13 Charming Small Towns in Alaska You Shouldn’t Miss

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Alaska's vast landscapes are dotted with small towns, each with its unique charm and character. As you explore these small towns, you'll find various attractions that will capture your heart.

Savor the fresh catch of the day in a harbor-side eatery, learn about Alaska's rich past, or participate in celebrations that brighten the long winter nights. 

Visiting during the peak seasons will make the most of outdoor activities, like kayaking through glacial waters or hiking scenic trails bursting with wildflowers.

With this in mind, we've carefully curated a selection of the finest activities each town has to offer, along with the optimal season to fully immerse yourself in these experiences.

1. Sitka

Sitka Alaska Harbor From The Water

Sitka mesmerizes visitors with its blend of Tlingit culture, Russian history, and stunning natural landscapes, including the Sitka National Historical Park, where totem poles line coastal trails.

If you visit in October, the Alaska Day Festival brings the community and visitors together to celebrate the transfer of Alaska from Russia to the United States with parades and historical reenactments, offering a glimpse into the past.

The waters around Sitka are a haven for wildlife enthusiasts. Here, the chance to spot whales in their natural habitat is not just an activity; it's an experience that connects you with the majesty of the Pacific.

For an even deeper dive into what makes Sitka such a captivating place, you can explore its attractions more and hear stories from fellow travelers on this TripAdvisor page.

2. Skagway

Suspended houses on a small Alaskan river in Skagway ,Alaska

This historic Gold Rush town transports visitors back in time with its well-preserved buildings and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Riding the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway is an unforgettable experience many recommend. This historic narrow-gauge railway takes you on a scenic journey that's as thrilling as beautiful.

Skagway, Alaska. The scenic White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad

As the train climbs nearly 3,000 feet in just 20 miles, you'll be treated to panoramic views of mountains, glaciers, gorges, and waterfalls.

The cozy, vintage carriages and the engaging stories told during the ride make the journey even more special, drawing you into the adventurous tales and history of the Klondike Gold Rush.

Skagway's annual July 4th celebration is a highlight, featuring parades, fireworks, and events. Spring through early fall is ideal for visiting, with summer being the peak season for warm weather and full access to attractions.

Visit Skagway's official tourism site for more information on all Skagway offers, including detailed guides and the latest events.

We also have our own experience of Skagway and a list of awesome things for you to try. Read our guide here!

3. Talkeetna

You'll find Talkeetna nestled at the base of North America's tallest peak, Denali, presenting a blend of unrivaled natural beauty and quaint small town.

With its historical roots established around 1916 as a district headquarters for the Alaska Railroad, this town offers a rich past and thrilling present-day adventures.

In the summer, you can take jet boat tours on local rivers with Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures.

For a scenic journey, the Hurricane Turn Train departs from Talkeetna and winds through the Indian River Valley to Hurricane Gulch. The views of the state’s backcountry and Susitna River from the train are truly unforgettable.

4. Valdez

Valdez stands out for its stunning natural beauty and is a gateway to Prince William Sound.

It's home to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal and is encircled by majestic mountains and glaciers, offering perfect opportunities for glacier tours and kayaking.

But there's more to Valdez than just its stunning landscapes. The Valdez Ice Climbing Festival in February draws winter sports enthusiasts, while the Valdez Silver Salmon Derby captivates anglers from all over, eager to reel in the biggest silver salmon for prizes and bragging rights.

The best season to visit Valdez is summer for wildlife tours and hiking, though winter offers unique ice climbing and skiing opportunities.

If you're looking for more fun things to do in Valdez, we've curated a list of the awesome things to do in town. Read our detailed guide here!

5. Ketchikan

As the "Salmon Capital of the World," Ketchikan is a must-visit for fishing enthusiasts. That said, this lively town has more than just top-notch salmon fishing; it also offers a rich cultural experience.

Here, amidst the largest collection of totem poles globally, you'll also uncover the rich tapestry of Native American culture woven into every corner of this vibrant waterfront town.

With the Misty Fjords National Monument, a stone's throw away, your adventures will lead you through ethereal landscapes where waterfalls cascade down sheer granite cliffs into the ocean below.

Come August, the town bursts into life with the Blueberry Arts Festival. It's a time when the community comes together to celebrate with local crafts, mouthwatering food, and performances that showcase the spirit of Ketchikan.

The best time for this adventure? Summer, without a doubt, offers the warmest embrace for all your activities, ensuring your experiences are as sunny as the skies above.

6. Girdwood

This resort town is famous for its skiing at Alyeska Resort and summer hiking trails like Winner Creek Trail.

In July, the Forest Fair celebrates with music, crafts, and food. Girdwood is also a gateway to viewing the northern lights during the winter months.

While winter is perfect for skiing, summer offers the best conditions for hiking and festivals.

For a day off the beaten path, the Bird to Gird trail offers a paved path perfect for a leisurely bike ride or a refreshing walk. Breathtaking vistas and potential wildlife sightings make this trail a must-do activity.

As you plan your visit, consider the Girdwood Chamber of Commerce for the latest on events and seasonal attractions.

7. Juneau

Located in the heart of the Tongass National Forest, this scenic town boasts a picturesque landscape with a friendly, small-town charm.

