With its breathtaking beauty and unique landscapes, the 49th state offers a wide variety of activities to enjoy, no matter what kind of adventurer you are.
Whether you love to push your body to its limits, explore awe-inspiring geological formations you can’t find anywhere else or spot rare wildlife in its natural habitat, you’ll find an adventure that’s just your speed in Alaska.
To spark inspiration for your Alaska “must-do” list, we put together our own list of our favorite Alaskan excursions. When you’re ready to make the “The Last Frontier” state your playground, this list will get you started.
1. For the Water Junkie: Explore Multi-Faceted Petersburg
You’ll meet a lot of people in Alaska whose entire lives revolve around the water. This is especially true of the people of Petersburg, a seaside community that’s earned the nickname of “Little Norway,” due to its large population of Scandinavian immigrants.
In Petersburg, you can enjoy excursions like:
- Chartering a boat to glide through breathtaking seascapes, including the floating icebergs of Frederick Sound.
- Trolling for salmon or fishing for one of the 400-pound halibut that occupy the surrounding waters.
- Catching a whale watching cruise to one of the best humpback viewing sites in the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll get to watch these magnificent animals swim, play and, if you’re lucky, breach at just the right moment for that perfect photo opp.
If you’re the kind of person who only feels alive with the wind whipping your hair and the taste of sea salt in the air, you’ll find plenty of adventures in Petersburg.
Bonus Adventure for the Extreme Watersports Fan: If you want to get your blood pumping, grab a wetsuit and a board to surf the Turnagain Arm Bore Tide just outside of Anchorage. This bore tide, one of the largest in the world, can create waves up to 10 feet in height that gives surfers a ride up to 20 minutes long. If you think Hawaii and California have the US monopoly on epic waves, think again!
2. For the Extreme Athlete: Run Seward’s Mount Marathon Race, One of the Oldest in the US
Legend has it that this race started as an argument over whether it was possible to make it up and down Mount Marathon in less than an hour. (If you’re curious, the first official run was clocked in at an hour and two minutes, just over the line!)
Since its official start in 1915—which makes it one of the oldest organized foot races in the US—the Mount Marathon race only continues to grow in popularity as people of all ages join in the grueling “fun.” The youngest winner was just 16 years old when he crossed the finish line, and the oldest finisher clocked in at 82 years old.
Covering an elevation gain of 3,022 feet over ~1.5 miles (and back down!), the race was hailed by Outside magazine as the toughest 5K in the world. If you’re looking to test your mettle, registration for the annual July 4 race in Seward opens on March 1.
3. For the Bird Lover: Spot Majestic Bald Eagles in Ketchikan
In 2007, the bald eagle was removed from the endangered species list. However, did you know that these birds were never considered endangered in Alaska? There are an estimated 50,000 bald eagles in the state, and many have made their home in Ketchikan, where they’ve established over 30 nesting sites.
Visit Ketchikan in May to see these magnificent birds prepping their nests for their young. In the heart of the summer, you may catch a glimpse as they feed their fuzzy little eaglets. Make a trip during the late summer/early fall and you may even spot parents teaching their young to hunt salmon, which is plentiful in the area.
If you’re more of a “go it on your own” type, you’ll likely spot at least a few eagles, especially around Ketchikan’s coastal area. However, if want to see as many as 20 of these birds in a single day, consider joining a tour group. The local experts know all the best vantage points to maximize your bald eagle viewing experience.
Bonus Adventure for Those Enraptured by Raptors: If you don’t get your fill of birds of prey in Ketchikan, head to the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka. The center rehabilitates 100-200 injured eagles, owls, hawks and falcons per year, with the goal of reintroducing as many as possible back into the wild.
Additionally, the center has 24 permanent “raptors in residence” to offer visitors a rare up-close glimpse of these striking birds of prey. Nothing gets the adrenaline flowing like looking a fierce hawk straight in the eye!
4. For the Aspiring Bi-Athlete: Kayak, Then Hike the Mendenhall Glacier and Ice Caves Outside Juneau
Just 12 miles outside Juneau, you’ll find the Mendenhall Glacier and its hauntingly beautiful ice caves. The glacier, named Sitaantaagu (“Glacier Behind the Town”) and Aak’wtaaksit (“Glacier Behind the Little Lake”) by the Tlingit, has been melting since around 1850, the end of what scientists call the “Little Ice Age.” The resulting water flow, plus additional water flow around the sides of the glacier, combined to create the glacier’s ethereal system of ice caves.
The ice caves, which look like the stuff of fairy tales, are accessible via a land-based trail. But to make this a dual-sport adventure, you can also reach the glacier by kayaking across Mendenhall Lake. In winter, trade your kayak in for a sturdy pair of hiking boots and walk across the lake’s frozen surface. From there, attach your crampons and get ready to explore the glacier and its surrounding caves.
Because the ice can be unstable and conditions at the glacier changeable, consider hiring a guide to ensure your safe passage or join a local tour. When it comes to fairy-tale adventures, we prefer the ones with happy endings!
Bonus Adventure for Aspiring Tri-Athletes: After your glacier adventure, warm up at the taproom at the Devil’s Club Brewing Company, one of Juneau’s growing list of local breweries, and practice lifting local pints to build those biceps.
5. For the Intellectual Adventurer: Scope Out the Arts Scene in Fairbanks
Artists have long been attracted to Fairbanks, Alaska’s second-largest city. The town boasts a number of museums and art galleries, as well as several exhibits hosted each year by the Fairbanks Arts Association. You’ll also drink in a healthy scattering of public art as you stroll through town.
If new and emerging artists are your thing, don’t miss Fairbanks’ First Friday festivities, which feature city-wide gallery show openings, special exhibits, meet-and-greets with artists and socializing over plentiful food and drink.
>Stop by Fairbanks during the month of February and you’ll be treated to the World Ice Art Championships. Over 100 ice artists from around the world create intricate sculptures enjoyed by over 45,000 visitors. A recent winner in the “Realistic” category featured a larger-than-life-size tableau of the tea party from Alice in Wonderland, complete with the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit, the Caterpillar and, of course, Alice herself.
Whatever kind of adventurer you are, Alaska’s got a unique outing waiting for you. And once you decide to make Alaska your home, each of these adventures simply becomes a matter of “when,” not “if.”
What did we miss? Share your favorite Alaskan adventures in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.