20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Alaska
Set the dial for summer and Alaska will be on your radar. Its glaciers, tundra, and beaches are legendary and the warm weather is long on relaxation. Most of the towns offer limited services, making them attractive destinations for vacation rentals.
Alaska boasts miles of coastline, and many towns are accessible only by boat or seaplane. They offer a unique setting for beachcombing and scuba diving.
For more adventurous travelers, you can combine fishing and hunting, swimming with dolphins, or bear viewing and birding. On land, try hiking to peaks and volcanoes, watching wolves, brown bears, and bald eagles in wilderness environments, or relaxing at a serene spa.
Gone are the days when Alaskan tourism was limited to the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Today the state is a magnet for eco-tourism and adventure travelers who appreciate its spectacular scenery, marine environment, and wildlife. With its incomparable beauty and variety of experiences, plan your vacation to Alaska using our guide to the top attractions in this incredible destination.
Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali National Park and Preserve is a huge wilderness park that lies along the Koyukuk, Copper River and Cassiar Rivers. It is one of the least populated of the parks of Alaska and contains some of the largest and most interesting wilderness areas in North America. Although there is no road access to the park, most of it can be visited by floatplane, a jeep or by walking. It can be reached from the closest town, Healy, by driving the winding road to Koyukuk, a drive of about 100 km, depending on the season. In Denali, hiking and mountain climbing are popular activities. It's also the most popular area to see grizzly bears. Another interest is wildlife viewing as some of the park's greatest attractions are bears, wolves, moose and caribou, as well as many other native species of birds, fish and reptiles.
One of the most charming places in the world, beautiful Juneau is surrounded by scenic mountains and forests on three sides and separated from the Chilkat River Valley by a neck of marshy land about half a mile wide. Much of the city has been built over the last 40 years and, although dated, still feels authentic and unpretentious. One of the main reasons to visit the city is the remarkable natural setting. Here are the trails to find some of the best nature spots around, including the Taku Inlet Trail, Mount Juneau, the Mount Roberts Tramway and plenty more. There are also lots of activities to do in Juneau, such as snorkeling or swimming at Glacier Bay National Park. Adventure activities in and around the city include kayaking, fishing, hiking and skiing.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, named after Alaska's largest island, is home to an incredible variety of species. This refuge is the largest in the United States, covering 4.2 million acres. This is a haven for large animals like bears, wolves, sea otters, seals and whales. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and brown bears.
Located in a spectacular location on the Alaska Peninsula, Skagway grew into a supply center for prospectors following the Klondike gold rush of 1897. Although today it has not retained that association, the town is still a worthwhile destination in its own right. Skagway has had an impact on American culture for the past 125 years, and it is a part of the economy that has contributed to the development of theater, film, art and theater, and music. The end of the Klondike Gold Rush saw the beginning of Skagway's decline, and its isolation encouraged the spread of blight, while the city was also associated with tuberculosis. Today, tourists can explore the "Gladys City," with its Victorian and Italianate architecture and art. And since the 1980s the number of cruise ship visits has increased dramatically.
Prince William Sound
At the head of fjords leading into the Alaskan wilderness, Anchorage, located at the junction of the Seward and Cook Inlet, serves as the gateway to the extraordinary natural and man-made beauty of Prince William Sound. To see the area's spectacular scenery, take a road trip on one of several scenic highways along the fjords, which run on either side of the road bridge that connects the state's two main islands, like an arrow piercing the Alaskan panhandle. From Anchorage, it is a two-and-a-half-hour drive along Seward Peninsula Road, or a four-hour drive via the scenic Glenn Highway, which runs through the mountains, to the town of Whittier. There are also ferry connections to Ketchikan, Prince of Wales Island, Juneau and Vancouver, with another connecting with the Canadian capital, Ottawa, which is a quick drive away from the city. Anchorage is the state's largest city, with 1.3 million people in its metropolitan area. It is served by Alaska's only international airport, which is located about 60 miles south of the city.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco is the fourth-largest city in California, the 50th largest in the U.S. and the birthplace of the most powerful national political party. While the city skyline is dominated by the famous buildings of the financial district, it has many splendid parks, mountains and spectacular vistas. With 30 miles of coastline, visitors have choices when deciding what to do while in the city. The city has a multitude of sites worth visiting such as the Children's Creativity Museum, the de Young Museum of fine art, the Golden Gate Bridge and the Conservatory of Flowers. People will find the high street as well as other shops filled with lots of unique souvenirs, from jewelry to ceramics, clothing to art and much more. The city has good public transportation, with a system of buses, trolleys, and streetcars that allows you to access almost any part of town. A good alternative to driving is the Bay Area Rapid Transit system, which also allows you to reach the city's farthest suburbs. Make sure you check out the Google maps to check the conditions of the roads and visiting the weather.
