Top Family Activities in Alaska

Alaska, Family Travel,

Alaska is truly unlike any other U.S. state and is quite unique when it comes to global locations too. With its luscious landscape, 33,000 miles of coastline, and plethora of must see wildlife, there is a good reason why so many head to Alaska for their holidays. There is so much to see and do in this northerly state and it will find visitors engaged in activities that won’t be forgotten any time soon.

dog sledding in Alaska

If you are eyeing up a cruise to Alaska, USA in the future, you will certainly be interested by what’s on offer. To help you plan your future adventure, we’ve put together the below list of top family activities to participate in. Take a look and start planning your trip!

Anchorage Museum

There is no better way to learn more about the destination you are visiting than by making the trip to an educational and entertaining museum. Luckily, Anchorage Museum more than fits the bill, and the museum was kind enough to tell us about what visitors can expect to see.

“Anchorage Museum is not only the largest museum in Alaska, it is one of the top 10 most visited attractions. With more than 247,000 square feet of exhibition and public spaces, it tells the story of Alaska and the North through permanent and temporary exhibitions. The Discovery Center provides more than 10,000 square feet of space dedicated to science and young learners. Tote KidSpace provides more than 1,800 square feet of tactile fun for children ages 5 and younger.

“Age-appropriate games and books, a fort and a playhouse entertain youngsters for hours. The Exploration Station provides programming at 2 and 4 p.m. daily, drawing visitors of all ages to learn more about the world around them. Smithsonian Spark!Lab celebrates the thrill of curiosity and invention and the planetarium offers tours of the Northern night sky, complete with aurora borealis.

“Families will find the permanent and temporary exhibitions engaging, many with interactive components ideal for prompting critical thinking. Summer programming often uses the 1-acre outdoor space for lunchtime events, evening concerts and festivals. Winter programming includes after-hours events on Friday nights from October through April with half-price admission, films, lecture series and artist studios, to name a few. Family art and science sessions also take place monthly throughout the winter.”

Family at Anchorage Museum

Image Credit: Brad Johnson/Anchorage Museum

Anchorage Museum also spoke to us about what makes Alaska such a wonderful place for families to visit, describing their favourite things to see and do – some of which are discussed in more detail later on in this guide.

“Alaska offers families nature and wilderness experiences along with all the creature comforts (if desired). If traveling on a cruise ship through Southeast Alaska, visitors may spot several varieties of whale, porpoise, and fish jumping, as well as bears, eagles and other wildlife along the shore. If on a day cruise in Southcentral Alaska, they will see glaciers, whale, porpoise and fish jumping as well as bears, moose, eagle and, depending upon where they are cruising, puffins.

“In Anchorage, families can fish for salmon in a down town creek, bike or walk along the city trail system (and most likely see moose or eagle), and even hike in the fourth largest state park in the U.S. There are more than 230 city parks for little ones to run off extra energy. The Alaska Zoo in Anchorage and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center 45 miles south of Anchorage offer guaranteed, up-close wildlife viewing. Outdoor concerts, festivals and markets abound throughout the summer, delighting people of all ages. Fresh seafood is found in restaurants, most of which are locally owned.”

Suggestions from AK on the GO

AK on the Go is a wonderful online resource for all things related to family fun in Alaska. Erin Kirkland, publisher of the site and author of the guidebook series Alaska on the Go, is therefore the perfect person to offer advice for family activities in the area. Here is what Erin told us, while also emphasising that families take into account Alaska’s size when planning a trip:

“The top activities center around nature and our wild spaces. Kids enjoy the adventurous opportunities like kayaking, zip lining, and dogsledding a glacier, for sure. I also recommend families take an active part in local culture-based activities like Native Alaskan visitor centers, traditional fishing activities, and the like. Alaska's geographic sections are home to an incredibly diverse range of cultures and it behoves a family to take advantage of the Native groups in the area they visit.

“Why is Alaska great for kids? There are few places like it with the enormity of scale of landscape, wildlife, and adventurous activities in beautiful places. It is a chance to connect with our environment in real time, and learn through hands-on experiences the importance of preserving it. The kids who visit Alaska today will grow up to be Alaska's stewards tomorrow, and they will be better-equipped to do that if they have had their hands and feet on Alaska in person.”

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Photograph of a lynx

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center – a non-profit organisation that homes orphaned and injured animals – is a must-visit location for families interested in seeing the glorious wildlife that Alaska has to offer. At the center, injured animals are taken in and nursed back to health and the facility also doubles as an educational environment for visitors. There are numerous tours and programmes available – such as the ‘Behind the Scenes Tour’ where visitors can take an inside look at the inner-workings of the center. Here you will be guided along and given the chance to feed and meet the residents. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is home to myriad animals, including bears, bison, wolves, elk, musk ox, and lynx. The center is open 7 days a week.

