×

15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Alaska

Written by Chloë Ernst and Brad Lane
Updated Mar 9, 2021

We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()

As Alaska is big, so too is its beauty. A vast, uninhabited wilderness overwhelms the comparatively small cities in the state, such as commercial-minded Anchorage, with its many things to do, and tucked-away Juneau (a curious state capital with no road access).

This natural beauty can be enjoyed while hiking, paddling, and fishing in the great outdoors, especially as the state and national parks here are some of the largest in the United States. These wildlands of The Last Frontier are what attracts nature lovers and tourists from across the world.

Though there are several museums and other tourist attractions in the major centers, towns are perhaps more accurately used as jumping-off points for exploring the Alaskan wilds, such as Denali and Kenai Fjords national parks. But wherever your sightseeing may take you, the scale of Alaska is sure to impress. Discover the best places to visit in this ruggedly beautiful state with our list of the top attractions in Alaska.

Note: Some businesses may be temporarily closed due to recent global health and safety issues.

1. Denali National Park

Denali National Park
Denali National Park

In the northern part of the Alaska Range, Denali is the third largest National Park in the United States, encompassing North America's highest mountain. Denali is the 20,320-foot peak's traditional name, but modern explorers dubbed it Mount McKinley. The name of the mountain remained a controversy for over 100 years, and in 2015, “Denali” became the official name for North America’s highest peak.

Names aside, the six million acres of wide river valleys, tundra, high alpine ranges, and glacier-draped mountains are purely spectacular. A single road leads into the park, and only park-approved buses are permitted to travel beyond Savage River. Views of Denali can be enjoyed from the park road, weather permitting.

Located midway between Anchorage and Fairbanks, Denali is the home of grizzly bears, wolves, reindeer, elk, and other animals. More than 167 species of birds have been recorded in the park. Another favorite among the park's many things to do are the Sled Dog Kennels, which offer demonstrations and are home to dozens of energetic huskies.

Address: Milepost 240, George Parks Hwy, Denali National Park, Alaska

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/dena/index.htm

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Denali National Park

2. Tracy Arm Fjord

Tracy Arm Fjord
Tracy Arm Fjord

A fjord edged with glaciers, Tracy Arm is located south of Juneau and is a popular destination for cruise ships and boat tours. Waterfalls tumble down the sharp rock walls, and glaciers calve, creating small icebergs.

The scenic setting lies within the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness of the Tongass National Forest. At the head of the fjord sit the twin Sawyer Glaciers. Wildlife sightings are common on tours, whether it's a brown bear or moose on land, or the whales and seals that inhabit these waters.

Tracy Arm offers just a small slice of glacier viewing in Alaska. Other tourist favorites include Glacier Bay National Park, northwest of Juneau, and Prince William Sound, near Anchorage. Several guiding companies in Juneau, like Adventure Bound Alaska, offer affordable day trips and unobstructed views of the beauty.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Juneau

3. Kenai Fjords National Park

Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park
Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park

Protecting much of the fjord-riddled coastline of the Kenai Peninsula (south of Anchorage), this national park offers some of the best sightseeing in Alaska. Panoramic images of the park take in the many glaciers of the 700-square-mile Harding Icefield and an uninhabited coastline. And the national park is home to monstrously large brown bears that feed on the fat-rich salmon.

Many tourist options converge in the surrounding areas, including the end of Highway 1 in Homer. A popular means for entry into the park is the Alaska Railroad and the Seward Highway, both ending in Seward, near the park’s northern boundary. The only area in the park accessible by vehicle is Exit Glacier, where several trails offer closer views at the end of the icefield.

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/kefj/index.htm

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Anchorage

4. Alaska Highway

Alaska Highway
Alaska Highway

Also known as the Alaska-Canada Highway (Alcan Highway), The Alaska Highway runs from Dawson Creek in British Columbia (Canada) through the Yukon Territory to Delta Junction near Fairbanks. It was built for military purposes in 1942, during WWII, in the record time of only eight months.

Since the end of the war, the route has been the most important means of access by land to the Yukon Territory and southern Alaska. It’s also a favorite with recreational vehicle travelers. The highway passes through Whitehorse, Canada before crossing the international border into Alaska and ending in Delta Junction. Motels, shops, and gas stations lie at intervals of 30 to 50 miles.

