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Summer in Alaska is glorious. This is the prime season to view the wonders that earned the state the title of America’s last frontier.

Fly over temperate rainforests thick with spruce and cedar trees, walk on centuries-old glaciers, sail finger-like fjords, and go dog-sledding on a glacier. Watch brown bears swipe at salmon, eagles swoop low over the horizon, and humpback whales breach.

Along with natural wonders, discover the region’s rich heritage. Learn about the traditions and art of the Tlingit and Haida Native American peoples. Trace the grueling path of the gold rush seekers.

With 19 hours of daylight in June and July, there’s plenty of time to explore and admire the stunning scenery.

Enjoy these 14 exciting things to do in Alaska in the summer.

Get Close to a Calving Glacier at Kenai Fjords National Park

Ferry sailing along Kenai Fjords National Park during summer in Alaska

Kenai Fjords National Park

Visiting Kenai Fjords National Park, home to 40 of Alaska’s glaciers, is one of the best things to do in summer in Alaska.

On a boat excursion, you get within 100 yards of the massive walls of ice. They are not white but an iridescent blue created by the reflected sun.

Sea lions spotted on a rocky cliff

Kenai Fjords National Park

Wait to hear the thunderous crack as the glacier calves, causing huge chunks of ice to tumble into the sea. En route to the glacier, you pass forested Alaskan mountains, a puffin rookery, craggy peninsulas covered in mist, and a sea lion colony where the blubbery beauties lounge on the rocks.

You might even spot a humpback whale’s barnacled head before the 40-foot long creature slips seamlessly below the surface.

Discover Ketchikan’s Colorful History

Colorful waterfront of Creek Street

Creek Street, Ketchikan

A stroll along Creek Street’s boardwalk, edged with brightly painted frame structures, takes you back to a colorful era in Ketchikan’s history. In the 1920s, Creek Street was the epicenter of the town’s rowdy nightlife.

Today, it’s a more peaceful place, lined with galleries and arty stores selling Alaskan souvenirs, the forested Deer Mountain as a backdrop.

Longtime Alaska artist Ray Troll sells his wildlife-inspired calendars and T-shirts at his Soho Coho Art Gallery. At the Captain’s Lady, find printed headbands, scented Ketchikan candles, and note cards featuring photographs by a local artist.

In summer, peer into the creek from the boardwalk to spot another classic Ketchikan sight: thousands of migrating salmon forcing their way upstream to spawn.

Admire Totem Poles at Totem Bight State Historical Park

Totem poles at the Totem Bight State Park

Totem Bight State Historical Park, near Ketchikan

One of the best things to do in Alaska is to visit Totem Bight State Park, located near Ketchikan, where more than a dozen totem poles and a Clan House rise among the spruce, hemlock, and cedar trees.

Walking the 11-acre park gives you a chance to read the totem poles’ stories and appreciate Alaskan culture as well as the peacefulness of the rainforest setting with its clearing on the Tongass Narrows.

Historic Clan House in Totem Bight State Historical Park, near Ketchikan

Clan House in Totem Bight State Historical Park, near Ketchikan

The bears, wolves, eagles, and ravens cut into the totem poles tell the tales of deceased clan members, treaties, and other important events. To preserve the native art and the art form, the U.S. Forest Service instituted a program in 1938 to rescue the totem poles from abandoned Tlingit and Haida villages and hired native artists to restore and replicate the totem poles.

The site’s Clan House, whose façade features a striking raven painting, represents a typical dwelling for 30 to 50 people.

Hike in the Tongass National Forest

Pathway with tall trees in Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest

Classified as a temperate rainforest, a rare ecosystem that exists in only a few places on earth, the 17 million acres of Tongass National Forest comprises the largest national forest in the United States.

Bear spotted at the Tongass National Forest

Tongass National Forest

Ketchikan provides easy access to this magnificent wilderness, an expanse of islands, inlets, dense greenery, and glacial channels.

On a three-mile guided walk through the stately spruce, hemlock, and cedar woods, you might spot mountain goats, moose, bald eagles, deer, and black and brown bears.

Guides will point out the wildlife and tell you about the ecology of the beautiful forest, with plenty of stops for photos.

Read: Best Places to Visit In Alaska for the First Time

Follow the Gold Rush Route on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway

Train in White Pass and Yukon Route Railway

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, Skagway

You’ve heard about the hardships of the gold seekers, but an outing on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway enables you to see the tortuous path they undertook from the comfort of your train seat.

