Alaska Holiday Planning Guide
The country's largest state, Alaska is also its the least densely populated. America's final frontier, the state lies on the Arctic Circle and features some of the highest mountains in the United States. Today, several million people flock annually to the state's pristine wilderness areas, which shelter a diverse plant and animal life and offer a great selection of things to do. Tailor-made for adventurous types wishing to leave civilization behind, Alaska can also be an extremely expensive vacation destination, with few transportation options and much of its land accessible only by plane or helicopter.
Places to Visit in AlaskaJuneau
: A large and welcoming state capital, this city offers visitors a range of activities to fill an outdoor Alaska itinerary, a scenic setting among surrounding mountains, and a culturally rich downtown area. Anchorage
: The state's most populated area, this port city benefits from large swathes of uninhabited wilderness, a thriving and historical downtown area, and a rich biodiversity in its marine areas.Seward
: Named after the man who negotiated the sale of Alaska from Russia to the U.S., this small port town has become a popular place from which to explore the unspoiled surrounding landscapes, with good connections to and from many major Alaska attractions.Ketchikan
: Situated on Revillagigedo Island's southwestern shore, this narrow city provides cultural sights offering a great introduction to native Alaskan culture, world-renowned salmon fishing spots and restaurants, and expansive surrounding scenery.Haines
: A calm and charming place, this port city attracts visitors with its impressive surrounding scenery, wealth of tour companies and outdoor activity centers, and a quaint, small-town main thoroughfare, lined with independent shops and restaurants.Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve
: Wild, scenic, and unspoiled, this national park offers hiking, kayaking, and fishing opportunities, impressive glaciers and icefields, and an isolated location that gives visitors a real sense of adventure. Denali National Park and Preserve
: Vast and untouched, this national park attracts guests with its range of scenery and wildlife and a wealth of outdoor activities, including biking, fishing, and hiking.Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
: An impressive protected area, this park boasts expansive glaciers and deep-cut fjords, excellent wilderness exploration opportunities, and a wealth of wildlife to spot, including moose, bears, and bald eagles.Katmai National Park and Preserve
: Reachable by boat or seaplane, this national park features a volcanic landscape, providing a home to many brown bears and representing a wild and evocative place for outdoor activities, such as kayaking, fishing, and hiking. Kenai Fjords National Park
: A protected area known for its abundance of glacially-cut fjords, this national park boasts a stunning diversity of marine and terrestrial animals and offers a great range of outdoor activities suitable for active Alaska holidays, like snowshoeing, kayaking, and angling.
Things to Do in Alaska
Popular Alaska Tourist AttractionsMendenhall Glacier
: Easily accessible from the state capital, this Alaska tourist attraction remains popular with visitors for its impressive photographic opportunities, sparkling blue ice, and many tours offering a safe and educational way to learn about the area. White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
: Carving a scenic route through the landscape, this historic railway was first built to transport miners during the area's gold rush in the late 19th century and now provides visitors with a comfortable ride in vintage parlor cars, offering a different perspective on the state's natural wonders.Alaska SeaLife Center
: The only attraction of its kind in the state, this aquarium and marine animal rehabilitation center features interactive exhibits, educational materials, and the chance to peer beneath the surface of the water and see a range of wildlife native to the area.Tracy Arm Fjord
: Stretching for about 48 km (30 mi), this fjord is best seen on a cruise, a great way to observe and photograph native wildlife and glaciers.Anchorage Museum
: One of the most popular places to visit in Alaska, this museum houses a collection of artifacts related to native and modern Alaskan life, dioramas showing authentic domestic scenes, and interactive exhibits introducing the natural wonders of the state.University of Alaska Museum of the North
: An important center of research and scientific study, this museum gives the public an in-depth perspective on the nature and culture of the state, with a great collection of artifacts, displays, and exhibits. Goldbelt Mount Roberts Tramway
: A quick route up a steep mountain, this tramway provides impressive views of the state capital beneath it and allows easy access to a range of hiking routes for those feeling the need for a little more adventure.Alaska Railroad
: A convenient way to tour Alaska, this railroad takes you on a range of excursions between towns and out into the wild, where you can try a diverse set of outdoor activities, such as hiking and canoeing. Denali
: With its peak 6,168 m (20,237 ft) above sea level, this mountain is the tallest in North America and attracts visitors mountainside glaciers and numerous photo opportunities.Alaska Native Heritage Center
: An important museum and cultural center, this Alaska attraction hosts regular performances and demonstrations of traditional dances, and features full-scale villages evoking the natural lifestyle of those native to the area.
