And with the coolest average summer temperatures of any US state, it’s a great place to escape the heat.
From kayaking alongside orcas to watching bears on Kodiak Island, brewery visits in Fairbanks to discovering the remarkable indigenous culture, here are nine ways to make the most of an Alaskan summer.
Walk on a glacier
Prince William Sound is home to 150 glaciers, including 17 tidewater glaciers.
Optional landings, depending on weather conditions, even allow visitors to walk on some glaciers.
Ride the rails
Alaska Railroad is a key means of getting around the vast state — and routes are incredibly scenic, too.
Alaska may be two and a half times the size of Texas, but it has only as many miles of road as Rhode Island, meaning that the iconic Alaska Railroad is a key lifeline to get around the state. The famed yellow and blue trains follow a number of routes, with the main line running 470 miles from Seward to Fairbanks.
Bear watching on Kodiak Island
Alaska’s most famous bears are a brown subspecies, ursus arctos middendorffi — better known as Kodiak bears.
These massive animals can stand 10 feet tall and weigh more than 1,500 pounds, matching polar bears for size. They’ve thrived since the last ice age thanks to Kodiak Island’s pristine environment and abundant food including salmon, shellfish and berries.
Unsurprisingly, the best opportunities to view them come at salmon streams, notably from July through September. Options include the Saltery River, but you’ll need to be in a four-wheeler, or from Russian River Bridge on the Chiniak Highway. Alternatively, Frazer Lake is accessible by floatplane and boasts a very high chance of spotting them.
Fairbanks brewery tour — and samples
The city of Fairbanks boasts 70 days in the summer where the sun shines pretty much 24/7, a period when farmers markets, food trucks and local breweries come into their own.
That turns into brews including the crisp German Kölsch, a Citra Pale Ale or HooDoo Stout with chocolate and coffee notes amongst the roasted barley. In the tasting room, visitors are entitled to no more than two beers each, but more are available to take away.
The thriving local food truck scene rotates offerings to hungry patrons drinking al fresco.
The northern lights are a sought-after spectacle in Alaska.
Admittedly this is a late-summer event, but aurora season kicks off from August 21 and runs through the end of April, bringing with it chances to catch the extraordinary nocturnal display of the northern lights.
If visitors stay for three nights in a row and head out late night or early morning, there’s a 90% chance they’ll catch the spectacle that tops the bucket list of countless global visitors hitting the 49th state.
Days at the museum
In Fairbanks, the museum’s collections extend to a mind-bending 1.5 million specimens and artifacts, grouped into disciplines including ethnology and history, earth sciences and fine arts. A 50,0000-year old mummified bison named “Blue Babe,” two millennia of Alaskan art and special exhibits and events are just some of the draws.
Down in Anchorage, the city’s eponymous museum delivers a compelling collection of permanent and temporary exhibitions that trace the state’s history.
Alaska native traditions
Traditional dwellings surround a lake at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.
Exhibits, workshops and demonstrations allow for understanding of the rich mosaic of indigenous cultures, so you may find yourself listening to traditional Athabascan music and stories or learning about Aleut native games in the center’s Gathering Place.
Outside in the museum’s 26 acres of wooded grounds, a series of dwellings around Lake Tiulana demonstrate ingenious approaches to living within some of the planet’s harshest environments.
Kayaking by orcas
South of the capital Juneau, near the border with British Columbia, Orcas Cove is the aptly named spot near Ketchikan where visitors may be lucky enough to catch the magnificent spectacle of pods of orcas, also known as killer whales, visiting during salmon season.
Their tours are deliberately small and personal with never more than six guests, while they also run free and low-cost programs for local organizations.
Chena Hot Springs
Chena Hot Springs is still a great spot in summer, when evening lows in the 50s are typical.
Courtesy Chena Hot Springs Resort
Finally, a dip is a welcome diversion regardless of the weather at a natural hot springs a couple of hours from Fairbanks. That’s because the Chena Hot Springs are a constant 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
Today the outdoor hot springs are for adults only, but indoor swimming pools, hot tubs, restaurants, riding and more are available for all.
Toward the end of summer, a whole new experience awaits in the form of watching the northern lights — from the comfort and warmth of a naturally heated pool.
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