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Alaska’s a dream vacation for many families. Make this the year you actually go! Enjoy fun activities like dog sledding and glacier viewing. Learn what a fjord is and then kayak one! Whether you take an Alaskan cruise or use one of the state’s major cities as the base camp for your adventures, here are the top 10 family-friendly Alaska vacation ideas you won’t want to miss.
When my son was in third grade, each kid was assigned a state to study. It was a major project where they had to learn all about the state, its capital, its topography and notable people from that state. They also had to highlight anything unique to that state, as well as common foods.
My son chose Alaska! Aside from the difficulty of making a clay model of the topography of this state, we were all smitten. Seeing images and learning about all this state has to offer for adventure, wildlife, culture and incredible natural formations makes it so special and unique.
After visiting other stunning places in the United States, Alaska is on our family vacation list for the next year.
Read More: Which is the Best Month to Cruise to Alaska?
Why Alaska Is Top Of Our Vacation Ideas Bucket List
There are several ways to enjoy this incredible state. Many people go on an Alaskan cruise, and discover some of these vacation experiences on shore excursions.
You could also self travel, flying into one of the major aiports. There are flights from the lower 48 to Juneau, Fairbanks, Anchorage, Sitka and Ketchikan. Then you would need to rent a car.
But, you can also take a train and travel via the Alaska Railroad, which offers several vacation packages. This would be an incredible way to view this glorious state.
The Best Alaska Family Vacation Ideas For Kids
After my parents took an Alaskan cruise, they recommended it for when our kids reached school age.
From visiting charming towns such as Seward and Ketchican to unique activities such as gold panning and watching for bears, humpback whales and bald eagles, it’s a memory-making experience.
1. Visit Denali National Park
Of all the things on this list, Denali National Park is at the top of most bucket lists for a family trip. It is home to North America’s highest peak, Mount Denali, plus there’s a mix of terrain that includes glaciers, forests and tundra.
A wide variety of wildlife calls Denali home, including grizzly bears, moose, wolves, caribou and Dall sheep.
Highlights of Denali National Park
- Outdoor adventures in Denali National Park such as kayaking, hiking, white water rafting.
- Flightseeing from above! From Talkeetna, you can take a scenic plane ride to see this spectacular park from above. You can even opt to land on a glacier.
- Amazing views
- Wildlife spotting
2. See the Northern Lights in Fairbanks
The largest city in Alaska, Fairbanks is the largest (and coldest) city in the Interior region, and there are some unique things to do here.
Plus, it is a great town to visit if you want to see Aurora Borealis (aka the Northern Lights). In fact, seeing the Northern Lights is high on our bucket list!
Highlights of Fairbanks
- From Fairbanks, you can see either the Aurora Borealis or the Midnight Sun, depending on the time of year you visit. From approximately August 21 to April 21, you can see the Northern Lights if the sky is clear. From April 22 to August 20, Fairbanks experiences 24 hours of sunlight for 70 days.
- Other things to do in Fairbanks include sled dog tours and skiing (if you are there in winter).
- Visit Pioneer Park (a historical theme park), pan for gold or take an arctic tour.
SheBuysTravel Tip: From Fairbanks, you can also visit the “Santa Claus House.” Mail a letter from there to get a legit North Pole postmark—the destination includes the deed to one square inch of the North Pole. You can also shop for Alaska gifts and souvenirs to take home.
3. Tour Anchorage
The city of Anchorage is Alaska’s largest. It is a hub of cultural heritage and learning opportunities at places such as the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
There’s also plenty of nature nearby to hike and look for bears, moose and other creatures. Plus, it’s a great spot for day trips and tours of the glaciers and surrounding natural wonders.
Highlights of Anchorage
- One of the highlights of Anchorage is the Alaska Native Heritage Center, which displays native crafts, dances and replicas of housing of the indigenous peoples of Alaska.
- Some of the best things to do in Anchorage are to go on a nature biking adventure, where you have opportunities to see moose, bald eagles, bears and other wildlife.
- You can also take day tours like flightseeing over Denali, visit the area on a trolley, visit the Alaska zoo and more. Anchorage is a gateway to all of the natural area around it.
- Dog sledding can be done here as well, even in the summer!
4. Sitka’s Totem Park
A common cruise stop, Sitka might be best known for its Totem Park.
Explore the city’s Russian history and learn about the significance of the totem poles by downloading a self-guided audio tour so you can walk and learn at the pace that fits your family best.
Highlights of Sitka
- In this area, common things to do include hiking, kayaking, flying on sea planes and wildlife boat tours.
- Some of the best things to do in Sitka with kids are visiting the Alaska Raptor Center and visit the Sitka National Historic Park /Totem Park, which Tripadvisor users say is “a beautiful and informative park.”
- And, you may also want to stop at Fortress of the Bear, a bear sanctuary for Alaska’s orphaned bears.
5. Soak up the Beauty in Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Fjords National Park is the area that contains the Harding Icefield, which includes glaciers, fjords and islands. The area is best explored by water on a day cruise.
The town of Seward is to the east of the park of Resurrection Bay.
Highlights of Kenai Fjords National Park
- Visit Harding Icefield.
- To explore Kenai Fjords National Park on foot, head to Exit Glacier. It is the only part of the park accessible by road and it is a great place for small hikes, scenic lookouts and a visitor center.
