So you’re planning your bucket list trip to Alaska? Surely you’ve got a bunch of experiences you want to have – and I’m here to make all the planning even more difficult. This Alaska bucket list is full of some of the most popular Alaskan experiences and a few more off-beat adventures you probably haven’t thought of. After growing up in Alaska, these are some of the ones that only locals know is worth putting on your bucket list – and some that are still on my bucket list for Alaska too.
Before getting started, it’s important to note: while Alaska is called the Land of the Midnight Sun, that’s only true during the warmer months of the amazing Alaska summer. Similarly, not all activities on this list are available year-round; some are only available during the winter months. Be sure to do extra research to understand which Alaska bucket list adventures you’ll be able to do during your planned trip dates.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yuit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1. Go on an Alaska Cruise
By far the most common way to see Alaska – and the most common means of completing your Alaska bucket list – is by taking an Alaska cruise! There’s nothing quite like exploring the waterways of Alaska’s Inside Passage by boat. It’s also the best way to visit Glacier Bay National Park.
I’ve taken one cruise in Alaska, a small-ship cruise in southeast Alaska with UnCruise. It was honestly one of my most amazing travel experiences and what I consider the best way to see Alaska.
2. Rent an RV and Camp Across Alaska
Another popular way to see Alaska is by land – in an RV specifically. While most summer RVers in Alaska drive up the Alaska Highway, you can also fly into Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and rent an RV. From there you can drive south to Seward and explore the Kenai Peninsula, or north along Knik Arm to towns like Wasilla, Talkeetna, Denali, and Fairbanks. Or, with an RV – you can do them all!
A note: it might be tempting to rent the biggest luxest RV, I recommend getting a smaller one. You’ll be able to handle Alaska’s two-lane highways much more safely.
3. Ride the Alaska Railroad
While it might seem like boats and automobiles are the way to see Alaska, don’t disregard the train. The Alaska Railroad is the only passenger train in Alaska – but to be fair there’s really only one railroad route! You can ride the train from Seward to Fairbanks – and take stops en route in stops like Anchorage, Talkeetna, and Denali.
4. DIY Alaska on an Independent Itinerary
As you already know, I’m a big fan of doing Alaska your own way. After all, that’s why I have my suggested itinerary for 10 days in Alaska with all those handy independent travel tips. You can definitely book a tour or put together a series of tours – or you can book a few hotels, rent a car, hit the road, and see what Alaskan adventures you find on your own.
5. Drive the Alaska Highway
For the most epic Alaskan bucket list experience, rent a car and drive off into the sunset… or since this is Alaska, maybe I should say drive off into the Midnight Sun!
The Alaska Highway goes from Anchorage to the Yukon Territory at Beaver Creek. If you have the time and really want to explore Alaska, driving the AlCan is 1,390 miles of adventure.
6. See Denali, “The Great One”
No matter where you travel in The Last Frontier, seeing Denali should definitely be on your Alaska Bucket List. As the highest mountain in North America, Denali is a stunning natural wonder – and and because it is the tallest mountain in Alaska, you can see Denali from many viewpoints in Southcentral and Interior Alaska.
Growing up in Alaska, I loved seeing Denali on the regular. Whenever I visit, I still get a sense of awe seeing her looming silhouette on the horizon.
7. Spot the Alaskan Big Five in Denali National Park
Denali National Park is a must-visit for anyone visiting Alaska – it’s one of the main reasons people who take cruises also do a land tour afterward. Add in that it’s one of the best spots for wildlife viewing, and you’ve got a bucket list destination for basically everyone!
The best way to visit Denali is on the 8-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour operated by the National Park Service. In fact, this is one of only three ways to visit the park (your other options are a 4-hour and a 12-hour bus tour). While you’re in the park, keep an eye out for the Alaskan Big Five: Moose, Bear*, Caribou, Dall Sheep, and Wolves. Most people see 2-4 on any given day – if you see all five, you’re very lucky!
(*Bear means either grizzly bears or brown bears, which are the same animal.)
There are also loads of other things to do in Denali beyond seeing the mountain and wildlife, so don’t miss them!
8. Watch Grizzlies Catch Their Salmon Dinner
In case you don’t see grizzlies in Denali National Park, add a different bear viewing experience to your Alaska bucket list. The most common place for guaranteed* grizzlies is at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park; you can book an excursion by plane from Anchorage. There you’ll watch bears in the Brooks river, waiting for salmon to jump right into their open maws.
It turns out there’s a second, lesser-known spot in Lake Clark National Park. You can reach this by booking a pilot from the town of Homer on the Kenai Peninsula.
