A beautiful state full of natural beauty, Alaska will truly take your breath away. There are many things Alaska is famous for, and knowing them will help you have an epic visit to this magical state!
“The Last Frontier,” “Land of the Midnight Sun,” or “Seward’s Icebox” – these are just three of the nicknames used for Alaska.
This incredible state, removed from the rest of the U.S. and separated by about 500 miles of Canadian soil, has always elicited a sense of wonder.
There have been movies, books, and poetry written referencing the vast landscape, rich culture, kind-spirited people, and incredible wildlife. If you’ve seen the film Into the Wild, you know what I’m talking about!
You can also see some of these beautiful sights in the video I made of my trip here:
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If you’ve never been, you might be wondering… what is Alaska famous for? Well, there are many reasons Alaska is famous! Here are 12 things Alaska is famous for.
(PS. You can check out my Alaska itinerary here! I include ideal itineraries for all trip lengths!)
1. Alaskan Cruises
Being immersed in nature on an Alaskan cruise is a dream destination for people all over the world and has definitely made Alaska famous!
An Alaskan Cruise is a fantastic way to see everything this beautiful state has to offer. Alaskan cruises are ranked as one of the top cruise destinations in the world nearly every year!
Over one million people go on an Alaska cruise each year. Just imagine enjoying a hot cup of coffee and breathing in the fresh, crisp air as you cruise by breathtaking views of sea lions basking in the sun, icy glaciers, and bears looking for breakfast along the shoreline.
It’s very likely you could see all of these things at once!
There are different types of cruises available, but the two main types are a big ship cruise or a small ship cruise.
And there are pros and cons to each.
Big ship cruises typically have a lot of activities on the boat like casinos, mini waterparks, and a selection of bars and restaurants. There are continental, all-inclusive, or a la carte options as well. A big ship basically is an entire resort on the water!
Alternatively, small ships have a more intimate feel. With fewer patrons and staff, you can experience more personalized guides and services. These small ships are also able to get to special locations that these mega-ships aren’t able to access. This will give you close up views of glaciers and allow you to visit smaller, more quaint ports.
Alaskan waters offer a range of sights and stunning views, which is why they have become so famous!
2. The Vast Wilderness
As I mentioned earlier, the vast and humbling wilderness of Alaska has been the subject of countless novels and movies.
The movie Into the Wild captures the sprawling landscapes and intense seasons as the main character searches for uncharted land. It was a book based on a true story. I won’t give away any spoilers, but if you are interested in seeing Alaska’s landscapes, check out this film – you won’t be disappointed!
Alaska is famous for having a little bit of everything; the Alaskan wilderness is incredibly diverse. It’s also very beautiful (check out the 40 prettiest places in Alaska here).
You have mountains, glaciers, white rapids, rainforest, streams, sprawling pastures, and densely wooded forests. Also, if you didn’t know, the state is massive…you can fit the entire state of Texas in Alaska more than twice!
So much of this land remains untouched and wild – only about 20% of Alaska is accessible by road. Fortunately, you can still see a lot of the untouched wilderness via plane or boat.
With how vast and wild Alaska is, there are a few things you’ll need to know to be prepared for your visit! Here are 33 crucial things to know before your Alaska trip.
3. National Parks
Being as large as it is, with its incredible vast wildernesses, it’s no surprise that Alaska has an abundance of beautiful national parks.
There are seventeen, to be exact, and this is in addition to the 16 wildlife refuges!
Many of these national parks are famous in their own right and have nature-lovers and adventurous types traveling to explore them.
Denali National Park is just one of them. Additionally, the park spans 6 million acres where visitors can see wildlife like bears, caribous, moose, and wolves as well as North America’s tallest peak, “The High One.”
Approximately 400,000 people visit Denali National Park each year and the park is as big as the entire state of New Jersey.
Glacier Bay, Gates of the Arctic, and Kenai Fjords (home to the epic Harding Icefield hike) are just a few of the other famous national parks Alaska has to offer!
And I bet you haven’t heard of the largest national park in the United States: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park! Covering 13.2 million acres, it’s 6 times as large as Yellowstone!
Check out the 50 best places to visit in Alaska here (grouped by location, since Alaska is so huge!).
4. The People
Alaska has a rich culture consisting of diverse traditions, languages, customs, and people.
You might immediately think of the term ‘Eskimo’ when you think of native Alaskans, but let me stop you there since it’s actually a racial slur. Why is Eskimo a derogatory term? It’s widely considered to be offensive since it was given by racist non-natives in colonial times.
