5 Day Alaska Itinerary – 3 amazing road trip options around the last frontier

Alaska’s vast landscape is larger than Montana, California, and Texas combined. It’s home to 17 of North America’s highest mountain peaks, including Mount Denali at more than 20,300 feet, some 100,000 glaciers, temperate rainforest, and seemingly endless miles of shoreline. 

This 5-day itinerary is a three-in-one, meaning three different 5-day itineraries in some of the most alluring regions of the state. We’ll also provide you with practical travel tips and must-visit highlights so that you can plan your version of the perfect Alaska vacation. 

The range of outdoor activities from hiking and paddling to skiing and snowshoeing are hard to beat, while wildlife watching is truly epic. Many visitors come to Alaska for the chance to spot animals like bears, whales, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, and bald eagles. 

While you’re here you might enjoy one of the continent’s most scenic drives along Seward Highway or take the Harding Icefield hike leaving from the Exit Glacier area in Kenai Fjords National Park.

A cruise in Resurrection Bay brings the chance to spot puffins, bald eagles, sea otters, orcas, and humpbacks.

You might hear the thunderous sounds of calving icebergs as you watch them crash into the water. And all of that is in just one small area of the state on the Kenai Peninsula

5 Day alaska itinerary road

Head to Denali National Park or hop on a seaplane flight from Soldotna to Lake Clark National Park and Preserve to watch the bears feast along lake shorelines with thousands of salmon spawning in the shallows.

Or discover Southeast Alaska with its many emerald islands, gold rush-era towns, and countless other delights.

To explore Alaska, with such a large area to cover and so much to see and do, the most difficult part of planning is narrowing down where you want to go, especially if you’ve got just five days to do it.

That means it’s important to carefully consider at least a few different Alaska itineraries, which is what we will cover in this article.

Denali National Park overview

Alaska Travel Tips

Before diving into the core of the Alaska Itinerary.

How many days do you need to see Alaska?

As such a large state, covering 663,300 square miles, unless you have unlimited time you won’t be able to see it all in one Alaska trip.

While 7 to 14 days is often recommended, by focusing on one area and taking a variety of shorter excursions, including a land tour or two as well as time out on the water, a five-day trip can make for a good first visit.

You’ll get an overview of the unforgettable scenery, wildlife, the chance to enjoy some outdoor adventures, and perhaps delve into the state’s history.

If you have more than a couple of weeks, you can create a truly epic trip, driving to and from Alaska in your vehicle, seeing several regions by road and others via day cruises, and perhaps the occasional flightseeing tour.

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The best time to visit Alaska?

The best time to visit Alaska depends on what you hope to see and do as it’s a year-round destination and every season offers its unique delights.

The shorter days, from mid-September through April are the best time to see the northern lights, while the winter season can immerse you in a magical, snowy wonderland while bringing opportunities to attend fun winter festivals and watch dogsled races.

Whales begin to appear in the waters by mid-spring while the summer months bring the Midnight Sun with long hours of daylight for sightseeing and outdoor adventures

If you’re hoping to avoid the crowds and enjoy discounts on accommodation, tours, and more, aim for the shoulder seasons of spring and fall.

Tern Lake
Tern Lake

The latter half of May and early September, sometimes as late as early October, can be particularly ideal as the weather is likely to be milder while hordes of tourists are rarely seen.

As summer is the busiest time of year, if you plan to go between June and August, you’ll want to book your airfare, accommodation, and car rental well in advance. 

Of course, the weather is likely to play a factor in your decision too. You might relish bundling up and playing in the snow, or maybe you prefer enjoying milder weather.

Winter temperatures in Southeast Alaska hover right around freezing and you’re just as likely to see rain as you are white powder.

Kachemak Bay State Park sunset
Kachemak Bay State Park

But up in Fairbanks and the northern Alaskan interior it often drops to 50 below.

For the warmest temps of the year, no matter which area you plan to visit, you’ll want to go in the summer when daytime highs are typically in the mid-60s to low 70s.

The exception is the Far North where it’s more likely to be in the upper 40s (Barrow) or upper 50s (Nome).

Best Way to Move Around Alaska

Getting around Alaska often means traveling by plane, ferry, or cruise ship. Many visitors arrive by flying or cruising in as conventional travel is scarce throughout most of the state.

