Alaska is a vast, natural and untamed state. It is a land of contrasts, filled with ice and water, spouting whales and sprouting wildflowers. It is a popular bucket list destination for a reason, and it is one of the few places on earth that seems to fuel dreams, spur great adventure, excite the imagination and raise expectations for each successive experience, and for every visitor. Alaska captures hearts, changes lives, builds memories and stirs passions.
It is the dichotomy between this 49th state and the rest of the country that makes it so appealing. With a total state population of slightly less than Oklahoma City, Alaska still has some of the feel of the frontier while still keeping a cosmopolitan feel in its cities. From large cities to small villages, breathtaking views to unparalleled relaxation, Alaska will welcome you with open arms – and you are sure to describe your experiences in superlatives.
Any visit to Alaska includes choices, and the bounty of options can be overwhelming. Alaska boasts the highest mountain in North America, the two largest national parks in the United States, and a tidal shoreline that meanders for an estimated 47,000 miles if you count all of its inlets, bays and islands. You will marvel at glaciers, be entranced with tidal pools, "listen" to the icebergs, see wild flowers growing just below the snow line, and spot eagles everywhere. The land is stunning and unforgettable.
You may not be able to see everything in one trip, but here's an overview, in no particular order, of some of Alaska's best outdoor attractions:
Denali National Park
The jewel in the crown of the National Park System, Denali Preserve was established in 1917 to protect the mountain wildlife. Expanded to six million acres in 1980, the wildlife still roams free, but more than 400,000 people visit annually. Hike a trail from one of the visitor centers, or set out on your own with a back pack and good hiking shoes.
Watch a sled dog demo, take a bus tour to spot moose, bear, sheep and caribou. Look for golden eagles as well as bald, and identify more than 160 species of native birds. Home to the former Mount McKinley, renamed Mount Denali in 2015, all the higher peaks are always snow-covered. This land is wild and diverse, a landscape that invites adventurers of many kinds to test their mettle.
Mendenhall Glacier is Juneau’s top tourist attraction and one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers. A quick 15 minute drive from downtown Juneau is all you need to reach the enormous sheet of ice. Stretching over 2.5 kilometres wide, and 19 kilometres long, Mendenhall is sure to impress, even from afar.
—Rhonda Krause, Travel Writer; TravelYesPlease.com
One of the best known of Alaska's glaciers, Mendenhall is located only 12 miles from Juneau, and is an extremely popular shore excursion for cruise ship passengers. It is a huge, blue mass of ice that stretches across the landscape and is best viewed in its entirely by helicopter. Kayakers can paddle near its face, and intrepid explorers may hike up the face, explore ice caves or practice ice-climbing. Mendenhall Lake is at the base of the 13-mile long glacier, and is said to be growing as the glacier retreats, which it has been doing since about 1700. The visitor center is open year-round.
Glacier Bay National Park
You must obtain a permit to visit Glacier Bay, whether you intend to kayak, hike, camp or travel its waters by boat. Even cruise ship access to the area, which is both a national park and a World Heritage Site, is strictly controlled. Entry is free, however, and the park is open all year, even if winter visits are uncommon.
You'll not only see glaciers, but also all manner of flora and fauna up close and personal, hear whale songs, witness seal antics and see eagles fly. The Bartlett Cove visitor center and dock are only open May through September; an adjacent campground includes bear-proof food storage, free firewood, maps and wheelbarrows to cart your gear. Maximum stay in the area is 14 days, but each day will be extraordinary without a doubt!
This large ice mass, located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, is a popular side-trip known for its frequent "calving," the term for when a large chunk of ice breaks free and crashes into the water. The glacier itself is active, meaning it is constantly moving. The glacier's face extends about 400 feet above the surface of the water at the glacier's base, and its iconic shape is featured in many travel guides and tourist albums.
Even though this vast glacier reportedly loses 13 million tons of ice each day, its continual retreat over the last 35 years has only diminished it to about 400 square miles. It is situated in Prince William Bay not far from Valdez, and it stretches about 32 miles through the Chugach Mountain Range. In some places its ice is said to be 550 meters thick. During calving, the enormous chunks that break away can endanger even good-sized boats, so make sure to keep your distance.
The northern lights are solar particles blown into the earth's magnetic field more than 60 miles above the earth's surface. They create greenish-yellow, faint blue, or even blood red curtains of color. Alaska Native groups once believed the lights had mystical powers, or were even the dancing spirits of the dead.
—Alaska.org, Alaska Vacation and Travel Advice
There are other places on the globe to view the Northern Lights, but the changing display of the aurora borealis as seen in Fairbanks is something travelers do not want to miss. The natural phenomenon is enhanced by the clear skies and climate that surround Fairbanks, and in this part of the "Aurora Oval" that rings the Arctic, the colors seem to be more vibrant and appear more often when compared to other places around the world. The Northern Lights do not appear on any sort of schedule, but if you book a sleigh ride with the intention of seeing the show, you'll have a fun time even if they don't appear.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Not far from Seward on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska visitors have a chance to do the 8.2-mile Harding Icefield hike that winds through stands of Alder and Cottonwood as well as heather-filled meadows before reaching the heights. Views of unending ice vistas are punctuated by rocky mountain peaks. There are more than 400 identified glaciers in the park, along with a diverse population of wildlife that include bear and moose.
