25 Best Things to Do in Alaska
Wild, unspoiled, faraway, mysterious Alaska fires up the imagination and brings out your spirit of adventure. It is now much easier to explore Alaska’s magnificent mountains, lodges, fjords, and glaciers and see whales, seals, grizzly bears, and other wild animals than it was even a few years ago. Visit the museums, restaurants and cafes in Juneau and Anchorage and explore Denali, Glacier Bay National Parks. Here are the best things to do in Alaska. Photo: flownaksala/Fotolia
» White Pass & Yukon Route Railway
The White Pass and Yukon Route is a Canadian and American narrow gauge railroad that links Skagway in Alaska and Whitehorse in Yukon. It was built in 1900 during the Klondike Gold Rush – the fastest way miners could reach the goldfields. It operated until 1982 and was resurrected in 1988 as a heritage railway. It allows passengers to travel back to the past, riding the rails on a real gold rush train, past waterfalls, glacial rivers, steep gorges, and dense forests that have hardly changed since the time of the gold miners.
The train climbs up 3000 feet with passengers aboard parlor cars, both vintage and replicas and with huge windows and observation decks, along the 10-foot-wide train track carved into the mountain. The scenery is breathtaking, and the places the train passes by, such as Dead Horse Gulch or Inspiration Point, fire the imagination and take you all the way up to the headwaters of the legendary Yukon River.
Contact: 231 2nd, Skagway, AK 99840, Phone: 907-983-2217
Photo: Rocky Grimes/Fotolia
» Kroschel Films Wildlife Center
Located about 28 miles from Haines, Alaska, the Kroschel Films Wildlife Center is an amazing place where filmmaker and naturalist Steve Kroschel takes care of abandoned or orphaned wild animals from Alaska or Canada. It is not a zoo, though, and the animals live free and unmolested in their natural environment, providing you with some perfect photo opportunities as you walk along a well-groomed trail for about 600 yards through the magnificent Alaskan wilderness.
You will encounter 15 species of animals, including grizzly bears, foxes, wolves, lynx, moose, reindeer, owls and others. Steve combines his filmmaking and animal care with a message about the interconnectedness of all life on Earth and natural healing.
Contact: Mile 18 Mosquito Lake Road, Haines, AK 99827, Phone: 907-767-5464
Photo: Kroschel Films Wildlife Center
»Juneau Whale Watch, Alaska
There is so much to do in Juneau, which is surrounded by lush rainforests and ancient glaciers and has more trails than roads and more wildlife than people. However, nothing can compare to seeing your first humpback whale slowly emerging from the cold depths of the sea with breath-taking majesty. Juneau Whale Watch is an established local company that will make your encounter unforgettable.
Their whale watching adventure takes three to five hours and starts on a bus that takes you from downtown Juneau to the Juneau port at Fisherman’s Bend in Auke Bay Harbor, where you board one of their custom-made whale watching boats. While cruising the bay looking for whales, keep an eye out for bald eagles, sea lions, seals, black bears, and other Alaskan wildlife. You can see the humpback whales and orcas who often hunt in these waters. Once the whale is in sight, the captain will shut down the engine so that whales can approach the boat, as if posing for the photos. You can stand outside or in the heated cabin with a large viewing window. Things to Do in Juneau
Contact: 76 Egan Dr Suite 300, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-723-9209
Photo: Juneau Whale Watch
»Kodiak Laboratory Aquarium & Touch Tank
The Alaska Fisheries Science Center is home to the Kodiak Laboratory Aquarium & Touch Tank, a 3500-gallon freestanding aquarium and touch tank containing species from the Kodiak Island waterways. Common species in the aquarium and tank include crabs, shrimp, snails, starfish and fish.
