How to Spend an Adventurous Trip to Alaska
Alaska is dubbed the Last American Frontier. It’s arguably the last place in the United States where you can unplug from the modern world and feel at one with Mother Nature. Its isolated wilderness, dramatic landscapes, and diverse wildlife make Alaska one of the world’s last outdoor escapes. But what draws me to Alaska are its adventurous activities that make your heart skip a beat.
Many call Alaska the ‘Adventure Capital of the United States,’ and I certainly agree with them. It has the country’s tallest mountains, wildest rivers, smouldering volcanoes, turquoise lakes, and densest brown bear population. With dozens of nature preserves, Alaska is for the adventure-minded traveler wishing to explore untamed nature.
If you’ve always dreamed of the wildest adventure of your dreams, Alaska has you covered (and then some). Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or master rafter, Alaska will push you to limits you’ve never imagined before. In this post, I’ll dive into my favorite Alaska activities and how to embark on your greatest adventure in North America. And if you’re not sure where to start in Alaska, I’ve got that covered too.
How to Spend an Adventurous Trip to Alaska
How to Travel Alaska | Best Adventure Activities in Alaska | Hiking | Camping | Float Trips | Flightseeing | Whale Watching | Top Adventure Destinations in Alaska | Kenai Fjords National Park | Denali National Park & Preserve | Katmai National Park and Preserve | Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve | Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve | Lake Clark National Park and Preserve | Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve | Tongass National Forest
How to Travel Alaska
Separated from the lower 48 states, getting to Alaska may seem trickier than other U.S. destinations. But in reality, you have several options, and organizing your travel to Alaska is a breeze. The quickest mode of transport is flying into one of Alaska’s major airport hubs, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. With a population pushing 300,000 residents, Anchorage is the largest transport hub. Multiple U.S. airlines offer direct flights from major cities, such as Seattle, Denver, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis.
Another popular way of entering Alaska is by ferry or cruise ship. One-way cruises departing from Seattle and Vancouver make beautiful trips into one of the Alaskan ports. Although it takes upwards of 2+ days to reach Alaska via cruise, it’s a breathtaking intro to its glaciers, fjords, and abundant sea creatures. Inside Passage, itineraries are most common, but Gulf of Alaska routes let you springboard to land tours into the Alaskan wilderness.
Despite being a lengthy journey, it’s possible to drive into Alaska from the continental United States. This involves a drive through Canada to connect with the Alaska Highway. The highway starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, and ends at Delta Junction, Alaska. While there is no train to reach Alaska, the Alaska Railroad is an excellent mode of transport to get around Alaska. The company offers multiple routes stretching from Fairbanks in the north to Seward in the south.
Once you’ve arrived in Alaska, there is a myriad of ways to explore the state. Alaska is 2.5 times larger than Texas, and it’s a daunting task to decide how to travel around. Land and cruise ship tours are most popular, but you’ll also find self-driving tours, bus trips, and helicopter expeditions. Any combination of these travel methods will make any trip to Alaska more exciting for thrill-seekers.
Best Adventure Activities in Alaska
Although it’s my biased opinion, Alaska is no doubt the best place in North America for outdoor activities. But I’m sure many readers would be inclined to agree, right? With a landmass larger than California, Texas, and Montana combined, Alaska hosts endless activities. Whether you explore by foot, boat, plane, car, or railroad, adventure is only a heartbeat away in Alaska.
As you know, I always love a good hike. And with its lofty peaks, mighty glaciers, verdant forests, and wild backcountry, Alaska is a North American hiking gem. Trekking through Alaska is not for the faint of heart and numerous dangers are lurking out there. Between brown bears and wolves, unpredictable weather, and river crossings, you could be in for a wild adventure.
From the famous West Glacier Trail to the waterways of the Reed Lakes Trail, I’ve grouped my favorite hikes in Alaska. The state’s diverse terrain lets you climb glaciers, ascend rocky outcrops, visit turquoise lakes, wander through vast tundra, and meet what feels like the end of civilization. Hiking the Last American Frontier is a thrill-inducing journey like you’ve never imagined.
Since many of Alaska’s wildest hiking trails venture deep into the wilderness, camping is my next choice for adventure. While Alaska has a plethora of log cabins nestled in the backcountry, camping is what captures my adventurous spirit the most. Sleeping beneath the stars and hearing the solitude of nature is more surreal in Alaska than in the lower 48 states. It truly feels you’ve departed the modern world and build a more intimate connection with the Earth.
