Welcome to this very long post with the best adventurous things to do in Alaska. Being from Europe, it had always been a dream of mine to visit Alaska. Back in 2006 I got a job that entitled me to travel to Alaska no less than seven times over the course of ten years. Feeling like the luckiest person in the world, I realized that the best things to do in Alaska for me were the adventurous ones. Some activities I mentioned below will be super adventurous for you. Some may come easy on you. It all depends on your mindset and level of previous experiences. Most things can however be done by most of us. They are usually day trips from villages that can be visited during your trip to Alaska and don’t require much else than stamina and a good sense of adventure.
I hope you’ll enjoy this blogpost with the best adventurous things to do in Alaska. All have been tried by myself and all pictures are made my me so I’m only talking about personal experiences here, which I’m finding incredible important to mention being a personal travel blog.
Note that this blog was first published in 2014 and fully updated in 2021
When I was in Alaska for the first time in 2007 I was up in the air less than 12 hours after my arrival from Europe. I was sent up in a bushplane to find a place for a bush camp near the Knik Glacier, just an hour outside of Anchorage. 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. Ever since I’ve been on plenty of glacier flightseeings, such as in Kennicott, Knik Glacier and out of Talkeetna. Going on a glacier flightseeing just never disappoints!
Glacier kayaking in Alaska
I’ve been glacier kayaking in Alaska twice and both times it was just simply awesome. The first time I went 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. I went kayaking with Pangaea Adventures and did the Columbia Glacier trip.
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.
On another trip I went glacier kayaking out of Seward. This time it was on a sit-on-top instead of a regular sea kayak. As an earthquake had appeared just a week before my arrival in Seward, a huge chunk of ice had some off Bear Glacier and this meant lots of ice in the water. It was just awesome! I shared my kayak with a man from LA who has a lot of paddling experience so he basically told me ‘you just enjoy, I’ll paddle’ so that’s what I did. It was super cold, misty and raining but my … it was gorgeous. On this adventure I paddled with Liquid Adventures.
In Seward I’ve stayed plenty of times. My personal recommended accommodation would be the Windsong Lodge which is a little bit out of town but beautifully located. If you want to stay in town, your best option is the Breeze Inn. All accommodations in Seward can be found here.
Also make sure to check out my blog with the best things to do in Seward
Even though I had been on a glacier before in New Zealand and Iceland, nothing beats glacier hiking 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. Root Glacier can be reached out of Kennecott in Wrangell St. Elias National Park.
Glacier cruising for a day
For those who are a little less adventurous and those who want to see wildlife, make sure to go on a glacier cruise. Not talking about the massive Holland America ships ones here, but the small boat trips that you can take for a day trip. I’ve done various ones out of Seward, Valdez and Whittier 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!
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.
Find your options from Seward here:
Camping near 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.
Stay in a wilderness lodge
One of my most memorable experience from my last Alaska trip is staying at Caribou Lodge in the Talkeetna Mountains. It had been my dream for many years to go and during previous attempts I couldn’t make it, but this time I could. I got on a floatplane that took me to the lodge on a twenty minute flight and when it took off, I realized I was really in the middle of nowhere. The care takers Joe and Bonny live at the lodge year round and explained me all about living in the wilderness and what it’s like to live out there. I LOVED IT!
In the evening we took a short hike up to the higher point below the lodge and all I could think was ‘wow, I want to do this each day’. But unfortunately, the next day I had to catch a flight back to Talkeetna and I returned to reality. Heading to Caribou Lodge is also a great weekend getaway in Alaska.
Hike to Harding Icefield in Kenai Fjords National Park
This was the one hike I always wanted to do. When my doctor said there would be no hiking for me after bruising my ankle, I was like ‘yeah, yeah’ knowing that I WAS going to do this. You don’t necessarily need to solo-hike it, but since I was all by myself, I figured I had no other option. The trail will take you up to the massive Harding Icefield next to Exit Glacier. It’s an amazing hike and you know what … it’s notorious for bears! I’ve hiked this trail no less than three times. The first time I hiked it, I saw a couple in the distance so I was pretty scared that I’d run into one. Luckily I didn’t and I turned out to be a great experience. Take bear spray though! Go here to read all about my solo hiking as a female in Alaska experience and all about the Harding Icefield Trail here.
