things to do in alaska
Alaska,  We12inspire

5 Really cool (and cold) things to do in Alaska

5 Really cool things to do in Alaska!

Alaska = love! In case you didn’t know yet, I can’t stop talking about it. Not when giving a presentation about it for work, not when talking about travel with random people and not even when I see it on one of the many shows at Discovery Channel  or National Geographic.  Just imagine us sitting on the couch watching “Alaska’s Ultimate Survival”, or something like that, me poking Martijn, while calling out “oohhh I’ve been there too” …. followed by my endless blahhhh about that particular experience…
 
Ovevr the past years, I’ve written quite a lot of posts about my favorite US state, go here to read all of them.. However, the one that’s most read is this one, in which I tell you about 5 really cool and cold things to do in Alaska!
 

1. Glacier flightseeing

When I was in Alaska for the first time in 2007 I was up in the air less than 12 hours after my arrival. I was sent up in a bushplane to find a place for a bush camp near the Knik Glacier. As I had never been in a bushplane before (or, in fact, any other plane smaller than a Boeing 737) I was just in awe by the whole experience. Flying over the glacier, seeing all the immense crevasses and bright blue lakes from above…  Within an hour I was back at my cabin, trembling from excitement and the great experience I just had. Ever since, I’ve been on various other flightseeings. You just can’t go to Alaska without doing one!
 
Below you’ll see pictures of:
– Knik Glacier flightseeing (2007)
– Root Glacier, on the way to Kennicott and McCarthy (2009)
– Mount McKinley flightseeing (2011)
– Fourpeaked Glacier in Katmai National Park (2011)

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Thinking of going to Knik Glacier? You can stay at the amazing Knik River Lodge, beautifully located right at the end of the Knik River Valley. I stayed there various times during my seven Alaska trips and love how passionate and dedicated the owners are. Alternatively, you can stay in the small towns of Palmer or Wasilla, which are just a few miles away from Knik River.
 

2. Seakayaking at Columbia Glacier

Probably one of the coolest things to do in Alaska is kayaking between the icebergs of Columbia Glacier. I was a bit anxious to step into a seakayak just 2 weeks after my canoe accident on a Belgian river (I can just imagine flipping into the water between icebergs would be even more unpleasant than the warm waters of the Ourthe) but usually there’s nothing I won’t try, even if it scares me.  Kayaking between giant icebergs that calved off Columbia Glacier truly is something magic and not scary at all. I was incredibly lucky to have a beautiful sunny day and have many icebergs surrounding us, some even bigger than my house …
 
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This trip can be made from the town of Valdez, also called Alaska’s Little Switzerland. Looking for the best accommodation in town? Options are minimal, I stayed Best Western Valdez Harbor Inn, right at the harbor side and offering comfortable rooms and quick wifi. Check all other options for staying in Valdez here.
 

3. Glacier hiking

Even though I had been on a glacier before in New Zealand, nothing beats glacier walking in Alaska. At least, not at Root Glacier.  I was there in the spring and besides us (my colleage, me and our guide) there was no one else on the glacier. Just the three of us and loads of ice. While in New Zealand a group of at least 10 people stepped onto the glacier every 15 minutes or so I couldn’t believe we were all alone. We saw the giant Stairway Icefall and heard the ice creaking. Unfortunately we didn’t have a whole lot of time, I’d have loved to spend my day up on Root Glacier.
 
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4. Glacier cruising

For those who are less adventurous and those who want to see wildlife, make sure to go on a glacier cruise. Not talking about the massive Holland America ones here, but the small boat trips that you can take for a day trip.  I’ve done two and they were both incredible. On the first one I did out of Seward I saw orca’s and witnessed a glacier calving. Nothing beats the sound of that, truly nothing in the whole world. On the other cruise I did out of Valdez, I saw plenty of wildlife and there was  a humpback whale right in front of the boat hitting his tail on the water (still one of my fave wildlife experiences ever). And we saw plenty of icebergs!
 
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You can do glacier cruising from various places in Alaska. When going from Seward, have a look at the Seward Windsong Lodge which is located right in the middle of nature. Alternatively, you may opt to stay right at the harbor side at the Breeze Inn, another favorite accommodation of mine. Various cruises also leave from Whittier, not the best place to stay overnight to be honest. Better would be to overnight in Anchorage or Girdwood which is a short drive away only.
 

5. Camping at a glacier

Just imagine wanting to be really cool and deciding not to bring a tent, but just your sleeping pad and bag to a wilderness camp at the mouth of a glacier. Then imagine falling asleep, which is quite a challenge because it’s cold and it doesn’t get dark. But then, when you are finally asleep, the most amazing cracking sounds begins and you can hear a giant tear breaking up parts of the glacier. Ice hits the water, you hear the waves break on shore and then there’s an incredible silence. You get up, trying to witness what’s happening but then realize you can’t see it because your contact lenses are in the bear proof bin you brought because the fluids you use for them are perfumed. That was my glacier camping experience. I knew that a giant piece of ice had come off the glacier but I just couldn’t see it…  Well, at least I wanted cool, and cool (or better said cold) is what I got. I was extremely cold that night, my sleeping bag couldn’t keep me warm and as a result I had to crawl out of it at least 6 times to go and pee. Next time I’m in Alaska, I’m putting this on top of things to do. This time however with my glasses. And a tent.
 
