The 49th state is home to some of North America’s most extreme and incredible scenery. From the snowcapped mountains rising over Juneau to the vast skies over Fairbanks and the glaciers of Denali, Alaska is filled with some of the most scenic spots you’ll find anywhere in the world.
The easiest way to find snap-worthy scenery in Alaska is to just pick a direction and start exploring, but some spots truly stand out. Here are a few of the photogenic places where you should be sure to have a camera ready when you visit.
1. Denali National Park and Preserve
With 6 million acres (2.4 million ha) of valleys, glaciers, and wilderness, the open lands around North America’s tallest mountain can be just as spectacular as Denali itself. Some terrific spots are easily accessible along the park’s only road, so stop at Polychrome Overlook for a panoramic view of the mountains or visit Sable Pass to watch for brown bears and caribou.
The quickest way to appreciate the park’s incredible scale is with a bush-plane flight around the mountains. Plenty of tours take off from nearby Talkeetna, giving you a bird’s-eye view of the landscape’s grandest sights.
2. Chena Hot Springs
Set in the wilderness about an hour’s drive north of Fairbanks, this resort’s evergreen forest and warm thermal pools would make it one of Alaska’s scenic spots by themselves. But it’s also one of the best places in the world to see the Northern Lights dance across the sky. Deep in the Alaskan interior but within easy reach of the state’s second-largest city, you’re in the perfect place to admire one of the world’s most incredible sights.
3. Mendenhall Glacier
Just up the road from Juneau International Airport, this 13-mile-long (21-km) frozen river has plenty of the most scenic spots on ice. It’s easy to find a ride from downtown Juneau, along with guides who’ll take you exploring the sights. Go on Lake Mendenhall, take a walk along the appropriately named Photo Point Trail, or go deeper to catch most incredible sights in the ever-shifting caves that form under the ice.
4. White Pass
If you find yourself in Skagway, spare some time for a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route. Winding through the mountains and across the border to Whitehorse, this railway lets you retrace the path of the Klondike Gold Rush and check out scenery that looks like it was made for postcards.
The onetime capital of Russian America mixes Old World charm with the region’s Tlingit heritage and American frontier spirit—all in a grand setting between the mountains and rugged, forested islands on the Pacific coast. Admire the totem poles in Sitka National Historical Park, scale the dormant volcano of Mt. Edgecumbe, or watch for whales breaching in the waters around of Baranof Island.
6. Kenai Fjords National Park
Some of Alaska’s most spectacular glaciers empty into the sea from the rugged Kenai Mountains. There’s nothing like taking a cruise to Holgate Glacier, or you can kayak out for an up-close look at the giant walls of ice along Aialik Bay. Keep an eye out for sea lions basking on the shore. If you’re up for a hike, venture inland to check out more scenic spots along the Harding Icefield Trail.
7. Hatcher Pass
This old miners’ route in the Talkeetna Mountains north of Palmer is lined with sweeping views of rugged, incredible scenery. Filled with switchbacks, alpine lakes, and drastic changes in elevation, the pass offers a spectacular new sight around every turn. You can go mountain biking along the Little Susitna River in the summer months or join the skiers and snowmobilers for an alpine adventure in winter.
For a look at the giant structures left over from the Gold Rush days, you can go on a tour of Independence Mine State Historical Park. It says something about Alaska that an abandoned mining operation can be one of the most scenic spots around.
8. Kodiak Island
From its sandy beaches to moss-covered forests and mountain trails, Alaska’s largest island has plenty in store for explorers. You can check out historic buildings in the city of Kodiak, admire the view from Pillar Mountain, or strike into the wilderness to spot brown bears among the towering Sitka spruce. The island also features some of Alaska’s most scenic whale-watching spots, either from the shores of Miller Point or on a boat ride along the shore.
Resting in a vast fjord at the end of Prince William Sound, Valdez shows off some of the best views along the Alaskan coast. You can hike out to the 5 nearby glaciers or go kayaking among the blue icebergs in Port Valdez. Just west of town, visit Shoup Bay State Marine Park and admire misty waterfalls cascading down the cliffs.
The biggest city on Prince of Wales Island looks like it’s been dropped in the middle of another world. Most of Craig’s urban area rests on a little spit of land surrounded by tiny forested islands, open water, and beautiful sights. Strike out to explore the old-growth woodland of Tongass National Forest or watch for humpback whales weaving among the islands.
Some of Alaska’s most scenic spots are in little towns hugging the coast, only accessible by bush plane or boat. Self-described as “Alaska’s best-kept secret,” Seldovia offers an idyllic retreat across from Homer on Kachemak Bay. Check out the stilt houses along the waterfront or join the fleet of fishing boats in the docks along the boardwalk.
12. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
One of Alaska’s best destinations for wildlife sighting rests among the terrific countryside at the head of the Turnagain Arm. Visit this wildlife sanctuary to see some of the state’s most majestic residents, from black bears and bald eagles to muskoxen and wood bison, at home in 700 acres (280 ha) of open habitat.
What are your favorite scenic spots in Alaska?
Head over to Trover to share your favorite photos and see more of Alaska’s most scenic spots.