The Alaskan Native people are divided into eleven distinct cultures found in different geographic areas (source):
- Southeast Alaska: Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian
- North and northwest Alaska: the Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik
- Southwest Alaska: Yup’ik and Cup’ik
- Alaska’s interior: Athabascan
- South-central Alaska and the Aleutian Islands: Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) and Unangax
Within these eleven cultures, you’ll find 231 tribes across Alaska (source).
The Alaska Native cultures are full of lasting, rich traditions and are another reason Alaska is so well known.
Throughout Alaska, many traditional customs are still practiced today. However, in bigger cities, there is more of a blend of modern life and traditional customs.
For those visiting Alaska, there are several Native museums and cultural centers you can visit to learn more about their history and culture.
5. Northern Lights
I have always been fascinated with the northern lights, and it’s been on my “bucket list” for a long time!
I know I’m not the only one. Thousands of people travel to Alaska for a chance to catch a glimpse of the aurora borealis, commonly known as the northern lights.
The northern lights are considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world!
Across the globe, the northern lights tend to be brightest in the part of the northern hemisphere within the Aurora Oval, a giant ring above the Magnetic North Pole.
In Alaska, the best months to see them are March and September, as well as all winter long.
In this time frame, you often see the sky lit up with dancing swirls of green at some point in the night. (Use a tracker to make sure you don’t miss the lights!) And if you’re lucky, you’ll even see purple and red lights!
More specifically, Fairbanks is one of the best hot spots to view this breathtaking phenomenon in Alaska. It is situated right on the Aurora Oval, giving it some of the best (and most frequent) views in Alaska. And I’ll let you in on a hot tip: one of the best spots is actually about 17 miles from Fairbanks called Cleary Summit – it has an incredible viewpoint to watch the northern lights over the horizon.
Because Alaska is famous for its views of the northern lights, there are also plenty of tour operators that will make the arrangements for you to see them.
And if you want to see them from the only glass-roofed igloos in Alaska, you can do so at Borealis Basecamp! We saw them in early September and it was magical!
6. Mild Summers
With fame comes the generalizations and stereotypes, and Alaska is no exception.
There are many misconceptions about Alaska. One of the most popular ones is that it is always cold and snow covered, and everyone lives in igloos with polar bears walking around.
This is simply not true!
In fact, many areas of Alaska experience mild summers.
Due to the expansive nature of the state, different parts experience different climates.
The Alaskan summer months are from May to September. By mid-summer, the interior reaches anywhere from 70 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The mountain and coastal regions are cooler and don’t get much warmer than 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mild summers offer a selection of activities for travelers and is a wonderful time to visit the national parks for hiking!
Of course, each season in Alaska has so much to offer- read about when to visit Alaska to see which season suits you!
7. The Midnight Sun
Have you heard of the midnight sun?
You may not recognize the name, but you are likely familiar with what it means.
The midnight sun is a natural occurrence common for Alaska. This is when the sun doesn’t set!
Imagine a late night out with friends… when you leave a party at 2 AM, the sun is still high in the sky, just as it was at 2 PM! In many ways, an Alaskan summer day doesn’t end.
Northern Alaskan cities like Fairbanks, which is still south of the Arctic Circle, experience extended periods of daylight.
In some of Alaska’s northwest communities like Utqiagvik, the sun doesn’t set for over two months! Room darkening window shades are a must in these areas!
These same areas that see constant daylight in the summer will also experience constant darkness during the winter months.
To see the “true” midnight sun, you must be above the arctic circle, which constitutes about one third of Alaska.
That said, even the southernmost point of Alaska, below the Arctic Circle, has 17 hours of sunlight during summer days!
The midnight sun happens during the summer months, roughly from May to August.
The further north you go, the brighter the day-long sun will be!
8. Trans-Alaska Pipeline
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline is an 800-mile pipe that moves oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, Alaska.
And let me tell you… the pipeline is quite extraordinary!
To ensure the oil remains stable, over 124,000 heat pipes run along with it.
Due to permafrost conditions, over 400 miles of the pipeline is elevated.
The Alaskan pipeline is quite notorious and has been in the limelight a few times.
Environmentalists protested the pipeline well before construction began, and warned against the negative effects it would have on the environment.
The pipeline was still constructed and finished in 1977, despite these protests. It cost $8 billion and took 70,000 workers to build it!
