With mountains to climb, rivers to raft, glaciers to coo over, and a bevvy of bears to photograph, Alaska offers beautiful views and the ultimate wilderness. From the moment you arrive, the raw, unspoiled beauty of the USA's 49th state is almost overwhelming. So, where should you start to explore the most beautiful places in Alaska?
Try one of these 15 idyllic spots, taken from the chapter on Alaska in the Rough Guide to the USA:
Encompassing six million acres of pure Alaskan interior wilderness topped by North America’s highest peak (Denali, 20,310ft), the Denali National Park and Preserve is Alaska’s ultimate scenic showstopper. Bisected by one solitary ribbon of road, this pristine ecosystem plays home to a menagerie of wildlife. Wolves, bears, caribou, and even Dall sheep – one can easily spot a plethora of fauna from a bus ride through the park, or on a ranger-led programme.
2. Witness awe-inspiring icebergs at Glacier Bay National Park
Alaska is famed for its Inside Passage cruises, and for many visitors passing through the UNESCO-listed Glacier Bay National Park en route is the highlight of their trip. Here, you can watch in awe from a boat (or kayak) as the majestic Margerie Glacier calves 100-tonne icebergs into the tidewater while orcas, sea lions, seals and other marine animals frolic in the crystal-clear waters surrounding it. Bring your binoculars to spot bears on the shore, and mountain goats on the cliffs above.
Stretching 1387 miles from Delta Junction, southeast of Fairbanks, all the way to Dawson Creek in British Colombia, Canada, the Alaska Highway (also known as the ALCAN) is considered one of the world’s top scenic drives.
Constructed during World War II, this well-maintained road winds through some truly spectacular terrain. Considered one of the most beautiful places in Alaska, this drive offers excellent views of wildlife and countless other photo opportunities along the way.
4. Catch once-in-a-lifetime views at Katmai National Park and Preserve
If you’ve seen one of those photographs of a brown (grizzly) bear perched on the edge of a waterfall snagging salmon in mid-air, there’s a good chance it was taken in Katmai National Park. Brooks Falls, to be exact – Alaska’s most famous bear-viewing area.
Unconnected to any town by road, the park – also famed for its fishing, hiking, rafting and kayaking possibilities – is most commonly accessed by floatplane, and is one of the most beautiful places in Alaska.
Wanting to explore more beautiful places? Check out our guide to the most beautiful state parks in the United States.
5. Encounter the tundra of the Arctic Coast
Alaska is known as the Last Frontier, and nowhere does this seem more fitting than on its Arctic Coast. Here, along this starkly beautiful stretch of rugged tundra, Alaska Native communities live side by side with one of the world’s greatest predators: the polar bear. The Inupiaq village of Kaktovik, located on Barter Island just off the mainland, is one of the best places for these vulnerable mammals. In the summer, these animals congregate here in large numbers while they wait for the Beaufort Sea to freeze.
6. Take a stroll on the suspended walkways of Ketchikan
It’s known as the salmon capital of the world, but Alaska’s southernmost city Ketchikan is also an attraction in itself. The city faces the buzzing Tongass Narrows waterway and is backed by the scenery of the lush, forested slopes of Deer Mountain.
The picturesque Ketchikan hugs the shoreline of Revillagigedo Island for 30 miles, with many businesses located in pastel-hued overwater bungalows accessed via suspended walkways- offering beautiful and unique Alaska scenery.
Native Haida, Tlingit and Tsimshian arts are visible everywhere throughout the city – from museums to totem parks – adding to its cultural appeal.
7. Spot rare scenery at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge
The lush, green hills and mountaintop vistas that give Kodiak its 'Emerald Isle' nickname are pretty enough, but the island’s key draw is a brown bear subspecies that live nowhere else. Spanning parts of the Kodiak, Uganik, Ban, and Afognak islands, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge offers unparalleled wildlife-watching opportunities. This area offers views of brown bears, puffins, red foxes, sea lions and more- as well as some of the best salmon fishing in Alaska.
For more wild travel ideas, check out our suggested animal and wildlife trips.
