Alaska Travel Guide

When we think of Alaska, it is easy to assume it is all frozen tundra, ice capped mountains, and long cold winters. Alaska has those, but it also has wonderful vacation spots, adventures galore, and incredible scenery.

What to Do in Alaska

Alaska is an outdoor paradise. There are so many things to do and experience, and not all of them involve being frozen on a glacier or being extremely fit. You can do extreme sports like river rafting, deep sea fishing, and dog-sled rides, but there are also tours of glaciers, cruises, and flyovers. Experience Alaska sightseeing at its best.

Alaska Kayaking

Experience the Great Outdoors in the Alaska Wilderness

Alaska’s wild rivers draw the thrill-seeking rafters and kayakers from all over the world, but you can find tamer adventures on deep placid rivers, floating past bears, and herds of caribou. Nenana River at Denali National Park has Class IV rapids in places, Class I in others. Don’t worry about getting cold; the tours provide dry suits and warm clothing.

People who like to fish come to Alaska for the size and variety of the fish. Deep sea and river fishing are among the most popular Alaska things to do. It is as easy as buying a license and going to a stream or lake, or chartering a boat for a day or a week. You can arrange for larger fish to be packaged and quick-frozen for you, but be sure to take some back to your vacation rental and cook fresh fish for dinner!

Life on Deck

Sailing is available and is one of the more popular activities. Alaska is a great place to charter a boat complete with crew. Prince William Sound, not far from Anchorage, is a wonderful place for sailing trip. Scenery includes glaciers, mountains, forests, and wildlife, with opportunities for fishing.

If you want to be sure you are earth-friendly, book an Ecotour. You can paddle around in a kayak, see sea otters, go white-water rafting, and eat locally caught fish, sampling the best of Alaska in an environmentally-conscious way. See brown bears or go on a migratory waterfowl tour. Cross the Arctic Circle or stay further south in the comforts of Anchorage. It’s all up to you.

Whether you look out the window in your vacation rental, or spend a day sailing around Prince William Sound, you get marvelous views of the rugged coast of Alaska. Sightseeing is amazing in this region—from glacier to arctic forest, mountains to seashores, it can be viewed from your cruise ship or sailboat. You can cruise the Inside Passage, Prince William Sound, the Gulf of Alaska, or the Bering Sea. There are ferry boats available in some areas, providing a cheaper way to see the sights.

Alaska Vacation

Seek Adventures in the Alaska Wilds

For challenging, adventurous activities, Alaska is the greatest place to go! You can go dog-sledding, cross-country skiing, hiking, even camping. Chartered tour guides have the necessary equipment or will tell you what to bring.

Hiking can be a short stroll into the mountains or one of the more dangerous but exciting activities Alaska has to offer. Hazards include mosquitoes, bears, cold, rain, sun exposure, and encounters with the spiny devil’s club plant. These can be minimized with knowledge and preparation. Benefits include fun, adventure, beauty, sunshine, and exercise.

Cross country skiing, like hiking, allows you to take in backcountry sights that are otherwise not available.

Just You and the Dogs

Dog sledding is not just a winter sport. Dog training is done year-round, and in the summer "sledding" is offered where the dogs pull carts. For the best adventures in dog-sledding, you want to be there in winter. These amazing dogs can pull a heavy sled and rider into nearly any kind of terrain. A musher can see sights that are almost impossible to get to any other way.

During the winter, many towns and cities hold weekend races. The Iditarod is the most famous dog race, but there are others. You can tour dog racing trainers and kennels, watch videos, and learn what it takes for a team to become the best. Denali National Park and Preserve uses teams of huskies to patrol in winter. In summer, visitors learn more about them and their work through tours and educational programs.

Digging for Gold

Let us remember Alaska’s best-known historical period, the Gold Rush. Experience it for yourself with a gold panning expedition. There are s public places where you can search for gold for free, or you can take a guided tour of mining areas. There are stores that sell mining equipment. You are looking for nuggets and flakes. It should be a gleam, not a glitter. If it sparkles it is likely something else. But who cares, really? You get a great souvenir, a genuine Alaska rock to stick on your shelf and show off to visitors.

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What to See in Alaska

Sightseeing is one of the more popular Alaska things to do, because there is so much to see!

Glaciers can be seen by land, air, and sea. Many can be reached a short distance from highways in Alaska. Sightseeing here is unique because you can walk up to some glaciers and pick up a piece of ice, but be careful. If there are warning signs, it is wise to take them seriously, so you don’t get buried by ice. Glaciers can be viewed from cruise liners and day trip boats that pull up close. Charter a small plane or helicopter to get a grand view of Alaska terrain. You can even take a flight that will provide proper gear and land you on a safe area of the glacier.

aurora borealis

Aurora Borealis

If you need a reason to step outside in the winter, the Aurora borealis is a good one. Colorful bands of light brighten the winter sky. The further north you travel, the more likely you are to see them.

History and Nature Sites in Alaska

  • Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage
  • Anchorage Museum of History and Art
  • Alaska Zoo, Anchorage
  • Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage Glacier
  • Alaska Railroad Depot, Anchorage
  • Alaska Law Enforcement Museum, Anchorage
  • Public Lands Information Center
  • SegTours of Anchorage

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Where to Shop and Eat in Alaska

Anchorage has a large number of restaurants, mainly American and seafood. There is, surprisingly, a Cajun/Creole restaurant, as well as Japanese, Thai, and several Italian places.  

