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5 Things You Need to Do in Alaska



5 Things You Need to Do in Alaska

The Last Frontier is calling your name! More than one million tourists visited Alaska in 2019.

An Alaskan vacation can help you see things you cannot find anywhere else. But you shouldn’t book your tickets and rent a room just yet. You need to do some research so you make the most of your Alaskan vacation.

Where should you go if you want to shop and visit museums? What are some of Alaska’s greatest natural wonders? How can you perform outdoor activities in Alaska?

Answer these questions and you can see all that Alaska has to offer. Here are five things you must do while you’re in Alaska.

1. Visiting Alaska Cities and Towns

When people think of an Alaska vacation, they often think about outdoor activities like salmon fishing. You can do many outdoor activities, but Alaska has several cities and towns that offer great attractions. You can also use them as travel hubs and shopping destinations for your activities.


Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city. The city has access to state highways, trains, bus systems, and international airports, making it a good place to travel to and from. Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is a hub for Alaska Airlines and other companies, including international airlines.

Anchorage does not have a sales tax, so you should do most of your shopping in the city. Most major retailers like Target and JCPenney have stores in town. You can also go shopping at many different small stores.

Depending on your interests, you can go sightseeing in the city for at least a few days. You can walk around the city and see various buildings and parks. The Alaska Botanical Garden has nature trails and small gardens you can stroll through with hundreds of species of plants.

Tourist attractions include the Alaska Zoo. You can see dozens of species of animals, including ones native to Alaska. The zoo is also home to special events like talks on wildlife conservation.

Flightseeing lets you fly on small airplanes and see the city from the air. Several tour companies offer flightseeing tours, and you can personalize your tour to see whatever you want.

The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts is home to many performing arts events throughout the year, including concerts and theatrical productions. If you prefer sporting events, you can see games at the Sullivan Arena.


Juneau is the capital city of Alaska. There are no roads connecting it to the rest of the state, so it’s hard to access by car or bus. You can fly into the city or use a boat to access it, which makes it a good place to visit on a cruise or fishing trip.

Juneau’s tourist attractions are smaller than Anchorage’s attractions, but you can still find a few days of activities in town. Perseverance Theatre is Alaska’s largest professional theater, and it focuses on plays based on Alaskan culture and history. You can attend plays year-round, including Shakespearean productions.

The downtown district contains many different art galleries. The Juneau Arts & Humanities Council runs gallery walks and tours throughout the year, so visit their website to see if their events are available while you are in town.

Juneau is also home to several festivals. If you like folk music, you can visit the Alaska Folk Festival in April. The Juneau Maritime Festival takes place in May, and you can view unique boats and learn about maritime history.

North Pole

North Pole is a small town 15 minutes away from Fairbanks. It is a town geared toward tourists, making it a good place to stop for a couple of days.

As the name may suggest, the town is designed to be a Christmas wonderland year-round. The Santa Claus House is a gift shop where you can buy personalized Santa letters, ornaments, and other products. You can take photographs with reindeer and one of the world’s largest Santa Claus statues.

You can also walk through town and see Christmas decorations throughout the year. Many people like to take photographs at the town’s “Welcome to North Pole” signs or with the candy cane-colored street lights.

2. Looking at Art

Besides Juneau’s art galleries, you can look at works of art from Alaskan artists at several museums. These museums also offer opportunities to learn about Native Alaskans and Alaskan history.

University of Alaska Museum of the North

The University of Alaska Museum of the North is located on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. The museum is one of the biggest museums in Alaska, and it has outdoor and indoor art installations.

Totem poles and relics of trading houses and forts are located outside. The museum offers rotating exhibits of sculptures that you can see throughout the year.

Inside, you can find permanent collections of Native Alaskan art from thousands of years ago. Paintings, baskets, clothes, and beadwork are all on display. You can also find works of art about Alaska that non-residents and residents have made, including modern works.

Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is based in Anchorage. The museum is home to life-sized Native dwellings that you can look at and walk through. Each village site has a structure made by Indigenous artists and unique features like whale bones.

The main building on the museum grounds is home to a large collection of crafts. You can look at boots, tunics, baskets, and other pieces of handiwork from Indigenous artists. You can also examine posts, poles, and paintings from artists over the years and buy works from living artists.

3. Visiting National Parks

Once you’re done visiting the cities, you can start to see Alaska’s natural wonders. Many of them are contained inside national parks run by the National Park Service, so you should spend most of your time in the parks. Research each park so you can plan ahead for the weather and rent the equipment you need.

