Summer in Alaska brings seemingly endless hours of sunlight that bring out the playful spirit of locals and visitors alike. The long days make it easy to fill a trip with amazing experiences. With so many options, deciding what to do is the only difficulty.
Fun things to do in Alaska in the Summer include viewing wildlife, kayaking in the rich marine waters, taking a train tour through the heart of Alaska, roughing it in Denali park, or unwinding in the hot springs outside of Fairbanks. Alaska has many adventures for all ages and mobility levels.
Alaskan culture is centered around freedom and intimacy with the wildland. No matter who you are, you can find a way to engage in the stunning beauty of the Last Frontier. Let us guide you through the best summer adventures that Alaska has to offer.
1. Kayaking in Kachemak Bay
Kachemak Bay is a haven for sea otters and humpback whales. There’s no better way to see the rich abundance of Alaskan marine life than taking a kayaking tour of Kachemak Bay.
Kachemack Bay State Park is Alaska’s first state park and encompasses over 400,000 acres (1,618.74 sq. km) of pristine wilderness. The quaint sea village of Homer is the jumping-off point for visiting the park and hosts several different kayak rental companies and charter fishing operations.
The tides of the bay are some of the strongest in the world, so it’s important to book a tour with a kayaking outfit and not try to kayak the bay on your own.
The tour includes a ferry across the bay, after which you’ll enter the water from a secluded beach and explore the seashore with an experienced guide. You can expect to spend $130 – $150 per person for a half-day kayaking tour.
We recommend True North Kayak Tours and St. Augustine’s Kayak Tours. Both outfits are located on “the Spit” in Homer, Alaska, and offer several different kayaking and hiking tours to choose from.
While you’re in Homer, stop by the farmer’s market and view the beautiful local produce and handmade crafts. The market runs Saturdays and Wednesday afternoons, May through September.
2. Taking a Train Ride up the Parks Highway
If you’re looking to view the stunning scenery of Alaska’s interior but also like to ride in style, consider riding on the Denali Star Train.
Enjoy a luxurious train ride from Anchorage up to Denali National Park. Glass dome ceilings maximize your chance of spotting wildlife while en route, and drinks can be ordered from your seat.
The train is equipped with a dining car with full table service (try the salmon chowder!) and a grab-and-go counter for snacks. An experienced guide narrates the epic journey, so you don’t miss a thing.
Tickets start at $178 for the Anchorage-Denali route. The train has several routes and is a great way to explore Alaska.
3. A Glacier Flightseeing Tour to Mt. Denali
The quaint town of Talkeetna is a great spot to spend a night. It has several restaurants, shops, and walking paths near the confluence of three rivers. It’s also a popular launching point for adventures to Denali.
One of our favorite adventures is a flightseeing tour from K2 Aviation. Experience the famous Mt. Denali from a whole new perspective as you experience breathtaking views of the mountain range and see Denali from all angles.
They have several different tours available, all of which include an optional glacier landing.
Current prices range from $255-$525, depending on which adventure you choose.
4. A Visit to Chena Hot Springs
Traveling North from Denali National Park brings you to the city of Fairbanks. Located about 40 minutes outside of Fairbanks is an oasis of relaxation and true Alaska hospitality.
Chena Hot Springs has beautifully crafted pools for guests to soak in the natural mineral waters. They also have accommodations that range from tent sites to full cabins and a restaurant.
During summertime, you can bask in the midnight sun while relaxing in the healing waters of the hot spring. In the shoulder seasons or winter, go to the pools at night for a chance to spot an aurora borealis event.
The resort also features a vegetable garden and greenhouse entirely heated by geothermal technology. You can request a tour of the working farm at the front desk and visit the husky kennels to see sled dogs.
5. Viewing Reindeer in Fairbanks
While in Fairbanks, enjoy the true reward of trekking that far north: Reindeer. Learn all about these fascinating creatures with a tour of Running Reindeer Ranch, a sanctuary for reindeer started by a local family.
You can enjoy tours through the boreal forest to view the reindeer in their natural habitat, take a reindeer yoga class, or enjoy a concert while surrounded by animals. Take a day trip to one of the most unique Alaskan experiences one can have.
You can expect to get up close and personal with the animals, watching them play, frolic, and socialize within their herd.
The ranch was started by an Alaskan family seeking their dream of building a homestead on their land. It grew into a successful business that now hosts thousands of visitors annually.
Visits are only by appointment, so call before heading out to the ranch.
6. Going to the Alaska State Fair
The Alaska State Fair runs from late August to early September and is a must-do event if you’re there at that time. Located in Palmer, AK, it features the massive vegetables grown in Alaska under endless sunlight.
Enjoy a true Americana experience as you visit the Great Pumpkin weigh-off, enjoy the carnival rides, and try your hand at the games and contests. The fair also features concerts from both big-name artists and local performers.
7. Seeing Grizzly Bears on Kodiak Island
Alaska is infamous for its healthy population of bears. Approximately 140,000 bears live in Alaska, and there is 1 bear for every 5 Alaskan residents. Most visitors hope to see a grizzly bear during their trip, but they are shy creatures that can be hard to spot.
