Experience America’s Last Frontier: Alaska Vacations for Families

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Alaska vacations for families can include posing under the northern lights.
Under the Northern Lights above the Arctic Circle. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

While any family trip delivers new memories, Alaska vacations for families raise the bar to unprecedented heights. As the last true frontier in North America, an Alaskan experience brings opportunities you can only find in the 49th state. Outdoor adventures include kayaking, whitewater rafting and biking but also reach beyond the usual offerings with dog sledding, whale watching and wildlife viewing added into the mix.

Whether you choose an Alaska cruise through the inside passage, a trip on the Alaska Railroad or a self-guided adventure in Denali National Park, your Alaska adventure will certainly be an unforgettable family trip.

Get Up Close to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau

If you choose to cruise to Alaska, you’ll likely begin your explorations in Juneau. The Mendenhall Glacier is a not-to-be-missed experience.

Book a day trip to journey across the Alaskan waters as you watch for orcas, humpback whales, porpoises, sea lions and sea otters. When you reach Mendenhall Glacier be prepared for jaw-dropping grandeur. The small-ship Norwegian Spirit cruises right by Mendenhall if you’d like to enjoy the view from your balcony.

Read More: When is the best time to visit Alaska?

Visit Museums in Anchorage, Alaska

From art to history to local wildlife and native cultures, the Anchorage Museum shares the stories you need to know about America’s last frontier. Interactive hands-on science exhibits at the museum’s Discovery Center will keep the kids engaged as you explore.

Focused exclusively on Alaska’s unique geological, cultural and ecological history, the  Alaska Museum of Science and Nature in Anchorage features touchable as well as fragile specimens in cases. Explore dinosaurs, whales, and Alaskan marine life, the birds of Alaska, bones of ancient animals and the ice age of Alaska.

An educational and cultural institution, the Alaska Native Heritage Center shares the heritage of Alaska’s 11 major cultural groups. This Anchorage Cultural Center offers an in-depth look at Native Alaskan life through native dancing, stories, carvers and artists. You’ll see how Native Alaskan history is not a collection of artifacts behind glass: this is a living, dynamic culture that you can experience firsthand.

Tony Knowles Coastal Trail – Anchorage

For a scenic outdoor excursion with the whole family, spend some time on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Winding its way from downtown Anchorage, this 11-mile well-paved hiking trail is ideal for rollerblading, walking, cross-country skiing and biking.

In summer months, keep watch for beluga whales in the Cook Inlet as you meander along the trail.

Road Trip Along Alaska’s Seward Highway

A drive along Alaska’s Seward Highway south of Anchorage provides remarkable opportunities to see mountains, glaciers, and wildlife.

Several miles past Potter Marsh, Dall sheep often gather close to the road, at a spot called Windy Corner. Keep your eyes open because this is the only place in the world where Dall sheep can be seen at sea level from a nearby road. Travelers often catch sight of them on the cliffs above the road.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center – Girdwood

The fields and forests of Alaska harbor an abundance of wildlife. While spotting them from the road remains a constant adventure while road tripping through Alaska, there is an easier way to see Alaskan wildlife.

A non-profit organization, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center provides a safe refuge for injured and orphaned animals. Explore more than 200 acres of animal enclosures through a scenic 1.5-mile loop near Girdwood. Along the way, you’ll likely see the elusive moose and Alaskan grizzly bears – which are better observed from the safety of your vehicle!

Enjoy Year-Round Family Fun at Alyeska Resort in Girdwood

They don’t call Alyeska Resort one of the best family vacations in Alaska for nothing. Unlike some of Alaska’s best family hotels, Alyeska Resort remains open year-round with a bevy of activities for the whole family.

In warmer months, find adventure on hiking trails with captivating views and mountain biking expeditions. In winter the focus turns to snowshoeing, snowboarding and skiing.

Things to Do in Seward, Alaska

Located south of Anchorage, the port city of Seward sits on an inlet on the Kenai Peninsula, It serves as a gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park. Consider a day trip to Kenai Fjords National Park to spot wildlife including bears on land and whales and dolphins in Resurrection Bay.

If you’re traveling with kids age 12 or older who are up for an epic hike, the Kenai Fjords National Park’s Harding Icefield hiking trail provides the ultimate in outdoor adventure. Book a guided hike to ensure safety and deeper insights into the Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield.

