Planning your visit to America’s 49th state and looking for what to add to your Alaska bucket list? Look no further! This comprehensive guide has covered a wide range of incredible things to do in Alaska for all activity levels.
From seeing glaciers, panning for gold, dog sledding, shopping, exploring old brothels, and even eating salmon – Alaska is going to be one of the best trips you ever take. More so, you will probably visit over and over again!
Alaska Bucket List: Ultimate List Of What To Do In Alaska
1. See the Northern Lights
Is seeing the northern lights on your Alaska bucket list? If so, you’re not alone! It’s something everyone should see at least once in their life and one of the top places to go in the world is to Fairbanks, Alaska. There’s a lot of things to do in Fairbanks, and seeing the northern lights is at the top of the list.
You can see the aurora from anywhere in Fairbanks with the right conditions, but your best shot is going outside the city where the city lights won’t impact your view. Some of the best places to go include Cleary Summit, Chena Lake Recreation Area, Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, and the Chena State Recreational Area.
Fairbanks takes the northern lights seriously and there are several online sources for up-to-date information to determine which location will be best for seeing them given the current conditions. Check the Explore Fairbanks site for a handy tracker. You can also get information on the Space Weather Prediction Center National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association site and the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute site.
The northern lights can only be seen when the sky is dark enough to view them, and the best times are generally between midnight and 3 a.m. The best months for consistent viewing are February, March, and September, though the aurora season runs from August to April. If the conditions are favorable with clear and dark skies, the aurora can be seen consistently more than 75% of the time.
Tips for seeing the northern lights:
Reduce light pollution and turn off car lights, flashlights, electronics.
Wear many layers and consider bringing hand warmers. It can get cold as you have never felt in the “lower 49.”
Make sure you have plenty of gas as you will idle your car a bit for heat.
Bring an insulated thermos for a hot beverage.
Your patience and preparation will pay off. Plan to stay at least a few days to a week to increase your chances, track conditions, and go out nightly for the best opportunity to see the northern lights. When you do, it’s an experience you’ll never forget.
2. Road trip the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward
3. Bear Glacier Kayaking
To get to this remote, spectacular location, you will take a 20 minute helicopter flight from Seward over Harding Ice field and descend into the brilliant turquoise lagoon where you’ll have a birdseye view of the icebergs. Icebergs have 90% of their mass below the water and you can see a good portion of the iceberg underwater from the air. From a kayak, you can only see the 10% above the water.
This area is great for beginner and advanced kayakers. Unlike other parts of Resurrection Bay, the water is extremely calm.
The thing that may be most amazing about Bear Glacier Lagoon is that you’ll probably have the place all to yourself. The remote location keeps most tourists away. So, go ahead and yell out and enjoy your echo coming back at you. The only other noise you’ll hear is the crack of an iceberg rolling over or breaking off from the glacier. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that you’ll remember forever.
You’ll need to connect with an outfitter that will get you there and supply equipment like a dry suit and a kayak. Liquid Adventures has a 5.5 hour tour that will get you there by boat $299 or Helicopter $600. They also offer SUP tours.
4. Hiking to the Mendenhall Ice Cave
if you love adventure then hiking to the Mendenhall Ice Cave is a must during your time in Alaska. Of all the Alaska bucket list things to do, this will be one of the most exhilarating and adrenaline spiked activities.
This hike is not suitable for beginners and best done with another experienced hiker. Also, alert someone where you will be. This is a technical hike with steep drop-offs and scrambling. As the glacier is constantly moving, the entrance to the ice cave changes locations frequently and can be difficult to find.
It is best to ask someone with local knowledge where it can be found on the day.
Start the hike by heading along West Glacier Trail for 1-1.5 miles. You will then take a fork on to West Glacier Spur Trail. This is an unmarked trail and will involve scaling a cliff-like-wall. At the top of the cliff, the hike continues around some shrub until you are on the glacier. This is where you will need to put on your crampons. Now comes the difficult part of finding where the entrance to the cave is.
If you want to see the ice caves, but unsure of your own ability it is recommended to go with a local trekking guide. Total hiking distance is around 6 miles. Ensure you leave 5+ hours to get in and out, pack warm layers and waterproof footwear.
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5. Take a soak at Chena Hot Springs
If you are looking for what to do in Alaska, then taking a soak in a hot spring surrounded by mounds of pristine white snowbanks is it.
