Alaska is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful states in the United States, filled with so many incredible activities and views. Fortunately, a lot of those come for free! I’ve put together this list of 30 free things to do in Alaska based on my own experiences!
Alaska had been on my bucket list for ages, so I was grateful to finally be able to visit!
Though Alaska can be expensive (particularly when it comes to lodging and dining), there are also tons of free things to do in Alaska!
From hiking and exploring to glaciers and waterfalls, we absolutely loved these 30 things!
1. See the Northern Lights
I have to put this first because I had been wanting to see the northern lights for ages! It’s amazing that such a magical experience can be free!
Northern lights are undeniably one of the most artistic displays nature has to offer. It’s no wonder they’re at the top of so many bucket lists, and one of the best free things to do in Alaska!
The neon glow illuminating the sky triggers something in us: curiosity, awe, amazement, and more. So it comes as no surprise that thousands of travelers venture out to Alaska specifically to chase the Aurora every year.
Why Alaska? Well, it is one of the best places to spot the Aurora in the northern hemisphere!
In fact, if you visit Alaska in winter, on a cold, dark night with a clear sky, you have great odds of seeing the aurora borealis at least twice in a week.
Of course, some locations offer better views than others. And ideally, the further you move from the coast the better.
If you’re looking for the best place to chase the northern lights in Alaska, Fairbanks is a firm favorite.
In fact, it’s known as the best place to see the northern lights in the United States! This is because the town is located directly under the northern lights oval (aka the huge Geomagnetic ring that surrounds the North Pole).
Other great places for aurora borealis viewing in Alaska include Talkeetna, Denali National Park, and Murphy Dome.
2. Drive the Seward Scenic Highway
Linking Seward and Anchorage, this 127-mile byway sprawls through some of the most astounding scenery in Alaska.
The highway winds through a landscape of towering peaks, alpine valleys, frigid glaciers, and saltwater bays.
In addition to breathtaking views, the highway offers great opportunities to spot Alaskan wildlife.
Although you can cover the entire route within 3 hours, you might need to set aside at least 5 hours to make sure you don’t miss out on any appealing pull-outs.
Some interesting spots along the highway include Turnagain Arm, Beluga Point, and so many more.
While the drive itself is free, you’ll need a rental car if you’re visiting Alaska.
To help offset that cost, I partnered with Thrifty Car Rentals to give you a discount code! Use promo code 101247 through September 2022 for 10% off your Thrifty car rental!!
(I don’t get anything from you using that code, it’s purely to help you get a rental car discount!)
3. Harding Icefield Hike
Located at the heart of the massive Kenai Fjords National Park, the Harding Icefield Hike leads you to a viewpoint of the 700 square mile (read: HUGE!) icefield.
And as far as hikes go, the fact that this hike is free to do makes it all that much more epic!
The trail is adjacent to the Exit Glacier. It offers unrivaled views of Exit Glacier, snowcapped mountains, meadows, valleys, and of course, the Harding Icefield.
The 8.2-mile trail is 20 miles from the port town of Seward and makes for a great day hike.
(There is a campground if you plan on extending your stay overnight.)
So how hard is this hike?
It’s important to note that the trail is a bit strenuous, gaining 1,000 feet in elevation for every mile you climb!
But for amazing views of Exit Glacier and the start of the Harding Icefield, you don’t even have to hike all the way to the top. (We didn’t!)
There are awesome viewpoints just a few miles into the hike where you can enjoy undisrupted views of Exit Glacier. Learn about where to find them and more on my guide to the Harding Icefield Hike!
This might just be one of the most strenuous free things to do in Alaska, but it’s worth it for the views!
4. Walk Around Seward (and Any of Alaska’s Charming Towns!)
This will come as no surprise: walking is free!
And this charming Alaskan town is perfect for walking!
The charming town of Seward is a wonderful experience whether you want to enjoy harbor views or simply stroll around the streets.
Located on the southern part of Alaska on the Kenai Peninsula, right at the start of Resurrection Bay, Seward is known for its bustling harbor, captivating shops, and as a gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park.
