I always feel so fortunate to live in Alaska because there’s so many incredible, once-in-a-lifetime type of adventures that are found right in my own backyard.
Over the years, I’ve experienced a lot of epic things by living in Alaska, like watching the Northern Lights dance in the night sky, flying above the tallest peak in North America, Denali, and seeing wild caribou walk along the Savage River.
I made this list to share the best things to do in Alaska in summer and winter. You’ll find a lot of outdoor adventures included in this list because I truly believe these are the experiences that are going to show you the true magic of Alaska.
So, here are the top things to see and do in Alaska.
- 1. View the Northern Lights
- 2. Denali National Park
- 3. Go on a bear-viewing tour
- 4. Stand on a glacier
- 5. Catch a cruise
- 6. Eat seafood
- 7. Visit the nearest budtender
- 8. Get to know the local culture
- 9. Hit the slopes
- 10. Experience winter camping
- 11. Speed down some single-tracks
- 12. Follow the Gold Rush
- 13. Soak in a hot spring
- 14. Meet some sled dogs
- 15. Visit the North Pole
- 16. Take the train
- 17. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- 18. Slay some salmon
- 19. Paddle the ocean
- 20. Hatcher Pass State Management Area
- 21. Take on a mountain race
- 22. See Denali from above
- 23. Spend a night in the woods
- 24. Alaska State Fair
- 25. Stay in a remote lodge
Planning a trip to Alaska? Start with my Alaska Travel Guide.
1. View the Northern Lights
Alaska is one of the few places in the world where you have a chance to see the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. You can see the Northern Lights as early as late August through April.
In order to spot the lights, the conditions have to be just right. You will have to escape light pollution and hope for clear and dark skies, which is why wintertime is the best time to see them.
Most people head to places like Fairbanks or Denali to view them but you can never guarantee when and where you will see them.
2. Denali National Park
Denali National Park is Alaska’s most well-known national park and home to North America’s tallest peak, Denali.
Only one road goes through the national park and leads you to one of your best chances to see moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears!
Most of the year, personal vehicles are only allowed on the road up to mile 15, but the park hosts a road lottery every year, allowing winners to drive as much of the road Denali Park Road as they wish.
3. Go on a bear-viewing tour
One of my favorite experiences in Alaska is going on a bear-viewing tour. There’s nothing cooler than being surrounded by huge bears in a remote part of the state.
A bear-viewing tour to Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park will cost you over $650+ per person. Tours usually depart from Homer.
Did you know Alaska also has polar bears? Polar bear viewing happens in Kaktovik, a village in the north of Alaska.
4. Stand on a glacier
Alaska has over 100,000 glaciers and most visitors want to see them! There are so many ways to see glaciers around the state, you can drive, hike, fat-tire bike, cross-country ski, or see them from the sky.
If you want to stand on top of a glacier, your best options are to head to Matanuska Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau, Root Glacier, or Ruth Glacier on a flightseeing tour near Talkeetna.
5. Catch a cruise
Whether you’re on a week-long cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage or on a day cruise getting up close with transient Orca whales, being on the water in Alaska is something that every visitor should experience.
You’ll get to enjoy some of the best scenery that Alaska has to offer, including glaciers, majestic mountains, secluded coves, and marine wildlife.
6. Eat seafood
Seafood in Alaska comes straight from the… you guessed it, sea! It’s so fresh and so good. You can get anything from fresh salmon, shrimp, scallops, oysters, halibut, cod, rockfish, and my personal favorite, Alaskan king crab.
Did you catch your own salmon? Click here for my Alaska Smoked Salmon Dip recipe.
7. Visit the nearest budtender
Recreational marijuana was legalized in Alaska in 2014. If you are over 21-years-old and have a valid ID, you can pick up marijuana in over 70 retail marijuana stores across Alaska.
Alaska was also the first state to legalize cannabis cafes and you can expect those to start popping up soon.
Stay cautious of places where marijuana is not allowed like national parks, hotel rooms, and some private properties. And never drive under the influence.
8. Get to know the local culture
Alaska is rich in culture and there are many places around the state where you can learn about it. The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage shares Alaska Native culture and traditions and features permanent collections and educational programs.
Or you can visit the Sitka National Historical Park in Sitka.
9. Hit the slopes
If you’re heading to Alaska during the winter months then you should take advantage of the knee-deep powder and outrageous terrain.
Whether you ski at Alyeska Resort, skin up the backcountry or drop in from above, you’re definitely going to have one heli of a time.
10. Experience winter camping
Nothing is more magical than waking up surrounded by towering mountains and a fresh blanket of snow.
Alaska has no shortage of places to pitch your tent for the night. Many spots can be found just off the main road system, which makes it a great place to try it out!
Not sure what kind of gear you need for winter camping? See my winter camping essentials list.
11. Speed down some single-tracks
If you’re into mountain biking, you should know that Alaska has some awesome single-track trails! They can be found all over the state but Kincaid Park is a popular spot for cyclists.
Or if you want to take it up a notch, you can head to Alyeska Resort to try some insane downhill mountain biking.
