If Alaska isn’t already on your bucket list, it should be.
An astoundingly beautiful state rich in history, give Alaska half a chance and it will blow your mind. Despite it’s vastness, Alaska’s wonders are surprisingly accessible – making it the perfect destination for families and adventurers alike. There should be so many more items on this list, but here’s my top 5 reasons for heading to the 49th state.
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The Inside Passage
Number One on the Top 5 Reasons to Visit Alaska has got to be the Inside Passage. This is the first taste most international travellers have of Alaska, and for good reason. A large portion of South East Alaska is only accessible by plane or boat, so cruising up the coast and around the islands is both practical and spectacular. In particular, the fjords around Glacier Bay National Park are a must-see if you love stunning scenery and watching wildlife in their natural habitat.
There are many cruise options available but basically a small ship cruise (200 passengers or less) will get you up close and personal and provide more opportunity for a bit of adventure, whereas a larger ship (Royal Caribbean, Princess, etc) will likely be cheaper and have more on-board entertainment. Read more about my experience on a small ship cruise through Alaska’s Inside Passage.
The Northern Lights
There are only a select handful of places in the world you can see the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights – and Alaska is one of them, making it an easy pick on the Top 5 Reasons to Visit Alaska list. While they’re visible throughout the state, your best bet for a really good viewing is near Fairbanks – which falls right under the Aurora Oval.
On a particularly active night you’ll see them dancing outside your hotel window right in the city, but for the best views (and photos) you need to get away from the ambient lights of town. Some of the best photos of the Northern Lights I got were pulled over on the side of the road heading North!
Peak viewing time is from September through to April, 10pm-2am, so rug up warm and don’t forget the coffee. The Northern Alaska Tour Company and 1st Alaska Tours both have fabulous set ups out of town for the ultimate aurora experience. Choose to either hang out at the Aurora Lodge, or park yourself in front of a campfire with some delicious s’mores If you want to record your experience you’ll need a camera or phone app that allows you to take long exposure shots, but the guides will be more than happy to help you with the details.
Where else can you hike over 4000-year-old glaciers, kayak through pristine fjords, dog sled along Iditarod training trails and surf the Northern Pacific all on one vacation? A haven for active travellers, Alaska has something to offer every level of adventurer – from the absolute beginner to the most intrepid – and most are within a few hours drive of the nearest city.
The National Parks
Alaska is home to a staggering 24 National Parks, from the Bering Land Bridge in the North to Glacier Bay National Park in the Southeast. We only managed to tick off a few on our first foray to the 49th State, but were seriously impressed with how well they were set up and facilitated. If there’s one thing the US does really well, it’s National Parks!
Denali National Park is one of the best known of the 24, a real Alaskan icon and at the top of any “must-see” list. A massive 6 million acres in size, the park encompasses the Alaska Range, including of course the daunting Mt McKinley from which Denali NP got it’s name. With only one road running through the park there’s more untouched wilderness here than you’re likely to experience anywhere else (except for maybe Wrangell-St Elias NP, also in Alaska).
You can camp in the park itself or stay a few minutes down the road in one of the many mountain lodges. It’s a pleasant drive from Fairbanks or Anchorage, or you can hop on the Alaska Railroad which stops right by the Park information centre. The park is open year-round but accessibility is easiest from May to September.
The Alaska Railroad will also transport you out to the Kenai Fjords National Park – a scenic 4-hour ride from Anchorage down the Turnagain Arm and through Chugach rainforest (click here for the full story). Kenai Fjords NP is home to the Harding Icefield and the 40-odd glaciers that flow from it. The fjords themselves are as beautiful as anything you’ll see in the Southeast and easily accessible by day cruise from Seward.
It kind of seems a tad too obvious to mention, but wildlife in Alaska is abundant! While there are plenty of conservation centres where you can check it out from behind a fence, if you keep you eyes peeled you’ll likely spot a fair few examples while you’re out exploring – although I still have yet to see a moose in the wild!
On land you’re might run into wolves, caribou, bison, bear and bald eagles, while out in the fjords you’ll find humpback whales, orca, otters, seals and a huge variety of seabirds (including puffins!).
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre just outside of Anchorage is worth a visit for the bear and wolves alone. Or if you prefer your wildlife feathered check out the Alaska Raptor Centre in Sitka, where they rehabilitate these magnificent birds after they’ve been injured.
Anita | Burgess Travellers
Anita Burgess is in the business of making memorable family moments. Soccer mum, travel broker & writer, she’s happiest with a camera in her hand and the sand between her toes. Find insider travel tips and inspiration for your memorable moments on her blog, Burgess Travellers, or get in touch if you’re ready to make your holiday happen.
DISCLAIMER: I was hosted in Alaska on a travel agent FAM trip. However, all opinions expressed in this article are my own and are not in any way influenced by my hosts. This post may contain affiliate links for products I love. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. All affiliate products and companies are recommended by Burgess Travel Co and may or may not be products used by the featured traveller. I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.