If you are searching for what Alaska is known for, you are in the right place. Alaska is famous for being the largest state in the US offering diverse wildlife, rugged wilderness beauty, and plenty of outdoor adventures that, if not yet, should put Alaska at the top of your bucket list!
Alaska is known for its dramatic landscape, being home to around 100,000 glaciers, with 34,000 miles of coastline, the midnight sun, and one of the best places in the world to catch the Northern Lights. And this list of what Alaska is known for can go on and on…
After having done plenty of research prior to my perfect road trip to Alaska, and slowly discovering the best of this fascinating state, I am here to share with you the top 20 things Alaska is famous for. This article will take you through what this dream destination is best known for. So, without any further ado, let’s explore what Alaska is famous for!
If you are planning an Alaska Itinerary, these are a must-read:
- A Perfect Alaska Itinerary + Map
- Ultimate Alaska Bucket List: 22 Experiences you need to do!
- 21 Fun Facts About Alaska that you will love to know!
- What to Pack for Alaska + FREE Printable
What is Alaska Known for?
1. The Unique Geography
One of the things that Alaska is famous for is its unique geography! Although it’s one of America’s 50 states it’s actually separated from the rest of the continental US by British Columbia in Canada. It’s also bordered by the Canadian territory of Yukon to the East!
What’s even more interesting about Alaska’s geography is that nearly one-third of the state lies within the Arctic Circle. This makes it a very special travel destination and is part of the reason why Alaska is on so many bucket lists.
Something else to know about this incredible state is that it’s got the longest coastline in the United States. Alaska is home to over 66,000 miles of coastline which stretches from the Arctic Ocean in the North to the Pacific Ocean in the South.
2. Epic Road Trips
Another thing Alaska is known for is its epic road trips! Whether you’re looking to admire the state’s impressive coastline or you’d prefer to hit the mountains, having your own vehicle is by far the best way to get around.
The most popular road is the Alaskan Highway which begins at Dawson Creek in British Columbia and then ends at Delta Junction. At 1,387 miles long and 4,250 feet at its highest point, it’s no wonder that this highway is one of the most famous roads in the world!
Other great spots for an epic road trip include:
- Check my Perfect Alaska Road Trip Itinerary from Anchorage to Seward
- The Seward Highway
- The Top of the World Highway
- The George Parks Highway
- The Glacier Highway
- The Glenn Highway
Read More: The Perfect Alaska Road Trip Itinerary
3. Alaskan Cruises
No trip to Alaska is complete without heading out on a cruise! Whether you’re looking to spot wildlife, admire glaciers up close, or take in the breathtaking scenery; a cruise is one of the best ways to explore this beautiful state.
There are two options when it comes to cruising; you can either head out on a cruise that lasts a couple of weeks or you can take day cruises instead. For longer trips, there are a couple of reputable companies including Princess Cruises, Royal Caribbean, and Celebrity Cruises.
When it comes to day trips, the best places to go on a cruise include Homer, Juneau, Prince William Sound, and Kenai Fjords National Park. Ketchikan and Portage are two other fantastic options!
4. The Vast Wilderness
Alaska is the largest U.S state in America covering a monumental area of around 665,000 square miles! To travel from the East to the West you’ll need to cover a distance of 2,400 miles so as you can see – this state is enormous.
Although Alaska is known for its size, you might be surprised to learn that a huge percentage of the state is actually untouched wilderness. Unlike other states in the U.S, Alaska’s infrastructure and civilization are relatively isolated which is part of the reason why you’ll find so much wildlife here.
In fact, Alaska has over 57 million acres of designated wilderness areas and much of this can be found within the state’s protected national parks.
5. The Midnight Sun
There are plenty of things that Alaska is known for, but not many people tend to think of the Midnight Sun! The Midnight Sun is a natural phenomenon that occurs in areas North of the Arctic Circle during the summer months. During this time, the sun doesn’t seem to set meaning Alaska gets several weeks of uninterrupted sunlight.
One of the best places to experience this is the city of Fairbanks, as it’s known as ‘the Land of the Midnight Sun. If you don’t mind traveling further north then you can also head to Barrow which is the northernmost town in Alaska.
