14 Reasons Why Alaska is the Ultimate Vacation Destination

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The Last Frontier is an ultimate tourist destination with wild lands, even wilder wildlife, charming towns, and scenery that will fill enough memories to last a lifetime. Whether you’re looking to get off the grid and out into the ultimate wilderness or for a more catered visiting experience, there is something for everyone in Alaska.

With cruises running through Southeast and into Southcentral Alaska, trains rumbling into the interior, and buses ready to take you into Denali National Park, there is no shortage of ways to explore this incredible state.

So this summer, or winter even, pack your bags and take off for the ultimate destination, Alaska.

Spectacular Scenery

Picturesque view of the mountains reflecting in still water of Glacier Bay in  Alaska, United States.
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In a state that is home to 14 mountain ranges, over 6,000 miles of coastline, and thousands of rivers and lakes, Alaska has some of the most spectacular scenery in the country.

Locations like Misty Fjords, Glacier Bay, and Kenai Fjords highlight the state’s spectacular coastline, while Denali, standing at over 20,000 feet, is the crown jewel of the many mountains that cover the state.

Just driving between cities can take you through stunning mountain passes that would be a must-visit tourist destination in almost any other state.

Northern Lights

Purple and green northern Lights swirling over pine trees
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The northern lights of Alaska are one of the biggest tourism draws to the state during the winter months. There is something otherworldly watching ribbons of green, pink, and red dance overhead while you stand out in the freezing arctic temperatures.

Or, if you planned ahead, from your heated fiberglass igloos, designed specifically for catching a glimpse of this natural wonder.

Outdoor Adventures

hikers exploring, Hatcher Pass, Matanuska Valley, Palmer, Alaska, USA
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The joke in Alaska is that the sun needs to stay up all night because there is too much to do during the summer. If you’re looking for outdoor adventures, then there is no better place to go than Alaska. From fishing to hiking to pack rafting to wildlife viewing. The list goes on and on, and you could spend a lifetime trying to whittle it down.

For an experience you’ll never forget, strap on your hiking boots and head up Hatcher Pass. There, you can hike to and even sleep at a backcountry hut with some of the most incredible views in the state.

Unique Culture

Detail of totem pole at Saxman Village tribal house near Ketchikan Alaska with Sun Raven in background
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Alaska is rich in indigenous culture and history, with vibrant Native communities that offer visitors a chance to learn about their traditions and customs.

Did you know that Alaska is home to over 200 different native tribes? They each have their own individual communities and cultures that are well worth exploring and learning about as they truly mastered living off the land in the rugged Alaska environment.

The Alaska Native Heritage Center is a must-visit for anyone passing through Anchorage!

Remote Wilderness

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, Alaska.
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The wilderness of Alaska is some of the last remaining truly remote wilderness left in the United States. In the backcountry of Alaska, you can canoe down unnamed rivers, climb peaks that have never seen a human ascent, and fly for miles without seeing any sign of human encroachment on the land.

Many visitors looking for the ultimate backcountry experience will head to Wrangell-St Elias National Park. This is the largest national park in the country, yet it has no roads or trails in the backcountry. By flying in and getting dropped off, you’ll be assured of the ultimate wilderness experience for the duration of your stay.

Glacier Viewing

Hubbard Glacier in Alaska under Cloudy Skies
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Alaska is home to over 600 named glaciers, so if viewing or even walking on a glacier is on your bucket list, then Alaska has you covered.

If you’re looking for an easily accessible glacier from the road, then Exit Glacier near Seward is a great option. There are numerous trails around the glacier that will take you to overlooks, right up to the face of the glacier or high up on the ridges above to see the entire ice field.

Visiting a tidewater glacier is another must-do for glacier seekers, as these glaciers flow directly into the ocean. Watching giant chunks of ice calve off the side of these mountains of ice is an experience you won’t soon forget. Glacier Bay National Park is an outstanding option to get up close and personal with these glaciers.

Salmon Fishing

Wild silver salmon caught in Kodiak, Alaska
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Alaska offers world-class fishing options that range from deepwater halibut trips out to Homer to trying to hook a skittish arctic char on a fly on an unnamed backcountry creek. But it is salmon fishing that ultimately rules the day, with thousands of anglers descending on popular salmon rivers when these majestic fish return home to spawn.

