Alaska Bucket List: 13 destinations you must visit (Including a map)

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Looks like Alaska is our next major destination! I blogged about this before and now it’s time to put together our “Alaska Bucket List”: A list of the destinations that you absolutely must visit in Alaska.

 

Mountains, lakes, glaciers and waterfalls… Alaska sounds like a dream destination. We will probably only have one month to spend in Alaska. Obviously, we want to make the most of the trip by focusing on the very best this amazing state has to offer.

We usually prefer slow travel but our own great Alaskan adventure will need to be a tad more focused.

Why the time constraints? We want to experience the full eclipse of August 2017, so we have to be near Bend, Oregon for that on the morning August 21st. Once the sun re-appears, we’ll be heading up north – to Alaska! Our road trip will take us through the Cassiar Highway to Alaska and the back to the Lower 48 via the Alaska Highway. And there’s the rub. I don’t want to be driving the Alcan late into October. Shorter days and colder weather means a higher chance of snow and icy roads. We have very little winter driving experience, so that’s something I’d rather avoid.

And that’s why our trip to Alaska is going to have to be on a schedule. We need to focus on the things we absolutely want to see and do. Hence, today’s post.

Our Alaska Bucket List

This is a list of destinations. Not activities and not even necessarily specific places. When two towns or places are very nearby, I lumped them together into one item. That’s because once you’re “there” you can easily see both places even if takes you an hour to drive between them. You could stay in one place and “hop over” for a quick “day tour”.

Without further ado, here are my top 13 destinations in Alaska. Scroll down for an interactive map of our Alaska Bucket List destinations.

1. Denali National Park

We absolutely love national parks. National Parks make our visit to a new place so much more special. Plus, it’s Denali mountain, the highest peak in the entire United States. Visiting Denali National Park is definitely on our Alaska Bucket List!

Alaska Bucket List: Denali National Park

2. Glacier Bay National Park

Watching a majestic glacier create its own tidal wave as it calves is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To have a ranger as your guide? Even better! We want to experience that at Glacier National Park.

Alaska Bucket List: Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay, Alaska. Ice calving at Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park

3. Kenai Fjords National Park

Fjords and glaciers, from land and sea. Hiking the Exit glacier definitely makes it into our Alaska Bucket List! This park is also easy to reach (by Alaskan standards).

Alaska Bucket List: Kenai Fjords National Park
Hiking Exit Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park

4. Katmai National Park

Katmai National Park should be on everyone’s must-see list. You have to fly into the park and stay at the local lodge, making it quite expensive to visit (especially for a family of four). I can’t leave it out of the list but whether or not we’ll be visiting it during the summer of 2017 remains to be seen. What’s in Katmai? In three words: Waterfalls, salmon, bear. Mix these three, pour and enjoy!

5. Fairbanks

Enough of National Parks. Time for some Alaskan city experiences. Fairbanks is full of them. It will be the most northern city we’ll have been to. Places we want to visit include the Morris Thompson Visitor CenterUniversity of Alaska Museum of the North, the Large Animal Research Station where you can see live muskoxen and Pioneer Park with many attractions including the one where you can experience 40 below zero…

Alaska Bucket List: Fairbanks
Fairbanks, Alaska

6. Chena Hot Springs

North of Fairbanks are these amazing hot springs. I can only imagine what it’s like dipping in hot springs during winter time. I’m hoping a summertime experience will be awesome enough to justify a spot on this list.

7. Anchorage

Speaking of Alaskan cities, we have to visit the largest one, Anchorage. Our itinerary could possibly include the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center or the Alaska Air Museum and possibly Kincaid park. Which is just another big city park. Only with moose.

Alaska Bucket List: Moose at Kincaid Park
Moose at Kincaid Park

8. The Kenai Peninsula

Technically, it’s a second mention on this list. Kenai Fjords National Park is on the Kenai Peninsula. Adding it here because there’s more to the peninsula than the park itself. We definitely plan on making a road trip to the western side of the peninsula and visiting the fishing town of Homer as well.

Alaska Bucket List: Homer, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska

9. Girdwood & Whittier

This small resort town makes it into the Alaska Bucket List for several reasons. The Alyeska Aerial Tram is one, Portage Glacier is another. I think the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center will be hugely attractive for us as well. Locals say that driving the Whittier tunnel in a must-do so visiting the town of Whittier also made it into our Alaska Bucket List.