Situated 2,600 miles from the nearest land, the summit of McKinley is the highest point in North America. The surrounding peaks, canyons and glaciers make up the largest glacial lake in the world, Lake Iliamna. Scenic floatplane flights provide the best way to see this part of the world, the journey taking between 3 and 4 hours. An expedition to McKinley begins at Talkeetna, a small town accessible by bush plane or float plane, and where food, lodging, equipment and guides can be arranged. Most cruises begin at around 7,000 feet, so hiking begins from there, an eight- to 10-hour trek depending on the number of stops. To reach the glacier, which is at around 15,000 feet, mountain climbers hike for several days from Talkeetna, a slow, long process that starts when the sun hits the ice at mid-day. The weather is usually perfect until the middle of August. The spectacular scenery of Mount McKinley National Park is remarkable; the interior of the park is covered with alpine tundra, with many glaciers on the mountains.
Madison Square Park
Alaska's first national park lies between Manhattan's Madison Square Park and the Portage Glacier, an outlet glacier for the biggest of the 20,000 islands of the Seward Peninsula. You can get to the park on an easy two-hour drive from Anchorage, or from Seattle. What to do in Madison Square Park include hiking, swimming, boat trips, and fishing on nearby waterways.
Lake Clark National Park
This beautiful park in the panhandle of Alaska is formed by glacial lakes surrounded by forest and spotted with a few Indian villages, as well as waterfalls, hiking trails, hot springs, and unique rock formations. Tidal Lake Clark is the largest of these glacial lakes, and is home to some very dramatic cliff-face scenery and towering mountains, while other lakes such as Talkeetna, Deadhorse, and Murray lake offer a wide choice of recreational activities. The north side of Lake Clark is almost entirely taken up by Mount Iliamna, the largest mountain in the area and the site of Iliamna Hot Springs. Mount Iliamna is on the border of the National Park and the Iliamna National Wildlife Refuge and contains several scenic hiking trails, mountain climbing opportunities, camping, and a cable car to access the summit.
Glacier Bay National Park
America's highest national park is like no other in the world. Here is a landscape unlike any other, where huge and primitive rock spires reach skyward, ever-present glaciers creep like slow-motion waves along the valley floors, and ridges of jagged black rock rise thousands of feet from the bays and beaches. In Glacier Bay, the views are simply astonishing as you gaze at the almost land-sized cliffs that frame the water, while huge glaciers drift across the valley floor, generating a movement of their own. Make sure to explore the northern regions of the park, where even if the weather isn't good, you will be treated to immense and awe-inspiring scenery. Highlights of a visit include seeing the legendary Mendenhall Glacier and the huge ice-filled delta formed by its movement, hiking into the spires of St. Elias Mountains, and viewing wildlife as you drive along the bays and beaches. For further exploration, stay in tiny Healy and see life in a small town, or explore the surrounding wilderness.
New York City
New York is a sprawling metropolis that features all the glitz and glamour of an average major city. It also boasts a massive art scene, an impressive skyline, a bustling urban atmosphere, and miles of parkland. But, for most visitors, the biggest attraction is the Empire State Building, the undisputed symbol of New York. When you step outside on a clear day you can take in some of the best views the city has to offer from the observation decks of the observation decks in Battery Park, Madison Square Garden and Herald Square, and the city's most famous location, Times Square. If you are a fan of top-notch shopping and delicious dining, New York City has some of the finest in the world. From the abundance of world-class retail stores and high-end chains to Broadway plays and fine dining, New York City has it all. The city is home to legendary restaurants like Shake Shack, Blue Ribbon Sushi, Wahoo's Fish Bar and others that can put just about any culinary stereotype to shame.
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Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, its 559,000 residents spread over more than nine square miles. Most people live in the inner city, a maze of modern buildings surrounded by a forest of towering palm trees. It's impossible to understand Anchorage without understanding the location of its once-great territory in the vast interior of North America. Home to native tribes for millennia, the last nomadic bands of Alaskan Indians moved in to this city in the 1920s. Since then the city has attracted a large influx of Americans from the middle and upper classes. An influx of well-educated professionals, educated youths, and transplants from northern and southern California who are seeking a more culturally diverse place has made this a very cosmopolitan city, but one where culture is still rather cheap.
Home to the Klondike Gold Rush, Fairbanks has an inescapable Wild West history that has made it an adventure destination to its visitors. Its main draws are its numerous museums, including the American History Center, a hands-on exhibition about the Klondike, Alaska's gold rush, including a true-to-life recreation of the last leg of the Klondike Gold Rush over the Arctic Circle on the coldest day of the year. Alaska is a vast territory of stunning natural beauty and it's easy to enjoy the outdoors with activities including hiking, rafting, fishing, and skiing. Fairbanks is near the Denali National Park and Preserve, and Denali is home to Mount McKinley, North America's tallest peak and the tallest mountain in the United States, and it's near Prudhoe Bay, which is home to the largest oil field in the world, Prudhoe Bay, which has been producing oil for 35 years. Nearby is Copper Center, which claims to be the "lumber capital of the world" and Alaskan Parks, which has the most accessible national park in the state.
