We get a lot of people asking for help in planning their trip to Alaska so we present the following;
When flying to Alaska you have three main options. Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau. Anchorage is the most popular place to begin a vacation in Alaska because there's a lot to do in the vicinity and it's serviced by more airlines. The benefit of flying to Fairbanks is it's closer to flying to any of the villages along the Arctic. Most people looking to travel Alaska won't fly into Juneau because it is not connected to the road system.
Driving to Alaska is enjoyable for anyone who loves road trips. There are a number of different methods to get on to the Alaska Highway. If you're not traveling during peak summer tourism driving through Banff and Jasper is worth the drive. If you're heading up from the West Coat of the USA, taking Canada Highway 1 over to Lake Louise will only add several hours compared to heading north on Highway 97, and is breath taking scenery. However in the heights of tourist season it can be slow moving through the park. If you are driving on Highway 97, taking Highway 29 north from Chetwynd will shave off a few hours. If you take Highway 29 it's worth backtracking 15mins to Fort St. John for supplies cause it's several hours to Fort Nelson.
Once on the Alaska Highway the best parts start right after Steamboat Pass a few hours west of Fort Nelson. That is probably the longest climb on the Alaska Highway. Soon after you hit Stone Mountain Provincial Park, Toad River, Muncho Lake, and Liard River. Some of the most beautiful portions of the drive with high wildlife concentrations. Be sure to stop at Liard Hot Springs. Several hours after that Watson Lake has the Sign Forest. Then on to Whitehorse. A couple hours outside Whitehorse is Haines Junction.
The Haines Highway south to Haines is a beautiful drive if you wish to check it out. Kathleen Lake is a beautiful stop along that drive.
About 45 minutes after Haines Junction you reach Kluane Lake. After you reach the other end of Kluane Lake the road can be quite exciting with frost heaves. These can make distracted driver get their wheels off the ground. A couple hours later you're at the border entering Alaska.
Most Alaska cruises are a loop up through Southeast Alaska and back. Some will travel all the way to Seward (Anchorage in marketing materials).
Prettiest Towns/Cities Along the Road System
In best first order we'd have to say; Valdez and Haines have the most beautiful setting of all cities connected to the road system. McCarthy and Kennecott are also beautiful though many rental companies will not let you drive their vehicles down McCarthy Road. Seward is beautiful but to really appreciate what it has to offer you need to take a day cruise out to Kenai Fjords or hike up along Exit Glacier and up to Harding Icefield. Girdwood is beautiful but much of what it offers can be done in a day. Talkeetna is a cute little town that has done a good job of preserving their frontier look. Homer is another beautiful ocean front city with mountain views. Anchorage has attractive views being set against the Chugach Mountains but it's a big city and if you stay in Anchorage for most of your visit you will miss out on really getting a feel for Alaska. Denali Village is a seasonal town only open over summer, but being set on the edge of Denali National Park with it's lodges and gift shops has a mountain town feeling of a resort ski lodge.
Best Places to See Animals From the Road
Polar Bears Kaktovik in late September and early October. Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow). Note: Polar bears do not venture into Southcentral, Interior, or Southeast Alaska. They are in western Alaska and the North Slope. Basically if you're not along the Bering Sea or Arctic Ocean, you're not going to see them unless you visit the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.
Brown Bears The biggest are the Kodiak subspecies. Iliamna and the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve is a popular place for brown bear viewing but you're making an additional flight and special reservations to see them. Anan Creek out of Ketchikan also provides great bear viewing generally requiring a flight and reservations as well. Valdez you have the best odd of seeing brown bears along Dayville Rd in late July and early August at the salmon are at their peak. Chilkoot River in Haines is also a popular roadside bear viewing location.
Black Bears Black bears aren't uncommon to see while driving the highway once your 45mins-1 hour outside the larger cities. In Valdez they're common to see in April-May right outside of town foraging at the base of the mountains. Late summer in Valdez they can be see feasting on salmon down Dayville Rd.
Moose Everywhere. Usually if you want to see moose from the road, your best chances are a couple hours before sundown to a couple hours after sunrise. Around airports are a decent place to find them or along the highways, areas that are grassy, marshy, or ponds.
Dall Sheep Along Cook Inlet between Anchorage and Girdwood is a good place to see Dall sheep from the road. Another good place is Sheep Mountain just past the Matanuska Glacier.
Mountain Goats Valdez and Haines are good places to see mountain goats from the road. April-May the can be found in the west end Keystone Canyon and on the mountain between the Airport and Valdez Glacier Lake in Valdez. The rest of the year it's mostly by chance. In Haines the best time to see them is August-September just outside of town behind SE Roadbuilders.
The glaciers are changing all the time so this is a hard thing to keep on top of but glaciers worth visiting are; Tracy Arm outside of south of Juenau, Mendenall Glacier in Juneau with easy access, flightseeing the glaciers in Glacier Bay, Davidson Glacier in Haines is loosing its grandeur but still makes for a neat experience, the glacier of Kenai Fjords are loosing their grandeur but still makes for a neat experience, Exit Glacier near Seward has lost a lot but still neat especially if you make the hike to the top and check out Harding Icefield, Knik Glacier outside of Palmer will likely require assistance for you to access but is worth seeing, the Matanuska Glacier has great roadside views from the highway yet requires paid admission to access it, flightseeing the glacier around Denali or in Wrangell-St. Elias National Parks, Root Glacier next to Kennecott has amazing Icefalls, Worthington Glacier outside of Valdez is loosing its grandeur but we offer tours to get you to ice caves and amazing experiences out there, Valdez Glacier retreated over a mile in 2020 our Valdez Glacier tours leaves many saying it was the highlight of their trip to Alaska, Columbia Glacier outside Valdez is the fastest retreating glacier in North America, Gulkana Glacier is nice hike out to with a fun suspension bridge and near level hike the entire path.
Best Places to do Charter Fishing
For along the road system Homer, Valdez, and Seward are your best places to go for monster halibut, rock fish, and salmon fishing from a boat. Other notable cities include Kodiak, Juneau, Petersburg, Ketchikan, Wrangell and Sitka.
Best Places to Hike
All along the Chugach Mountains around Anchorage and on the Kenai Peninsula, Denali National Park, Hatcher Pass outside of Palmer, and most towns in SE Alaska have great hiking. Kennecott has good hiking trails with great views. Valdez has world class hiking and most of their trails don't get you to it, but we offer tours that do.
Best Places for a Day Cruise
Seward day cruises out to the Kenai Fjords get you ample marine wildlife opportunities with less glacier experiences. 20 years ago they had the best of both. Valdez has better glacier day cruises with good marine wildlife viewing.
Summer Dog Sledding
Seward and Juneau offer dog sledding up on glaciers via helicopter transport to the glaciers, these dogs are trained for tourism rides, but are real sled rides. Fairbanks area mushers usually offer summer cart rides on dirt their professional racing dogs, to help train and exercise their teams in the off season.
Alaska is very dependent on aviation so flightseeing is a fairly authentic Alaskan experience. For a more authentic experience choose an aircraft that seats 6 or less people and is owned and operated by year-round Alaska residents that remain open all year long. We haven't tried all the flightseeing there is to do in Alaska but we can say we recommend from experience flightseeing around Denali, Gates of the Arctic, Wrangell-St. Elias, Valdez, Glacier Bay, and Misty Fjords. Most coastal flightseeing in Alaska with islands and mountains should be worthwhile.