8. Find glacial views at Kenai Fjords National Park
The idyllic Kenai Peninsula is considered ‘Alaska’s Playground’ and its main attraction – Kenai Fjords National Park – is a glacial wonderland popular with hikers, kayakers and wildlife watchers. The magnificent Exit Glacier, just a 10-minute drive north from Seward, is the park’s most popular and accessible highlight. From the visitors centre, keen hikers can tackle the Harding Icefield Trail for breathtaking views of the largest ice field contained within the USA.
9. Experience the beauty of the northern lights of Coldfoot
While the town of Coldfoot itself is little more than a Dalton Highway truck stop – the world’s northernmost, in fact - its strategic position under the Aurora belt in Alaska’s ruggedly beautiful Arctic Circle makes it one of the best places on Earth to view the northern lights. Rather than drive around looking for the lights as is typical of many Aurora-viewing destinations, Coldfoot Camp runs a brilliant night tour to an original miner’s hut in nearby Wiseman where you can view the spectacle at its finest.
Dreaming of gazing upon the Aurora? Don’t miss the best places to see the Northern Lights in Iceland.
10. Adventure through the secluded Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve
Punctuated by wild, icy rivers and glacier-carved valleys, this remote Arctic Circle national park offers a raw, untouched wilderness area the size of Switzerland. A sanctuary for many animals, including 145 bird species, the park was named for the two dramatic mountains that frame the Koyukuk River.
The mountains form something of a gateway for visitors to enter. With no road access, services or campgrounds (visitors fly in on air taxis, or hike in from the Dalton Highway with all their supplies), it’s an adventure just to get here.
11. Take in the breathtaking views of Wrangell-St Elias National Park and Preserve
Wrangell-St Elias is big. Not only is it the largest national park in the USA, but it’s one of the largest protected areas of wilderness in the world. Hugging the Canadian border, the park contains nine of the tallest 16 mountains on the continent (including Mount Wrangell, a 14,163ft stratovolcano).
Some of its glaciers are larger than half a dozen South Pacific island nations combined. Whichever way you visit it (a scenic flight is a great option), the awe factor when experiencing this beautiful and iconic Alaskan scenery is guaranteed to be high.
12. Visit the volcanoes of the Eastern Aleutians
Sweeping west of the Alaska Peninsula like a jagged line of braille towards Russia, the barren, windswept Aleutian Islands – home to 27 of the 46 most active volcanoes in America – are as dramatic as they are remote. The jewel of the archipelago is its East Borough, where intrepid travellers will be rewarded with miles of raw, untamed Alaskan scenery, smoking volcanic craters, ancient Aleut village sites, and an array of birds and marine life.
13. Hike through the easily accessible Chugach Mountains
Rising up on the eastern fringes of Anchorage, the stunning Chugach Mountains is undeniably one of the most beautiful places in Alaska- but also act as Alaska’s most accessible wilderness area. Plenty of walking and biking trails within the State Park and National Forest boundaries preserve this mountain range; take the 1.5-mile hiking trail to the football field-sized summit of Flattop Mountain for views from Denali to the Aleutian Islands.
Planning your trip to Alaska? We recommend booking Alaska accommodations here.
14. Visit the historical sites of the Chilkoot Trail
A major transportation route during the Klondike Gold Rush, this 33-mile hiking trail connects the village of Dyea, near the pretty southeastern cruise port of Skagway, with Bennet in British Colombia, Canada. But the Chilkoot Trail isn’t just famous for its historical relics (look out for the tramway boiler); the scenery, from coastal rainforest to alpine views, glaciers to suspended river crossings – is just superb.
15. Find views of eagles and more in Haines
One of the most scenic – and sunniest – villages in Alaska’s Inside Passage, this quaint, artsy town isn’t just popular with humans. Thousands of bald eagles congregate each autumn in Haines to feast on a late run of salmon. So many of them in fact, that they inspired the Alaska Bald Eagle Festival held here each November. The salmon also lure brown bears, which can be viewed in large numbers on the Chilkoot River. Come winter, heli-skiers arrive in search of the lightest powder on Earth.
Ready for a trip to one of the most beautiful places in Alaska? Check out the Rough Guide to the USA for more tips about the Alaskan Wilderness, or the Rough Guide to Canada for more places to visit in Northern North America. If you travel further the United States, read more about the best time to go and the best outdoor activities in the United States.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Alaska without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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