Barrow is located 330 miles North of the Arctic Circle and experiences over 80 days of the midnight sun. This means when the sun rises in May it doesn’t set for nearly three months which is crazy!
6. It has the Largest US city
A very interesting fact about Alaska is that it is home to the largest city in the United States! Juneau is the state’s capital and covers an impressive 3,108 square miles. Known for its spectacular scenery, abundant wildlife, and adventure – Juneau is a city that you don’t want to miss whilst traveling to Alaska.
However, it’s important to note that Juneau isn’t accessible by car as there’s no road access to the rest of the state. It’s the only capital city in America that’s situated on the mainland but can only be reached by plane or boat.
This is due to the Juneau Icefield which is the size of Rhode Island. This icefield makes it impossible to build a road in this area making the city inaccessible overland.
Read More: Bucket List to Visit in Alaska
7. Alaska is known for its Adventures
So what is Alaska known for? We’ve already discussed some of the awesome things this state is famous for but one thing you’re guaranteed if you travel here is an adventure!
Whether you’re a keen adrenaline junkie or you’re happy to enjoy your trip in a more leisurely way, Alaska has something for everyone! For the adventurers out there, this state offers plenty of exhilarating activities including flightseeing, ATV tours, rafting, ziplining, or go hiking in Denali National Park.
For those not so keen to get involved in those types of activities you’ve got plenty of other options too. Wildlife cruises are popular here and you’ll find plenty of fantastic hiking trails in Alaska that don’t require too much exertion, such as the incredible Exit Glacier Hike. No matter your preference, you’re in for the adventure of a lifetime!
Culture & History Alaska is Famous for
8. Alaska was bought from Russia
What many people don’t know about Alaska is that it was actually bought from Russia! Originally, the state was unexplored in 1867 but was still owned by the largest country in the world.
The Europeans first discovered the state of Alaska in 1741 when the Danish explorer Vitus Bering sighted it on his long voyage from Siberia. The first settlement here was established by Russian whalers and fur traders on Kodiak Island in 1784, which is crazy to think about.
The Secretary of State William Seward arranged for the state’s purchase from the Russians for $7,200,000 (about two cents per acre). The purchase was widely ridiculed as “Seward’s Folly”, but today Alaska still stands as the largest state in the U.S.
9. The people
Another thing Alaska is known for is the people! With over 10,000 years of human history, it’s no surprise that the locals play a HUGE part in the importance of this state!
However, although Alaska is the largest state in the U.S it’s estimated that there are only around 730,000 people that live here. To put that into comparison, Rhode Island is by far the smallest state in America and yet it’s got a population of 1.1 million!
As a large part of Alaska is wilderness it’s no surprise to learn that over half of the state’s population can be found in the cities of Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau.
Another thing to know about the Alaskan people is that they’re very nice and will always go out of their way to help you! If you are interested, you can learn about the native cultures by joining a private shore excursion, this tour is completely flexible and can be tailored to your group’s interests.
10. The Alaska Natives
Like many other destinations in the world, Alaska has a rich indigenous culture! No trip to this spectacular state is complete without learning about the Alaskan culture and heritage, but luckily there are plenty of opportunities for this.
Alaska’s indigenous people, who are jointly called Alaska Natives, can be divided into five major groupings: Aleuts, Northern Eskimos (Inupiat), Southern Eskimos (Yuit), Interior Indians (Athabascans) and Southeast Coastal Indians (Tlingit and Haida).
Today, only around 15% of the state’s residents are Alaskan natives but they still play an important role regarding Alaska’s heritage. With 20 different cultures and around 300 dialects, there’s a lot to learn about which is part of the fun!
Some of the best ways to get involved in Alaskan culture are by learning about Alaskan crafts, listening to the stories that have been passed down by elders, and witnessing totem carvings.
11. The Trans-Alaskan pipeline
Although not the most scenic of attractions to visit, the Trans-Alaskan pipeline plays an important part in Alaska’s development. Construction on this iconic pipeline began in 1975 and it cost around $8 billion to complete! Around 70,000 construction workers were involved in the project too.