Rivers like the Kenai, Copper, and Kasilof turn into combat fishing zones, with anglers dip netting and casting for a chance to land one of the millions of fish passing by. If that isn’t quite your style, then you can also book a charter out of any number of coastal ports to try your hand at trolling for a mighty king salmon.

Abundant Wildlife

Mother bear fishing with cubs in Chilkoot river, Haines Alaska
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Alaska is home to a plethora of wildlife in concentrations not found anywhere else in the country. Start your day by the ocean, where you can watch sea otters float in bays, humpback whales and orcas glide through the water, and puffins dive for dinner. Heading inland, you can find grizzly bears watching over salmon streams for their next meal, moose ambling through the tundra, wolves preparing for their next hunt, and herds of caribou that number in the thousands.

If you make your way far enough north, you can even catch sight of bison, the mysterious musk ox, or even a polar bear.

Summer Midnight Sun

Alaskan volcano during midnight sun
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When you first arrive in Alaska during the summer, it can take some time to get used to the lack of darkness at night. At higher latitudes the sun may only barely dip below the horizon at night.

We look at this as a bonus, though (unless you’re trying to get kids to bed), as it allows for countless hours of exploring, fishing, or even taking in the Midnight Sun baseball game. The game is an annual tradition in Fairbanks dating back over 100 years, starting at 10 p.m. on the summer solstice and using no artificial lighting.

Rich History

Kennecott abandoned copper mining camp view, Alaska
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Alaska is filled with a rich history, from the natives who called the area home for thousands of years to the Russian fur traders to the gold rush that ultimately set off the waves of migration to the state to the WWII bunkers and battlegrounds that are still evident in many coastal communities. This history is often front and center, as much of it has been left to nature to restore.

Walking along the beach, you are just as likely to come across petroglyphs etched into rock faces as you are concrete bunkers once manned during WWII.

Head up high into the hills or up rivers in central Alaska, and odds are, you’ll stumble upon old mining equipment that tells the tale of the search for riches that eluded so many.

National Parks

Denali Mountain and Wonder Lake at sunrise, Alaska
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Did you know that Alaska has the second most national parks in the country, with eight? Only California, with its 9 national parks, has more. These parks range from areas with majestic coastal fjords and glaciers to prime wildlife viewing areas to the tallest mountain in North America.

Some of the parks, like Denali and Glacier Bay, are a must-stop for cruise passengers and see over half a million visitors each. On the other hand, Gates of the Arctic National Park sees less than 10,000 visitors per YEAR.

Adventure Cruises

A day cruise tour start from Seward took the tourists to see closely Holgate glacier of Aialik bay in Alaska.
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Cruises, like them or not, have become one of the most popular ways for visitors to see Alaska. But hulking cruise ships lumbering their way up through the inside passage isn’t the only way to get out on the water and see the state.

From Seward, you can hop on a much smaller ship and enjoy the sights as you make your way out to Kenai Fjords National Park. Here, you will get the chance to see an abundance of wildlife, stunning coastlines punctuated by massive cliffs rising straight up out of the ocean, and tidewater glaciers littering the bays with icebergs.

Hot Springs

Chena Hot Spring on the top of mountain in Alaska during winter
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In a state with over 50 active volcanoes, you’d expect there to be no shortage of natural hot springs to indulge in. And that expectation is right on the money as Alaska is home to some of the most beautiful and remote hot springs you’ll find anywhere in the world.

While some springs have been built up and are right off the road system, others require a boat or plane to access and you are pretty much guaranteed to have the place to yourself.

Charming Towns

Row of shops at the Creek street in Ketchikan, Alaska
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Alaska is chock full of towns ready to steal your heart. From charming coastal fishing towns to interior villages, there is no shortage of places to stop and get to know the real Alaska.

Even during the heart of tourism season, you can expect to see the real people of Alaska going about their day tending to their fishing nets or setting up the local cafe. Not that you can’t find plenty of areas that cater exclusively to tourists, like the Homer Spit, but these are more the exception throughout the state than the rule.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest