Calving glaciers. Whale watching cruises. Dog sledding across a snowy plain. Trophy fishing. These are things that come to mind when you imagine your visit to Alaska. Whether you visit Alaska by land or by cruise, you can experience these things, and much more.
Here are my picks for Alaska's best 10 attractions:
The Denali National Park experience is fascinating and memorable for a number of reasons. First, of course, is magnificent Mount McKinley, which at 20,320 feet is the highest peak in North America. Then there's the wildlife. Take one of Denali National Park's bus tours and you're likely to see grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and wolves. Finally, there's the gorgeous and varied color of the park's lakes and rivers, geologic formations, and tundra landscape. Spend time at the Denali Visitor Center, located at the park's northeast entrance, to learn about the seasons and the natural history of Denali, and to get information about available park tours, activities, and recreation.
Where a visit to Denali National Park allows you to see an abundance of land-based wildlife, a Kenai Fjords day cruise will allow you to see a wide range of marine life. Otters, puffins, harbor seals, bald eagles, sea stars, orcas, Minke whales, and Dall's porpoises are just part of the list. You'll also see stunning mountain scenery, as well as hanging and tidewater glaciers. The Kenai Fjords National Park cruises leaves out of Seward, Alaska.
Located on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus, the Museum of the North is a world-class museum stuffed with fascinating exhibits covering Alaska's history, art, and culture. The Gallery of Alaska covers each region of the state, addressing both human and natural history. Highlights of this gallery include the coverage of mammoths and mastodons and the magnificent display of gold and gold nuggets. The Alaska Classics art gallery features historical paintings, while upstairs the Rose Berry Alaska Art Gallery focuses on contemporary Alaskan art. Don't miss the movies in the Museum of the North's theater, particularly Dynamic Aurora, which focuses on the science and beauty of the aurora borealis.
The 1898 Klondike Gold Rush was a colorful yet somber episode in North American history. With units scattered throughout Alaska - and even one in Seattle - the major visitor center for the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is located in Skagway. The visitor center offers a gripping film covering the terrible hardships and rare triumphs of the men and women who were part of the great rush, with a focus on those who passed through Skagway on their way over the Chilkoot Pass. After checking out the film, exhibits, and book shop at the visitor center, you can hook up with a ranger-led tour of downtown Skagway and its many historic Gold-Rush-era buildings.
The Anchorage Museum at Rasmussen Center is like several museums in one location, together covering Alaska's art, history, and science. Visitors can view contemporary and traditional art, learn about the state's history and native peoples, view amazing presentations at the Thomas Planetarium, and participate in hands-on activities. The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, a collection on loan from the Smithsonian, is a particularly fascinating display of artifacts from Native Alaskan and other Arctic cultures. Kids will love the Imaginarium Science Discovery Center, which moved into the Anchorage Museum in 2010. Anchorage Museum services include a cafe, a gift shop, and guided tours.
The Alaska State Museum, located in the capital city Juneau, is the official museum for the state. You'll find exhibits on a variety of topics related to Alaska history and culture. Their presentation of Native Alaskan traditions, including the Aleut, Athabaskan, Eskimo, and Northwest Coast people, is excellent. Early Russian, European, and American settlement, as well as gold rush and mining history, are among the other fascinating subjects illuminated by items in the museum's permanent collection.
There are a number of ways to experience Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. Many visit Glacier Bay as part of an Alaska Inside Passage cruise. Day-long boat tours are also available. As you make the chill and quiet journey through the fingers and inlets of Glacier Bay, you'll have the chance to see several major tidewater glaciers as well as a variety of wildlife. The area around the town of Gustavus, at the southern end of Glacier Bay National Park, offers most of the amenities for land-based visitors, including the park headquarters, visitor center, and accommodations.
Departing out of Fairbanks, the grand Riverboat Discovery will take you on a scenic tour of the Chena and Tanana Rivers. Along the way you'll learn about the contemporary and traditional ways of life in Alaska. You'll stop in front of the home and kennels of the late Susan Butcher to find out about the sled dogs. An Athabaskan fish camp is another stop, where you'll learn about the harvest, preparation, smoking, and storage of salmon. The highlight of the trip is the Chena Indian Village, where you can get off the Riverboat Discovery and explore an Athabaskan village to get an up-close look at the gear, dwellings, and animals that are a part of their culture. The cruise takes about 3.5 hours and starts and ends at a large Alaska gift shop.