5. University of Alaska Museum of the North

University of Alaska Museum of the North
University of Alaska Museum of the North | Maureen / photo modified

Located in Fairbanks, the University of Alaska Museum of the North offers more than one million historical artifacts and natural history pieces. The permanent collection includes ethnological items made and used by indigenous groups and a fine arts collection that focuses mainly on Alaskan art. The collection also features archaeological finds from prehistoric cultures, an assemblage of birds, and several paleontology specimens.

The building that houses the museum is also noteworthy. Designed by Joan Soranno, the white structure features interesting lines and curves intended to resemble the Alaskan landscape.

The museum is free for students and faculty of the university, and the public is welcome with paid admission. Visitors are encouraged to explore the museum at their own pace, and larger groups can call ahead to book a customizable tour experience.

Address: 1962 Yukon Drive, Fairbanks, Alaska

Official site: http://www.uaf.edu/museum/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Fairbanks

6. Inside Passage

Inside Passage
Inside Passage

The most popular way to visit the Inside Passage is to cruise through the fjords on large ships, charter boats, and private yachts. Another option is to stop off the highway at Haines, Skagway, or Hyder. This section of southeast Alaska offers incredible scenery of glaciers, mountains, and ocean, and is home to an abundance of wildlife. The area is also inhabited by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples.

Along the coastal passage, the Tongass National Forest covers 17 million acres and includes islands, mountains, glaciers, ice fields, fjords, and waterfalls. Included in the forest is Prince of Wales Island, one of the largest islands in the US.

Major towns along the route include Skagway, with its Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park; the once-chief town of Russian America Sitka; and Ketchikan, where stoic totems are on display at both Totem Bight State Historic Park and the Totem Heritage Center.

Official site: http://www.fs.usda.gov/tongass/

7. Dalton Highway

Dalton Highway
Dalton Highway

Accessible from Fairbanks and Anchorage, the Dalton Highway stretches over 400 miles into Alaska's Far North region, eventually reaching the outpost of Prudhoe Bay. Built adjacent and in conjunction with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the road is extremely remote, rugged, and not well-traveled outside of oil-field workers.

Well-prepared sightseers have an incentive to navigate the lonely highway, though, with both Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge lining the roadside.

At the northern end of the route, the Dalton Highway crosses into the Arctic Circle, where the summer solstice brings 24 hours of daylight and the winter means 24 hours of darkness. Driving a personal vehicle isn't the only choice to experience the Arctic Circle, and frequent bus and plane tours depart from Fairbanks and Anchorage.

A popular reason to visit this northern latitude is the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, which appear on many nights from September to Mid-April. Joining an aurora tour can help keep sightseers warm in this frigid season.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Fairbanks

8. Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska Native Heritage Center
Alaska Native Heritage Center | Frank Kovalchek / photo modified

Offering more than just a look into the lives and values of Alaska's 11 major cultural groups, the Alaska Native Heritage Center provides hands-on interaction with music, people, and art. Alongside interpretive information, the Heritage Center is a place to connect with the community and participate in programs and events.

Located just outside Anchorage, the Heritage Center includes The Gathering Place for Alaska Native dancing and storytelling and the Hall of Cultures, filled with exhibits and local vendors displaying handmade crafts and works of art.

Also on the grounds, the scenic Lake Tiulana is surrounded by traditional dwellings of Alaska Natives. Though this sightseeing attraction is located out of downtown, there is a summer-season shuttle from the modern Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center.

Address: 8800 Heritage Center Drive, Anchorage

Official site: http://www.alaskanative.net/

9. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve is the largest and most magnificent of Alaska's sprawling national parks. It contains nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States. This grandiose mountain region on the frontier with Canada contains numerous glaciers, lakes, and mountain streams and is home to a rich variety of wildlife.

Wrangell-St. Elias is a superb country for climbers, walkers, and water sports enthusiasts. And the park's Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark gives insight into the one-time mill town with barely preserved heritage buildings and abandoned mines.

Other points of interest include a selection of 14 backcountry cabins, many of which are only accessible by flying into remote airstrips.

Address: Mile 106.8 Old Richardson Highway, Copper Center, Alaska

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/wrst/index.htm

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

10. Iditarod National Historic Trail

Iditarod National Historic Trail
Iditarod National Historic Trail

Alaska's only National Scenic Trail, the Iditarod National Historic Trail consists of a network of trails totaling more than 2,300 miles between Nome, on the Bering Strait, and Seward, near Anchorage. Originally used by ancient hunters and later by gold prospectors, the trail is now used, and best known, for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

Extensive landscapes surround the entire route, offering beautiful views of mountains, glaciers, and wildlife. Although it is primarily a winter trail, hikers do use sections during the summer months including the popular Crow Pass Trail within Chugach State Park.

