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 of 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 then 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 mean a higher chance of snow and icy roads. We have very little winter driving experience, so that's something I'd rather avoid.
Update! We didn't get to see the eclipse but we did drive all the way to Alaska and back and had a super trip! You can read more about our adventures in these posts -
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!
Update: check out our guide for visiting Denali (including how we managed to see 19 Grizzly bears in one day!)
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.
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).
Update: The park was amazing, especially our cruise to see the marine glaciers and whales. You can read our Kenai Fjords Cruise report here along with some important tips that can help you plan your own cruise.
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!
What other national parks can you visit in Alaska? I created a mega post about Alaska's National Parks and which ones you can visit and how.
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 Center, University 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...
Update: Been there, done that! Have the posts to show for that too:
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.
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.
Update! Read these posts which were written following our visit: Fun things to do in Anchorage and if you're traveling with kids, maybe also Anchorage hotels that have swimming pools. Oh, and Kincaid park itself was a bit disappointing. We didn't see any moose and just wandered around a large and fairly empty city 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.
Update: So, we didn't visit Homer but we had a blast at the Kenai Peninsula. We took a cruise to see the Kenai Fjords, and also visited some great places in Seward itself, including the Sealife center. Here's more about what you can do at Seward, 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.
Update following our visit
So, Whittier was a no-go. We got to Portage Glacier and really enjoyed their visitor center but the weather outside was abysmal (in August!). The rain and wind were so bad we barely managed to hop out of the car and get to the visitors center and back. We were told that Whittier had the same weather that day, so we chose to drive on to Anchorage rather than cross the tunnel.
The Portage glacier area looked spectacular, as far as we could tell through the rain. We'll definitely be back someday.
As for Girdwood, we spent a few hours in the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and had a great time. Lovely visit, even in somewhat gloomy weather. If you go, I recommend wearing hiking boots because it was kinda muddy out there.
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 historical events. However, Keystone Canyon and the Worthington Glacier are the places which earned Valdez its spot in the list.
Update: Loved Valdez! Saw all of the places I mentioned above as well as the Salomon Hatchery where we saw sea lions, seals, a bear and an unbelievable number of salmon fish - just about everywhere, including on the road! You can read more about them in our post about the best things to do in Valdez, AK.
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.
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.
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.
Haines was awesome. We got to see a Grizzly bear from just yards away. You can see the video of that encounter and find the list of things to do in Haines in this post.
Is that it?
Well, of course not! There are 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 as well. 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 to 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!