Hike with a ranger if you'd like some expert commentary. If you'd rather not hike at all, catch a glimpse of the glaciers, as well as whales and other marine life, with a relaxing boat excursion. Either way, it's a sight to behold.
Tracy Arm Fjord
While some small cruise ships and large paddle-wheelers venture into Tracy Arm, another way to see this beautiful piece of "Southeast" just down the waterway from Juneau is by small excursion boat. Sit on the bow and be mesmerized by the changing spectrum of colors of floating pieces of iceberg. They sing a music all their own, and their colors vary from icy pale blue to deep aqua to an occasional charcoal hunk dredged from the bottom of the glacier where it once scraped along the earth. At the head of 30-mile-long fjord, if the ice allows it and your vessel's captain chooses to make the full passage, you'll come close to the base of both North and South Sawyer Glaciers.
The Tongass covers most of Southeast Alaska surrounding the famous Inside Passage and offers unique chances to view eagles, bears, spawning salmon, and the breath-taking vistas of "wild" Alaska. Take a sled-dog ride on a glacier, hike boardwalk trails, fish in streams or the ocean, relax at a remote cabin or visit the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center in Juneau.
—Tongass Natural Park Forest Service
Tongass National Forest
The Tongass National Forest comprises 17 million acres and encompasses most of the land area of Southeast Alaska. It covers the narrow strip of land that abuts British Columbia and the Yukon Territory to the east, as well as the offshore islands that lie between the mainland and the Gulf of Canada to the west. It is home to three native Alaska nations, and several of the state's best known cities, including Juneau and Skagway.
If you have a chance to visit Anan Creek Bear Sanctuary near Wrangell, you'll be amazed by the sight of bears scooping up pink salmon from the creek. You'll only be a small distance away, but in July and August, when the fish are abundant and the bears are hungry, they don't mind an audience.
The largest Alaska glacier that you can visit by car is located in the Chugach Range—about a two hour drive from Anchorage. This large, impressive glacier extends 26 miles through the valley, reaching a width of about four miles at the point where it ends. Known as a "valley glacier," it is propelled by the force of its own weight, moving almost like a river. You can visit the glacier in solitude, or with a guide. The private recreation site is managed by a hunting lodge only about a mile away.
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
It's more than a little off the beaten track, but if you live for the unusual and want to stand on a site that bears witness to more than 9,000 years of human habitation, head for this archeological district and historic landmark in Northwest Alaska. Situated entirely within the Arctic Circle, researchers have found artifacts, including pottery, animal bones and a few stone tools, among the ancient limestone beach ridges and lagoons. In the mid-1850's European whalers plied the area, and it was once a sort of trade fair for native populations.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
This largest U.S. National Park and Preserve is the kind of place you can return to again and again. By itself, it is a microcosm of all that's impressive in Alaska: Towering peaks (including Mount St. Elias, second highest in the country), active volcanoes of four separate mountain ranges, rushing streams filled with salmon, wildlife, glaciers that include the longest non-polar valley glacier, one of the most active tidewater glaciers, and the largest non-polar Piedmont glacier in North America.
Modern accommodations and restaurants surround a visitor center at Copper Center, which is accessible by car. The park draws campers and hikers, sportfishers, winter sports enthusiasts and spring wildflower hunters. Many say no visitor to Alaska should miss it.
Totem Bight State Historic Park
Alaska's natural beauty is complemented and enhanced by the art of native Alaskan art at Ketchikan's Totem Bight. It's a must see, not only because it offers insight into the culture of the people, but also because it's a great example of what can be accomplished through joint public/private effort. Prior to World War II, native populations left their villages to seek work in new cities, and unfortunately, historic wooden totems were left to rot.
The CCC recreated a Clan House, and encouraged young native Alaskans to help restore totems that had been abandoned, and well as to preserve the craft and the tales. Now the park is an impressive monument to both Tlingit and Haida myth and history, and a source of pride for the city, the state, and the people.
The Iditarod dog-sled race has gripped the imagination here for a long time, partly because it captures the idea, cherished by Alaskans, that a true-north wildness lies just over the horizon, and anyone getting there must first face a harsh gantlet of ice and cold.
—Kirk Johnson, Writer; New York Times
Iditarod National Historic Trail
Mush! And push on. There's an enormous amount of history tied up in this 2,300-mile network of trails that originally connected native villages and served as a mail and supply route from Seward to Nome. Much of the trail system requires snowpack to make it passable, but it is also traveled in ways other than by dogsled.
The 1,000-plus mile Iditarod race was traditionally run on only a part of the historic trail. Today, there are numerous ways to experience these trails. You can even stop at a historic "safety cabin" along the route. Near Anchorage is an easy hike and bike route that follows the path of the historic trail through beautiful grounds; or take another portion that winds through mountainous streams and crosses deep gorges.
