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Top 12 Things to Do on an Alaskan Small Ship Cruise - Must-See Attractions & Experiences

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Top Things to Do in Alaska

Alaska, the largest and most sparsely populated U.S. state, is a land of superlatives, offering a wide range of activities and adventures that cater to diverse interests. Whether you're a nature enthusiast, an adventure seeker, a wildlife lover, or a family in search of a unique vacation experience, Alaska has something extraordinary for everyone. Let's explore the top attractions and activities that make Alaska a magnet for travelers seeking unparalleled natural beauty and adventure.

Denali in autumn, with fireweed on the tundra
Denali in autumn, with fireweed on the tundra

Denali National Park and Preserve

Denali National Park and Preserve, home to the tallest mountain in North America, offers a majestic landscape of rugged wilderness, towering peaks, and diverse wildlife. Visitors to this iconic park can immerse themselves in the splendor of the Alaska Range and the chance to spot grizzly bears, caribou, moose, and Dall sheep.
Who it appeals to: Nature enthusiasts, wildlife lovers, and adventure seekers will find Denali National Park a haven for outdoor exploration. The park also offers opportunities for family-friendly activities such as guided nature walks and educational ranger programs.
Insider Tips: Consider taking a shuttle bus deeper into the park for a chance to see more wildlife and experience the untamed wilderness. Additionally, early morning and late evening are prime times for wildlife viewing.
Practicalities: The park has a short summer season, typically mid-May to mid-September, with peak visitation in June, July, and August. Visitors should plan for at least a full day to experience the park, and advanced reservations for camping and lodging are highly recommended.

Aerial view of the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge
Aerial view of the Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge

Kenai Fjords National Park

Located on the Kenai Peninsula in south-central Alaska, Kenai Fjords National Park is characterized by its dramatic fjords, calving glaciers, and rich marine life. The park offers a range of activities, including boat tours to witness the stunning tidewater glaciers, guided kayaking adventures, and hiking trails that reveal the park's diverse ecosystems.
Who it appeals to: Adventurous travelers, wildlife enthusiasts, and nature photographers will be captivated by the raw beauty of Kenai Fjords National Park. Families with older children can enjoy the educational opportunities provided by park rangers and the chance to see diverse marine wildlife.
Insider Tips: Opt for a small boat tour to access narrower fjords and get closer to calving glaciers. Additionally, consider visiting in the shoulder season for fewer crowds and a more intimate experience with nature.
Practicalities: The best time to visit is during the summer months, and a day tour is sufficient to experience the highlights of the park. Visitors should be prepared for varying weather conditions and dress in layers for the boat tours.

View of Mendenhall glacier on an Alaska cruise
View of Mendenhall glacier on an Alaska cruise

Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier, located near Juneau, is a breathtaking natural wonder accessible to visitors seeking to witness the grandeur of a slowly moving river of ice. The glacier's visitor center provides informative exhibits and viewpoints for observing the glacier's mesmerizing blue hues and the surrounding Tongass National Forest.
Who it appeals to: Nature lovers, photography enthusiasts, and families with children will find Mendenhall Glacier an awe-inspiring attraction. The accessible location and visitor amenities make it suitable for visitors of all ages and abilities.
Insider Tips: Consider joining a guided trek to explore ice caves and hidden features of the glacier, providing a unique perspective on this natural wonder. Additionally, early morning visits offer the best chance to see calving ice and avoid crowds.
Practicalities: The glacier is accessible year-round, with summer being the most popular season. Visitors can spend a few hours exploring the visitor center and nearby trails, and transportation options include shuttle services from Juneau city center.

The Lakefront Anchorage
The Lakefront Anchorage


Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, serves as the gateway to many of the state's natural wonders and offers a blend of urban amenities and outdoor recreation. Visitors to Anchorage can enjoy a range of activities, including hiking in Chugach State Park, exploring the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and embarking on wildlife viewing tours.
Who it appeals to: Travelers interested in a mix of urban and outdoor experiences, as well as those seeking cultural insights into Alaska's indigenous heritage, will be drawn to Anchorage. Families with varied interests, including outdoor and cultural activities, will also find the city appealing.
Insider Tips: For a panoramic view of the city and surrounding wilderness, consider taking a scenic flight or a hike to one of the nearby peaks. Additionally, indulge in the local culinary scene, featuring freshly caught seafood and diverse international cuisines.
Practicalities: Anchorage experiences a short summer season ideal for outdoor activities, and visitors can explore the city and its surrounding attractions within a few days. Transportation options include car rentals, public transit, and guided tours for specific activities.

