This article of the World Landmarks series examines some of the famous landmarks in Alaska. From the majestic Denali Mountain and the endless Glaciers to the historic McCarthy town, Alaska is packed with natural wonders and impressive sites. As usual in these pieces, we invited a few other bloggers to share with us some of their favorite Alaskan landmarks.
From dog sledding to bears and northern lights, there are many things Alaska is famous for. Still, the landmarks in Alaska are magnificent and contribute significantly to Alaska’s reputation as one of the best destinations in the world. If you love outdoor travel, Alaska is the place to go!
So, without further delays, let’s explore some of the most famous landmarks in Alaska.
Famous Landmarks in Alaska – Human-made
Kennecott Mines & Ghost Town
By Megan Anderson from Packing up the pieces
Kennecott is an incredible ghost town mining village found inside the United State’s largest National Park, Wrangell-St. Elias. The wildlife and rugged untouched nature are something to experience in itself.
To reach Kennecott is an adventure! From Anchorage, take the scenic 7-8 hour drive. Remember, the size of this National Park is massive. It’s bigger than Switzerland, Yellowstone, and Yosemite combined. The last stretch of road is pretty bumpy, so verify that you can indeed take a rental car here. Kennecott is a ghost town, however, a small community of people lives in nearby McCarthy village.
The Kennecott Mines became a National Historic Landmark in 1986. These impressive and abandoned mines offer an insight into the history of the copper mining industry in Alaska. The info boards help paint a picture of what it was like to work and live here. Believe it or not, this mine extracted over $200 million worth of copper in its prime.
Besides the worthwhile historical mine, there are a plethora of hiking trails to explore in this section of Wrangell St-Elias National Park. Experienced hikers can take the challenging scramble up the Eerie Mine Trail, another abandoned cliffside mountain mine. The Bonanza and Jumbo Mine Trails are alternative options. Some guides can lead excursions if you don’t feel comfortable hiking independently.
Kennecott is an incredibly rich cultural and natural site in Alaska.
Chena Hot Springs
An hour’s drive east of Fairbanks, you’ll find Chena Hot Springs. Brothers Robert and Thomas Swan “discovered” this natural hot spring in 1905 after hearing speculation of possible hot springs in the Chena River valley.
Robert suffered from rheumatism, and the pair established a small resort so others could ease their pains in the spring’s warm water. High sodium and bicarbonates levels in Chena Hot Springs make the water more similar to hot springs found in Bohemia rather than other North American hot springs. Apparently, this makes the water incredibly restorative!
Today, Chena Hot Springs Resort continues to welcome visitors to this remote mountain river valley and invites them to soak in the hot springs’ therapeutic waters. In addition to a pool complex built around the hot springs, the resort is known for northern light viewing opportunities. The resort’s on-site sled dog kennel offers dog sled rides through the snow-flocked forest.
Don’t forget a stop at the resort’s Aurora Ice Museum to view elaborate ice sculptures and sip an appletini out of a carved ice glass. You can enjoy several hikes around the property during the summer months and into the adjacent Chena River State Recreation Area.
By Christopher Harvey from Called to Wander
The Dalton Highway is one of the most famous but rarely visited Alaska landmarks. One that truly defines the Last Frontier. Built in 1974 as a haul road to support the construction of the Alaska Pipeline, the infamous highway runs approximately 415 miles from just north of Fairbanks, through the Brooks Range, and into the North Slope that leads to the Arctic Ocean at Prudhoe Bay.
The road, made famous by the TV show “Ice Road Truckers,” is not one to be traversed by the faint of heart. Most of the road is hard-packed dirt that is subject to washboards virtually every part of the way. The small portions of the road that are paved are cratered in potholes and given over to frost heaves that warp the asphalt. And there is no way to literally avoid the trucks that fly down the road in each direction, throwing rocks and mud from their tires as they make their way to and from the terminus of the route in Deadhorse.
