Alaska, our great 49th state, makes up for in size what it lacks in population. With over 33,000 miles of coastline and a land area twice the size of Texas, there is much more to explore than just one visit can cover. As television adds more Alaska-based reality shows each season, the state is fast becoming much more than just a cruise-ship destination. Families will find a little something for everyone, from history buffs to fishermen and skiers to hikers. Here are ten Alaskan adventures to get you started, and they come with the promise that once you visit, you will have plans to return with a whole to-do list of your own.
10. Experience year-round adventures at a world-class resort.
Alyeska Resort is Alaska’s only true all-season ski resort. Located just 40 miles south of Anchorage, it makes for an easy starting point to become familiarized with the rugged landscape and outdoor recreation opportunities that Alaska offers. Hike or mountain-bike in the summer, and ski, snowboard, or snowshoe in the winter. Events and festivals abound year-round. Add to that a world-class hotel with fabulous family-friendly indoor pool, and you may never want to leave.
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9. Get up close and personal with ancient ice
Over half of the world’s glaciers are located in Alaska, and there are several that are easily accessible right from the road system. Perhaps the most family-friendly is Exit Glacier in Seward. A breathtaking 3-hour drive from Anchorage, the glacier is located at the entrance to Kenai Fjords National Park. Follow the trails from the visitors’ center right up to the “toe” of the glacier and touch ice that is thousands of years old. Marvel over how far the ice has receded over the years when you pass the markers along the way that indicate where the glacier’s edge used to be, just 20 or 30 years ago.
8. Go to the dogs
Alaska is known for its working dogs, most famously through the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race from Anchorage to Nome. Opportunities abound around the state to meet these amazing creatures and learn about the work that goes into raising and training them. In Anchorage or Seward, stop by Seavey’s Ididaride and experience for yourself the power and speed that a team of sled dogs can produce. Rides are available year-round and are something that your kids are sure to remember for life. If you’re brave enough to visit in the winter, the excitement of attending the start of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race in Anchorage will surely make you forget the sub-freezing temperatures.
Looking for more sled dog fun? Visit Denali National Park.
7. Adventure on the rails
The Alaska Railroad offers a unique experience to take in the scenery while someone else does the driving. With trains running from Seward to Fairbanks and many stops in between, reserving a seat in a glass-domed car affords views of craggy peaks, icy glaciers, miles of wildflowers, and abounding wildlife. The train runs year-round, with weekend service in the winter that promises snowy vistas and the chance to see the Aurora Borealis from the towns of Talkeetna and Fairbanks.
6. Hike and fish in Alaska’s Emerald Isle
Kodiak Island is easily accessible by plane from Anchorage (or ferry from Homer) and is well worth the trip. If you visit in mid-summer, you will know how it got its nickname. Bursting with wildflowers and towering green mountains, Kodiak has a road system that allows for easy access to some of the best hiking and fishing in the state. Old military roads ascend Pillar and Old Woman Mountains, making for gentle, family-friendly climbs with endless views. Several rivers are located along the roadside, and if you time it right you can catch a run of salmon and drop your line in for dinner. For a little extra adventure, follow the road out to Pasagshak and take in the herd of wild buffalo that roam Fossil Beach. You may even spy a surfer or two in the frigid water.
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5. Meet the creatures that live under the sea
The waters of Alaska may be cold, but they are filled with creatures of all shapes and sizes. With the huge tidal ranges of Kachemak Bay, Homer is the perfect place to meet and learn about some of them. For a crash course in tidepool creature identification, visit the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies and take their “Creatures Under the Docks” tour. Peer over the edges of the floating docks in the harbor and spy sea stars, anemones, and plant life. For an even more up-close look at the flora and fauna of the area, enjoy a day trip or even a family camp weekend at their field station across the bay in Kachemak Bay State Park.
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4. Meander with the moose
The Alaskan forests and fields are just brimming with wildlife. While you may very well spot them from the road, immersing yourself in their habitat is the best way to spot moose, birds, and many other animals. Head to Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge in Fairbanks for over 5 miles of family-friendly trails through the meadows and forest. Check out the many festivals and events offered year-round, like the Sandhill Crane Festival and the Winter Solstice Walk. In the winter, this is a great spot for snowshoeing!
3. Celebrate Alaska’s heritage
While Alaska is relatively new to statehood, its history stretches back much further. A great place to get started with learning about Alaskan heritage is the Sitka National Historical Park. Wander the forest trails dotted with towering totems, and watch craftsmen creating and restoring totem poles. Learn about the great history of the area, dating back to the Battle of Sitka in 1804 between the Russians and the native Tlingits. If you are lucky enough to visit in October, you can don period costumes and attend the Alaska Day Festival.
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2. Strike it rich…or have fun trying
Alaska is well known for its gold mines. Many towns throughout the state offer attractions that allow you to give gold panning a try. Valdez takes it one step further and has an entire Gold Rush Days festival. Have some old-fashioned family fun with parades, canoe races, fish fries, an outdoor market, and more. If you can’t make it to Valdez, the Crow Creek Mine is just 40 miles outside of Anchorage and offers gold panning for all ages, as well as camping and picnic sites in the Chugach National Forest. Fairbanks boasts the El Dorado Gold Mine, where you can take an educational train ride and pan for gold.
Been panning for gold with your kids? Share your story.
1. See Alaska’s most famous peak
Mt. McKinley, also known as Denali, is the tallest peak in North America. It is perhaps the most famous attraction in Alaska, and for good reason. If you are lucky enough to get a glimpse of it (which is not guaranteed due to frequent clouds), you will understand why. It is massive. But don’t fear, there is much more to see and do at Denali National Park even if the mountain itself is hiding. Take a bus tour along the park road (personal vehicles are not allowed past mile 15), see a sled dog demonstration at the visitor’s center, and explore along the many hiking trails.
Lead image by: Shutterstock
Christy Newell travels the country thanks to her husband’s job with the US Coast Guard. She is currently loving life in Homer, Alaska with her two kids.