Totem on an Alaska culture tours and cruises
Totem on an Alaska culture tours and cruises

Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center offers a captivating exploration of Alaska's indigenous cultures, providing interactive exhibits, traditional performances, and artisan demonstrations that showcase the rich heritage and diverse traditions of Alaska Native peoples.
Who it appeals to: Cultural enthusiasts, history buffs, and families seeking educational experiences will find the center both enriching and engaging. Visitors interested in gaining deeper cultural insights and interacting with Alaska Native artists and performers will appreciate the center.
Insider Tips: Plan your visit around the center's scheduled events and performances to fully immerse yourself in the living traditions of Alaska Native cultures. Additionally, take the time to interact with the artisans and storytellers for a more personalized experience.
Practicalities: The center is open seasonally from mid-May to mid-September, aligning with the peak tourist season in Alaska. Visitors should allocate several hours to explore the exhibits, demonstrations, and outdoor village sites.

Alaska travel and aurora borealis
Alaska travel and aurora borealis

Northern Lights Viewing

Alaska's proximity to the North Pole makes it one of the best places on Earth to witness the otherworldly dance of the Northern Lights, also known as the aurora borealis. Several locations across Alaska, such as Fairbanks, offer optimal conditions for viewing this natural phenomenon.
Who it appeals to: Astronomy enthusiasts, nature lovers, and visitors seeking a truly unique and ethereal experience will be enchanted by the Northern Lights. Families and individuals with a sense of wonder and appreciation for natural beauty will find the spectacle awe-inspiring.
Insider Tips: Opt for guided tours that take you to prime viewing locations away from city lights, and consider planning your visit during the winter months when the nights are longer and the auroras are most frequent and vibrant.
Practicalities: The best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is during the winter, from late August to early April. Visitors should be prepared for cold temperatures and plan for extended evenings or late-night excursions for the best viewing opportunities.

Visit Glacier Bay National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site
Visit Glacier Bay National Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, showcases a mesmerizing combination of tidewater glaciers, coastal fjords, and a rich marine ecosystem. Visitors can explore the park through boat tours, kayak expeditions, and ranger-led programs that provide in-depth insights into the park's ecological significance.
Who it appeals to: Nature enthusiasts, adventure seekers, and travelers passionate about conservation and environmental preservation will find Glacier Bay a mesmerizing and thought-provoking destination. The park also offers unique opportunities for families to engage in educational and active pursuits together.
Insider Tips: Consider embarking on a multi-day boat tour to fully immerse yourself in the remote splendor of Glacier Bay, with opportunities for wildlife encounters and up-close glacier viewing. Additionally, seek out ranger-led programs to gain a deeper understanding of the park's natural wonders.
Practicalities: The best time to visit is during the summer, typically from late May to early September, when the park experiences peak visitation and milder weather conditions. Visitors should plan their itineraries well in advance, especially for boat tours and overnight stays in the park.

Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve
Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the largest national park in the United States, is a vast and remote wilderness of unparalleled natural beauty, towering mountains, and glaciated valleys. The park offers opportunities for backcountry adventures, historical exploration, and wildlife viewing in a pristine and rugged environment.
Who it appeals to: Adventure enthusiasts, wilderness seekers, and outdoor explorers looking for untamed frontiers will be drawn to the vast expanses and diverse ecosystems of Wrangell-St. Elias. Travelers with a penchant for solitude and off-the-beaten-path experiences will find this park especially appealing.
Insider Tips: Consider exploring the park with experienced guides who can provide safety, navigation, and insights into the park's natural and cultural history. Additionally, prioritize packing essential gear and supplies for outdoor activities due to the park's remote and undeveloped nature.
Practicalities: The park is best visited during the summer months, from late May to early September, when the weather is milder and access to the park's interior is more feasible. Visitors should be prepared for primitive camping and limited visitor services within the park.

Hiking the remote areas of Wrangell - St. Elias
Hiking the remote areas of Wrangell - St. Elias

Wildlife Viewing

Alaska is renowned for its diverse and abundant wildlife, including bears, moose, wolves, eagles, and whales. Visitors can embark on guided wildlife tours, visit wildlife sanctuaries, and explore national parks and wildlife refuges for unforgettable encounters with Alaska's iconic fauna.
Who it appeals to: Wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, and nature lovers.
Insider Tips: Consider taking a guided bear-watching tour to observe brown bears feeding on salmon in their natural habitat. Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see rescued and rehabilitated animals up close.
Practicalities: Wildlife viewing opportunities vary by season and location, so research the best times and places to see specific species. Respect wildlife and observe from a safe distance to avoid disturbing animals in their natural habitats.

