Covering nearly 600,000 square miles, Alaska is a massive state with everything from beaches strewn with gnarled driftwood to soaring mountains, glaciers, sparkling lakes, and waterfalls.
Wildlife is abundant here, drawing many visitors with hopes of watching whales, moose, bears, bald eagles, and much more.
The challenge comes with trying to decide where to visit.
Where in Alaska should I visit?
The best place in Alaska to visit depends on what exactly you want out of your Alaskan adventure, but the best places for travelers to get their Alaskan adventure started are:
- Glacier Bay National Park
- Kodiak Island
- Denali National Park and Preserve
- The North Pole
To help you out, we’ve provided the top destinations that are sure to make for an unforgettable trip.
While Juneau may be Alaska’s capital city, it’s more of a small town, nestled on a hillside that overlooks the Inside Passage.
You won’t find a more picturesque capital with the downtown area sandwiched between the Gastineau Channel, Mount Roberts, and Mount Juneau.
By catching a ride on the Mount Roberts Tramway, you’ll ascend 1,800 feet for a bird’s-eye view over it all.
The maze of narrow streets downtown is enjoyable to wander with early 19th-century architecture housing everything from saloons, bars, and restaurants to art galleries and shops.
Just a short drive from here is Mendenhall Glacier – while it can be seen from a distance, you can get a closer look by taking one of the short hikes from the visitor center.
Or join a kayak tour to paddle out to it and then climb the ice to the caves inside.
Glacier Bay National Park
Easily reached by catching a 25-minute flight to Gustavus from Juneau, Glacier Bay National Park, as the name belies, is home to many glaciers.
Glacier Bay is a waterway that can be cruised to view tidewater glaciers, its main attraction.
A daily tour boat from Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove is a great way to do it, with all sorts of wildlife that can be seen along the way. O
n land, mountain goats and coastal brown bears can often be seen sunning on the rocks or climbing the mountain cliffs, while sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, and even whales may be spotted in the water as bald eagles soar above.
Margerie Glacier is the primary destination, a one-mile-wide, 21-mile-long glacier with tinges of brilliant blue ice.
The vessel gets close enough that the booming sounds of the ice cracking and crashing into the water below can often be heard.
Alaska’s “first city,” Ketchikan is referred to as such for its location at the southern tip of the Inside Passage, typically the first populated place cruise passengers see when heading north.
A historic fishing and logging community, it boasts a beautiful waterfront setting that includes a harbor where huge salmon can often be seen leaping from the surface.
Incredibly picturesque, visitors can explore an award-winning arts scene, browse shops, dine at outstanding eateries serving fresh seafood, and catch live music or theater.
Outdoor adventures are many, with fishing one of the most popular pursuits.
It’s also possible to hike to the top of Deer Mountain, whiz across a zipline between towering trees over salmon streams, head out on a boat to watch for whales, or take a flightseeing excursion in a floatplane for a view of the magnificent Misty Fjords from above.
Seward is a popular destination that’s easily reached from Anchorage with a scenic drive along the Seward Highway.
It winds through breathtaking wilderness with jaw-dropping views of the Chugach Mountains and the shoreline of Turnagain Arm.
Once in town, pristine Resurrection Bay is revealed, inhabited by sea lions, sea otters, porpoise, harbor seals, orca, and humpback whales.
Bald eagles are so numerous it would be impossible to miss them.
Kenai Fjords National Park is just minutes away, with snow and ice covering more than half of the area, including the crown jewel: Harding Icefield which feeds nearly three dozen glaciers.
The five-mile coastal trail leading to Caines Head is widely regarded as one of the best hikes in Alaska, but it’s also possible to explore by water, perhaps renting a kayak to paddle out to secluded coves around the bay.
There are all sorts of wildlife to watch for too, including black bears, mountain goats, moose, harbor seals, sea otters, and sea lions.
Your first glimpse of Homer will be an awe-inspiring panorama of dramatic snowy peaks, glaciers, and the Homer Spit, a long strip of land that juts into Kachemak Bay.
The halibut fishing capital, there are multiple options for fishing charters if you hope to catch your own dinner.
If luck isn’t on your side, you’ll find many excellent restaurants serving fresh-caught halibut and salmon.
There are some fabulous beaches for beachcombing and birdwatching with more bald eagles than you can count, and just across the water is a 350,000-acre paradise.
Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park protects dramatic mountains, glaciers, secluded coves for paddling, and an extensive trail network for exploring on foot.
The town itself boasts a thriving art scene as the cultural capital of the region, with many art galleries, several museums, and venues for live music and theater.
If you have any interest in Alaskan history or if you’re a fan of the Discovery Channel’s “Alaska: The Last Frontier,” be sure to visit the Kilcher Homestead.
Here you’ll learn how the family has lived off the land since the 1940s with their cabin now serving as a living museum that includes items that were used during their early pioneering days.
World famous for its bears and its fishing, Kodiak Island is a great place if you hope to catch halibut, trout, or any one of five species of salmon.
Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, which covers a 2,812-square-mile area, is the place to go for bear viewing.
An estimated 3,500 bears inhabit the refuge, including males that stand over 10 feet tall and weigh more than 1,500 pounds.
There are no roads leading into it, but visitors can see them by joining an excursion from one of many wilderness lodges or taking a flightseeing tour.
Denali National Park and Preserve
Denali National Park and Preserve is one of the most visited destinations in Alaska, covering more than six million acres which include North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali.
One of the best ways to experience it, including the myriad of wildlife, is via Park Road.
It stretches for 92 miles and at Mile 15, a tour bus or shuttle will take you further in with the chance to hop off and on at nearly any point along the way.
Some of the most iconic animals to watch for include black and grizzly bears, wolves, caribou, moose, and Dall’s sheep.
One of the best places to go for watching the northern lights, Fairbanks is just 180 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
It’s one of the most easily accessible destinations for aurora watchers with forecasts on viewing conditions available at the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
There are guided tours operated by local companies or you can rent a 4X4 and head out independently, away from the city lights.
Haystack Mountain, Murphy Domes, and Cleary Summit are all ideal.
Or stay at Chena Hot Springs Resort nearby where you might even be able to catch the display while soaking in the warm geothermal waters.
Alerts are offered to guests upon request if the lights appear via the aurora alarm service.
There are dog sledding and flightseeing tours offered, while the Aurora Ice Museum is the largest year-round ice environment.
Another great winter destination, while the small town of North Pole offers Christmas all year-round, with the décor never coming down, during the holidays it goes all out.
The North Pole Christmas In Ice Contest attracts ice sculptors from around the world and you can mail your Christmas cards from Santa’s official zip code.
Drive down streets like Santa Claus Lane and Kris Kringle Drive or do what the Alaskans do and rent an ice fishing house to test your luck at catching rainbow trout, silver salmon or Arctic char through pre-drilled ice holes.
This is also a fantastic spot for catching the northern lights.