Alaska is an adventurer's bucket-list-worthy destination; its magnificent mountain peaks, abundant wildlife, and isolated, untouched beauty attract millions of discerning visitors to explore this wild and remote state every year. Among its most famous cities, Anchorage is an ever-lasting top contender drawing in tourists to experience its trails, wildlife, and glaciers, as well as the state's cultural soul - especially in the form of the arts; Anchorage is home to more artists and musicians than any other place in Alaska.
So, while Anchorage, or moreover, Alaska itself, is a common vacation destination for all the above reasons, the state's smaller, lesser-known cities and towns are only ever visited by those who steer off the trodden trail. But what are these Alaskan hidden gems worthy of one's attention and where can they be found? It's simple, and they're aplenty; just keep reading to find out which ones to add to the itinerary.
Valdez to Anchorage's east is in Prince William Sound close to a deep fjord and is right next to the Chugach National Forest. Valdez-bound travelers can reach it either by car or sea, however, driving it via the Adventure Corridor - branded one of America’s most scenic roads - is inarguably the most breathtaking choice to make one's way into the town. Even though it's a place of significant commercial and industrial production and trade, Valdez does indeed manage to maintain itself as a beautiful Alaskan town overflowing with outdoor recreation, such as backcountry hiking, fishing, river rafting, and ice climbing.
Furthermore, much like many Alaskan regions, Valdez guarantees a wealth of wilderness to discover all year round; from lush rainforests and tidewater glaciers to picturesque hiking trails and majestic mountains, Valdez has it all. Those who aren't so outdoors inclined will also find peace in the town; be it culture, shopping, history, or dining, whatever experience is in mind, it's on the menu in Valdez.
Ketchikan is found at the southernmost entrance of Alaska's Inside Passage and is a mere one-hour-and-a-half flight from Seattle. Its position in the midst of a network of islands and inlets near British Columbia makes it only accessible by air or sea, but those who make the effort will be rewarded in full; Ketchikan is well known for fishing and hiking across its stunning landscapes, offering visitors a glimpse into the authentic Alaskan way - some of which is also seen through its proud history of native inhabitants who shaped the town's traditions and culture into what it is today.
Raw and remote it may be, it's still very civilized; throughout Ketchikan, there are various parks, shopping areas, and cultural experiences to be had, but the most remarkable of all is at the Totem Heritage Center - hosting what is collectively the world’s largest collection of totem poles on display.
Homer is a pretty small town 200 miles south of Anchorage sitting right at the end of a peninsula on Kachemak Bay. Historically, the town functioned as a coal mining hub, as well as a prolific commercial and sport fishing spot - the latter making it known as the halibut fishing capital of the world. Indeed Homer beckons fishing aficionados for its salmon and halibut fishing, however, it's the Alaskan lifestyle and beauty that keeps people there.
It's also a place of retreat and experience; from art galleries and fine dining to quaint seaside accommodation, Homer offers everything one would need for a break away from the crowds. And thanks to its ideal waterside location, visitors can enjoy plenty of other water activities, with favorites including boat rides to the artist colony of Seldovia and paddling around Kachemak Bay. Plus, the town provides flightseeing access to some of the world's best bear-watching areas in Katmai National Park.
Head a little bit south of Alaska's capital of Juneau and one will find Sitka beautifully located on Baranof Island. Much like most of the region's southeast islands, visitors can only access it by sea or air, so getting there is part of the adventure. Formerly an unknown ghost town, the entirely-walkable Sitka has earned its point on the map thanks to its rich history, abounding artifacts, and fascinating museums.
The town also boasts lots of lovely local shops and restaurants, and its close proximity to the wilderness provides ample entertainment for outdoorsy folk, in addition to incredible wildlife-spotting opportunities - eagles and bears. Also, the towns' idyllic setting by the Pacific Ocean and near freshwater rivers and lakes means that water activities are also well-loved and bountiful here.
Seward is flanked by majestic mountains and a glistening ocean due to its perfect location on the Gulf of Alaska, affording mesmeric vistas at almost every turn. Easily accessed by car from Anchorage, this little town is only home to around 2,600 residents and in fact, wasn’t established until 1903 after it was originally influenced by Russian fur traders who built a trading post there in the 18th century. With such history, the Seward of the modern-day offers all of Alaska’s charms, and as one of Alaska’s oldest communities, it's no surprise that visitors highly speak of its historical downtown district - where art galleries, dining, shopping, and samplings of quintessential Alaskan culture can be all be enjoyed.
Not too far from Kenai Fjords National Park, guests of Seward can also scope out abundant fauna and flora that inhabits the state, alongside engaging in tons of adventurous activities in and around the town, such as hiking, dog sledding, fishing, zip-lining, kayaking, flying tours, and many more. And if one has the time, checking out the Alaska Sealife Center promises an interesting day of close encounters with Alaskan animals, including myriads of underwater marine species, puffins, and sea lions to name but a few.
Known as the Golden Heart City, Fairbanks is located on the eastern border and is the barracks for Denali National Park and its terrific outdoor escapades. It's also a celebrated destination for viewing the Northern Lights, as well as an excellent spot for being at one with Alaska’s intense arts culture. As if it couldn't be a more idyllic small town already, Fairbanks also hosts a roster of activities that continue into well the night during the enchanting midnight sun period - and one of them is the famous Midnight Sun Fun Run, a 10k race kicking off early evening and venturing into the early hours of the morning. Once summer's over and done with, guests can extend their stay into the wintertime to tick off an exciting list of snow adventures; think ice skating, dog mushing, and many more chilly Alaskan pastimes.
Set on the southern side of the Seward Peninsula on the Bering Sea Coast, the small town of Nome is yet another hidden gem accessible only by boat or plane. In terms of the past, it's famed for its gold rush history and unique Inupiat Eskimo culture, but today it's commonly more known as the finish line for the 1,049 mile-long Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.
Remote it may be, but undeveloped it's not; explorers can discover Nome's entirety by road-tripping along its 350 miles of roads that extend through diverse terrain, with mountains, green-covered expanses, and coastal plains all stealing the drive-by show. These roads also connect the town to a number of others, opening up even more shopping experiences, wining and dining treats, and nature-laden spots to discover.
The heart of the Inside Passage is home to one of the oldest towns in Alaska - Wrangell. It's super easy to get there by plane or car, the latter providing an epic chance to reach the town from the Alaska Marine Highway System. As for the place itself, it's visibly historic and cultural with what appears to be dozens of totems displayed all over town. Bird-watchers will also enjoy searching for Eagles here, which are famously abundant in the area and fascinating to observe.
Even more, history is showcased at Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park nearby, where the highest concentration of Native American petroglyphs in the south-eastern region of Alaska is seen, as well as impressive 1,000-year-old primitive rock carvings. Finally, wildlife lovers in Wrangell can find solace on a day trip to Anan Wildlife Observatory - the home of plentiful species putting on a natural spectacle of fascinating behaviors; bears catching salmon, frolicking seals, flying bald eagles, and so much more - just remember to bring a camera.