Although distant from the United States mainland, Alaska is one of the most charming and scenic parts of the country. Alaska’s seclusion adds to the mystery and beauty of the 49th state, making it a fascinating getaway spot for nature lovers and intrepid travelers.
A personalized Alaska tour allows travelers to experience the natural landmarks and attractions that make the biggest state so awe-inspiring, while traveling in a style best suited to their interests. Follow along as we divulge the most fabled attractions of the far north as included in our Alaska Highlights itinerary, from the backcountry wilderness of Denali National Park to the glaciers and wildlife of the rugged Alaskan coast.
Begin your journey at the charming city of Fairbanks, known for its intriguing history, Native Alaskan culture, and being the gateway to Alaskan wilderness. During the summer, Fairbanks is one of the prime locations to celebrate Alaska’s Midnight Sun. It's also where passengers board Alaska Railroad's flagship train, the Denali Star.
The fascinating story of the Alaska Railroad dates to 1903 in the coastal town of Seward. While the railway started as a 50-mile stretch north, the owners soon went bankrupt in 1907. After three years of reorganization, they managed to extend the railway 21 miles to Kern Creek. The U.S. Congress recognized the railroad’s potential by 1914 and agreed to fund further construction to reach Fairbanks. After official completion in 1923, it became vital to military and economic operations. In 1985, the federal government transferred ownership to the State of Alaska for $22 million. (Train enthusiasts may want to check out this cool Alaska Railroad timeline.)
The Alaska Railroad is over 100 years old and to this day is a vital transportation link to ports and communities of Southcentral and Interior Alaska. (Photo: Alaska Railroad Corporation)
Today, the Denali Star Train bridges Alaska’s two primary geographic regions – Interior Alaska and Southcentral Alaska – and runs between Fairbanks and Anchorage on a 12-hour journey with stops at Denali National Park, Talkeetna, and Wasilla. As you head toward Denali and enter Interior Alaska’s unique tundra landscape, keep a lookout for picturesque views of the Nenana River Gorge. With the Denali Star’s glass-dome ceilings and an outdoor viewing platform, this journey provides mesmerizing panoramic views as the train snakes along the land’s high canyon walls.
Denali National Park and Reserve is America’s crown jewel of the north, encompassing six million acres of Alaska’s interior wilderness. The national park is home to an abundant array of wildlife, from eagles and ravens to grizzlies and caribou, as well as the tallest mountain in North America: Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley until a 2015 decree returned the mountain’s original Athabaskan name).
Two majestic caribou taking in Denali’s mountain air.
At Denali there's always a possibility of spotting wildlife, but to maximize your chances your best bet is the Denali Backcountry Adventure, plunging you 92 miles deep into the national park. While the ride can be quite long (sometimes up to 13 hours), you’ll be in the capable hands of local guides, ensuring the best opportunities to view the park’s legendary landmarks, introducing you to a host of authentic Alaskan activities, and taking you through the rugged habitats of moose and black bears. Make sure to have your camera and binoculars at hand!
Wonder Lake – the Denali National Park’s hidden gem, located along Denali Park Road.
From Denali National Park, you’ll board the Denali Star toward Anchorage, where you will be taken to the nearby resort village of Girdwood nestled in a picturesque valley. This delightful town is known for its alpine hikes that take travelers along a scenic ridgeline, bearing breathtaking views of the Chugach Mountains, Turnagain Arm, and the Alyeska Glacier Bowl. Highlights include an aerial tram that ascends the mountain, giving a breathtaking taste of the region’s magnificent views.
The Alyeska Aerial Tram takes you 2300 ft. up the gorgeous Mt. Alyeska. (Courtesy Photo: Alyeska Resort)
After a day’s adventure in Girdwood, you will be taken to the port of Whittier to embark on a memorable wildlife and glacier boat ride to Prince William Sound. This region, including Lake Bay, numerous puffin-inhabited islands, and a sea lion haul-out, offers great chances to view beautiful endemic Alaskan fauna.
Sailing into the fascinating fjord of Blackstone Bay, you’ll behold magnificent glaciers like Blackstone and Beloit tidewater glaciers that ascend the fjord walls, and Northland, a dramatic hanging glacier complemented by a spectacular waterfall. You might even catch sight of harbor seals and sea otters who sometimes use icebergs in this area as a resting ground. With its richness in wildlife and glaciers that will leave you breathless, Prince William Sound is truly an icy marine wonderland.
Sea otters sunbathe on an iceberg near the Columbia Glacier of Prince William Sound.
The expedition featured in this article takes you to some of the most iconic highlights that Alaska has to offer. If the ocean calls, you can also embark on a 12-day Alaska by Air, Land & Sea expedition featuring a week-long cruise, or experience the true essence of an Alaskan winter on an unforgettable Northern Lights tour.