El Capitan Cave on Prince of Wales Island
You won't soon forget the experience of visiting the largest of more than 600 caves on an island in Southeast Alaska. You must make reservations, and you'll be guided on the free tour by a U.S. Forest Service naturalist, but if the 370 steps at the entrance don't give you the feeling you are walking into another world, you are sure to be entranced by fossil remains of bears and the evidence of bats, river otters and other wildlife that seek shelter in the darkness and relative safety of the caves. Prince of Wales Island is the fourth-largest in the United States, and you can reach it by ferry from Ketchikan. Historically, it was home to the Kaigani Haida people, and a center for logging, mining and fishing.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
About 45 miles from Anchorage via highway, visitors to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center can experience the treat of a lifetime—to see and learn about native wildlife, and to learn how orphaned and injured animals are rehabilitated. Run by a non-profit organization, the center provides for animals who will never be re-released into the wild, giving them free reign in an appropriate habitat. Other wildlife populations are cared for at the center until they can be returned to the wild. It is an impressive sight to behold.
The National Parks Service puts quite a lot of effort into preserving the character of Skagway, and even outside their historical museums, displays and tours, the history of the town can really be felt in every detail. One of the best ways to walk in the steps of the past is to hike the Chilkoot Trail [in Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park]. During the frenzy of the Klondike Gold Rush, the trail was used by thousands of miners and their families, and the native Chilkoot Tlingit used the trail for trading before that.
—Dan Fox, Editor; The Skagway News
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
The journey north into the Yukon from Skagway was not for the fainthearted. Today, you can visit some the historic buildings of the time, hear the stories, see the photos and share the dreams of those miners at a three-unit historical park. Skagway is a charming little town today, at the far north end of the Inside Passage, but at the height of the Gold Rush it was a rough and tumble outpost.
The main unit of the historical park is located in Skagway, including an informative visitor center, a restored early homestead, and a saloon museum. The second area is at the beginning of the Chilkoot Trail with its famed 1,000 steps, near the settlement of Dyea, about nine miles from Skagway. The White Pass Unit is visible from the White Pass and Yukon Route rail excursion, but is not readily accessible otherwise.
Towns and Cities
Alaska is a land of wide open spaces with strategically-located small communities. Each is distinctive, whether a native village, a small fishing community, a pipeline center, a fly-in resort, or a modern center of shipping, commerce and tourism.
This largest state counts 148 incorporated cities, but most Americans can name only a few. In truth, with a total state population of just slightly over 700,000, almost half of Alaska's residents live in Anchorage. Juneau, the capital, is situated along the Inside Passage in Southeast Alaska, and is one of the handful of cruise ship ports visited by an immense amount of vacationers each summer.
Known as "Alaska's First City," Ketchikan is indeed the first glimpse of the state for more than a million cruise ship passengers each year! And it's a unique introduction to a unique state. You'll find plenty to do during your stay in this little city. Creek Street is a rebuilt and entertaining look back to Ketchikan's past, when the waterfront held saloons and houses of ill repute.
Book a fishing trip or rent a bike and pedal out to Saxman Native Village Totem Pole Park. Kids love the zip line course at Alaska canopy adventures, or you can just watch for Eagles around town. If you're hungry, don't miss the fish and chips from Burger Queen on Water Street. One thing to note is that Ketchikan gets an average of 150 inches of rain every year—but don't let the drizzle get in the way of your fun!
When I first walked onto Broadway, which is the street the historic downtown sits on, I felt like I’d stepped out of reality and into a western movie. Wooden sidewalks, historic architecture styled after that used during the Klondike Gold Rush—combine that with the mountains sitting on all sides of Skagway, it was a pretty exceptional experience.
—Dan Fox, Editor; The Skagway News
At the far north reach of the Inside Passage, Skagway is the last outpost before the wilderness. It was from here that miners during the Gold Rush departed to seek their fortunes. It still retains some of that rough and tumble aura of its storied past, but today Skagway has a charming harbor, a six-block restored historic business district, friendly people, and a beautiful sculpture and flower garden right in the middle of town.
It has been known as the Garden City of Alaska since 1910, but getting out of town for a ride on the narrow gauge railway, a hike along the Chilkoot Trail, or a drive through the Yukon Territory along the Golden Circle route are other activities that many visitors come to do.
One looks west to open ocean from Sitka and the city is considered one of the most beautiful in Southeast Alaska. Settled for thousands of years, the area was home to the indiginous Kiksadi Clan of Tlingit. The city's roots and character are Russian, however, and a major attraction is the onion-domed St. Michael's Orthodox Cathedral in the center of town.
Old Sitka was established in 1799 as Redoubt St. Michael, and was later known as New Archangel. In 1867, the city was the site for the title transfer of the Alaska purchase, and it was renamed Sitka. With a year-round population of less than 10,000, the city itself is on the west side of Baranof Island, but the surrounding Borough encompasses more than 4,800 square miles, of which almost 2,000 is water.
