It was an incredible experience that we never could have had if it weren't for the possibilities through Traveler's Joy. It changed us and made our bond and marriage more solidified.
Rugged, wild, enormous, and unspoiled, Alaska is a crown jewel of outdoor American adventure destinations. Northwest of Canada and stretching deep into the Pacific Ocean, this massive and majestic U.S. state is the country’s most sparsely populated, which opens the opportunity for intimate explorations of seemingly endless mountains, forests, and rivers, all of which are teeming with inspiring wildlife. Whether gliding past whales and puffins on a glacier cruise or cuddling together in a remote cabin under the Northern Lights, navigating America’s Great Land and connecting with its unique nature might be just the honeymoon experience you and your partner need.
Anchorage is Alaska’s most active and populous city, where nearly half of the state’s residents call home. Combining the best of raw wilderness with big city living, this is the only place in Alaska where you can watch moose in the morning and ballet in the evening. A gateway hub for flights, cruises, railroad journeys, and car rentals, Anchorage is a perfect base to anchor your Alaskan honeymoon around. Within just an hour or two from the city’s center, you can fly over Denali, get up close to grizzly bears, watch glaciers calve and whales migrate, or even climb a mountaintop. After an adventurous day in the backcountry, returning to fine dining, abundant museums, and shops filled with native crafts back in the city streets of Anchorage is always a delight.
Alaska’s greatest land attraction, Denali National Park is the best place to quickly become better acquainted with unspoiled nature and abundant wildlife. A 6-hour drive (or 8-hour train ride) north of Anchorage, the park is a vast collection of glacial rivers, stunning peaks, and seemingly endless woods home to moose, caribou, wolves, bears, fox, over 150 species of birds and plenty more. Denali Mountain (formerly Mount McKinley and North America’s tallest peak) towers high in the sky no matter where you find yourself in the park. Mix and match any number of self-guided hikes with rafting adventures and soaring in the air, or opt to join one of the park’s various bus tours to dive deeper into the history and information of this incredible protected land.
Talkeetna is a small, traditional pioneer town that is wholeheartedly worth a visit when traveling from Anchorage to Denali. With unparalleled mountain views (Talkeetna is actually closer to Denali Mountain than the Denali Park entrance), a wide array of excursion options (from jet boat tours to zip-lining), and a charmingly stroll-worthy Main Street which offers everything from coffee shops and restaurants to local craft stores, Talkeetna also makes an excellent base for exploring outer regions.
A 2-3 hour drive (or 4-hour train ride) south from Anchorage will unveil the scenic, seaside village of Seward. One of Alaska’s oldest communities and a popular port town for visiting cruise ships, Seward is lined with quaint shops and galleries and is just a 15-minute drive to Exit Glacier, one of the state’s largest and most accessible. Water-taxis can quickly bring you from Seward to Resurrection Bay, where marine life is abundant and secluded coves present perfect conditions for hiking, kayaking, and even camping. Most notably, Seward is used as a base town for visiting the majestic Kenai Fjords National Park. A wildlife spectacle loaded with marine mammals like killer whales, harbor seals, sea lions, and puffins, this park is best appreciated by boat tour.
Fairbanks is Alaska’s second most populous city and makes a great base for exploring the state’s northern region. A gateway to the Arctic, Fairbanks boasts winter activities like dog sledding, skiing, and snowmobiling, and is one of the best spots in the country for viewing the amazing Aurora Borealis natural light show as it dances across the cold, winter night sky. In summer, the Midnight Sun shines over 22 hours of daylight onto the city, which allows for lengthy backcountry hikes and water-based activities like rafting and kayaking along the Chena River which runs directly through Fairbanks. The year-round Christmas-themed town of North Pole just outside of the city attracts tons of visitors, with ice sculpting, reindeer rides, and even a Santa Claus House.
Summer is an undoubtedly favorable season to visit Alaska. With up to 19 hours of daylight and mild temperatures (with averages in the 60s and 70s) state-wide, the months of May to September present ideal conditions for hikes, park visits, cruises, and even wildlife spotting. Beginning in mid-September, the Northern Lights start rolling through the skies and will continue onward throughout the state’s lengthy winter season, between November and March. Temperatures are predictably at or below freezing during this period, but winter in Alaska shouldn’t be completely ruled out, especially if snow-based activities like skiing and natural ice-skating interest you.