Chugach National Forest
Chugach National Forest spans across Alaska's south-central coast, an area known for its wildlife, scenery, and outdoor recreation. It contains Denali National Park, the state's largest, and offers visitors an exciting array of activities, including four state-run lodges, fishing and hunting guides, guided tours, and swimming. Among the best parts of the forest are the national park's two largest glaciers, Alsek and Hubbard. These enormous, snowy areas draw visitors from around the world and offer world-class scenery, as well as access to some of the highest alpine environments on Earth. You can stay in one of the forest's lodges to explore Chugach by foot, horseback, or snowmobile, and also to see wildlife such as moose, caribou, mountain goats, bears, and sea otters. Denali National Park is also an ideal destination for winter sports.
Museum of the North
Northeast of the two time zones and just east of the Gulf of Alaska is Alaska, the largest of the 49 States. Visitors will enjoy seeing native Alaskan crafts and life as they sample the delicacies of the region including crabs, berries, and salmon. The new Museum of the North opened its doors in 2008 and features displays of the indigenous cultures of the interior of the state and art created by young Alaskan artists, including art from the most remote parts of the state. Visitors will enjoy visiting the Indian Museum and the Aleutian Eskimo Cultural Center which is now the largest museum and research center in the nation dedicated to Native American cultures and a great place for the family to visit. It features exhibits and activities for all ages, an IMAX theatre, the Northern Quest Casino, a Discovery Room and two restaurants.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords is perhaps the most diverse National Park in America, boasting stunning scenery, wildlife and immense beauty. Traveling between Seward and the park's main gate, Prince William Sound, there are spectacular views of towering fjords, mountains, glaciers and islands along the Kenai Fjords Parkway, which winds through the park's rocky terrain. The park's centerpiece is Homer Spit, where sheer fjord walls and steep, rocky bluffs tower above oceanfront beaches and tidewater glaciers. The park is one of the largest and most diverse places on Earth to find truly enormous and rarely seen black bears. Add in eagles, sea otters, orcas, fish, birds and much more and you have one of the most sought after places in Alaska.
North Pole is located in the North-western region of Alaska and its main city, Barrow, is one of the only towns in the state accessible only by aircraft. To get to North Pole, a flight to Barrow takes off from Anchorage International Airport and heads for the town of Barrow, where there are a few activities to do. Visitors can take a fishing tour, visit a museum, see a play, or explore local museums and art. In summer, North Pole has festivals to celebrate Alaska's Native and Native American culture.
Portland, Oregon, and Anchorage, Alaska, are perfect destinations for those who like the idea of a city that's a natural paradise, yet is only a short flight or boat ride away from Alaska's wild frontier. Situated in the lush Willamette Valley, Portland has everything you could possibly want: biking, hiking, year-round festivals, colorful historic neighborhoods, a cutting-edge arts scene, the innovative Pearl District, and fabulous restaurants. Anchorage is the capital of Alaska and the home of America's largest naval base, easily accessed by ferry from Seward. In both Portland and Anchorage, visit the city's biggest attractions by walking, bike or streetcar. The Portland Art Museum and Portland's Waterfront Park give you a broad view of the city's wealth of museums and performing arts. You can also take a bus tour to see Portland's nightlife, such as the annual Twilight Ball, or admire the rock formations and waterfalls at Waterfall Park, Portland's most popular outdoor activity.
The history and heritage of Boston, Massachusetts have left an indelible mark on the architecture of the city, giving it a unique character. It was one of the first English towns and as such was an important base for the Pequot people in the American colonies. By the early 19th century, Boston was the largest port in the country and industrial city. It was also an intellectual hub with many of the country's greatest thinkers and writers living there. In 1690, King William's War and King William's War II fought on the same land. General John Marmaduke helped the British colonists gain the upper hand and became the first governor of the newly acquired lands, which now form the United States. Today, Boston's history is reflected by its architecture and some of its citizens are of English descent. During the 19th century, the New England textile and jewelry industries became the strongest in the world, paving the way for today's thriving economy. The city has an active arts scene and is home to the American National Academy of Arts. Known for its many museums and historical landmarks, visitors can enjoy concerts at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and a walk on the Freedom Trail. The City of Boston offers year-round activities and summer events including the annual Boston Marathon, the Boston Pops Concerts and the Fourth of July Celebration.
Situated 866 miles (1,398 km) south of Anchorage, Alaska's Kodiak Island is one of the most remote places on Earth. Located more than a thousand miles (1,600 km) from any major airport, visitors to the island must come by boat from the city of Kodiak, on the island's mainland. From the ferry dock in Kodiak, you can walk along the island's southeastern coast to the Koniag Point light, one of five operated by the Coast Guard on the island. About 9 miles (15 km) north of the island's ferry dock is Bear Harbor, a much-visited nature preserve where you can see harbor seals, sea otters, brown bears and, in the winter, huge concentrations of migratory birds. The Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge covers roughly 6,000 acres (2,438 ha) of mountains and dense undergrowth. If you want to see bears, elk, or mountain goats, you'll have to hike or fly over the wildlife refuge. The best viewing area for bears is Camp Schwatka, named after a 19th-century fur-trading and government official. Black bears are common, and you can also see brown, black, and polar bears. Moose are seen on a regular basis. If you're looking for some peace and quiet, stay at the Koliganek River Camp on the main island or the Kodiak Island Lodge near the mouth of the bay.