The train climbs nearly 3,000 feet in 20 miles, paralleling the route of the stampeders. You look out the window–or take in the scenery from a viewing platform–at rocky, steep slopes.

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway during summer in Alaska

White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, Skagway

The fortune seekers and their horses and mules, laden down with  hundreds of pounds of supplies, attempted the climb in the bitter cold, mud season, and through summer’s blight of swarming mosquitoes. The train ride is a great way to experience the historic trail.

Learn About Gold Rush History

Iconic train in Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Skagway

The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in downtown Skagway preserves 20 buildings whose facades look just as they did in the late 19th century.

Located in the historic White Pass & Yukon Route depot, the Visitor Center offers talks, presentations, and an informative 25-minute film about the prospectors. This Alaskan museum conveys the gold rush era by following the lives of five characters.

Along with detailing the steep ascents and cold temperatures, learn about the heavy load of equipment and provisions—cookstoves, pans, and crates of biscuits, bacon, flour, and beans—prospectors were required to haul up the trail.

Hike and Bike the Chilkoot Trail

View from the Chilkoot Trail

Chilkoot Trail

Although the most difficult route to the goldfields, the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails were the cheapest and for some time, the only way there.

The 33-mile Chilkoot Trail takes days and stamina for even experienced hikers to complete. However, you can experience part of this famous Alaskan hiking trail by exploring the first section from the ghost town of Dyea, close to Skagway.

Ruins of an old house along Chilkoot Trail

Chilkoot Trail

Only the skeletons of a few wooden buildings remain here, nature having reclaimed the once-bustling boom town. As you climb, the views over the forest and ocean below, and the surrounding mountains are stupendous.

For an easy outing on the flat part of the recreational trail through the outskirts of town, rent an ebike from Klondike Electric Bicycles.

Go Dog Sledding on a Glacier

Dog sledding on a snowy path in Alaska

Dog-sledding in Alaska

For a unique summer vacation idea, take in spectacular views from two iconic forms of transportation—helicopters and dog sleds.

From Skagway, your helicopter flies over snowfields to a 6,000-foot-high mushers’ camp on Denver Glacier, setting you down in a great sweep of blue sky and white ice.

Beneath your boots, the snowpack is dozens of feet deep, and under that is an eons-old frozen river, 1,500 feet thick.

View during a dog sledding in Alaska

Dog-sledding in Alaska

Follow the jubilant barking of the dogs to the camp where mushers acquaint you with the friendly packs that love to run. You may learn a few basic commands such as “gee” for turn right, “haw” for left, and “hike” for go. (Don’t say that one until you’re well-positioned on the sled, either sitting in it or standing on the rails as a musher.)

Expert guides command the team. Once the pack starts running, the only sounds you hear are the thin, steady hum of the wind and the soft padding of the dogs’ paws. After the 30-minute loop, you’re likely to want more. Dog sledding in Alaska is one of the many reasons to come back to the state next year.

Admire the Mendenhall Glacier

View of Mendenhall Glacier from a helicopter

Mendenhall Glacier

It’s easy to reach the Mendenhall Glacier as it’s only 13 miles from downtown Juneau. The best time to view the 13-mile-long river of ice is in the late afternoon when the light is less intense.

Bright sun tends to whitewash the glacial colors, but the softer afternoon rays, or a cloudy day, bring out the aquamarine hues. Photo Point Trail, a short scenic path near the Visitor Center, opens out to broad views of Mendenhall Lake and the tongue of the glacier beyond.

Closeup view of Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

If you’re physically fit, a guided outing provides a safe trek on the glacial ice, a memorable thing to do in summer in Alaska.

After an uphill hike through the rainforest along Mendenhall Lake and over ridges, you reach the sprawling face of the glacier where you put on crampons.

On the amazing outing, the glacier’s pointy spines of ice seem to stretch to infinity, and guides lead you to ice caves, crevasses (deep blue fissures), and other formations.

Take in Sweeping Views from the Mount Roberts Tramway

Lush landscape of Mount Roberts with aerial tram

Mount Roberts Tramway, Juneau

Forested Mount Roberts towers over Alaska’s state capital, Juneau. The Mount Roberts Tramway whisks you over the canopy of trees to an observation deck 1,800 feet above Juneau.

From there, enjoy panoramic views of Juneau, the Gastineau Channel, and the Chilkat Mountains. Browse the gift shop, have a snack at the restaurant, and watch an 18-minute film about the Tlingit.