Alaska’s enormous national park system gives you a wide range of scenic camping sites. You could place your tent near glacial-fed lakes, inside boreal forests, or beside the base of dramatic peaks. It’s a daunting task to choose the right spots for your trip, so I’ve gathered some of the best Alaska camping sites for an adventurous getaway.
3. Float Trips
Exploring Alaska’s wide-open interior may lack roadways, but it does have an extensive transport system to get around. With 3 million lakes and 365,000 miles of rivers, float trips are essential for your Alaskan adventure. 25 rivers in Alaska earn the ‘Wild and Scenic’ label and open the floodgates for epic journeys on the water. Whether you float down calm waterways or fight your way through plunging whitewater rapids, your heart will race. Offering world-class float trips down the stunning Kenai River, Alaska Wildland Adventures is a top-notch tour operator to choose from.
Another heart-racing activity to witness the unspeakable beauty of Alaska is taking to the skies. Since much of Alaska’s landscape is inaccessible on land, a flightseeing trip is a more proper way to appreciate it. You’ll take off on a small plane or helicopter to get a bird’s eye view of the diverse terrain. The aircraft soars above snowy mountain ranges overlook glaciers and show rivers coursing through the wilderness.
Alaska is proud to have the most pilots and aircraft of any state in America. That allows thrill-seekers to take flightseeing trips across the state to see more of Alaska’s unspoiled wilderness. From the Denali mountains to the Kenai Fjords, hold on tight for this exhilarating ride.
5. Whale Watching
Heading back to the sea, Alaska is a goldmine for whale watching cruises and a dream location for wildlife enthusiasts. As you’ve read before, I adore whale watching, and it’s among my favorite travel activities. There’s no way an intrepid traveler can visit Alaska without witnessing its miraculous marine creatures. Embark on a whale-watching excursion, and you could see orcas, humpback whales, gray whales, blue whales, beluga whales, porpoises, sea lions, and sea otters.
One of the frequently asked questions about Alaskan whale watching is which ports of call to begin your excursion. While there are several great starting points, the main thing is to depart from somewhere along the whale migration path. That will ensure you get the life-changing experience of seeing the ocean’s most majestic creatures. I tackle more whale watching tips and destinations in my Alaska whale watching guide.
And please, don’t forget your camera. You’ll regret it if you do!\
Top Adventure Destinations in Alaska
Home to 8 national parks, adventurous travelers are spoiled for choice when visiting Alaska. But there are even more places to discover than the famous parks that get all the hype. I was amazed to learn that Alaska has around two dozen national park service units and 16 national wildlife refuges.
While some Alaskan destinations take meticulous planning to reach, the journey is half the fun. The state has maybe the most dramatic scenery in North America and leaves you speechless around every turn. Here are my favorite places in Alaska where thrill-seekers will have a blast.
6. Kenai Fjords National Park
Situated on the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords National Park forms a dramatic meeting between land and sea. Rocky peaks rise above 40 glaciers retreating from the Harding Icefield. Floating icebergs, sea stacks, and tree-top islands adorn the coastal fjords that host sea-faring adventures. With the rich waters and verdant forests engulfing the peninsula, Kenai Fjords treats visitors to vast wildlife.
Hiking the Harding Icefield Trail is an incredible day trip for intimate views of the icy landmass. Kayaking the frigid waters of the Kenai Peninsula brings you face-to-face with glaciers, fjords, snowy peaks, and sea life. But please, don’t kayak alone without having experience. Summer swells from the Gulf of Alaska, and fierce winds can make this a dangerous excursion.
An easier way to explore the Kenai Fjords is by booking a day trip from nearby Seward. These boat tours are fantastic for spotting orcas, gray whales, fin whales, sea lions, Dall’s porpoises, sea otters, and more. You should cruise Prince William Sound, it’s near by and always treats visitors to views of tidewater glaciers and diverse wildlife. For a longer stay, Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge offers a beautiful starting point for kayaking and hiking trips.
7. Denali National Park & Preserve
Denali National Park is a picture-perfect area to explore Alaska’s rugged interior. Home to North America’s highest peak, Denali, the park hypnotizes visitors with its snow-capped mountains. And its 6 million acres of raw wilderness host a smorgasbord of wild adventures.
Off-trail hiking, biking, camping expeditions, and wildlife viewing give hardy travelers an intimate connection with the untamed wilderness. A more hair-raising way to view Denali is taking to the skies on a flightseeing trip. You’ll soar above rocky peaks and immense glaciers and get surreal images of the park’s vast tundra and spruce forests. Denali National Park also offers the unique experience of meeting a team of sled dogs and watching mushing demonstrations.
8. Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park earns its fame for being one of the premier bear viewing destinations in Alaska. Located on a peninsula, Katmai’s salmon-rich waters draw tons of brown bears searching for food. Those hoping to catch a glimpse of the majestic creatures can view feeding brown bears from lookouts surveying the Brooks River. The cascading Brooks Falls is another scenic site to watch brown bears searching for wild salmon.
Apart from bear viewing, Katmai National Park hosts many rivers, streams, and lakes for boating excursions. Hikers can depart from Brooks Camp and delve into spruce forests, eerie tundra, jagged peaks, and stratovolcanoes. And The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes gives explorers a glimpse of the barren terrain and steaming fumaroles caused by the 1912 Novarupta eruption.
9. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve
At 13.2 million acres, Wrangell-St. Elias is the largest national park in the United States. The park’s monstrous size alone entices adventurous travelers with pure isolation in untamed nature. Snowy peaks, glaciers, and icefields stretch for miles as turquoise waterways cut through the landscape. Standing at 5,489 m, Mount Saint Elias looms above the horizon and draws mountaineers.
Given its sheer size, a flightseeing excursion lets you fully capture the beauty of Wrangell-St. Elias. Your plane will soar above icefields, volcanoes, and aquamarine lakes for unforgettable views. McCarthy and Nabesna Roads offer some of the most jaw-dropping vistas of any self-driving Alaska tour.
Hikers can conquer glaciers, climb mountain passes, and view glorious vistas on daring backpacking trips. And with its numerous glacial-fed rivers, Wrangell-St. Elias is a prime Alaska rafting destination.
10. Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
If you manage the journey to Gates of the Arctic National Park, you’ll feel like you’ve reached the end of the world. Situated entirely within the Arctic Circle, Gates of the Arctic has some of Alaska’s wildest landscapes. The park houses the Brooks Range, a remote wilderness only inhabited by a few sparsely populated villages. With no roads inside the park, you’ll have to book a flight or set off on a backpacking expedition to enter.
Gates of the Arctic has some of the most unexplored parts of North America, and intrepid hikers will be in paradise. Expect to encounter serrated peaks, vast tundra, and lots of wildlife navigating the untamed landscapes. The scenic rivers enable rafters to take float trips down waterways barely touched by humans.
11. Lake Clark National Park and Preserve
Despite being only 100 miles from Anchorage, Lake Clark National Park feels worlds apart from Alaska’s largest city. Based around the sparkling Lake Clark, the park is only accessible by plane or boat. Thus, getting to this national park is an epic adventure in itself. Once you reach this fertile ecosystem, you’ll meet a breathtaking world of snow-capped peaks, glacial-fed lakes, and crystal-clear rivers.
With many lakes and rivers, Lake Clark National Park offers a gateway to thrilling adventures on the water. Paddle through the glistening lakes, cast your fishing reel in salmon-rich streams or book a boating trip on Lake Clark.
Those wishing to explore the park by land will find life-changing backpacking and biking trips. And the coastal environment of Lake Clark makes it one of the top bear viewing places in Alaska.
12. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
Situated on the Southeast Alaskan coastline, Glacier Bay National Park is a gateway to deep-blue fjords and impressive glaciers. Tidewater glaciers retreat into the fjords while lofty peaks tower above the giant ice masses. The park is home to around 50 glaciers, and the rich waters host incredible marine life for wildlife enthusiasts.
Taking to the water is the best way to explore the surreal beauty of this glacier-filled national park. The majority of visitors come by cruise ship, but you can arrange more thrilling Glacier Bay tours. Small ship adventures get you closer to the mighty glaciers, and kayaking excursions provide a more intimate experience. While you’re cruising around glaciers, keep your eyes peeled for orcas, humpback whales, sea lions, porpoises, bears, wolves, and moose.
13. Tongass National Forest
At 16.7 million acres, Tongass National Forest is the largest national forest in the United States. The temperate rain forest sprawls across Southeast Alaska and surrounds the Inside Passage. Home to many fauna and flora species, the Tongass critically important to conservationists. Large numbers of brown bears and bald eagles live within its dense forests, while orcas, humpback whales, salmon, and beavers populate the icy waters.
With over 700 miles of trails, the Tongass is heaven for hikers wishing to explore lush forests, gushing waterfalls, and enormous glaciers. Camping within the forest provides easy access to fishing excursions for Alaska’s wild Pacific salmon. Given its seaside location, the Tongass makes an excellent base for whale-watching trips. And for something more unique, book a spelunking tour inside Alaska’s longest mapped cave.
Are you ready to take on an Alaska adventure? Let us know about your dream adventure in the comments below.
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