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Things to Do in Alaska

Known as America’s Last Frontier, Alaska magnetizes travelers with untamed wilderness and the promise of solitude. A region of extremes, Alaska swings between warm summers and demanding winters (when the Yukon River freezes solid), from bustling port cities to outdoor expanses. Fairbanks serves as a gateway to Chena Hot Springs and the Arctic Circle’s Northern Lights, while cruises past abundant marine wildlife in Kenai Fjords National Park are best accessed from Seward. Dogsled and pan for gold on the Skagway section of the Yukon River; go white-water rafting on rapids that flow from the Mendenhall Glacier; soar over Denali National Park on a flightseeing tour; or feast on salmon and enjoy easy access to Mt. Roberts from Juneau’s historic downtown. If you’re looking to cover the highlights of the vast state, take the scenic Alaska Railroad route to popular visitor stops such as Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Whittier, or delve into Gold Rush-era history on a journey to White Pass Summit. At Ketchikan’s zipline adventure park, kids and adults alike will love flying over the Alaskan rain forest and observing black bears. With opportunity for adventure at every turn, you’re sure to submit to the call of the wild during your time in Alaska.
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Trans-Alaska Pipeline Viewpoint
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The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a 48-inch oil pipeline that traverses 800 miles (1,300 kilometers). It was built by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in 1977 to transport crude oil from Prudhoe Bay’s oil fields to a port in Valdez to be loaded onto tankers and shipped to U.S. refiners. The cost to construct the pipeline was $8 billion, making it one of the largest privately-funded construction projects in Alaska. Moreover, it’s one of the largest pipeline systems in the world, and because much of the ground that it is laid on is frozen sections of the pipeline are either built above ground or buried and insulated.

It’s astonishing that the pipe has withstood the harsh Alaska weather for so long. Today, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is a popular tourist attraction, especially for those who want to get a photograph of themselves touching it.

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Mendenhall Glacier
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Alaska's famous drive-in glacier, Mendenhall Glacier, is Juneau's most popular attraction, flowing 12 miles (19 kilometers) from its source, the Juneau Ice Field. On a sunny day it's beautiful, with blue skies and snow-capped mountains in the background. On a cloudy and drizzly afternoon, it can be even more impressive, as the ice turns shades of deep blue.

Near the face of the glacier is the visitors center, which houses various glaciology exhibits, a large relief map of the ice field, an observatory with telescopes and a theater that shows the film, Magnificent Mendenhall. Outside you'll find a salmon-viewing platform overlooking Steep Creek, as well as 6 hiking trails, including a short photo-overlook trail to a longer trek up the glacier's west side. Another trail, the East Glacier Loop trail leads through the forest for views of a waterfall near the glacier’s face. Though a little steep, it’s perfect for school-age children.

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Resurrection Bay
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Located on the on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Resurrection Bay is a perfect example of pristine Alaskan wilderness. Littered with glistening glaciers, majestic fjords, secluded coves and small islands set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, otherworldly rock formations and dramatic fog, this is a haven for those who enjoy striking landscapes. Not only is Resurrection Bay beautiful, it’s also filled with opportunities for outdoors recreation.

Those interested in bird-watching and wildlife spotting should be on the lookout for puffins, bald eagles, Dall's Porpoises, Stellar Sea Lions, orca and Humpback Whales, harbor seals and sea otters. Additionally, the waters are popular for kayaking, sailing and flightseeing. And because Resurrection Bay never freezes, the waters are easily navigable for tours.

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Kenai Fjords National Park
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Encompassing 1,047 square miles (2,711 square kilometers), the Kenai Fjords National Park is named after the many glacial-carved fjords, or glacial valleys that sit below sea level. These fjords run down the mountains and into the iconic Harding Icefield, one of the largest ice fields in the United States with 40 glaciers flowing into it.

There are many ways to experience the park’s beauty, like taking an aerial tour, kayaking on the fjords, hiking to the top of the Harding Icefield Trail or exploring the trails around Exit Glacier. You can also fish for salmon and Dolly Varden within the park’s backcountry. For those interested in wildlife spotting, the parks icy waters and dense woodland are home to a number of creatures like mountain goats, black bears, bald eagles, Steller sea lions, puffins, Dall's porpoises, and humpback and orca whales.