In the Southeast region where many towns are located on islands or along the coast where there are no roads in or out, renting a car won’t get you very far although it can be useful in the capital city of Juneau for exploring areas outside of the downtown core like Eagle Beach and the Mendenhall Glacier

The city of Anchorage is an exception as many arrive by plane and rent a vehicle, traveling north to Denali National Park or south to the Kenai Peninsula.

It’s possible to travel via the Alaska Railroad for a fun train trip or drive between Fairbanks and Seward.

About three-quarters of Alaska is inaccessible by road, with small planes called “bush planes” serving as the backbone for transport here.

Denali National Park
Denali National park

They can bring residents, visitors, and supplies to remote areas of the Bush as well as carry anglers to secluded fishing spots or drop off backpackers in the middle of unspoiled wilderness. 

The Alaska Marine Highway ferry is popular, covering 35 different ports and 3,500 miles of coastline between Dutch Harbor in the Aleutians all the way to Bellingham in Washington State.

It serves four main regions, including Southcentral Alaska (Kodiak, the Kenai Peninsula, and Prince William Sound; Southeast Alaska (Ketchikan to Skagway), the Cross-Gulf Route (Juneau to Whittier), and the Southwest (the Aleutian Islands and the Alaska Peninsula). 

An Alaska cruise is popular too. On standard, large cruises on lines like Holland America, Norwegian, and Princess, you’ll disembark at a port anywhere from four to eight hours, enough time to take a tour or shorter hikes.

On small-ship cruises, which we love the most, and recommend, there will be more stops and more time for excursions. Oftentimes they include onboard naturalists and local or regional cuisine

Cruising vs Independent Touring

Many people feel that a cruise is the best way to see Alaska as it’s possible to visit more destinations in one trip.

However, whether you’re on a big-ship or small-ship cruise, you’ll have to stick to their itinerary with limited time in each port.

Alaska cruise
Alaska Small Ship Cruise

Visiting Alaska on small ships

The smaller ships typically spend more time on land with opportunities for a wide range of excursions and have the ability to access lesser-visited, smaller ports.

They forsake wide shipping lanes for narrow channels, can share waterways with local fishermen, and tie up to inner piers in small villages. They’ll get you closer to the sea life and glaciers too. 

Visiting Alaska on big ships

With a big ship, it’s more about the facilities onboard.

They’re basically floating resorts with a wide range of dining and entertainment options. While their faster speeds mean they can cover larger areas, their size limits which ports they can visit and those ports can get overwhelmed with 2,500 or more passengers all arriving at the same time.

That means escaping the crowds is no easy feat.

Homer Alaska
Homer Alaska

Visiting Alaska independently

Touring independently enjoying your own Alaska vacation with a customized 5-day Alaska itinerary you can put together yourself brings lots of different options.

You could fly into an Inside Passage town and enjoy excursions there, rent a cabin or one of the many other types of vacation rentals, or a room at a smaller hotel or adventure lodge.

Ask your hosts for advice, get to know the locals and the Alaskan lifestyle. You can enjoy a boat tour focused on whales, a variety of wildlife, glaciers, and more. Day trips to other destinations or including several different places on one itinerary is possible too. 

An independent trip flying into Anchorage and then traveling by rental car, motorhome, or train to visit Denali is possible too.

Dalls Sheep Alaska

You might spend the first day exploring downtown Anchorage and then heading to Denali park to catch a bus tour that can take you further in.

You can mix things up with a trip on the Alaska Railroad too.

You’ll be on your own time, doing what you want when you want with the ability to explore off-the-beaten-path spots.

5 day Alaska Itinerary (Option 1) | Anchorage to Denali National Park

To make the most of your limited time, it’s best to fly into Anchorage, rent a vehicle there and then return it in Fairbanks, catching a flight home from there. 

Day 1 – Arrival in Anchorage

Assuming you arrive early enough in the day, take time to explore downtown Anchorage, perhaps taking a trolley or bike tour for an overview.

You can learn more about the city and the state at the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Anchorage Museum. With so much beauty to discover, you want to jump right in by immersing yourself in nature.

The Eagle River Nature Center is 32 miles east in Eagle River Valley on the northeast side of Chugach State Park. It’s been called a “miniature Yosemite” and offers nature trails that provide dramatic views of the mountains, glacier rivers and streams, and potentially lots of wildlife.

The 3-mile Albert Loop Trail winds around wooded pond areas with frequent beaver sightings, while a viewing platform along the Rodak Trail is a great place to see silver and red salmon spawning, especially in August.