Planning a Alaska Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Alaska with Kids
Featuring a largely uninhabited landscape and thriving settlements--each with its own character--Alaska represents a memorable and different place in which to enjoy a family vacation. Juneau
remains a popular place for family-oriented Alaska holiday, with its heritage sites, access to the surrounding landscape, and a range of kid-friendly accommodations and outdoor activity centers. Anchorage
, as the most populous city in the state, offers kids a good range of interactive museums, family-friendly restaurants, and historic sites introducing visitors to native Alaskan life. The area covered by protected national parks in Alaska is staggering and varies greatly in its suitability for children, both in terms of the landscape itself and its relative accessibility. To experience rich wildlife and impressive scenery, head to Seward
, which represents a kind of gateway to 'wild Alaska.' From there, you can arrange day trips into far-flung areas like Kenai Fjords National Park
, where the kids can be introduced to the unspoiled and remote regions while remaining within easy reach of modern amenities and home comforts.
Things to Do in Alaska with Kids
For young visitors wishing to gain an overview of Alaska's wildlife, landscapes, and native cultures, take a trip to Anchorage Museum
, a museum that prides itself on appealing to kids through innovation, interactivity, and creativity. Those particularly interested in the natural world enjoy Alaska SeaLife Center
, an aquarium and educational facility housing marine animals in tanks reminiscent of their natural habitats. If you're planning to head out into the wilder portions of the state with kids, consider accessibility and take full advantage of the region's tourist infrastructure. Take a trip on White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
for a safe and enriching experience in comfortable period-style cars. You can also enhance your Alaskan itinerary with Alaska Railroad
, providing guided tours of scenic regions, outdoor activity excursions, and wildlife trips.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Alaska
Alaska offers a great range of options for a fun, safe, and educational family trip. With welcoming urban areas to explore and relax in, warmth and comfort are never far away. Alaska attractions range from man-made to glacially-formed, and the state's many tour operators make exploration of the wild simple and safe. While undoubtedly attractive, evocative, and exciting, the landscape and climate of Alaska cannot be taken lightly. Day trips and guided tours provide particularly good options for those traveling with young children, with expert guides able to advise on the suitability of given excursions to different age groups.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Alaska
Cuisine of Alaska
The culinary culture is really something to explore during your Alaska vacation. With roots in subsistence farming, newer influences from fine dining to fast food, and a renewed emphasis on sustainability, the state offers a cuisine that is deeply embedded in the landscape, culture, and industry of the region. Seafood holds top billing in Alaska, with salmon, halibut, and king crab used in a variety of different dishes on many a menu in Anchorage
. Head to Juneau
for restaurants offering a range of game meat dishes right along the seafood fare, and consider taking a food tour of the city to learn about the blending of traditional food sources with contemporary flair and presentation. To discover Alaska's thriving beer culture, take a brewery tour in Fairbanks
Shopping in Alaska
The primary urban centers of the state contain a selection of stores providing visitors with everything they need to enjoy their Alaska trip. Independent businesses and family-run shops offer particularly interesting shopping experiences for tourists. For bookstores and galleries selling art by local talent, take a trip to Fairbanks
, where rustic establishments sell a range of locally-made goods, from paintings to knitwear and trinkets. Head to Anchorage
, the most populous urban area in the state, for weekend markets, stores selling natural products, and craft shops. The state capital of Juneau
offers visitors a range of outdoor stores, along with small galleries selling original artworks and crafts. Locally-sourced and crafted products, from art and clothes to culinary treats, remain popular throughout the state. Look for certificates of authentication that prove the production of various items directly benefits local farmers, artists, and manufacturers.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Alaska
History of Alaska
Native peoples lived in the land now known as Alaska for thousands of years before colonial explorers reached the area. Crossing into the region from continental Asia along the now-submerged Bering land bridge, various tribes established cultures unique from one another across the vast and mainly inhospitable environment. Hunting native animals for sustenance and materials, the successful cultures lived in tune with the dangers and benefits of nature, possessing a deep spirituality and adopting a subsistence-based lifestyle. Various groups of native peoples continue live in the state: to discover their contemporary ways, their rich cultural heritage, and the stories of their ancestors, visit Alaska Native Heritage Center
. This popular Alaska attraction builds narratives of native life through engaging exhibits, a great collection of artifacts, and life-sized dioramas of living areas and villages.
The first non-native settlement in Alaska was established by Russian explorers in the 17th century, but it wasn't until 1784 that a permanent colonial presence was maintained. The natural abundance of the region brought fur traders and hunters to Alaska, from Russia and further afield, as the Russian authorities sought to further expand its presence in the area into the 19th century. For an introduction to the Russian era of Alaska's history, consider a trip to Eklutna Village Historic Park
, a museum and historical site giving visitors a strong sense of the Russian Orthodox Church's presence in the area, their relations with native peoples, and the lives of settlers during this period.