But the views along the Dalton Highway are incredible. And while it is likely you’ll have to plan to visit the famous road as part of your road trip to Alaska, as rental cars contracts prohibit travel along the highway. If you make the journey, you will be rewarded with views that range from pristine forests, towering mountain ranges, and the northern tundra that supports life such as caribou (reindeer), musk ox, and the elusive arctic fox.
If you make the journey past the Arctic Circle and all the way to Deadhorse, you can reward yourself with a tour of the Arctic Ocean, where you can dip your toes or do a polar plunge if you would like! While the drive from Fairbanks is magnificent, you can bypass the highway and catch a flight to Deadhorse to tour the last few miles of the road along with the Arctic Ocean. But if you drive the Dalton Highway, you are in for a treat of landscape and wildlife and the feeling of solitude you could only expect in such a wild place like Alaska!
Natural Alaska Landmarks
Kachemak Bay State Park
By Jon Duncan from backpackingman
The Kachemak Bay State Park is one of the best places for hiking in Alaska and a prime destination on the Kenai Peninsula. It was the first designated state park in Alaska.
Although most people visit the neighboring Kenai Fjords National Park, Kachemak is unique in its own way, and you will most likely have the trail you choose to hike all to yourself. It’s one of the best areas to get out into nature, and it is a protected park.
The best way to reach the park is to take a local boat from the small city of Homer, which is on the other side of the bay. You organize a boat from there and tell the captain the day and time when you plan to return, and they will come and pick you up to take you back then.
There are quite a few different hikes to choose from, and you can ask the tourist office in Homer what recommendations they have that will suit your time frame and fitness level.
After you return from hiking in Kachemak Bay State Park, be sure to try some of the delicious fish served up by restaurants on the Homer Spit, where the boats to Kachemak depart.
Denali National Park
By Paula Martinelli from Paula pins the Planet
One of the highlights of any Alaska Itinerary is a visit to the Denali National Park. The park was created in 1980, and in 1976 it was designated by UNESCO as a biosphere reserve. Today, Denali is considered one of the most important landmarks in Alaska for a good reason.
The park is home to the highest peak of the American continent, the Mt. Denali – previously known as Mt. McKinley – with 20,310 feet and is one of the most awe-inspiring sights in Alaska.
Also, here you can find a vast and stunning wilderness of other massive peaks, many glacial rivers, and miles of amazing hiking trails to explore. Denali is also a popular place for animal lovers and outdoor photographers, with lots of wildlife opportunities viewing such as moose, grizzly bears, Dall sheep, wolves, caribous, and many other species.
Private vehicles are only allowed within 15-miles of the park, so the best way to explore Denali National Park is by bus. You can go on narrated and non-narrated transit buses and explore the 92-mile Park Road that leads into the park’s heart. There are also Jeep tours that take well into the park.
Denali is located about 6 hours from Anchorage by car and 8 hours by the Alaska Railroad. If you visit Denali from Fairbanks, it’s just 3 hours by car and 4 hours by train. It is also possible to take a one-hour flight experience over Denali.
Valdez Glacier Lake
By Paula Martinelli from Paula pins the Plane
Valdez is a typical Alaskan coastal town, nestled on a strip of land between the Chugach Mountains and Prince William Sound, offering stunning views, fantastic hiking trails, stunning waterfalls, and hundreds of miles of hiking trails to explore.
You can find countless things to do in Valdez, and one of the most important landmarks is the Valdez Glacier Lake. Located on the outskirts of Valdez, it offers breathtaking views and also an amazing history. It is known as the All American Route, when gold seekers traveled over the glacier into the interior of Alaska during the Gold Rush of 1898.
You can visit the Valdez Glacier all year long. In the summer, you can explore the glacier by kayak, and during wintertime, you can face the glacier by hiking, ski or snowmobiling. While you can’t see the glacier from the lakeshore, you can if you get out on the water, and it is definitely a place worth experiencing while in Valdez.
Valdez is located about 5 hours driving from Anchorage and 6:30 hours, and the most popular way to experience the glacier lake is to make the 15-minute drive from Valdez and marvel at the bergs floating in the water.