Children and adults alike will enjoy handling the residents of the touch tank. Tour guides are on hand to provide information about the sea life and answer questions. The science center's conference rooms provide fantastic views of the water and visitors can marvel at the massive, 25,000-square-foot complex that houses the aquarium. Things to Do in Kodiak
Contact: 301 Research Court, Kodiak, AK 99615, Phone: 907-481-1700
More places to see: Katmai National Park and Preserve
Photo: Andrea Izzotti/Fotolia
» University of Alaska Museum of the North
Located on the Fairbanks campus of the University of Alaska, the University of Alaska Museum of the North is a great introduction to vast, mysterious Alaska, including its people, history, art, culture, plants and animals, through a range of galleries with permanent and temporary exhibits. A new wing, added in 2005, is an art exhibit in itself, evoking glaciers, alpine slopes and the legendary Yukon River, and has won many awards. The gallery showcases two thousand years of Alaska art – from old Eskimo carvings to contemporary sculptures and paintings, both Native and non-Native.
Exhibits in the Gallery of Alaska represent Alaska's major cultural and ecological regions, with Alaska's biggest gold display, major displays of Native artifacts, and the world’s only fully restored steppe bison mummy from the Ice Age. The exhibit The Place Where You Go to Listen is a fascinating light and sound display that is constantly changing with the current position of the moon and the sun, aurora borealis activity and the frequent earthquakes.
Guests are welcome to relax in the common room with a TV and DVD player, puzzles, and areas for reading. There is also a deck with a gorgeous view. The restaurant features East Coast, seafood, and Tex-Mex dishes so there is something for everyone. Breakfast is always included in the stay and later in the day you can enjoy lunch, supper, or appetizers.
Contact: 907 Yukon Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99775, Phone: 907-474-7505
Photo: University of Alaska Museum of the North
» The Aurora Ice Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska
Located in the Chena Hot Springs Resort, the Aurora Ice Museum is open year-round. Created with over 1,000 tons of ice and snow, the museum is kept at 25° Fahrenheit (-7° Celsius), so visitors are loaned parkas to tour the museum in comfort.
The museum contains a gallery displaying sculptures by world champion ice carvers Steve and Heather Brice, an observation tower, three bedrooms (polar bear, Christmas tree and children’s fort), a Northern Lights room and even an ice outhouse. An ice alter can be rented for onsite special events or weddings, and the museum’s chandeliers change color to evoke the aurora borealis.
Contact: 17600 Chena Hot Springs Road, Fairbanks, AK 99712, Phone: 907-451-8104
Photo: The Aurora Ice Museum
»Things to Do in Alaska: Running Reindeer Ranch
Less than half hour from downtown Fairbanks is the Running Reindeer Ranch, where you can learn all you ever wanted to know about these curious animals of the north. The ranch owner and manager Jane, who has lived most of her life in Alaska, will take you on a walk through the beautiful, dense birch forest with the reindeer and engage you in reindeer games, tell you about the forest, the reindeer’s home, and explain all their adaptations to life in the Arctic.
You can watch the reindeer as they run free and happy in their forest world, untrained and often unpredictable, so what kind of adventure you will be having is pretty much up to them. Once the walk is over, Jane will take you to a nice, warm room by a fire, give you cookies and a hot drink and tell you stories about life in the north and, of course, about reindeer. In the summer, she will proudly show you her vegetable garden. Things to Do in Fairbanks
Contact: Goldstream Rd, Fairbanks, AK 99709, Phone: 907-455-4998
Photo: Running Reindeer Ranch
»Husky Homestead, Alaska
If you have ever wondered what it would feel like to stand on a dog sled speeding across 1000 miles of frozen Alaskan tundra, and you are not prepared to enter the next Iditarod race, then a visit to the Husky Homestead is your best alternative. Legendary Jeff King, four times winner of the Iditarod race and hundreds of other races across North America, has opened his home to those curious about the Alaskan lifestyle, including the hardships, challenges and, of course, the huskies.
You can hear great stories from Jeff and his staff, many of whom are also famous mushers, you can play with puppies and watch fully-grown majestic animals both at training and at work. Jeff’s home is located within Denali National Park and all visitors are brought in by Husky Homestead buses from Denali hotels.