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Denali National Park and Preserve
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At more than 6 million acres (2.5 million hectares), Denali National Park is a breathtaking wilderness area, which includes North America’s highest mountain. A single road curves 92 miles (148 kilometers) through the heart of the park, leading to off-trail hiking opportunities, abundant wildlife, and stunning tundra panoramas.

Wildlife in Denali National Park, including mammals such as marmot and moose, is easy to spot. Caribou, wolves, and brown bears are crowd favorites. The park is also well known for its bird population, especially during late spring and summer. Birdwatchers may find waxwings, Arctic Warblers, and the majestic tundra swan. Predatory birds include a variety of hawks, owls, and the striking golden eagle. Ten species of fish, including trout, salmon, and arctic grayling share the waters of the park.

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Tongass National Forest
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Encompassing 17 million acres, the Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the United States. Originally the Alexander Archipelago Forest Reserve, a project of Theodore Roosevelt started in 1902, the park was developed and renamed in 1908 to pay homage to the Tongass Clan of the Tlingit Indians. Visitors to Tongass National Forest have an enormous array of activities and experiences to choose from: bird-watching, trekking, fishing (there are five species of salmon here, among other fish), camping, visiting glaciers, lake canoeing, off-roading and just relishing pure fresh air and pristine natural beauty. In fact, there are 17,000 miles (27,359 kilometers) of lakes, creeks and rivers to enjoy within the forest. Wildlife is also prevalent, with chances to view otters, brown and black bears, wolves, eagles and Sitka black-tailed deer.

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Misty Fjords National Monument
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The Misty Fjords National Monument encompasses 3,594 square miles (5,783 square kilometers) of wilderness and lies between two impressive fjords - Behm Canal (117 mi/188 km long) and Portland Canal (72 mi/115 km long). The two natural canals give the preserve its extraordinarily deep and long fjords with sheer granite walls that rise thousands of feet/meters out of the water. Misty Fjords is well named; annual rainfall is 14 feet (4 meters).

Misty Fjords National Monument draws many kayakers, who head for the smaller but equally impressive fjords of Walker Cove and Punchbowl Cove in Rudyerd Bay, off Behm Canal. Dense spruce-hemlock rainforest is the most common vegetation throughout the monument, and sea lions, harbor seals, killer whales, brown and black bears, mountain goats, moose and bald eagles can all be seen there.

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Saxman Native Village
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Saxman Native Village celebrates all things Alaskan and Tlingit, and that means totem poles, folklore and dance, lumberjack exploits and woodcarvers. The native village introduces visitors to the customs and culture of Alaska’s native inhabitants, and features the largest collection of totems you’re likely to see.
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Totem Bight State Historical Park
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Ketchikan is home to a rich Native Alaskan culture, which can be fully explored at the Totem Bight State Historical Park, home to 15 intricate totem poles. These poles were sourced from abandoned native villages and then restored, and each tells a unique story of Tlingit and Haida carvers.
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Mt. Roberts Tramway
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Arcing upwards from the waterfront at Juneau’s cruise terminal to the crest of Mt. Roberts, a ride aboard the Mt. Roberts Tramway is one of Juneau’s signature experiences.

The enclosed gondolas swing away from the dock to glide over downtown Juneau and up through the rainforest to the 1,800-foot (540m) summit of Mt. Roberts.

Panoramic views take in stunning vistas of sea and mountains, over to the Chilkat Mountains to the north, the Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and Silver Bow Basin. Peering down, you might be lucky enough to spot marmots, deer and even a bear.

The ride ends on the top of the mountain at the Mountain House cultural center, picturesquely surrounded by Sitka pines and wildflowers. Visit the nature center to learn more about this beautiful part of the world, or follow one of the hiking trails winding away from the terminal. There’s a wheelchair-accessible trail, and a short mile-loop trail with interpretative signage.

