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Grizzly bears, whales, Dall sheep and more: Seeing Alaska’s animals is an unforgettable experience. Our video (right) gives a preview—but nothing beats seeing these creatures in person:
Head to the viewing platforms over Brooks Falls (a day trip from Anchorage) for the amazing experience of watching grizzlies catch salmon in the wild. Wildlife bus tours into Denali National Park often encounter bears, or you can see bears at sanctuaries such as Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Anchorage.
Boost your chances of spotting humpbacks or orcas by joining a whale-watching tour. One of the best spots is Juneau, where humpbacks feed in nearby waters during summer. Prepare to be awed as the 30- to 50-foot leviathans leap (“breach”) or engage in group “bubble-net” feeding.
Denali Park Road
The Tundra Wilderness Tour takes visitors on a bus into Denali National Park, led by a certified driver-naturalist whose keen eye helps you spot Dall sheep, grizzly bears, caribou, wolves and more. No one can predict what will show up, of course—but this 7- to 8-hour journey through the park’s pristine landscape is fascinating nonetheless.
Set foot in this 6-million-acre world of untouched wilderness (roughly the size of Vermont), and you enter an amazing landscape that includes glaciers, boreal forest, arctic tundra and more.
The park is closed to almost all vehicles, so it’s still the great wilderness that it was when it opened in 1917. Its centerpiece is Denali, formerly Mount McKinley—the highest mountain in North America. For many, a trip to Alaska is not complete without a “sighting” of the mountain.
The park is home to 39 species of mammals, including moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves and bears. (Seeing all five scores you a “Denali slam.”)
Part of the fun of Denali is getting there: The daylong scenic train ride from Anchorage is an unforgettable way to enjoy Alaska’s stunning vistas.
With so many incredible sights and experiences, you may wonder how best to see Alaska.
Click through this slide show to see some of our most unforgettable adventures.
For an Alaskan cruise, you’ll have a choice between traveling on a small ship or a large ship. Each provides a unique experience, but which is right for you?
Smaller ships can explore narrow inlets, dock at off-the-beaten-track ports and get up-close to glaciers. Many small-ship itineraries focus on nature and wildlife, with days spent on activities such as hiking, kayaking and exploring by Zodiac. Evenings are for relaxing, often by reading or listening to one of the onboard naturalists. The itineraries tend to be flexible: Small ships can—and often do—change course depending on wildlife sightings and passenger preference.
Large ships, which can carry several thousand passengers, are enticing in many ways, too. Passengers can pick from a rich selection of onshore excursions in every port. Excursions might range from a flightseeing trip to a salmon-fishing adventure on a remote river to a historic walking tour through town. Onboard, the activities are far-ranging, too, from signature cooking classes to workshops on digital photography. The spacious ship feels like a nice hotel, offering a restorative retreat after a day of adventure onshore.
Seeing a glacier is a quintessential Alaskan experience. With 665 “named” glaciers and thousands of smaller ones, Alaska has the highest concentration of glacial ice in the U.S.
And there are so many ways to see them: You can float past them on a cruise, hike to them or even take a helicopter and land on them.
By cruise …
Many cruise ships spend 9 or 10 hours in Glacier Bay, where a dozen glaciers await, including brilliant-blue Lamplugh glacier. Prince William Sound is another popular place for cruising past glaciers: It has more tidewater glaciers than anywhere else on Earth and might be the best place in Alaska to spot a glacier calving—releasing a massive chunk of ice into the water with a thunderous splash.
Hike or drive …
Mendenhall Glacier is 12 miles outside of Juneau, and you can drive right up to the visitor center that overlooks the glacier’s face. For hikers, there are six trails’ worth of options to get really close.
By helicopter …
Flying usually includes landing on a glacier, so you can step out to see its moraines and other features up close—and even taste pure glacial water from an ice pool. Near Denali National Park, a helicopter ride over breathtaking wilderness lands you on the massive Yanert Glacier. From Juneau, helicopters fly to Norris and Herbert glaciers, where mushers often train their dogsled teams in summer.
The Inside Passage is a coastal sea route favored by Alaskan cruises. Winding through channels and straits between the mainland and islands, the Inside Passage offers one of the most scenic ways to enjoy the state.
As your ship weaves past fir-covered islands, massive glaciers, seals sunning on ice floes and whales galore, you’ll have a front-row view of Alaska’s majestic beauty and quirky charms.
At port towns, you can head off-ship and explore—either on your own or by joining an excursion. Each port has its unique allure: the funky, frontier vibe of capital city Juneau; Ketchikan’s salmon-fishing culture; the Native Alaskan and Russian influences of Sitka; Skagway’s Gold Rush-era history; the small-town beauty of Haines.
There are many more towns and natural wonders to discover. Extending for more than 1,000 miles between Seattle and Skagway, the Inside Passage is an Alaskan treasure.