Visit the kennels and go on a dog sled ride

Alaska is well known for its dogs and the sleds that often accompany them, and seeing these wonderful animals for yourself is an opportunity not to miss out on. Like many top family attractions in Alaska, Seavey’s Ididaride has seasonal opening dates between May and September but for those heading to Alaska during this time they are well worth the visit. There are numerous tours available, visiting glaciers and the like, as well as unforgettable dog sled rides, a visit with the kennels in their Seward location, and a chance to grab a hug with some rather adorable husky puppies. If any activity screams Alaska, this is it.

The Reindeer Farm

Girl with reindeer at farm

Young families will enjoy nothing more than witnessing the magic of reindeers, which, in Alaska, don’t just show up at Christmas. At the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, children can get up close and personal with the 150 reindeer that populate the farm, as well as a number of other wonderful animals! The Reindeer Farm loves welcoming visitors to their premises and spoke to us about why paying them a visit should be high on your agenda.

“The Reindeer Farm is a great place for families because you get to pet many of our animals! More than a zoo, you are given a cup of feed and enter the pen to hand-feed some of our favourite reindeer! We are family owned and operated, so when you come to our farm, you are visiting our home! We live here, year round.

“We have more than just Reindeer!” they are quick to point out. “We also have a Bison, Moose, elk, bunnies, chicken and a pig that has a favourite trick! In the summer we have horseback trail rides available up the Butte with fantastic views and a beautiful easy ride!

“Alaska is such a wonderful family vacation spot because of the beauty! There are many things to do in Alaska and most of them are outside! In my opinion the MUST dos include viewing or hiking on glaciers, wildlife viewing, hiking our fantastic trails, a dog sled ride, and the REINDEER FARM! If you’re willing to get outside and experience Alaska, you will not be disappointed!”

Panning for gold with Gold Daughters

panning for gold in Alaska

A favourite pastime and activity that visitors to Alaska love to try is gold panning. Reliving the state’s gold rush era visitors can comb the Alaskan wilderness to make their ‘fortune’ and one such place to do so is at Gold Daughters. Run by Jordan and Ilaura Reeves, the two sisters love welcoming visitors to their site in Fairbanks. Speaking to us, they reveal why a day panning for gold with them in Fairbanks should be high on your Alaska itinerary:

“Gold Daughters is a great place for families to visit because gold panning is an activity that's fun for all ages. Toddlers enjoy getting their hands dirty and playing in the water while grandma and grandpa sit, relax and enjoy looking for buried treasure. Families can interact with each other while bonding over the thrill of finding gold. At the end of the day, the memories taken home will be become far more valuable than the gold itself.”

Gold Daughters also explain just what one can expect during an average day with them:

“At Gold Daughters, your day starts with a panning lesson. Everyone will learn the art of gold panning from our knowledgeable tour guides and then will be able to pan from unlimited paydirt (dirt with gold in it) and is guaranteed to find gold. At Gold Daughters, panning is a relaxing activity as we provide benches and a covered area to protect from the weather. In between gold pans, feel free to stroll our mining relic museum and get up close and personal to Ice Age fossils. Besides the gold, visitors can find gemstones, unique rocks and even fossils. There is one golden rule at Gold Daughters: Finders keepers!”

Finally, we asked Gold Daughters what it is about Alaska that is so attractive for some family time away:

“Alaska is a great destination for families because it is unlike any other place in the world. The vast landscapes and breath-taking views incite a feeling in everyone of adventure and wonder. It's a place for families to get lost, together.”

Explore the coast and sea creatures

The land isn’t the only place worth exploring, as the surrounding waters and coastal regions are full of interesting creatures to discover. Alaska is a true gem for those fascinated by sea life and there are plenty of ways to take advantage, one being The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies in Homer which has a bevy of guided tours available for those wanting to see what’s available. Kids are destined to enjoy spotting invertebrate life in and around the Homer Harbor Docks during the ‘Creatures of the Dock Tours’. Just remember, the Alaskan waters are cold so make sure to wrap the family up before seeing what lies beneath.

Advice from Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau

Skagway in Alaska

Image Credit: Skagway CVB Collection – Frank Flavin Photographer

Obviously, no one knows more about Alaska and its many virtues than those that live there, especially those whose job it is to welcome visitors to their land. With this in mind, we wanted to bring you some insight from the team at Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau, along with some information on what makes their part of Alaska so appealing:

“Skagway is nestled in a remarkably picturesque setting, between the dramatic 7,000-foot high Canadian boundary mountains and the mouth of the powerful Skagway River.