Contact: PO Box 48,, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755, Phone: 907-683-2904
Photo: Husky Homestead
»Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
Located on the banks of the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks, the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center is a regional visitor center for Interior Alaska and Fairbanks. The center is an interesting and very successful cooperation between the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Alaska Public Lands Information Center.
There is a 9000-square-foot exhibit hall with dioramas and displays featuring rural Alaska seasons and landscapes from the interior. The information center part offers brochures, walking and driving tour schedules, and a vacancy listing, and answers visitor questions and inquiries. There is also a theatre with free films on Alaska’s natural and cultural history.
Contact: 101 Dunkel St, Fairbanks, AK 99701-4806, Phone: 907-459-3700
Photo: Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
»Alaska Raptor Center
Even in remote and sparsely populated places like Alaska, wild animals suffer from human encroachment into their habitats and are increasingly injured or killed. Two Sitka ladies decided that someone had to do something about the injured raptor birds and so they developed the Alaska Raptor Center in 1980. They started in their backyard with one injured bald eagle. Eventually, their action attracted other volunteers and they were able to help more birds, so they first moved to a shed on the campus of Sheldon Jackson College and then, in 1991, to the current 17-acre space on the Indian River.
The center provides medical care and treatment to about 200 injured birds each year, mostly bald eagles. The main goal is to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild. Those birds that are too severely injured and would not be able survive in the wild stay in the center’s Raptors-in-Residence facility and are visited by tourists and school kids as part of the educational program on raptor birds and environmental conservation in general. Things to Do in Sitka
Contact: 1000 Raptor Way, Sitka, AK 99835-9302, Phone: 800-643-9425
Photo: Alaska Raptor Center
» Things to Do in Alaska: Denali Visitor Center
Before venturing into the magnificent 6,000,000-acre Denali National Park and Preserve, stop by the highly informative Denali Visitor Center, the main park’s information and welcoming facility. It includes a restaurant, gift shop and bookstore, bus stop, bag check, and railroad depot.
The center is an ideal place for visitors to learn more about what to expect in the park as well as its most interesting features by talking to park rangers, by watching the film "Heartbeats of Denali", and by checking out a small but interesting exhibit area. Many ranger-run activities in the park start at the Denali Visitor Center. Also, most of the trails in the Denali park have an easy access from the center, where you can get the map of all trails.
Contact: Denali National Park and Preserve, Phone: 907-683-9532
» Alaska SeaLife Center
Located in Seward, Alaska, on the scenic shores of Resurrection Bay, the Alaska SeaLife Center is Alaska’s main public aquarium and its only permanent rehabilitation facility for marine mammals. Since opening in 1998, the center works on preserving the integrity of the marine ecosystems of Alaska using research, conservation, rehabilitation and education. Most funds for the 115,000-square-foot facility came from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill restitution and its purpose is to remind visitors through interactive activities of the importance of the integrity of Alaska's nature.
Through viewing windows, visitors can watch a Steller’s sea lion swimming underwater, puffins diving into the waters of a carefully designed habitat, or harbor seals sprawled on rocky beaches. There is a discovery touch tank that engages your senses and the Chiswell Island exhibit, where you can watch what is happening at the Steller’s sea lion rookery in Resurrection Bay through a remote camera live video. The center offers self-guided tours as well as special behind-the-scenes tours and animal encounters.
Contact: 301 Railway Ave, Seward, AK 99664-3801, Phone: 907-224-6300
Photo: Alaska SeaLife Center
»Talkeetna Air Taxi
To see everything that majestic Denali has to offer in its 8,000,000 acres of Alaskan wilderness would take more than a lifetime. The best way to see it all, ancient glaciers, sky-high mountain peaks and mile-high gorges, is from the air or by flightseeing.
Talkeetna Air Taxi promises to show you one of the most magnificent mountain landscapes on Earth from the comfort of one of their ten safe and modern planes as well as a helicopter that will not only fly over Denali but will also land on a glacier so that you can experience a world normally known only to mountaineers after a long, hard climb. All their tours are customized and depend on the weather conditions and current visibility.