*It’s Alaska – wildlife is never guaranteed. But during the right season, grizzlies are pretty much guaranteed in Katmai. You’ll probably see bald eagles too – they love the leftovers grizzly bears leave behind!
9. Whale Watching in Kenai Fjords National Park
While you’re down on the Kenai, be sure to try and see some more Alaskan wildlife: whales! Oh, and sea otters, seals, sea lions, puffins, and loads of other sea birds.
Kenai Fjords is home to several species of whales, including humpback whales and orca whales. You can see them on a day cruise from Seward; I recommend the 8.5-hour tour with Major Marine Tours. I used to do this one with my family and have done it several times since on trips back.
10. Watch the Northern Lights from Fairbanks
If this item is any indication, you can now be sure that I’ve organized this Alaska bucket list by themes rather than by popularity – because seeing the northern lights in Alaska is definitely one of the main reasons people make the once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska.
The best place to see the northern lights in Alaska is from Fairbanks in Interior Alaska. You can fly to Fairbanks or take the Alaska Railroad; once there you can book a tour or an overnight stay outside town where the skies are dark and dance with the colors of the aurora. Borealis Basecamp is a bucket-list worthy spot to stay if your budget can swing it.
11. Dip in Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs is another popular place to see the northern lights near Fairbanks; but you should visit no matter what time of year you visit Alaska. This resort is centered around natural hot springs that sooth aching muscles after a long hike or warm you up after adventuring all day.
12. See the Start of the Iditarod
If you’re visiting Alaska in the winter, try and plan your trip to see the start of the Iditarod. This famous dog-sled race takes place every March and pits man-and-mutts against the fiercest of Alaskan nature.
The ceremonial Iditarod start is in Anchorage. Crowds line 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage to watch mushers ride out one-by-one. Later they’ll move out of town and begin the race officially… but this is a fun cultural experience if you love animals and don’t mind winter weather.
13. Try Your Hand at Dog-Sledding
Once you’ve seen the Iditarod (or at least learned about it from this post), you might want to try your hand at mushing (also called dog sledding). In the winter, there are several events where you can ride in the basket or potentially on the back of the sled; most tours also let you meet the sled dogs after the ride, which is loads of fun too. In the summer, there are tours where you can go mushing with an ATV (4-wheeler) instead of a sled.
14. Hold a Husky Puppy
Real animal lovers will make sure to book an excursion that involves huskies while in Alaska. My favorite is the Husky Homestead outside Denali, operated by Iditarod veteran (and 8x champion) Jeff King. You need to book in advance and then turn up to learn about huskies, how they train these dogs to mush, and even hold a new husky pup if they have a litter that year.
15. Attend Fur Rendezvous
While we’re in the funky Alaskan cultural events genre of this Alaskan bucket list and you’re considering whether you should visit Alaska in the summer or maybe the winter (pro-tip: both!)… let’s talk about Fur Rendezvous!
Known as Fur Rondy to locals, this event commemorates when Alaskan fur trappers would gather in Anchorage every year to trade furs and restock supplies for the remainder of the winter. Today you can browse winter Alaskan souvenirs (yes, real animal fur is involved!) and warm up with craft beer afterward (see #29 for tips).
16. Attend the Girdwood Forest Fair
So I’ve never been to the Girdwood Forest Fair, but it has such a good reputation that I’m confident recommending it for your Alaska bucket list. The Forest Fair takes place every June and is all about music and art; if that’s your scene, it’s a great chance to meet locals and see what’s new in Alaska arts and crafts.
17. Go Skiing at Alyeska Resort
In the winter, Girdwood becomes the epicenter for downhill skiing and snowboarding; Alyeska is Alaska’s biggest mountain resort, in terms of runs, varying difficulties, and elevation.
Growing up in Alaska, this was on my personal bucket list even after skiing at other smaller ski areas. I’m not saying it is world class resort on par with some you might find in the Lower 48, but if you love skiing or snowboarding, it’s the place.
18. Celebrate the Winter Solstice
Sold on the winter trip idea yet? Plan your Alaska trip for the winter solstice on December 21st. You’ll get to experience almost total darkness all day long; in Anchorage there are only about 5.5 hours of daylight in the week surrounding the winter solstice.
19. Celebrate the Summer Solstice
Just like during the winter with the shortest day of the. year, Alaskans celebrate the longest day of the year on the summer solstice. Taking place on June 21st each year, parts of Alaska have 24 hours of daylight – and they make the most of it with great parties!
20. See Fireworks During the Day on the 4th of July
June is the most popular month to visit Alaska, followed by July. If you find yourself in Alaska over Independence Day, take the chance for a truly unique experience: watching 4th of July fireworks while the sky is still light!
