Alaska is famous for its stunning scenery, giant glaciers, pristine forests and abundant wildlife. See the highest mountain in North America, watch the Northern Lights, drive along the 1,500-mile Alaska Highway, and explore Alaska’s charming towns. Here are the best places to visit in Alaska.
1. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is located in central Alaska with the Denali Mountain at its heart. Denali is part of the Alaska Range, and, with its highest peak at 20,310 feet, it is the highest mountain in North America. The upper part of the mountain is always covered with snow and glaciers, and the temperatures can reach minus 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
In spite of the extreme cold, the mountain and the park are home to many animals, among them 39 species of mammals and 169 species of birds.
2. Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site, and it is one of the largest protected areas in the world. It is located where the North American and Pacific tectonic plates collide and the coastal mountains, three miles high, are still rising.
Glacier Bay covers more than three million acres of mountains, glaciers, rainforest, rugged coastlines, and deep fjords, and is one of the best things to do in Alaska. The landscape is constantly changing, glaciers continue to advance and retreat, dramatically affecting the landscape.
Snuggled at the base of Denali or Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in the country, Talkeetna is a historic town that is an excellent starting point from which to experience true Alaska. Just taking photos of the towering Alaska Range is a treat. Near Talkeetna, you can go fishing, hiking, skiing, mushing, and mountain climbing, take a ziplining tour, or visit great art galleries, excellent restaurants, and local craft breweries. Talkeetna is a frontier town like none other.
Where else can you still find people panning for gold or old log cabins built by gold miners more than hundred years ago that are still standing strong? Take Alaska Railroad to Talkeetna and experience a piece of history.
4. Northern Lights in Fairbanks
The mysterious curtain of swirling, flowing, ever changing purple, yellow, green, and red lights that brighten the night skies is known as the Northern Lights or the Aurora Borealis. Fairbanks, Alaska, is one of the best places on Earth to watch this magical spectacle of nature.
The town has two things going for it: it is located in the area around North Pole called Auroral Oval, and its continental climate allows for more clear nights than other places on the coast. In this area, the lights appear more often and are more vivid and mesmerizing than almost anywhere else. The best time to experience it is late at night or early in the morning. Take a dog sled or a horse-drawn sleigh to enjoy northern lights in comfort. You can also ask your hotel staff to wake you up when the show starts.
5. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is the largest and most magnificent of Alaska’s sprawling national parks, with nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States. This grandiose mountain region on the frontier with Canada contains numerous glaciers, lakes, and mountain streams and is home to a rich variety of wildlife. It is superb country for climbers, walkers, and water sports enthusiasts. And the park’s Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark gives insight into the one-time mill town with barely preserved heritage buildings and abandoned mines.
6. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park maintains lovely restored buildings in the Skagway historic district to commemorate the 1897-98 Gold Rush. Visitors can attempt to hike the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, which begins at Taiya River bridge, or simply explore the on-site museum and visitor center.
The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway leaves from Skagway, climbing up to White Pass at a 2,865-foot elevation. The depot, one of Alaska’s oldest, houses the visitor center.
Seward is located at the foot of majestic Mount Marathon on the shore of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula. For centuries, Seward’s ice-free harbor has served for as a gateway to Alaska’s huge, wild and resource-rich interior. The town served as a natural starting point for gold seekers during the gold rush, and the dog sled trail that led from Seward to the gold fields in Iditarod is now the location of the famous Iditarod Sled Dog Race.
Visit Kenai Fjords National Park, deep glacial lakes, the Harding Icefield, take a kayak tour, participate in a dog sled race, go fishing for salmon or halibut, or take a small plane tour and see everything there is to see from the air.
8. Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest covers 17 million acres, which is most of Southeast Alaska. It is the largest national forest in the United States. Most of it consists of a temperate rain forest rich in wildlife and rare flora. The area is very diverse and ranges from Alexander Archipelago islands and numerous fjords and glaciers to the Coast Mountains. It is home to 75,000 people, and the largest city in the area is Juneau.
Three Native Alaska nations live in the area: the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian. Tongass National Forest represents the true wild Alaska, and it offers the unique opportunity to see bears, eagles, and salmon, and to take a sled-dog ride across a glacier, hike through boardwalk trails, and to fish in the ocean or in the wild streams.
9. Matanuska Glacier
Matanuska Glacier starts from the Chugach mountain range in the South Central Alaska and is part of the Matanuska State Park. It is the biggest Alaskan glacier accessible by car – you can see it from Glenn Highway after a short two-hour drive from Anchorage. It is 26 miles long and 4 miles wide at the point where it ends.
It is called a valley glacier; it flows like a river pushed by its own weight through the valley. The best way to see the glacier up close is from private Matanuska Glacier Park. You can walk across the glacier on your own or in the company of a trained guide.
10. Alaska Highway
The Alaska Highway is a 1,500-mile long wide-open road from Dawson Creek in British Columbia to Delta Junction in Alaska. It was carved from rock and deep forests in only eight months. As you drive through Alaska Highway, you will see some of the most magnificent national parks in both Canada and the United States.
The farther north and west you go, the more spectacular the mountains will become. Along the road, you will encounter bears, moose, wild sheep, and bison. You can find great fishing holes, pan for gold at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse, walk the trestle bridge at Pouce Coupe, or stop at Dawson Creek to learn more about the highway at the Alaska Highway House Museum.