Although fish and fishing are major attractions in much of Alaska, the sport rules in Homer, located on the Kenai Peninsula. The harbor is filled with both commercial fishing boats and sports charters and the early spring King Salmon Tournament is legendary to enthusiasts. Homer Spit is a major attraction for visitors; the strip of land boasts beaches, galleries, shops and seafood eateries. Alaska Islands and Oceans Visitor Center is a great resource, with wonderful wildlife exhibits and lots of information. Kayak in Katchemak Bay, view bears in Katmai National Park, follow hiking trails to glaciers and mountain lakes in the nearby state park or ride a ferry across the bay to Halibut Cove where boardwalks as well as homes are on stilts above the water.
About an hour away from the "big city" of Anchorage, this small community is a winter paradise for skiers and snowboarders and a not-to-be-missed destination for outdoor enthusiasts any time of year. Surrounded by mountains rimmed with glaciers, visitors to Girdwood can hike, ride a dogsled across the snow and ice, take a gold panning tour, enjoy a full round of fairs and festivals each year, or relax at the luxury resort hotel at the base of Mount Alyeska. Near Prince William Sound, Girdwood is also a base for "flightseeing" tours, rafting expeditions and jeep excursions.
Winter sunbathing next to a frozen lake. Kite skiing. Snow-cat skiing. Heli-skiing. Old-fashioned fishing and hiking. Breaching whales and spectacular glaciers. Valdez, situated at the head of a fjord in Prince William Sound, is one of Alaska's most important ports, not only for commercial freight but also for shipping. It suffered major damage during the 1964 Alaska earthquake and was devastated by the 1989 oil tanker spill, but today the city is the self-proclaimed "Adventure Capital" of the region, with a full round of sporting and leisure attractions to attract visitors.
Seward is Alaska's playground. It's a small town with a big town infrastructure capable of catering to a million visitors per year. Whether it's summer or winter, there is always something happening in Seward. The locals are an active bunch with a wide range of skills and interests.
—Steve Fink, Owner/Editor; Seward City News
Another of Alaska's small cities with a larger-than-life personality, Seward occupies a position at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, and is one of the state's oldest and most popular tourist destinations. Historically, Seward was Mile 0 of the famed Iditerod Trail. Today, sportsmen come to fish, of course, but Seward is also a cruise port and the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. The waters of the bay are calm and suitable for sailing, with glacier and wildlife cruises in the protected waters a favorite excursion. The city is served by bus and train from Anchorage, and rental cars are available for those who want to explore on their own.
Originally the area around Haines was occupied by the Tlingit peoples, and one of the Chilkat Tribe's earliest villages was about 22 miles inland from the harbor and the settlement on the shore was known as "the end of the trail." Today the highway from Haines leads to Whitehorse in Yukon Territory, and the circle route continues on to Skagway.
In the early years, Haines and nearby Fort Seward were separate communities that grew to become one officially in 1970. Although Haines isn't a primary cruise ship port, it is an interesting city to visit for anyone making the visit to Alaska. Views from the parade ground at historic Fort Seward, now on the National Register of Historic Places, are spectacular and there are several restaurants available to grab a bite and a brew.
It is one of the smallest and most remote state capitals in the country, and is reachable only by sea or by air. Juneau is the site of government for the largest state, a prime tourist destination and home to about 34,000 people. The city itself stretches along the waters of the Inside Passage, not quite 600 miles from Anchorage by air, and just under 900 miles north of Seattle.
The backdrop for its skyline is the craggy presence of Mount Roberts. An aerial tram runs from the center of the shopping district up the side of the mountain, offering visitors a spectacular view of Gastineau Channel as well as a white-knuckle ride. The 1,800-foot vertical journey through the rain forest to the meadow land above takes about five minutes. Juneau was "born" following one of the richest gold strikes in the area. Between 1880 and 1940, prospectors extracted more than $150 million in ore.
With a sprawling population nestled in the heart of Alaska, Fairbanks is the largest interior city in the state and is known as "The Golden Heart City," based on the character of the population as much as the discovery of gold. The city is the center of the economic area that serves northern villages and the operating needs of Prudhoe Bay oil fields.
Situated about 350 miles north of Anchorage, its climate can vary from 65 degrees below zero in the winter to 90 above in the summer. Locals pack a lot of living into those summers when the sun never really sets, and gardening is a big part of life when weather allows. Conversely, during the winter, it is almost totally dark except for about three hours each day. The city is less than 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, and is a prime viewing spot for the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.
In remote far-western Alaska, approximately 400 miles from Anchorage, Bethel is a Kuskokwim River port that serves nearly 50 small villages in the area. With a population of about 6,000, it is among the top ten largest communities in the state, and is accessible only via the river or by air. Consider Bethel for bird-watching adventure, remote river trips, great fishing and full-immersion experiences into native culture and back-country camping. It will be an experience you'll not soon forget.
