Though Alaska is the largest state in the United States by land area, it is the third least-populated state in the nation, known for its expansive, rugged wilderness areas, majestic mountain peaks, and preserved intact glacial stretches. The gorgeous state is known throughout the world as a paradise for wilderness explorers, home to stunning national parks and wilderness recreation areas that offer unique opportunities for fishing, hiking, backcountry camping, and other extreme wilderness experiences. Visitors coming to Alaska on a budget can take to many of the state's hiking trails for free or explore a plethora of preserved historic attractions as part of self-guided tours, including sites such as the historic St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and the lovely Alaska State Capitol Building. Between mid-April and mid-August, the state provides some of the world's best opportunities for viewing the stunning Aurora Borealis northern lights displays, including chances to see the lights via self-guided driving tours.
1.The Alaska State Capitol Building
The Alaska State Capitol Building is the seat of Alaska's legislative and executive branches of government, located in lovely state capital Juneau. The building, which dates back to 1931, is one of only 12 United States capitol buildings to not feature a dome in its architecture. It stretches six stories tall and is constructed with a gorgeous facade of Indiana limestone, featuring a four-column Tokeen marble portico and brick-faced reinforced walls. Inside, many of the building's interior spaces have been returned to their original 1930s appearance, showcasing exhibits such as a Hall of Governors portrait series and photography by famed Juneau artists Percy Pond and Lloyd Winter. Clay murals within the building's lobby, named Harvest of the Land and Sea, depict regional hunting and fishing activities. Visitors can embark on self-guided tours of the building at any time it is open for business hours throughout the week.
120 4th St, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-465-3755
2.The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers Museum
© The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers Museum
The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers Museum is home to the state of Alaska's only permanent collection of historical law enforcement memorabilia, telling the tale of the state's Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers, which were formed in the late 1960s and have become the state's primary non-government law enforcement force. The museum strives to tell the tale of one of the United States' most unusual police forces, developed to bring law and order to the state's rugged rural jurisdictions. A wide variety of unique displays and exhibits showcase historical memorabilia connected to the force, including an authentically-restored 1952 Hudson Hornet automobile. Other significant artifacts on display include communications devices, antique handcuffs, historic wiretapping equipment, and unique uniforms meant for rugged terrains and brutal weather.
245 W 5th Ave #113, Anchorage, AK 99501, Phone: 907-279-5050
3.Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center
© Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center
Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center is a lovely historic and cultural center located within Anchorage's historic Federal Building, home to a variety of exhibits showcasing the state's most notable natural, historical, and cultural features. The center, which is staffed by National Park Rangers, attracts approximately 80,000 visitors each year and also serves as a general state visitor center, offering trip planning assistance and brochures and maps related to top area attractions and wilderness areas. Visitors can enjoy a mini-tour of the state via its exhibits, including exhibits connected to its native indigenous groups, gorgeous national parks, and wilderness recreation areas. Several documentary films are shown at the center's theater, including Heartbeats of Denali and Alaska's Coolest Animals. Weekly programming is led by NPS park rangers, including chances to meet live zoo animals and birds.
605 W 4th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501, Phone: 907-644-3661
4.Anchorage Market and Festival
Anchorage Market and Festival is downtown Anchorage's biggest weekly artisan market, running each Saturday and Sunday between mid-May and mid-September. The family-friendly market attracts more than 200 vendors in season, ranging from painters and photographers to pantry and botanical goods makers. Visitors can shop for a plethora of Alaskan-made items and souvenirs, including locally-written books, handmade jewelry, and locally-produced honey. More than 30 delicious food vendors serve up international cuisine options and local game, including locally-caught halibut, salmon, and reindeer. The free-admission market also showcases live music and dance acts from across Alaska, along with visiting national groups and Native performers.
