center, and numerous trails to explore.
13. Inside Passage
In the southeast corner of Alaska sits a 500-mile-long coastal passage called the Inside Passage. Visitors often frequent this collection of channels and straits via boat, a cruise ship, a private yacht, or a fishing charter boat.
The Inside Passage is located within and alongside the expansive Tongass National Forest. You can get to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Sitka, and Skagway from the Inside Passage.
Trips through the passage take visitors past fjords, ice fields, waterfalls, and some of the state’s most impressive glaciers. It is also home to many islands, including Prince of Wales Island. Commonly seen wildlife in the area, including eagles, whales, and bears.
This area is also home to several native communities, including the Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit peoples.
14. Iditarod National Historic Trail
Alaska’s only National Historic Trail is the Iditarod. This trail is made up of over 2,300 miles that connect the Bering Strait to Seward, which is located near Anchorage.
The Iditarod National Historic Trail has a long history, but it is best known for its use during the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the Iron Dog Snowmachine Race.
Visitors to the trail route can experience a challenging but beautiful winter hike. There is plenty to see on the trail, from mountain ranges to glaciers. This special place is isolated and primitive. Experiencing even a small portion of the trail is a chance to feel the trail’s history and its importance in connecting Alaska’s smaller communities.
The island of Sitka combines incredible mountain and sea scenery with a flourishing arts community and thriving native cultures. It is one of the best places in Alaska to visit to truly experience the Alaskan way of life.
Sitka is a place for outdoor adventures. Visitors can sign up for ATV or kayak tours of the island and its surrounding natural wonders. There are also numerous art galleries and museums that celebrate the people who live on the island.
Wildlife found in Sitka includes harbor seals, humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, bald eagles, and brown bears.
Things to Consider
If you are thinking about visiting any of these locations in Alaska, there are a couple of logistics you should keep front of mind. Before making plans to travel, consider the following.
- Know whether the park you’re visiting allows you to bring food
- Bring the proper food containers with you to keep away from wildlife
- Be aware of any daily visitor fees at national parks
- Prepare for the weather and always dress in layers
- Know how to get to the location you want to visit (boat, floatplane, hiking, etc.)
- Consider non-hotel accommodations for a more in-depth experience
- Research the best time of year to travel to Alaska
Frequently Asked Questions
So far, this guide has helped you narrow down some of the best places in Alaska to visit. However, there is a lot involved with a trip this big, so it’s likely you still have a few questions.
Is Alaska expensive to visit?
Alaska is one of the United States’ most expensive states, with a cost of living that is 24% higher than the national average. That being said, numerous low-cost travel options can be found online or through an Alaskan travel agent to help keep your visit’s costs down.
What clothes should you pack when visiting Alaska?
Alaska is known for its temperamental weather and sporadic rainfall. As a result, you should be prepared for anything. You should bring clothes you can layer, such as lightweight t-shirts, flannels, long-sleeve shirts, and sweatshirts. You should also bring a heavy sweater, a rain jacket, and waterproof footwear.
Do a little research before your trip to learn more about the temperatures and average rainfall in the spot you visit. That way you’ll be extra prepared.
Can you see the Northern Lights from anywhere in Alaska?
The Northern Lights can be seen from many parts of Alaska during the winter months. They are usually visible from September to late April.
Where can I see polar bears in Alaska?
If seeing a wild polar bear is on your bucket list, consider visiting places like Anchorage or Fairbanks from August to October. There are numerous guided tours in these cities that can take you directly to the best spots for viewing polar bears in their natural environment.
Do I need bear spray in Alaska?
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game recommends that visitors bring bear spray when they visit Alaska. You may encounter bears while on a hiking trail or fishing. Most bears are shy and will leave you alone unless they feel threatened or want to sample your food with you.
It is wise to research what to do if you see a bear before making a trip to Alaska, especially if you plan on frequenting wild areas where bears roam free.
So, What’s the Best Place to Visit in Alaska?
Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. No matter what cities, tours, or scenic locations you decide to travel to, the best place to visit in Alaska is likely going to be the very place you’re in. Happy travels!