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While Alaska’s wild, forest-fringed shores aren’t the first place you’d consider for sunbathing and swimming, the beaches of the 49th state are absolutely beautiful. Empty, remote, pristine, and often backed by dense forest, Alaska’s beaches are a joy to explore.

On warm summer days, you can swim from many of its beaches, although it’s better to have backup activities in mind if you’re not used to cool water. Luckily, there are many to try.

Stroll along the shore, follow waterfront trails, paddle a sea kayak, scan the horizon for whale blows, and watch the treetops for the telltale white head of the bald eagle. Alaska has an impressive tidal range of around 25 feet, so low tide exposes a wonderful world of rock pools to discover.

Here are 12 of the best beaches in Alaska to discover.

Icy Strait Point Beach, Hoonah

Icy Strait Point Beach, one of the best Alaska beaches

Icy Strait Point Beach, Hoonah

There’s a marked beach trail all along the pebbly shore around Icy Strait Point, with spectacular views of the mountains and islands that surround this side of wild, rugged Chichagof Island.

You can walk from The Cannery, a former canning factory that’s been converted into shops, all the way around the point and on beyond the Wilderness Landing jetty.

The beach here is beautiful; a vast sweep of coarse sand and pebbles, strewn with logs, and backed by the dense, bottle-green forest that Alaska is known for. Walk down by the water or follow a trail that weaves in and out of the woods, keeping a lookout for the blow of humpback whales out in the bay.

View of the water from The Cannery, Hoonah

The Cannery, Hoonah

There are refreshment stops at the waterfront restaurants near The Cannery, but beyond the Wilderness Landing, the beach becomes really remote. Pay attention to any warnings of bear sightings; the area around Hoonah has a thriving bear population and trails are sometimes closed if there’s a lot of bear activity.

Icy landscape of Juneau Icefield

Juneau Icefield

There’s plenty to do at Icy Strait Point once you’ve enjoyed your beach walk. Head up the Skyglider gondola for fantastic views across to the Juneau Icefield, join a guided hike, play on the Adventure Park and Ropes Course, or whizz down the world’s largest zipline.

Read: Best Things to Do in Alaska

Waterfront Park, Seward

Aerial view of Waterfront Park, Seward

Waterfront Park, Seward

Jagged, snowy mountains, dense forest of spruce and hemlock, and the sparkling water of Resurrection Bay form a dazzling backdrop to Seward’s Waterfront Park, five miles of stony beach stretching along the shoreline. The park begins at the small boat harbor and ends at the SeaLife Center, one of the best places to visit in Alaska.

Buildings along Seward Harbor

Seward Harbor

Make the most of what has to be one of the best beaches in Alaska for a stroll with a view. You can follow a two-mile paved trail that curves along the contours of the shore, dotted with numerous points of interest.

The marker for Mile 0 of the epic Iditarod Trail is here, indicating the spot where the famous mail and supply route in the time of the Gold Rush began. You’ll also see the Founder’s Monument honoring John Ballaine, founder of the city, and marking the landing where the first settlers arrived in 1903.

Humpback whale spotted in Resurrection Bay

Resurrection Bay

All along the beachfront, there are chances to see wildlife. Keep your eyes open for sea otters, harbor seals, sea lions, and bald eagles. There’s good whale watching in Resurrection Bay, too, so you may even see a humpback breaching.

Whether you start or finish your beach stroll at the harbor, be sure to stop by some of the bars and cafés for authentic Alaskan food, ice cream, craft beers, and all manner of salmon dishes.

Bishop’s Beach, Homer

Quiet beach of Bishop’s Beach, Homer

Bishop’s Beach, Homer

The beautiful and extensive Bishop’s Beach is easily accessed from Homer, walkable from the town. When the tide is low, you can just keep going for miles, tidepooling and keeping an eye out for sea otters and seals bobbing in the water.

There are magnificent views of the Lower Cook Inlet—and if you wander inland from the beach, the grassy park here is dotted with art, from sculptures to a large mural.