Seward also offers day cruises, kayaking and fishing. As the terminus for the Alaska Railroad, you may want to add a train adventure to your journey down from Alaska.

Family friendly and intriguing, the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward shares stories of marine mammal rehab and rescue. Seals, sea lions, starfish, crabs, eels, puffins and many more species are possible residents to encounter as you explore.  

Experience Outdoor Adventures on Kodiak Island

Covering 3,670 square miles, Kodiak Island claims the title of second largest island in the United States. Occupying the largest portion of the island, the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge is home to 3,500 Kodiak brown bears.

Outdoor adventures include fishing trips, kayaking and whale watching. If you’re up for backcountry camping, that’s possible too. Or consider one of the island’s wilderness lodges.

Check out the Charming Artistic Town of Homer

Known for its glaciers, Alaska is normally the last place that comes to mind when you think of beach escapes. Yet, surprisingly, it does have a few beaches to offer for families. One of the best family beaches in Alaska is the Homer Spit.

Nestled in Kachemak Bay, this narrow piece of land is perfect for beachcombing, fishing, browsing through art galleries featuring local artists and dining on local seafood. Be sure to keep an eye open for bald eagles.

You can also enjoy a day trip cruise surrounded by stunning glacier-studded peaks.

Meet Iditarod Sled Dogs at Husky Homestead

In Denali National Park, enjoy a warm welcome and experience true rural Alaskan lifestyle at Husky Homestead—home of Iditarod Champion, Jeff King.

See sled dog puppies upon arrival and share an intimate view of the Alaskan husky. You’ll also be treated to a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating a championship Iditarod team.

Alaska vacations for families can include woman posing with reindeer in the snow.
Hiking with Reindeer at Reindeer Ranch. Photo credit: Terri Marshall

Hike with Reindeer at the Running Reindeer Ranch in Fairbanks

By reservation, Running Reindeer Ranch offers guided hikes with reindeer through a magical birch forest. This family-owned farm became home to reindeer several years ago when their then 12-year-old daughter declared she wanted a reindeer. Mom told her she had to raise the money to buy one, so the enterprising young lady founded Murphy Dough Cookie Company and sold moe than $2,000 of homemade cookie dough to buy Ruby, their first reindeer.

Reindeer are better in pairs, so Ruby and a friend joined the family and now there are multiple reindeer at the Running Reindeer Ranch waiting to hike with your family. Get to know the reindeer on a unique 2.5-hour walk and educational tour. You’ll have plenty of time for reindeer hugs and selfies.

Alaska vacations for families can include the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks.
Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks Photo credit: Terri Marshall

 Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum in Fairbanks

One of Alaska’s favorite attractions, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum features a remarkable collection of antique cars paired with stunning historic fashions, plus entertaining displays of Alaska’s motoring history.

Whether you’re into autos or fashion, the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum will capture your attention. The museum’s automobile collection features more than 70 pre-WWII American-made vehicles, including beautifully restored horseless carriages, nickel touring cars, rakish speedster, elegant classics, and early racecars – each paired with fashions from the appropriate time period. You’ll also learn more about Alaska’s Gold Rush at the museum.

Northern Lights in Alaska
Caption: Fairbanks is one of the best places to visit in Alaska to see the Northern Lights. Photo credit: Travel Alaska

Embark on a Northern Lights Tour from Fairbanks

Viewing the Northern Lights adds an awe-inspiring and unforgettable memory to any Alaska family vacation. Of course, that means a winter visit but some things are worth bundling up for, right?

From Fairbanks, Northern Lights tours take you to the Arctic Circle where the true beauty of the untouched Alaskan wilderness unfolds before you. Choose from a tour with a guide-driven trip up the Dalton Highway – think Ice Road Truckers! Or fly up for a dramatic landing on the frozen landscape.  

Lodging at Coldfoot Camp adds a unique touch to the experience. A camp built by truckers for truckers, the aptly named Coldfoot Camp offers basic but warm rooms with hot showers. There’s also a café and transportation up to Wiseman, population 1, for the ultimate viewing location to see the Northern Lights. Trust me, it’s worth every layer you and the kids need to wear.

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