Anchorage Marina

Black and brown bears are frequently seen around the nature center, with the latter often feeding on salmon in the shallow water between beaver dams.

Another option if you want to stay in the city is the 11-mile-long Tony Knowles Coastal Trail which follows the coast, running from Second Avenue in downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park.

One of the most scenic coastal trails you’ll find anywhere, it skirts the fault line of the 1964 earthquake, meandering through the fragrant forest while bringing sweeping vistas where beluga whales can be spotted, and views of Mount Denali too.

Be sure to keep an eye out for moose along the way. When it’s time to grab dinner, consider the Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria.

This local favorite is famous for serving some of the best pizza in the entire state, including blackened Alaskan red salmon pizza that can be enjoyed with housemade brews. 

Beluga Whales
Beluga Whales

Day 2Talkeetna

Located two hours from Anchorage on the way to Mount Denali, Talkeetna makes a great overnight stop. A small town founded at the height of the gold rush, wander around and enjoy the historic buildings.

They stand testament to local craftsmanship having endured more than a century of brutal Alaskan weather, now housing local shops, breweries, and eateries, including the iconic Talkeetna Roadhouse.

A historically significant frontier roadhouse, it dates back to the early 1900s when miners and others traveling through enjoyed wild game and fresh-caught fish paired with home-baked bread and produce from the garden on-site.

Denali National Park
Denali National Park

Today, all sorts of people visit, from tourists and expedition members to Alaskan old-timers and bush pilots.

Fresh-baked goods, including crusty bread and various types of cinnamon rolls, have become a local institution.

If you want to do some salmon fishing, three rivers converge here and the area is also popular for four-wheeling and kayaking.

Zipline tours are available too, bringing a spectacular panoramic view of the Alaska Range from high above the town.

Denali National Park

Day 3 – Denali National Park

It’s about a 2.5-hour drive to Denali National Park from Talkeetna, so rise early and make the most of your day.

Plan on overnighting here at one of the privately owned, remote wilderness lodges in the Kantishna area, or one of the many Alaska hotels, motels, B&Bs, or vacation rentals around the communities of Healy and Cantwell.

While private vehicles aren’t allowed beyond mile 15, from here you can hop on a bus for a narrated tour, take the National Park Service’s hop-on, hop-off bus, or go for an eight-hour Tundra Wilderness Tour.

If you want to see one of the park’s most iconic sights, Wonder Lake, it’s located at mile 85 along the Denali Park Road and can be visited as part of the Kantishna Experience or on the Wonder Lake Transit Bus.

No matter what you choose, it will bring the chance to view Denali, North America’s highest peak, and lots of wildlife.

Keep an eye out for everything from smaller animals like marmot, fox, and arctic ground squirrel to moose, caribou, Dall’s sheep, black bear, and grizzly bear.

Beluga Point Sunset
Belulga Point Sunset

Day 4 – Denali National Park and Chena Hot Springs

This morning, join one of the many activities to provide more breathtaking views and opportunities to spot the wildlife.

This is a great place to go flightseeing for a bird’s-eye view of the Alaska Range and the Mount Denali summit.

There are many different options available from short flyover tours to summit tours and glacier landings.

No matter what your pick, you’re sure to be amazed by the grandeur below. If you want to hike, consider a guided option as there aren’t many maintained trails here and there are no formal trails at all in the backcountry.

Even if you’re an experienced hiker, with a local guide you’ll get local knowledge on the area’s flora and fauna.

Whichever option you choose, you’ll want to keep it on the shorter side, saying farewell to Denali by mid-afternoon to continue your journey. 

If your flight from Fairbanks leaves on the following day in the afternoon or evening, you might stay overnight at Chena Hot Springs Resort, about 80 minutes away.

You’ll have a wonderful time relaxing in its famous hot springs pools. If you’re here between September and April, you might even be able to soak while watching the northern lights too.

Activities like dog sledding are offered too, and the Aurora Ice Museum is right outside.

fairbanks northern light

Designed to look like an igloo, it was made from a thousand tons of snow and ice and displays remarkable works of ice art in various forms.

Otherwise, plan to spend the night in Fairbanks so you don’t miss your flight.

The Palace Theater is a top attraction in the city, hosting an old-school musical/comedy about frontier life with nightly performances in historic Pioneer Park.

Away from the city lights, there are plenty of vantage points to watch for the northern lights during the season too.

