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I have had the amazing opportunity to visit Alaska not once, but twice. I never thought I’d get there the first time. But, I did. However, after leaving, I thought that no matter how badly I wanted to return, that opportunity probably wouldn’t come. But, it did. My Alaska adventures were amazing and hopefully, these photos and things to do will inspire you to visit Alaska not only by sea but by land too!
Both of my trips included cruises. However, the second trip was a cruisetour with Princess. I loved both of my cruises for different reasons so this post won’t be a comparison of those. Instead, I hope to persuade you to not leave out the “land” part of Alaska. So many people do a cruise only and they miss out on a lot of what the largest state in the US has to offer!
Alaska Resources & Recommendations
- Accommodations– compare prices on Booking.com. This is how I personally book my accommodations since no pre-payment is needed and I can usually cancel up to a few days prior to my arrival.
- Princess Cruise Lines– find prices on cruises to many destinations including up to 2-for-1 savings on Summer 2018 Voyage of the Glaciers Alaska Cruise (through 5/30/18). Also, see Princess’ last-minute drop and go deals if that’s something you are able to do!
- Allianz Travel Insurance– find cruise insurance, general trip insurance and if you’re wondering, read these reasons on why you should have trip insurance!
- Skyscanner– compare prices and find the best deals on flights!
- Lonely Planet Alaska Travel Guide– the best (and my personal favorite) destination guidebooks!
Alaska By Sea
This definitely is the most popular way to see Alaska and I do highly recommend it. Even most “non-cruise people” decide to cruise to Alaska and for good reason. There are spectacular sites you could never see otherwise! Let’s start with one of those sites-the capital, Juneau!
Juneau can be accessed via plane and not just boat, but cruising is by far the most common way people visit. In case you are wondering, Juneau is not accessible by road!
See Juneau’s most popular attraction, the Mendenhall Glacier. Located about 12 miles from downtown Juneau, the glacier is 13.6 miles long running from the Juneau Icefield to Mendenhall Lake.
TIP: Walk down to the water’s edge and hold a piece of glacial ice (they’re all over the place). That piece of ice you’ll be holding took 200-250 years to travel the 13 miles to its current location!
Go whale watching. It’s one of the most amazing things you can do in all of Alaska.
These photos might not seem like much, however, the whales were engaging in their unique practice of “bubble-net feeding”. It’s where humpback whales come together in a group (they usually travel alone) to create a frenzied bubble around a school of fish and when they have them trapped, they scoop them all up in one gigantic, satisfying gulp.
It’s a very rare thing to witness and our guide said he’d never seen it in his 17 years in Juneau so I was just excited to get any part of it on camera!!
Watch for Wildlife
Keep an eye out for wildlife. You may have seen this iconic photo of sea lions or one similar. They love the red buoys!
You might even see them being affectionate with one another, hoisting themselves onto the buoy or just “hanging out”.
Keep an eye out in the treetops as the national bird, the bald eagle is common in Alaska.
Take a helicopter to the top of a glacier (this one is Taku Glacier) to go dog sledding.
The dogs do not like to stop as you can see from the one voicing his opinion while we were stopped. They only like to GO!!
This was my first dog sledding experience and was a truly amazing one. I’ve since gone dog sledding a second time in Colorado.
The biggest thing to do in Skagway is to take the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad.
Vintage trains take you through the gorgeous mountains winding all the way up into British Columbia, Canada!
TIP: If you choose to do this excursion, you will need your passport.
Another activity I enjoyed in Skagway (and one I enjoy anywhere I travel) is ziplining!
Ketchikan is in Alaska’s famous Inside Passage.
The southernmost city in Alaska, Ketchikan is known for its totem poles
and is home to the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary
where you can pet Alaskan Reindeer! We fed them too and they were so friendly!
Ketchikan, like all of Alaska, is home to abundant wildlife. Honestly, this is probably what I enjoyed most about Alaska!