12. Follow the Gold Rush
The Chilkoot Trail is a 33-mile recreational trail that starts in Dyea, Alaska and ends in Lake Bennett, British Columbia, and each summer over 10,000 people hike some or all of it.
Hikers set out to retrace the journey of gold rush stampeders and pass by artifacts left behind by gold rush stampeders.
13. Soak in a hot spring
Relax and unwind in one of Alaska’s natural hot springs. You can head to Chena Hot Springs, which is the most developed hot springs in Alaska or you can make it an epic adventure and head to Tolovana Hot Springs, which requires trekking 10-miles through the wilderness. These are just two of the many hot springs that you can find across the state of Alaska.
14. Meet some sled dogs
Dogsledding is an Alaskan tradition and most visitors want to take part in it but most dog sledding tours are combined with other excursions.
If you want to get an authentic look into the Alaskan lifestyle, meet some sled dog puppies in training and champion sled dogs, check out Husky Homestead in Denali Park for a behind-the-scenes look with four-time Iditarod champion Jeff King.
15. Visit the North Pole
Yes, the North Pole does exist and it’s located near Fairbanks! This small Alaskan city is known for its year-round Christmas decorations, including candy cane–striped street lights and its Santa Claus House.
The town even has its own Post Office, which makes it the perfect place to respond to letters to Santa!
16. Take the train
The Alaska Railroad winds through breath-taking scenery from Seward to Fairbanks. There are a lot of different activities that pair well with the train schedule, making it a great option for a day trip.
You’ll get to travel in comfort, but I will say it comes with a price. Traveling by rail is one of the most expensive forms of transportation in Alaska.
17. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a nonprofit wildlife sanctuary dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife. If you only had one day to see wildlife in Alaska this would be the place to go. The center is located less than an hour south of Anchorage in Portage Valley.
You can meet all kinds of wildlife like bears, wolves, coyotes, lynx, foxes, elk, moose, wood bison, reindeer, porcupine, and more. My favorite thing to do here is going to the bear pen to watch the bears feed! Tickets are $17 USD per adult.
18. Slay some salmon
Alaska has five different types of salmon (Chinook, Pink, Coho, Chum, and Sockeye) and every year there are huge salmon runs.
Most Alaskans spend their summer weekends out on the river trying to stock their freezer for the winter and you can join them.
You can purchase a fishing license and easily cast a line on the side of the road or opt for a chartered trip.
19. Paddle the ocean
The Alaskan coastline extends for 6,640 miles and provides some of the greatest sea kayaking locations in the world. Getting on the water gives you a chance to have up-close experiences with glaciers, icebergs, forests, and if you’re lucky, breaching whales! Some of my favorite places for sea kayaking are around Kachemak Bay.
20. Hatcher Pass State Management Area
One of my favorite areas in Alaska is Hatcher Pass. This area offers a scenic drive through the mountains and easy access to some incredible hiking trails. Check out some of the best Hatcher Pass hiking trails.
During the winter, Hatcher Pass is a popular spot for backcountry skiing, snow machining, and cross-country skiing. You can also stay in cute, red A-frame cabins that overlook the valley below.
21. Take on a mountain race
The Mount Marathon Race is a mountain race that happens every Fourth of July in Seward. It’s one of the most difficult short-distance races on the planet as you ascend 3,000 feet up, and then straight back down Mount Marathon.
The fastest woman to complete the race in 2019 finished in 53 minutes and 24 seconds. Entry to the race is based on a random lottery selection and every year it becomes more popular.
22. See Denali from above
Seeing North America’s tallest peak from above is an unforgettable experience. You’ll witness arctic alpine tundra, endless glaciers, and majestic mountains. Talkeetna Air Taxi offers plenty of flight-seeing experiences and I highly suggest adding a glacier landing to your tour. You won’t be disappointed.
Glacier landing tours start at $320 USD per person.
23. Spend a night in the woods
If you’re looking for a real Alaskan adventure then you need to head into the woods. Alaska has a ton of hiking trails and plenty of amazing options for multi-day thru-hikes, such as local favorites like Johnson Pass, Resurrection Pass, and Kesugi Ridge.
You can choose to sleep in a tent or try out the glamping life in one of the state’s many public use cabins.
24. Alaska State Fair
If you want to see some of Alaska’s record-setting giant vegetables or taste some delicious crab cakes and other local food, you can check out one of the state’s largest annual events, the Alaska State Fair. The fair is held in Palmer at the end of August through early September.
25. Stay in a remote lodge
The best lodges in Alaska can only be reached by floatplane, helicopter or a 12-seater Cessna and offer the most breathtaking views.
One of the most luxurious lodges in Alaska is the Sheldon Chalet, a remote lodge that sits on a nunatak, smack dab in the middle of Denali National Park.
Watching the Nothern Lights dance in the sky through its wraparound windows might just be worth the $2,300 per person per night cost.
Watch YouTube Video: Top 7 Adventurous Things To Do Alaska (Summer)
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Do you have any questions on the best things to do in Alaska? Leave them in the comments below.