Because of how close Independence Day is to the summer solstice, there’s still a ton of daylight; even at midnight the sky won’t be dark – but they shoot fireworks off anyway. It’s a pretty cool sight you can literally only find in Alaska.
21. Attend the Alaska State Fair
Maybe you’ve been to state fairs in your home state… but you’ve never seen one like the Alaska State Fair. I’m not saying the Alaska State Fair is better than all other state fairs because it opens up a huge can of worms with all of you people from other states.. but I think it’s fair to say the Alaska State Fair is the biggest state fair, especially when it comes to the humungous veggies on display! (The Midnight Sun helps things grow extra large.)
My personal recommendations: Eat chili in a bread bowl. Snag Alaska Grown souvenirs. Ogle the giant squash. Mingle with the locals.
22. Climb Flat Top
There are plenty of good hikes in Alaska, but if you’re only going to do one on your bucket list trip to the Last Frontier, make it Flattop. Flattop is a local hike in Anchorage; you’ll need a car to get there. It’s a 3.3-mile loop trail with a great view of the city and surrounding region across Cook Inlet.
23. Go Hiking in Chugach State Forest
I recently learned that Chugach State Forest is the third largest state forest in the country. While most of it is pretty inaccessible without an airlift in or hiking into the backcountry for several days, there are a few great hikes I’ve always had on my personal Alaskan bucket list.
In particular, the hike to Eklutna Glacier and the Symphony Lakes Trails will both give you a chance to escape the crowds and get a real sense of the scale of the Alaskan wilderness.
24. Go Glacier Hiking
Seeing majestic glaciers can definitely be on your Alaska bucket list – but if you want to kick it up a notch, go glacier hiking. It’s not super easy to get to the two places I recommend, but worth it if you want this experience.
- At Exit Glacier, there’s a short easy hike to the glacier viewpoint, or you can plan for a day hike up onto Harding Icefield. You’ll hike out onto the ice field as part of this 8.4-mile out-and-back.
- It’s a longer drive but easier hike out onto Matanuska Glacier, which is about 2-hours from Anchorage by car.
I considered putting ice caving on this list too, but receding glaciers have made most of the opportunities a lot more dangerous. If you see an ice cave, I don’t recommend going in, for your own safety.
25. See a Glacier Calf
Similar to hiking, there’s one other cool way to experiencing glaciers in Alaska. Do you know what it’s called when a piece of a glacier falls off? It’s called calving!
While I can’t guarantee this will happen when you’re looking at a glacier, there are a few places it’s pretty easy to get a chance to see calving. Portage Glacier is an easy detour between Girdwood and Seward; you also have a good chance on a day cruise from Seward, a cruise in Prince William Sound from Whittier, or on a multi-day Alaska cruise depending on the itinerary. If you’re planning an Alaska cruise, be sure to head to Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau for a chance there.
26. Book a Halibut Charter
If you love to fish, these next few Alaskan experiences are perfect for your bucket list. Let’s start with the one I will probably never due: a deep-sea halibut charter. My dad and grandfather did this once, and they said they loved it – to me it sounded like a perfect way to get seasick all day!
You can book a charter from Seward or Homer; I recommend researching and arranging this in advance – and pack for rain so it doesn’t dampen your spirits.
27. Fish for Alaska’s Five Types of Salmon
There are five types of Alaskan salmon: King, Silver, Chinook, Red, and Pink. Depending on what time of the summer you visit, different species will be running in the rivers. You can book a fishing excursion from Anchorage; most will provide you equipment to enjoy the day, but if you’re a die-hard you can bring your own poles and lures.
(If you’re lucky and catch some, you can usually ship it home and then use my easy grilled Alaska salmon recipe to enjoy it!)
28. Go Dip-Netting in Ship Creek
You can even get your fishing fix right in Anchorage: Ship Creek. It’s a chance to try dip-netting, the official way you’re allowed to catch salmon when they run on the creek.
If you don’t want to get a fishing license and net, you can go down and watch the locals… it’s way more realistic than Alaskan Bush People at showing you what life is like.
29. Sample Downtown Anchorage’s Craft Beer Scene
While growing up, Anchorage had a few good microbreweries, specifically the Moose’s Tooth family and Glacier Brewhouse. Now there are more great options, such that you could have a good night of brewery-hopping after fishing or hiking all day.
Be sure to visit 49th State Brewing and Midnight Sun Brewing Company if craft beer is your scene and this one’s on your Alaska bucket list too.