Day 5 – Fairbanks departure.

If you have time before your return flight home this morning, you might want to do some exploring in the city.

The Large Animal Research Station is a hidden treasure at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, located at the site of a former homestead.

It serves as a stopping point for reindeer and muskoxen who are monitored here for physiological and behavioral research. Guided walks are available from May through September.

The University of Alaska Museum of the North is worth a visit as one of the premier museums in the city, showcasing various exhibits related to notable people and places in Alaska.

7 days tour options

5 day Alaska itinerary (option 2) | Anchorage to Seward and Homer

As you’ll need to fly in and out of Anchorage for this amazing trip, try to book a flight that arrives before noon and departs later in the day. 

Day 1 – Anchorage to Seward

After picking up your rental car, stock up on drinks, snacks, and perhaps picnic-style foods at the grocery store, and then get ready for the ultimate Alaska road trip.

The 127-mile stretch of road between Anchorage and Seward is often named among the country’s most scenic drives, winding through the jaw-dropping Alaskan wilderness.

It delivers dramatic views of the Chugach Mountains, the shoreline of Turnagain Arm, waterfalls, lakes, and blue-tinged glaciers.

Chugach Mountains
Chugach Mountains

Your first stop should be Beluga Point where you might see the white whales swimming close to shore before or after a high tide.

Next, pay a visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood for guaranteed encounters with moose, elk, bears, wolves, reindeer, bison, and musk ox as it rescues animals that were orphaned, ill, or injured. 

If time allows, hike Portage Pass which is less than 10 miles off the main route and well worth the trek (four miles round-trip) as the only way to marvel at Portage Glacier on foot.

It peaks at Portage Pass and will take you to the gravelly lake shoreline just across from the glacier. As you continue toward Seward, more stunning scenery awaits.

Moose Pass Tern lake

A little over an hour, just before Moose Pass, is Tern Lake. Stop to watch for the trumpeter swans, Arctic terns, and bald eagles while enjoying a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

If you’re lucky, you’ll observe feasting brown bears, foraging moose, and mountain goats that scurry around the northeast mountain slope.

Another 45 minutes on the road and you’ll be in Seward where the Alaska Seafood Grill serves fantastic halibut fish and chips. 

Day 2 – Seward


With so much to do in Seward, you’ll want to full day here. Just outside of town is Kenai Fjords National Park, home to Exit Glacier.

This is one of the few active glaciers you can walk right up to, enjoying a close-up look at them via a variety of short and interconnected hiking trails. You can take the trek along the slope above to a dramatic overlook or hike along the river to meet the toe of the glacier.

Seward harbor
Seward Harbor

Combine this experience with a kayak tour on Resurrection Bay, named one of the top 10 places to kayak in the country.

You’ll paddle through dramatic scenery, discovering secluded coves along the shoreline while sharing the experience with all sorts of wildlife, from whales and porpoises to seals, sea otters, puffins, and lots of bald eagles.

If time allows, visit the Alaska SeaLife Center along the shores of the bay.

It rehabilitates animals that were injured due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill and allows visitors to view cold-water fish, harbor seals, and Steller sea lions.

Behind-the-scenes tours are available along with a gift shop.

Day 3 – Homer

Homer is an easy and scenic 3- to 3.5-hour drive from Seward. About an hour in is Cooper Landing where you might stop to learn about some of Alaska’s unique history and culture at the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Art National Heritage Area, including some of the characters from the gold rush.

You can also see the historic post office and Estes Grocery which is an old roadhouse with some photos front the past.

Continuing, you’ll reach the town of Soldotna in less than an hour. Soldotna Creek Park is a great stop for a picnic lunch, enjoyed with views of the Kenai River, the hills of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, and snow-dusted mountains in the distance.

Homer Alaska

Another option is the Inlet View Lodge 40 miles further in the tiny town of Ninilchik.

Not only can you enjoy some of the best clam chowders around, but nearby there’s a beautiful historic Russian Orthodox church overlooking the ocean that makes for a fabulous photo-op.

Once in Homer, you’ll find multiple accommodation options (best booked well in advance for a summer stay), but the only hotel on the famous Homer Spit is Land’s End Resort.

Shoreline Turnagain Arm

It’s right on the beachfront and also hosts the Chart Room, one of the best restaurants in town. You’ll have easy access to beachcombing and the harbor where you might check out what the fishermen are catching.

