If you’ve ever dreamed of taking a trip to Alaska, it’s time to put that dream into action. Alaska is one of the most spectacular places on the planet. From breathtaking mountains and glaciers to incredible wildlife and far-reaching coastlines, this is a place that needs to be explored.
There are so many things to do in Alaska that people come from all over just to visit. Your trip is going to be full of adventure and excitement. If you are planning a trip to Alaska, the first thing you need to know is what there is to do in the Alaskan wilderness. And it doesn’t take long before you realize that there’s so much more than just fishing and hunting.
The size of Alaska is difficult to understand. Overlapping the lower 48 states, it would stretch from the Atlantic to the Pacific, while its coastline is longer than that of the rest of the continental United States combined. All but three of the country’s twenty highest peaks are found here, and a single glacier is twice the size of Wales.
Furthermore, it not only contains the northernmost and westernmost points of the Americas but since the Aleutian Islands lie across the 180th meridian, it also contains the easternmost point.
Wildlife may be threatened elsewhere, but it’s abundant here, with ten-foot-tall bears, moose-stopping traffic in downtown Anchorage, wolves roaming the national parks, bald eagles circling the trees, and rivers teeming with salmon over 50 pounds.
Statehood granted: January 3, 1959
Area: 665,400 mi²
Population: 736,990 (2020)
Most populous city: Anchorage
Nickname: The Final Frontier
Impressive landscapes, panoramas that give emotions to every look, and silences that let nature speak: welcome to Alaska, an enchanting land that each year attracts far fewer visitors than it deserves.
Alaska Geography and History
It is bordered to the north by the Arctic Ocean, to the south by the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska, to the west by the Bering Strait and the Bering Sea, and to the east by the Canadian Yukon and British Columbia.
With 1,718,000 square kilometers, it is the largest state in the US, but it has the lowest population density, with just over 700,000 inhabitants living within its borders, of which about 24% are native. Due to the distance to the rest of the States and the isolated areas, it is nicknamed “The Last Frontier”. A big city (Anchorage), a few medium-sized cities, small towns, and remote villages alternate with majestic mountains, glaciers, icebergs, fjords, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and small islands in a land where mother nature reigns.
The mountainous island of Kodiak, with the town of the same name, is located southwest of Anchorage; it is famous for being the habitat of huge brown bears. The picturesque city of Sitka, with its beautiful Orthodox church, history museum, and Swan Lake, was the first capital.
In the 18th century Russia, after decimating the fur-bearing animals in Siberia, chose this territory to hunt them, but in the mid-19th century there was again a shortage and this land was no longer profitable. The timing was perfect for the United States, which in 1867 bought Alaska from Russia for two cents an acre and in 1959 became the 49th state in the Union. The lucky purchase is celebrated on October 18 with Alaska Day.
Alaskan weather is an interesting topic, especially considering how the weather varies from place to place. In Alaska, it’s common to see weather adverse conditions such as strong winds and blizzards in addition to the typical winter conditions. This is why it’s important to learn more about Alaskan weather before deciding on any wintry excursions.
Alaska weather is extremely cold. It can be very cold below 50 degrees Fahrenheit and above zero, sometimes even lower than these temperature thresholds.
It’s hard to generalize about Alaska’s climate given its vastness. The south is the area that receives more rain. Generally, May is the driest month, while September is the wettest.
Summer in Alaska
The period between mid-June and mid-August is considered the “warmest” of the year (10°-21°C), especially in the interior. However, at night it is cold and rainfall is not excluded, which increases as the season progresses. Despite the low temperatures, mosquitoes are present. This is the period of the greatest influx of visitors.
Autumn in Alaska
Already in September, the temperatures begin to reach a daily average of 5°-15°C and in November the minimum temperatures are much colder (-8° 7°C).
Winter in Alaska
It’s long and snowy, usually from late October to early April, with frequent sub-zero temperatures. This season is when you can best see the northern lights, for example in Fairbanks and Denali Park, but especially near the polar circle, a prime destination for this phenomenon.
Spring in Alaska
The first half of the season is usually rainy. The month of March continues to have decidedly wintery weather. In May the temperature can reach 14° during the day.
What is the best time to visit Alaska?