30. Watch the Nightlife at Chilkoot Charlie’s
I’ll be honest – this is one of the few items on the list I’ve never done myself. That’s because when my family moved away in 2006, and I was in college – I never went back on school breaks. Thus, I wasn’t old enough to go in.
From what I understand, Chilkoot Charlies – called “Koot’s” by the locals – is a local watering hole with an equally large amount of local character. They do some night shows, not variety shows per se, but you might see some distinctly Alaskan types on stage or at the bar.
31. Admire the View from the Crow’s Nest
In every town, there’s a restaurant that’s the classic institution where you’re willing to spend a little more for the view even if it has a dated vibe. When I was growing up, that place was the Crow’s Nest, atop the Hotel Captain Cook.
It is absolutely worth it to plan a meal at the Crow’s Nest. If you don’t want to blow your budget, grab a drink and an appetizer between mealtimes.
32. Savor Alaskan Comfort Food at Gwennie’s
When my family first moved to Alaska in 1992, we ate at Gwennie’s a lot. It was right down the street from the hotel where we stayed while my parents looked for the house I would grow up in.
All these years later, Gwennie’s is still an Alaska institution. It’s not fancy, it’s not special – but it’s a funky place you’ll find locals and tourists and zero pretenses.
33. Enjoy Alaska’s Best Pizza at Moose’s Tooth
Ask any local about the best place to eat in Anchorage, and you’ll likely hear the same answer: Moose’s Tooth. This brewpub and pizzeria is known state-wide for their awesome pies. It’s not uncommon for people visiting Anchorage from other cities and towns to make this their main dinner when visiting.
It’s pretty common for there to be a wait for a table but it’s worth it. I may be of-age now, but I still love a classic pepperoni pizza with one of their insanely good root beer floats.
34. Enjoy Alaska’s Second-Best Pizza at Lynx Creek
Not that I’m super into pizza (but really, who isn’t?), but there’s one other place to order a slice: Lynx Creek pizza in McKinley Village. Lynx Creek is part of the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, but you don’t have to stay at the hotel to have dinner there.
Their menu has changed over the years, but I’m pretty sure you can still order my favorite: the margarita pizza with artichoke hearts. Even if it’s not on the menu, customize a medium pizza and you’ll be refueled for another day of adventure.
35. Taste the Alaska King Crab at Tracy’s in Juneau
On my trip in 2017, I was delighted to learn that Juneau has a surprisingly fun food scene. There are hip restaurants, posh dining rooms, and a fair number of local food stalls. If you can only eat at one place in Juneau, it’s gotta be Tracy’s Crab Shack on the waterfront. Watch crab legs boiled in massive pots then crack them open to get the savory meat inside. You won’t be the only one lined up, especially on days when the cruise ships are in town.
If you want to eat even more in Juneau, check out Juneau Food Tours. Owner Midgi leads fun walking tours to sample all that Juneau’s food scene has to offer.
36. Try Reindeer Sausage at Tia’s in Anchorage
It might seem weird to eat reindeer, but you’re in Alaska, right? You’ve gotta try new things! Tia’s Reindeer Sausage is a small food cart along 4th Avenue in Downtown Anchorage… there are competitors, but Tia’s is the best.
Order a reindeer sausage and put on the pineapple salsa. It sounds like a crazy combo, but it’s delicious. Don’t be surprised if you crave it once you’re back home.
37. Visit the Top of the World in Utqiagvik
Have you ever heard of Utqiagvik? It’s the northernmost point in the United States, formerly known as Barrow. My dad used to visit Barrow for work a lot when I was growing up, but I’ve actually never been. That’s why it’s on my Alaska bucket list – can you just imagine standing at the top of the world looking out over the Arctic Ocean toward the North Pole? Oh – and you might see polar bears while you’re here!
38. Look for Belugas in Turnagain Arm
Whether you take the train, rent an RV, or drive a car between Anchorage and Seward, you’ll spend a portion of the trip on the Seward Highway along Turnagain Arm. This long, shallow waterway is a popular place to see the distinctive white shapes of beluga whale pods as they look for fish.
If you’re really set on achieving this bucket list item, pay attention for when the tide is coming in; that’s when the fish and whales will be making their way back into the Arm.
38. Spot Moose in Potter Marsh
Potter Marsh is a small pull-off from the Seward Highway just south of Anchorage; the water is part of Turnagain Arm. When I was growing up it was a popular spot to see moose since they love boggy spots like this. You can stop and walk along the boardwalk through the marsh, or just take a look as you rive by on the way to your next adventure.
39. See the Bore Tide
What’s a bore tide? It occurs when a tide comes into a particular shallow body of water and causes a wave. It’s a phenomenon you can see at times in Turnagain Arm, too – just like looking for moose and belugas.