View from Bishop’s Beach, Homer

Bishop’s Beach, Homer

The park is also the trailhead of the Beluga Slough Trail, which is just over a mile long and easy for all levels of fitness. The trail takes you over the rocks and sand of the beach and along boardwalks. Try to time your visit for low tide, when the rock pools are at their best.

Read: Best Things to Do in Homer

Annette Island, Ketchikan

View of Annette Island from the water

Annette Island, Ketchikan Photo by Jsayre64 on Wikimedia Commons, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

You’ll need to join a tour to this remote island near Ketchikan, as it’s only accessible by boat. But it’s worth it for the experiences that await. The views of wooded islands and towering Alaskan mountains from the gently sloping beach are exceptional.

The beach itself is fringed by dense, old-growth rainforest, the trees festooned in pale green Methuselah’s beard, a lichen that only flourishes in particularly clean air.

Visits here are hosted by the Tsimshian Indigenous people, and a trip to this beach is an education. You’ll learn about the forest and the intertidal zone and the treasures it conceals. Many of them are edible, including bull kelp, which is often pickled.

A beach bonfire offers a chance to sample delicious Alaskan specialties prepared in the open air, from reindeer sausages to salmonberry jam. You can roast marshmallows, too, for s’mores made with authentic Alaskan chocolate.

On the journey to and from the beach, keep a lookout for humpbacks and orcas, as well as harbor seals and bears foraging on remote shorelines.

Read: Things to Do in Ketchikan

Eagle Beach, Juneau

Eagle Beach, one of the best Alaska beaches

Eagle Beach, Juneau

Located 27 miles north of Juneau, Eagle Beach is popular with locals as a camping and recreation area. With snow-capped mountains as far as the eye can see, it’s a wonderful spot to visit for a picnic.

Shallow water of Eagle Beach, Juneau

Eagle Beach, Juneau

The beach stretches along the estuary of the Eagle River, where spawning salmon attract the attention of bald eagles and bears during summer in Alaska, so the wildlife-spotting opportunities are excellent.

You could see seals and sea lions in the water, too. At low tide, the sand flats seem to stretch for miles. Inhaling the sea air and piney scent from the surrounding forests on a walk is invigorating.

Read: Unforgettable Things to Do in Juneau

Tonsina Beach, Seward

Calm waters of Tonsina Beach, Seward

Tonsina Beach, Seward

If you’re in the mood for a moderately challenging beach hike in Seward, head out to the Tonsina Creek Trail, a gorgeous three-and-a-half-mile coastal walk.

The trail is out-and-back and starts just beyond Lowell Point, at the southern end of this lively Alaskan town. The snow-capped mountains across Resurrection Bay are a beautiful sight on a clear day and you could spot bald eagles in the trees, too.

The trail does involve a climb but descends to the beach and Tonsina Creek, where you can watch salmon forcing their way upstream in spawning season.

Lena Beach, Juneau

View from Lena Harbor, Juneau

Lena Beach, Juneau

A rocky sweep overlooking Auke Bay, Lena Beach is a pretty picnic area some 15 miles north of Juneau, with wonderful views of the Chilkat Mountains. Time your visit for low tide and wear rubber-soled shoes to explore the tide pools here, the salty tang of seaweed in the air.

You could see bright sea stars, anemones, crabs, and limpets. Bald eagles perch in the treetops, and there are often humpback whales to be seen in the bay. Pack a picnic for your expedition as there are few facilities here.

On the southern side of Point Lena, there’s also a long stretch of stony beach leading from the clifftop Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute back towards Auke Bay Marina.

It’s a long walk, so you probably won’t want to do the whole distance. The advantage of a beach stroll here is to take a peek at some of the beachfront houses that line the shore, ranging from quirky wood cabins to spectacular homes.

Totem Bight State Historical Park, Ketchikan

Rocky shoreline of Totem Bight State Historical Park, Ketchikan

Totem Bight State Historical Park, Ketchikan

Situated on the North Tongass Highway, just outside Ketchikan, the Totem Bight State Historical Park is an 11-acre site on the waterfront, fringing a stony beach.