225 E St, Anchorage, AK 99501
5.Aurora Borealis Season
Aurora Borealis Season lasts between mid-August and mid-April each year, easily visible from Fairbanks on clear, dark nights. Though aurora lights technically dance above the Arctic Circle's skies throughout the year, the aurora season is the only time that skies are dark and clear enough to view the stunning natural phenomenon. The Fairbanks region is commonly considered to be the best place in the world to view the spectacular colored lights display, attracting spectators from around the United States and the world for viewing experiences. Visitors can drive to popular vantage points around the city and its surrounding region or take guided lights-viewing excursions to view lights from heated aurorium cabins, yurts, and lodges. Dog-sledding and ice-fishing adventures also offer opportunities to view lights from wilderness recreation areas.
6.The BLM Campbell Creek Science Center
The BLM Campbell Creek Science Center offers a plethora of educational opportunities for families and visitors of all ages, providing access to area wilderness areas as an outdoor classroom for continued science and nature education. The Center's 730-acre Campbell Tract Facility showcases a variety of beautiful creek, forest, and meadow habitats, which are home to abundant native flora and fauna. More than 40,000 annual visitors participate in delightful nature programming meant to spark curiosity and build a connection with nature, led by enthusiastic nature center guides. Programming includes early morning bird walks, evening science programs, team-building activities, and orienteering courses. Many programs are free and open to the general public throughout the year, some requiring advance registration.
5600 Science Center Dr, Anchorage, AK 99507, Phone: 907-267-1247
7.Downtown Juneau Historic Walking Tours
Downtown Juneau Historic Walking Tours offer opportunities for self-guided exploration of Juneau's lovely downtown district via maps available at any of the city's four welcome centers. Highlights of the city's historic and cultural legacy are designated with three-sided blue historic signposts, which are scattered throughout the city's downtown district. On the city's waterfront, visitors can explore areas such as the beautiful Marine Park Plaza, which is home to a memorial dedicated to area fishers who have lost their lives at sea. The city's South Franklin area is home to some of the region's oldest establishments, including historic taverns from its early gold mining era. Front Street is home to Juneau's oldest bar, while Seward Street contains the Valentine Building, dating back to 1913 and connected to one of the city's first mayors. Other attractions on the tour route include free-admission attractions such as the Alaska State Capitol Building and the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church.
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8.Eagle River Nature Center
© jon manjeot/stock.adobe.com
Eagle River Nature Center is located approximately 40 minutes outside of downtown Anchorage, serving as a gateway to lovely Chugach State Park and its surrounding stunning glacial river valley. The center was originally constructed in the 1960s as the Paradise Haven Lodge, a popular area bar and steakhouse. Today, it serves as the official visitor center for the state park, open to the public year-round and offering more than 10 miles of hiking trails for visitor use. Visitors can trek the easy three-mile Albert Loop nature walk or hike an additional five miles up-valley for a beautiful vantage point of waterfalls and dramatic 3,000-foot cliffs. Guided nature programming is offered by the center throughout the year for visitors of all ages, with most programs free with advance registration.
32750 Eagle River Rd, Eagle River, AK 99577, Phone: 907-694-2108
9.Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park
ort Abercrombie State Historical Park, also known as Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site, is a lovely 182-acre Alaska state park located on beautiful Kodiak Island, at the edge of picturesque Miller Point on the island's eastern shores. The park, which is named in honor of United States Army officer and early Alaska explorer Lieutenant Colonel William R. Abercrombie, was established in 1969 to protect the remains of significant World War II-era fortifications. The fort, which was constructed in 1941 and abandoned following the end of the war, saw no action during conflict but preserves gun emplacements, foundational building remains, and underground magazines. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970 and is designated as part of a larger National Historic Landmark also protecting the Kodiak Naval Operating Base and Fort Greely. Hiking trails are offered at the park, along with areas for day-use picnics and overnight tent camping.