It depends on the purpose of your trip: if you want to visit the parks and natural spaces, you have to go in the summer, when getting around is not so complicated. If you are interested in the cold arctic winter, the snow, and above all, the Aurora Borealis, you must go from November to mid-March. Planning a winter trip to Alaska is anything but easy.
How to Visit Alaska? How to Get Around?
Alaska is a dream for many travelers. With its beautiful scenery and breathtaking wildlife, it is no wonder that so many have made the trip. Yet, the process of visiting this far off place can be overwhelming. There are different modes of travel to choose from, such as air travel and cruises, as well as numerous other things to consider before you even begin planning your trip. Here we’ll be taking a look at how to visit Alaska: how to get around while away from your regular home and also how accommodations can be found while on your trek into the wilds of Alaska.
How to Get to Alaska by Plane?
The airlines with the most domestic flights to Alaska are Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, and United. The main airports are Anchorage Airport, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Some nonstop flights to Anchorage connect to Seattle, Phoenix, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. Direct international flights are available here.
Flights to Alaska
- Anchorage – Nonstop – 7h 45m+ – from $781
- Fairbanks – 1 stop – 9h 20m+ – from $839
- Ketchikan – 1 stop – 8h 55m+ – from $938
- Juneau – 1 stop – 9h 20m+ – from $918
- Sitka – 1 stop – 9h 30m+ – from $934
Move by Car
Only 20% of Alaska is accessible by road: A1 from Homer to Tok via Anchorage, A2 from Tok to Fairbanks, A3 from Soldotna to Anchorage, and A4 from Gateway to Fairbanks. The southeastern coastal strip, including the capital Juneau, can only be reached by sea or air.
Approximate Distances From Anchorage:
Talkeetna (2h5): base to explore Denali Park.
Fairbanks (6h15): third city in the state with a botanical garden and museums. Splendid ice sculptures are created and winter sports are practiced. The Northern Lights show is a major attraction.
Skagway (3 pm): West of Juneau, it has a historic district with buildings dating back to the gold rush and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.
Juneau (7:50 p.m.): the capital.
Ketchikan (38hrs): South of Juneau, first through the Inside Passage inlets, the fifth largest city by population with a quaint, colorful, and lively historic downtown (Creek Street) and the largest collection of totem poles in the world.
Cruise season runs from mid-May to mid-September. Most trips take place from mid-June to mid-July. Disney, Princess, Carnival, Oceania, and Holland America are some of the companies that sail these waters.
Buses and trains in Alaska
If you’re traveling to Alaska and planning a trip by bus or train, it’s important to know how the schedule works. Buses and trains in Alaska can be very useful if you’re looking for inexpensive transportation options. They’re also an excellent way to save money on lodging while traveling in Alaska.
If you’re looking for a reason to visit Alaska, you could do worse than to start with the state’s bus and train system. Buses travel around the entire state while trains take passengers from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back.
What to see in Alaska
Traveling here demands a spirit of adventure, and to get the most out of the state, you have to enjoy getting out on your own and getting a little exercise. Binoculars are a must, as is bug spray; the mosquito is known as “Alaska’s state bird” and only industrial-strength repellent keeps it away. Plus, there’s the weather, though Alaska isn’t quite the giant icebox that people imagine.
The state’s southernmost city, Ketchikan, rich in indigenous heritage, makes a nice introduction, while Sitka retains Russian influence. Further north is glitzy Juneau, the capital; Haines, with its mix of veterans and artistic newcomers; Skagway, reminiscent of the gold rush days; and Glacier Bay National Park, an expensive excursion from Juneau into one of Alaska’s most stunning regions.
The second-largest city in the state, developed in the wake of the ” Gold Rush “, it has been the capital since 1906. It is charmingly situated along the rugged southeastern coastal strip called the Panhandle.
A downtown area with art galleries, a lively boardwalk, shops, skyscrapers, historic sites along Seward Street, and the turn-of-the-20th-century historic district along South Franklin Street make for a visit forced. And there is no lack of other points of interest: the State Capitol, a six-story building with four columns on the façade and without the typical dome of most US capitols. Outside you will see a replica of the Liberty Bell.
Governor’s Mansion is the current home of the governor with 26 rooms and a tall totem pole outside. The Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Nicholas is a testimony of the Russian presence in the 19th century; It is a pretty little church with a blue and white exterior and a gold dome.
