If you have ever wanted to visit Alaska, exploring a new place with kids is always fun. Just like any vacation, there are always new places to explore and things to see. Of course, when you start planning, you will most likely want to do some research about the different areas and what to see and do. Here’s a great start with awesome family things to do in Alaska with kids. Alaska is a really big state so make sure you look at the map and see which areas or destinations are within travel distance.
Many parts of Alaska are only accessible by air or sea, so factor that into your planning as well so you aren’t trying to see the entire state in one week! This post will cover the south central region on Alaska and Denali National Park. All of these family things to do in Alaska are accessible by road.
Alaska Family Vacation Ideas – Visiting Alaska with Kids
Alaska’s tourist season is a short period in the summer. 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 and then find out that the destination or event is closed. Plan ahead to make sure you have the right equipment, gear, clothing, and plans!
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. When visiting Alaska with kids, it is very easy to navigate the airport and begin your Alaskan vacation.
Once you arrive and gather your gear and rental car, you can begin checking off your list of Alaska vacation ideas.
- Alaska Heritage Museum –
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 about the heritage of Alaska and its native people.
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 village. The best part is that this museum is free.
- Alaska Native Heritage Center
This beautiful museum captures many features of the native cultures in Alaska. With live music, cultural dances, native artwork, and numerous displays, this could be a highlight of your trip as you learn about the native heritage of the Alaska region. Lots of interactive exhibits and fun activities.
- Anchorage Museum
The Anchorage Museum is a rich experience for the whole family to help you understand and learn about some of the best things in Alaska and it’s history and cultures. There are permanent displays as well as ongoing changing displays that come to the museum at different times of the year. Older kids will enjoy the rich learning opportunities while the younger kids will love the hands on displays.
- Alaska State Trooper Museum
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. Take a look at the vintage squad car and all the memorabilia from the police department over the years. Lots of history tucked away in this little museum. Alaska State Trooper Museum
- Tony Knowles Coastal Trail
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. On a clear day, you may be able to see Denali from Earthquake Park.
There are abundant opportunities to see birds, small mammals, moose, and beluga whales. There are miles of trails that connect downtown Anchorage to Kincaid Park. Brown bears can sometimes be seen along this trail and in the park, so keep your eyes open and your bear spray handy.
- Eagle River Nature Center
This lovely nature center has miles of trails that you can hike or walk along through the woods and along the rivers. It’s a great place to see salmon running and you may also see bears and moose. The nature center has some nice displays of furs, animals tracks, and other hands on things especially for little kids. The nature center is small the best features are getting out on the trails to explore.
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. 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.
During the summer months local mushers often bring a dog team and offer the opportunity to purchase a ride in a sled behind a dog team. Sometimes they have puppies on display as well.
- Palmer Farmer’s Market and Visitor Center
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. Be sure to stop by the Palmer Visitor Center and Museum for local maps and information
- Reindeer Farm
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.
- Palmer Hayflats Game Refuge
Keep your eyes open for wildlife when you drive through the Palmer Hayflats Game Refuge heading north from Anchorage towards Wasilla. 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 a small airplane window are stunning! Depending on the time of year and time of day, you may also be able to see moose and other wildlife from the airplane window.
Talkeetna is a charming little town that is full of Alaska flavor. Little shops and local restaurants fill up the few blocks of 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 here 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 and check out the displays of Alaska themed fabric at the Patchwork Moose Quilt Shop!
Denali National Park
Planning a family vacation to Alaska with kids would not be complete without visiting Denali! This National Park contains the tallest mountain in North America. There are several ways to visit the park to enjoy the prolific wildlife and opportunities to explore. Part of the beauty of Denali National Park is that the travel within the park is limited to certain locations by personal vehicle and transit or tour buses to other locations.
There are campgrounds close to the entrance of the park as well as inside the park. When camping, you may be camping next to some of the wildlife that are residents of the area.
Unlike many other National Parks, Denali is largely wild and untouched by most of the people who visit. It is one of the most beautiful places when the sky is clear and you can see the mountains.
The best way to see the park is to make a reservation to ride the bus into the park. 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 grizzly bears, moose, caribou, Dall sheep, and other animals are heightened.
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!
Driving along the Turnagain Arm is a stunningly beautiful stretch of highway. If the tide is out, there are vast mud flats that change the landscape. When the tide is changing, you may be able to see the bore tide which is an unusual occurance that only happens a few places in the world. Keep your eyes open for bald eagles, marine mammals, mountain goats, and enjoy the view points along the way. You can sometimes see beluga whales in the water as well.
- Potter Marsh
Just outside of Anchorage, Potter Marsh has a nice board walk where you can walk and observe many different species of birds. Often there are many migratory birds visible such as tundra swans, and arctic terns. You may also see moose near the marsh. This is a great place to walk all year round.
- Alaska Railroad
The Alaska Railroad connects many parts of Alaska and also acts at the transportation lifeline for several areas where people have build cabins off the road. Riding the train is one of those fun things that small children can enjoy as well as the other members of your group.
- Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is one of the best places to see Alaska wildlife. Each of the animals in this drive through or walk through park are native to Alaska and have come to the center because they were injured or orphaned. You can see black bears, brown bears (grizzly bears), bison, Sitka deer, porcupines, foxes, wolves, and often a bald eagle or two dropping in to scavenge some food. There is a large parking lot with a gift shop, food truck and a fun stop on your road trip. This is the perfect place for some fun family photos and stretching your legs.
Driving down the Kenai Peninsula there are many beautiful places to stop and explore. Going all the way to end of the road you will end up in Homer which is quaint little fishing town. Beautiful views of the water, picturesque shops along the bay, and lots of eagles and sea birds.
Seward and the Kenai Fjords National Park
If you drive down the Seward Highway, you will eventually end up in the beautiful town of Seward. Nestled on the end of Resurrection Bay which is part of the Kenai Fjords National Park, the town is dependant on the cruise ships and fishing that goes along with a coastal town. Many Alaska cruise ships stop in Seward and you can also take a wildlife cruise from here.
The wildlife cruises offer wildlife sightings and depending on the time of year, you may be able to see sea otters, humpback whales, orcas, Dall’s porpoises, and many migratory sea birds. You definitely want a camera along!
The National Park Service has a visitor’s center in the heart of Seward where you can learn more about the features of the park.
Planning Your Alaska Family Vacation
Whether you are planning an Alaskan cruise on the inside passage, looking for a great walking tour, scheduling a small plane ride, or just making a short drive (or a long drive), there are plenty of opportunities or outdoor adventures to have a great time on your family trip. Enjoy the natural beauty on your Alaska family vacation.
No matter what time of year you start dreaming of your Alaska family vacation, 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.