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I’d promised you cool things to do in Alaska and I told you cool (and cold) things, no? Glaciers cover 3% of Alaska and therefore you shouldn’t miss out on them when you’re there. After having seen many glaciers in Iceland, New Zealand, Argentina, Chile, you name it, I can truly say from the bottom of my heart that none of them have glaciers that are as amazing as they are in Alaska.
 
However as a bonus I’ll share one extremely great thing I did while in Alaska which has nothing to do with glaciers: bear viewing in Katmai National Park. The bears that live here are the real deal, the big brothers you see on Nat Geo tv and that will eat you if you are incredibly unlucky (Timothy Treadwell being the example of this). Out of the 5 times I’ve been in Alaska (and 3 times in Canada) I’ve never seen a brown bear just like that, stepping on to the road or chasing me for my salmon sandwich. Bear viewing right in their natural habitat was an event of a lifetime. It’s impossible to describe the feeling when those big, furry giants are walking past you at less than a 10 meter distance. Just brilliant!
 

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Well, I hope I encouraged you to go and see Alaska. I know, it’s expensive and for some of you it’s far far far away, however, believe me when I say it’s totally worth it. Ever minute and every penny!
 
Which of the above would you like to do? And if you already did, how did you like it?
 
If you want to read more about cool things we did, you may like the following posts:
Things to do in Seward, Alaska
About the ‘Magic Supertramp Bus’ from Into the Wild, where to find it and why not to go there!
Cook Inlet Photo Safari with Alaska Photo Treks
Solo hiking as a female in bear country Alaska
 
For a daily dose of outdoor & adventure inspiration, follow me on Instagram and Facebook!
 
Thanks for sharing!

56 Comments

  • Serena

    I’d loooove to see Alaska!!
    Exp. after having seen “Into the wild”.
    Amazing places, and amazing experiences!
    Exp. #1 – those views are breathtaking!!

    • anto

      Oh yes Into the Wild is great! My first movie about Alaska was Insomnia but it wasn’t actually shot there – but it’s a great movie anyway. It’s mostly filmed in Squamish and on Vancouver Island where I happen to go next month 🙂

  • Nancie Lee

    OMGosh! I LOVE your photos! Kayaking near glaciers is now on my list! I want to get to Alaska soon to photograph the Aurora Borealis. It’s a peak year. Beautiful, beautiful!! You made my heart yearn to go today!! Thank you!

    • anto

      Hey Nancie thanks for visiting our site! If you want to go kayaking and see the northern lights, it’s best to go in September because in summer it doesn’t get dark so you won’t see the northern lights. Hope you will get to enjoy both in Alaska soon!

  • Jennifer

    Bear viewing in the wild is top of our list and we’re just dying to go see them in Alaska! We’re really passionate about bears and are even doing a project to raise awareness and donations for some of our favorite save the bears foundations.

    • anto

      Wow – that’s awesome Jennifer! Seeing bears is awesome and I feel honored I could do this in Alaska. Is there a website for your project?

  • Angela Travels

    OMG what a great experience. I would love to fly in a bush plane in Alaska. You really reminded me of my visit. Your photos are also well done. AND THOSE BEAR PICTURES!!!! Their fur is amazing. They were shedding when we were there, so our pictures are not even close to your caliber.

  • Hannah

    I think I’d be a little too cold glacier camping but the rest sounds fantastic! I love kayaking and the glacier flightseeing photos are amazing! I would love to go to Alaska one day- thanks for sharing!

  • Alli

    Oh my gosh… my mouth was gaped open while reading this post. Amazing photos!! The 4th one looks like an optical illusion or something with that green water. I also love the shot of the kayak in the water against the blue ice, and also the wild bears. Wow! Actually so breathtaking! I want to go so bad!!!

  • Chris Boothman

    So many cool outdoor adventures to be had in Alaska! One of our goals whilst residing in USA is to visit all 50 states and of course Alaska along with Hawaii are going to be the toughest to achieve. But after seeing all these cool things to do, it just encourages us to make sure we get there sometime to experience these for ourselves. I always love the glacial landscapes and the amazing photography that is available there.

  • Dale

    Being so close to those brown bears in their natural habitat must have been so fantastic. Watching them go about their day surrounded by the beauty you’ve captured from the air and the ground must have been out-of-this-world extraordinary.

  • Melissa

    Those bear pictures…wow. I’d like to do all of those things at some point in my life but right now I’m not interested in any sort of cold weather.

  • Nadia

    Hi! I’m Nadia and I’m from Greece and I would like to ask you: Have you ever see the Aurora Borealis? because it’s my crazy dream to see it….

