Things to see & do in Alaska

Fabulous. Humbling. Incredible. Awe inspiring.
– Terry Banham on a Denali National Park holiday in Alaska
Terry’s not exaggerating. Alaska is a place where your jaw drops as often as the mercury does in winter. Home of Sarah (“I can see Russia from my house”) Palin, this landscape provides habitat for a cornucopia of larger than life wildlife: over 100,000 black bears, and 30,000 brown bears (aka grizzlies), that gather on the riverbanks in salmon season; wide-ranging wolf packs; many species of whale including blue whales, which congregate off the coast in spring to feast in waters rich with plankton; vast herds of caribou and bison of great interest to predators, and soaring above this natural canvas, America’s national bird, the bald eagle. Wildlife doesn’t get much wilder.

Here can be found some of the most dramatic, and largest, national parks in America: Denali, one of the few that positively encourages you to get off the trails; Kenai Fjords, where you can watch huge clumps of ice calving off glaciers from sea kayaks and boat cruises, and the extraordinary wilderness that is Wrangell-St. Elias, at 50,000km2 the biggest park in North America and bigger than Switzerland.

Due to the inhospitable climate, Alaska has a short tourism season in the summer from May to September, which handily runs parallel with salmon spawning season. If you want to see bears, go as late as you can, as they’re very active feeding in the weeks before they hibernate for winter. Temperatures can get as warm as 17°C in August, but the summer is also the wettest season. In September you may also catch sight of the aurora borealis. Alaska holidays are all about discovering these stunning landscapes and their wildlife: you might be camping in a national park, perhaps flying in on a float plane; trekking with specialist guides that know where to get the best sightings of bears and wolves, or exploring the Alaskan coastline with small ship cruises on expedition vessels, making shore excursions aboard Zodiac craft to seek out polar bears, or kayaking between glaciers.

Denali National Park

At 6,194m, Mount Denali is the highest peak in North America, and centerpiece of Alaska’s most accessible and consequently most visited national park. With only one road in, and backcountry practically begging to be explored on foot, a guided small group tour is your best bet for wandering Denali’s boreal forest, alpine tundra and snow-tipped mountains. An expert guide knows where to seek out favourite foraging spots for bears, as well as the best off-map walking routes, and can also explain to you Denali’s fascinating indigenous heritage as well as its gold rush history.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

It takes around four hours to drive across Yellowstone, a national park bigger than the states of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. You could fit five Yellowstones in Wrangell-St. Elias, a majestic Alaskan expanse with some 150 glaciers, some of which can be walked on, floating icebergs to be kayaked between, and seemingly endless potential for hiking. Overnight wilderness camping, and canoeing on the Maclaren River, are other popular activities among those that venture this far north. Once a gold rush destination, Wrangell-St. Elias also managed to escape a boom in harvesting oil and gas pretty much unscathed – fingers crossed it stays that way into the future.

Our top USA Holiday

Denali National Park holiday in Alaska

Denali National Park holiday in Alaska

Experience untouched wilderness off the beaten path

From US $2090 to US $2140 12 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 14 Jun, 5 Jul, 26 Jul, 16 Aug
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about USA or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Kenai Fjords National Park

There are numerous ways to explore Kenai Fjords National Park, a magnificent coastal arcadia of glaciers, icebergs and deep fjords where whales are often to be seen. Take an adventurous sea kayaking expedition, stay in cosy camps cooking giant halibut over the fire, enjoy a scenic flight in search of bears, or even drive out from Anchorage aboard a converted school bus. Among the most sought-after activities here is a demanding trek to the Harding Icefield, an eight-hour effort that rewards you with Tolkien-esque panoramas, and whale watching, particularly in late spring and early summer.

Glacier Bay National Park

Given the climate, you’d think earmuffs are de rigueur in Alaska’s Glacier Bay, east of Denali and Kenai Fjords. But this is a place where you’ll want your hearing as unobstructed as possible, to hear the lonely call of the humpback whale, the bark of the sea lions, the howls of wolves in pursuit along the coast, and the creaks and groans of the glaciers themselves. A small ship cruise is the best way to fully appreciate this pristine landscape, its wildlife and captivating soundscapes.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: skeeze] [Intro: skeeze] [Denali National Park: 12019] [Kenai Fjords National Park: Kenai Fjords National Park]
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