In summer when the weather is mild, Seward is a hotspot for lots of outdoor activities including hiking, kayaking, and glacier walks.
The town comes to life with tourists eager to spot migrating whales that frequent the bay.
Some other Alaskan towns that are great for walking include Anchorage, Homer, Valdez, Fairbanks, Juneau, and more!
5. Go Fishing
My husband and I are not big fishers (as in we never would go fishing for fun!), but so many people visit Alaska to do just that!
Fishing is huge in Alaska, with some of the best fishing in the world located along its coast and rivers.
One spot that is neat for fishing is right at the Visitor Center in Soldotna.
Located south of Anchorage at the junction of Kenai Spur and Sterling Highways, Soldotna is the heart of Kenai Peninsula and it’s a famous hub for its world-class fishing.
In fact, in 1985, a 97.2-pound salmon was plucked from the Kenai River. To date, this is still one of the largest king salmon in the world to ever be caught!
Thanks to this, thousands of tourists stream into the sleepy town of Soldotna hoping to catch the largest trout or salmon from the Kenai River.
And although summer is the most popular time to go fishing, you can try your hand at ice fishing come winter!
6. Visit Portage Lake
Visiting lakes make for some great free things to do in Alaska.
And with a backdrop of multiple glaciers in the surrounding mountains, Portage Lake is one of the most majestic lakes near Anchorage!
(Check out its icy-blue-gray glacier water in this photo! Those blues are true to life and make the lake such an intriguing color! And behind me you can see Shakespeare Glacier.)
The lake is just a short drive from Anchorage and offers enough activities to fill up an entire day.
Though taking a boat tour across the iceberg-dotted lake isn’t free, walking along the trails is! You can take in the views from a distance on the shores of Portage Lake.
We explored Portage Lake on our very first full day in Alaska and were amazed by its beauty.
Somehow, my husband and I were the only people there, and it felt like we were privy to just how pristine the nature in Alaska is.
7. Explore Kenai Lake
This 22-mile long body of water is one of the largest glacier-fed lakes in the Kenai Peninsula.
It’s easily accessible from both the Seward Highway and the Sterling Highway.
If you’re looking for a beauty-filled adventure, this lake has plenty of surprises in store.
You can try out different water activities including kayaking and fishing, but it’s the background of the surrounding scenery that leaves you with an unforgettable experience- and is completely free to enjoy!
Remember how I said my husband and I had Portage Lake all to ourselves? Well, somehow we had Kenai Lake all to ourselves too! (Or at least it seemed that way at the spot from which we accessed the lake).
Not another soul was in sight, perhaps due to the impending rain!
Being there was such a romantic experience!
8. Drive Around Denali Until You Can’t Go Any Further
The majestic Denali National Park and Preserve is often the peak of every visitor’s trip to Alaska (pun intended).
The park spreads across six million acres of lakes, towering peaks, and tundra. And of course, you can’t miss Mount Denali itself, the tallest peak in North America!
(Rather, you can miss it, if it’s super cloudy the day you visit, like it was for us. Because of clouds, locals say there’s only about a 10% chance of actually seeing Denali’s peak. We’ll just have to return next year to see Denali in all its glory!)
Back to driving in the park: with only one road winding around the area, chances of getting lost are pretty slim.
However, with a private vehicle, you can only drive up to mile 15 between mid-May and September.
But, that’s far enough to enjoy lush vegetation, majestic ridges, and wildlife spotting.
We captured the image above in early September, so if you visit in that time frame, you’ll even get to see the start of Alaska’s fall colors!
9. Chase Wildflowers
Although Alaska is known as a place of glaciers and snow, it’s a very different landscape come summertime!
Most visitors travel to Alaska in the late spring and summertime, which is the peak season for wildflowers. And trust me, Alaska comes to life when the state is blossoming with wildflowers!
From moss campion to blue harebells, the wildflowers bloom along highways and meadows.
Ideally, late June is perfect if you want to see some lupine and dandelions.
