Dreaming of going on a family vacation to Alaska?
Here’s a list of amazing tips and destinations to help you turn your dream family vacation into reality.
We just returned from an amazing two-week family vacation in Alaska and I’d like to share some tips and pointers with you as you are planning your trip.
From the time I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to go to Alaska. My brother and I would talk about all the amazing things we had heard from our teacher who had moved to Oregon from Alaska and we were sure it was the last best place to go.
Places to See on your Family Vacation to Alaska
Alaska’s tourist season runs from mid-May through mid-September. This means that many tours and excursions may have limited availability during the off-season. If you have your heart set on a particular activity, check to make sure it will be available and open when you’d like to visit. It is so disappointing to plan on something specific on a family vacation to Alaska and then find out that the destination or event is closed. Plan ahead!
Anchorage has the same amenities as most cities in America. Costco, Walmart, Target, Subway, Taco Bell, Panda Express, Walgreens, etc. Anchorage is often the beginning point of a trip to Alaska at the Ted Stevens International Airport.
Once you arrive and gather your gear and rental car, you can begin your exploration of Alaska.
A great place to start your trip is the Alaska Heritage Museum located in the Wells Fargo building. The museum is small but has a wealth of information and displays of the heritage of Alaska and its native tribes.
There is an extensive library of books about Alaska and its history as well as displays of woven items, clothing, boats, and other artifacts from daily life in a native tribe. The best part is that this museum is free.
When we visited, the docent was very knowledgeable about a variety of things and shared stories and information in addition to the displays.
The Alaska Trooper Museum is also a small museum packed with lots of details and information including a vintage squad car, uniforms, patches, newspaper stories, and much more.
Stretch your legs and get a view of the Cook Inlet, six mountain ranges surrounding Anchorage, Earthquake Point, Knik Arm, and Point Woronzof on the Coastal Trail in Anchorage.
There are abundant opportunities to see birds, small mammals, moose, and beluga whales. This paved trail is 11 miles long and goes from downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park.
Denali National Park
If you’ve read other posts on my blog, you might recall that we are huge fans of National Parks. Planning a family vacation to Alaska would not be complete without visiting Denali! It is a huge park with prolific wildlife and opportunities to explore.
Unlike many other National Parks, Denali is largely wild and untouched by most of the people who visit.
The best way to see the park is to make a reservation to ride the bus into the park. You may drive a private vehicle 15 miles into the park, but if you’d like to go further into the park you will need to take a bus.
There is bus service to various destinations in the park and the buses offer you opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography. Because there is minimal traffic into the park, your chances of seeing bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and other animals are heightened.
If you take the bus into the park, you will stop at different visitor centers and rest areas along the way where you may hike or relax while enjoying the view.
The best places to see the mountain (if it is visible) are from Eielson and Wonder Lake Campground, which is the end of the road in the park.
While you are at Denali, be sure to visit the sled dog kennels. You will get to meet and greet some of the park’s canine rangers, watch a demonstration of the dogs pulling a sled, and learn about the history and current use of sled dogs in the park today.
The shuttle and demonstration are free with park admission. The shuttle leaves from the Denali Visitor’s Center.
There are several campgrounds within the park as well as a few outside the park. Most of them are reservation only, so with the busy summer season, you will probably want to check ahead of time to make your reservations.
Be sure to visit the Denali Visitor’s Center with beautiful wildlife displays and lots of information about the park and its inhabitants. Don’t forget to check out the Junior Ranger program and get a badge from Denali National Park to add to your collection!
Talkeetna is a charming little town that is full of Alaska flavor. Little shops and local restaurants fill up the few blocks on this town that looks like it was carved out history. The town was built by prospectors, miners, and the railroad.
This town is also the starting point for climbers who are planning to climb Denali. The Talkeetna, Susitna, and Shulitna Rivers join together and run through the side of the town. On a clear day, you can see a beautiful view of Denali.
Be sure to try some handcrafted fireweed ice cream at Shirley’s!