It’s quite a sight to see and is considered a popular tourism attraction. In fact, there are tours and special viewpoints to take it all in!
If you stand in one spot watching the pipeline for just one hour, over a million dollars’ worth of oil would have passed before you – that’s mind-boggling when you really think about it!
The bears are the celebrities of Alaska, and the reason it is commonly referred to as “bear country.”
Alaska is famous for the types and number of bears it has.
If you want to see bears in the wild, Alaska is the place to do it!
There are three types of bears that call Alaska home: brown bears (commonly known as grizzly bears), black bears, and the infamous polar bears! (Polar bears are basically only up north.)
With over 100,000 bears in the state, encounters are common in Alaska- and not always welcomed, as you can imagine!
Bears will use roads and trails, just like humans, so hikers need to be prepared and know exactly what to do when they cross paths with a bear!
Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can see these bears from a safe distance, with bear viewing tours and designated locations (like this one near Anchorage that I highly recommend!) that attract tourists throughout the year.
Over 14% of Alaska is covered in water!
Additionally, there are over 3 million lakes and 12,000 rivers that are filled with over 600 different types of fish, including salmon, arctic char, trout, halibut, and pike.
With numbers like that, it’s no surprise that Alaska is famous for its superior fishing! You’ll find freshwater, saltwater, ice fishing, and fly fishing here.
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Alaska is fishing, with people traveling from all over to cast a line in Alaskan waters.
Many Alaskan people fish for their own consumption, as do restaurants. Also, Alaskan seafood is the freshest and some of the best you will ever have!
We met a couple who flies to Alaska each summer to fish for the whole year! They catch their fish, get it flash-frozen, then ship about 250lbs of fish back home to Texas! They make their way through it as the year goes by, and then it’s time for another trip to Alaska!
11. Dog Sledding
You’ve probably heard of Balto, the Iditarod, and the concept of dog sledding. Is it any surprise that dog sledding is one of the things Alaska is famous for?
Dog sledding has deep historical roots in Alaska and is Alaska’s official sport!
Yup, it’s a state tradition and nowadays, even an obsession, as mushers train their dogs to compete.
The first race was in 1908 and departed from Nome. But you might recognize that name for an even more notable reason in the world of mushing!
Nome is famous for being the town that was saved from a diptheria outbreak in 1925 when several dog sledding teams brought the life-saving serum from a whopping 700 miles away!
If you haven’t watched Togo on Disney+, it’s the true story behind this event! It’s heartwarming, tear jerking, and filled with the cutest dogs! It also gives you a real appreciation for the art and importance of dog sledding!
You can do dog sledding tours in the winter and both dog carting and glacier dog sledding in the summer. We did our tour in Fairbanks and were pulled on a cart by an award-winning dog sled team! Oddly enough- many sled dog teams aren’t made up of full huskies! In fact, our team’s dogs were bred with pointer to help them to genetically run faster!
You often picture big, beautiful glaciers when thinking of Alaska, right?
It’s what you most commonly see in images of Alaska. And there are very few places in the world where you can see glaciers like you can in Alaska.
There are officially 616 glaciers in Alaska, each with its own name. These are typically the largest. But estimates suggest there are over 100,000 unnamed glaciers in Alaska!
The largest glacier in North America, the Bering Glacier, is found in Alaska in Vitus Lake, just south of Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
The glacier expands 1900 square miles and is 126 miles long!
Glacier Bay National Park is also a great spot for glacier viewing. People visit Glacier Bay specifically to see stunning glaciers like McBride Glacier, as well as animals like harbor seals who enjoy hanging out on icebergs.
There are numerous reasons Alaska is famous, from the incredible wildlife and gorgeous landscapes, to the diverse climate and rich culture. (The photo above is from Valdez- get more info on it here!)
Alaska’s unique location and history, as well as the fact that it is separated from the rest of the continental US, makes it a special travel destination.
And it truly is the trip of a lifetime!
It’s uniqueness intrigues more and more people every year, causing travelers to flock to the 49th state and take in all the beauty it has to offer. In fact, 2.26 million people visited Alaska just last year!
If this famous state has piqued your interest as well, I highly recommend visiting!
But, before you go, make sure you check out these Alaska blog posts:
- The Ultimate Alaska Itinerary
- 30 Free Things to Do in Alaska
- 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
- 21 Fun Experiences Worth Paying For in Alaska