With national parks bigger than some countries and icebergs taller than skyscrapers, Alaska certainly doesn’t do things by half measure.
The 49th state almost feels like another planet with its towering snow-capped mountains, wild coastal plains and glacier-rimmed fjords.
Gary Arndt, an award-winning photographer and the blogger who runs Everything Everywhere, explains why it’s a must-visit destination, “Alaska should be high on anyone’s list of places to visit. It is home to multiple mountain ranges, and one of the world’s longest coastlines. There is so much to Alaska that you could spend your entire life exploring it without ever visiting the same place twice.”
There is so much to see and do here and the state is a wildlife purists’ dream, but what is Alaska famous for? Here we take you through what this iconic destination is best known for.
Going on an Alaskan cruise is not only one of the most popular activities you can do across the state, but it is one of the most famous. Over a million people go on a cruise to Alaska annually, which makes the state one of the world’s most popular cruise destinations.
The breath-taking cruises that are available from Vancouver will take you to the iconic Inside Passage where you will be able to see the dramatic coastline of icebergs and glaciers as you make your way to Alaska.
The state is perfect for cruisers, with trips offering you opportunities to see the state’s vast natural beauty like the immense ice formations of Glacier Bay.
Our cruises leave Vancouver and as soon as you depart you will start to see the spectacular labyrinth of islands, fjords, mountains and inlets. Ruby Escalona, who runs her own travel blog A Journey We Love, says cruises run all over Alaska and it is the perfect way to see Glacier Bay National Park: “Alaska is also a famous cruising spot: during the summer, expect tourists from all over to catch a boat from Seward or Whittier and stops all over the various cities within Alaska. If the boat is smaller and managed to get a permit to Glacier Bay National Park, go and book that tour too.
“Glacier Bay National Park is only accessible by boat (unless you fly into Gustavus, which is a very small town), so having the comfort of being on a cruise ship (with your own balcony to gaze out from), makes it very convenient to see this national park without the logistical hassles.”
Seeing glaciers is a quintessential Alaskan experience and many of you will come back from your trip saying that witnessing the magnificent glaciers was the highlight of your trip.
It almost feels like the ice age is still underway in this part of the world, as there are believed to be around 100,000 glaciers in Alaska alone.
Glaciers are constantly on the move and can travel several feet a day, meaning an ice sculpture you see one day might be completely different the next. In Alaska, some glaciers are retreating, so if you go back to the same glacier in a few months you are likely to notice a difference from the first time you went.
We created a guide to Alaska’s glaciers and here is an overview of some of the top ones you can see during your next Alaskan holiday:
With more than 400,000 visitors every year, this glacier is one of the most visited in the world.
At 6 miles wide and 400-foot tall, it is the biggest glacier visited by cruise ships.
It is the best glacier to see bears foraging for food.
Prince William Sound
Here you’ll follow in the footsteps of the 1899 Harriman Expedition.
This classic fjord is home to Sawyer Glacier, an active tidewater glacier. Pieces of ice from the size of small cars to cruise ships fall off.
This is one of the most popular road-accessible glaciers.
It is the largest glacier in Alaska, standing at 26 miles long and 4 miles wide.
It can only be accessed by train.
The wildlife and wilderness
With bears as big as bison and orca whales patrolling the seas, wildlife enthusiasts should put Alaska at the top of their bucket lists.
Maya, a food columnist living in Alaska, is the blogger behind Alaska from Scratch. The blog looks at life in the state and some of the amazing food you can try, and here Maya discusses the incredible wildlife you can see in Alaska:
“When it comes to wildlife, Alaska is famous for salmon, moose, caribou, bears, whales, bison, puffins, jellyfish, etc. When it comes to scenery, Alaska is famous for glaciers and fjords, mountains, and more lakes, rivers, and waterways than one could dream of. We are famous for the Iditarod, gold mining, sourdough, the Alaska Railroad, aviation, Alaska Native heritage, homesteading, world-class fishing and seafood, outdoor adventures, fresh air, and a slower, more self-sufficient way of life.”