Though officially under Russian control for around 100 years, Alaska never became the profitable colony the authorities had once hoped for and was sold to the U.S. in 1867 for $7.2 million. Mass settlement and exploration of the area didn't begin until the 1890s, when gold rushes brought thousands of miners and settlers to the area. The treacherous conditions and difficult lives that awaited those hoping to make their fortune are detailed at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
, providing innovative and interactive exhibits in period buildings. Despite--or perhaps because of--the struggles of so many, the region was now on an upwards trajectory, with settlers faring better and remaining in the area, putting it on course to achieve statehood and enjoy steady development throughout the 20th century. Indicative of this change is Captain William Moore Cabin
, the homestead of a successful prospector and one of the best-preserved buildings from the period.
Alaska was an arena of conflict between the American and Japanese forces during World War II, and an increased American military presence continued after 1945. With military and economic interests now established in the area, Alaska was admitted as the 49th U.S. state in 1959. White Alice Site was constructed in the 1950s as a radar station, designed to give early warning signs of any machinations by the Soviet Union during the first and most uneasy period of the Cold War. Long-since abandoned, the interestingly designed stations remain, offering an educational and evocative site for visitors to contemplate this period in world history and Alaska's growing importance to the U.S.
Landscape of Alaska
Rugged landscape is never far away in Alaska, which remains America's most sparsely populated state. The main issue here is how best to access and experience the wilderness areas. The city of Juneau
offers a range of excursions into the wild, with boat tours of Tracy Arm Fjord
giving great views of the mountainous scenery, ice fields, and resident wildlife. Also within reach of the state's capital is Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
, a protected landscape of great biological and geological diversity, with lodging and camping areas for the most adventurous of visitors. Denali
, with its slopes covered in glaciers and its peak the highest point above sea level in North America, represents an astounding spectacle for anyone interested in nature's extremes. For a trip into the wilderness, consider making Seward
your base during your Alaska vacation, and remember to explore the wildlife and waterfalls of Kenai Fjords National Park
on foot or by boat.
Holidays & Festivals in Alaska
Like the rest of the U.S., Alaska observes New Year's Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January), Presidents' Day (third Monday in February), Memorial Day (last Monday in May), Independence Day (4th July), Labor Day (first Monday in September), Columbus Day (second Monday in October), Veterans' Day (11th November), Thanksgiving (fourth Thursday in November), and Christmas Day. In addition to these days, the state also observes Seward Day on the last Monday in March, and Alaska Day on October 19th. Many shops and attractions remain closed on these days.
To experience a fold festival during your Alaska holiday, head to Anchorage
, where revellers enjoy the spectacle of the midnight sun, accompanied by musical performances, regional culinary specialities, and locally brewed beer. Fairbanks
plays host to a range of community festivals throughout the summer months, entertaining to locals and visitors alike. Juneau
celebrates its mining heritage with a range of summer events, while its modern cultural scene is emphasized several contemporary festivals throughout the seasons.
Alaska Travel Tips
Climate of Alaska
Encompassing a vast and varied area, Alaska experiences a diverse climate across its regions. Given its latitudinal position, Alaska can generally be described as a cold state, with temperatures rarely rising above freezing during the winter months. The southern region remains the state's mildest, with cities such as Anchorage enjoying short and cool summers and an abundance of clear days throughout the year. The southeastern section experiences more precipitation throughout the year, but also benefits from marginally warmer winters on average. Western Alaska experiences great climatic divergence, with precipitation levels fluctuating wildly. Extreme subarctic climate brings the interior of the state aggressively cold winters, with ice and fog a major hazard between November and March. The Arctic north suffers from cold winters and short and only slightly warmer (with temperatures barely above freezing) summers. Pack warm, waterproof clothing for you Alaska trip, particularly if you are planning to explore remoter regions. Pay attention to weather warnings before you head out and plan your itinerary according to local climatic conditions.
Transportation in Alaska
Thanks to the vastness of its terrain and relatively small population, Alaska is not as well-connected as the other American states. Despite this, the state is an established and popular tourist destination, so while its modes of transportation or routes may seem a bit unorthodox, most of Alaska tourist attractions are reachable by one method or another. Though the state capital Juneau cannot be reached by road, a car ferry connects it with the Alaskan highway system, and an international airport in the city provides a good option for domestic visitors.
Highways link many of the other main urban areas in the state, while marine transportation--including car ferries--is popular, efficient, and long-established. The main commercial airport is in Anchorage, while a great number of bush air services operated by regional airlines take commuters and tourists to and from remote locations. The Alaska Railroad runs from Seward through Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks, with daily services for tourists operating only in the summer months. Regional bus companies provide services between primary urban areas, while most cities and towns offer local buses for crosstown travel.