Often referred to as “The Last Frontier,” Alaska is one of the world’s few remaining places with vast, untouched wilderness areas.
While you might envision endless ice fields, glaciers, and snow-covered mountains, the warmer months of the year bring colorful landscapes with meadows that are bursting with wildflowers while serene rivers meander through.
Look up and you’re likely to be surrounded by lush mountains that soar into skies where puffy clouds float among the patches of blue while a bald eagle searches for a feast below.
What are the best outdoor adventures to take in Alaska?
If you’re planning an Alaskan vacation, you absolutely must take advantage of Alaska’s unique environment by getting out on an outdoor adventure. The most fun excursions you should plan for your Alaskan vacation are:
- Bear viewing
- Whale watching
- Glacier paddling
- Hiking trails
- Riverboat trips
- Skiing and snowboarding
It’s all about magnificent scenic beauty and abundant wildlife in Alaska, while outdoor adventures are many, including these.
One of the top excursions to take in Alaska is one that will bring you to see bears.
The Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area, a protected natural area with a high concentration of animals is one of the top spots to visit.
There are multiple outfitters based in Juneau that operate from the floatplane terminal that will take you to see them during the peak season, typically in July and August.
It begins with a short floatplane ride that provides a bird’s-eye view over the spectacular landscapes and after touching down you might see them fish for salmon, foraging, or even mating.
If you’re lucky, you might see mothers teaching their cubs how to fish or sleeping together in grassy beds.
It’s also possible to view the famous bears on Kodiak Island, with some 3,500 of them residing here, including some males that weigh over 1,500 pounds.
Air excursions are available through lodges in Homer and other places throughout the Kenai Peninsula.
Watching whales in their natural habitat is far more rewarding than seeing them in captivity performing tricks for food and Alaska is one of the best places for the experience.
The most commonly spotted are orca and humpback whales, although you might see gray, beluga, sperm, bowhead, or even blue whales, all while surrounded by breathtaking scenery.
Summer is generally the best time if whale watching is your priority, with many destinations off Alaska’s more than 6,600-mile coastline to see them from shore or on a boat tour.
In fact, Turnagain Arm on the Kenai Peninsula is a relatively short drive from Anchorage, and at Beluga Point, which juts out into the water, they can often be spotted.
It’s one of the state’s best places to see belugas between mid-July and early September.
Come before or after high tide and listen to the unique vocalization that’s given them the nickname “canaries of the sea.”
The Inside Passage is also ideal.
Located in Alaska’s southeast region, you might base yourself in Juneau and join one of Jayleen’s Alaska small group boat tours.
It’s an entertaining and educational experience that travels in and around Auke Bay, a haven for humpbacks.
The massive animals flock to the waterways here every season to consume tons of krill and other small fish.
Orca whales are occasionally spotted too.
Paddling to a Glacier
There’s nothing like the feeling of realizing just how small you really are next to a 600-foot-high ice wall from the vantage point of a sea kayak.
There are multiple places in Alaska for the opportunity – if you’re close enough, but not too close, you can witness calving chunks crash into the water with a thunderous sound.
The calm waters of Spencer Lake in the Chugach National Forest not far from Anchorage is a good place for paddling to a glacier and enjoying a train ride too via the Glacier Blue Kayak & Grandview Tour.
Or head to Seward and hop on a catamaran to cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park.
Once there you’ll disembark and get into a kayak to paddle around the icebergs and up close to the blue-tinged glaciers.
Juneau is a great place too, with multiple outfitters hosting kayak tours to Mendenhall Glacier just a few miles from downtown.
Hitting the Trails
One of the top things to do in Alaska is hiking.
Getting out on foot will bring you to some of the most breathtaking views that can’t be seen from behind the wheel of a car, a tour bus, or cruise ship.
There are hundreds of trails to choose from for all skill levels with everything from gentle strolls to challenging guided multi-day treks requiring specialized gear.
For an epic trek, hit the Chilkoot Trail, the same route tens of thousands of gold-rushers took in the late 1800s, sometimes called the “Last Great Adventure.” It takes three to five days to accomplish, winding between Dyea in Alaska to Bennett in British Columbia.
The Exit Glacier area at Kenai Fjords National Park offers many outstanding options allowing visitors to witness up close how glaciers have reshaped the landscape.
With eight national parks, over 150 state parks, and countless wilderness areas, your options are truly endless.
It would take a lifetime or two to cover them all.
An angler’s paradise, Alaska offers some of the best fishing in the world with thousands arriving to cast their line in hopes of reeling in one of more than 600 fish species that inhabit its waters.
Lakes, rivers, streams, and the sea provide a home to everything from salmon and halibut to trout, crab, and countless others.
In some spots, you can fish right off the side of the road, but there are boat charters and even floatplane trips that can bring you to secluded hotspots.
Homer is famous for halibut fishing, although it can be enjoyed anywhere from the south-central region to as far north as Nome.
Ketchikan and the surrounding area is renowned for its Chinook and the four other species of salmon while also supporting catchable populations of halibut and other fish.
Up in Skagway or Haines, all fives species of Pacific salmon, halibut, cutthroat, and more can end up on your hook.
There are numerous opportunities for float trips, but the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge offers a bucket-list experience as one of North America’s last great wildernesses, a place where caribou still roam in huge numbers.
There are a half-dozen stunningly beautiful rivers here but the quintessential trip is on the Kongakut River.
Mostly fast but smooth sailing, it brings opportunities to spot abundant wildlife.
It’s in the range of the porcupine caribou herd with its numbers around 170,000, while grizzly bears, Dall sheep, musk ox, and possibly even polar bears can all be seen.
Of course, this is a remote part of the world so it’s not easy to get there but it is worth the effort.
You’ll need to fly 300 miles from Fairbanks across the Arctic Circle in a small plane to reach a native community, Arctic Village, before hopping in a smaller plane to a landing strip near the river.
Skiing and Boarding
While there are many winter activities, including dogsledding, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing, skiing and boarding are especially popular at Mt. Aleyska, just 40 miles south of Anchorage.
It includes 1,400 acres of skiable terrain with around 50 feet of snowfall every year.
Heliskiing and snowcat skiing are possible too, providing access to runs that are difficult to reach.
The Eaglecrest Ski Area is only 15 minutes from downtown Juneau and sees more than 26 feet of snow each year.
There are few crowds helping to keep the powder pristine for days on end.
Plus, you can glide down the slopes while enjoying jaw-dropping views over the capital and surrounding peaks.