Wasilla/Palmer (Mat-Su Valley)
Your family vacation to Alaska would not be complete if you didn’t stop at the Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters. Iditarod Trail Race Headquarters. It is a free museum and gift shop with lots of fun souvenirs and shirts from the Iditarod. You can watch a video of the history of the Iditarod, read up on the history of the winners, and how the dogs are trained.
You may also be able to hold a puppy. The museum also offers the opportunity to purchase a ride in a sled behind a dog team.
Check out the Farmer’s Market with Alaskan sized veggies. Some of the world records for big vegetables have been grown in the area.
A cabbage that weighed 138 pounds, a 20-pound cucumber, a 1,471-pound pumpkin, and a 65-pound cantaloupe are some of the records that have been set in Alaskan gardens.
You can see some of these larger than usual veggies at the Alaska State Fair in late August.
Visit the Reindeer Farm and meet the reindeer and other resident animals. You can take a tour of the farm and hand-feed the reindeer. This would be a great place for a family picture for your Christmas card!
The Reindeer Farm is located beside the Butte which is a short climb to an open view of the valley and the Knik Glacier.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife when you drive through the Palmer Hayflats Game Refuge. There is plenty of space and variety in terrain to enjoy hiking, canoeing, kayaking, birding, and animal watching.
Be sure to keep your camera handy as you drive this stretch of the highway! The best time to view wildlife is early morning or late evening before dark. In the summertime, this could be as late as midnight!
Eagles, swans, songbirds, and a wide variety of other birds migrate through this area each year. You may also see cranes and geese earlier in the spring and early summer.
The Knik Glacier is relatively close to the Mat-Su valley and is accessible by ATV or airplane. The views from the plane window were stunning for us!
My favorite souvenirs from our vacations are our pictures! Be sure to take your camera along and have lots of space on your SD card and batteries that are charged. You never know when you will see that bear of moose of National Geographic photo opportunity wander through your campsite or cross the road in front of you.
When you get back home, turn your photos into a keepsake photo book with an online program such as Shutterfly or Snapfish! If you are the family photographer, be sure to ask someone to take family photos that include you!
- Alaska Items
There are lots of gift shops along the way and many of them have the usual t-shirts, mugs, and keychains.
We picked up a few items here and there and then stopped at Walmart in Anchorage before heading to the airport and home. They had a huge section of souvenirs and their prices were very reasonable!
- Post Cards
Postcards can be fun to collect and quite inexpensive. We like to send postcards to our family members and tell them about our trip.
Another way to keep a travel log of your vacation is to write a postcard each day and document what you did, where you went, and what you saw. You can mail them to yourself along the way or just save them for your scrapbook.
Where to Eat
- Moose’s Tooth Pizza
There are many chain restaurants and fast food options in the major towns and cities in Alaska. We were given a tip from a local friend that the best place to get pizza is at The Moose’s Tooth Pizza restaurant in Anchorage.
Depending upon which google search you read, the restaurant ranks 3rd or 1st is the favorite, has the best, etc…. It should definitely be on your itinerary. The restaurant has a large outside waiting area as well as an indoor waiting area. You will most likely wait for a bit since the popularity of the place is well-known.
There are many different pizza combinations you can choose from – all of which looked absolutely delicious! Our pizza was definitely yummy! They also make home-made root beer which was also delicious!
Start Planning your Alaska Vacation today!
No matter what time of year you start dreaming of your family vacation to Alaska, start your planning today. Research the areas that you’d like to visit. Make a list of your bucket-list places and activities and learn all you can about what your experience will include.
The recommendations in this post cover a very small part of Alaska! “The Last Frontier” and has hundreds of places to discover and explore.
Have you taken a family vacation to Alaska or are you making your plans to travel to Alaska? What was your favorite part of the trip or what you are looking forward to the most? Drop a comment below. I’d love to hear about it!
Must Haves for a great vacation to Alaska!
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