Things to do in Alaska: Adventures await

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Alaska is full of original and unique things to do, but what are they? Which ones should you choose? Whether you’re headed to Alaska for your once-in-a-lifetime trip or if you live in the state and want to explore, here are a few great ideas to get your adventure on. 

Green northern lights dance in the night sky.
Aurora n the night sky. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

We all know Alaska is the biggest state in the country. It’s as long, from tip to tip, as the entire continental United States. There are plenty of ways to get out and enjoy the wide-open spaces. Or explore the cities, towns and villages. 

“I want to go to Alaska SO badly! My dream is to drive a skidoo at night to a remote spot, with the mountains in the background and see the Northern Lights dancing over them. I think I would need a month there with everything Alaska offers.”

––Mandy Applegate Splash of Taste

Visiting in the summer

Summertime is always a nice time to visit Alaska. It’s the most popular time to visit because it’s usually warm, summery and less cold and intimidating.

  • Enjoy the Midnight Sun: Get out and explore extended hours in the sun. Alaska isn’t called Land of the Midnight Sun for nothing. In some areas, such as Utqiagvik, the sun never sets in the summer. Farther south, you’ll find 18-20 hours of sunlight daily. 
  • Take a tour: From 4-wheeler tours to glaciers and reindeer farms to candy kitchen tours, there’s a tour out there for your group. 
  • Plan a class: Anchorage has cooking classes, Palmer has blacksmithing classes, and Homer has Dockside Discovery Classes. There are classes out there, and truly something for everyone. 
  • Take a dog sled ride: Alaska is home to the Iditarod, and while that is a winter sport, dog teams train all year long. You can catch a ride on a summer dogsled training rig. It’s quiet and a wonderful way to see Alaska. By the way, you can do this in the winter too.
  • Find a national park: There are 16 national parks in Alaska, and many have self-guided, fun ways to explore the parks, especially for kids. 
  • Bear watching: If you have the time, head out to Katmai to watch brown bears feasting on salmon coming up the river to spawn. 
  • Love to fish?: South Central Alaska has lots of places to fish for salmon. The Kenai Peninsula is a popular destination, and the Matanuska-Sustina Valley is also a great place to fish. Find a local guide to take you where the salmon are biting for the best results. 
  • See rescued wildlife: The Alaska Zoo has many abandoned and rescued animals. If you want to see bears, moose, porcupine and so much more, the zoo is a great way to get it all in. 
  • Alaska State Fair: This yearly fair in Palmer has been named one of the top 10 fairs in the United States of America. See Native arts and sports, heavy-weight giant vegetables, monster trucks, rides, concerts and more. 
  • Alaska Native Heritage Center: Located in Anchorage, the center is open daily in the summer; explore Native heritage of Alaska in one place. 

“I called Alaska home for close to five years. I got to experience the Northern Lights, visit the Fairbanks Ice Museum, take a deep soak at Chena Hot Springs, watch the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and much more.”

— Louisa Moje, La Passion Voutee
Moose nibbling frosty trees.
Moose Eating. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

Wintertime fun

Sure, summertime is an amazing time to visit Alaska, but wintertime can also be wonderful. And there are many ways to keep busy and stay happy in the winter. 

  • Enjoy the dark: In wintertime, Alaska is darker and has less daylight. In some places, like Utqiagvik, the sun doesn’t come up at all for months in the winter. So get out while the sun shines and be ready to explore in twilight. And get ready to spend quality time indoors sipping coffee and cooking hearty dinners, going to bookstores, libraries and the movies. 
  • Bundle up: To enjoy the winter in Alaska, wear appropriate clothes. Long underwear, good boots, a coat rated to zero degrees Fahrenheit, a hat and gloves will suit you well. If you’re heading out to play in the snow, you will need snow pants and warm wool socks.
  • Skiing, tubing or sledding: In South Central Alaska, you can downhill ski at Alyeska Ski Resort and go tubing at Arctic Valley. Many local parks around Alaska have sledding hills and cross-country ski trails to get out on. You can rent skis at several local shops too. 
  • View the aurora borealis: Or the northern lights as they’re called locally. Most clear cold nights will be perfect for viewing. If you’re in a city or small town, simply drive away from the street lights and look up. You can find the aurora forecast online from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  If you’re a photographer, you can set up long exposure photos of the sky for some truly awesome photos. 
  • Get on a snowmachine: There are lots of tour operators who run winter tours on snowmachines — Alaskans call snowmobiles snowmachines.  They’re a great way to have an exciting adventure to the middle of nowhere and to get out there and see Alaska. 
  • Watch the Iditarod: If you’re in Anchorage in March, you can bundle up and head downtown to watch the dog sleds start a 1000-mile run to Nome, Alaska. The trail takes teams through very sparsely populated Western Alaska. And it’s a remembrance of a serum run made long ago to end a deadly diphtheria outbreak.
  • Fur Rondy: Fur Rondy, or the Fur Rendezvous, is a winter festival in Anchorage that harkens back to when the trappers would come to town and sell their furs. There’s a carnival, parades, sprint dog sled races, balls and parties all over town. 

“When I visited Alaska, I was lucky to see the Northern Lights. I was so glad I took my tripod to take some long-exposure photos of the night sky. They are some of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken that I will always treasure. Another thing I loved was fishing with our hosts, who were locals. We caught Alaskan king crab, and our hosts prepared it for us. It was so fresh and delicious, one of my favorite food memories.”

— Susannah Brinkley Henry, Feast + West
A braided river winds through a valley.
River Delta in Denali. Photo Credit: Yayimages.

Shoulder seasons

Spring and Fall are also nice times to visit; the state typically has fewer tourists in these seasons. The shoulder seasons can be more affordable, too, if you need to stretch your travel budget. Many activities can be done across the seasons, so check on the specific item you want to try before planning your shoulder season trip. 

Adventures await

Alaska is a haven for adventure seekers and nature lovers. Its stunning landscapes, rich wildlife and endless outdoor activities make this state popular with visitors of all ages. Planning to drive with kids? Be sure to plan many stops and road trip games to entertain them. The vast driving distances are like nothing most people have ever experienced. 

Even if it does take a long time to travel for glacier explorations, northern lights viewing, and cultural experiences, they are worth the time and effort. Adventures are out there. Are you willing to take the time to find them?

Laura Sampson of Little House Big Alaska is on a mission to teach modern family-oriented home cooks how to make old-fashioned foods new again. She shares her passion for home cooking, backyard gardening, and homesteading on her website and blog, Little House Big Alaska.

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