The small city at the mouth of the Copper River in Prince William Sound is perhaps best known for its commercial fishing industry, and for the river delta filled with fisheries and processing facilities. If you're a fan of fresh seafood, you simply must try Cordova's locally caught salmon. Copper River Salmon is considered one of the best (if not the best) salmon by many professional chefs across the globe, and it is certainly a culinary experience you will not want to miss.
Arts and culture are important to local life, with festivals and celebrations that celebrate native life, shorebirds and fishing held during all seasons. Visitors come for hiking and water sports during the summer, and for skiing and cold-weather recreation in the winter. Many travel via airboat to gaze upon The Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier – local wonders that cannot be overlooked by anyone seeking to experience what this area has to offer. There's a lot of natural beauty to wow tourists, and Cordova is just the place to experience some of the best of Alaskan hospitality and native lifestyle. From berry picking to glacier walking, and from wetlands to verdant forest and snow-covered peaks, it's an enchanting place!
I think that people feel a certain way about Kodiak being the key Alaskan destination because it encompasses every aspect of the Alaskan adventure that people are seeking. On Kodiak Island, we have world-class bear viewing experiences, amazing fishing (both deep-sea and stream), and no crowds on the rivers—just a bunch of locals catching dinner. People always love to see our locally owned shops and galleries and the fishing boats pulling into the harbor all year long.
—Chastity McCarthy; Kodiak Visitor Center
Another one of Alaska's larger cities, with a population slightly over 6,300, Kodiak is one of several communities of Kodiak Island, settled originally by the Russians in the late 1700s. The area has, however, been inhabited for about 7,000 years. Termed "Alaska's Emerald Isle," Kodiak was once a prime ground for harvest of sea otter pelts, but today commercial fishing and adventure tourism are the mainstays of local economy.
The island itself is the largest in the state and the second-largest in the United States. It is green and lush, has beautiful harbors to house Alaska's largest commercial trawlers and long-line vessels, and has a network of roadways that lead to the island's interior. The city's downtown area was leveled by the 1964 earthquake that destroyed the local fishing fleet, but today there is moorage for more than 650 vessels. Travelers come for the scenery as well as for fishing, camping and adventure. Kodiak Island is also home to a major wildlife refuge and to the Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park.
Alaska has long had a love-hate relationship with alcohol, flirting with strict prohibition laws and other ordinances that limited the brewing and selling of alcohol statewide. Now, microbreweries pepper the state, but because of alcohol ordinances in the past, this wasn't always the case.
The first boom of alcohol sales during the gold rush was initially illegal, as the territory was still considered "Indian Country," by federal law, meaning, among other things, that alcohol sales were illegal. Most sheriffs at this time turned a blind eye, but that was less so the case in the late 1910s when draconian prohibition laws laid waste to the industry with laws even more restrictive than co-current federal prohibition laws. After the repeal of the "Alaska Bone Dry" law, the brewing industry was slow to revival, largely due to the start of World War II and efforts by the Alaskan people to be recognized as a state. It wasn't until the 1990s that the microbrewing industry took off again.
Now, there are microbreweries aplenty across the state of Alaska, all with unique local craft beers that capture the flavor of the state's different areas. Here are just a few of the breweries worth a sip, and be sure to find some of your own along the way!
Located just behind the Alaska State Fairgrounds in Palmer, about 45 minutes from Anchorage, Arkose Brewery takes its name from the nearby mountain and its inspiration from the land and the seasons. There are free brewery tours every Tuesday at 6 p.m., and the company is one of the stops on the popular "Hops on the Rail" Saturday tour. Try the seasonal varietals or find a favorite and stick with it—it's up to you!
Alaskan Brewing Co.
The label may be familiar to you—it's brewed in Juneau, and many of the million or so cruise ship passengers who visit the city will sample it while touring the city. Alaskan Amber and other award-winning beers produced by this 30-year-old company are shipped by barge to northern, western and southern regions of the Lower 48, so its "taste of Alaska" isn't really unknown to some. However, it's worth it to sample their works on "home turf."
When I was in Germany, I think I was affected by two major things that really helped shape what HooDoo is today: Their attention to detail, and their serious commitment to beer quality above all else. They just do not compromise when it comes to beer making and we have adopted the same attitude, putting quality first. I love the culture of beer over there; it is celebrated as a way of life and enjoyed as such. Beautiful spaces to drink beer are around every corner, and we drove that idea into the design of our brewery, taproom, and biergarten.
—Bobby Wilken, Owner; HooDoo Brewing Co.
Hoodoo Brewing Co.
Fresh local beer is as popular today as hyper-local local and farm to table meats. Hoodoo Beers, brewed in the European tradition in Fairbanks is just four years old but at the forefront of the moving, active in the local community and always ready to support a special cause or join in a local celebration. Free brewery tours are offered every Saturday at 4 p.m. and the taproom is open Tuesday through Saturday. New brews are introduced on a regular basis. Check their website to see what's on tap. You may find some of their product on draft throughout interior Alaska during your visit.
Anchorage Brewing Co.
