Best adventurous things to do in Alaska
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.
I’d loooove to see Alaska!!
Exp. after having seen “Into the wild”.
Amazing places, and amazing experiences!
Exp. #1 – those views are breathtaking!!
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 🙂
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!
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!
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.
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?
I must admit, I was never fascinated by Alaska, but now I guess, I would like to witness the icebergs myself! Nice pictures!
Thanks Renuka! Icebergs are amazing and I’m sure you’ll be fascinated when seeing them!
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.
Ashley @ A Southern Gypsy
The kayaking and camping sound amazing – I love Alaska and now I can’t wait to go back! And, seeing the bears in the wild is one of my dreams – so jealous right now! Amazing pictures 🙂
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!
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!!!
Margherita @The Crowded Planet
Oh my goodness… just when I didn’t think it could get any better, you mentioned glacier camping. And then I saw the bear picture. Sounds totally amazing. Is it expensive to visit Alaska? I’d love to go!
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.
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.
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.
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….
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
Michelle | Travel lifestyle.nl
Wow, wow, wow. Alaska stond al hoog op mijn wish list, maar dit bevestigt het nog eens dik. Wat mooi! Mocht deze droom ooit uitkomen, dan kom ik hier nog even jullie tips nalezen 😉
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)
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.
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 🙂
I love glaciers, hopefully will get there one day! It’s such an amazing landscape!
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
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?
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.
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?
Last Minute Holidays
Lots of things to do in Alaska i never know before. I’m very lucky to see the beautiful photographs.
De max! Zulke trip zouden wij ook dolgraag eens doen, we zijn dus een beetje positief jaloers op jullie. Met die zeekajak, arghhh…super!
Ja echt super… als je ooit de kans krijgt!
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!
Thanks Olya, I really hope you can make it to Alaska one day!
Wow! a day in Alaska is great. I think that no one can understand if they don’t experience. I like your post!
Thanks Terry, Alaska is pretty awesome indeed!
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.
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.
OMG. I’ve never been and never met someone that did a trip to Alaska. Amazing! And amazing pictures as well.
Haha well here I am, nice to meet you 🙂
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.
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!
it` s a breathtaking to watch your pics. Nice photography skills.
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.
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!
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!
Yes the sea kayaking is to date still one of my favorite things to do in Alaska. Can’t wait to go back some other time …
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!
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!
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!
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.
Well winter in Alaska is much colder than this haha 😉
Sea kayaking has to be the greatest invention in the world! OK, second, after chocolate!
Word! Hahaha 🙂
I love your passion. After reading and seeing your pictures. I got to go see Alaska. I’m so sole up now.
Yes go and see it for sure!