Contact: 14212 E 2nd St, Talkeetna, AK 99676, Phone: 907-733-2218
Photo: Talkeetna Air Taxi
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»Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour, Ketchikan, Alaska
An adventure with the Bering Sea Crab Fishermen’s Tour aboard the legendary F/V Aleutian Ballad is not quite the hair-raising death-defying battle with the sea you saw in the series Deadliest Catch. You will meet the same crew and board the same boat, but the boat has been made more comfortable with a heated amphitheater and a panoramic upper deck.
The boat will take you on a comfortable cruise through the calm, protected waters of the Inside Passage around the bays and islands surrounding Ketchikan until you reach the rich fishing grounds. You will watch the crew haul the catch and place some of the animals in a live tank so that you can see them and take photos before they are released unharmed back into the sea. Have a look around on the trip to the fishing grounds and you might spot some of the rich Alaskan wildlife such as bears, bald eagles and seals. The cruise lasts about three hours.
Contact: Berth #3 Tender Float, Ketchikan, AK 99901, Phone: 888-239-3816
More places to visit in Alaska: Matanuska Glacier
Photo: Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour
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»Kenai Fjords Tours
Located about 125 miles south of Anchorage, the small town of Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Departing from Seward, Kenai Fjord Tours will take you on a close-up encounter with ancient glaciers, gray and humpback whales, sea lions, orcas, arctic birds, seals and porpoises. You can see Kenai Fjords National Park’s calving glaciers and magnificent alpine and cirque glaciers.
Learn about the history of the rugged cliffs of Resurrection Bay and travel deep into the park to experience the unspoiled beauty of the Northwest Fjords. You can choose one of their many day tours – the Resurrection Bay Tour, the National Park Tour, the Fox Island Tour with dinner and many others – aboard one of their large 95-foot specially designed vessels that can accommodate up to 150 people in the comfort of heated, enclosed cabins and with a large observation deck. The tours last from three to nine hours.
Contact: 1304 4th Ave, Seward, AK 99664, Phone: 907-777-2852
Photo: Kenai Fjords Tours
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» Things to Do in Alaska: Jewell Gardens
Jewell Gardens is a collection of beautiful, organic vegetable and flower gardens thriving in the Alaskan climate. Located in the gardens at the base of the rock wall is the Garden City Glassworks, an onsite glassworks studio, and glass installations created by Glassworks artists feature throughout the garden.
The garden railway runs along 250 feet of track through Skagwee, a miniature replica of Skagway as it was 100 years ago. Visitors can visit the gift shop and enjoy a guided tour, followed by either full tea or luncheon at Poppies Restaurant, which opens for lunch daily from 11 am to 3 pm. The restaurant offers views of the garden and serves food and drink prepared with garden-fresh, organic ingredients.
Contact: Skagway, AK 99840, Phone: 907-983-2111
Photo: Jewell Gardens
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» Sitka National Historic Park
Sitka National Historical Park is a day park run by the National Parks Service. The site uses programming and media to educate the public about the cultural battle that took place between Russian traders and the indigenous Kiks.ádi Tlingit people back when Russia was the dominating force in the North Pacific. Totem poles line the park’s coastal trail and are part of the visitor center’s display, along with other traditional Tlingit objects, such as the hammer that clan leader Katlian used as a weapon in the Battle of 1804.
The park also offers the rare opportunity to view an example of Russian colonial architecture in the form of the Russian Bishop’s House. There is a bookstore with titles on the area’s history and traditions and there are ongoing events run by park rangers and scientists. The park houses over 1,000 original glass plate negatives by Elbridge W. Merrill that document the cultural interaction between colonial Russians and the Tlingit.
Contact: 103 Monastery St., Sitka, AK 99835, Phone: 907-747-0110
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» Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad offers a train service to Alaska’s most popular destinations, such as Denali National Park, Seward, Talkeetna, and Anchorage. The railroad operates two passenger classes, both with full-service dining and bar service; the GoldStar Service class is available on the Coastal Classic and Denali trains, while all trains features the Adventure class.