Take a Black Bear excursion. There’s no guarantee you’ll see them, but most of the time the guides can find them. I was SO excited to find this mama bear with her twin cubs!
Make sure if you choose to do an Alaskan cruise that your itinerary includes Glacier Bay. It isn’t a port, but rather a fjord the ship visits on the way to its next port.
The scenery is beyond gorgeous
and the reflections are amazing!
Plus, you get to see glaciers
Grizzly Bear in Glacier Bay
and if you watch the shoreline closely, you just might see a bear hunting for food!
TIPS: Be sure to have binoculars and a good zoom or zoom lens on your camera to capture the wildlife! Also, if you have to choose between itineraries that visit Tracy Arm Fjord OR Glacier Bay, choose the one with Glacier Bay. I have seen both and in my opinion, while pretty, Tracy Arm doesn’t compare to Glacier Bay.
You might also like: THE BEST TIME TO VISIT YELLOWSTONE & GRAND TETON
Alaska By Land
Exploring Alaska by land on a cruisetour just enhances the entire experience. The Alaskan countryside is absolutely gorgeous and the train is a great way to see a lot of the interior!
About halfway between Anchorage and Denali National Park is a quirky little town called Talkeetna.
I call Talkeetna quirky because, well, its mayor was a cat. In 1998, the people of Talkeetna wrote in Stubbs the cat as mayor and he served as honorary mayor until his death last summer in 2017. There was no human mayor in Talkeetna!
I love this sign, it still makes me laugh!
TIPS: Walk around Talkeetna and just explore. Go to West Rib Pub and Grill (known for its Seward’s Folly Burger seen on Man vs Food), the Talkeetna Chocolate Corner, and Nagley’s Store owned by Stubbs’ family!
Denali National Park
Explore Denali National Park.
There are beautiful sites to see besides the star of the show, Mt McKinley.
Visit Husky Homestead which is right outside the entrance to the park.
This is four-time Iditarod Champion, Jeff King’s training ranch for sled dogs!
This cute little guy was all about snuggling with my mom and me!
It was all coming up puppies and rainbows. It doesn’t get any better than this!!
Denali (Mt McKinley)
What everyone wants to see when they come to Alaska…Denali! It’s also still frequently called by its former name, Mt McKinley.
The highest peak in North America, Denali is 20, 320 feet high. Here’s the thing about Denali…have you heard of the 30% club?
The 30% Club is named for the percentage of people who actually get to see the top of Denali when they visit. I know, that’s not a lot! The summit apparently is just a bit shy in showing off its glory!
We were lucky that the majestic mountain cooperated and we were able to see the summit all three of the days we had the chance!! I was beyond ecstatic!
Since this was still part of our cruisetour, we stayed at the Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge which is where these photos were taken.
Check it out at sunset too, it’s so beautiful!
Take a riverboat cruise in Fairbanks. This was the last city on our tour and I was sad it was almost over!
We saw beautiful houses, float planes landing on the water and even more Alaskan Reindeer!
TIPS: Go to the University of Alaska Museum of the North. My favorite exhibits were of the wildlife and the Northern Lights! Also, try to see the Northern Lights if you’re there during shoulder season (May/September). Many of the hotels such as the Bear Lodge (where I stayed) will give you a wakeup call if the lights appear. Even though I was in the city limits (and it was in August), I could still see the pale green of the Aurora Borealis! However, because I was in the city, photos of the lights themselves were all but impossible.
As always, every good trip comes to an end at some point. Alaska is just as beautiful from the air as it is on the ground!
After my first trip to Alaska, I knew I wanted to go back and explore more. After my second trip of “exploring more”, I think it might be my favorite state and I could go back an infinite amount of times!
I hope this inspires you to want to pursue your own Alaska adventures. Have you been to Alaska? If so, what was your favorite part? If you haven’t been, what part of Alaska would you most like to go?
‘Til next time…