As a first-time Alaska traveler, with a pending trip rapidly approaching, what is it I hope to see while on a trip north? When I think of Alaska, I envision the classic grizzly bears, glaciers and bald eagles, but I also know there is so much more to look forward to thanks to all the advice I’ve gotten from the well-traveled team at AdventureSmith Explorations. Thus, this bucket list of must-see’s and do’s has been compiled with high hopes, but realistic expectations—this will not be my last trip, as Alaska offers so much.

All you need to start checking off this Alaska bucket list is a readiness for adventure.

See which of these makes your bucket list and then join me in checking them off on an Alaska trip of your own! We’ve compiled these top Alaska attractions and experiences to be do-able by the average traveler. No extreme fitness or access required, just a ticket to Alaska and a readiness for adventure.

Group of Alaskan travelers hiking on a rocky shoreline with snowy mountains and small ship cruise in the background.

1. See a Grizzly Bear or Brown Bear

Of course, this is number one on the list of Alaska attractions, as many of us dream of seeing Alaska’s beautiful and powerful bears—from a safe distance of course. Observing the power and prowess of megafauna is always such an impressive sight and I expect will be especially rewarding with insight on the bear’s behavior from a knowledgeable naturalist guide.

Next Level

Seeing a mom and cubs.

Alaskan brown bear and two small cubs playing in the grass.

2. Kayak Near a Glacier

The immense, blue and calving glaciers of Alaska are famous. Getting (safely) up close via a small personal-powered vessel such as a kayak is an unforgettably beautiful sight—and sound. I’ve heard that being in a small kayaking group allows you to enjoy the silence and hear all the cracking and calving sounds of the glacier.

Next Level

Seeing a glacier calve and experiencing the residual wave while in a kayak.

Two kayaks resting in the ocean looking at tidewater glaciers in Alaska.

3. Spot Bald Eagles

Supposedly bald eagles are everywhere in Alaska, but for the rest of us spotting one is a rare event you brag about at the dinner table. Seeing these grand birds as common as crows in Alaska would be ahh-so American.

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Seeing an eagle hunting & swooping up prey.

A bald eagle perched on top of an iceberg floating off the shoreline in Alaska.

4. Gaze Upon Denali while Staying in a Wilderness Cabin

Many visitors to Denali National Park never lay eyes on the actual mountain (learn why in this How to Visit Denali blog post), so to be one of the rare few to see North America’s highest peak would be a breathtaking opportunity that is entirely possible if you plan your trip right. Staying in a wilderness cabin in the national park where you can see the mountain from your own front porch sounds pretty ideal too.

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Seeing a sunset or sunrise over Denali.

Denali mountain in full view with blue skies in Alaska.

5. Spot Killer Whales

As a kid that grew up with Free Willy, killer whales have always held a spot in my heart. To witness these powerful and intelligent beings while in their wild, expansive ocean would be truly heartwarming.

Next Level

Seeing a whole pod of orca whales.

A single orca whale swimming above water.

6. Watch the Swaggering Gait of a Moose

If, like me, you’ve seen the opening scene of Northern Exposure, the early 90s sitcom set in a small Alaskan town, the image of a moose strolling through the town with its clomping feet and grand antlers might be your visual of quintessential Alaska life. Turns out, in places even as urban as Anchorage, this can happen.

Next Level

Seeing a moose swim!

A large moose with a full rack standing in the tundra of Alaska.

7. Go on a Bushwhacking Hike

Bushwhacking means that there is no trail, and your guide leads the way through the forest. Exploring the untouched Alaskan wilderness with a knowledgeable guide, good hiking/muck boots and some waterproof pants sounds exactly like the remote exploring I want to do to feel fully immersed in nature.

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Reaching a high point with an epic view.

A group of Alaskan hikers standing in a bog in Alaska.

8. Sail Through an Alaskan Fjord

Because much of Alaska’s coastline was carved by glaciers, granite walls are known to tower high, and some U-shaped passages feel barely wide enough for a small ship. I want to sail among these cathedral-like cliffs that inspire a sense of worship, that make you whisper or refrain from mindless chatter altogether. To fully witness a place that forces me to gasp in awe is truly the transformational travel experience that I pine for.

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Having someone with a beautiful voice sing an enchanting song that echoes through the fjord.

A scenic Alaskan fjord with granite sheer rock.

9. Take a Polar Plunge

Growing up on the shores of the alpine Lake Tahoe, I well understand the power of a frigid dip. The boost of energy from the cold is powerful and is a fun way to connect with fellow travelers as it brings everyone together for a common yet usual experience.

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In the nude!

2 young boys jumping into the Alaskan water with a skiff motoring in front of them.

