7 Things to Do in Alaska
Featured destinations: USA
Published 28 June 2016
When the USA purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867 for the paltry price of US$7.2 million, it bought some of the world’s most spectacular natural phenomena. For it is here in the icy wilderness of the 49th state, among the snowy mountains and glistening ice fields, that glaciers creep, whales breach and polar bears roam. And if you’re very lucky, you might just spot the Northern Lights glittering up above.
Here’s our pick of the eight best things to do in Alaska:
Witness the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, a.k.a. the Aurora Borealis, the waves of colour and light that dance across the sky in the wintertime, are visible across the Arctic, a region which includes Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland. They also pop up in northern Alaska and Canada, so for your best chance of catching a display, wait for a dark, cloudless sky and look up into the night. Try Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Nome or Anchorage between December and March, and remember to wrap up warm – it’s a frosty -40°C out there.
Cruise among the icebergs
As many of Alaska’s attractions are scattered along its rugged coastline, a cruise is a great way to explore. Not only can you reach the unreachable, but watch in wonder as you drift past icebergs, orcas and seabirds on your way into dramatic fjords and past sheer glacier faces. Choose from short and sweet day trips to longer, multiday voyages starting in Anchorage or Fairbanks. Or why not sail from Vancouver, Seattle or San Francisco.
Drive the Seward Highway
Hire a car, grab a map (or plug in your Satnav) and drive the winding Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward. With spectacular views at every turn, this 127-mile route can be covered in a day or spread out over two or three. Along the way, admire the snowy peaks of the Chugach Mountains; stop off for sea kayaking on the Kenai Peninsula and sign up for a wildlife cruise. If you’re travelling in the summer, look out for the tell-tale white of the beluga whale at Bird Point and the pretty wildflowers on the slopes of Mount Alyeska, home to bears and marmots too.
Celebrate the midnight sun
Anywhere above the Arctic Circle will experience nights where the sun never sinks below the horizon; in Barrow, in Alaska’s far north, the sun doesn’t set at all from May 10th until August 2nd. The best time to witness this phenomenon is during the Summer Solstice, the night of June 21st, when you can join Nome’s annual Midnight Sun Festival, a 12-hour street party featuring dancing, singing, food stalls and general frivolity. Highlights include a costumed parade, a mock bank hold up (yes, really) and the Polar Bear Swim, which involves bravely plunging into the icy Bering Sea.
Explore Denali National Park
At over six million acres, Denali National Park is huge. Within this vast wilderness, mountains, including 6,190m Mount McKinley, soar skyward, while glacial valleys and grassy hills are home to grizzly bears, caribou, moose and foxes. The best way to see the park is by car, either on your own or as part of a tour, taking in the rivers and lakes as you drive. Hiking, photography and white water rafting are also popular, as well as dog sledging in winter.
Watch for wildlife
You’ll be practically tripping over the wildlife in Alaska. Here, wide open spaces and lack of human interruptions allows the animals to thrive. You’ll probably spot them without even trying – moose wandering nonchalantly across the roads, seabirds circling above your cruise ship and whales swimming past the coastline are the norm here. With over 50,000 black bears and 35,000 brown bears, Alaska is a bear-viewing hotspot (try Denali National Park), while bald eagles are found all over the state. Anchorage and its surrounds are good for moose and wild salmon, while between April and September whales are often spotted off the coast of Seward and Prince William Sound.
Kayak the Kenai Fjords
Alaska’s wild and rocky coastline offers kayaking opportunities aplenty, and the chilly waters of the Kenai Fjords are the perfect place to start. Get up close to the terminal faces of the glaciers and float among the icebergs in this frozen wilderness, looking out for orcas and humpback whales. Paddling with a guide is recommended because the waters here can be a little choppy, especially in summer.
If Alaska takes your fancy then give our Experts a call today. Take a look at our USA Journeys for further inspiration.