Taking a trip into the great white north? Check out the best things to do in Alaska!
It will require some trekking to take your RV up to the 49th state in the union, but believe us when we say the trip is worth it. There’s no other place like it in the US – no other state is quite as wild and untamed as The Last Frontier. Alaska is the largest state in the US by about 300,000 square miles, but still has fewer people than the nation’s smallest state, Rhode Island. This sparsely populated expanse lends itself to all sorts of exploratory adventures, from icy glaciers to colorful towns and from discovering national parks to chasing the Northern Lights. If the standard relaxing-by-the-pool vacation isn’t your style, then Alaska is the place for you. Here’s our list of the best things to do in Alaska.
Hike Denali National Park
Sure, a hike at a national park makes the list of things to do in most states. But the hiking here is quite a bit different than what you’re familiar with. There are very few marked hikes in Denali National Park, and the ones that are marked are often short and only near the park entrance. To see more of the rugged scenery lined by snow-covered mountains in Denali, you’ll have to hike off-trail.
Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble for blazing your own path here – wilderness hiking is the point in this park that’s the size of Massachusetts. It may seem intimidating, but the adventure of off-trail hiking embodies the spirit of Alaska. Just return to the road after your hike and flag down a passing shuttle at the end of the day. You can also hike with a ranger in Denali, or explore other options like biking the Denali Park Road or visiting the only kennel of working sled dogs in a national park!
Go Dog Sledding
Speaking of which, hanging with sled dogs is a classic activity in Alaska. There are a plethora of places you can book a dog sledding tour, where you can either ride behind the dog sled or even mush the dogs yourself. Some tours require you to take a helicopter to the glacier where you’ll meet your sled dogs. You can hear from Iditarod mushers about the world-famous race and of course, make sure you get in all the puppy cuddles, because all dogs are puppies, right?
Trek Mendenhall Glacier
Another excursion that might require a helicopter ride is trekking Mendenhall Glacier. You’ve probably seen photos of the other-worldly turquoise caves of ice at the glacier, and if you’re in Alaska, you’ll want to see these for yourself. If the helicopter option doesn’t interest you, you can hike to the glacier with guided tours from Mendenhall Lake. Either way, guided tours of the glacier will provide you with the correct trekking gear to get you safely across its icy surfaces.
Whale Watch in Glacier Bay or Kenai Fjords National Park
No zoo or theme park can compare to seeing killer whales in the wild, and Alaska is the perfect place to witness it. If you’re near Juneau, head to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and if you’re near Anchorage, Kenai Fjords National Park isn’t far. Either way, you can book cruises that will take you around the icy waters in the area and introduce you to the magnificent creatures that call it home, including orcas, minke whales, sea lions, bald eagles, and puffins.
Walk Creek Street in Ketchikan
For an Alaskan activity that’s slightly tamer (at least nowadays), head to Creek Street in Ketchikan. This historic boardwalk in Alaska’s first and southernmost city was once home to the town’s red-light district that thrived in the prohibition. Today, the wooden walks built over the waters of Ketchikan Creek are much more family-friendly, strolling past restaurants, antique shops, and museums. You might also spot signs for “Married Man’s Trail” near the boardwalk, which were once muddy paths used by men who fit the trail’s billing and wanted to sneak more discreetly into the area’s – ahem – establishments. Ketchikan is also one of the best spots for salmon watching! Don’t miss the Salmon Ladder, a man-made structure built to help salmon head upstream for spawning.
View the Northern Lights
While you’ll have to time this one just right, seeing the stunning aurora borealis in the Alaskan sky is worth the price of admission on its own. The Northern Lights season in Alaska spans mid-September to late April and peaks in March, thanks to the long, dark nights. A clear night without snow clouds is ideal. While predicting this natural phenomenon is nearly impossible, the lights in Alaska’s interior and arctic region are some of the most active in the world.
You’ll want to get close to or above the Arctic Circle for your best shot at viewing them, so the further north you travel, the better your chances. Places like Coldfoot or Prudhoe Bay provide clear views, but Fairbanks, which is a bit below the Arctic Circle, is known as the best place for aurora viewing as they occur frequently there. Find a spot online that tracks and predicts solar activity during your trip to maximize your chances! If you’re lucky enough to land on a night with Northern Lights during your stay, all you need to do is find an unobstructed view of the sky, and enjoy.
Best Things to Do in Alaska
If you’ve got a sense of adventure inside you, then Alaska is calling your name. Pack up your hiking boots and cold gear and hit the road north. You won’t regret it!
Has this list of the best things to do in Alaska inspired you to venture outside of the contiguous United States in your RV? For more ideas on where to go, visit the blog for our favorite RV destinations!