Alaska is famous for its stunning scenery, giant glaciers, pristine forests, romantic lodges 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 and cities. Here are a few of the best places to visit during your Alaska vacation.
Denali National Park – the park is located in central Alaska with the Denali Mountain at its heart. Denali, one of the top Alaska destinations, is part of the Alaska Range, and, with its highest peak at 20,310 feet, it is the highest mountain in North America. The mountain and the park are home to many animals, among them 39 species of mammals and 169 species of birds. In the summer, the slopes of the mountain are covered with some 650 species of flowering plants. Denali National Park is one of the most famous places to visit in Alaska and about 400,000 people come to visit the park every year.
Ketchikan – located on Revillagigedo Island in the Tongass National Forest, a 17-acre rainforest full of Sitka spruce, cedar, waterfalls, and diverse wildlife. Ketchikan is the southernmost Alaskan city backed by forested slopes of Deer Mountain and facing Tongass Narrows waterway, which is buzzing with fishing boats, floatplanes, ferries and barges. The city hugs the bluffs along the shoreline for 31 miles, and many businesses are located over the water and can be reached via suspended walkways. Ketchikan, one of the best towns to visit during your Alaska vacation, is famous for its salmon fishing and known as the salmon capital of the world.
Mendenhall Glacier – stretches 12 miles from the Juneau Icefield towards Mendenhall Lake and is one of the most famous Alaska vacation attractions. It is about half a mile wide, and the ice is between 300 and 1,800 feet deep. The glacier has retreated two and half miles since the mid-1700s. Its magnificent blue color comes from its crystalline structure, which affects how light reflects off the ice. The best way to see the glacier is by kayaking up to its face or from a helicopter. Among many popular glacier-related activities are ice climbing and exploring ice caves. There are also a few well-maintained hiking trails leading up to the glacier.
Glacier Bay National Park – the 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 on your Alaska vacation. The landscape is constantly changing; glaciers continue to advance and retreat, dramatically affecting the landscape. Bartlett Cove, close to the park headquarters, is located in a lush coastal temperate rainforest. It is a great place for biking, hiking, boating, and fishing.
Hubbard Glacier – it is located about 200 miles northwest of Juneau off the coast of Yakutat in Wrangell St. Elias National Park, and is one of the best places to visit during your Alaska vacation. It is about 6 miles wide at the point where it meets the ocean and is constantly active. In fact, its two surges in the last 30 years turned the Russell fjord into a lake and almost flooded Yakutat. The glacier’s frequent calving is dramatic, and its face, which can be observed from many visiting cruise ships, is about 400 feet tall.
Talkeetna – 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.
Skagway – you can almost feel the frenzy of the gold rush in Skagway. Wooden sidewalks, old saloons and shops, and people dressed in clothing from the end of 19th century greet visitors today just as they did during the town’s heyday when over 40,000 people descended on Skagway on the way to Yukon in the hopes of getting rich quickly. Today, it is all part of the grand natural museum that is Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Take a 45-minute tour of the Skagway historic district with one of the National Park Service rangers or take one of many hiking trails to the cold alpine lakes and waterfalls around the city.
Sitka – Sitka is little Alaskan treasure of an island rich in nature, culture, and history. Located on the picturesque Baranof Island in the Alexander Archipelago, Sitka is surrounded by snow-covered mountains hidden by old pine forests growing to the waters’ edge and myriads of little islands in the archipelago that greet thousands of tourists every summer. It is the town where Americans came to buy Alaska from Russians, an event that is celebrated with much gusto every year. The spectacular surrounding nature is ideal for outdoor exploring. Hike through the spruce and hemlock rainforest to see the American bald eagle, black-tailed deer, or brown bears at the Fortress of the Bear. Alternatively, you can take a boat trip to see humpback whales, sea otters, sea lions, and thousands of birds.
Homer – a charming little town on the shores of Kachemak Bay on the southern Kenai Peninsula in South Central Alaska. It is famous for its great fishing (the town is known as the halibut world capital), spectacular nature, and excellent art and culinary scene. Most of the life in Homer revolves around the Spit, the 4.5-mile long road on the sand bar that leads straight into the beautiful blue bay. The Kenai Mountains to the east and north not only provide magnificent backdrop but also protect the town from the cold, creating an exceptionally mild climate. Almost any road out of town ends as a hiking or biking trail, taking you into the picturesque wilderness.
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.