“Skagway's history and spectacular natural setting create unparalleled sightseeing and recreation opportunities. Skagway is filled with outstanding attractions, shopping, entertainment and museums. Lined with wooden boardwalks and restored buildings, this quaint and historic town is easy to navigate. Poke around on your own, or select from a variety of tours. Either way, you will be rewarded with the sights and activities in and around Skagway.

“Accessible by air, sea and land, Skagway is located 110 miles south of Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway, it is the northern terminus of the Alaska Marine Highway System, and has daily air service from Juneau and Haines.

“Famous for our hospitality, Skagway offers visitors all the amenities they desire for a comfortable, fun and memorable stay in this quaint and beautiful town.”

Skagway Convention & Visitors Bureau were also ready with a true bevy of advice and suggestions for top family activities in Alaska and, indeed, Skagway:

Klondike Gold Rush National Park Activity Center

“Let the kids earn their badge and become a Junior Ranger by stopping by the Klondike Gold Rush National Park Activity Center on 4th Avenue. While there, pick up a Family Adventure Pack for a self-guided tour of Skagway’s Historic District.

Mollie Walsh Park

“While out walking around stop at Mollie Walsh Park on 6th Avenue. Make sure to look for minnows swimming in the creek!

Alaska 360's Dredge Town

Alaska 360's Dredge Town is the only stop you will need for a fun, family friendly afternoon! Everyone will enjoy getting their chance to pan for gold, experience life at 40 below, learn about the Iditarod and have the chance to hold a husky puppy. An Alaskan BBQ is located on site for everyone to drink and dine.

Grizzly Falls Zipline

“Time to take flight, literally! The Alaska Excursions Grizzly Falls Zipline is not for the weak of heart. Their 11 zips (one measuring longer than 2 football fields) will take you soaring above glacially fed waterfalls at up to 45 mph!

Kone Kompany

“No kid’s day is complete without a sweet treat. Stop in to the Kone Kompany for an ice-cream kone, milkshake, homemade fudge and assorted candy.”

Denali National Park

Denali Nation Park Alaska photography

Containing a stunning six million acres of wild land, filled with breath-taking scenery such as taiga forest, snowy mountains, and even North America’s tallest peak, a trip to Denali National Park is certainly not one the family will want to miss out on. The team at Denali are unsurprisingly proud of what their park has to offer, and were happy to talks to us about what visitors can expect to see:

“Denali is the crown jewel of national parks in Alaska and attracts more than 600,000 visitors of all ages from around the world each year. The park encompasses six million acres of wilderness and amazing scenery, along with beautiful mountains and wildlife. This incredible park is bisected by one 92-mile stretch of road.

“The park is special for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that we are home to the tallest peak in North America. Denali is the only national park with a working kennel of sled dogs, which average 3,000 miles of travel in the winter! Scientists in Denali have documented 39 species of mammals that range in size from tiny shrews that can weigh as little as a penny to enormous moose that can weigh more than 1,200 pounds.

“Visitors can learn everything there is to know about the park by visiting the Denali Visitor Center, the Murie Science and Learning Center and the Eielson Visitor Center. Denali offers a plethora of hiking trails to fit any schedule (2 hours, half-day, full-day, multi-day) that vary in distance, level of difficulty and elevation.”

If your family includes a child or two obsessed with the wild, this is the place to take them, and to build your excitement prospective visitors can see a comprehensive list of things to do via the park’s website.

Hiking on Kodiak Island

A trip to Alaska isn’t for those wanting to lounge around the pool and catch up on some reading, this is a destination for families that want to get out and explore, and are not afraid with getting in a little exercise while they’re at it. With that being said, one of the best ways to see the beauty the state has to offer is by enjoying a hike on Kodiak Island. Known as having some of the best hiking routes in Alaska, Kodiak Island is easily accessible by plane or ferry from Homer. Boasting stunning green mountains and replete with wildflowers, there are plenty of family friendly walks available to enjoy the surroundings. For information on trails, locations, and all other things Kodiak, make sure to head over to Discover Kodiak, the ultimate information resource on the area.

Alaska SeaLife Center

If you hadn’t got enough of sea life while exploring the coast, or want to get a more in-depth look at some of the larger creatures around, the Alaska SeaLife Center is truly the place to be. The only public aquarium in the state, there aren’t going to be many better days out for parents and their children than right here. Part aquarium, part wildlife rescue centre, the facility is able to both entertain visitors and educate young and old alike about conservation. There are tours available as well, including behind the scenes looks at what it’s like to care for marine mammals and there are even opportunities to meet and feed some rather adorable little puffins! Make sure to mark it down on your Alaska to-do list before visiting.