Anchorage International Airport (ANI) is by far Alaska’s busiest airport and your likely point of entry. Fairbanks International Airport (FAI) can better position you for explorations up north, whereas Juneau International Airport (JNU) will keep you closer to the lower 48. Smaller planes, long train routes, river cruises, and scenic highways are plentiful and provide access to all corners of the great state; inspiring scenery and wildlife viewing included.
Flight Safari – Soaring in a seaplane or helicopter is easily one of the greatest ways to soak in the Alaskan scenery. A bird’s eye view will open up the state and immediate unveil the vast nature and wildlife which inhabit it. With so much land and so few roads to access it, aircraft in Alaska are as iconic as classic yellow cabs in New York City, and a necessary part of local life. (“Fly an hour or walk a week” is an Alaskan saying which sheds light on how inaccessible most of the state’s terrain is otherwise). Whether you land on a remote glacier and opt to make snow angels in seclusive peace, or on a mirror-like mountain lake for an afternoon hike, flying will instantaneously make you feel authentically Alaskan.
Explore the Glaciers – Visiting a glacier should be on any Alaskan visitor’s shortlist, and thankfully these natural wonders are plentiful and can be reached by air, land, and sea. Fly over Ruth Glacier inside Denali, drive toward Matanuska Glacier (the largest car-accessible glacier in the country) just outside of Anchorage, or take a cruise (or kayak, even) to experience any of the 1,000+ glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. Exit Glacier just outside of Seward is one of the state’s most stunning and easily accessible – you can hike or helicopter over it with a group or go at it on your own. Seeing a four-story face of ice collapse off of a glacier and crash into the ocean is the perfect reminder of the power of Mother Nature.
Cabin in the Woods – There’s a time and a place for all kinds of rental accommodations, and a remote Alaskan cabin just oozes romance in its peaceful seclusion. Wake up to spectacular views, live with nature, hike around the property, or just cozy up inside and cook meals for each other for a few days. Your perfect home can be found on any popular booking site, but give Glamping a try for more luxurious cabin rentals (like these yurts and cabins spread across private islands in Resurrection Bay).
Take a Cruise – Many travelers opt to explore Alaska aboard a cruise while combining the comforts of a cozy cabin with an expert-crafted itinerary. Popular conventional cruises (like Princess Cruise Lines), typically 7+ days in duration, eliminate any hassle of a do-it-yourself holiday with luxurious onboard dining and entertainment in between port town visits and glacier experiences all across Alaska’s Inside Passage. Smaller ships (like Discovery Voyages) offer more personalized service aboard vessels typically carrying 150 or fewer passengers and can provide better access to glaciers, make unplanned stops for wildlife viewing, and often include speakers to shed insight on local wildlife and natural. These can follow similar routes as the bigger cruises (along the Inside Passage) but will typically make stops at quieter port towns, avoiding any crowds. If you don’t want to commit to an overnight cruise, day trip options (like Kenai Fjords Tours) are readily available.
Visit Denali National Park – Home to North America’s tallest mountain (Denali, which is so high it forms its own weather patterns and is visible from 200 miles out in any direction), this national park boasts six million acres of wild land. One lone road bisects it from the center, traveling east to west, and invites 400,000 annual visitors to experience the “Alaska Factor”—that unparalleled feeling that Alaska seems to go on forever. Whether you hike, flightsee, bus, or camp across Denali, the park is a place of pure inspiration that begs to be explored (and photographed). A park this massive requires some planning to be tackled appropriately – visit the National Park Service for some tips on how to craft your ideal trip.
Get Adventurous – From leisurely scenic excursions to heart-pounding backcountry thrills, Alaska is an adventurer’s playground through and through. Whether you paddle along pristine waters through icebergs, go dog mushing across frigid glaciers, hike Denali Park, battle king salmon for dinner, or try horseback riding through the thick forest, the Great Land is exhilarating no matter which angle you approach it from.
Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge – Situated on a ridge just above the community of Talkeetna, this 212-room hotel offers by far the most expansive views in town, along with the best options for dining (from breakfast to dinner) for dozens of miles. The interior represents the best of Alaskan architecture through and through – from the local spruce tree logs that line the Great Room to the Trapper Creek birch which perfectly trim the entire lodge.