Wear sturdy shoes if you plan to hike a mile or so up from the tramway’s observation deck through the forest to a sub-Alpine meadow, covered with wildflowers in the summer months. Look out for wildlife along the trail; you may spot marmots or spruce grouse.

Get Up Close to Birds of Prey at the Alaska Raptor Center

Bald eagle spotted at the Alaska Raptor Center

Alaska Raptor Center, Sitka

Sitka’s Alaska Raptor Center heals wounded or sick birds of prey, as well as other injured birds, returning them to the wild wherever possible. The facility treats more than 200 Alaskan birds each year.

Some that cannot be released reside at the Center and serve as educational ambassadors. Enjoy close-up views of snowy owls, great horned owls, peregrine falcons, hawks, and Alaska’s bald eagles.

At the facility’s Bald Eagle Flight Training Center, watch the regal birds hop onto perches, spread their wings, and relearn how to fly.

Read: Amazing Animals in Alaska to Spot on Your Next Trip

Spot Brown Bears at Fortress of the Bear

Brown bear in Fortress of the Bear

Fortress of the Bear, Sitka

If you’re curious about Alaska’s bears, but you’d rather not meet them when hiking the woods, visit the resident black and brown bears living at the Fortress of the Bear in Sitka.

One of the best places to see bears in Alaska, this educational facility rescues orphaned or sick bear cubs and rehabilitates them. While the bears won’t be released into the wild, some have been sent to zoos and animal sanctuaries in the U.S.

At present, eight bears reside at the sanctuary, which is designed as an enriching environment for the animals. From a viewing platform 25 feet from these majestic creatures, you observe the bears catching fish in a pond, standing impressively tall on two legs, and interacting with each other. The naturalists tell you bear facts, and detail the animals’ personalities.

See Marine Mammals Up Close at the Alaska Sealife Center

Alaska Sealife Center, one of the best things to do during summer in Alaska

Alaska Sealife Center, Seward

Animal lovers should not miss the chance to visit the Alaska Sealife Center in the small coastal city of Seward.

Summer in Alaska is the perfect time for an educational visit to this animal rehabilitation center. Visitors can learn all about red king crabs, moon jellies, horned puffins, and other species that reside here.

Seals at the Alaska Sealife Center

Alaska Sealife Center, Seward

Of particular note are the marine mammals, who are guaranteed to be a hit with kids. Steller sea lions, ringed seals, and spotted seals live here. The center has also rescued a number of sea otter pups in recent years.

While visitors can see all of these amazing creatures simply with a general ticket, for a truly special experience, consider booking a private wildlife encounter. Groups of up to five can actually meet sea creatures like a giant Pacific octopus. The “Marine Mammal Encounter,” which showcases some of the center’s most adorable inhabitants, is especially popular. Tours must be booked a day in advance.

Experience the World’s Largest ZipRider

View from the ZipRider in Icy Strait Point

ZipRider in Icy Strait Point Photo by Werner Bayer on Flickr, licensed under CC0 1.0

Thrill-seekers in Alaska in the summer should check out this pulse-pounding attraction over Icy Point Strait near the town of Hoonah. Comprising six separate ziplines, this ZipRider whips participants along at up to 60 miles per hour.

While this ride may not be for anyone with a fear of heights, if you can steel your nerves, the view is spectacular. Travelers whiz 300 feet over the coastal temperate rainforest canopy. Look up and you’ll see the mountains of Glacier Bay National Park. Along the way, you’ll plunge 1,330 feet.

Aside from the rollercoaster-level adrenaline rush, there are a few other elements that make the ZipRider an especially fun family activity. For starters, the bus ride up to the starting point is effectively a guided nature drive, with several stops at viewpoints along the way. Also, group sizes are kept to six participants, making this great for parents and teens.

Read: Best Spots for Ziplining in Alaska

Spot Whales at the Point Adolphus in the Icy Strait

Whales spotted in Point Adolphus

Point Adolphus

A warning: whale-watching in Alaska pretty much ruins you for doing it in most parts of the world. And the Icy Strait, where water runs between the northern Inside Passage to the Pacific Ocean, is one of the best spots to do it. Thanks to its abundance of nutrients and small fish, Point Adolphus is a prime spot to see all sorts of large marine mammals.

Humpback whales spend their summers gorging on krill in Alaskan waters, before migrating thousands of miles south to Hawaii. In the Icy Strait, you may well spy humpback calves breaching and diving.