For daisies and fireweed, they’re vibrant around the end of July. We got this photo with fireweed on a pull-off near Homer at the end of August!
10. See Icebergs at Valdez Glacier Lake
This is one of my favorite free things to do in Alaska!
Although unfortunately, the glacier itself has receded quite a bit, you can still enjoy the serenity and beauty that Valdez Glacier Lake offers.
Depending on when you visit, there’s a chance you’ll see icebergs on the lake, particularly at the end of summer.
And bonus: somehow this magical lake rarely has crowds!
If you want to go kayaking, you can actually kayak right up to the glacier for some surreal views.
11. Take in the Views at Long Lake
Situated along the Glenn Highway, Long Lake is one of the best places to enjoy a remote alpine environment.
We pulled off to take in the views and enjoy a snack beside the gorgeous lake. The gorgeous mirror lake effect happens towards the beginning and end of the day.
I think you’ll find that this is one of the most peaceful free things to do in Alaska!
You can also go fishing or camping for free here, too!
(Also of note, there are two Long Lakes in Alaska! I’m talking about the one near Palmer on the Glenn Highway. The other one is in southeast Alaska, and we didn’t visit that one, though I’d like to someday!)
12. Hike to Virgin Creek Falls
This is another of my favorite free things to do in Alaska!
Not only is this my favorite waterfall in Alaska, but it’s also one of my favorites in the whole world, even though the falls are rather small!
Located in Girdwood, Virgin Creek Falls is framed by rocky walls and lush, temperate rainforest. Check out that moss in the photo above!! Amazing!
And great news: it’s super easy to access these gorgeous falls!
The trail that leads to the falls is just a short five-minute hike. It’s a narrow trail that crosses over some gigantic tree roots, so you’ll want to watch your step. But it’s an easy hike and perfect for all skill levels!
And here’s the reason why these falls are my favorite: as you hike, you’ll notice that the forest you’re hiking through feels like it’s straight out of a fairytale!
When you reach the falls, you feel like you could be in some fantasy world, waiting for woodland elves to appear! Major Lord of the Rings vibes here.
All in all, Virgin Creek Falls definitely makes for a great quick stop for photos if you’re in Girdwood or are passing between Kenai Peninsula and Anchorage.
13. See Bridal Veil Falls
Continuing on a waterfall kick, here’s another great waterfall in Alaska!
Bridal Veil Falls a dramatic waterfall in Alaska’s landscape, located 13 miles from Valdez along the Richardson Highway.
Cascading hundreds of feet into the Lowe River, this waterfall is a perfect stop regardless of the season.
If you’re not boating down the Lowe River, your best bet to come close to the waterfall is by car or hike.
You can either park on the shoulder and view the falls from across the river, or see them via hike on the Keystone Canyon Pack Trail.
14. Walk Up to Horsetail Falls
Horsetail Falls is located just a few seconds down the road from Bridal Veil Falls in Valdez, on the opposite side of the highway.
Although you can see these falls by hiking the Keystone Canyon Pack Trail, you can also just park and walk right up to these falls! Pulling off onto the large shoulder/parking area gives you undisrupted views of the gorgeous falls!
15. Explore Rudleston Falls
Boasting an elevation of 774 feet, Rudlestone is definitely a hidden gem in Valdez. Though smaller than the other two waterfalls, this one is actually my favorite waterfall in Valdez!
It’s not nearly as popular as Bridal Veil Falls or Horsetail Falls since it’s not visible from the highway. But that means it’s still unspoiled!
You can walk right up to the falls and enjoy a close-up moment by the rushing waters.
16. Hike in Valdez
We actually didn’t pay for anything beyond our AirBNB and food in Valdez. Mainly because exploring the town and hiking around are free!
Valdez is famous for its tall coastal peaks and series of waterfalls. With that comes lots of picturesque hiking trails that promise good views and thrilling experiences.
There are also plenty of opportunities to spot bears (yup, you’ll want to grab your bear spray!) and go bird-watching.
