Alaska, rich in wildlife, cultural history, native art, and exquisite views of the varied terrain, is a bucket list destination for many. With unique experiences and views unlike anywhere else in the world, Alaska is a favorite among wanderers. While the largest state by area, Alaska is the least densely populated and true to its nickname of America’s Last Frontier. For your next (or first) visit to Alaska, be sure to check out these 6 breathtaking, must-see places to get the most out of your trip.
Denali National Park
Denali National Park is the home of Denali, formerly known as Mt. McKinley, which at 20,310 feet is the tallest peak in North America. In fact, the name of the peak was changed officially from Mt. McKinley to Denali on January 16, 2016, which was also the National Park’s Service 100th anniversary.
As Denali National Park is over 6 million acres, it requires a few days to fully experience and there are many ways to explore. If you are an experienced climber with snow and ice climbing experience, you can arrange a guided climb to the peak of Denali, but be aware, when they say ‘experienced’ they mean it. In addition to needing experience, all climbers are required to take an in-person climber orientation.
Other ways to explore Denali are by car, bike, on foot – which includes skis and snowshoes-- snowmobiling, mushing, and even bus tours. Plus, the park is open year-round, even offering options for winter camping! One thing that should be on everyone’s list while visiting is to take some time to stargaze and see the Aurora Borealis. Learn more about visiting Denali National Park
Ketchikan is considered Alaska’s first city and boasts a rich native culture abundantly seen in the totem poles displayed throughout the area and proud heritage of the residents, as well as fresh seafood. It is a popular cruise port and is the southernmost entrance to Alaska’s Inside Passage.
Ketchikan is also a great place to view wildlife such as bald eagles, Sitka black-tailed deer, wolves, and black bears as well as many species of migrating birds. The Sitka black-tailed deer are very good at walking through the forests silently, move their ears independently, and change their coat colors seasonally – red-brown in the summer and grey-brown in the winter, which acts as a camouflage and helps them blend in with the surroundings.
One of the must-do activities in Ketchikan is a visit to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary. This 40-acre private reserve has guided walks to see the nature and wildlife in the rainforest, the ability to see a master totem pole carver at work, and aviary center exhibits just to name a few. Learn more about visiting Ketchikan
Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, encompasses 3,255 square miles total, making it the second largest city by area in the US (the first is Sitka, AK). Here, the wildlife is abundant with bears, wolves, moose, and caribou - just a few of the animals that call Juneau home.
Whale watching is one of the most popular activities to do while in Juneau as Alaska is a popular migration point for orcas and humpback whales after they winter in Hawaii. Take a boat tour to see these majestic mammals and hear from experienced naturalists about their migration and breeding patterns, and the history and legends of the indigenous people and their connection to the art and culture. Learn about visiting Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier, one of the top attractions to see while visiting Juneau, is a major glacier that flows from the Juneau Icefield. It is approximately 12 miles long, 1.5 miles wide, and 100 feet high. Mendenhall is known for its dazzling blue colors due to ice crystal formations that absorb color and reflect light in a certain way, making it a beauty to photograph. Fun fact: glaciers are best viewed on a cloudy day according to Alaskan naturalists.
The best way to see Mendenhall Glacier and the Juneau Icefield is to take a plane tour to view it from the air; however, if you want to keep your feet firmly planted on land, you can also take guided walks through the forest and along the banks of Mendenhall Lake to see this magnificent natural formation.
Learn about visiting Mendenhall Glacier
Skagway is the northernmost point of Alaska’s Inside Passage and was an integral part of the goldrush. Home of the White Pass and Yukon Railroad, there are many things to see and do while visiting Skagway including shopping for Alaska-made products and souvenirs, taking a train ride, hiking the 33-mile Chilkoot Trail, and panning for gold.
A unique ‘tour’ to take in Skagway is to go sea kayaking which gives an elemental view of marine wildlife - sea lions, whales, salmon, as well as eagles, bears and other land animals.
Dog sledding anyone? Skagway has some great choices if you would like to experience Alaska with man’s best friend. Go on a dog sledding adventure and see how organized and obedient a dog sled team can be – it will give you a different perspective on a working dog’s life.
Learn more about visiting Skagway
A good place to learn about the storied history of the largest state in the US is none other than its largest city, Anchorage. A visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center will give you an in-depth look at the Indigenous cultures, their way of life based on their environment, various languages spoken among the Alaska natives, and how they learned to live in harsh Alaska winters using the bounty around them.
A natural phenomenon to experience in Anchorage is the Bore Tide, a 6-foot wave that rolls into the waters of Turnagain Arm and can be viewed along the Seward Highway.
Anchorage holds over 40% of the state’s population and is a great hub to experience live entertainment, visit one of the many local breweries, and sample fresh Alaskan fare – fresh native fish such as Halibut, Salmon, Black Cod and of course, Alaskan King Crab as well as a variety of game meats.
Learn more about visiting Anchorage
We hope that this has inspired you to wander to Alaska! If you have visited the Last Frontier and want to tell us about it, feel free to reach out to us at WinniWanderer@winni.com. Hearing from you will make our day!
By Staff Contributor
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