- You can kayak the fjords.
- But one of the best ways to enjoy this spectacular national park is by a cruise which leaves from Seward. Keep an eye on the water as you may be able to see whale sightings during this adventure!
6. Go Dog Sledding
If you have ever heard of the Iditarod, you may be interested in a dog sledding experience! The Iditarod is an annual race, from Anchorage to Nome, that takes anywhere from 8-15 days.
But you don’t have to race the Iditarod to enjoy this special experience. There are several places in Alaska where you can try dog sledding. There’s even a dinnertime dog sled excursion that includes a meal and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights.
If you are interested in building a vacation around a dog-sledding adventure, Travel Alaska has a recommended itinerary for 7 days for a Southcentral & Interior Winter Adventure.
Before you go, read our tips for dog sledding with kids.
Highlights of Dog Sledding
- Get to experience first hand this traditional sport in Alaska.
- If you’re visiting Denali National Park, check out Alaskan Husky tours for family friendly rides both in the summer and the winter with real Iditarod huskys.
- Not up for a ride? You can also visit the kennel and learn all about these beautiful animals and the Alaskan tradition of dog sledding.
7. View the Native Wildlife
While it is very possible – and probable – you will see wildlife on your Alaskan vacation, you can plan your family-friendly vacation ideas to maximize your sightings. Alaska is home to a variety of spectacular wildlife, including moose, bear, bald eagles, whales, orcas, deer and more.
If fact, if you are interested in a lot of wildlife viewing, you can actually build an entire itinerary for your family vacation around visiting. Tour packages through a few companies like Alaska Tour and Travel, Adventuresmith Explorations and Gondwana Ecotours all offer family-friendly Alaskan vacation packages built around seeing wildlife in Alaska. Or you can choose day trip options through Get Your Guide.
And, if you are like my family, you feel very special when seeing wildlife in their natural habitat!
Highlights of Wildlife Viewing
- There are many places to see wildlife, but you can certainly see them at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood. Ideal for all ages, this is the place to go for guaranteed wildlife sightings.
- The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a non-profit refuge for orphaned or injured animals. You can find moose, bears, bald eagle and more. The loop is 1.5 miles and you can tour by car or on foot.
- Other ways to see animals in their natural habitat include whale watching tours, in Denali National Park and at Katmai National Park and Preserve.
8. Spend Time in Juneau, the Capital City
The capital of Alaska, this city is a must stop on your family travel to Alaska. In addition to the nature and wildlife you can see throughout the state, Juneau offers many options for visiting musuems, learning about the history of the state and its indigenous people. Plus, there are some fun free things to do in Juneau.
Also, it’s an easy ferry ride over to Skagway and Klondike Gold Rush National Park, where you can learn about Alaska’s Gold Rush history.
Highlights of Juneau
- Some of the best things to do here include seeing Mendenhall Glacier and the Mendenhall Glacier visitor’s center, seeing the Tracy Arm fjord, guided hikes and whale watching.
- There are several whale watch charters you can book from Juneau, where you will spot humpback whales, orcas, sea lions, porpoises and bald eagles.
- While in Juneau, be sure to stop at the Alaska State Museum, where you can learn all about the history of this great state, including Alaska’s native culture.
- If you spend a few nights in Juneau, you can ferry over to Skagway, and learn about Alaska’s Gold Rush history. Skagway is home to the Klondike Gold Rush National Park, where you’ll discover all about this fascinating time in history, the struggles of the gold rushers, and the successes.
9. Cruise to Glacier Bay National Park
If you are interested in seeing Glacier Bay National Park, the best way to see it is by boat. Daily sailings depart from the dock in front of Glacier Bay Lodge. This special area is full of glaciers, fjords, forests and tidewater glaciers.
To get the boat, you have to either fly into Gustavis (a small town at the edge of Glacier Bay) or ferry from Juneau and then catch the touring boat from there.
10. History and More in Seward
This port city is one that MUST be on your Alaska family vacation list! Located in the Kenai Peninsula, at the opening of Kenai Fjords National Park, there are so many things to do here.
Download a self-guided audio tour to see the Old Alaska Railroad Depot, the Founder’s Monument, the Seward Community Library, the William H Seward Bust, the Resurrection Bay Historical Society Seward Museum, the Memorial United Methodist Church and the Chugach Museum with the Institute of History and Art.
Highlights of Seward
- Visit the Alaska Sealife Center for up close viewing of some of the marine animals that inhabit the waters off of Alaska. You will find seals, puffins, sea lions, sea otters and more. This is also a rehab center, as well.
- You can also go dog sledding from here.
- And, you can take a Kenai Fjords National Park cruise from here.
11. It’s All About the Fish in Homer
If you are interested in fishing, a visit to Homer, Alaska might be perfect for your itinerary. Known as the Halibut Capital of the World, Homer is located on the Kenai Peninsula, on Kachemak Bay.
Highlights of Homer
- If you are interested in fishing from shore, you can do so near the Homer Split, as well as a few other places. Or, you can go on a fishing charter.
- Visit the Brooks Bear Experience. You can take a plane that brings you to Brooks Falls at Katmai National Park and Preserve to view bears in the wild from a security platform, catching salmon in the river. It is great the resident animals in their natural habitat.