In the park, 14 magnificent Tlingit and Haida totem poles are displayed amid the trees of the temperate rainforest. Interpretation panels and local guides explain the stories on the totems, and there’s a garden featuring plants used by the Indigenous people as medicines.

Rocky shoreline of Totem Bight State Historical Park, Ketchikan

Totem Bight State Historical Park, Ketchikan

You’ll find a lookout point over the scenic Tongass Narrows and access to the beach by the entrance to the park. Here, you can wander along at low tide and peer into the many rock pools which harbor all manner of life, from scuttling hermit crabs to purple sea stars.

Black Sand Beach, Barry Arm, Prince William Sound

Foggy view of Black Sand Beach, Barry Arm, Prince William Sound

Barry Arm, Prince William Sound Photo by Forest Service Alaska Region, USDA on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0

The fine, black sand on this beach overlooking Prince William Sound actually gets quite warm on a sunny day—but the chunks of ice calving off the Coxe Glacier, which meets the sea right next to the beach, might be something of an indication of the water temperature.

Nonetheless, this quarter-mile-long beach, some 55 miles from Anchorage, is a spectacular place to visit and a popular spot among sea kayakers. The views of Barry Arm, the surrounding mountains, hanging glaciers, and cascading waterfalls are magnificent.

Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau

Alaska beaches around Mendenhall glacier

Mendenhall Lake

The Mendenhall Glacier flows 13 miles from the Juneau Icefield as a frozen river, meeting the milky blue water of Mendenhall Lake, where it calves, leaving chunks of ice bobbing in the water.

The lake itself is encircled by pebbly beaches, all with spectacular views of the glacier face and the surrounding mountains.

Take the short, wheelchair-accessible Photo Point Trail from the Visitor Center and stand on a beach strewn with pieces of ice, where you can skim pebbles across the water. You can get a great shot of the Alaskan glacier from here, too.

View of Nugget Falls with Mendenhall Glacier

Nugget Falls

The longer Nugget Falls trail leads you along the shoreline to the base of Nugget Falls, which cascades into the Alaskan lake.

Prepare for a misting from the waterfall if you get up close, which plenty of people do. There’s a primeval force about the thundering waterfall, the blue-white glacier, and the surrounding forest, and a stroll on the shore here is invigorating. There’s wildlife, too; look for bears, beavers, and mountain goats.

Read: Amazing Animals in Alaska

Settlers Cove, Ketchikan

A 30-minute drive from downtown Ketchikan, pretty Settlers Cove Recreation Area on Clover Passage is the perfect spot for a beach day. The shore here is even sandy, which is rare in Alaska. Time your visit for low tide, when the beach is fully exposed.

You’ll find plenty to do here as well as sitting on the beach. The park is situated in temperate rainforest, with trails winding through stands of hemlock, spruce, and cedar, one of them wheelchair-accessible. Take the Lunch Falls loop and you’ll have great views of a tumbling Alaskan waterfall.

Clover Passage is perfect for kayaking, too, and on sunny days, a lot of people swim here.

Sandy Beach, Sitka

Rocky shoreline of Sitka

Sitka

Three miles north of downtown Sitka, Sandy Beach is, as the name suggests, a stretch of sand. It boasts imposing views of Sitka Sound—one of the most beautiful places in Alaska—and the brooding mass of the Mt. Edgecumbe volcano.

Much of the beach is covered at high tide, during which time you can walk along the shore, taking in the views and picking your way over rocks and boulders. At low tide, an expanse of gleaming wet sand is exposed, making this a popular spot for swimming and splashing around in the water.

Sandy Beach has a secret; it’s one of the only surf spots in southeast Alaska. Around an hour on either side of high tide, locals in the know turn up on their boards to ride the waves. You’d need a decent wetsuit to try this—and a board, of course—but even if you don’t get to join in, watching the surfers is fun.

Read: Best Things to Do in Sitka

Aerial view of Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

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