Best Vacation Spots In Alaska In The Summer

Summer Cruise Vacations To Alaska

By Eben Diskin | Published on August 2, 2023

Alaska is known as "the Last Frontier," a moniker that speaks to its association with rugged adventure, remoteness and relative inaccessibility. While the rugged adventure and remote part are certainly true, Alaska is now more accessible than ever thanks to direct flights and the proliferation of cruises to the state. That's good news for travelers looking for a unique vacation, and cruising to Alaska in the summer is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience. Instead of the unpredictable Northern Lights, you'll get the reliable beauty of the midnight sun. In addition to having ample daylight to enjoy your travels, the weather is often warm and comfortable. Summer in Alaska is also festival season, so there's always something going on. Whether you're basking in the midnight sun, reveling at a festival, wildlife watching in Denali, dipping into refreshing outdoor hot springs or hiking glaciers, these are the best summer vacation spots in Alaska.

Things To Do In Alaska During The Summer

What are the best things to do in Alaska in the summer? Rugged outdoor adventure absolutely tops the list. Alaska in the summer is the perfect time to see wildlife native to Alaska such as moose, bears, wolves, caribou, sheep and a wide variety of birds, including golden eagles and arctic terns. Outdoor enthusiasts have to visit Alaska's crown jewel: Denali National Park. Home to Denali, the highest mountain in North America with a summit of 20,310 feet, the park is over 9,000 square miles of mountains, forests, glaciers and wildlife that all come alive in the summer.

For a more active excursion through the park, take a hike on one of the many trails. The Curry Ridge trail, starting in the K'esugi Ken Campground, has multiple photo-ops of Denali along the way if views are your priority. The Cascade Trail is another popular option. The two-mile one-way trail begins from the Byers Lake Loop Trail and takes you past a waterfall to the Tarn Point viewpoint. For the truly adventurous, there are even campgrounds located throughout the park, some of which are pretty far from the beaten path.
If you cruise to or from Seward, the Kenai Fjords should be part of your trip. Though named for its fjords, the most prolific natural feature of Kenai Fjords National Park might be its glaciers. There are over 40 glaciers in the park, most of which connect to the Harding Icefield. Exit Glacier is the park's most famous and most beautiful. And despite its size, it's actually pretty accessible for hikers, especially in the summer. A series of trails lead from a visitor center to the toe of the glacier, with the Glacier Overlook Trail providing a view of the glacier itself. The Harding Icefield Trail is also an option for those with a more adventurous spirit. The 8.2-mile round-trip trail opposite the glacier's northern edge is difficult but offers stunning views of the peninsula's glaciers, icebergs and ice flows.
It might come as no surprise, though, that the best way to see a fjord is by water. Hitting the water in the Kenai Fjords is one of the coolest things to do in Alaska in summer, as the long, warmer days will let you enjoy plenty of time outside. Boat tours depart from Seward's harbor on a regular basis to guide visitors through the fjords and glaciers. You can enjoy the views from your own cruise ship, if that's how you're traveling through Alaska, or take advantage of specialized local tours. Wildlife cruises, for example, focus on seeing sea lions, sea otters, puffins, harbor seals, bald eagles and other marine birds. You can also go whale watching and look out for the gray whales, which are most active from May through September.
For a little more independence, rent a kayak to explore the fjords and glacial waters. Resurrection Bay, Caines Head and Thumb Cove are among the most popular kayaking spots along the fjords. Thumb Cove is particularly popular with campers and rock climbers. Be advised, though, that the park's waters are rough, and kayaking here should only be for the experienced.

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See What Makes An Alaska Summer Special

Fairbanks is known as the city of Northern Lights. It's not just a dark-sky destination. As Alaska's third-largest city, located in the interior about six hours north of Anchorage, Fairbanks has everything you could want in a vacation destination — especially if you're not into roughing it. Start with the Chena Hot Springs, a hotel and spa with an outdoor hot tub and huge geothermal pool, all surrounded by rugged wilderness. There's also an upscale restaurant serving local seafood and produce grown in the on-site greenhouse. Chena is great for families, and it's also one of the best summer vacation spots for couples in search of a luxurious nature escape.

