9 Alaskan Towns That Are Overrun With Tourists During the Summer (and 3 to Visit Instead)

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A vacation to Alaska is a bucket list adventure for many travelers. With wide open spaces, an abundance of wildlife, world-class fishing opportunities, and unlimited daylight during the summer months, there is so much to do and see in the last frontier.

Tour companies and cruise ships have capitalized on this desire to visit a state that most Americans have spent their lives only reading about by sending a non-stop stream of ships, busses, and trains through the state. This has led to many towns being overrun with visitors when multiple cruise ships are in port or busses have unloaded.

While many of the towns on this list are still very much worth visiting, even if it is with a crowd of fellow travelers, some visitors are looking for a more laid-back, authentic Alaskan experience.

So let’s take a look at some of the towns in Alaska that become overrun with tourists during the summer months, and a bonus few that aren’t, but are definitely worthy of a visit!


Famous Creek Street national historic site in the heart of Kechikan.
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Ketchikan is the first stop for cruise ships heading their way north into Alaska. This small town of 8,000 people is situated at the base of towering mountains that make for spectacular scenery and even more spectacular rainfall, as this is one of the rainiest places in all of Alaska.

The port in Ketchikan can accommodate up to 4 cruise ships at once, which can result in the population of the town doubling overnight. Combine that with the small downtown, and you can see how the city can quickly become clogged with visitors.

Popular sights like Creek Street, where you can enjoy the views of the colorful buildings perched on pilings over Ketchikan Creek, quickly become congested as it is only a short walk from the cruise terminal.


View of Sitka's historic St. Michael's Orthodox Church which dates from the Russian period.
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Sitka is another popular Alaskan destination for cruise ships making their way through Southeast Alaska. And it’s easy to see why this is such a popular port with incredible scenery along this stretch of coast that is exposed to the mighty Pacific Ocean.

This is another town, though, that can see its population more than double if multiple cruise ships are in port on any given summer day. The downtown streets quickly become clogged with visitors and getting around the island is nearly impossible without a car or a seat on one of the tour busses as there is no ridesharing allowed.


Overhead view of five cruise ships in port of Juneau with Viking Orion anchored in the bay.
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The capital city of Alaska, Juneau has a little more room to spread out than other Southeast Alaskan towns but on cruise days the downtown core quickly fills up with disembarking passengers looking to grab some crab legs or catch a ride to Mendenhall Glacier.

Moderately fit visitors can walk over to the Mt. Roberts trailhead that climbs the impossibly steep-looking slopes directly behind downtown. The views from the top are outstanding and the crowds thin out pretty quickly during the ascent up the rooty and rocky trail.


Broadway Street View of Cruise Ship Docked in Skagway Alaska AK United States US Inside Passage Alaskan tour tourism tourist travel vacation passengers shop shopping souvenirs
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Skagway was the jumping-off point for folks looking to strike it rich during the Klondike gold rush, and the city still leans heavily into this heritage today. Luckily for visitors, they can now take a train up and over the passes that were once traversed on foot or by horse by those looking to strike it rich.

The city port can hold up to four cruise ships on a given day, so the cute downtown can be tranquil and relaxing on one day and an absolute zoo the next. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds, the most popular excursion for ship passengers is the White Pass Railroad. If you’d still like to see the scenery without the crowds, you can always rent a car and drive the highway on your own!


Celebrity Millennium cruise ship in the port of Seward in Alaska
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Seward serves as one of the two main embarkation and disembarkation hubs for cruises leaving out of Anchorage. Because of this and its location along the road system, the city can get very busy during the summer months.

One visit to Seward and you can see why it’s so popular. Ringed by towering mountains and deep fjords, the city serves as a jumping-off point to the nearby Kenai Fjords National Park. Here, you will be treated to some of Alaska’s most stunning scenery and incredible wildlife.


RVs (recreational vehicles) and campers fill the campgrounds and line the streets of the Homer Spit, a tourist attraction on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula
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Homer is one of Alaska’s most picturesque cities and a place that has been known to bring in tourists who never end up leaving. The highlight of the city is the Homer Spit, a chunk of land that juts 4.5 miles out into Katchemak Bay and is home to numerous shops, restaurants, hotels, fishing holes, a campground, and ports of call for ferries and cruise ships.