There are plenty of other eateries too, built on stilts high above the shore.

Day 4 – Homer

Spend the day in Homer taking part in one or more of the many activities available. This is the halibut fishing capital, and you’ll find many charter options for trying your luck at a catch.

Or take a boat tour to explore places like Kachemak Bay State Park, the tiny town of Sel­dovia which has a museum focused on the history of the land, native cultures, and the lifestyles of the community, and picturesque Hal­ibut Cove.

There are outfitters for kayak rentals and kayak tours for paddling while surrounded by the towering mountain peaks, remote fjords, and sea life like porpoises, seals, and even whales.

Homer Alaska

If you have an interest in Alaskan history or if you’ve ever seen “Alaska: The Last Frontier” on the Discovery Channel, you’ll want to visit the Kilcher Homestead to learn how the Kilcher family have been living off the land here their 600-acre homestead for decades, starting in the 1940s when Yule and Ruth Kilcher arrived from Switzerland.

Their cabin now serves as a living museum displaying items used during those early, pioneering days. 

You’ll want to stop by the Salty Dawg at least once while you’re here too, as it’s not your ordinary saloon, it provides an experience, set within one of the first cabins built here in 1897 soon after the townsite was established.

Homer Homes on a lake Alaska

Popular among visitors and locals alike, there are thousands of well-worn dollar bills covering the walls and ceiling, a tradition that began when someone left money for fishermen who had a bad day out to have a drink on them.

It’s also appeared on the Discovery Channel in an episode of “Deadliest Catch.”

Day 5 – The Return.

The downside to a shorter Alaska road trip itinerary is that you’ll be left wanting more, but now that you’ve had a good glimpse of what the state has to offer, perhaps you can plan a longer getaway next time.

As mentioned at the start, the key to this 5-day Alaska itinerary is ensuring that your flight back home leaves later in the day.

Anchorage International Airport is about 4.5 hours away and you’ll want some extra cushion time. Rise early so that you can take advantage of photo-ops that you might have missed on your way here.

Even the locals never tire of this drive, watching for Dall sheep and mountain goats climbing roadside cliffs and beluga whales in the water.

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5 day Alaska itinerary (option 3) | The Southeast, Juneau & Glacier Bay

When exploring Southeast Alaska, traveling by vehicle won’t get you far. Your best bet for a 5-day Alaska itinerary is to either split your time between two destinations or to spend it all in one place.

For a first trip, you can get a great taste of the region by flying into the capital city of Juneau to enjoy the top attractions and then visit Glacier Bay National Park, enjoying a full day for a potentially life-changing Alaska cruise.


5 Day Alaska Itinerary Day 1 – Arrival in Juneau

While it is possible to get around by taxi, Uber, and other private drivers, it can also be challenging due to the high demand, which is why it’s best to rent a car for your time here.

Once you’re settled in, use the rest of the day to beat any jet lag and stretch your legs by exploring downtown.

You might start by taking in an aerial view of the city and its surroundings via the Mount Roberts Tramway.

You’ll get a great perspective of the area while ascending 1,800 feet up to the mountain’s summit. From the top, an enchanting panoramic vista of Juneau, the Gastineau Channel, and Douglas Island just across.

There are scenic trails to hike afterward, along with a nature center, gift shop, a theater showing shorts on the indigenous Tlingits, and a restaurant serving traditional Alaskan fare

Juneau Down Town

Once you’ve made the descent, you’ll be within easy walking distance of downtown. It’s like a big open-air museum with its historic buildings dating from the gold rush era housing fun shops, art galleries, salons, and eateries.

Don’t miss the largest installation of Southeast Alaskan Native works by the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian peoples. The Douglas City Museum is the place to go to learn about local history, culture, and art.

Along the waterfront, you’ll see Tahku, a life-scale bronze whale sculpture of a breaching humpback that rises among the waterworks out of an infinity pool.

It’s a great place for a selfie, and so life-like that your friends will probably think a real whale photobombed you. 

Day 2 – Juneau

With a full day in Juneau, you’ll want to take advantage of one of the land tours, a boat tour, or even both. As some excursions require a half-day or less, it’s possible to combine two.

This is a haven for humpback whales in the summer making whale-watching boat tours a must.

It can be the highlight of a great trip, watching them spy hop, lunge feed, breach, or even witness bubble-net feeding, an experience of a lifetime that reveals just how intelligent these animals are.