If adults-only fun is indeed what you're looking for, keep the fun going back in town. For a relatively small city, there are a surprising number of breweries in Fairbanks, each bringing its own flair to Alaska's beer culture. HooDoo Brewing Company has an outdoor patio perfect for enjoying the nice summer weather. The nearby Silver Gulch Brewery, located in a historic roadhouse, is a restaurant as well as a bar, serving its iconic Northern Light Ale, Coldfoot Pilsner and Prudhoe Pig Stout. Brewery tours are offered on a regular schedule and by appointment. For fans of the hard stuff, check out Ursa Major Distilling, which prides itself on using only local ingredients in its rum, gin and vodka. Bonus fun: If you happen to be in town for the summer solstice, stick around for the Midnight Sun Game — an annual Fairbanks baseball game played overnight, where you can really appreciate the phenomenon of 24-hour daylight.
Whether you're on a romantic couples trip, vacationing with friends or traveling on a family trip, there's one thing everyone can agree on: Dog sledding is awesome. And no, there doesn't have to be snow on the ground to do it. Dog sledding in Alaska in the summer means either mushing on glacial ice at higher elevations, going on a "husky hike," touring the dog kennels or trying something that resembles dog carting more than dog sledding. You'll be getting a behind-the-scenes look at what sled dogs do during their off season, as they train and stay in shape for the busier winter season of racing and touring. Traveling with huskies is an integral part of Alaskan tradition and sport, and there's no shortage of tour operators in the Fairbanks area.
While there are many ways to get to Alaska in the summer, cruises are undoubtedly the most convenient. 

Cruise Into The Alaskan Summer

While there are many ways to get to Alaska during the summer, cruises are undoubtedly the most convenient. They're also the most efficient and spectacular way of visiting the state's many islands and peninsulas, many of which are most easily accessed by water. Juneau, the state's capital, is often missed by road trippers and those flying into Anchorage and Fairbanks due to its location on the southeasterly Gastineau Channel.

Juneau is one of the best places to visit in Alaska in summer, chiefly because of its many islands that are easily explorable by kayak — particularly Admiralty, Cohen and Douglas Islands. Douglas Island is reachable by bus and the perfect place to rent kayaks to see the bay and its wildlife up close. No trip to Juneau is complete without a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier, one of the most accessible glaciers in the world. You can reach it via bus tour and hike a variety of trails with stunning glacier, waterfall and forest views. These trails are most easily navigated and appreciated in the summer, when the snow has cleared and the way ahead is safe.

Sitka is another popular cruise port in Alaska, spread over Baranof Island and part of Chichagof Island. Known for its artsy vibe, with an abundance of galleries and museums, Sitka is also unsurprisingly replete with natural beauty. Walk up Baranof Castle Hill for a view of Sitka Sound and the surrounding mountains, or bask in the warm weather at Sitka National Historical Park — walking distance from downtown — to learn about the history of the Tlingit indigenous people and see the totem poles.
Cruise into Seward, the gateway to one of Alaska's most unique and picturesque regions: the Kenai Peninsula. Seward itself is known for its art and culture scene — which simply vibrates in the summer with events, making it one of the best summer vacay spots in the state. With views of the lush mountains on all sides, a summer morning stroll through this charming town will make you feel like you're in a movie. The Seward waterfront is known for its scenic trail lined with historic landmarks, and it's perfect for enjoying the wonderful weather. Seward is also right at the base of Mt. Marathon, an ideal summertime hike and one of the best places in the area for fjord views. The town's proximity to Kenai Fjords National Park, where glaciers flow into coastal fjords, will provide the ultimate Alaska experience.

Written By

Eben Diskin is a travel writer, amateur pizza connoisseur, avid Indoorsman, and the Senior Staff Writer at Matador Network. While traveling, he pretends to enjoy activities like hiking, camping, fine dining, and museums, when all he really wants to do is drink Jack and Cokes at the hotel bar. He has a degree in History from Wheaton College and a definitely-not-useless Master's in Fiction Writing from the University of Edinburgh. 

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