During the summer months, the spit is a beehive of activity with boats coming and going, visitors wandering through shops and making their pilgrimage to the Salty Dog saloon, and campers tending beachside bonfires that last well into the night.

If you’re looking to escape the crowds, then hop on one of the ferries or water taxis and take a ride over the nearby Seldovia.


The small town of Talkeetna, located in the Matanuska-Susitna borough, is a popular tourist destination in Alaska.
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Talkeetna is one of our favorite cities in all of Alaska. On a slow day, this tiny outpost, which features a small general store and the Talkeetna Roadhouse, is a perfect combination of an old-timey Alaskan town mixed with a haven for climbers looking to summit nearby Denali.

On busy days, though, tourists are dropped off by the hundreds, and the limited services offered in the town are quickly overrun. A lucky few may make it into the Roadhouse for one of their famous cinnamon rolls, but most shouldn’t count on it.

Fun fact about Talkeetna: it was once home to Stubbs the cat who was the town’s honorary mayor!


Alaskans and tourists shop at the Alaska Farmer's Market in downtown Anchorage on a hot summer day; tents and booths are seen in background.
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Anchorage serves as the main hub for visitors flying into or out of the state and also offers an unlimited amount of tour options, whether by plane, train, or automobile. While the city is big you can still expect to see big crowds at popular spots around town.

Downtown hotels fill up quickly, and renting a car from the airport during the summer months will leave you reeling from sticker shock.

Luckily, you can live by the same motto as most Alaskans who call Anchorage home: Alaska is only 30 minutes away. Meaning that drive 30 minutes in any direction, and you’ll feel like you’re in the real Alaska instead of the largest city in the state.


Alaska Railroad Train waiting at Denali Station. Passenger get in the railway car.
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Denali, Alaska, isn’t so much a town as it is a collection of restaurants, campgrounds, hotels, and other services that cater to the half million people who visited Denali National Park last year. Whether you’re visiting by RV, car, train, or bus, you’ll have to pass through this stop before making your way into the park, and the businesses here are well aware of this fact.

But it doesn’t take long once you’re on one of the National Park busses that the crowds melt away, and you’re immersed into one of the wildest national park settings you’ll find anywhere in the country.

Towns To Visit Instead: Petersburg

Colorful views near Petersburg in southeast Alaska and the inside passage
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Petersburg is a small fishing town situated along the inside passage between Ketchikan and Juneau. The city’s location along shallow and fast-moving Wrangell Narrows means there is nowhere for large cruise ships to safely dock.

This may be a disappointment at times to local gift shops, but for locals, it is a blessing. During the summer months the rise and fall of daily activity in the town is centered more around fishing openings than the arrival of cruise ships.

Visitors who make their way here by ferry or plane are usually looking to relax and spend their days fishing rather than being quickly shuttled from boat to excursion.

Nearby, LeConte Glacier is the state’s southernmost tidewater glacier and can only be visited by small tour boats.


United States of America Alaska Glacier
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Yakutat has a unique distinction in that it is known as the surfing capital of Alaska. The beaches that run north and south of town are directly exposed to the waves created by the immense storms that spin through the Gulf of Alaska.

The town is also situated at the base of the Wrangell – St. Elias mountains, which are some of the tallest in North America, behind only Denali.

The town sees plenty of cruise ships steaming by as they make their way to the massive Hubbard Glacier, but nearly none stop in town.


"View of Chugach Mountains and Valdez Boat Harbor"
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Valdez takes the crown as one of the snowiest places in all of Alaska. This keeps the town humming during the winter months as world-class snowboarders and skiers set up shop to take their turns riding miles of untouched powder.

During the summer months, the town comes alive as an outdoor mecca with its location near the mouth of the world-famous Copper River and plentiful boating and exploration opportunities. While some cruise ships make ports of call in town, the numbers aren’t nearly as bad as what other cities like Sitka and Seward see.

This means that even on busier days, there is still plenty of room to spread out and enjoy this scenic paradise.

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