By Deanne from Scenic and Savvy
Alaska is a vast outdoor playground full of natural landmarks and interesting sights. Flattop Mountain, located less than a half-hour south of Anchorage, is one adventure worth exploring.
Flattop Mountain is part of the Chugach Mountain Range in Chugach State Park. From its 3,510-foot summit, you get stunning panoramic views of Anchorage, the Cook Inlet, and even the Denali Mountain peak on a clear day.
Being so close to Alaska’s most populated city makes it a convenient destination for people to explore on a day trip. There’s even a shuttle that takes hikers from downtown Anchorage to the trailhead and back. Because of its proximity to Anchorage, it has the title of being the most climbed mountain in Alaska.
People of all ages climb Flattop Mountain, but it can get tricky near the top. A steep rock scramble finishes off the 3-mile climb and a 1,350 elevation gain. For those not interested in a steep mountain hike, beautiful views can be seen from even the first part of the hike or simply from the scenic drive up to the trailhead. Either way, Flattop Mountain should be on everyone’s Alaska must-see list.
By Ada from Beyond the Yellow Brick Road
Eagle River Nature Center
By Lisa from Planningaway.com
The Eagle River Nature Center is known as a “miniature Yosemite,” according to the famous explorer of the 1800’s Walter Mendenhall. This Alaska trail system is beyond beautiful and is a must-see!
Eagle River Nature Center is located about 25 miles east of Anchorage, Alaska. This center is not on the radar of most travelers but is a local treasure just waiting to be explored.
One of the best hikes in the Chugach Mountain Range starts at the center and ends in Girdwood, Alaska. Shorter hikes offer incredible mountain views, glacier rivers and streams, and abundant wildlife.
The most common wildlife you will see are bears and moose. During the summer, remember to bring bear spray as many bears and cubs call this area home. You might be hiking and come within 25 yards of a bear!
This area is one of the most beautiful areas in the Anchorage area!
Kenai Fjords National Park
By Diane from travelswitheli.com
Kenai Fjords National Park is a can’t miss landmark on any road trip through Alaska. Gigantic glaciers, rugged mountains, plentiful wildflowers, and a variety of sea and land animals make this landmark unique and beautiful.
Located on the edge of the Kenai Peninsula, Kenai Fjords National Park can be accessed by land and water. Both access points are out of the town of Seward, 125 miles south of Anchorage.
The area of the park that is accessible by road is Exit Glacier. From here, you will find the park visitor center and several trailheads. The one-mile Exit Glacier loop hike is the perfect short hike to get close to Exit Glacier. Another hiking option is the strenuous 8 mile Harding Icefield Trail. This trail takes you above the treeline and provides epic views of the expansive icefield and surrounding mountains.
Seeing Kenai Fjords National Park by water requires booking a tour through one of the many tour companies out of Seward. Most tour companies offer both half-day and full-day tours. The half-day tours are great to see marine life and enjoy the calm waters of Resurrection Bay. But, a full-day tour is necessary to get close to the glaciers, an unforgettable experience that is well worth the extra time and money.
Katmai National Park and Preserve
By Agnes from The Van Escape
Katmai National Park and Preserve is one of the best places for bear viewing in Southwest Alaska.
This remote and wild area is known for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and its brown bears. It is home to over 2200 bears.
It is not easy to reach Katmai National Park because there are no roads. The only way to get there is by float waterplane or boat from King Salmon. So it is worth planning a trip to Katmai in advance because of the short season from mid-June to mid-September and a limited number of visitor permits.
The trip to Katmai is well worth the effort and money, as it is one of the world’s largest concentrations of brown bears in a small area. So it’s an excellent place for wildlife photographers and bear watchers. Your effort will be compensated by absolutely amazing impressions and photos of bears you observe in their natural environment.
Besides, the place is famous for the extraordinary beauty of Brooks Falls, where brown bears catch salmon. You can photograph and admire these huge animals waiting for their meal from wooden platforms and a safe place. It’s incredible how confusing it is to think of a bear as a plump and fat animal. In Katmai National Park, you’ll notice how patiently, quickly, and effectively they hunt salmon to build up a fat supply for the winter. Each year, the park’s rangers hold a contest for the fattest bear. A visit to Katmai National Park is an adventure of a lifetime.