    • anto

      Hi Nadia, yes I’ve seen it but not in Alaska. If you want to see it and not travel too far, I’d say that Finland would be your best bet. Cheers, Anto

    • anto

      Jaaa Alaska is echt zo gaaf… ik kan niet wachten om deze zomer terug te gaan (dus hou onze social media in de gaten want ga jullie zeker spammen haha)

  • Anda

    Great pictures, Antoinette! You took some beautiful trips in Alaska, but judging by your photos, Alaska didn’t show it real face on you. It’s easy to like it when the the sun shines.

    • anto

      So true, Alaska is much prettier when the weather is good and the sun is shining. However, I spent more than three months in Alaska in total during my 6 trips and have definitely encountered a lot of poor weather … that’s the way it goes up there 🙂

  • Nan

    Great photos and ideas! We are heading to Alaska next Spring/Summer from Maine, in our Truck Camper. Where did you camp near that glacier? I’d love to do that, as well as walking on a glacier. Thanks

    • anto

      Thanks Nan! We camped at Knik Glacier but you can’t get there by car, only by boat. If you want to see glaciers up close, I’d recommend going to see MAtanuska Glacier and Worthington Glacier. Also, the best place for glacier hiking is McCarthy, but not sure if you can take your camper there, is it insured for unpaved roads?

  • Lisa

    I lived in Alaska for 20 years. I have to agree there is nothing like going up in a bush plane, especially when you take off and land on water.
    We would go fishing on the Russian River, we would be on one side of the river and brown bears on the other side.

    • anto

      Yeah, so true. No matter how many times I’ve been up, I still love it. I’d love to go fishing on the Russian river, I’ve never been there in fishing season (always in June, so before the salmon run starts) and it would be such a great experience. Whereabouts in Alaska did you live?

  • Jempi

    De max! Zulke trip zouden wij ook dolgraag eens doen, we zijn dus een beetje positief jaloers op jullie. Met die zeekajak, arghhh…super!

  • Olya

    Such great photos! Alaska is an unbelieveable place to visit! I’ve always wanted to go there, but after reading your article, I strongly want to visit this beautiful place!

  • David

    Great Stuff! WE DID THEM ALL AND MORE! We just spent 4 weeks exploring Alaska and it was Amazing! So many adventures to list a few off the top of my head that we loved… Our new favorite city is Juneau Alaska. We did it all from Hiking, Glacier Ice Climbing, Ice Caving, Gold Panning, Heli-hiking, to Cruising. One huge one was wild bear viewing and camping in Lake Clark NP. It is a worlds top 100 travel adventure and an experience of a lifetime.

    • anto

      Great! I am just so much in love with Alaska. I have never been to Juneau but can’t wait to go there one day. And this summer I may end up in lake Clark NP for the first time (fingers crossed) and am super curious about it.

  • Stacey

    What a great trip! Your bear pictures are wonderful. I’ve seen bears in the wild, but they were black bears not grizzlies. I want to go to Alaska someday. I was thinking about a cruise. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    • anto

      Thanks Stacey! I’m sure a cruise is an amazing way to see Alaska, a part that cannot be reached by car. Would love to do that one day!

  • Kay

    Love your pics. And the fact that you’re a single female with the gumption to travel to Alaska alone. I will be doing the same next June (2018) and I couldn’t be more excited by a trip. It is my Dream vacation.

    • anto

      Thanks so much for your encouraging comment Kay! I hope you will have an amazing trip, but I’m sure you will because Alaska is amazing and you will love every second of it!

  • Britte

    Oh wow, you definitely convinced me! Although I was already quite set on going there someday 🙂 The sea kayaking and especially the camping sound amazing! Would love to do this!

  • Fairuz

    This must have been quite an adventure. Given how climate change is changing the environment, it’s so precious to be able to see glaciers and the natural habitat in such cold climate. Kayaking at Columbia Glacier looked fun, and how cute are those bears . I’ve done a lot of trekking in warm and cool-ish climate, but never on a glacier – this is something on my bucket list!

  • Medha Verma

    Although I have done glacier hiking and glacier cruising (In New Zealand and Norway), I would love to do glacier kayaking and glacier camping, it looks fantastic! Alaska has been on my list for so long, I have to get there. Initially I was planning to take a cruise to get there but that wouldn’t give me enough time to spend in the cities itself, just 8-9 hours of the day and it won’t be enough. So I guess I’ll just fly there and work on a DIY trip plan!

  • Megan Jerrard

    Glacier flightseeing sounds like a lot of fun, and you definitely got some epic aerial views! We did some kayaking, hiking, and cruising around glaciers when we were there, and had a fabulous time, though I would love to camp out and wake up to a glacial view – sounds cold, but adventurous!

    You got incredible photos of that bear – the one thing which disappointed us about our trip was that we didn’t manage to see any in the wild. I guess we’ll have to go back!

  • Sophia Grace

    I should say this one is Winter post 🙂 as the title of this post is cool & cold things to do in Alaska but this one is really a good article that shared best cold place in Alaska.

  • Michael jones

    I love your passion. After reading and seeing your pictures. I got to go see Alaska. I’m so sole up now.

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