One of the best ways to ensure you see these magnificent animals in their natural environment is through a tour of Kodiak Island. You can access Kodiak Island with either a direct flight from Anchorage airport or a ferry from Homer, AK, at the tip of the Kenai peninsula.
Many lodges on the island can accommodate you and help you book a bear-viewing excursion. You can book a flightseeing tour as a day trip or a multi-day excursion with a wilderness lodge. These excursions will take you into the remote areas where the bears are most likely to be found.
The best time to go see the bears is June through September. The salmon run heavily during these months, so the bears can easily be spotted feeding in the many rivers of Kodiak Island.
8. Whale Watching in Juneau
Experiencing the boreal forest and seas full of marine life is an experience of a lifetime. There’s no better spot to do this than the island of Juneau. With an average of 71 inches (180.34 cm) of rain a year, this is a verdant mecca.
From April to November, approximately 600 humpback whales inhabit the waters of the northern Inside Passage, making Juneau one of the best places for whale watching, with the bonus that you might see orcas, too!
You can also spot black bears, moose, and bald eagles by hiking the magnificent rainforests on the island. One of the best spots for bear viewing is Kootznoowoo Wilderness Area, named after a Tlingit word that means “Fortress of The Bears”. This Wilderness Area is on Admiralty Island, a short boat ride from Juneau.
Kayaking the pristine waters of the inside passage is also a popular activity and a more adventurous way to view whales, sea otters, sea lions, and jellyfish. Several outfits offer kayaking excursions in Juneau.
9. Camping in Denali National Park
To truly experience the Alaskan wilderness, consider camping in Denali National park. You can book sites in one of their many campgrounds or go completely feral and procure a backpacking ticket.
Denali park has no trails, only a park road that runs the length of the park. Visitors can only drive part of the way into the park and must book a space on the park’s bus tours to access the entire park. There are several tours a day.
To book a campsite, you need to plan ahead of time, and spaces are limited and fill up in the summer months. Riley Campground is a large campground at the entrance to the park. Several small campgrounds along the park road give you access to the wilderness.
For backpackers who wish to test their survival skills in one of the wildest places on earth, you can register at the park office for a backpacking permit. The park officials will assign you an area you can explore, and the park bus will drop you off on the side of the road in your designated area.
From that point on, you’re on your own to navigate to a spot away from the road and explore the park. This option is for experienced backpackers with bear awareness, as there are thousands of grizzly bears in the park.
Bear awareness includes:
- The ability to detect a bear’s presence via fresh prints, torn logs e.t.c
- Knowing how to handle yourself in the presence of a bear. For example, you shouldn’t surprise a bear and should never get between a bear and its cubs.
- Hiking in groups.
- Making noise to alert bears of your presence so you don’t surprise them and trigger an attack.
Camping in Denali park is an amazing experience that gives you access to a well-managed wilderness that has experienced very little human impact. Alaska is one of the last truly wild places on earth, and camping under the towering mountain in the forested tundra is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
10. Taking a Road Trip to Valdez
Valdez is a gorgeous seaside town that’s worth a visit. Getting there by car makes a gorgeous day drive with stunning scenery. To make the trek even more exciting, go through Hatcher Pass if you are not using a rental car.
The saying “all roads lead to Valdez” rings true — the city can be accessed from most cities in Alaska. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Anchorage, and seven hours from Fairbanks. However, you’ll want to factor in stops to drink in the natural beauty, so it’s recommended to break the trip up into two days.
Once you’re in Valdez, you can explore the mountains of the Chugach Range and the seas of Prince William Sound. Fishing charters are an extremely popular activity, as well as hiking, kayaking, and strolling along the harbor.
You can also access river rafting trips in the nearby Keystone Canyon, or cruise past glaciers on a kayak in Valdez Glacier Lake.
Valdez is considered one of the prettiest places in Alaska, which is saying a lot in this state full of epic scenery.
11. Hiking Flattop Mountain in Anchorage
Anchorage is the cultural center of Alaska, being its largest city. That being said, it’s surrounded by the gorgeous Chugach Mountain Range, and there are many hiking excursions in the city limits.
My favorite hike is Flattop Mountain in Chugach State Park. This trail network features several trails for different hiking levels, from a wheelchair-accessible trail with amazing views to an arduous climb up to the summit.
It’s one of the most popular hiking areas for a reason, and we recommend visiting on a weekday if you can. A short 30-minute drive from the city center of Anchorage, you can drive yourself or take the Flattop Mountain Shuttle from downtown.
There are amazing views straight from the parking lot, and you can follow the meandering trails through hillsides full of blueberry bushes and small mountain hemlock trees. The climb up to the summit is a switchback through the tundra and ends in a scramble up the rocky mountainside.
Whatever path you choose, epic views are waiting to greet you at Flattop Mountain.
- Travel Alaska: Kodiak
- Alaska Department of Fish and Game: Black Bear Profile
- Alaska Trekker: Alaska Bears
- Best Places: Juneau
- Travel Juneau: Juneau Whale Watching and Wildlife Viewing
- Valdez Alaska: Driving To Valdez
- Scenic and Savvy: What To expect Climbing Alaska’s Flattop Mountain
- Visit Anchorage: Flattop Mountain