Miller Point, Kodiak, AK 99615
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Hiking in Alaska is a wilderness experience like no other, offering unparalleled opportunities to see some of the United States' most rugged and undeveloped natural terrain and spectacular natural wonders. More than 250 miles of hiking trails are easily accessible via the city of Juneau alone, providing chances for hikers to get up close and personal with the state's majestic mountain, forest, and meadow landscapes and historic mining ruins from its gold rush era. Though the state is known for its rugged wilderness routes and extreme hiking experiences, many trails also offer easy access for visitors of all ages and ability levels, including wheelchair-accessible and stroller-accessible walks. Downtown Juneau-area trails include the three-mile Perseverance Trail, which showcases the ruins of the 1885 Perseverance Mine, and the Mount Roberts Trail, which provides a chance to hike to a spectacular summit.
11.The Jensen-Olson Arboretum
The Jensen-Olson Arboretum is the premiere public garden of Southeast Alaska, showcasing the state's national primrose collection. The garden, which is located along the shores of Juneau's gorgeous Pearl Harbor, was donated to the city by Caroline Jensen and opened to the public in 2007. Today, it has evolved into a major living laboratory and botanical destination, showcasing more than 1,200 native and cultivated plant species. It is protected by a conservation easement overseen by the Southeast Alaska Land Trust, striving to inspire generations of Alaskans and area visitors to enjoy the natural sciences and the art of horticulture. Lovely garden areas include an interactive wood garden showcasing rocks engraved with English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Tlingit words, allowing visitors to create their own interactive garden poetry and messages.
23035 Glacier Hwy, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-789-0139
12.Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area
Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, also known as Sitaantaagu, is a 5,815-acre federally-designated unit within the majestic Tongass National Forest, anchored around the stunning glacier of the same name, which stretches for approximately 13.6 miles throughout the Mendenhall Valley. The park, which is located approximately 12 miles outside of downtown Juneau, offers an opportunity to enter into the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Ice Field, one of the most significant remnants of the last Ice Age. Visitors can explore the unique river of ice and view a plethora of native wildlife on display, including black bears, bald eagles, beavers, porcupines, and seasonally-migrating Arctic terns. A number of hiking trails traverse the recreational area, traveling to area salmon streams and cascading waterfalls. For a nominal fee, the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center showcases state-of-the-art exhibits and documentary film showings.
8510 Mendenhall Loop Rd, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-789-0097
Potter Marsh is a lovely birding and wildlife watching spot along the southern edge of the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, accessible from Anchorage via the Seward Highway. The marsh area offers stunning views of Turnagain Arm and provides unparalleled opportunities to view migrating birds and waterfowl in season between April and September. Visitors can view populations of Canada geese, red-necked phalaropes, horned grebes, northern pintails, and canvasback ducks in their natural habitats or spot eagle nests within the cottonwood trees at the base of the marsh's nearby bluffs. Between May and August, Arctic terns, yellowlegs, and trumpeter swans are also in migratory season. A lovely 1,550-foot wooden boardwalk traverses throughout the marsh for easy exploration.
2999 E 154th Ave, Anchorage, AK 99516
14.St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church
© Nenad Basic/stock.adobe.com
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church is a National Register of Historic Places-listed Orthodox church that was constructed in Juneau's downtown district in 1893. Today, it enjoys the distinction of being Southeast Alaska's oldest continually-operating Orthodox structure, operating today under the supervision of the Diocese of Alaska of the Orthodox Church in America. The church's unique history is strongly intertwined with the region's native Tlingit indigenous people, many of whom embraced Eastern Orthodox Christianity during the region's period of occupation by Russian settlers in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The church's lovely architecture can be viewed as part of self-guided tours throughout the week, showcasing original design elements constructed by Orthodox-worshipping Tlinglit and Serbian gold miners. A charming bookstore sells Russian nesting dolls, historic clergy photography, and St. Nicholas-related souvenirs.
326 5th St, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-586-1023
15.The Juneau Memorial Library
The Juneau Memorial Library offers three branches throughout the Borough of Juneau, including a downtown Juneau Public Library location on the city's picturesque waterfront, the Mendenhall Valley Public Library in Dimond Park, and the Douglas Public Library within the city's charming Douglas Community Building. The library system strives to promote lifelong learning for area residents and visitors and provide free access to shared resources and community programming. Services focus on underserved members of the region's population, including Alaska Natives and non-English speakers. In addition to library services, the libraries also host a plethora of free and nominal admission events throughout the year, including children's storytime events, lectures, book readings, and community workshops.
