It’s the land of glaciers, lush forests and mountain vistas, not to mention America’s bald eagles soaring above, wild bears roaming near rivers teaming with salmon, and soon, your brood enjoying every last bit of this beautiful state.
Most travelers will encounter some form of wildlife without any planning at all. A bald eagle may fly overhead; a whale might breach alongside a cruise ship; a moose may cross the road. But animal lovers should plan a bear viewing tour, whale watching cruise or a visit to a wildlife sanctuary, such as the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward or the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka to ensure quality time with their favorite animals. Behind the scenes tours often allow kids a chance to help feed a puffin, a baby moose or some other four-legged friend.
Alaska is home to the largest national park in the United States and more parkland than all of the Lower 48’s parks combined, Alaska makes it easy to explore national parks. And why wouldn’t you when the parks offer some of the best wildlife viewing? But families should also look out for the Junior Ranger programs offered by the National Park Service in major parks like Denali, Kenai Fjords, Glacier Bay and Klondike Gold Rush. The Park Rangers offer hands-on activities for many ages, not to mention a Junior Ranger badge.
Alaska’s state sport combines cute sled dogs with a bit of adventure for kids. And while dog mushing is a winter sport, there are plenty of options for families to experience it in summer. While they’re not training for the Iditarod, the state’s most famous dog mushing race, mushers open up their kennels to tourists so they can pet the dogs, learn how they train and even take a ride on a wheeled cart. More adventurous families can take a helicopter to a glacier and take a ride on a real sled through the snow.
Introducing kids to Alaska Native culture is a perfect way to share U.S. history and open their minds. There are many opportunities, especially in Southeast Alaska, for families to meet Alaska Natives through guided tours or cultural performances. Those on a cruise might meet a member of the Huna Tlingit tribe in Glacier Bay National Park, their ancestral homeland. The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage is the perfect place to learn about Alaska Native history and contemporary culture through exhibits, artist demonstrations, movies and performances. Families can explore an Athabascan Indian village near Fairbanks during the Riverboat Discovery tour.
Alaska offers some of the best fishing in the world, but you don’t have to be an avid angler to feel the thrill of reeling in a salmon, halibut, trout or dolly varden. Families can follow a guide down a beautiful river or stream, where kids can play on the banks if they’re not casting a line. They can also charter a ride out into the ocean to fish the depths of the sea in Southeast or Southcentral Alaska. A day on the water brings plenty of fishing, but also opportunities to watch whales, sea lions, sea otters and more.
There are few things in this world more magnificent and mesmerizing than the blue ice of a glacier. Most families reach at least one glacier during their time in Alaska, whether they’re cruising past the face of one on a multi-day or day-long cruise or hiking a trail to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Exit Glacier in Seward or Worthington Glacier near Valdez. Most day cruises offer family-focused programs. Adventurous families can arrange glacier trekking or glacier climbing tours in various locations, such as Matanuska Glacier in Palmer or Root Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
With so many attractions spread out across Alaska, finding the right way to explore this massive state while keeping kids engaged is also key for families. See our Where to Go section to learn more about getting around the state.