Meals, soft drinks and two alcoholic beverages are included in the GoldStar Service ticket price. Pre-packaged day and multi-day itineraries are available, with accommodation and activities included in the multi-day packages. Both seniors (65+) and military personnel qualify for discounted pricing. All trains accept credit or debit card payments for onboard purchases. Phone: 800-544-0552
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» Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage, Alaska
The animals at the AWCC are typically injured or orphaned and have been brought to the center for care. If the animals cannot be released back into the wild or sent to another center after treatment and rehabilitation, they become a permanent fixture at the AWCC.
The center holds public feeding sessions several times a day and during the summer, hour-long shuttle bus tours let visitors watch and learn about the different wildlife. Also during the summer, you can, for an additional fee, take a behind-the-scenes tour where a chaperone takes you through the center so that you can see food being prepared and have a one-on-one visit with an animal resident. Read more
Contact: Mile 79 Seward Highway, Portage, Alaska 99587, Phone: 907-783-2025
Photo: Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
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»Totem Bight State Historical Park
Totem Bight State Historical Park hosts 15 totem poles and a model indigenous village. Totem poles tell visual stories through symbolic characters carved into the pole, and the totems on display in the park speak of the rich natural resources in Alaska. The village’s clan house is typical of those built in the early 1800s, sized for 30 to 50 dwellers with a central fireplace in the one large room.
The house’s carved posts recount stories, while the front of the house displays a painting which is historically uncommon and signifies abundance. The park teaches young artists totem pole carving and also repairs or creates copies of totem poles left by indigenous people when they moved to find work in the early 20th century.
Contact: 550 W. 7th Ave, Suite 1260, Anchorage, AK 99501-3557, Phone: 907-269-8400
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»Things to Do in Alaska: Russian Bishop's House
In 1741, Captain Aleksei Chirikov of the Russian Navy landed in Alaska and the period of Russian colonization in Alaska began. After the Battle of 1804, the Russian settlement of Sitka was founded. From 1808 until 1867, when the Tsar sold Alaska to the United States, Sitka served as the Russian colony’s capital. The Russian Bishop’s House was built in 1842 and is a rare example of Russian colonial architecture.
The house served as the administrative center for the Russian Orthodox Church, which had locations across North America, and is a lingering reminder of Alaska’s Russian history. A 16-year project by the National Parks Service began in 1973 to make the building look as it did in the early 1850s. The house lets visitors experience life in Sitka during the Russian-American period.
Contact: 103 Monastery St., Sitka, AK 99835, Phone: 907-747-0110
Photo: Alexandr Blinov/Fotolia
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» What to Do in Alaska: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
Located in the Wedgewood Resort and Bear Lodge in Fairbanks is the Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, an amazing collection of antique cars and historic fashion that showcases how the design of both clothes and cars changed dramatically between the demure Victorian era and the more cheerful Art Deco age. There are more than 80 antique cars, from horseless carriages, electric cars and steamers to speedsters, midget racers, cycle cars and 30s classics.
You can see Alaska’s first car, an 1898 Hay Motor Vehicle, 1920 Argonne, 1921 Heine-Velox Victoria and 1906 Compound, all kept in excellent shape and still going strong. The museum also features over 100 antique costumes in its clothing exhibit.
Contact: 230 Wedgewood Dr, Fairbanks, AK 99701, Phone: 907-450-2100
Photo: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
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» Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
The Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park offers three historical tours led by park rangers. The 30-minute tour of Jeff Smiths Parlor Museum recounts the story of Soapy Smith, the notorious conman and influential Skagaway citizen who was murdered in an 1898 gunfight.
The museum also contains Gold Rush period artifacts and local folk art. The tour of the historic district covers four blocks and several of the 20+ buildings managed by the park during the one-hour session. You can also spend 90 minutes learning about the history and wildlife of Dyea, a boomtown during the Gold Rush and current a National Historic Landmark.