Laura Sampson is a lifelong Alaskan who runs the site Little House Big Alaska and she says salmon is one of the most famous things associated with Alaska, as well as its vast wilderness:
“I’d say Alaska is famous for its salmon, its size and the wildness of it all. The volcanos make life up here unpredictable, the earthquakes keep you on your toes, the wild animals stroll through the biggest cities, the rivers and glaciers carve the landscape, when this is your backdrop you feel like a very small piece of the puzzle.”
The state also boasts wilderness at its best with endless forests, colossal glaciers and thundering rivers just some of the sights you can see. A Journey We Love’s Ruby Escalona adds: “Alaska is famous for its wildlife and its wilderness. It is the biggest US state yet it is one of the least populated. If you love nature in its raw form, then people go to Alaska to see it. It is one of the most stunning and beautiful places that we have ever been. It feels so remote and serene.”
In terms of area, Alaska holds over half of the US’ national parklands. There are eight national parks located here, which is the second most in the US by states, and you’ll feel that the different options are limitless.
The national parks are jaw-dropping with spectacular mountains and glaciers as well as a number of wildlife viewing tours on offer. Ruby Escalona says Denali National Park is one you should definitely aim to visit during your trip:
“Denali National Park – pretty much everybody wants to see Denali and see their version of the big 5: bears, wolves, caribou, mountain goats, and moose. It is remote, but not as much: during summer, you can hop on a guided tour bus (or a shuttle bus), and it can take you into the interior of the national park. If you are feeling adventurous, you can apply to drive inside the park during the week that they allow people to drive in.”
Maya of Alaska from Scratch agrees that the national parks in Alaska are a must-visit:
“Our national parks are at the top of the list (I believe there are 8 national parks in Alaska). Denali National Park boasts the tallest peak in North America. Katmai is famous for its bear viewing. People come from all over the world to fish for King salmon on the world-famous Kenai River.”
Gary Arndt, who shares his thoughts via his Everything Everywhere blog, adds: “Alaska is most famous for its national parks and its natural beauty. Alaska has eight national parks and 24 national park service sites. Glacier National Park is probably the most famous just because of the number of visitors it gets from cruise ships. Denali is right behind simply due to the fame of Mount Denali.”
The population in Alaska is relatively small and in fact there are more caribou living in the state than people! Laura Sampson of Little House Big Alaska says: “Alaskans are just plain nice, we say hi, we wave, we welcome. Why? I’m not sure. I’ve always believed that it’s because we’re a very big state with a small population, it feels small town. If your car breaks down, you can bet within 5 minutes someone is going to pull over to see if you’re ok.”
Alaska is home to some incredible locations and here we’ve included some iconic destinations you should visit.
Juneau has a small-town feel and has endless activities right on your doorstep. The place is loved and many residents claim they came for an adventure and in the end never left.
Travel blogger Ruby Escalona, says: “Juneau is the capital of Alaska yet it is isolated from the rest of the state. The only way to get into the city is by plane or boat. Their roads just stop from one end of Juneau to another. You can see Mendenhall Glacier or use Juneau to take the Alaska Marine Highway and do a cruise your way.”
The Aleutian Islands are a chain of small islands that separate the Bering Sea from the main portion of the Pacific Ocean and they extend some 1,100 miles from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula to Attu Island. Laura Sampson from Little House Big Alaska says this is certainly a stunning location:
“Personally I think the Aleutian Chain is alluring and a total dream destination because where else do you have islands that reach to another continent? Or islands that were captured by Japan in the war? Or taken over by Russians and made into fur colonies?”
This area in south-central Alaska is just over 30 miles north of Anchorage and is renowned for its rolling countryside and spectacular views. Laura Sampson says the area is spectacular: “Also I think the Matanuska Valley is wonderful, farms, views, history and the small town of Palmer is nestled like a jewel in the landscape.”
If you want a photograph of a bear grabbing salmon as they jump upstream, then the world-renowned Brooks Falls is the place where professional photographers get that iconic shot. Usually there are dozens of bears in view at once and with an expert park ranger you will be safely led to the falls viewing platform.
The best time to visit Brooks Falls is from late June until late July as the sockeye salmon swim upstream. Bears also go fishing at falls in late summer and autumn so make sure you bring your camera and plenty of memory cards if you’re visiting during these times.