Humpback whales bubble feeding in Alaska

Humpback whales

Especially lucky passengers may also witness bubble-feeding, a clever hunting tactic in which humpbacks trap schools of fish with bubbles, then lunge to the surface to feast.

Each humpback whale has subtly different tail markings. Researchers keep tabs on individual whales and families for decades, meaning your guide can most likely identify each one.

Pods of orcas, or killer whales, also frequent these waters. These highly intelligent, social hunters occasionally engage with boats by following them for miles. Most of the orcas found in this area are resident orcas, which feed exclusively on salmon and other fish.

On occasion, transient orcas, which hunt seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals, pass through here. Curiously, these two types of orcas have their own cultures and don’t associate with one another.

See Misty Fjords National Monument

Beautiful landscape of Misty Fjords National Monument

Misty Fjords National Monument

Speeding through Misty Fjords National Monument in a prop plane feels something akin to skimming the surface of another world.

A part of the Tongass National Forest, this surreal landscape consists of towering rock faces, ice-crowned mountains, and dense rainforest and is especially lush in summer.

Photographers should be sure to bring their DSLRs, although no picture does the scenery here justice. In addition to flightseeing, a number of tour companies in Ketchikan offer guided boat trips through the area. Intrepid travelers may wish to join a guided group and kayak their way around the fjords.

Look for Sea Otters in Sitka Sound

Sitka Sound with view of the mountains

Sitka Sound

Sitka Sound, a protected area of the Inside Passage, is an unbeatable place to see Mother Nature thriving. From the bald eagles soaring above to the Steller sea lions sunning themselves on rocks, there’s a dizzying array of wildlife here.

Guided boat tours around Sitka Sound offer an unparalleled opportunity to see all sorts of marine life and Alaskan birds in their native habitat. One particularly charismatic mammal that’s practically guaranteed to make an appearance is the sea otter. These playful animals are one of Alaska’s many wildlife conservation success stories.

Sea otter spotted in Alaska

Sea otter

From the 16th to the early 20th century, these animals were hunted to the brink of extinction for their soft, prized pelts. Populations around much of North America were wiped out and, for a while, it looked like the species might never recover. Then in the 1960s, the Alaskan government reintroduced these mammals to the region.

Today, the sea otter population in the state is over 70,000, accounting for more than half of the global population. Otters in Sitka Sound, like many other places in Alaska, can be seen floating together in large rafts, holding paws as they sleep to stay together.

Soak in the Scene on the Homer Spit

Aerial view of Homer Spit

Homer Spit

One of the best things to do in Homer is to stroll along Homer Spit, a slender peninsula that extends four miles into Kachemak Bay.

Cafés, boutiques, and ice cream shops line the strip, which features views of distant mountains and boats bobbing in the harbor. On sunny afternoons, it feels like all of this small city is window-shopping and gallery-hopping here.

Alaska has always had a special allure for unconventional, independent types and nowhere is this more true than Homer. The community here is proud of its bohemian roots and the fact that so many artists have chosen to call Homer their home.

Many of the handicrafts in shops were made right here, while nearby galleries like Ptarmigan Arts, an artist co-op, offer one-of-a-kind paintings.

See Enormous Vegetables

Giant cabbage in Alaska

Giant cabbage

When most people think of Alaska, “farming” may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Despite the harsh winters, the 49th state does indeed have a long tradition of growing produce. The especially long summer days have a curious side effect when it comes to plants. When grown under the midnight sun, ordinary vegetables can grow to gigantic sizes.

At the tail end of each summer, the Alaska State Fair, which is held about a 40-mile drive from Anchorage, allows farmers to showcase these extraordinary specimens. Keep an eye out for cabbages of unusual size, plus fun, family-friendly vibes and plenty of delicious food.

Meet Megafauna at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, one of the best things to do during summer in Alaska

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Situated off of the highway in Girdwood, between Anchorage and Seward, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a bold experiment in wildlife rehabilitation and education.

Enormous enclosures make this the next best thing to seeing Alaska’s wildlife actually in the wild. Highlights include herds of wood bison, elk, and reindeer, all roaming in their natural habitats. There’s also a pack of gray wolves, plus moose, muskox, foxes, coyotes, and more.

Bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

While some animals that temporarily reside here are reintroduced into the wild, the majority cannot be. Instead, a trio of brown bears, a bald eagle who lost a wing, and a handicapped lynx are now living out their days peacefully here.

Passionate, well-informed staff are happy to answer questions and lead regular information sessions about individual animals. For amateur photographers, the center is a terrific place to capture close shots of these creatures.