The Trans-Alaskan pipeline is used to connect Valdez Habor with the oil fields of Northern Alaska; more specifically Prudhoe Bay. This means the oil has to travel around 800 miles from one to the other which is pretty impressive.
The best place to view this famous Alaskan attraction is just outside the city of Fairbanks. There’s a viewpoint here so make sure you visit the pipeline during your trip!
Read More: 24 Things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska
12. The Gold Rush
What is Alaska known for? Well, this beautiful state is well-known for the Klondike Gold Rush Era. This Gold Rush lasted between 1896-1899 and brought an influx of around 100,000 people to Alaska and the neighboring Canadian state of Yukon. Since then, Alaska has contributed billions of dollars worth of products to the U.S. economy.
When gold was first discovered along the Klondike River, news spread rapidly and people from all over came to find their ‘riches’. However, many people encountered extreme hardship instead as the routes to Klondike weren’t for the faint-hearted.
After a couple of years, the gold rush towns started to decline and some disappeared altogether!
Nature & Wildlife that Alaska is famous for
13. The largest national park in the U.S
The United States has 63 national parks in total and the biggest can be found here in Alaska. Wrangell-St. Elias National Park covers an area of 13.2 million acres and runs from the ocean all the way up to some of the state’s highest mountain ranges. This national park is larger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Switzerland combined so as you can imagine it’s HUGE!
You’ll find eight national parks in Alaska and seven of these make it onto the list of America’s ‘Top 10’ largest national parks. In second place after Wrangell-St. Elias you’ve got Gates of the Arctic National Park that covers an area of 8.5 million acres.
You’ve then got Denali National Park which covers 6.1 million acres. Other Alaskan national parks that make it onto the list include Katmai, Glacier Bay, Gates of the Article and the Kenai Fjords (home to the epic Exit Glacier Hike) are just a few of the many famous national parks in Alaska!
Read More: 10 Best Things to do in Denali National Park
14. Alaska is famous for its wildlife
Alaska is famous for its incredible wildlife and that’s the main reason that many people travel to this isolated wilderness! The state has its own ‘Big 5’ which is made up of bears, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, and wolves. If you’re lucky, you might get to spot lynx and snowshoe hares too among other creatures!
Not only that, but Alaska is famous for its whale watching. The best season for it is between May and September, and there are a variety of species you can see. This includes beluga whales, humpback whales, gray whales, and killer whales among others.
Some of the best places for wildlife-watching in Alaska include Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Prince William Sound, and Glacier Bay National Park.
Speaking of wildlife…
Now let’s talk about the ultimate bucket list in Alaska and the reason many visit the state!
Alaska has an enormous population of bears and you’ve got a great chance of spotting them when you’re exploring the state. It’s estimated that there’s 1 bear for every 21 people here which is insane!
You’ll find both black and brown bears, commonly known as grizzly bears. Grizzly bears tend to live in the mountains whilst brown bears primarily live along the coast so keep that in mind. If you are traveling up north of Alaska, you will also have the chance to see the infamous Polar Bears!
June to September is the best time to spot bears in Alaska and there are a couple of places where you can increase your chances. This includes Denali National Park, Katmai National Park, and Kodiak Island. There are some designed tours that you can take to see bears from a close distance, such as this one. Or if you are visiting Anchorage, I highly recommend visiting the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
16. The Aurora Borealis
Alaska is one of the best places in the world to spot the Aurora Borealis as they’re otherwise known! This is due to low precipitation levels and the state’s position under the Auroral Oval.
One of the best places to spot the Aurora Borealis in Alaska is the city of Fairbanks. The Aurora Borealis can be seen 243 days of the year here, with the main Aurora season running from August to April. During this time, the Northern Lights are spotted four out of five nights on average which is great odds!
Seeing this natural phenomenon is a bucket list in Alaska and a once-in-a-lifetime experience as is something you’ll never forget! Just be prepared for late evenings and make sure you wear plenty of layers too.
I recommend joining a tour like this one, as they will really take you to the right location, at the right time and guide you through, increasing the chances to catch the best lights. Also, they will help you with your camera and the adjustments you may need to capture the best shots.
