Cruising Alaska is a great introduction to the many things to do in Alaska. Having just come home from an UnCruise, we felt that we truly experienced the rugged wilderness of the 49th state.
But being on a cruise is just one part of going to Alaska. That’s why booking an added package before or after your cruise is a must. If you are going to make the trek all the way up north, why not make the most of it? UnCruise has several packages to extend your cruise, and we’ve experienced a lot of what Alaska has to offer in the past. So we thought we’d round up our favorite things to do in Alaska to help you plan the land portion of your Alaska vacation.
The Best Things to do in Alaska
We started our cruise with UnCruise in Juneau and have done some adventures in Juneau in the past.
Their package has you stay in the Four Points Sheraton which is walking distance to everything and makes it easy to experience the many things to do in Juneau.
Juneau cool town that feels like it takes you back to the Gold Rush days with the swinging red doors of the Red Dog Saloon and colorful facades of shops lining the streets taking you back to the 1800s.
There are many things to do in Juneau but visiting Mendenhall Glacier is a great choice. They say it is the most-visited glacier in the world, and it’s an excellent chance to get up close to the massive glacier.
There’s the roaring nugget falls, salmon spawning and you may spy a black bear.
On an UnCruise we saw many whales on the ship, but nature isn’t always predictable and you never know what will happen.
But Juneau is one of the best places in the world to spot Humpback whales and they are so confident that if you don’t see one, you’ll get your money back!
Bald Eagles may be difficult to spot in other parts of the world, but in Juneau, they hang out on the beach, sit on totem poles and soar through the air.
When we first visited Juneau, we were supposed to go dog mushing. Dog mushing is still a very large part of the community in the North as locals still use dogs to get around in the winter.
It was raining pretty hard when we were in port, so it was canceled due to inclement weather, but we have since gone dogsledding in other parts of the world, and it is an uplifting, joyous experience, so make sure you do it!
Denali National Park
This was probably our favorite place in Alaska (besides the remote wilderness we experienced on UnCruise) because, in Denali, you truly feel like you have reached the final frontier.
If you can add the 6-night rail portion onto your trip, you really will see the Best of Alaska!
Flight Over Denali
Denali (aka Mount Mount McKinley) is the highest peak in North America and to see it by air is a must.
It offers stunning views of the glaciers of Mount McKinley and gives you the most up close and personal perspective of the mountain next to actually climbing it.
It’s a great adventure too! Step into a 1966 De Havilland Beaver bush plane and feel like a pioneer exploring the Great North!
Put yourself in the mind of early settlers and imagine what it must have been like for them riding through the Alaskan Bush by horseback.
It takes you through remarkable scenery and you truly feel as if you’ve gotten away from it all!
If you are into more motorized sightseeing, there are ATV tours on offer in the Denali area too!
We went through the TriValleys on ATV and had a rip-roaring time.
One of the best ways to explore the wilderness is to get on the Alaska Railroad aboard a dome train.
Just before Alaska, we took a dome train with the Rocky Mountaineer across the Canadian Rockies and we’ve been on a dome train through the Andes in Peru. Alaska doesn’t disappoint.
We didn’t take the train with UnCruise, but all cruise lines take the same dome train route from Denali to Talkeetna and it is extraordinary.
There is something very decadent about eating breakfast in the dining car with a fresh Bloody Mary (c’mon, you’re on vacation, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere!) while watching the wild Alaskan scenery as you pass by. You may spot a grizzly or two as well!
UnCruise Land Experience
What’s great about the UnCruise land tours is that (as it is on the ship) activities are included. You don’t have to book excursions above and beyond the price.
Each day your guides will take you on a guided hike, bushwhack or kayaking trip into the wilderness for birdwatching, whale watching or wildlife viewing.
You can book some optional tours like scenic flights and whitewater rafting, but you don’t have to. There is enough to do on the tour you’ve paid for!
But, we have to give you more ideas to do in Alaska, why not make a summer of it?
Located a little south of Denali, Talkeetna is a stop on the train that lets you get out and stretch your legs.
Talkeetna is considered one of the coolest small towns in America.
It is the jumping-off point for mountaineers to climb Denali and there are a lot of cool little bars to see and enjoy a cocktail or two well into the wee hours of the Midnight sun. (Since you are so far north, you never know what time it is!)
Pop into a saloon and swig your whiskey as you pretend you are living back in the wild west.
Helicopter Tour over Juneau Icefields
Skagway was one of our greatest adventures in Alaska. It’s also a big splurge tour but highly recommended.
We took a helicopter tour over the Juneau Icefields which offered up one of the most striking views we’ve ever seen.