Alaska Bucket List: Portage Glacier
Portage Glacier near Girdwood and Whittier

10. Valdez

If the name sounds familiar it could be because of the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill, or possibly even the earthquake of 1964. The Valdez Museum tells the story of both of these catastrophes as well as other local historic events. However, Keystone Canyon and the Worthington Glacier are the places which earned Valdez its spot in the list.

Alaska Bucket List: Valdez

11. Juneau

Getting into the Inside Passage could take us to Juneau, the capital of Alaska. The wet and relatively warm climate makes Juneau an ideal area for hiking the cold rainforests and visiting local gardens. Mendenhall Glacier alone is an Alaska Bucket List item in its own right. There are no roads connecting Juneau to the rest of Alaska, so whether or not it’ll make it into our road trip itinerary is still a mystery.

Alaska Bucket List: Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

12. Sitka

If we do end up visiting the Inside Passage than Sitka is another Bucket List item. With a combination of native and Russian history, Sitka is home to the Sikta Historic National Park. The town and its surroundings combine a myriad of natural and cultural attractions.

Alaska Bucket List: Sitka

13. Skagway & Haines

Skagway –  which can actually be reached via a land road – offers travelers a taste of the historic Gold Rush. You can visit the Klondike historic national park or ride the famous White Pass & Yukon train. Haines, on the other side of the Chilkoot inlet, can be reached via a short ferry ride and offers a more relaxed Alaskan experience.

Alaska Bucket List: Skagway
Cruise ship docked in Skagway

Is that it?

Well, of course not! There’s tons more to do and see in Alaska, I’m sure. Researching for the trip, I found other places that I know we’d enjoy visiting. Tremendously! I think these 13 places are a great start though. That’s why it’s an “Alaska Bucket List” – it includes the places which I think are an absolute “must-see” in the state. There are many others which fall into the “you really should see if you can” category as well (that’s not a bad category at all!).

Creating an itinerary for the Alaska Bucket List

This post also allows me to share the way I plan our trips. The very first stage is making a list of all the places we want to visit in a country or region. See above? Check!

Next, I place the places on a map, to see where everything is. Sharing this map here with y’all. It’s an interactive Google Map, so you can enlarge it, zoom in and out and generally play around. If you click on the icon that’s at the top-left corner, it will open up a menu with the names of the places. Click any of them to see where it is on the map and get more info about it.

Seeing the destinations on a map like this helps me start plan our itinerary. Now I can tell which places are close to one another and what would make a sensible route. My next posts on this topic will include –

  • Similar lists for traveling in Northern British Columbia and in the Yukon. Southern British Columbia and the Canadian Rockies deserve their own Bucket lists, for sure. I will post these as well at some point (using our own photos too!)
  • Travel Itineraries for Alaska and for driving the Stewart-Cassiar road and The Alaskan Highway.

So, what do you think? Did I forget something really important? Have you visited any of these destinations or are you going to? Let me know in the comments!

* The pictures in this post were all bought at Fotolia.com. I can’t wait to share our own Alaska photos during our trip!
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4 comments

  1. Hi Anne thank you for this bucket list, we are planning a trip to Alaska next summer June – July 2018.
    Wonder how long does it takes to complete the places you mention above ?
    We are from Singapore in S.E. Asia, we seldom do road trip, is it safe to drive in Alaska ?

    Regards

    1. Hi Julie, I would say about 3-4 weeks. We just returned from our own visit to Alaska. We visited Fairbanks, Denali, Anchorage, Seward, Valdez and Haines in approx. 3 weeks but took our time in some of the places. We didn’t visit Katmai National Park because it was too expensive for our budget and we didn’t visit anywhere along the inner passage (Sitka, Juneau etc) that we couldn’t reach with our car (so, basically we limited our inner passage experience to Haines). I think the inner passage would be at least another week of travel and Katmai another 3 days. The rest could probably be done in 2-2.5 weeks if you’re fast travelers. 3 if you want a more leisurely experience.
      I hope this helps! Keep following my blog as I’m working on our Alaska posts (the first one has already been published and I hope to publish the one about Denali today!)

  2. You’re going to have a blast in Alaska! We’ve lived all over the USA, but Alaska is now our home. There is nothing like waking up and seeing mountains out of every window or seeing a moose munching on your tree!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Becky! Only 4 more months before we fly out to the US and begin our road trip! I love your blog and plan on spending some time there today – thanks for stopping by!

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