Snap a Photo of the Peak of Mount Denali

Snowy peaks of Mount Denali

Mount Denali

Standing a formidable 20,310 feet above sea level at the summit, Mount Denali is the highest mountain in North America. While Mount Everest in the Himalayas may be higher, Mount Denali is actually taller when measured from base to summit.

Its glittering, snow-crowned peaks have inspired awe in artists, poets, and writers for generations. It’s a legendarily difficult mountain to climb, with treacherous conditions in many seasons.

Yet as beautiful as the sight of the mountaintop is, its visual splendor is only part of what makes it so special. The reason unobstructed photographs of Mount Denali are so coveted is because they’re so rare. For much of the year, the mountain’s summit is wreathed in clouds, even when the skies elsewhere may be clear.

Denali National Park, one of the best things to do during summer in Alaska

Denali National Park

Travelers blessed with an elusive sighting often refer to themselves as part of the “10% club.” While there’s never a guarantee that you’ll make it, chances are highest in the summer months on a spectacular flightseeing tour.

Even if you’re not one of the lucky ones, there are plenty of other reasons to visit Denali National Park and Preserve. The park is one of the best places to see bears in Alaska, as well as other wildlife, including moose and mountain goats.

Pan for Gold

Couple exploring Gold Dredge 8, Fairbanks

Gold Dredge 8, near Fairbanks

The Klondike Goldrush may have ended, but there is indeed still gold to be found here. Up until 1959, the Gold Dredge 8 in Tanana Valley, near Fairbanks, was a particularly profitable operation. In nearly 30 years, miners managed to get millions of ounces of the precious metal here.

Today, the Gold Dredge 8 sits dormant as a testament to Alaskan history. It’s also one of the best places to immerse yourself in the past. The tour kicks off with a short ride on a recreation of the Tanana Valley Railroad. There’s a museum dedicated to mining, as well as a replica of a prospector camp.

Couple gold panning at the Gold Dredge 8, near Fairbanks

Gold Dredge 8, near Fairbanks

The climactic finale of a tour here is the opportunity to try your hand at panning for gold. Naturally, not every visitor strikes it rich, but some do find a real nugget of precious metal. It makes for quite the souvenir—not to mention a great story.

Go Hiking Around Girdwood

People hiking in Girdwood

Hiking in Girdwood

The small Alaskan town of Girdwood resides in the shadow of the mighty Mount Alyeska. Standing an imposing 3,939 feet over Turnagain Arm, the mountain boasts heart-stopping views in all directions.

In the summer months, the mountain explodes with wildflowers, without ever quite losing that sheen of ice near the summit. A wide range of trails on both the mountain itself and the valley below mean that hikers of all ability levels can partake here.

For a longer trek, the Upper Winner Creek Trail, stretches for eight wonderfully scenic miles on a fairly level path. The Trail of Blue Ice, meanwhile, is a shorter journey over salmon streams and through forests.

Answer the Call of the Wild at Kachemak Bay

Kachemak Bay, one of the best things to do during summer in Alaska

Kachemak Bay

Located near Homer, the Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park and the attached Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park make up one of the last truly wild places on earth. The combined protected area encompasses approximately 400,000 acres, much of it virtually untouched by humans. Many adventurous souls have been drawn to the area for longer stretches of hiking and camping.

While one could easily spend weeks exploring here, it’s also possible to experience part of the park in a day trip from Homer. Boats whisk travelers from the small city to the shores of Kachemak Bay. The bay, which lies on an arm of the Cook Inlet, makes for especially striking photographs with snowy mountaintops in the background.

Gaze at the Face of the Hubbard Glacier

Hubbard Glacier, one of the best things to do during summer in Alaska

Hubbard Glacier

Six miles wide, 400 feet tall, and utterly breathtaking to behold, the Hubbard Glacier is one of the best places to see glacial calving. This vast river of ice has a history of surging dramatically, making it one of the more active glaciers.

On calm days, it’s possible to see building-sized chunks of ice crash into the water from a mere half mile away. You’ll hear a sound like a pistol crack, followed by a rumble as the ice tumbles in almost slow motion into the milky water, sending out first waves and then ripples for what feels like miles.

As you approach the glacier on the water, keep a look out for Steller sea lions basking on the rocks; this whole area is rich in wildlife.

Couple sightseeing during summer in Alaska

Watch: Alaska Cruise: Experience The Last Frontier

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