Top outdoor activities in Alaska

posted January 18, 2018


one woman sitting and thinking in prince william sound alaska overlooking columbia glacier

Alaska has some of the world’s most incredible landscapes that are famed for being pristine and wild. There is no better way to discover the Last Frontier than by adventuring there yourself. An Alaskan cruise is the best way to see the rugged coast and glaciers from the water, but to experience it from the land or air you need a day trip to Alaska’s great outdoors.

From the AirSea Planes at Ketchikan, Alaska

What greater way to enjoy the majesty of Alaska’s wilderness than from the air? During an Alaskan cruise, you may want to change the pace and see the world from a different angle and there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy fantastic glaciers or ethereal fjords along the way.

When you stop at Juneau, take a tour with Wings Airways to see the Mendenhall Glacier and Icefields that nestle in Tongass National Forest. Within moments of leaving the city of Juneau, you are surrounded by rainforests and alpine ridges. Watch out for the Mendenhall Towers mountain peaks that rise nearly 7,000 feet above you. Though retreating, the Mendenhall Glacier is still 13 miles long and forms an awe-inspiring sight. Since its withdrawal, it has unveiled an ancient forest that is perfectly preserved.

If you are stopping in Ketchikan, a trip to Misty Fjords by local seaplane offers a stunning way to view this national monument, dubbed the ‘Grand Canyon of the North’. With perfect flying weather throughout the summer, you can enjoy Alaska’s blue skies and wildlife on this trip – especially as it is inaccessible by car.

From the Land

Mendenhall Glacier Viewpoint with Fireweed in bloom. Juneau, Alaska

Looking to stretch your legs while at the port? There are lots of different ways to get out and enjoy your surroundings by yourself or in a tour group. Whether you fancy a cycling adventure or a traditional dog sledging experience, all are available within the wilds of Alaska.

While at Juneau, why not hike up Mount Roberts for a stunning view of the area? The hike can take several hours so is a real commitment, but walking through the undisturbed forests and challenging terrain is a once in a lifetime experience if you have a couple of days to spend here. For those who are short on time, the Mount Roberts Tramway will take you to the top and back through the summer months.

While in Skagway, there are a couple of incredible ways to see the local countryside. For those looking for a little more speed, cycling down the Klondike Highway to the sea is on every bicycle enthusiast’s to-do list. This is a trail with a history as it follows the path of the Gold Rush when it swept through this area. Bear in mind this is not a trail for the faint-hearted; its steep incline and hairpin bends will satiate adrenaline junkies and leave you ready for the leisurely pace of the cruise ship! Joycee from the blog Gypsy at 60 was most excited about this stop when she travelled through Alaska:

“The bike ride literally flies down from the White Pass Summit – if you’re looking for an adrenalin rush, this one’s for you. Cycling skills and concentration were definitely needed on this ride as compared to riding through Paris at sunset, or cycling the Ancient Appian Way in Rome.”

Two sled dogs panting in the summer heat in Skagway Alaska.

Also in Skagway are summer dog sledging tours, perfect for those who want to marry tradition with Alaska’s impressive outdoors. Lacking any noise apart from the panting of your team, this is the most wonderful way to imagine Alaska in an undiscovered light. Though summer dog sledging may sound incongruous, thanks to an adapted sledge on wheels instead of rails, they can operate over a multitude of terrain.  Colleen from Travel Mamas certainly agreed and described her own experience in the most glowing terms:

“Dog-sledding is one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done in my life. I led a pack of four dogs through the Canadian wilds a few years ago and I have wanted to share this experience with my kids ever since. The cost of going on a helicopter to a glacier for a snowy dog-sledging adventure was too far out of our budget so we opted for summer dog-sledging in Skagway, Alaska instead.”

From the seaAlaska from the sea

Though the view from your cruise ship never gets old, taking a smaller vessel out to areas that are otherwise inaccessible – or even getting under the water – is a fantastic way to see everything Alaska has to offer.

For those willing to brave the relatively chilly temperatures of the Gulf of Alaska you can take a peek beneath the ocean’s surface with the help of The Scuba Tank in Juneau. Offering both guided and unguided tours, you can explore local wrecks or investigate the marine life.

If you don’t fancy scuba diving, you can snorkel close to Ketchikan at the ever popular Mountain Point. Snorkel Alaska offers an incredible tour of the area, with its tidal pools and abundance of marine life, it is always an exciting discovery beneath the surface.

For those who are dying to see the Mendenhall Glacier but are not yet ready to commit to a little seaplane, you can kayak up to the glacier in the summer thanks to Mendenhall Lake. This is truly an impressive sight, with the glacier rising up to 30 metres at its highest point. You can only really appreciate the sheer icy cliff from the lake.

For the wildlifebear and cubs catching salmon

For many, the most highly anticipated part of their Alaskan cruise is the wildlife. Seeing bears in their natural habitat or watching a humpback whale breach in the crystal-clear waters is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Why not improve your chances of seeing Alaska’s remarkable fauna with a specific tour?

Whale watching tours operate out of many major Alaskan towns, however, Glacier Bay is famed as a humpback whale sanctuary, making it an ideal spot. Local guides and small vessels will take you to America’s most renowned feeding ground for humpback whales – Icy Strait and Point Adolphus. These whales are entertaining feeders thanks to the acrobatics and vocalisations that are often witnessed.

If you are hoping to see the United States’ iconic symbol of freedom, head to the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve which is known for having the largest gathering of bald eagles anywhere in the world. See these majestic birds in their natural environment and enjoy a leisurely float down the Chilkat River with Chilkat Guides raft excursion. The silent experience allows you to observe the wildlife in its natural habitat. Though you may see other wildlife come and take advantage of the salmon runs in the area, the Eagles are the stars of the show.

Multiple brown bear at McNeil River State Game Sanctuary fishing for salmon

No trip to Alaska would be complete without a glimpse of the state’s most intriguing inhabitant, the bear. To really experience their natural habitat, away from human interference, take a Flightseeing and Ground Tour courtesy of Carlin Air. The remote Anan Bear Creek will reveal both black and grizzly bears feeding on salmon as they make their way upstream. Anan Creek also limits the number of visitors each year guaranteeing the privacy of these glorious animals and to ensure your trip is a rare treat.

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