Alaska whales surrounded by birds

In addition to humpbacks, you might spot orca whales (particularly in July and August), along with lots of bald eagles, sea lions, and seals.

If you want to get more active while watching, kayak tours and canoe tours are available too.

The downside is that if they’re farther away, you probably won’t be able to paddle fast enough to get a closer look. But the lucky might to get paddle right among them.

For those who want to see bears and/or prefer a land tour, the Pack Creek Bear Tour is another ideal option, although you’ll need nearly a full day for the experience with the duration of most trips at least six hours.

For the best chance of bear sightings, July and August is the peak season; however, more recently the salmon have been arriving later which means the animals are feasting on them a bit later, so late July, early or mid-August may be optimal.

If you want to combine whale watching with another activity, you might visit Mendenhall Glacier. One of the best hiking trails is the short, .8-mile one-way Nugget Falls Trail.

It leads to the magnificent waterfall that cascades 377 feet onto the beach along with a close-up view of the 13.6-mile-long glacier.

Day 3 – Glacier Bay National Park

Mendenhall glacier

Plan to spend two nights at Glacier Bay Lodge, the only accommodation option other than camping in the park. It’s accessed via a less than 30-minute flight to Gustavus, where a lodge representative will meet all guests for transfer.

Upon arrival, you can walk the national park hiking trails or wander along the shore, then grab dinner in the on-site restaurant popular for its fresh salmon and floor-to-ceiling windows showcasing the stunning water and mountain views.

Before heading to your room for the night (or ideally reserved well in advance), be sure you’re booked on the Glacier Bay Day Cruise for the following day for the ultimate Alaska adventure.

Day 4 – Glacier Bay Cruise

Plan for an early morning breakfast before meeting the high-speed catamaran that will bring you on a full-day excursion, deep into the waters of Glacier Bay.

This amazing trip can be a transformational experience, with numerous bucket-list items that can be checked off.

Catalyst in front of a glacier
Alaska small cruise – Photo © Liveaboard.com

The focus is getting up close to a tidewater glacier to witness calving, although it’s part wildlife cruise too as this region is abundant with whales, harbor porpoises, puffins, bald eagles, and stellar sea lions.

There are many animals that can be seen on land too, like coastal brown bears, moose, and mountain goats. There’s so much wildlife all around, it’s hard to know where to look.

You’ll journey all the way to the farthest reaches of the bay to 21-mile-long Margerie Glacier, one of the most active.

Odds are, you’ll hear the crackling sounds of the ice, just before it crashes with a boom into the water. After calving, the floating bergs become resting spots for sea otters and harbor seals. You’ll want a good camera for the endless photo-ops here.

Margerie Glacier
Margerie Glacier

Day 5 – Departure

In the morning, you’ll likely have time for breakfast and some final moments in the park to wander around the area.

Perhaps enjoy a peaceful stroll through the woods or sit by the still water where silence is interrupted only by the squawks of the crows or the cry of an eagle.

Head back to the airport via the lodge shuttle to catch your return flight to Juneau, and from there, connect to another flight home. 

What to pack for a 5-day road trip in Alaska

While specific needs vary by individual, for a 5-day Alaska road trip, there are some general items that everyone should bring along with them.

Waterproof clothing and other rain gear – No matter what the season, even in the summer, you’ll need items to keep you dry in case of wet weather.

If you’ll be paddling, fishing, or doing anything else out on the water, it’s even more important as it can get quite cold even when it’s relatively warm out.

You’ll want a roomy waterproof jacket and waterproof pants to top your layers of clothing. Bring a pair of water-resistant shoes or light hiking boots for walking, gloves, and a warm, waterproof hat. 

Clothes that can be layered

If you’ll have easy access to laundry facilities, you can pack lighter, otherwise, you may want an outfit for each day while keeping clothing that can be layered in mind.

During the warmer months that might include five t-shirts, five long-sleeve shirts, one or two pairs of jeans for sunnier days, and a few pairs of water-resistant or waterproof hiking pants, in addition to the items suggested above.

Thermal base layers made with Merino wool or polyester materials will help keep you warm and dry as they’ll wick away sweat. Toss in a fleece jacket too. 

Sunglasses and sunscreen – Protect your eyes and your skin, especially when out on the water, but it’s a good idea anytime, even when it’s cloudy as those UV rays will still get through.