A relative newcomer to the Alaskan beer scene, this big city brew specializes in barrel fermentation and unique flavors. In 2014, the four-year-old company owned by Gabe Fletcher moved into its own 8,000-square-foot building and before the end of the year, it opened to the public for the first time. The story is a big one, much like the state that spawned the beer.
Baranof Island Brewing Co.
After opening in 2010, owners Rick and Suzan soon realized that production would need to be increased due to the instant popularity of their brew. If beer enthusiasts find themselves traveling near Sitka during their visit to Alaska, they owe it to themselves to visit this local treasure. Beer is made for consumption on and off site, and patrons can treat themselves to a refillable half-gallon "growler" bottle if they find they've become another one of this brewery's fans.
Denali Brewing draws inspiration from Talkeetna’s rich history in aviation, mining and as the staging area for over 1000 climbers seeking to summit Denali. Denali Brewing’s award winning craft beer will be a high-flying complement to your next Alaskan adventure.
—Michelle C.; Denali Brewing
Denali Brewing Co.
Found in Talkeetna Alaska, Denali Brewing Company provides great beer and magnificent views of Denali and the Alaska Range. Travelers and locals alike have helped this microbrewery grow significantly since its opening in 2009. Understanding its responsibility to the community, Denali Brewing is committed to sustainability and environmentally-conscious production processes.
Haines Brewing Co.
Paul Wheeler had a loyal following for his home brew for years before he ever considered turning it into a beer-making business. But when he cleaned and polished some old dairy tanks and experimented with using them for fermentation, he realized he was on to something that couldn't be contained, so to speak.
The brewing company was born in little Haines, Alaska, in 1999. The rest is history, and Haines Brewing Co. is simply trying to meet the demand. The beer is that good, and the company proudly supports the annual Great Alaska Craft Beer Festival held in Haines. Dalton Trail Ale was the first brew, and is still a flagship beer, joined by BiggerHammer in a nod to the unique Hammer Museum of Haines.
Midnight Sun Brewing Co.
A small craft beer operation, Midnight Sun Brewing of Anchorage supplements its beer and weekly brewery tours with a full-service restaurant serving hearty food favorites, and has drummed up a great local following. With a tagline that proclaims "Bold beer. Brewed here," the company consistently produces 40 different brews each year, made from 20 different yeasts. Sample new beers with freshly-prepared local food if you're looking for a unique treat.
Odd Man Rush was founded by three local home brewers who share a passion for brewing (and hockey). What started as a hobby has grown to a full-blown, official brewery after much encouragement and positive feedback on our craft. Opening the first brewery in town is our dream but also a chance for us to invest in our community.
—Odd Man Rush Brewing Co.
Odd Man Rush Brewing
Eagle River is the home of Odd Man Rush Brewing, started in the fall of 2015 by three "hockey guys" with a passion for the game as well as the brew. The trio, all originally home brewers before getting together, love experimenting with new ales as well as the more traditional brews. Located in a quiet suburb of Anchorage, the young brewery welcomes visits and sampling. They're open seven days a week, and also participate in the "Hops on Rails" tours.
Resorts in Alaska run the gamut from comfortable fishing lodges to wilderness cabins grouped in the woods to luxury hot springs that offer gourmet food and spa treatments. Most people pick a resort based on the kind of scenery they crave and the activities they prefer, be it hiking, eco-tourism, bird-watching, wildlife, river kayaking, surfing, exploring glaciers, studying native culture or sport-fishing.
Some facilities provide entertainment—from native dance and music to flight-seeing to back-country camping; some insist that guess "dress for dinner"—but that's an Alaska definition of dressing. Alaska is vast and the choices are almost unlimited—you can drive to some resorts; others welcome charter boats and seaplanes only once or twice a week.
There may be a resort for everyone, but you might have to do a little digging to find the one that speaks to your soul.
Waterfall Resort Alaska
The fly-in fishing resort on Prince of Wales Island in Southeast Alaska was a legendary cannery more than 100 years ago. Today, it's a legendary fishing experience. Because it's just a short float plane flight from Ketchikan and only 90 minutes from Seattle in the Lower 48, it's possible to pack up gear in the morning and be pulling in the big one the very same afternoon.
With a variety of accommodation choices, from Egg House suites in the former roe warehouse to boardwalk cabins and lodge rooms, first-time guests and repeat visitors can be assured of a friendly welcome, great guides, hearty meals, relaxing evenings and one of the best fishing experiences to be had anywhere in the world. Book a massage when the fishing is done, then relax on the deck with a tall cool one in hand and great views all around.
Chena Hot Springs Resort
Home to what is billed as the world's largest year-round ice environment, Chena Hot Springs resort provides parkas for visitors to the climate controlled wonderland of ice sculptures at its site only 60 miles north of Fairbanks. A year-round destination resort, the thermal springs are a major attraction, but guests also go for the wildlife viewing, the aurora displays and the relaxing ambience. In addition to the hot springs and gorgeous surroundings, there are indoor and outdoor pools and hot tubs and a wealth of things to do both summer and winter. It's an easy drive from the city, so it's also a great day trip.