Located at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, 60 miles from Fairbanks, you can immerse yourself in a natural healing outdoor hot spring. And with the steam rising off the water, it gives the entire area an ethereal feeling. When you are in the mist, you can’t see anyone around you and it feels like you are transported to another planet.
The adult-only hot springs average 102 degrees at the entrance of the rock lake but, as you walk around, you could find hotter pockets of water. There is also an indoor family pool for those who don’t want to brave the cold weather.
When the cold air touches the warm water, you can get a spiderweb effect on your hair which is entertaining. The healing waters of Chena Hot Springs have been compared to the mineral waters found in hot springs in the Czech Republic. And visitors from all over the world have been coming to Alaska to enjoy these healing waters since 1905.
If you are looking to relax on your Alaska bucket list, come to Chena Hot Springs Resort and take a dip into the natural hot springs. You will feel rejuvenated.
6. Visit Whittier
7. Hiking and camping in Denali National Park
Visiting Denali National Park is one of the best experiences you can have in Alaska. It offers extraordinary wilderness experience. National Park is home to Mount Denali – the highest mountain in North America. The mountain itself is like from the different world – it’s enormous, and it can be seen as far as from Anchorage in good weather.
You shouldn’t miss a bus trip to the park (there is no other way to get there except for sightseeing flights). There are several alternatives and tours you can choose from (the deeper you go, the more wildlife you see). One of the most beautiful views of Mt. Denali is from the Eielson Visitor Center. If you have more time, head out into the wild for a few days with a “camper bus”. It’s a special bus which stops wherever you like.
Backpacking in Denali National Park is a very unique experience. There are no hiking paths, so you have to choose your own way. Another rule says that your tent can’t be visible from the main road. You are also likely to meet no one else because there are sectors and only two or three groups per day can visit each sector. That way you can enjoy the pure wilderness!
If you decide to head off on this exciting trip, start at Denali Wilderness Access Center to book the bus and get your camping permit at the Ranger station. They are going to tell you also all the important safety rules.
8. Take a boat through the Misty Fjords
One of the most beautiful things to do in Ketchikan is to take a small boat out to see the magic of the Misty Fjords National Monument.
You can see the markings in the stone from where glaciers have come through and melted. It is like an entirely different life out here.
9. See the Creek Street Boardwalk in Ketchikan
While in Ketchikan, be sure to check out historic Creek Street. The street itself is actually a boardwalk mounted on stilts along the high-sloped east side of Ketchikan and lined with colorful buildings you can’t miss!
Fun fact: it was home to the red-light district until the 1950s when brothels were banished. There is still one shop on the Boardwalk that offers tours (for a fee) to see what they used to look like inside and learn some of the history. On 24 Creek Street, Dolly’s House was the biggest brothel success story and it is now a museum dedicated to the history of Creek Street.
This is a great place to do some shopping whether you are coming off a cruise or visiting the city itself. You will find no shortage of fantastic Alaskan souvenirs to take home.
10. White Pass Summit
While you’re in Skagway, you have the opportunity to do an activity that will take you along the path of history and showcase incredible Alaskan scenery all while you enjoy a unique mode of transportation. That experience is the White Pass Summit Excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
This train takes you up to the top of mountain peaks as a guide comes over the loudspeakers in each car and explains the history of what occurred on these mountains. As your train whizzes by, you’ll see the remnants of the Klondike Trail where early explorers made their way up the mountainside by foot in search of gold during the 1898 Gold Rush.
You’ll hear stories of strife and success as well as details about specific scenery you’re seeing. The rail cars have an old-fashioned feel with bench seating by large windows. The back of the rail car has an outdoor platform, which you can go out on to get unobstructed views and pictures.
The inside of the cars can be a little chilly due to people going in and out so be sure lots of warm layers are included in your Alaska packing. A highlight for many is at the White House summit where you get off the train at Bennett Station, which is by a museum about the railroad. Just beyond the station is an incredibly blue glacial lake.
If you have time, skip some rocks or stop and just breathe in the scenery while feeling you’re on top of the world before making your way back down the mountain (by bus or train depending on your excursion; if by train it’s a 2.5 hour ride). This will be one of the best things to do in Skagway!
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11. See Bald Eagles!