Captain Cook – In a state four times larger than California where nearly 95% of the space is uninhabited land, it might seem immediately jarring to check into a high-rise hotel. The reality is that Anchorage is a living, breathing city which just happens to be surrounded by dense wilderness, and the simple pleasures of a good hotel will go further here before venturing deeper into the state. One of the absolute best in the bunch is Captain Cook, where you can kick off your Alaskan adventures with classic hotel comforts like an attentive reception, expansive views, a plush bed and good cup of morning coffee.
Sheldon Chalet – This mile-high accommodation inside Denali National Park is as unique as its surroundings are breathtaking. Nestled on an almost incomprehensible peak above a glacier and encompassed by mountains, the chalet is the realization of its multi-generational namesake family’s dream. Access to the 5-bedroom, one-of-a-kind lodge is limited to helicopter arrival, where you’ll fly low over forests and rivers before approaching the rugged, lunar-like landscape. As Denali’s exclusive vacation-use villa and Alaska’s only luxury highland lodge, visits to the Chalet bear a hefty cost, but the buffet of tailored adventures and experiencing this impossibly alien landscape in such comfort and style is undeniably priceless.
Tutka Bay Lodge – A 30-minute water taxi trip from the town of Homer across Kachemak Bay will eventually bring you to this upscale wilderness lodge with a culinary twist, on the south side of the Kenai Peninsula. Each of the private cabins offer water views of the forest-covered islands across throughout the Bay, and the hosts are readily available for private hiking and kayaking excursions through the dense nature. Taking all of that into account, the beauty in this accommodation revolves around its gourmet all-inclusive meals, prepared by one of the property’s owners who is a highly trained and master chef. Guests can even opt to take part in creating the house meals every step of the way: fishing, foraging, cooking, preparing, and eventually eating these delicious sea-to-table meals.
Ultima Thule Lodge – For the premier Alaskan experience, this family-owned and operated remote lodge custom tailors itineraries for each of its guests, and prides itself on being 100 miles from the nearest road. Situated deep inside the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park (which at 13.2 million acres, is the largest on the continent), everything from guided wilderness hikes to skiing and fishing excursions is included, as are home-made meals and all methods of transportation. After long days of exploration, a wood-fired sauna session is a perfect treat for your body before retreating back to the luxurious private cabins. Best of all, flight safaris are included – however long or far you want to go to find the best of aerial Alaska, the Claus family will take you. Whoever said the sky was the limit?
Moose’s Tooth – This local restaurant treasure in Midtown Anchorage has an almost permanent queue of locals and visitors for good reason. The specialty pizzas – consistently ranked in the top 5 in the entire nation – are well worth the wait, and the in-house brewed beers in the adjoined Broken Tooth Brewing (with weekly specialties) are crafted with care and delivered with pride.
The Crow’s Nest – This restaurant inside Captain Cook’s Hotel is perched in an unbeatable position overlooking the city below and with views of commanding Denali Mountain in clear sight. With a wide array of Alaskan classics like king crab, salmon, and beef ribeye prepared to perfection with a French flair, this is dinner with a view done right.
International House of Hot Dogs – Far from a fine dining experience, this food truck’s spin on the American staple hot dog is an unmistakably authentic Alaskan experience in downtown Anchorage. Everything from reindeer dogs to buffalo bratwurst and even vegetarian soy options can be slathered in a slew of toppings including sautéed onions, strawberry jam, pico de gallo and beyond. This is as efficient as food stops can get to fuel an afternoon’s worth of adventures ahead.
Seven Glaciers – Whether visiting for a fabulous meal in the dining room or for an impressive drink at the bar, the view from this mountaintop restaurant is sure to satisfy. A tram from the Hotel Alyeska will elevate you 2,300 feet to this majestic evening spot surrounded by mountain and glacier vistas, where inspired cuisine, friendly staff, and an unforgettable moment surely awaits.
Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge – Alaskan classics and an award-winning wine list can be found in Foraker, the featured restaurant inside the Talkeetna Alaska Lodge, where the flare of big city dining is served in a casual environment. Views of the three flowing rivers outside and Denali in the distance make hearty breakfasts and luxurious dinners in the dining room a treat for multiple senses, and the hotel’s Base Camp Bistro is open for down-home favorites like fish and chips and homemade meatloaf during lunch hours.