Both short hikes and scenic backpacking adventures start right near the heart of the town.
17. Visit Kenai’s Charming Orthodox Church
Established in 1896, this quaint Russian Orthodox parish church is a very interesting place to visit in Old Town Kenai.
This well-preserved piece of history gives you a glimpse into the beliefs of Alaska’s early settlers.
Though you only get to see the outside of the church, there is also a gift shop where you can buy some souvenirs if you do want to spend some money!
18. Explore Resurrection Bay
Nestled between snow-capped mountains and a long, scenic beach, Resurrection Bay is a stunning place in Alaska.
You can sit in awe as you take in the views, go fishing, kayak and come up close to some marine life in the area, or hike up the trails that surround the bay.
Whichever direction you decide to take, Resurrection Bay offers some great, free experiences.
(Also, if you want to feel at one with nature even at night, there is a campsite on the waterfront for both tents and RV’s.)
19. Birdwatch at Bird Creek
Bird Creek is a picturesque viewpoint located along the Seward Highway. It offers great views of the Turnagain Arm if you cross underneath the train tracks here. (There’s not a path, so be careful navigating over the giant rocks here!)
Bird Creek is also a nice campground just a few yards from the road. You can walk along the river, go fishing, or hike on the trails in the area!
And of course, keep your eyes peeled for birds while you’re here… it’s called Bird Creek for a reason!
20. Hike to Byron Glacier
Hiking to glaciers make for some great free things to do in Alaska- you just need to know which ones are free!
Byron Glacier is an excellent choice for a family that’s looking for a way to spend time together. The trail is moderately strenuous which means most people can climb it with a bit of effort.
You’ll come across a creek/river along the way as well as some alpine vegetation. Astounding views of the glacier at the top of the trail will crown your hike!
We didn’t hike to Byron Glacier since we simply didn’t have enough time, but I’d love to next time we’re there!
21. Walk to Exit Glacier
Here’s another free thing to do in Alaska: see Exit Glacier!
Exit Glacier is one of the most visited attractions in Alaska thanks to its accessibility. You can walk very close to the glacier after following the easy path from the parking lot.
Exit Glacier is approximately 15 minutes away from Seward. The walking path from the parking lot to the glacier is only about 20 minutes.
And if coming close to the glacier isn’t good enough for you, there are glacier tours and ice climbing classes that can give you an up-close look, though you’d have to pay for these!
Photography tip: I got the photo above with a 120mm zoom lens on the road into Kenai Fjords National Park.
22. Hike to Worthington Glacier
Worthington Glacier is located near Valdez. You can get some great views of the glacier from the highway, like this shot I got from the road.
But if you want to get up close and personal with the Worthington Glacier, you can do that too!
You’ll pull into the Worthington Glacier State Recreational Site where you’ll follow the path to the observation area.
From there, you’ll see a hiking path that leads all the way up to the glacier.
It took us about 30 minutes to walk to the glacier, and most of the walk there is uphill.
As long as the water level is low, you can walk all the way up to the glacier, there are no boundaries in place!
23. Hike Around Thompson Pass
With an average of 500 inches of snowfall every year, Thompson Pass is undoubtedly one of the snowiest locations in Alaska!
And this is one of the reasons why it’s dubbed a heli-ski paradise.
However, the lesser-known fact is that Thompson Pass is a perfect free destination year-round.
In summer, you can go on some hikes with incredible views and much milder weather conditions.
We hiked in early September and there still wasn’t any snow on the ground.
24. Drive to Hatcher Pass
Hatcher Pass is a must-see spot if you’re visiting south-central Alaska.
As a travel blogger and photographer, photography is one of my favorite free things to do in Alaska! Well, this place is perfect for just that!
In addition to awe-inspiring views of the surrounding areas, Hatcher Pass Lodge itself is a photographer’s dream!
Charming red cabins dot the landscape and beg to be photographed! You can actually stay at these cabins, too! (Of course, that’s not free).
If you’re traveling in summer, you can visit the Independence Mines or drive up to dreamy Summit Lake.
