Alaska’s vast wilderness is packed with possible adventures for everyone. Of course, all the classics will already come to mind as soon as you think of the snow-dusted forests or sun-kissed national parks. So we’ve curated a list that sidesteps the obvious and delivers some things to do in Alaska you might not immediately think of. Think of it as a little inspo to dig deeper into the state’s quirkier and unique side.
Stand in awe as the Northern Lights dance
If your travel must sees include the Northern Lights, Alaska is THE place to peer at them. Watch them from a hot tub, the middle of a forest, stood on a frozen lake or from just inside Denali National Park. The real key to seeing them is to get as far from the light pollution as possible – in Alaska’s wintry conditions. Mirror Lake in Eagle River is a top shout. In Anchorage? The Flattop hiking trail leaves the city lights below and maxes your chances of a good sighting.
Shred the Moose
Approach skiing in Alaska with an open mind. Why? Well, one of the biggest resorts hasn’t got any ski lifts for a start. They do have a rather vintage crop of suped-up school buses though. Hop aboard and they’ll whizz you to the top of their 42 runs. Different? Definitely. Moose Mountain Ski Resort’s 750 acres are a playground for ski and snowboarders. South facing runs make Alaskan winters that smidge warmer and the addition of a beginner’s area near the base is a nice touch.
Spot Alaska’s polar bears
Fair warning, this is one Alaskan activity you’ll have to dig deep into your travel budget for. It costs around $2,000 to join the Northern Alaska Tour Company on their one day polar bear exhibition. Most of the cost goes towards flights from Fairbanks and a boat to get you close to the bears. Are there cheaper ways to see the state’s bears? Yes, but if it’s polar bear’s you’re longing to see, it usually means long flights and trips to get to them. Certainly a one day adventure you’ll never forget.
Tiptoe through the ghost towns
If you like your villages abandoned and just a little bit creepy, you’ll love Alaska. Kennicott Ghost Town in the Wrangell St.Elias National Park puts your urban exploring off to a solid start. As well as homes, the abandoned mining town has an empty dairy, hospital, school and town hall to muse over – as well as unique places to stay. A few dozen people live here year round to maintain the town as an attraction. For some truly abandoned spots, add Ukivok, Portage and Treadwell to your itinerary.
Wander through an upside down forest
In a region so renowned for its ice and snow, the Tongass National Forest brings a surprising amount of colour to Alaskan summers. It’s all down to the neatly manicured work of the brains behind the forest’s botanical gardens, Steve and Cindy Bowhay. On top of creating an accessible horticultural masterpiece in the rainforest, Glacier Gardens added a little something extra. Planting fallen tree stumps upside down leaves the roots exposed – just the platform for creating gorgeous hanging gardens. You can visit the gardens – and combine it with a rainforest tour at the same time.
Follow the gold rush route
Of all the things to do in Alaska, riding on the very same rails that brought miners into the Klondike Gold Rush seems rather relaxing. In reality, at times, it’s an ‘edge of your seat’ journey that reaches elevations of 3,000 feet via some very narrow rail tracks. Vertigo suffers, the White Pass and Yukon Route isn’t perhaps the best way for you to take in the Alaskan landscape. Everyone else? Prepare to peer down into steep gorges, watch waterfalls thunder past the windows and follow the Yukon as it winds its way through Alaska and Canada.
Find petroglyphs on the beach
When you’re in Alaska, spare a moment or two for a stroll on the shoreline. The name Petroglyph Beach gives a huge clue as to what you might find. Around 40 rock sketches appear at low tide. Having survived around 8,000 years of Alaska’s wild weather fronts, the drawings are worth a look. The artists? Possibly the Tlingit people. All we know is they liked to draw marine life and people – possibly members of the community – or just random faces. A little glimpse back in time, worth seeing if you’re in Wrangell.
Walk at the speed of light (sort of)
There’s no shortage of quirky things to do in Alaska, and the Anchorage Planet Walk is among the best. The walk takes you through the streets via a scale model of the solar system. This all becomes a tad mind boggling when you discover two things. One, it was mapped and designed by a high school student. Two, the maths checks out. Walking from the Sun (on 5th and G) to Pluto (at Kincaid Park) will take 330 minutes. Which is the exact amount of time it takes a light beam to travel between the two planets. Light speed or not, it’s a cracking way to walk around Anchorage.
Orbzii tip: The walk pairs well with a trip to the Anchorage Planetarium and, when you’re out of the city, some star gazing in Alaska’s dark skies.
Surf Alaska’s waves
Dropping surfing into a things to do in Alaska piece is almost the same as suggesting you skip up Mount Everest while you’re in Nepal. Almost. Surfing in Alaska is perhaps a tad more accessible, but only just. This is for the surfer who’s looking for a spot where no board has gone before. Pioneers on the surf frontier will need a drysuit – and possibly access to a helicopter. Thankfully, wild beaches and islands are accessible by boat too. Hang ten in some of the world’s most remote beaches, pack a hot water bottle and prepare to surf alongside chunks of glacial ice. Start your surf enquiries in Yakutat and explore from there.
Forage for over 40 types of berry
Berry picking is a popular pursuit in Alaska. Locals have their secret spots for summer and autumn – and they’re sharing the details with precisely no-one! Bears also come out to snuffle their way through a bush full of raspberries, crowberries, cranberries, blueberries and more. For some easy pickings, the Blueberry Preserve in Goldstream Valley is easy to find. As is the Chena Lake Recreation Area – where you can pick raspberries near the river or cranberries on the cycle path.
Orbzii tips: There’s two rules for berry picking. Don’t touch the incredibly toxic baneberries (if in doubt, take a field guide). And, bears get first dibs on all fruit. This is, after all, their territory. If one swings by, skedaddle and buy a punnet instead.
Take a road trip
One of the best things you can do in Alaska is to fill your hire car with snacks – and hit the road. Weave your way through the national parks, drive right up to a glacier, pull over to snap at scenery and pass by bears as they forage on the roadside. The Parks Highway is a 323 mile stretch that winds past Mount McKinley, takes you through Denali National Park, past an eerie abandoned igloo that was meant to be a hotel, plus cabins, creeks and has stops along the way that let you hike away from the highway. In short, it combines many of Alaska’s best bits.