While the Bald Eagle may be going extinct, you would not know it from visiting Alaska. If your Alaska bucket list has “see a bald eagle” on it – you would be hard pressed not to find one.
12. Take an Alaskan Cruise Through the Inside Passage
If you are looking for what to do in Alaska that makes your trip easier and full of Alaska bucket list experiences, try doing an Alaskan Inside Passage cruise.
You can get the easiness of taking a cruise to various ports throughout the state and taking part of different activities in each city. All while having the same place to sleep each evening!
Alaskan cruises are some of the best girl trip destinations as well! You can adventure all day and eat great meals and see shows in the evening. Check out these Alaska cruise tips before you venture out.
13. Add a whale watching tour to your Alaska bucket list
Juneau is a very popular place to see whales, so much so, that a lot of cruise lines guarantee a sighting during the cruise season on their excursions.
14. See the largest collection of totem poles in Ketchikan
Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan should be on your Alaska bucket list if you are interested in seeing and learning about totem poles. It is quite marvelous to see how they are made and how big they are in person.
There is also a gift ship with hand carved totem poles you can purchase to take home if you fancy one.
15. Get up close and personal with brown bears at the Fortress of the Bear
Located in Stika, Alaska, the Fortress of the Bear is an educational rescue. If you are in the area, this is a very easy way to see a bear in a protected way.
Fortress of the Bear rescues orphaned bear cubs and injured and nurses them back to life. If you are in town, this is one of the coolest things to do in Sitka. You will be so impressed with how close you can get while being safe.
16. Tongass Rain Forest Nature Hike
Tongass National Forest is one of the largest forests in North America, clocking in at 17 million acres. You could say there is a lot of trails to hike on. If you are in Ketchikan or Sitka you can find a tour that will take you through. Some of them even offer kayaking.
17. Cruise through Tracy Arm Fjord
The most beautiful place in the world and should be on the top of your Alaska bucket list is Tracy Arm Fjord! The water is a milky greenish blue color in some areas and looks unreal. It will be a beautiful experience like none other.
If you go in deep enough you can see Sawyer Glacier which is absolutely stunning in person!
18. Visit Mendenhall Glacier
If you are in Juneau, you must add Mendenhall Glacier to your Alaska bucket list! It is only about a 30-45 minute drive from the city center on a bus if you want to see it on foot.
There are a lot of other ways to see the glacier: kayaking, seaplane and you can even walk on it.
19. Take a helicopter tour and go dog sledding on a glacier
Many tours of the glaciers in Skagway include a helicopter ride to the top of the glacier, providing breathtaking views en route, before dropping the passengers off on top of the ice for a dog-sled tour of the massive amount of ice and snow.
20. Visit Glacier Bay National Park
The best way to visit is on a Glacier Bay Cruise! When you take a cruise, you spend an entire day in Glacier Bay National Park and a Park Ranger gets on board the ship. If you have a balcony room, you can sit out there all day or opt to use one of the many open spaces on the ship to see the glaciers and views.
Glacier Bay National Park should be on your Alaska bucket list if you want to see one of the last frontiers most beautiful National Parks and if you love to see glaciers.
Marjorie Glacier is located at one end and not only is it massive in size but you can hear it calving from a distance.
21. Go to a Salmon Bake in Skagway
Skagway is a picturesque town on the Alaskan panhandle inner passage in southwest Alaska. It is the quintessential gold-rush frontier town. In 1896 gold was discovered in the Skagway area and prospectors began to pour into town to seek their fortunes.
Traders and suppliers followed to provide services and good to the prospectors and the town grew quickly. At one point during the height of the god rush the town had over 30,000. Today the population of Skagway is slightly over 1,000 but that doubles in the summertime as the cruise ships dock and the tourists pour into the Western frontier town themed streets.
People come to Skagway to see the town and use it as a base to enjoy the local natural beauty. Some of the most popular activities include Glacier helicopter tours, kayaking in the pristine bays, exploring the Alaskan wilderness and, one of my favorites, salmon bakes.
Skagway’s nickname is Salmon City. There is an abundance of salmon everywhere you look and there are many ways to cook it. A salmon bake is a popular activity where people gather to roast salmon over an open fire. The fish dish is accompanied by side dishes like potato salad, rice and salad and cold drinks. Some salmon bakes offer entertainment by local musicians and marshmallow roasting.