10. Snorkel Among Unique Cold-Water Sea Life

Tropical waters are not the only places to see interesting sea life! What can be seen in the Arctic waters of Alaska? Plenty of vibrant sea stars, star fish, crabs, jellyfish, a variety of fish, sea urchins and sea cucumbers are some of the possibilities. And yes—you wear a very thick wetsuit.

Next Level

Spotting cold-weather nudibranchs (vibrant and various sea slugs).

A group of Alaskan travelers and guide snorkeling looking at a starfish with a zodiac behind them.

11. See the Northern Lights

The idea of the night sky turning colors naturally is wild to imagine. Those who travel early or late season have the best chances to check this phenomenon off their list as there is more darkness to showcase the lights.

Next Level

Seeing a shooting star shoot through the northern lights.

Green northern lights in the night sky viewed from the deck of a Alaskan small ship cruise.

12. Observe Bubble-Feeding Whales

Whales in themselves are magnificent, but a group of them feeding off krill, opening their giant mouths while coming out of the water just seems too magical to be true!

Next Level

Being alongside bubble-feeding whales while in a kayak.

2 humpback whales coming out of the Alaskan waters with their mouths open.

13. Fly in a Float Plane

Alaska is the mecca for seaplanes with so many of its towns and notable sights only accessible from the ocean. And this quintessential Alaskan mode of transportation really gives you some perspective to see all the epic wilderness, dramatic mountains and land formations. Flying above, looking down is an ideal way to get a new outlook on Alaska’s grandeur—not to mention the thrill and ease of landing on water.

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Taking the controls

A yellow and orange Alaskan float plan sitting on the water in Alaska.

14. Go on a Digital Detox

Yes, this is on my bucket list. I want to fully embrace Alaska’s deep wilderness and spotty WiFi. Taking a deep breath and feeding my cells with fresh Alaskan air, being surrounded by expansive forests, glacial waters and wild animals is making me just ache for the remoteness while I write this…

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Having a day without technology (even a camera) to just be present with the surroundings & to spend silent time sitting in the wilderness being fully present.

2 Alaskan travelers hiking on a trail in a Alaskan forest.

15. Visit a Tribal House

Learning about the history and culture is an important way to acknowledge and respect the people of every destination, and this is definitely important in Alaska with the Native culture. What better way to learn about the local traditions of the Tlingit cultures than visiting a tribal house?

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Learning from a Tlingit elder.

A Tlingit house with large totem art on the walls and poles.

16. Walk Among Totems

The history and mythology depicted on each respective totem would be a unique and powerful way to connect with generations of Tlingit families.

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Watching one being carved live!

Tlingit totem poles set in a circle among the Alaskan forest.

17. Eat Alaskan Crab Legs

Eating sustainably caught, fresh crab legs seems to be one that you can’t go to Alaska without doing (if you eat fish of course). Where else can you taste the freshness of mineral-rich waters with the buttery flavor of crab?

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Enjoying other fresh Alaskan fare, such as just-caught salmon.

A meal of Alaskan king crab, soup and fried fish on a table.

18. Catch a Fish

Alaska is famous for its many fishing experiences, and catching salmon or trout from the legendary banks of the Kenai River or trolling for halibut and rockfish from a skiff or the deck of a small ship in the Inside Passage or Prince William Sound (then feasting on the catch) would be another ultimate Alaska meal.

Next Level

Bringing some home to share with friends.

An Alaskan traveler holding a king salmon on a boat in the ocean.

19. Sip a Drink Made with Glacial Ice

Alaskan bartenders, especially those aboard small ships with access to remote glaciers, are known to make a specialty polar drink with the clean, nutrient-rich ice from a glacier. Sounds pretty refreshing to me.

Next Level

Getting a “glacial facial” with glacier mud.

Alaskan small ship crew members hand holding a piece of a ice berg in a zodiac.

20. Forage with a Knowledgeable Guide

The expansive Alaskan wilderness shares more than epic scenery and charismatic mega fauna, it also contains a wide variety of medicinal and nutritional foods that have been used by the locals for years.

The expansive Alaskan wilderness contains a wide variety of medicinal foods that have been used by the locals for years.

One example of a healthy snack found while bushwhacking through the bush is devil’s club, an important herb with the native Tlingit. This medicinal food has been known to aid curing digestive issues, fevers, arthritis, sore throats, diabetes and much more.

Next Level

Visiting a local distillery that makes gin with devil’s club.

Alaskan guide holding a green pod in the Alaskan wilderness.

Stay tuned to the AdventureSmith blog, Facebook and Instagram feeds to find out which items I check off my list in Alaska this spring while traveling on the Glacier Bay National Park Adventure Cruise and read on to learn more about all of AdventureSmith’s Alaska trips.

Images 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 14, 15 and 17 are by Adventure Specialist Andrew Browning. Image 12 is by Kevin Saslavchik and last image is by Adventure Specialist Taylor Cranney.