Despite its seemingly endless expanse of untouched, wild beauty, Alaska remains the least-visited state in America. The "Last Frontier" is home to an array of unique wildlife, majestic peaks, and honest, hard-working folks. While travel to Alaska requires advanced planning due to its climate, the destination should be high on the list of anyone who appreciates the glory of nature.
From its breathtaking national parks (of which it has eight) to the inhabited areas where life continues in even the harshest environments, Alaska has plenty of places to fall in love with. These ten destinations are a small handful of what makes America's least-visited state deserving of the top spot on your travel bucket list.
To appreciate Alaska is to appreciate its people, and a great way to get familiar is by visiting the most populated area in the state. Despite its city-feel, the Alaskan metropolis is only a half-hour drive from the wilderness, the skyline colored by the peaks of several staggering, snow-capped mountains.
Accommodations are plentiful, residents are friendly, and there's a high concentration of native heritage sites and museums worth exploring. Life goes on when daylight hours dwindle in the winter months, a testament to the resilient spirit of Alaskans.
9 Kenai Fjords National Park
Kenai Fjords National Park is only a short drive from the seaside town of Seward. Travelers should set aside a couple of days to visit the remarkable remnants of former ice ages. Glaciers flow from the Harding Ice Field and kiss the sea, saturating the landscape with breathtaking fjords.
Mountains rise in every direction, the terrain marked by both alpine forest and rocky tundra. Goats traverse the rugged land with ease. Harbor seals rest atop icebergs and orca whales swim through the icy waters. Fireweeds bloom a gorgeous shade of fuschia, adding pops of color to the dramatic landscape.
Coldfoot is a tiny community located near the Arctic Circle, making it an ideal destination for travelers craving the ethereal glow of the Northern Lights. The former gold mining camp changed its name from Slate Creek to Coldfoot to reflect the countless prospectors who would turn around after thinking about spending winters in the freezing wilderness.
Summer months are filled with outdoor adventure. Visitors enjoy hiking, mountaineering, fishing, and flightseeing. Travelers who brave the winter climate can snowshoe alongside a local guide, mush with snowdogs, and, of course, enjoy otherworldly views of the dancing night sky.
7 Denali National Park
The sheer magnificence of Denali is reason enough to visit Alaska. It's the tallest mountain in North America, towering an astonishing 20,310' above sea level. Aside from witnessing pristine mountain majesty, there are plenty of activities in Denali National Park guaranteed to leave a lasting impression. When conditions are just right, the sky bathes the landscape in a spectacular shade of soul-soothing pink, a natural phenomenon known as Alpenglow.
Ketchikan is a popular stop along Alaskan cruise routes and a perfect introduction to the state's beauty. The city located on the southeastern coast is known as "the salmon capital of the world," and unique tour experiences take travelers to witness the fish spawning in the streams. Several Native American totem poles are scattered throughout town, displaying the area's rich heritage. Colorful homes sit beside the Ketchikan Creek, resting atop a wooden walkway full of charm.
5 Katmai National Park
Thousands of viewers tune in to Katmai National Park's live streaming of brown bears fishing for salmon in the Brooks River. In 2014, the park started "Fat Bear Week," an online voting forum that annually crowns Katmai's chunkiest teddy. Park visitors can safely observe the iconic brown bears from several lookout platforms.
Aside from all the bear magic, Katmai also boasts diverse scenery, including barren tundra, dense forest, sparkling lakes, and mountains. In 1912, the Novarupta Volcano erupted and left behind an expanse of ash-flow known as the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. In some places, the ash is hundreds of feet deep, and visitors can marvel at the depth in the canyons carved out by the rushing River Lethe.
Alaska's capital, Juneau, is the perfect gateway to an array of outdoor adventures. Its small population would likely qualify it as a suburb in many places in America, but it is the third most inhabited area behind Anchorage and Fairbanks. The residents certainly have no shortage of beautiful scenery to keep them going through the long winters. Many of Alaska's most-visited attractions are nearby.
Emerald green waters enliven the landscape of Tracy Arm, an inlet with floating glaciers surrounded by dark mountains. The massive Mendenhall Glacier stretches for over ten miles within the boundaries of the Tongass National Forest, a temperate rainforest brimming with wildlife and dense vegetation. Guests will find all the modern comforts they desire in downtown Juneau, known for its unique specialty shops and eateries.
3 Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Summer is perhaps the best time to visit Wrangell-St. Elias, but travelers will certainly enjoy the sights no matter when they explore the largest national park in the United States. At over 20,000 square miles, the park is six times larger than Yellowstone, and the scenery is ready to take parkgoers' breaths away at every turn.
The Kennecott Mines National Historic Landmark is a striking red structure where visitors can learn about the region's extensive copper mining history. Several major peaks demand admiration, including the still-active volcanic Mount Wrangell. Like most of Alaska, the park is home to tons of wildlife species, and guests can hope to see river otters, voles, and caribou (just to name a few.)
Skagway allows travelers to admire the beauty of Alaska in an unforgettable way. The port city has done an excellent job preserving its gold rush history, with much of the original architecture still standing throughout town. The most popular attraction is the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, once used to access the goldmines located in the region. Narrated tours feature views of waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, and historic sites from the comfort of a vintage passenger car.
1 Gates Of The Arctic National Park
Gates of the Arctic is the northernmost national park in Alaska. It's farther north than the Arctic Circle, and for over 30 days in the summer, the region experiences continuous sunlight. Travelers can only reach the park by plane or on foot, so the park sees significantly fewer visitors than any national park in the country.
Those who make it there are guaranteed a life-changing experience. The wilderness is pristine and untouched. Glacial flour colors the lakes in stunning shades of green and blue, and ragged mountains slowly transform from alpine forest to empty tundra. With no established trails, hikers and backpackers are left to rely on maps and intuition to navigate, an adventure few parks can promise.