18 Inspiring Alaska Vacation Ideas

Time to get inspired by checking these 18 Alaska vacation ideas! Perfect for cruises in the region or other types of travel.

Alaska is vast and diverse, making it a great place to add on land-based activities before or after your cruise or discover an extra-special cruise destination.

Whether you like hiking, caving, wildlife-watching, kayaking or remote road trips, Alaska has something to offer. Find out more and get inspired with our 18 Alaska vacation ideas.

1. Photograph a Riot of Colour in Alaska’s Wildflower Season

You can watch Alaska turn every shade of purple if you visit during the wildflower season and go in search of lupines.

Alaska’s lupines are highly sought-after by photographers and only bloom for a very short season. They grow mainly in the wild and the best places to spot these magnificent flowers include coastal meadows and mountain fields during early summer.

Take a road trip along the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm for a great chance of seeing them as you enjoy one of Alaska’s most scenic drives.

The Chugach National Forest is another great choice for lupine-spotting as you hike the numerous trails there.

2. Cruise the UNESCO-listed Glacier Bay National Park

It wouldn’t be a true Alaskan vacation if you didn’t go cruising and admire the stunning Alaskan vistas from atop the ocean.

Whilst there are many cruise destinations to choose from in Alaska, Glacier Bay is one of the best.

This stunning UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is the largest in the world, offering dramatic glacial scenery wherever you look. With so much to see, many cruise ships spend their entire itinerary there.

Join a Glacier Bay small ship cruise and you can kayak, visit local villages or just relax and watch the glaciers and abundant wildlife passing by. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for whales and seals, plus eagles overhead.

3. Go Salmon Fishing at Alaska’s Salmon Capital

Ketchikan, the salmon capital of the world, is a must-do for fishing fans. You can watch hundreds of thousands of salmon in the rivers during summer. The area by the Ketchikan library and the end of Creek Street offer prime viewing.

The Deer Mountain hatchery is the place to go to learn about the salmon life cycle and feed the salmon kept there. This non-profit hatchery cultivates thousands of salmon each year for release into the wild.

Ketchikan Cruise
Photo By: howard (Duane) Beevers (Creative Commons)

Adventure fishing cruises are easy to arrange. After a day’s fishing, you can taste plenty of local fish delicacies as you sit back, relax and admire the stunning Inside Passage wilderness around you.

4. Immerse in Culture at the Totem Pole Capital of the World

When you’ve had your fill of salmon at Ketchikan, be sure to immerse yourself in the fascinating local culture and arts.

Ketchikan has the world’s largest collection of standing totem poles and they can be viewed as you walk through the forest at Totem Bight State Historical Park.

Potlach Park (by Totem Bight) also has totem poles, a clan house and beautiful examples of Alaskan Native art. Some of the best native art is housed at the Totem Heritage Centre.

If you’ve got some time to spare, book a tour to the Saxman Native Village where you can see even more totem poles and enjoy a show featuring native dancing and costumes.

5. Follow in the Footsteps of Alaska’s Gold Prospectors

Close your eyes and you can imagine the gold rush frenzy still going on at Skagway. This popular cruise stop is a must-do to learn more about it.

You can discover around 100 historic buildings from the gold rush era at Skagway, plus stroll along old wooden sidewalks and see people dressed in historical costumes.

The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railway will take you into the mountains, following the route taken on foot by Klondike gold prospectors.

For an active adventure, you can hike the popular Chilkoot Trail; a 3 to 4-day trail into the mountains along the old gold prospectors route.

6. Kayak Among Ice-Blue Glacial Landscapes

With so many Alaskan glaciers to choose from it can be difficult to know where to start. Make sure Mendenhall’s Glacier is on your list.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

This mile-wide glacier is bright blue and is best-seen from a kayak to appreciate its scale. You can go ice climbing there, hike to the glacier face, or explore chilly ice caves.

7. Witness the Stunning Alaskan Alpenglow

If you’re a fan of photography or just want to witness the beauty of nature in a new way, make some time to see the Alaskan alpenglow.

This natural optical phenomenon turns the horizon glowing pinks and purples as the day draws to an end.

It looks particularly magnificent against a backdrop of snowy mountains, making the Denali National Park a top spot for viewing it after a fun day exploring the area.

8. Experience Some of the World’s Best Stargazing

Whilst you’re at Denali National Park, stay awhile and cast your eyes to the sky. It is one of the best places in Alaska, and the world, for stargazing.

Winter and early spring are two of the best times for stargazing. By mid-August the skies are dark enough to admire the night sky from midnight to around 3am.