Ultima Thule, defined as ‘the land remote beyond reckoning,’ embraces the theory that indulging creature comforts and overwhelming the senses are ideal ingredients for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. This unique and timeless Lodge has adopted a style of “no roughing it” luxury that only enhances the already indescribable setting. Yet the lodge is simply the basecamp in a place where adventure is not dictated by itineraries and Mother Nature reigns supreme.
—Clare Leonard; Ultima Thule Lodge
Ultima Thule Lodge
Located 100 miles from the nearest road, this journey into wild Alaska wilderness has been compared to a lot of things, but Ultima Thule Lodge has never been anything but a dream come true for those who have experienced its wonders. Run by the Claus family, who actually raised a family in this remote location, this is the kind of place you can come alone or with family and, either way, make lifelong friendships and memories that will last a lifetime.
The main lodge and cabins are set on land that is outrageously beautiful, and the Clauses are as welcoming as can be. Your backyard while at the lodge is 24 million acres of protected wilderness. How's that for an ultimate experience?
The Alyeska Resort complex is nestled at the base of the Chugach Mountains along Alaska's South Central Coast, only 40 miles from the Anchorage International Airport. It is adjacent to three national parks and the Kenai Peninsula and is a perfect choice for expert skiers, boasting nearly 650 inches of annual snowfall and the longest continuous double black diamond ski run in North America.
The hotel's concierge staff works diligently with guests to design vacations that are tailor-made for individual skills and interests. Several fine restaurants are available, including the award-winning and elegant mountaintop Seven Glaciers Restaurant and Sakura, an Asian Bistro that serves up delectable seafood as well as seasonal fish, meats, sushi and cocktails.
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge
With two separate wilderness lodges, the only way to describe Tordrillo Mountain Lodge may be in superlatives. Owned by Tommy Moe, the 1994 Olympic downhill ski champion, the resort sits in the shadow of Mount Denali, and its ski runs, scenery and luxury accommodations are epic. Alpine adventure is a given at Tordrillo, and there are easy, open runs in addition to opportunities to experience heli-skiing and Nordic sports like cross-country and snowshoeing. In short, according to those who love it, it's "Alaska the way it's meant to be!"
McKinley Chalet Resort
The best sort of Denali vacations can begin at the McKinley Chalet Resort, located less than two miles from the entrance to the national park on the banks of the Nenana River. Modern accommodations, in tune with the rustic aura of the Alaskan wilderness, this is the perfect place to be surrounded with modern convenience but to immerse yourself in the wild Alaska that you came to experience. If you only do one thing in the interior of Alaska, it has to be a trip to Denali, and this is a great base camp to explore it all. In the native language, Denali means "the high one," and this will certainly be a lofty experience.
Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge
The land experience of a Princess cruise to Alaska often features a stay at the Copper River lodge, and it's every bit as exciting as the water voyage. With a wealth of activities available, in addition to the stunning scenery and the tours to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, guests enjoy rafting, kayaking and jet ski adventures on the river, glacier hikes, ATV nature rides, forest walks or Prince William Sound small boat cruises.
Back at the lodge, schedule a dog sled ride, sketch native plants and wildlife, go fishing, or explore the surrounding valley with a private driver-guide. What could be better? Well, there's always the wining and dining, just like on the cruise ship!
The Lodge is a very special place. With 12 experienced staff overseeing just 10–12 guests per week, we ensure that your stay with us will be quite personal and intimate. We make sure that everyone has a tailored, in-depth experience, offering a trip of a lifetime.
—Denise Jantz, Reservations Coordinator; Alaska Wilderness Lodge
Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge
The world-class wilderness experience sets the bar high—and exceeds expectations. Located in "real" wilderness near Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, the site is extraordinary, with mountains and sea, tide pools and vegetation, natural flora and fauna, puffins and sea creatures, marine mammals and land-based birds.
All-inclusive bookings allow guests to design personalized vacations, and award-winning service leaves nothing to chance. Take nature walks or practice yoga, fish or explore the shore, listen to the birds or pick berries during the day and then return to your individual cabin to enjoy late afternoon hors d'oeuvres and cocktails on the dock before dinner.
Denali Backcountry Lodge
If you're looking for a truly remote location, you won't find a better one, or a better experience, than at the Denali Backcountry Lodge, near the settlement of Kantishna, deep in Denali National Park. There is no traffic, but there are lots of hiking trails and guided hikes, planned activities and equipment rentals, a spa and wellness center, a complimentary shuttle to Wonder Lake, and even Wi-Fi in the main lodge if you have to check in with civilization. But if you want to simply kick back and get in touch with nature, this is the perfect place to do so.
Favorite Bay Lodge
On Admiralty Island in the Juneau area, this delightful fishing lodge is as homey as a familiar campground. Located in Angoon, visitors invariably report that it is a favorite! There is world-class fishing available, but a lot of the appeal of Favorite Bay Lodge is that it's a family place where it's possible to do nothing but relax if that's what seems right. Visitors can hike, kayak, watch for whales or settle in to the great room with a great book during their stay. The lodge is also close enough to the city to be okay with those who want a shopping fix or a tour to Mendenhall Glacier. The lodge's chef will also teach you how to prepare those fish you catch as an added bonus.