Denali National Park

Denali National Park contains Denali, the highest mountain in the United States. If you’re interested in mountain climbing, you can climb Denali, though you will need several days to do so.

If you’re not interested in mountain climbing, you can perform other activities. You can go for day hikes along trails or off-trail.

Most trails are short and will take less than two hours to walk, making them good for people new to hiking. The Rock Creek Trail is 2.4 miles and takes you through the woods while the Mount Healy Overlook Trail is 2.7 miles and lets you see Denali itself.

The Roadside Bike Path is open to bikers. You can ride on paved roads for 1.7 miles and see fields and forests.

Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park is in southwestern Alaska. You may need to fly a plane or rent a car to the park in order to access it.

The main attraction in Katmai is Brooks Camp. The camp has viewing platforms where you can view black bears, deer, and other wildlife. It’s also a hub for bus and plane tours, and you can plan the rest of your vacation from the camp.

Though the mountains in Katmai are smaller than the mountains in Denali, the park contains more active volcanoes than Denali. You may be able to take photographs of lava domes and plumes of smoke, and you can walk around the inactive volcanoes.

The park has a preserve where you can go hunting and trapping. However, you need to apply for a license and you must be careful not to intrude on private land. But you can hunt many types of game, including caribou and moose, during all parts of the year.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Kenai Fjords National Park is home to fjords, glaciers, and ice fields. There are many bodies of water in and around the park, and you can rent a boat to explore these areas. You can also hire a tour company to take you on half-day and full-day tours.

Kenai Fjords has several short trails for day hikers, though the National Park Service does not recommend off-trail hiking in the park. The Harding Icefield Trail is more than eight miles long and it goes uphill. However, you get incredible views of the glaciers and ice in the park, and the trail ends with a panoramic view of the ice field.

4. Fishing

You can go fishing near cities, in national parks, and from boats in the ocean and rivers of Alaska once you get your license. The license lasts until December 31st of the calendar year, so you can go fishing as much as you want. You can get your license and pay your fee online before you travel to the state, or you get one from a state office.

The Kenai River is one of the best places in Alaska for salmon fishing, including king salmon. The salmon runs occur during the summer, though the exact dates vary from year to year. Check the salmon forecast to see when the runs will occur and then plan your trip with the help of companies like Kenai River Recon.

The Brooks River is located inside Katmai National Park. It is hard to access, but you will encounter very little competition while you are fly fishing. The sockeye salmon run during July, and you can keep and cook your catch in some areas of the river.

If you’re visiting Alaska in the wintertime, you can go fishing for rockfish. 33 species of rockfish live in the Bering Seas and Gulf of Alaska and in the waters around the Aleutian Islands. You can marinate your fish and cook it in a number of recipes, including by steaming and poaching it.

Fishing lodges are hotels catered to people coming to Alaska to fish. Many lodges offer luxury services like spas, on-site restaurants, and private airstrips. If you’re looking for maximum comfort, you should stay in a lodge.

5. Stargazing

Stargazing is a terrific activity when you are visiting during the fall and winter. You will need to dress for cold weather, and you may need to navigate over icy and snowy landscapes in order to access great destinations. But many tour guides are available to help you plan your stargazing.

Try to find a high point away from city centers. Murphy Dome is outside of Fairbanks and is located uphill, making it easy to see the stars.

If you’re worried about your safety, you can stargaze in small towns. Gustavus is near Glacier Bay National Park and it tends to have clear skies. You can enjoy the stars from the town piers and in fields in and around the national park.

Boating on lakes and streams can help you get away from light pollution and other tourists. You can also see the stars reflected in the water, which can make for incredible photographs, drawings, and paintings. The Lutak Inlet near Haines has many turnouts where you can park your boat and gaze at the stars.

While you are stargazing, you may be able to see the northern lights. You can go on a tour, but you have no guarantee of seeing the lights, even with an official guide. Look at an aurora forecast and try to plan your own trip.

Making the Most Out of Alaska

Alaska has both urban and rural delights. Anchorage, Juneau, and North Pole are hubs for architecture, music, and culture. You can go to art museums throughout the state and learn more about Native Alaskans.

Head outside the city, and you can find incredible national parks with mountains, glaciers, and forests. You can also fish in nearly all bodies of water, catching salmon and rockfish for dinner. After you’re done fishing, you can look at the stars and northern lights. If you still don’t know what to do, keep researching Alaska. Read more Alaska travel guides by following our coverage.