Just outside of downtown, the Alaska State Museum houses a collection of Eskimo masks and collections of native and Russian lore. In April, the Folklore Festival celebrates the folk music of Alaska, the Northwestern United States, and Canada.
Set against a backdrop of snow-capped peaks, it spans a south-central valley where Knik Arm Fjord meets Turnagain Bay. Here lives more than 40% of the population, about 300,000 inhabitants. Although some skyscrapers sprout in the city center, nature lovers can enjoy the beautiful outdoors.
The 1964 earthquake destroyed much of the city center so the city center is now modern but well worth a visit. On 4th Avenue, there are restaurants, tourist shops, art galleries, and the Visitor Center. The Anchorage Museum highlights the art, history, ecology, science, people, and culture of Alaska from prehistoric times.
Alaska Zoo in Anchorage
It is a highly visited place where endemic fauna: caribou, seals, bald eagles, mountain goats, black and polar bears; exotic species such as Tibetan yaks and snow leopards also live here.
Anchorage Botanical Garden
Within the immense Bicentennial Park of the Far North, it takes place through very pleasant walks in areas full of colors and scents thanks to aromatic plants, fir trees, birch trees, primroses, lilies, poppies, tulips, lilies, roses, and peonies.
Anchorage Native Heritage Center
The culture of Alaska’s major Native groups is highlighted through costumed dances, art, exhibits, demonstrations, films, and storytelling support. Some artists sell their works. The museum is surrounded by a forest in which life-size native villages are reproduced.
Aviation Museum in Anchorage
Photos, films, artifacts, memorabilia, and interactive panels about Alaska’s pioneers of aviation are found at this museum where aviation enthusiasts stop to watch the landings and takeoffs at the city’s airport.
The third-largest park in the country, Chugach State Park is a spectacle of coastline, snow-capped peaks, lakes, and frozen fields, and is populated by bears, moose, and birds. The Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge covers 25 km of coastline and is home to a wide variety of migratory birds, including Canada geese, eagles, and swans, as well as black bears, moose, and porcupines. Fishing, cross-country skiing, and bird watching are practiced in this area.
It is one of the most visited places on the Kenai Peninsula, as it retains the charm of a fishing village in picturesque Resurrection Bay, framed by snow-capped mountains. Restaurants and shops line the water, which is home to a busy marina with boats and yachts. Cruise ships also dock here.
Alaska Marine Life Center
Created to maintain the integrity of Alaska’s marine ecosystem, it houses seals, sea lions, and puffins in three large aquariums. Sick or injured marine fauna are cared for here.
Hiking the Kenai Peninsula
Set against a backdrop of enchanting rivers, lakes, and glaciers, this spectacular peninsula south of Anchorage is home to such impressive sites as Kenai Fjords National Park, Kachemak Bay State Park, and Kachemak Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Kenai. In addition to Seward, there are other towns and cities: Kenai, popular for its fishing and Orthodox church, Sterling for its Scout Lake State Resort, and Homer, long known as the halibut capital of the world, for the Homer Split, a picturesque strip of land in Kachemak Bay.
Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Peninsula is an impressive scene of fjords, waterfalls, and glaciers that form the largest ice shelf in the United States (almost 2,400 km2); From the imposing Hardy Ice Field many other glaciers branch off, some of which reach the sea. Here and there there is scattered vegetation with ferns and berries, but also black poplars and wild geraniums. Wildlife is abundant: moose, lynx, otters, beavers, seals, dolphins, killer whales, humpback whales, peregrine falcons, bald eagles, mountain goats, and black and grizzly bears. The town of Seward is 5 minutes from the Visitor Center for this must-see park.
Denali National Park
Mount Denali is located here, the highest peak in North America at 6,190 meters, also known as McKinley in reference to the 25th American president. This mountain belongs to the Alaska Range, which is part of the park. Denali’s beauty unfolds in the forest, tundra, taiga, and glaciers, not forgetting the wildlife, with caribou, moose, beavers, bobcats, red foxes, grizzly bears, and black bears. The only road through the park showcases a variety of landscapes, from plains to dramatic mountains. In winter there is snowboarding and cross-country skiing, but you can also experience the thrill of dog sledding. The town of Healy is about 15 minutes away.
