AAA Magazines

9 amazing experiences you can have only in Alaska

View of Hubbard Glacier A view past an islet toward the Hubbard Glacier. Photo by Nicola/

If you haven’t put a trip to Alaska at the top of your bucket list, you’re missing out: Mother Nature delivers big time in the 49th state.

You can cruise the calm waters of the Inside Passage or experience the powerful “white thunder” of a massive glacier calving icebergs into the sea; ride a historic rail route or help exercise sled dogs; watch bears pluck salmon from rushing rivers or attempt to reel in a fish yourself. Whatever activities you choose, Alaska will blow your mind.

Here are 9 only-in-Alaska adventures for your itinerary.

1. Ride the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway 

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway

White Pass & Yukon Route Railway travels along the cliffs toward Skagway, Alaska. Photo by Rocky Grimes/

During the late-1890s, Klondike Gold Rush stampeders had only 2 routes from the coastal city of Skagway and nearby Dyea to the gold fields in the Yukon, and both involved a hazardous trek on steep trails. Visitors today don’t have such an arduous journey, thanks to the engineering marvel of the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.

Built in just 26 months—despite mountainous terrain, heavy snow, and below-zero temperatures—the 110 miles of track along the White Pass foot trail opened in 1900. Guests ride the narrow-gauge route, which climbs nearly 3,000 feet, in restored and replica railcars with guides who share railway and Gold-Rush lore.

2. Marvel at the largest tidewater glacier in North America

Hubbard Glacier calving

Hubbard Glacier calving. Photo by atleetalie/

Of the many jaw-dropping experiences you can have in Alaska, witnessing the massive Hubbard Glacier is tops. At 76 miles long and up to 600 feet high, Hubbard Glacier is famous for being the largest tidewater glacier in North America, and it’s best viewed from a boat or ship.

Lines such as Princess Cruises® offer itineraries with stunning views of Alaska’s pristine wilderness and Hubbard’s wall of ice. When the glacier sheds a hunk as big as a building into the sea, the blast is called “white thunder.”

Experience the grandeur of Hubbard Glacier

Experience the grandeur of Hubbard Glacier

Receive $50 onboard credit and $50 shore excursion credit. Plus, book a Princess Plus fare to get a beverage package, Wi-Fi, and daily crew appreciation included.

3. See the northern lights and Blue Babe

Aurora borealis in Fairbanks, Alaska

Aurora borealis in Fairbanks, Alaska. Photo by Victoria Nefedova/

Sure, you can see the northern lights (aurora borealis) in other places. But there’s nowhere else can you see them and glimpse a bison mummy that’s at least 50,000 years old—you’ll find this awe-inspiring combination only in Fairbanks.

First, the ethereal lights: When charged particles traveling on solar wind from the sun collide with Earth’s atmosphere on a clear, dark night, the vision can be astounding. The northern lights stream across the sky in a spectrum of colorful ribbons like otherworldly fireworks.

You may catch sight of the unpredictable aurora borealis in southeast Alaska, but your chances greatly improve if you head north to Fairbanks between August 21 and April 21. Fairbanks is located under the auroral oval that encircles the earth’s magnetic poles, and it’s an epicenter for viewing—so much so that researchers launch rockets from a nearby range to study the lights.

While in town, head to the University of Alaska Museum of the North (UAMN) on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus to meet Blue Babe, an Ice Age steppe bison mummy that gold miners discovered in permafrost in 1979.

4. Watch for wildlife near North America’s tallest mountain

Dall sheep standing at the edge of cliff

Dall sheep rams on a steep mountainside. Photo courtesy Holland America Line®

Head to Denali National Park & Preserve, which covers 6 million acres of wilderness in Alaska’s interior region, for glimpses of Denali, the tallest peak in North America, and the park’s Big Five: moose, caribou, Dall sheep, wolves, and grizzly bears.

Most visitors stay in nearby lodges and explore the park via guided bus tours along its single, 92-mile road (only the first 15 miles are paved and open to private vehicles, but buses are allowed farther). Cruise lines such as Holland America® offer tours to Denali, too. With animals roaming freely across the Arctic tundra, you’ll experience a thrilling wildlife safari.

Explore Alaska by Land and Sea

Explore Alaska by Land and Sea

Receive $50 onboard credit, $50 dining credit, $50 Dawson Dollars (CAD), plus Have It All with shore excursion credit, drink package, specialty dining, and Wi-Fi included.