292 Marine Way, Juneau, AK 99801, Phone: 907-586-5249
16.Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park is a lovely national historic park overseen by the National Park Service, commemorating the cultural and social history of the late 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush, which stampeded the Yukon Territory in search of precious metals. Four units of the park are preserved today, after the joining of the park's lands with the nearby Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site, Dawson Historical Complex National Historic Site, and the Thirty-Mile Stretch of the Yukon River. Three units are located within the Municipality of Skagway Borough, including the preserved White Pass and Yukon Route Railway Broadway Depot, which serves as the park's visitor center. Other preserved attractions include the White Pass Yukon Route Railway Administration Building, the 1902 Martin Itjen's House, the Pantheon and Mascot Saloons, and the Pacific Clipper Line Office building.
291 Broadway, Skagway, AK 99840, Phone: 907-983-9200
17.Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
Tony Knowles Coastal Trail is a lovely 11-mile hiking trail that traverses the gorgeous coastline of the city of Anchorage, open to walkers, joggers, hikers, rollerbladers, and cyclists throughout the year. The trail is named in honor of former Alaska Governor Tony Knowles, who served in the state's executive branch between 1981 and 1987. It stretches between downtown Anchorage's Second Avenue and nearby Kincaid Park, paved for two-way non-motorized traffic throughout its route. Along its route, the trail provides unparalleled views of the city's downtown skyline, as well as views of area natural wonders like Mount McKinley, the Chugach Mountains, and Fire Island. Throughout the winter months, the trail is a popular site for skijoring and cross-country skiing. Each year, it hosts the annual Tour of Anchorage cross-country skiing marathon.
18.Yakutania Point and Smugglers Cove
Yakutania Point and Smugglers Cove is a popular out-and-back trail route near the city of Skagway, offering excellent scenic hiking experiences for hikers of all ages and ability levels. The charming 1.4-mile route is popular with walkers, joggers, and cyclists throughout the warmer months between May and October, following along the city's picturesque coastline northward toward Dyea. Scenic Yakutania Point, accessible via the trail, provides unparalleled ocean views and opportunities to see native wildlife. On the route further toward Smuggler's Cove, visitors can explore a lovely mixed coastal forest area. Day-use picnic shelters are offered at Smuggler's Cove, a gorgeous grassy tidal inlet area.
18 Best Free Things to Do in Alaska
- The Alaska State Capitol Building, Photo: Demerzel21/stock.adobe.com
- The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers Museum, Photo: The Fraternal Order of Alaska State Troopers Museum
- Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center, Photo: Anchorage Alaska Public Lands Information Center
- Anchorage Market and Festival, Photo: neotemlpars106/stock.adobe.com
- Aurora Borealis Season, Photo: Elizabeth/stock.adobe.com
- The BLM Campbell Creek Science Center, Photo: Halfpoint/stock.adobe.com
- Downtown Juneau Historic Walking Tours, Photo: maxipiotro/stock.adobe.com
- Eagle River Nature Center, Photo: jon manjeot/stock.adobe.com
- Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, Photo: daniking/stock.adobe.com
- Hiking, Photo: Charles/stock.adobe.com
- The Jensen-Olson Arboretum, Photo: ChrWeiss/stock.adobe.com
- Mendenhall Glacier Recreation Area, Photo: adfoto/stock.adobe.com
- Potter Marsh, Photo: jayyuan/stock.adobe.com
- St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Photo: Nenad Basic/stock.adobe.com
- The Juneau Memorial Library, Photo: Pixel-Shot/stock.adobe.com
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Photo: jefwod/stock.adobe.com
- Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Photo: zaikina/stock.adobe.com
- Yakutania Point and Smugglers Cove, Photo: MollyP/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: emperorcosar/stock.adobe.com