Contact: Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Skagway, AK 99840, Phone: 907-983-9200
Photo: Zack Frank/Fotolia
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» Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska
At the Santa Claus House, you can experience Christmas any day of the year. Started by Con and Nellie Miller in 1952, Santa Claus House began as a community trading post where locals could buy supplies, pick up their mail or simply stop in for a few minutes of chit chat and a soda.
During the 1970s, the store began to increasingly focus on Christmas items, and today you can find a huge assortment of Christmas gifts, including food, clothing, merchandise, and toys. Take a photo with the 42-foot tall, three-dimensional Santa outside the house or in the photo sleigh, visit the reindeer team, or enjoy some holiday food and drink while browsing.
Contact: 101 St. Nicholas Dr., North Pole, Alaska 99705, Phone: 907-488-2200
Photo: Santa Claus House
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» Alaska Native Heritage Center
The Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage is a cultural center, museum and gathering place where visitors can learn about the heritage of eleven of Alaska's major cultures by viewing exhibitions, watching artists’ demonstrations, songs and dances, and listening to stories. Alaskan Native dancing, Native games demonstrations and mesmerizing storytelling all take place in the Gathering Place. The Hall of Cultures features exhibitions by Alaskan Native artists.
Artists sell their art and crafts around the hall. The theatre shows the Heritage Center-produced film, “Stories Given, Stories Shared”, and many other movies about the different cultures and peoples of Alaska. Even more interesting exhibits await outside the center building –there are six life-sized Alaskan Native dwellings scattered in the woods around nearby Lake Tiulana where visitors can see demonstrations of the traditional way of life of different Alaskan peoples.
Contact: 8800 Heritage Center Dr, Anchorage, AK99504-6100, Phone: 907-330-8000
Photo: Alaska Native Heritage Center
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25 Best Things to Do in Alaska
- White Pass & Yukon Route Railway, Photo: Courtesy of Rocky Grimes - Fotolia.com
- Kroschel Films Wildlife Center, Photo: Kroschel Films Wildlife Center
- Juneau Whale Watch, Alaska, Photo: Juneau Whale Watch
- Kodiak Laboratory Aquarium & Touch Tank, Photo: Courtesy of Andrea Izzotti - Fotolia.com
- University of Alaska Museum of the North, Photo: University of Alaska Museum of the North
- The Aurora Ice Museum, Fairbanks, Alaska, Photo: The Aurora Ice Museum
- Things to Do in Alaska: Running Reindeer Ranch, Photo: Running Reindeer Ranch
- Husky Homestead, Alaska, Photo: Husky Homestead
- Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center, Photo: Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
- Alaska Raptor Center, Photo: Alaska Raptor Center
- Things to Do in Alaska: Denali Visitor Center, Photo: Courtesy of TODD - Fotolia.com
- Alaska SeaLife Center, Photo: Alaska SeaLife Center
- Talkeetna Air Taxi, Photo: Talkeetna Air Taxi
- Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour, Ketchikan, Alaska, Photo: Bering Sea Crab Fishermen's Tour
- Kenai Fjords Tours, Photo: Kenai Fjords Tours
- Things to Do in Alaska: Jewell Gardens, Photo: Jewell Gardens
- Sitka National Historic Park, Photo: Courtesy of Acker - Fotolia.com
- Alaska Railroad, Photo: Courtesy of NoraDoa - Fotolia.com
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Portage, Alaska, Photo: Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Totem Bight State Historical Park, Photo: Courtesy of porbital - Fotolia.com
- Things to Do in Alaska: Russian Bishop's House, Photo: Courtesy of Alexandr Blinov - Fotolia.com
- What to Do in Alaska: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, Photo: Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Photo: Courtesy of Zack Frank - Fotolia.com
- Santa Claus House, North Pole, Alaska, Photo: Santa Claus House
- Alaska Native Heritage Center, Photo: Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of flownaksala - Fotolia.com
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