9. Relax in Baranof’s Natural Hot Springs

There is never a bad time to relax in hot springs and Baranof Island in Alaska is a great place to do so.

Visit there and you can lie back in warm natural springs, surrounded by temperate rainforest scenery and the sound of water rushing by.

If you want to get active before your dip in the springs, you can work those legs on nature hikes in the nearby forests or enjoy a scenic lakeside hike.

10. Explore Underground at Alaska’s Largest Cave

With a name like El Capitan Cave, you know this cave is going to be impressive. Alaska’s largest cave, it is the first cave in Southeast Alaska where fossil bones were discovered – dating back to over 12,000 years old.

There is a wooden stairway to El Cap Cave on Prince of Wales Island and you can join cave tours with the Tongass National Forest team.

If you’re a fan of hiking, you’ll find plenty of options within the Tongass National Forest. This temperate rainforest stretches across Alaska, covering a staggering 16.7 million acres.

11. Celebrate the Rich Alaskan Oceans at Sitka’s WhaleFest

Once you’ve finished with hot springs and cave explorations, hop across to the south of Baranof Island and discover the picturesque town of Sitka.

Tucked against snow-capped mountains and quieter than other cruise ship destinations, it is a real gem.

Sitka is the town where Americans came to buy Alaska from the Russians and you can discover fascinating Russian history there.

For something completely different, take a trip to Sitka in late November and join the annual Sitka WhaleFest.

This celebration of the oceans features speakers, community activities, wildlife cruises, ocean-themed artisan markets, food stalls, arts and more. It is a feast for the eyes and hungry bellies alike. Don’t miss it.

12. Go Wild Bear Spotting

Bear spotting is one of the most popular Alaskan activities and understandably so. Who wouldn’t want to see bears in their natural habitat?

Being home to the largest population of bears per square meter in the world, you have a great chance of spotting them at Chicagof Island during late summer. Admiralty Islands is another great place to spot bears, as well as Sitka deer.

13. Chase the Enchanting Northern Lights

Whilst the main cruise season doesn’t offer the best opportunity for seeing the Northern Lights, they are sometimes visible during early March and late September.

A winter Alaska trip offers a better chance to see the skies light up in dancing greens, with Fairbank being one of the best places in the world to spot them.

Look to the sky from 11:30 pm until around 3:30 am and make sure you wear plenty of layers to keep warm.

14. Watch Icebergs Calve at Hubbard Glacier

The largest tidewater glacier in the world, Hubbard Glacier is well-worth visiting. It is still advancing to the sea and is enormous; around 6 miles wide where it meets the ocean.

Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier

As one of the most active glaciers, it is frequently calving. Visit there on a cruise ship and you can watch icebergs tumbling into the cold waters below.

15. Discover Alaska’s Ocean Giants

Nature fans won’t want to miss the chance to go whale watching in Alaska and Tracy Arm Fjord is perfect for doing so.

This narrow fjord is smaller than others but don’t be fooled by its size. It is home to some of Alaska’s largest glaciers and icebergs, surrounded by lush green forests and impressive waterfalls.

The fjord hosts abundant wildlife, including harbor seals, eagles, and whales. The area just north of the fjord is ideal for summer whale watching. Go there for the chance to see orca and humpback whales in all their glory.

16. Take to the Skies for Alaska’s Ultimate Aerial Views

For a different perspective of Alaska’s wilderness, take to the skies and go flightseeing. It will give you a true understanding of how vast and wild Alaska is.

You can organise flightseeing trips during a cruise stop-off at Misty Fjords National Monument, where you can admire the huge glacial lakes and dramatic fjords as you fly.

17. Find the US National Emblem; Bald Eagles

The US National Emblem, the bald eagle, is known for its long life, strength and majestic looks. It is surprisingly easy to find when you visit Alaska.

Bald eagles are often seen along Alaskan rivers during salmon season and gather in large numbers on certain beaches as well.

Top eagle-spotting destinations include Homer Spit, Juneau’s Eagle Bay, Ketchikan, Unalaska, Valdez and Skagway.

With so many choices, you’re more than likely to see eagles whether you’re cruising or exploring Alaska on land.

Also Read: What to Pack for an Alaska Cruise (More Than 50 Items!)

18. Drive the Alaska Highway

If you’re looking to experience an Alaskan road trip after your cruise vacation, be sure to check out the Alaska Highway.

This famous route covers over 1400 miles and is open all year. Remote and surrounded by Alaska’s typically impressive scenery, it offers the ultimate northern road trip.

Drive a small section of the highway or pack your bags and disappear for a few weeks of relaxed exploring along its winding, picture-perfect route.

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