Official site: https://www.blm.gov/programs/national-conservation-lands/national-scenic-and-historic-trails/iditarod

11. Seward, Alaska

Seward, Alaska
Seward, Alaska

The journey to Seward is equally as alluring as the small town itself. To reach the community from Anchorage, visitors travel by way of the Seward Highway. This All-American Road spans for 127 miles through pristine Alaska landscapes. The first 50 miles from Anchorage traverse along Turnagain Arm and the southern boundary of Chugach State Park. Here, roadside views include mountains, glaciers, and the occasional beluga whale surfacing.

Tourists can also take the scenic Alaska Railroad, which follows the same route from Anchorage to Seward. The Alaska Railroad also continues much farther north than Anchorage, ending its line in Fairbanks.

Besides a beautiful commute, Seward also has several appealing cultural attractions like the Alaska Sealife Center.

The city is also a home base for exploring the Kenai Peninsula, including nearby landscapes like Exit Glacier. Departing from Kenai Peninsula, avid wildlife watchers head to the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, established to protect the Kodiak bear and other rare animals.

The journey to Seward is equally as alluring as the small town itself. To reach the community south of Anchorage, visitors travel by way of the Seward Highway. Here, along the shoreline of Turnagain Arm, stretches of the rugged Chugach State Park meet the saltwater. Or tourists can take the scenic Alaska Railroad.

Beside the appeal of the town's excellent Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward is a base for exploring Kenai Peninsula attractions, such as Exit Glacier, and area fjords by boat.

Official site: http://www.seward.com/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Seward

12. Totem Bight State Historic Park

Totem Bight State Historic Park
Totem Bight State Historic Park

In 1938 the US Forest Services began a project to salvage, reconstruct, and create totem poles - a tradition that was dying out. Funds were used to hire carvers from among the older generations and abandoned totem poles were restored or recreated by these craftsmen. In the process of this work, they were able to pass on their skills to younger community members.

Fifteen poles were erected in Ketchikan's Totem Bight State Historic Park, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Also on the site is a recreated clan house from the early 19th century. There are more heritage totem poles and local details available at the town's Totem Heritage Center.

Address: Ketchikan Ranger Station, 9883 North Tongass Hwy, Ketchikan, Alaska

Official site: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/units/totembgh.htm

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Ketchikan

13. Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

Twelve miles northwest of the state capital and accessible by road, the Mendenhall Glacier snakes down from the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield to touch the shores of a small lake. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center looks out over both the glacier and the iceberg-dotted waters, while trails venture along the shore to roaring Nugget Falls, as well as the impressive ice mass.

Rafting and kayaking trips allow visitors to float among the bergs. Wildlife such as black bears, porcupines, and beavers are commonly spotted while exploring this dazzling blue landscape. Arguably the best season to visit is between May and October, where sunshine is more likely to be on the forecast. However, the glacier is also fun to visit on rainy days, as the ice takes on a different hue of blue.

Official site: http://www.fs.usda.gov/tongass/

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Juneau

14. Alaska Railroad

Alaska Railroad
Alaska Railroad

Noted as the "Backbone of the Last Frontier," the Alaska Railroad is a prominent part of Alaska's history and still a vital transportation option. Extending from Seward to Fairbanks, this railroad helped develop Anchorage from a tent town into what it is today and the line played an important shipping role in World War II.

Today, the Alaska Railroad is owned by the state and shuttles more than 500,000 passengers each year. Popular destinations along the route include the Chugach National Forest, Anchorage, and Denali National Park & Preserve. The Alaska Railroad offers a variety of routes, services, and special event rides including backcountry ski packages and a kids' Halloween Train.

Official site: https://www.alaskarailroad.com/

15. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
White Pass & Yukon Route Railway

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park maintains lovely, restored buildings in the Skagway historic district to commemorate the 1897-98 Gold Rush. Visitors can attempt to hike the 33-mile-long Chilkoot Trail, which begins at Taiya River Bridge and commemorates the path and struggles of past gold seekers. Visitors can also spend time exploring the on-site museum and visitor center.

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway leaves from Skagway, climbing up to White Pass at a 2,865-foot elevation. The depot, one of Alaska's oldest, houses the visitor center.

Official site: http://www.nps.gov/klgo/index.htm

Accommodation: Where to Stay near Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on Alaska