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More Things to Do in Alaska

University of Alaska Museum of the North

University of Alaska Museum of the North

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This top-rated visitor attraction at the University of Alaska Fairbanks boasts being the only research and teaching museum in Alaska. With a goal of acquiring, interpreting and showcasing collections relating to Alaska’s natural, cultural and artistic heritage, the University of Alaska Museum of the North currently houses 1.4 million artifacts and specimens. Visitors can peruse the collections and exhibits to gain a true understanding of the development and culture of Native Alaskans. These are separated into 10 different categories: Archaeology, birds, documentary film, earth sciences, ethnology/history, fine arts, fishes/marine invertebrates, insects, mammals, and plants.

Visitors can also see ancient artwork spanning from 2,000 years ago to present, like ancient ivory carvings; contemporary sculptures; Alaska’s most comprehensive public display of gold and Blue Babe; a light installation that changes with the position of the moon and sun.

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Pioneer Park

Pioneer Park

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This 44-acre (109-hectare) city park is located along the Chena River and is Alaska’s only historic theme park. It was opened in 1967 as Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition in order to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Alaska Purchase. Today, the park is home to a number of restaurants, museums, attractions, shops and art spaces, with over 30 places of interest in total.

While the Alaska Native Museum teaches visitors about Eskimos and Native Alaska cultures, the Pioneer Air Museum displays aviation memorabilia and aircrafts. Hungry? Enjoy fresh local fish from Salmon Bake or stroll around while savoring a refreshing treat from the Gold Rush Ice Cream Parlour. If you’re interested in the arts the Palace Theatre puts on a lighthearted performance about Fairbanks from history to present day, while Bear Gallery allows you to view works created by local artists.

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Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center

Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center

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For those interested in learning about Interior and Arctic Alaska as well as Native culture, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a must-have experience when visiting Fairbanks. The mission of the attraction is to celebrate the people and culture of Interior Alaska while also promoting the local economy and acting as a community gathering place to exchange cultural ideas, and they do this in a number of ways.

First, the center showcases a number of free exhibits on Interior Alaska and its people, providing insight to the heritage of the area. For example, their main exhibit, “How We Live: The People and the Land”, features life-sized dioramas depicting the seasons of Interior Alaska. You can also shop for Native Alaskan artwork in their Alaska Geographic store; dress up in traditional Athabaskan attire for a photo; see a traditional performance of music, art and storytelling; create your own traditional Athabascan moose skin bags or sun catcher.

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Sitka National Historical Park

Sitka National Historical Park

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Fortress of the Bear

Fortress of the Bear

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Animal lovers heading to Sitka should consider visiting Fortress of the Bear, a non-profit bear rescue facility and the largest of its kind in the United States. Focused on educating the public on bears and how to help their populations, Fortress of the Bear takes in orphaned bear cubs and creates a protective and enriching environment for them. The operation was started by couple Les and Evy Kinnear who transformed Sitka’s old pulp mill into a place where baby bears could be cared for. Visitors can watch the bears being fed, observe and photograph bear interactions, and hear the story of each bear and how it ended up at Fortress of the Bear.

Keep in mind this is not like a typical zoo where you see an animal in a cage. Instead, you’ll watch the bears playing with large barrels and tire swings and being active in a large expanse of land. Additionally, the attraction has a non-touristy, non-commercial feel, allowing for a more authentic experience.

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Seward Boat Harbor

Seward Boat Harbor

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Creek Street

Creek Street

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In pioneering days every red-blooded gold-rush town had a red-light district, and during Ketchikan’s frontier past it was Creek Street.

This historic bordello hub was built over Ketchikan Creek, hence the neighborhood’s name. In Ketchikan’s gold-mining heyday, more than two dozen houses of ill repute lined the boardwalk. Prostitution wasn’t outlawed here until 1954, and was legal as long as business wasn’t transacted on dry land. This explains why Creek Street isn’t a street at all, but an elevated boardwalk built on wooden pilings. Things are a lot more tame these days, and the red-trimmed Dolly’s House museum is Creek Street’s most colorful remnant. The boardwalk stretches over the creek, and gaily painted wooden buildings line the waterfront here.

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Bear Glacier

Bear Glacier

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Not far from the town of Seward, there are nearly 40 glaciers making up an icefield that spans more than 300 square miles, all contained within Kenai Fjords National Park. The largest of these is Bear Glacier.