It’s obviously only possible to see a bore tide when the tide is coming in, so you’d need to plan around that to try and see one. And usually, if a bore tide is possible, you might hear about it on the radio or news.
40. Snag Souvenirs at the Anchorage Market & Festival
I’ve already written before about how the Alaska Market & Festival is a must-see in Anchorage; I also mentioned how it’s a great place to get all your Alaska souvenirs. It’s definitely my top choice for souvenir shopping anywhere in Alaska, because you can rest assured you’re buying local. (Souvenir shops near cruise ports are generally owned by the cruise companies, so it can be hard to guarantee you’re actually buying Alaska made goods.)
Browse the stalls, and make sure you don’t skip the food aisle where you can get piping hot corn fritters and honey butter while you debate which souvenirs you want to bring home.
41. Wander the Galleries at the Anchorage Museum
Since I was a kid, the Anchorage Museum has undergone a massive renovation. Back in the 90s, it was a pretty dull experience, but now there are galleries and exhibits on par with any city museum I’ve visited.
Two of my favorite exhibits at the Anchorage Museum are the Imaginarium – an interactive science museum located in the basement – and a Smithsonian-sponsored exhibit of Alaskan Native artifacts and dress.
42. Learn Alaskan Native Heritage
Speaking of local art, no Alaskan bucket list can be complete without educating yourself on the cultural heritage of the people have called Alaska home all along.
There are several places you could do this while visiting Alaska: the Alaska Native Heritage Center near Anchorage, Totem Heritage Center and the Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan, and Totem Park in Saxman. Depending on which part of the state you’re visiting, I highly recommend doing a tour of these sites to learn more about native culture and heritage.
43. See the Totem Pole in the U.S. Passport
Do me a favor and go grab your passport. While you don’t need it to visit Alaska, I want you to look at something in it – something you might not have realized is Alaskan!
On page 25 you can see a totem pole, right? That totem pole is located in Ketchikan, in Whale Park. Whether you fly to Ketchikan from Seattle (it’s an easy flight on Alaska Airlines) or visit as part of a cruise itinerary, it’s a fun bucket list experience to tick off while you’re visiting Alaska.
44. See the Alaska Purchase Agreement in Sitka
The Alaska Purchase Agreement – signed way back in 1867 – was Seward’s Folly because nobody believed there was any value in Alaska. Little did they know then about the gold and oil that would eventually make Alaska the exact opposite of a folly.
Today, the original documents are on display at the Centennial Hall in Sitka, which you can easily visit even if you only have one day in Sitka. If you’re not on a cruise, it’s possible to reach Sitka by flight in the summer months.
45. Hike the Chilkoot Trail
After Alaska was purchased, a lot happened – but not so much has made the history books. Until 1898, that is! That’s when the Klondike gold rush kicked off, and prospectors from across North America flooded up to The Last Frontier to try and make their fortunes.
As part of their journey, these miners made a seemingly-insane hike up what became known as the Chilkoot Trail. Today it’s a challenging 33-mile trail that takes you from Skagway up 3,525 to the Chilkoot Pass and down into Bennett in B.C. You can do a short portion as a day hike; if you want to do the whole thing, plan for a three-day trek.
46. Learn Mining History in Hatcher Pass
Once you’ve done a crash course in mining history in Skagway and along the Chilkoot Trail, you might want more. This is when you can head up to Hatcher Pass, a fun day-trip from Anchorage. Here you can visit Independence Mine State Historic Park and see mining equipment and history first-hand.
If the road is open, you can also make the 22-mile drive along the gravel road of Hatcher Pass. Perched on the mountain-sides, you’ll see old mining buildings and equipment as well as escape basically every crowd in Alaska to enjoy the solitude among the valleys and slopes.
47. Take a Flightseeing Tour on a Float Plane
If these other 46 Alaska bucket list items haven’t totally blown your budget, I have one more to help with that: flightseeing!
As I mention in my tips on choosing Alaska excursions, flightseeing is the ultimate way to see Alaska, and the only way you can really get a sense for the scope and wonder of Alaska’s massive natural sights. You can book flightseeing tours in almost every city – but my favorite one is Fly Denali in Anchorage. It’ll give you views of Denali like the one above, which is a bucket list item in itself!
How full is your Alaska bucket list now? Let me know any questions or concerns in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
Need More Alaska Travel Advice?
My Alaska ebook bundle will help you plan an unforgettable Alaska trip, with tips on what to do in Alaska (including on a cruise), where to go, and the best Alaska itineraries.
Get the bundle for just $19.99!