During winter, on the other hand, Hatcher Pass comes to life with winter sports like sledding and skiing.
25. Explore the Matanuska River
Nestled between the Chugach and Talkeetna Mountains, the Matanuska River is a glacial river that streams from an enormous ice sheet: the Matanuska glacier.
The setting and the surrounding views are breathtaking and free!
Of course, there are plenty of other fun activities here that warrant a visit. You can try out fishing, walking trails along the river, or even white water rafting (though you’ll have to pay for a tour on that one!).
If you do have spare money to spend, the nearby Matanuska Glacier is an experience that is worth paying for! We got the coolest glacier photos there, and it was unreal walking on such a magical glacier! Learn more about it here!
26. Go Camping
Alaska is the largest state in the United States, and with this comes a massive wilderness to explore. There’s a reason why it’s known as the last frontier!
If you could see a million acres a day, it would still take you a whole year to see it all!
And if you’re interested in really experiencing Alaska in all its glory, how about camping?
You’ll find lots of camping sites in almost every town. Most of these are fairly developed with easy accessibility and restroom facilities.
And there are actually many free campsites where you can set up your tent overnight! You can find the best sites near your location here!
27. Watch the Salmon Run
If you’re visiting Alaska between late June and September, you should consider watching salmon jumping upstream.
When I phrase it like that, it sounds like a random thing to add to this list, but it’s actually an incredible natural phenomenon!
You can experience the salmon run on viewing platforms, boat tours (not free), and from the banks of plenty of rivers in the right season.
Ship Creek Anchorage, the only king salmon fishery in the world, is an incredible place to watch spawning salmon.
You can also watch them in Valdez at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery!
28. Explore a Harbor
You might not own a boat, but that doesn’t mean you can’t walk around a harbor! And Alaska has plenty of beautiful harbors!
Sitting at the edge of a fjord and surrounded by majestic mountains, Seward Harbor is among the most picturesque harbors you can visit in Alaska.
It’s a full-service port with lots of activities going on. It’s also surrounded by scenic views of the surrounding areas, including the beautiful Resurrection Bay.
Valdez also has a stunning harbor, lined with mountains and the bluest waters!
While we walked down harbors, Harrison and I would play “What would you rather,” boat edition! Playing games with your family can be one of the most fun free things to do in Alaska 😉
29. Chase Fall Colors
The stunning backdrop of snowy peaks and glaciers contrasts perfectly with fall colors.
Starting in August, the fall season in Alaska means vibrant colors all over its meadows and tundra.
However, the season comes and goes pretty fast, so timing is everything!
We started to see fall colors in 2020 at the very end of August, with more vibrant yellows appearing in early September.
30. Whale Watch from Shore
Besides being an excellent viewpoint for the bore tide phenomenon in the Turnagain Arm, Beluga Point is also a popular spot to watch the beluga whales.
And the best time for whale spotting in the area is between May and September.
The staff where we stayed in Seward (Resurrection Lodge on the Bay) explained that it’s a hot spot for whales! Apparently, you can watch whales in Resurrection Bay right from shore- there are a ton in May and June!
Did you know that in the winter, humpback whales migrate to tropical places like Hawaii where they give birth and raise their young? In the summer, they return to Alaska!
Those humpback whales live my version of the American dream: winters in Hawaii and summers in Alaska! 🙂
Once you get there, there are so many free things to do in Alaska! With its endless list of lakes, glacier, and hikes, you’ll love Alaska!
Do you know of more great free things to do in Alaska? Comment below!
And if you’re heading to Alaska, here are some more posts you’ll find helpful:
- The Ultimate Alaska Itinerary
- 36 Things to Do on the Kenai Peninsula
- 33 Crucial Things to Know Before Visiting Alaska
- 50 Best Places to Visit in Alaska
- 18 Most Beautiful Towns in Alaska
- 17 Beautiful Glaciers to Visit in Alaska
And if you’re willing to splurge on one (or more) things, check out my list of 21 fun experiences worth paying for in Alaska!