It's not far from Seward to Exit Glacier, the most easily accessible glacier in the park, but it's also possible to reach Bear Glacier from Seward – if you head out on the water. You can go on cruises that visit the many fjords in the park, and you can even go sea kayaking through the fjords.

Sea kayaking up to Bear Glacier gives you a chance to see the glacier and its iceberg-filled lagoon up close. You can also choose an overnight adventure, camping near the glacier. Even if you opt for a day cruise, you'll be treated to incomparable glacier views, plus the chance to see puffins, whales, and sea otters.

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Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

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Bald eagles have a safe home at the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Created in 1982, the huge park protects the world’s largest collection of bald eagles and their habitat.

Natural salmon runs are also protected in the preserve, where the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsirku Rivers meet. For the best views of the eagles, head to the Haines Highway by the river flats surrounding the Chilkat River. To ensure the eagles aren’t spooked by your presence, stay off the river flats themselves and keep to the area near the highway.

From October to February, the eagles are attracted to the wetlands by the spawning salmon. During these months around 3,000 bald eagles have been known to stay at the preserve; the number of year-round inhabitants is between 200 and 400.

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Dalton Highway

Dalton Highway

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The Dalton Highway runs for 414 miles to Alaska’s northernmost mountains in the Brooks Range and nearly all the way out to the Arctic Ocean. Running through valleys surrounded by jagged peaks, the highway connects Interior Alaska to the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and is technically part of the northernmost highway in the U.S. Also one of the most remote, the Dalton Highway parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Visitors who take the drive themselves will need to note that much of the road is still mostly gravel. Unless you’ve appeared on Ice Road Truckers, you might want to skip the ride in winter. Public access ends at the small town of Deadhorse, just before the Arctic Ocean, and if you want to reach those last 8 miles of private road out to the coast, it’s possible to join private tours from Deadhorse.

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Earthquake Park

Earthquake Park

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What remains of the most powerful recorded earthquake in U.S. and North American history is best viewed from the beautiful Earthquake Park. The 1964 Anchorage earthquake lasted roughly four minutes, registered a 9.4 on the Richter scale, and slid a whole section of south-central Alaska into Cook Inlet. Now the trail into the park offers guests unparalleled views of the Coastal Trail, Anchorage, Cook Inlet and Mt McKinley (otherwise known as Denali), and is a preferred resting spot for a day in the wilderness or an afternoon picnic.A well-loved day hike and quick escape from Anchorage, the Earthquake Park is not to be missed.

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Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

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The Klondike is synonymous with the gold rush days of the late 19th century, when the frontier settlement of Skagway exploded from a population of just two to 20,000 in a mere 10 years.

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park protects the memory of these days, preserving the trails, towns and buildings of the gold rush era. Skagway was the gateway town to the gold of the Klondike, which lay 550 miles (885km) north, near the junction of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in Dawson City.

The Chilkoot Trail is the most famous of the gold rush routes followed by the miners, originally created by the Tlingit people. The park also preserves the downtown Skagway Historic District and its prized collection of authentic 100-year-old wooden buildings, including the fun Mascot Saloon and historic Moore House and Cabin.

Drop into the park’s visitor center to watch the video about the area’s gold rush history and pick up information about the local trails.

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Alaska Raptor Center

Alaska Raptor Center

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Lake Hood

Lake Hood

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Alaska is home to three million sparkling lakes, but you won’t want to swim in cement-fringed and square-edged Lake Hood. Three miles southwest of Anchorage, this lake serves as the runway for one of the world’s busiest seaplane hubs. Large swaths of wilderness and remote Alaskan communities are made accessible by seaplanes departing from Lake Hood. Nearly 200 daily flights hydroplane off the water when its not frozen over—to the delight of on-lookers—ferrying supplies or passengers on quests to find grizzlies, caribou, secluded fishing spots and wild mountain and glacier landscapes. Across from the Five Fingers docks, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum tells the story of the importance of aviation to the vast state. Bush planes have been instrumental in Alaska’s recent history, and the museum is an homage to both pilot and craft with twenty-five planes housed inside its hanger.

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