The 30-minute flight took us over the massive ice fields that have been here for millenniums. Seeing the deep gorges from above, truly showed us the power of mother nature.
Hike Tongass National Forest
Tongass National Forest is the largest forest in the United States. A hike through here, lets you see what it was like for people passing along the Chilkoot Trail towards Alaska with all their belongings to strike it big in the Gold Rush.
They took their lives into their hands and many people perished searching for gold, but our leisurely hike kept us safe and sound, complete with snacks and drinks. We followed the Skagway River learning of the flora and fauna of the area and we even saw old bear scratched in a tree!
Our three-hour hike took us through the wilderness to our final destination, a view of the Alaskan Sawtooth Mountain range and a glimpse of Laughton Glacier.
White Pass Rail
This historic railway is a must. Even if you don’t do the helicopter or hiking tour, get on the White Pass Rail. You can do a 40-mile round trip tour or just do half as we did. Scenes you’ll see along the way are:
- Gold Rush Cemetery – Famous icons from the gold rush days are buried here including Soapy Smith and Frank Reid who died in a shootout in Skagway.
- Black Cross Rock – A 100-ton rock that buried two railroad workers.
- Bridal Veil Falls
If you are really adventurous, you can book your Chilkoot trail hike from Skagway to British Columbia. People still do this trip every year.
Along the way, you’ll see artifacts left behind from early settlers. They tried to bring everything including the kitchen sink with them, and it was just too much for many to handle, so they left their belongings which can still be seen today in the trail!
Don’t worry, you don’t have to do the whole multiday trek, you can do a day hike to get a feel for it.
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
If you don’t want to hike, check out the Gold Rush Museum where you’ll see exhibits from the days of the gold rush and artifacts from the trail.
There are four buildings open to the public that take you back in time and show what life was like.
Boy, I’m glad we live in today’s easy world, they had it rough!
Days of ’98
End your day at the Days of 98 show that has been continuously running since 1923.
This interactive fun show is a great Alaskan experience with song and dance telling the story of notorious Alaskan outlaw and conman Soapy Smith.
UnCruise offers stays in Ketchikan as well, and it was one of our favorite places to visit in Alaska. While in Ketchikan we packed a lot in.
Here you’ll stay at the Westmark Sitka hotel which is walking distance to the harbor and downtown.
Ketchikan Zodiac Tour
The most fun we had in Alaska was whipping around the harbor in our self-drive zodiacs. We geared up in complete raingear, learned how to drive the powerful zodiacs and were let loose to twist and turn our way through the waters.
Following our guide, we crossed the bay watching whales and eagles before stopping at a camp to enjoy ‘Smores (marshmallows and chocolate melted on graham crackers)
Totem State Historical Park
When we saw Totem State Historical Park, it was covered in bald eagles resting on the tops of the original Tglinglet Peoples totems.
The totem heritage center showcases the living heritage of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples. These totem poles signal the preservation of artistic traditions.
Tlingit Culture – Connection in Bartlet Cove
We learned about the Tlingit people on our UnCruise when we stopped at Bartlet Cove on our UnCruise.
If you don’t get the chance to stop at Bartlet cove to see the longhouse, totems and listen to storytellers talk of their culture, Totlem State Historical Park is a good spot to visit in Ketchikan.
If you visit Anchorage, you can visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center to learn more of the indigenous people of Alaska.
Stroll along the boardwalk to enjoy the waterfront and wood-framed houses of Creek Street.
When doing an Alaskan Cruise, many people fly into Fairbanks.
It is a great place to either unwind after your trip, or gear up for getting started. It’s also an excellent place to experience the midnight sun.
Something that draws people to Alaska in the summer is getting the chance to experience the nearly 24 hours of sunlight.
Since Fairbanks is usually the farthest north you’ll go on a trip, this is the best place to experience the longest days.
Trust me, at 3:00 am, you’ll feel wide awake and ready to go!
You won’t be seeing the northern lights in the summer months due to the midnight sun, but if you visit in winter, spring or fall, you’ll definitely have a good chance!
The Riverboat Cruise on the Chena River is a staple of things to do in Alaska. Founded by Jim Binkley in 1950, it has become an institution showing visitors the way of life along the river.
From watching demonstrations by the Athabascan people showing us how they dry and hang salmon to viewing sled dog demonstrations. It may be summer, but sled dogs still love to run, so they hook them up to wheels and treat them to their daily workout!
Pan For Gold
I don’t care how kitschy it sounds. When in Alaska, you must try your hand at panning for gold! The state was built on the gold industry, and it’s cool to see an old Gold Mine and the equipment they used to strike it rich.
