10 Things That Will Make You Want to Visit Alaska This Year
10 Things That Will Make You Want to Visit Alaska This Year

While Alaska is not part of the contiguous 48 states, it should be the first place you consider visiting on your next vacation. America’s largest state is home to some of the greatest natural wonders and fascinating cultural sites anywhere in the country. From glorious glaciers to fun-loving festivals, there are so many reasons why Alaska is a worthwhile destination for adventurous travelers. We’ve compiled a list of some of the coolest places in the state that you'll want to check out for yourself. Here are 10 things that will make you want to visit Alaska this year.

Summer Solstice Festival

Credit: Teri Hendricks

Every June, the city of Anchorage celebrates the longest day of the year with its annual Summer Solstice Festival, though the festivities aren’t limited to the day of the solstice itself. The party is set to kick off with the Sundown Solstice Festival from June 7 to 9, where revelers can enjoy live music, installations curated by local artists, and delicious Alaskan fare from a wide variety of food trucks. The celebration continues from June 14 to 22 with a salmon fishing derby — an annual tradition where fishers compete to snag the largest king salmon they can. June 20 is the solstice, and, thanks to its northern location, Anchorage sees 22 hours of daylight. Things wrap up with the 50th anniversary of the Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon, which is set to occur on June 22. So grab your running shoes or fishing pole and head to Anchorage for this multi-week-long Alaskan blowout.

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier and Portage Lake views outside of Anchorage, Alaska.
Credit: Daniel Case/ Shutterstock

There are approximately 100,000 glaciers located throughout Alaska, with 60 glaciers located within 50 miles of downtown Anchorage. One of the more popular and accessible day trips is to the stunning Portage Glacier, which is a staggering ten stories high and six miles long. Daily one-hour boat tours take travelers up close to witness this glacial behemoth with their own eyes. Some of the glaciers may also offer ice climbing expeditions where you can trek out atop some of these extraordinary ice formations for yourself.

Denali National Park

A man stands amid the Denali National Park, Alaska.
Credit: Anton Couper/ Shutterstock

Alaska’s Denali National Park & Preserve is home to its namesake mountain, which is the highest peak in the entire country at 20,310 feet above sea level. But the park offers so much more than just bucket-list mountaineering opportunities. Denali National Park covers six million acres of Alaskan wilderness and is home to plenty of majestic wildlife. In fact, many animal lovers come to Denali specifically to scout out the Alaskan “Big Five” that inhabit the park grounds — moose, grizzly bear, caribou, grey wolf, and Dall sheep. So grab a pair of binoculars and hop aboard a tour bus or helicopter to try and track down these animals for yourself. For a more reliable animal experience, be sure to stop by the national park's husky kennels, where you can play with puppies that are being trained to serve as Alaska’s next great generation of sled dogs.

The Alaska Railroad

Train through wilderness.
Credit: Martina Birnbaum/ Shutterstock

It can be difficult to fully appreciate Alaska's stunning terrain if you're too busy navigating your car, but the Alaska Railroad is both a convenient and scenic way to wind through the countryside and enjoy the view. The origins of the railroad date back to 1903, and it’s since expanded to pass through several popular destinations such as Whittier, Anchorage, Fairbanks, and even Denali National Park. In addition to basic travel, the railroad provides special event trains at various times of the year. This includes themes that are family-friendly such as the Easter and Halloween trains, where children can dress up and indulge in tasty treats. For adults, there’s the Great Alaskan Beer Train, offering up delicious local craft beers. Another 40-plus-year-old tradition is the ski train, which takes adventurous athletes out from Anchorage to ski through the backcountry.

The Northern Lights

Purple and green northern Lights swirling over pine trees.
Credit: Beth Ruggiero-York/ Shutterstock

It’s impossible to properly convey just how transcendent the northern lights truly are. Thankfully, Alaska offers fantastic viewing opportunities to witness the swirling purple, green, and red lights of the aurora borealis for yourself. The best time to see this natural wonder is between late August and late April, and you can catch them from multiple viewpoints, from the city of Fairbanks to Anchorage. There’s even an Aurora Tracker so you can follow the trajectory of the northern lights to increase your chances. It’s also worth booking yourself on a northern lights tour, which takes you far off into the wilderness away from any light pollution that may impact your enjoyment.

Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary

A wooden boardwalk in Potter Marsh Bird Sanctuary, Alaska.
Credit: Chansak Joe/ Shutterstock

For all the bears and moose that Alaska is known for, it also provides incredible bird-watching opportunities, especially at the Potter Marsh sanctuary in Anchorage. This impressive refuge stretches across 564 acres and is home to over 130 species of birds including Canada geese, canvasback ducks, and nesting bald eagles. The park is easily accessible and also features 1,550 feet of boardwalks that make it perfect for individuals of all ages and abilities. But it’s not just birds you can expect to encounter here, but also swimming muskrats, bathing moose, and schools of salmon swirling around the boardwalk below. The sanctuary is just a few miles outside of the city and is a perfect day trip to escape for a couple of hours.

Alaska Aviation Museum

Hanging plane and other displays at the Alaska Aviation Museum
Credit: Pep Roig/ Alamy Stock Photo

Air travel is a deeply important aspect of Alaskan culture, as it connects many small cities and villages throughout the state. So what better way to learn about this rich aviation history than by paying a visit to the Alaska Aviation Museum located in the city of Anchorage? The museum is found at Lake Hood, which doubles as the busiest functioning seaplane base anywhere in the world. While you can spend hours watching planes take off and land, it’s also worth venturing inside to witness the 25-plus vintage aircraft on display, many of which remain in working condition. Some particularly neat exhibits include a cruiser used by the Army dating back to 1924, and several planes that served an active military purpose throughout World War II.

Soak in the Outdoor Wellness

Hot springs at Chena Hot Springs Resort, Fairbanks, Alaska.
Credit: joojoob27/ Shutterstock

There are numerous hot springs and spas across Alaska, from the Alyeska Nordic Spa in Girdwood, to the resort at Chena Hot Springs. Alyeska is a stunning, adults-only spa experience that features hot and cold pools, massages, saunas, and more. Located in Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs were once frequented by gold miners over 100 years ago, who used the therapeutic waters to soothe their achy bodies. That tradition continues today, as travelers flock to Fairbanks to take a relaxing soak in the mineral-rich pools. You may even get lucky and witness the northern lights while soaking in the outdoor rock pool under the stars.

Kenai Fjords National Park

Exit Glacier, Harding Ice Field, Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.
Credit: reisegraf.ch/ Shutterstock

Kenai Fjords National Park is located a 2.5-hour drive south of Anchorage, and is home to the largest icefield in the United States. This seemingly endless icy expanse is named for President Warren G. Harding and spans over 700 square miles. The region was converted into a national park back in 1980, with the goal being to protect Alaska’s many glaciers and coastal fjords, as well as the seals and sea lions that call the park home. One of the most rewarding excursions anywhere in the park is an 8.2-mile-long hike along the Harding Icefield Trail. This trail winds through the forest until you emerge above the treeline, where there’s ice as far as the eye can see. While it’s a difficult hike, the awe-inspiring result is undeniably worth the effort.

Alaska Cruises

A cruise ship leaving the Alaskan Glacier
Credit: AddyQ/ Shutterstock

Certain cities in Alaska are inaccessible by car, including the capital of Juneau. The only way to reach Juneau is by plane or boat (including ferries), so arrive in style aboard a luxurious Alaskan cruise. Alaskan cruises serve a practical purpose by connecting many coastal cities, and even serving the mainland by floating on down to Washington state. But in addition to their practicality, these cruises are an ideal method for gazing out upon the Alaskan wilderness in style. You’ll wind past immense glaciers, see whales and seals frolic about, and enjoy fine dining. Peak season is between June and August, and temperatures are known to hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer. So pack yourself a swimsuit and get ready to bask in the 20-plus hours of sunlight on certain days, while enjoying expertly prepared Alaskan seafood cooked up by some of the most talented chefs in the country.

Ready to go now? Visit Anchorage is your go-to resource for planning the ultimate Alaskan vacation. Adventure awaits!

All featured products and deals are selected independently and objectively by the author. The Discoverer may receive a share of sales via affiliate links in content.