5. Go dogsledding in the home of the Iditarod

Dog sled race

Musher riding behind dogs sled racing to the finish line. Photo by Pavel Sukhov/

In the past, mushers and teams of Alaskan huskies delivered essential supplies to hard-to-reach Alaska Native communities, and every March the extreme, 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race commemorates that history.

Dog-training takes place year-round, and some professional mushers open their facilities to visitors. In summer, thrill-seekers can take a helicopter tour across the Juneau Icefield to the top of a glacier for a dogsled ride on snow and ice. Or you can help the huskies exercise by riding in a dog-pulled, wheeled cart.

6. Sail the Inside Passage

Humpback whale tail

Humpback whale tail emerges from the water. Photo courtesy Celebrity Cruises®

The 500-mile-long Inside Passage, known for its calm waters, is Alaska’s prime cruise destination in the state’s scenic, history- and culture-rich southeast, and lines like Celebrity Cruises® offer sailings there from Seattle. 

Ships sail past vast expanses of wilderness—rainforest as green as emeralds, isolated islands where bears are the main residents, and snow-capped peaks—into breathtaking fjords, around blue icebergs, and close to immense, active glaciers. Keep your binoculars at the ready to spot whales, including humpbacks.

Port calls provide access to remote coastal communities. In Alaska Native-owned Icy Strait Point, you can watch Huna Tlingit dancers in Hoonah village, or take the “world’s largest” ZipRider down a mountain.

Discover the Rugged Beauty of Alaska

Discover the Rugged Beauty of Alaska

Book an oceanview stateroom and receive $100 onboard credit. Plus, choose All Included fares for free drinks, Wi-Fi, and gratuities.

7. Hike at Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier hike tour

Trekking on Mendenhall Glacier. Photo by matthew knutson/

About a 12-mile drive from Alaska’s capital city of Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is accessible by land and one of the most-visited glaciers in the world, drawing about 700,000 people annually, according to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

At the U.S. Forest Service-operated visitor center, you’ll learn glacier facts, watch a 15-minute film, and catch glacial views through large observation windows. But the real fun is hiking the well-marked trails. The 2-mile round-trip hike to Nugget Falls gets so close to glacial water that you might feel the chill on your cheeks. Another easy walk is on a raised platform overlooking a creek sometimes occupied by salmon-fishing bears.

8. Reel in a big one in the ‘salmon capital of the world’

Part of The Rock statue and Kethikan's Welcome arch sign

Ketchikan's The Rock statue and welcome arch greets visitors. Photo by Steve Roxbury/

Deep-sea fishing is one of the most popular excursions in Alaska. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced angler, you can try to reel in salmon or halibut from the waters off Ketchikan, a historic fishing port and self-proclaimed “salmon capital of the world.”

Some tour companies will process your catch and ship it directly to your home. If you’re on a Princess Cruises® ship, you can enjoy your fish cooked by on-board chefs.

If fly-fishing is more your thing, floatplanes can transport you to remote streams.

9. Delve into the history of Alaska Native totem poles

Totem poles near Ketchikan, Alaska

Totem poles at Saxman Villiage tribal house. Photo by Scott Griessel/Creatista/

To Alaska Natives, totem poles are not only works of art but also sacred history lessons, meant to be read and interpreted. Created in southeast Alaska by Tlingit, Eyak, Tsimshian, and Haida master carvers, they commemorate events; pay tribute to important people and family members; and depict real-life experiences and folklore. The stories are fascinating.

You can find the largest concentration of totem poles in Alaska in and around Ketchikan. At Saxman Native Village, take a tour with young people from the Alaska Native community to see some 2 dozen standing poles.

Fran Golden is an award-winning cruise writer and co-author of 100 Things to Do in Alaska Before You Die (Reedy Press, 2021).

Follow us on Instagram

Follow @AAAAutoClubEnterprises for the latest on what to see and do.

Read more articles

You'll find more of the articles you love to read at AAA Insider.

Travel offers & deals

" "

Hot travel deals

Get the latest offers from AAA Travel’s preferred partners.

" "

Travel with AAA

See how we can help you plan, book, and save on your next vacation.

" "

Entertainment savings

Save big with AAA discounts on tickets to your next adventure.

" "

Travel with confidence

Purchase travel insurance with Allianz Global Assistance.

back to top icon