Recommended accommodation in Seward: Windsong Lodge or Breeze Inn.
Stand underneath a glacier near Valdez, Alaska
OK this one should be done using caution because it’s a glacier and they can be deadly. Officially I should not even be recommending this but then again, if I don’t do it, someone else will. So if you are heading down to Valdez on the Richardson Highway, you will come across Worthington Glacier. This glacier is retreating dramatically (I’ve been three times) and when I last visited you can walk all the way up to the ice and actually stand underneath it. You will have to go off trail but since many people did it, I figured I could, too. Use extreme caution while doing this and again, I cannot be held responsible if a chunk of the ice comes down and crushes on you. Having said this, I’m not sure what the possibilites are for the next summer and note: this is ALWAYS entirely at your own risk!!!
Note I did this a couple of years ago and I’m unsure what the current conditions are
Recommended accommodation in Valdez: Best Western Harbour Side
Go ice climbing
If you fancy going beyond the above mentioned glacier hike, then head out for an ice climb! I did this on Root Glacier near Kennicott. You may also have heard of this place when watching Edge of Alaska on Nat Geographic. The towns of Kennicott and McCarthy are my favorite places in Alaska and it’s always a pleasure to be back there. This time I had the opportunity to go ice climbing, something I had never done before. It was AWESOME! Unfortunately, I bruised my ankle just a couple of days before heading to Alaska so I could only climb one wall and a tiny part of a moulin (which is where you go into the ice) but man … what an experience. You can read my full blog about ice climbing in Alaska here.
Bear viewing in Katmai National Park or Lake Clark National Park
The absolute best thing to do in Alaska however is heading on a bear viewing excursion. There are many options available. I’ve done excursions out of Homer, Soldotna and Anchorage but make sure to ask around for best prices and options. And of course how much time you’ll get to stay with the bears which also varies. There are a whole bunch of operators. Know that these excursions are very weather dependent so if this is your major reason to travel to Alaska, make sure to have an extra day or two in case the weather doesn’t allow the plane to fly. If you want to stay for a longer period of time, check out the Alaska Bear Mountain Lodge. I stayed with them for a couple of nights and it was awesome!
Have a cocktail with glacial ice
You don’t need to be super fit to do amazing things in Alaska. One thing anyone can do is to go on a glacier cruise in any of Alaska’s sounds or fjords. In the past I already cruised in the Kenai Fjords National Park and Prince William Sound from Valdez, this time I cruised Prince William Sound from Whittier. It was a gorgeous day, the sun was shining and the glaciers were at its best. How else could I order myself a cocktail, sit on the deck and enjoy this amazing view? It was a gorgeous day out on the water! I did my cruise with Major Marine Tours and truly had a blast! Book your cruise here today!
Book your trip to Alaska!
Your trip to Alaska is best pre-booked as early as possible. Especially in towns where the large cruise ships head (Seward, Whittier) accommodation is limited as the season for the above mentioned things to do in Alaska is super short. Check flights and prices here. Accommodation can easily be booked through Booking.com and rental car prices can be compared here. My favorite rental company is Herz as I’ve driven them all seven times I was in Alaska and never had any complaints about their service.
Also make sure to buy your Alaska Lonely Planet guidebook and road map before traveling to double the fun when preparing your Alaskan adventure from home.
Also read this article about solo female travel in Alaska
Conclusion and disclaimer
I hope you found this article with best things to do in Alaska useful and inspiring. If you have any additional suggestions, feel free to leave a message below. Note that this article contains affiliate links. If you make a reservation or purchase I may receive a small commission at absolutely no extra cost to you.