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18 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Alaska

Written by Chloë Ernst and Brad Lane
Updated Mar 22, 2022

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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, the largest, and the tucked-away state capital city, Juneau, with no road access. While these cities offer several sights and attractions to explore, it's still the grandiose outdoors that draws people to Alaska, a state also known as The Last Frontier.

Alaska is home to some of the largest state and national parks in the country, as well as some of the most expansive wilderness areas in North America. Hiking, paddling, fishing, and whale spotting are a few of the many ways to enjoy these wilderness treasures. Other everyday adventures include bear watching, rainforest exploring, and taking a boat ride through the Inside Passage.

Cities and towns in Alaska offer unique cultural appeal. These basecamps for adventure have several museums and other tourist attractions. And with places like the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, they also offer insight into the communities that have called Alaska home for thousands of years.

Wherever 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.

1. Denali National Park

Denali National Park
Denali National Park

Denali is the third largest National Park in the United States, encompassing North America's highest mountain in the northern part of the Alaska Range. 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 the national park are purely spectacular. Photogenic landscapes include wide river valleys, tundra, high alpine ranges, and glacier-draped mountains. The park is approximately midway between Anchorage and Fairbanks and is easily accessible via the Alaska Railroad.

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. A few short, signed trails (less than two miles) are near the park entrance. Experienced explorers, however, tend to venture out into the trail-less backcountry of the park.

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

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

The fjord lies within the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness of 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 landscapes in 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. Anchorage

Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage is Alaska's biggest city, with a population of just under 300,000 residents. Thanks to the size of the city and its accessibility, it's often a starting point for those flying into Alaska. Among a large collection of hotel rooms and visitor resources, it's also home to Anchorage International Airport.

Anchorage also makes a great starting point based on the adventures found in every direction. The outstanding Chugach State Park, encompassing nearly a half-million acres, is within easy reach of this city. For further adventures, a popular way to travel from Anchorage into the wild landscapes is via the 470-mile Alaska Railroad, which is headquartered in Anchorage.

And it's not even required to leave the city's core for adventure. A few popular city attractions include the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum. And for outdoor exploration without traveling far, head to the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail for a stunning 11-mile bike ride. Bicycle rentals are available throughout town.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Anchorage

5. Alaska Highway

Alaska Highway
Alaska Highway

Also known as the Alaska-Canada Highway, or 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. Traveling along the Alcan Highway is generally straightforward, though commuters need to pack accordingly, as much of the route traverses through remote landscapes.

6. University of Alaska Museum of the North

Detail from the University of Alaska Museum of the North
Detail from the University of Alaska Museum of the North

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. It was designed by Joan Soranno, and the white structure has 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

7. Inside Passage

Inside Passage
Inside Passage

The Inside Passage is a collection of sheltered channels and straits in Southeast Alaska. The most popular way to visit 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.

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. The area is also inhabited by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples.

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/

8. 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/

9. Dalton Highway

Dalton Highway
Dalton Highway

The Dalton Highway stretches over 400 miles into Alaska's Far North region, eventually reaching the outpost of Prudhoe Bay. It's accessible from Fairbanks and Anchorage and 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

10. 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 visit to connect with the community and participate in programs and events.

The Heritage Center is just outside Anchorage. It 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.

The scenic Lake Tiulana is also on the grounds, 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/

11. 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

12. 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. This grandiose mountain region has nine of the 16 highest peaks in the United States. Other defining features of this park bordering Canada include glaciers, lakes, mountain streams, and 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

13. Iditarod National Historic Trail

Iditarod National Historic Trail
Iditarod National Historic Trail

The Iditarod National Historic Trail is Alaska's only National Scenic Trail. It 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

14. Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

Grizzly bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls
Grizzly bears fishing for salmon at Brooks Falls

Brooks Falls, in Katmai National Park, is synonymous with brown bears. That's because starting in June and peaking in July, spawning salmon travel the Brooks River and attract the park's largest mammals in droves. Today, elevated platforms around the falls enable some of the best wildlife viewings in the country.

Brooks Falls and Katmai National Park are on the Alaskan Peninsula, which extends from the southwest mainland. The only two feasible ways to reach the park are by plane or by boat. Often, visitors book an all-in-one vacation package to experience the falls, but it's not required. Several aviation companies also offer simple shuttle services to the park.

15. 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 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.

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

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Seward

16. 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

17. 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 pays homage to 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

18. Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, Ketchikan

Ketchikan
Ketchikan

Ketchikan is a wild city bordering Tongass National Forest and facing the famous Inside Passage. The city is perhaps best known for its many Native American totem poles throughout the town and at places like Totem Bight State Historical Park. But it's also a city surrounded by dense, unaltered Alaska landscapes.

A lush temperate rainforest defines much of the natural landscape around Ketchikan. This includes rushing waterways, miles of verdant mountainsides, and an array of weather conditions that often require boots. One of the easiest ways to experience this dense environment is with a guided tour at the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary.

Kawanti Adventures oversees the 40 acres of this forest sanctuary just outside of town and offers the guided tours. These approximately three-hour tours go beyond the usual hiking experience and include a narrative guide with interesting tidbits about the local history and culture. These tours also include stops at interpretive exhibits, like a historic sawmill and totem park.

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