Tongass National Forest

As the largest national forest in the United States, the Tongass National Forest in Southeast Alaska is a natural wonderland of ancient rainforests, towering mountains, and abundant wildlife. Visitors to the forest can participate in activities such as hiking, wildlife viewing, fishing, and experiencing the rich cultural heritage of the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian indigenous peoples.
Who it appeals to: Nature enthusiasts, outdoor adventurers, and those seeking a deeper connection to pristine wilderness and indigenous cultures will be drawn to the unparalleled beauty and diverse experiences offered by Tongass National Forest. Families with children can enjoy a range of activities suitable for all ages amidst the forest's grandeur.
Insider Tips: Consider embarking on guided nature walks or boat tours led by naturalist guides who can provide in-depth insights into the forest's ecology and indigenous history. Additionally, prioritize visiting the forest during the shoulder seasons for fewer crowds and enhanced wildlife sightings.
Practicalities: The best times to visit the Tongass National Forest are during the summer months, with ample daylight hours and milder temperatures for outdoor activities. Visitors can access the forest through a network of roads, trails, and guided experiences available from nearby towns and cities.

View puffins and other wildlife on your small ship Alaska cruise
View puffins and other wildlife on your small ship Alaska cruise

Flightseeing Tours

Flightseeing tours offer a unique perspective on Alaska's vast and rugged landscapes, allowing visitors to soar over glaciers, mountains, and fjords in small planes or helicopters. Whether it's a scenic flight over Denali, a glacier landing tour, or a flightseeing excursion to remote wilderness areas, flightseeing offers unparalleled aerial views and photo opportunities.
Who it appeals to: Adventure seekers, photographers, and anyone wanting to experience Alaska's wilderness from a bird's-eye view.
Insider Tips: Consider booking a glacier landing tour for an unforgettable experience of walking on a glacier and exploring ice caves. Bring a camera with a wide-angle lens to capture panoramic views from the air.
Practicalities: Flightseeing tours are available in various locations throughout Alaska, with options for different durations and destinations. Dress warmly, as temperatures can be cooler at higher altitudes, and be prepared for flight delays or cancellations due to weather conditions.



Alaska's pristine waterways offer endless opportunities for kayaking adventures, from calm coastal bays to remote fjords and glacier-fed rivers. Visitors can paddle among icebergs, spot wildlife, and explore hidden coves and inlets, experiencing the beauty and tranquility of Alaska's marine environments.
Who it appeals to: Outdoor enthusiasts, nature lovers, and adventurers seeking a close-to-nature experience.
Insider Tips: Consider booking a guided kayak tour for safety and local expertise, especially in remote or challenging waters. Bring binoculars and a waterproof camera to capture wildlife sightings and scenic landscapes.
Practicalities: Kayaking tours and rentals are available in coastal towns and wilderness areas throughout Alaska, with options for all skill levels. Dress in layers and wear a personal flotation device (PFD) for safety on the water.

A humpback whale breaches in Alaska
A humpback whale breaches in Alaska

Whale Watching

Alaska's coastal waters are home to an abundance of marine life, including majestic whales such as humpbacks, orcas, and gray whales. Visitors can embark on whale watching tours from coastal towns like Juneau, Seward, and Sitka, enjoying close encounters with these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat.
Who it appeals to: Wildlife enthusiasts, photographers, and anyone fascinated by marine mammals.
Insider Tips: Choose a reputable whale watching tour operator with knowledgeable guides and responsible viewing practices to minimize disturbance to the whales. Bring binoculars and a camera with a telephoto lens for optimal viewing and photography.
Practicalities: Whale watching tours operate seasonally, with peak whale watching months typically from May to September. Dress warmly and be prepared for variable weather conditions, as tours take place on open water.

When planning your trip to Alaska, you'll want to make sure you're making the most of your time by experiencing the diverse range of attractions and activities this unique destination has to offer. Adventure Life can help you create a customized and unforgettable Alaskan adventure that caters to your specific interests and preferences. Let our expert trip planners assist you in curating the perfect itinerary, ensuring that your journey to Alaska exceeds every expectation. With Adventure Life, you'll be accompanied by knowledgeable local guides who will enrich your experience with their insights and ensure a seamless, once-in-a-lifetime travel adventure. Start planning your Alaskan odyssey with Adventure Life today by contacting us.

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