Start your adventure at the majestic Mendenhall Glacier, a short drive from downtown. This towering river of ice is a sight to behold and offers activities year-round, from guided walks to adventurous ice cave explorations

In summer, you can catch the vibrant Juneau Arts & Humanities Council events that showcase local arts or visit during the winter for the delightful energy of the Juneau Public Market.

Your journey wouldn't be complete without a hike up Mount Roberts. After a tram ride to the alpine, you're rewarded with panoramic views of Juneau and the Gastineau Channel.

Enjoy the hiking trails or relax at the mountain-top restaurant. Summer is the best season for glacier tours and whale watching, while spring and fall offer unique cultural experiences.

8. Homer

Homer stands out for its dynamic art scene and excellent fishing spots.

In the summer, your days can be filled with experiences like fishing for the famous Homer halibut or bird watching at the Homer Spit. The colorful pebbles along the beaches enhance the scenery, perfect for a tranquil walk.

Art enthusiasts will appreciate the thriving local arts scene, with galleries and workshops showcasing Alaskan artists or exploring the rich tapestry of Homer's cultural heritage at the Pratt Museum.

The Kachemak Bay Shorebird Festival in May attracts bird enthusiasts. Summer fishing and bear viewing tours in nearby Katmai National Park are popular. The best time to visit is during the summer for fishing and outdoor activities.

9. Petersburg

This charming town celebrates its Norwegian heritage with the Little Norway Festival in May, featuring Viking-style festivities.

You'll see colorful Norwegian costumes, lively dances, and can't-miss parades celebrating their proud history.

In summer, you can catch bountiful salmon and halibut. You could also spend your days hiking through misty trails or spotting wildlife in their natural habitat.

Come winter, you can enjoy whale watching, glacier tours, and the LeConte Glacier. And if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of northern lights on clear winter nights. Just wrap up warm and gaze skyward for an unforgettable show.

Want a better shot at seeing the Northern Lights? We've outlined the prime times to visit Alaska for a memorable Northern Lights viewing and more in this post.

10. Wrangell

This town's friendly charm welcomes you to explore attractions like the renowned Anan Bear and Wildlife Observatory, where you can observe Alaskan wildlife in their natural habitat.

The Inside Passage's calm waters present an ideal kayaking setting, allowing you to glide past icebergs and maybe spot a whale or two!

For cultural enthusiasts, Chief Shakes Tribal House stands as a testament to the enduring Tlingit culture, and the Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park is a must-visit for mysterious rock carvings that whisper tales of ancient times.

If you visit in July, the Stikine River Birding Festival showcases a spectacular array of migratory birds, making it a highlight for bird lovers. The summer months are also ideal for hiking Mount Dewey, offering panoramic views that are simply breathtaking.

11. Seward

As a gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward is famous for its glacier cruises, fishing, and the challenging Mount Marathon Race, typically held on July 4th.

Whether you hop on a day cruise or kayak among the icebergs, you're in for a view of nature at its finest.

You can also hop on the Alaska Railroad from here. If you can, we recommend getting on a rail trip to get a shot of some of Alaska's most photo-worthy scenery.

After an adventure-rich experience, indulge in fresh seafood at waterfront restaurants like Chinook's or Ray's, where the catch of the day is always a delight.

Warm up with a bowl of seafood chowder or savor the local halibut that Seward takes pride in.

When planning your trip, remember to include the Alaska SeaLife Center. It's an educational feast where you can touch starfish and learn about marine conservation. Visit their official website for more details.

12. Kodiak

Kodiak Island is renowned for its brown bears, which you can visit through the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge.

If you visit during the festive season or in the summer, you'll see the island in a beautiful light.

You'll enjoy strolling through the historic town, named by Russian explorer Stephan Glotov in 1763, and see the Alutiiq arts through hands-on workshops.

In May, the Kodiak Crab Festival celebrates the region's rich seafood with delicious dishes, lively parades, and fun games.

Besides these, the island’s rugged landscapes offer excellent hiking and fishing, beautiful wildlife watching, and outdoor activities in the summer and fall.

If history intrigues you, explore the past at Baranov Museum to learn about Kodiak's fascinating journey through time. 

13. Gustavus

As the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus offers incredible glacier views and kayaking.

In the summer, this town becomes a hub for nature lovers. The town offers incredible access to tidewater glaciers, allowing you to witness breathtaking icy structures up close.

But that's not all; here, the Alaskan wilderness provides a beautiful backdrop for hiking and wildlife spotting. Gustavus is not just a feast for your eyes but also for your spirit.

The best time to visit is June through August, when the days are long and the nature is vibrant. During these months, you can indulge in the annual Music Festival, a locally beloved event showcasing talent under the midnight sun.

Do pack your binoculars, for birds and bears are often the stars of the show.

Autumn paints the town with magnificent colors, making it an ideal frame for photographers and leaf peepers.

While winters are quieter, they offer the unique chance to see the northern lights dance across the sky. You can relax in Gustavus Inn and let the Aurora Borealis dazzle you.

Getting the Timing Right Can Make A Big Difference!

Planning your travel around seasonal events can greatly enhance your experience.

Check your destination’s events calendar to align your trip with these special occasions. The best time to visit often depends on what you want to see and do, so a little research on seasonal weather can go a long way.

Whether you're drawn by the allure of wilderness or the warmth of small-town hospitality, Alaska's smaller towns are waiting to welcome you. Pack your bags, and set your sights on the Last Frontier's local charms!

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