By Adrienne Carrie Hubbard from Hubbard Family Travels
Portage Glacier is one of Alaska’s most accessible glaciers. This popular attraction is located on the Kenai Peninsula within the Chugach National Forest, west of Whittier. The glacier is legendary for its use by Alaska Natives and Gold Rush pioneers to “portage” between Prince William Sound and Turnagain Arm. After steadily retreating over the 20th Century and exposing a chilly, 600-foot-deep lake between sheer mountain walls, Portage finally slipped from view in the 1990s. Its face is now behind the left-side mountain, about three miles from the lakeside parking.
It will take you about an hour to drive from Anchorage. Another option to get there is to take a tour from Anchorage. You can purchase a bus tour that includes the boat tour across the lake to the glacier. Portage Glacier sits at the far end of Portage Lake and is accessible by boat.
Portage Glacier is only accessible on foot when the conditions are just right. Getting to the glacier requires Portage Lake to be completely frozen over. The trail starts from the parking lot near Begich Boggs Visitor Center. Head down from the parking lot to Portage Lake to begin your hike across the lake.
Portage remains an active glacier, with its face regularly shattering and dropping great hunks of ice into the lake. Depending on recent events and weather, icebergs and brash could be visible in the lake near the visitor center.
By Christopher Harvey from Called to Wander
Homer is a quiet town at the very end of the Kenai Peninsula to the south of Anchorage. And while the town has moderate fame due to it being the hometown of the singer “Jewel” and the Kilcher family homestead, which spawned a variety of reality shows about life in Alaska, the spit has more life and attracts more visitors than the town itself.
The Homer Spit is a long stretch of a narrow peninsula that juts into the Kachemak Bay. A two-lane road leads from the town of Homer approximately 6 miles to the end of the spit where you will be immersed in the fishing industry that you would expect in Alaska. As home to the largest halibut fishery in the world, Homer offers you the opportunity to hop on a charter boat and land up to two of these magnificent fish that can weigh 80 lbs or more! But if fishing is not your thing, you can hang out at Buttwhackers and watch the crew filet the catch of other fishermen, or simply snack on a fresh halibut sandwich at one of the local restaurants on the spit.
There is an abundance of wildlife in Homer as well. And if you hang out just at the marina you will see bald eagles, sea lions, and otters among other animals. Find yourself intrigued by a slowly setting midnight sun during the summer and start a fire in your own rock-lined fire pit along the beach. Homer has a ton of great things to do and as one of the more popular places to visit in Alaska, it should be included in your travel itinerary!
By Megan J. Anderson from Packing up the Pieces
The Mendenhall Glacier is found about 12 miles on the outskirts of Alaska’s capital city of Juneau. This impressive glacier is almost 13 miles long and is part of the treasured Tongass National Forest. With an informative visitor center, a wide range of hiking trails, waterfalls, kayaking tours, and wildlife viewing, a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier is the most popular thing to do in Juneau.
Sadly, the Mendenhall Glacier has been retreating every year. The West Glacier Trail is an informative hiking trail that has marked the glacier’s retreat by year. This trail also leads to the stunning ice caves. While the ice caves have been prevalent years prior, these bright blue caves are also starting to disappear. Since the ice can collapse and shift at a moment’s notice, it’s best to schedule a tour and have the proper gear to explore this phenomenon more in-depth.
The West Glacier Trail also leads to one of the more scenic hiking trails in Juneau, the Mt. McGinnis Trail. This steep trail is best done as an overnight trek. It boasts some of the most breathtaking views of Mendenhall glacier with the opportunity to spot mountain goats. Wake up in the morning to see the sunrise over the glacier.
Another way to explore the glacier is by riding a helicopter on top of the Mendenhall glacier. Most of these tours combine a dog sledding demonstration and experiencing otherworldly scenery by walking on a glacier.
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