17. The tallest mountain in North America
Alaska is home to the tallest mountain in North America – Denali or Mount Mckinley as it’s often called. As the name suggests, this epic mountain is located in Denali National Park and reaches a height of 20,310 ft (6,190 meters). This makes it the third-highest mountain out of the world’s seven summits.
Mount Denali is situated within the Alaskan Range and was formed due to tectonic uplift over 60 million years ago! It’s often referred to as the ‘centerpiece’ of Denali National Park and if you get a clear day, it’s not hard to see why!
If you’re not up for climbing Denali then there are plenty of awesome viewpoints that you can visit instead. This includes Stony Hill Overlook, Eielson Visitor Center, Talkeetna, and the George Parks Highway.
Or you can book a flight and be able to wind between the Denali peaks for an experience of a lifetime!
18. The Alaskan Lakes
One of the best things to do in Alaska is to chase the lakes! When thinking of gorgeous lakes in North America, it’s often Canada that first comes to mind. However, Alaska is home to over 3 million lakes so you really are spoilt for choice!
These lakes all vary in size and altitude with some of them being found at over 1,000 meters above sea level. Only around 3,000 of these lakes have been officially named and many of them are found within the state’s spectacular national parks.
One of the most popular lakes in Alaska is Lake Clark which attracts thousands of visitors every year! Other lakes you’ll want to include on your itinerary are Kenai Lake, Mendenhall Lake, Portage Lake, and Wonder Lake!
19. The Glaciers
If there’s one thing that Alaska is known for it’s glaciers! It’s estimated that there are around 27,000 glaciers in Alaska and one-quarter of these glaciers are located within the state’s national parks.
Some of the most popular glaciers in Alaska include Exit Glacier, Knik Glacier, Matanuska Glacier, and Mendenhall Glacier. You can also take a cruise through Prince William Sound where you’ll encounter endless glaciers! There are hiking trails to reach some of these glaciers (or get views of them at least), but others will require a flightseeing experience or a boat/kayaking trip.
Unfortunately, due to climate change, these glaciers are shrinking more rapidly than anywhere else in the world. This means they are always changing in shape and size.
Read More: How to visit the Exit Glacier in Alaska
20. Alaskan Salmon
Last but not least on this incredible list of what Alaska is known for, and what makes many of us think of Alaska!
If you’re wondering why there are so many bears in Alaska it’s because there’s so much salmon! There are five types in total; chinook salmon, chum salmon, coho salmon, pink salmon, and sockeye salmon.
They are found throughout the state and luckily there are plenty of awesome places you can see them! This includes Eagle River Nature Center, Indian Creek, and Williwaw Fish Viewing Platform which is located in Portage Valley. Katmai National Park is another fantastic place to spot salmon which is why you’ve got a great chance of seeing bears too.
If you’re wanting guaranteed salmon sightings then you can always head to one of the state’s many salmon hatcheries! Some of the most popular hatcheries include William Jack Hernandez Fish Hatchery, Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, and the Solomon Gulch Hatchery in Valdez (see how excited I am in the picture below learning all about Salmons).
Things Alaska is Known For Conclusion
There are many reasons why Alaska is famous, and that will make you fall in love with the last frontier. Alaska is famous for its vast wilderness, amazing wildlife, and stunning landscapes. Alaska also is known for its unique geography and history, as well as the fact it is the largest State of the United States and is separated from the rest of the country.
All the unique things about Alaska keep attracting visitors from all over the world, and in fact, 2.26 million people visited Alaska just last year!
I really recommend you take a trip to Alaska and find out for yourself, the things that Alaska is known for. But before you travel to Alaska, make sure you plan and prepare in advance.
Here are some articles you will love about Alaska:
- Ultimate Alaska Itinerary – A perfect road trip in Alaska
- 21 Fun and Interesting Facts About Alaska
- 22 Bucket List Things to do in Alaska
- What to pack for Alaska + FREE printable packing list
- 24 Things to do in Fairbanks, Alaska
- 30 Things to do in Seward, Alaska
- 21 Things to do in Valdez, Alaska
- How to Hike Exit Glacier in Alaska: Complete Guide
- Denali Complete visitors guide
- The Most Amazing Things to do in Denali National Park
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