Wrangell National Park–St. Elias
About 4h30 from Anchorage and Fairbanks. Within the San Elías mountain range, the park includes waterways and the highest peaks in the United States. The highest point is Mount Saint Elias at 5,489 meters, the second-highest elevation in the States.
Mount Wrangell is a 4,317-meter-high volcano completely covered in ice, which has nevertheless emitted clouds of steam and smoke throughout history. Salmon, trout, caribou, beavers, coyotes, mountain goats, black, grizzly, and grizzly bears populate this park that stretches to the coast, where you can see seals, otters, whales, and sea lions.
Just 20 minutes from Juneau, in the Tongass National Forest, this glacier is receding due to rising global temperatures. Trails of varying difficulty start from the Visitor Center, allowing you to get up close to the eye-catching ravines and the 115-meter-high Nugget Falls that plunge into Mendenhall Lake, formed by melting ice. From here you can take panoramic tours by boat or kayak.
Tracy Arm Fjord
About 45 miles from Juneau, as you cross the narrow channel between the high cliffs of Stephens Pass in the Tongass Forest, the landscape features waterfalls, including Icy Falls in the Sawyer Glacier area at the top of the fjord. In summer, the ice blocks in the water are clearly visible. It is an excellent spot for whale and seal watching, as well as ibex, deer, fox, and black and brown bears in the forest on either side. Access is by boat or seaplane.
2,232 km paved road that works all year round. Built to connect the continental United States with Alaska. It starts at Dawson Creek in British Columbia, through Whitehorse in Yukon, and on to Delta Junction in Alaska. On your way, you also pass through Tok, the sled dog capital of Alaska, and the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, which lines the highway for 104km.
Also called AK RT.11, this 400-mile-long, mostly gravel artery begins at Elliott Highway (RT.2) north of Fairbanks and ends at Deadhorse on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s one of the most isolated drives in the United States, and it’s especially impressive when you consider that you may encounter polar bears, and along the way, you’ll encounter only the three tiny communities of Coldfoot, Wiseman, and Deadhorse. That is also the charm of Alaska.
The Chilkoot Trail
Alaska’s most famous hike, the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail is a massive nature museum that follows in the footsteps of the original Klondike prospectors. Beginning in Dyea, nine miles from Skagway, and ending in Bennett, Canada, the trail ascends through the rainforest to tundra littered with eerie reminders of the past, including ancient boilers that once powered aerial trams and several crumbling cabins. The three to five-day trek is strenuous, especially the ascent from Sheep Camp (1000ft) to Chilkoot Pass (3550ft). You must bring food, fuel, and a tent and be prepared for bad weather.
FAIRBANKS, 360 miles north of Anchorage and at the end of the Alaska Highway from Canada, is somewhat nondescript but makes a great base for exploring an outback of gold mines, hot springs, and boundless wilderness, and for highway travel from Dalton to the Prudhoe Bay oil field in the Arctic Ocean.
Fairbanks suffers from notable weather extremes, with winter temperatures dipping to -70ºF and summer highs exceeding 90ºF. Proximity to the Arctic Circle means more than 21 hours of sunlight in the height of summer when midnight baseball games are played in natural light, and 2 am bar evacuees face blazing sunshine.
Festivals and Events in Fairbanks
The spectacular Northern Lights are a major winter attraction, as is the Alaska Ice Festival in mid-March, with its ice sculpture competition and dog sled races on the icy downtown streets. Summer visitors should try to catch the three-day World Eskimo Indian Olympics (w weio.org), in mid-July, in which contestants from across the state compete in dance, art, and sports competitions, as well as some unusual ones, such as the ear pull, the knuckle jump, the high kick, and the blanket throw.
The aurora borealis, or “northern lights,” an ethereal display of light in the upper atmosphere, are at their brightest and most colorful in the Fairbanks sky. For up to a hundred winter nights, the sky seems to glow with dancing curtains of color ranging from luminescent greens to fantastical veils that run the gamut.
Named for the Roman goddess of the dawn, the aurora is due to an interaction between the Earth’s magnetic field and the solar wind, an invisible stream of charged electrons and protons that continually stream out into space from the sun. Earth deflects the solar wind like a rock in a stream, and the energy is released at the magnetic poles, much like a neon sign.