Sleep mask – If you’ll be visiting Alaska in the summer, you’ll want a sleep mask in case you find yourself in a room without blackout shades. Otherwise, the Midnight Sun will wreak havoc on your sleep.

A great camera. If one of your priorities is seeing wildlife, rather on land or water, your smartphone probably isn’t going to cut it for capturing photos. It’s worth investing in a high-quality camera such as a Canon 5D Mark III with a zoom lens (most important) such as a 300 or 400 mm

Binoculars. While a camera with a powerful zoom can work, if you want a really good closeup look at the wildlife, you’ll want to bring a pair of binoculars.

Pre-downloaded audiobooks or playlists. These make for a great trip out on the road.

northern light Alaska

Must Alaska Experiences

Witness the Power of Nature

Watching and listening to a five-story face of ice calve from a glacier and explode into the sea below is something you’ll probably never forget.

Over five percent of the state is covered by glaciers, with more than 100,000 of them here. There are several national parks where you can see them.

Some of the most popular include Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, while Glacier Bay in Glacier Bay National Park has over a thousand of its own.

The Glacier Bay cruise that departs near Glacier Bay Lodge will get you up close enough and personal with Margerie Glacier and other tidewater glaciers.

Soar Over the Mountains on a Flightseeing Tour. Taking a flightseeing tour over an endless sea of mountains and glaciers from the comfort of a plane will allow you to witness peaks and crevasses that have never been touched by humans.

From downtown Anchorage, there are three-hour tours that will even bring you over Denali but if you’re short on time, take a 30-minute excursion of the Chugach Mountains and magnificent Turnagain Arm.

Whale Watching

Viewing whales in the wild can be a magical, life-changing experience. The top places to spot them are in Southeast Alaska, throughout the Inside Passage, with many tours departing from Juneau and Ketchikan.

Homer, Seward (Resurrection Bay), and Turnagain Arm, just a short drive from downtown Anchorage are great spots too.

The summer months are generally the best time for this activity, with the possibility of seeing everything from humpback and gray whales to orcas, beluga, and blue whales.

If you’re in the Far North region, bowheads and fin whales are more likely to be seen.

Most sightings of narwhals (the unicorns of the sea) are east of b, although they’ve been recorded in the Bering seas as far south as the Alaska Peninsula.

Behaviors like lunge feeding, tail slapping, and occasional breaching can all be witnesses, and if you’re lucky, you might see humpback whales taking part in a complicated, highly synchronized activity referred to as bubble-net feeding. 

Alaska Grizzly bear

See the Bears

Katmai National Park and Preserve boast the world’s highest concentration of bears as one of the most famous places to watch them. In the summer, they scoop up salmon right out of the river, some things snatching them with their teeth mid-air.

You probably won’t have time to do this in a five-day trip, but if you’d like to see bears, there are excursions by floatplane from Juneau to the Pack Creek Brown Bear Viewing Area.

They follow the return of chum and pink salmon, which has traditionally been the first week of July.

However, if this is a priority, sightings have been coming later likely due to climate change, so you might want to plan your visit around early August. 

Explore Denali National Park

Denali is one of the top attractions in Alaska, with the over six-million-acre park home to North America’s tallest mountain, countless awe-inspiring landscapes, and abundant wildlife like moose, bears, Dall sheep, wolves, and caribou.

There’s only one road that travels into the park and past Mile 15 you’ll have to explore on two feet, bicycle, or hop on a park-approved bus. 

Train in Alaska

View the Northern Lights

Many hope to view the northern lights and the state is one of the best places in the world to see the magnificent natural phenomena.

There are accommodations and tours dedicated to viewing the lights too, with Chena Hot Springs Resort an especially popular base. 

Sunset in Alaska


Alaska is an angler’s paradise with many basing their entire Alaska vacation as a fishing trip, whether it’s river fishing or angling out in the deep sea.

In Homer, you can catch all types of salmon, halibut, Dolly Varden, and more. Ketchikan is often referred to as the world’s salmon capital but there are prime halibut fishing spots too. 

Karen writer

About the author

K.C. Dermody has traveled the world, visiting some 40 countries and nearly all 50 U.S. states. She has a passion for learning about different cultures and taking part in outdoor adventures. When she’s not writing, you might find her swimming with sea lions in the Sea of Cortez, watching whales in Alaska, paddling among icebergs in Newfoundland, or enjoying a pint with the locals in an Irish pub.