Alaska may be a young state, but the history of the land and people extends back thousands of years in some cases, with rich and diverse cultures worth exploring. Indigenous Athabaskan peoples comprise 11 distinct cultural groups, and later history encompasses occupation by Russian settlers as well as the British. Most native villages have some sort of local museum or craft center; many display native art and totems in public squares and parks.
Whether you only visit Alaska on a cruise or you travel to interior cities and far-flung villages, be sure to make time to visit some of the state's impressive museums. You'll be awed and enchanted.
Land, people, art and history—that's what you can explore at the Anchorage Museum, located in the heart of Alaska's largest city. It offers a treasure trove of exhibits, perfect for a indoor activity, or if your senses are on overload from all the natural beauty and strenuous activity. You won't regret spending a few hours learning about the "Hot and Energetic Universe" at the museum's planetarium, being enchanted by an exhibit of children's school art or letting your kids explore the natural world in the Discovery Center Science Labs. If you're in town for more than a few days, you can also enroll in classes at the museum.
This is an interactive, hands-on experience for all ages, with displays and programs that are ever-changing and always interesting. In its own way, it's as much of an Alaska highlight as the glaciers and the whales.
Alaska Native Heritage Center
This is a must stop in Anchorage if you want to learn about native culture and history. Whale bones are an impressive introduction to the outdoor wonders at the site, including six full-size native dwellings. Inside, the storytelling, song and dance, interactive demonstrations, games, working artists and a myriad of other exhibits offer insights into the lifestyles and heritage of these diverse and unique peoples. The center is about 10 miles from downtown Anchorage, with outdoor sites grouped around beautiful Lake Tiulana. Guided tours are available.
The Hammer Museum
It may be quirky, but Haines itself is not a normal, run-of-the-mill city, so it's not surprising that it's the site for the only museum of its kind in the world. This one is, just as its name implies, dedicated to hammers. Founded in 2002 and now a non-profit organization, the museum now contains more than 1,400 hammers collected and displayed by a former resident of Ohio who moved to Alaska with the goal of becoming self-sufficient.
Dave Pahl has collected many sorts of hammers over the years; beginning when he moved to the frontier in 1973 and soon after took up blacksmithing. Among the tools on display in a small multi-room building are a Tlingit warrior's pick and and Egyptian dolorite ball hammer, as well as Roman battle heads and tools used in trades as professions as diverse as railroad building and dentistry. Hammer sizes range from just two inches to the 20-foot-tall outside hammer that marks the museum site!
Fairbanks Ice Museum
Some people may consider this to be as much of a show as it is a museum. It features ice sculptures and glistening lighted displays—and the show goes on daily at scheduled times in the very cold environment of a historic old theater. Fairbanks is the home of international ice carving championship competition every March, but if you miss being there for the actual carving, you can still catch some of the winning creations at scheduled times in the Lacey Theater building in downtown Fairbanks. It's kept at an icy 25 degrees, so dress appropriately, even if it's 80 degrees on the street.
The museum has an amazing collection that illustrates millions of years of biodiversity and thousands of years of culture and art. Our Gallery of Alaska features many of these exciting artifacts and specimens, like our premiere gold collection with the largest gold nugget in the state on display. Both woolly mammoth and mastodon skulls are on display here, just two of the more than 31 species of Pleistocene mammals that roamed the ancient grasslands during the Ice Age in what is now Interior Alaska.
—Theresa Bakker, Communication and Marketing Manager; University of Alaska Museum of the North
University of Alaska Museum of the North
A premier tourist attraction, and the only research and teaching museum in the state, the Museum of the North is housed in a stunning contemporary building on the campus of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. With more than 1.4 million specimens and artifacts, the museum collections cover 10 disciplines. They not only provide historical perspective on biological diversity and millennia of cultural development, but they also offer insight into some of the concerns of the modern age, including contaminants, genetics and both earth and marine sciences.
The museum has existed for more than 50 years, but the first phase of the current building was opened in 1980. A new wing, which doubled the size of the museum, was dedicated in 2005. Among the jaw-dropping displays are the mummified remains of a 36,000-year-old steppe bison, ancient ivory carvings, and a sound and light exhibit that relies on actual positions of the sun and moon, seismic vibrations and the aurora borealis.
So Much to See and Do
There's no doubt that Alaska is a bucket list destination. The entire time you spend in the state, whether it's one week, an entire season or a whole year, is never enough to drink in all the sights and sample all the delights of this natural paradise. It must not have been only the gold that attracted early prospectors, although the dreams of riches certainly reflected the richness of the world all around.
Today, visitors to Alaska depart with a sense that the time has been too short. Very few travelers to the 49th state return home unmoved by the journey.
So, perhaps the best way to experience Alaska is again and again, and to drink a toast to its natural beauty, to its splendid cities and lodges, and to its spirited people—both literally and figuratively—at every opportunity!