The Northern Lights are most dazzling from December to March when the nights are longest and the sky is darkest, but late September can be good for summer visitors. They’re visible pretty much everywhere, but the farther north the better, especially around Fairbanks.
Tiny HAINES sits on a peninsula at the northern end of the longest and deepest fjord in the US, the Lynn Canal. Somewhat overshadowed by its more brash neighbor, Skagway, it remains a slice of authentic Alaska with an interesting mix of locals and urban escapists. The Tlingit fished and traded here for years before 1881 when the first missionaries arrived. Today, the town survives on fishing and tourism, and in mid-August hosts the Southeast Alaska Fair’s cookouts, crafts, and log shoots.
South of Anchorage, the Seward Highway hugs the shore of the Turnagain Arm, passing through Girdwood and the Alyeska Ski Area. Further afield, a minor road passes the ever-popular Portage Glacier and tunnels to Whittier, little more than a ferry dock providing access to Prince William Sound.
Beyond Portage, the Seward Highway juts into the Kenai Peninsula, “Anchorage’s playground,” which at more than 3,000 square miles is larger than some states. It offers an endless diversity of activities and landscapes, centered around communities like Seward, the base for cruises to the inspiring Kenai Fjords National Park, and artsy Homer, where the waters and shores of glorious Kachemak Bay State Park are the prime destinations.
Most Alaskans come to the peninsula to fish: the Kenai, Russian, and Kasilof rivers are used for “combat fishing,” in which thousands of fishermen, side by side, use their strength and knowledge to catch salmon reais of more than thirty pounds. The campgrounds along the rivers fill up quickly, especially in July and August.
Ketchikan, nearly seven hundred miles north of Seattle, is the first port of call for cruise ships and ferries, and its historic downtown, wedged between water and forested mountains, is packed in the summer. Beyond the souvenir shops, it’s charming, built on steep hills and partly supported by wooden pilings, dotted with boardwalks, wooden stairs, and totem poles.
In 1886, the city’s many canneries made it the “salmon capital of the world,” while forests of cedar, hemlock, and fir fed its sawmills. Today, Ketchikan looks to tourism as its savior, with the nearby Misty Fjords National Monument its main draw. The fourth-largest city in the state is a strong candidate to be the wettest in the country; Annual rainfall averages 165 inches, but perennial drizzles and sporadic showers won’t spoil your visit.
Prince William Sound
Prince William Sound, a largely unspoiled wilderness of fjords and rugged mountains, glaciers, and rainforest, lies between the Kenai Peninsula to the west and the Chugach Mountains to the north and east. Teeming with marine mammals, the strait has a relatively inconspicuous tourist industry. The only major settlements, spectacular Valdez, at the end of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and Cordova, a fishing community accessible only by sea or air, are respective bases for visiting Columbia and Childs Glaciers.
The Chugach and Eyak peoples were displaced by Russian trappers for sea otter pelts, and later by American miners and fishermen. The whole glorious spectacle was about to be spoiled forever on Good Friday 1989 when the Exxon Valdez spilled eleven million gallons of crude oil. Although 1,400 miles of coastline were fouled and some 250,000 birds killed, and the long-term effects are still unclear, no surface contamination is visible today.
A hundred miles from Anchorage, the eclectic hamlet of TALKEETNA has a palpable small-town Alaskan feel, but it’s given an international flavor by mountaineers from around the world, who come here to climb the 6,000-meter-high Mt. McKinley. commonly called in Alaska by his Athabascan name Denali, “the Great.” Whatever name you choose, North America’s tallest peak rises from about 2,000 feet, making it the world’s tallest from bottom to top (other major peaks, like Everest, rise from the high ground). The mountain is best viewed from the overlook just south of Talkeetna, which reveals the peak’s transcendent white glow, in sharp contrast to the warm colors of the entire environment.
From mid-April to mid-July, climbers flock to Talkeetna to be flown up the mountain: only half of the 1,200 who attempt the ascent each year make it, usually due to extreme weather conditions.
We’ve shown you a number of great places that you can see while wandering around Alaska, but the list could honestly go on forever. If you’re in search of adventure, Alaska is the perfect place to find it, and there’s no doubt that you’ll have an unforgettable time. Whether you’re searching for wildlife or trying to find answers to existential questions about life itself, this is the one trip that will fill every minute with excitement. The only thing left to do is actually get out there and experience it for yourself!