Fairbanks has an international selection of restaurants, including French, Italian, Mexican, Korean, Thai, Hawaiian, Japanese and American. Juneau has a lot of places for seafood, and a good variety of Asian cuisine.

alaska shopping

Alaska Gifts & Shopping     

Some fun places to shop in Anchorage include the following Alaska Wild Berry Products, which also has a store in Homer; Oomingmak Musk Ox Producer’s Co-operative sells luxurious scarves, wraps, hats, and tunics; and The Ulu Factory, home of the famous Ulu knife.

In Fairbanks, shop at Pioneer Park during the summer. The Prospector carries a good line of camping and fishing gear, shoes, and clothing.
 
At Delta Junction, visit Rika’s Road House for its unusual gift shop, and restaurant. In Denali National Park the gift shop carries a large assortment of Christmas ornaments and souvenirs. Glennallen has a fun gift shop at the Caribou Hotel.

Airport Treasures—For the Trip Home or for Souvenirs to Keep

Airport Shopping Center in Juneau has specialty shops. Annie Kaill’s features Alaskan art, pottery, stoneware, glassware, art glass, and jewelry. Foggy Mountain Shop is a full service shop for backpackers, mountaineers, and skiers. Glacier Smoothie sells patented glacier silt soap to soften your skin.

Hearthside Books and Toys would be a fun place to go with your children to pick up a book for the flight home. Look for Hummingbird Hollow in the Juneau Airport to pick up some last-minute, handcrafted gifts. Get a unique souvenir at Picture This Photo Mats to turn your photos into artwork. For everything else, visit Nugget Mall or Mendenhall Mall. Stop by Taku Smokeries for a taste of heavenly smoked salmon.

Unique Gifts only Found in Alaska

Soldotna has another place to try smoked salmon and halibut: Deep Creek Custom Packing. You can get your own catch frozen, canned, or smoked. In Ketchikan, purchase art at the Dockside Gallery. Check out The Company Store for some fun and practical products.

The Musk Ox Farm and Gift Shop in Palmer offers tours and musk ox products. WinterSong Soap Company, in Sitka, carries handcrafted herbal bath products and gifts. For unique Alaska gold nugget jewelry, go to Casey McBride’s Taiya River Jewelry in Skagway or Jack Wade Gold Company Mining in Tok.

Other interesting shops can be found at Talkeenta, home of Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures, and Tok, to see All Alaska gifts and Crafts and Burnt Paw. Even the names of Alaska shops inspire curiosity. There are trading posts, health food stores, and more available in this great northern state.

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When to Visit Alaska

Alaska is famous for its winter activities like dog sledding, but summer is a good time for hiking, cruises, and travel. If you want average length days and nights, visit in spring and fall. Alaska has long summer days with only a few hours of darkness, and long dark winter nights with only a few hours of daylight.

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What to Bring

Bring warm clothing! Even in summer, nights can be cold. Bring clothing that can be layered, preferably in non-cotton fabrics. Bring a waterproof camera, binoculars, and sunscreen.

For winter, make sure you have adequate footwear and clothing purchased at stores or web sites that specialize in winter apparel. Protect your head and eyes from the sun and snow with a good pair of sunglasses and a hat.
 
In the summer, spring, or fall, pack an umbrella and rain gear. Consider rain pants and boots. If you are going to hike, a compass and GPS can be helpful.

Your carry-on bag should contain your money, identification, medicines, reading material, snacks, extra glasses, sunglasses, toothbrush, gloves, sweater and hat.  Pack clothes and toiletries in your checked baggage.

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Local Services in Alaska

You can rent most of the equipment you will need for your Alaska travel adventures, from extreme cold weather gear to kayaks and snowshoes. Charter flights are available all over the state, as well as rental cars, railroad tours, and cruises from many ports.

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What to Know About Alaska

The weather in Alaska can change quickly. In the summer the locals wear shorts, but you may find it too cold for you, so be sure you pack long pants and sweaters.

Alaska is in the Alaska Time Zone, one hour west of the Pacific Time Zone (GMT – 9 hours). If it is noon in Alaska, it is 1 p.m. in San Francisco, 2 p.m. in Denver, 3 p.m. in Chicago, 4 p.m. in New York, and 9 p.m. in London.

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Getting to Alaska

The easiest way to get to Alaska from most places is to fly Alaska Air. Nonstop flights arrive in summer from several United States cities. Anchorage and Fairbanks are also served by American, Continental, Delta, and United Airlines.
 
To get to Alaska by sea, take a ferry or a cruise ship starting in Seattle or Bellingham, Washington, or from British Columbia. One-way passengers can get off in Alaska and take a trip by train or car, then fly or sail back on a later ship.

You can get to Alaska by car, but it is a long trip. Gas stations, restaurants, and hotels are available along the highway. There is no railroad connection directly to Alaska, but from Anchorage, passenger service is available to Seward, Fairbanks, and Denali National Park. Day trips go from Skagway to Bennett Lake, British Columbia.

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Why Alaska Vacation Rentals?

alaska vacation rentals

To get the full benefit of Alaskan hospitality, stay at vacation rentals. Although many people consider staying in bed and breakfasts, Alaska has some great vacation rentals that range from rustic to luxury, from small to spacious, that you should consider first. This offers more space than bed and breakfasts, and gives you more options, without worrying about other guests. And you might be surprised at how affordable vacation rentals are.

So when heading to Alaska, avoid the bed and breakfasts. Alaska is about independence, and vacation rentals give you independence. You can have a condo, home, or cabin all to yourselves, including a fully equipped kitchen. You can cook eat when you want. Curl up with a cup of hot cocoa and a movie after a cross-country ski expedition, or find a unit with a hot tub and fireplace. Check out VacationRentals.com for the latest listings. Whatever your travel status, you can find just the right place to stay.

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