Plus, everyone is guaranteed to find a nugget or two that you can take home with you as a souvenir!
Best of UnCruise
When taking an UnCruise, you are going to see a lot of the best things in Alaska, and you will have to pick and choose what you want to do before or after your cruise.
I think the add ons are a great way to compliment your cruise and to help you out, we want to share with you the best things we saw in Alaska.
Glacier Bay National Parks
You may not need to go to Mendenhall Glacier because you are going to see a lot of glaciers on UnCruise.
Our favorite was Dawes Glacier where we did zodiac tours.
There is sea kayaking on offer in many places in Alaska but on UnCruise you get to go kayaking in search of whales, eagles, seals and sea lions nearly every day!
You may not be driving your own boat like in Ketchikan, but a skiff tour takes you out on Zodiacs with skilled drivers to watch whales, explore coves and witness glaciers from just a few hundred feet away.
Wildlife of Alaska
And finally, we wanted to round up all the wildlife you may spy in Alaska. Taking one of the many land tours will give you the opportunity to see more.
So if you can’t get enough of wildlife go for it! We saw everything on this UnCruise except for a moose. We saw a moose and cub on our last trip to Alaska, and we’ve seen them many times in Canada so we weren’t too disappointed to miss them on this trip. But seeing a moose once in your life is a must!
We’ve seen moose all around Canada, but the Alaskan moose is the giant moose. A subspecies that ranges from the Yukon to Alaska.
You’ll see a lot of eagles in Alaska. We saw these two on a beach walk and I happened to yell at Dave to point his camera up to the tree just in time to capture this action shot.
We’ve always wanted to get that perfect fluke and on our latest UnCruise adventure we finally did. We saw so many humpback whales it was nearly impossible not to get at least one great photo.
Captain Tim was really excited to see orcas and he made sure that we all got a chance to watch these two move through the bay.
The first morning we woke up early and were treated to hundreds of sea otters floating through the bay. We kept seeing one group after another. It was our best spotting of sea otters the entire trip.
We saw a lot of seals on UnCruise. But the cutest was when we went to John’s Hopkins Glacier and saw families lazing on ice flows.
Bear spotting was difficult from the ship, but thanks to Dave’s zoom lens we captured this Brown Bear.
Did you know, A Brown Bear is the term used for coastal grizzly bears. They are bigger than Grizzlies found inland because of their steady diet of salmon.
We saw a black bear from the ship as well, but he was pretty far away and constantly moving, so we thought we’d share our favorite cute photo from a trip we took to Manitoba instead.
And that ladies and gentlemen is our list of all the things to do in Alaska that we loved!
I know Alaska is a huge state and there are many adventures to be had, but hopefully, this will inspire you to go back again and again. I know we are ready for our next trip!
Did you enjoy all the things to do in Alaska we suggested? Save this post to Pinterest to plan your Alaska travels.
Our trip to Alaska was in partnership with UnCruise.
Our Alaska Itinerary was the Alaska Glacier Country cruise. But they have many Alaskan cruise itineraries to choose from.
See more Unique Cruises:
9 thoughts on “Things to do in Alaska”
Thanks for sharing your lovely experience and information about Alaska. Really loved it.
A 1-1/2 hour flight from Talkeetna to view McKinley (renamed Denali later), Mt. Foraker, and Mt. Hunter was the finale on our first of three cruises to Alaska. We were very fortunate to have good weather, as McKinley is only visible about 10% of the time. I took over 200 photos during the flight, changing rolls of 35mm FILM then.
We cruised one way northbound on the Crown Princess, which was a much smaller ship in 1998 than the current Crown Princess. Highlights of the cruise scenery included the Lynn Canal, Glacier Bay, the College Fjord, and Prince William Sound. These sights were spectacular but we are very glad to have spent the money for the flight seeing trip.
wow amazing blog. beautiful nature photos you shared with us.fantastic article. i read and enjoyed a lot.thank you so much for sharing.
Wow! I feel so inspired now.
Loved your blog!
I really want to visit Alaska, thank you for sharing your great experience to us.,. I hope I can go there too…and will definitely try these things.
Scintillating….I am stunned by the captures.
What an amazing experience one can have there. Loved it.
Never heard the word “Scintillating” before.
Learn to pronounce
sparkling or shining brightly.”
I had to Google it to find out what it meant. 🙂
Thanks a lot for sharing brief information about Alaska. Really it inspire to visit Alaska and attend all of these activities mentioned above.
This post really inspires people to consider going to Alaska. Great photos and details. Thank you Dave & Deb. 🙂