If you have ever dreamed about packing your bags and heading north to the great frozen tundra of Alaska, but you worry about what you can do in Alaska with your kids? Have no fear! This article will help give you ideas for fun outdoor activities that you can do with your kids in Alaska. We will provide you with ideas to fit the different seasons that you see and some recommended times of the year to travel based on your temperature tolerance.
Are you ready to head North? We are excited to lead you on an adventure!
First, let’s give you a little history of this grand wilderness that you are planning to visit:
Alaska is the largest state the whole of the United States. In 1959 Alaska was admitted to the union as the 49th state and sit in the extreme northwest of the continent and can sometimes be confused with being a part of Canada.
Alaska was gained by the United States in 1867, the area was dubbed “Seward’s Folly” being named after U.S. Secretary of State William Seward, who is the one who arranged to purchase the land from Russia. The landmass of Alaska is huge! Spanning nearly 665,000 square miles! Just to give you an idea of how large Alaska really is, if you cut Alaska in half, Texas would still be the third-largest state in the union!
Obviously, you aren’t going to be able to explore all of Alaska during your visit. Most of the state’s land is impassable with a lack of roads and many of the villages you can only access by bush planes. With, there are still countless activities that you can do outside with your kids during your visit, even if you aren’t able to explore the entire state.
When to Visit
Alaska is beautiful all year! Based on what activities you want to do and how tolerant of cold temperatures you are – this will determine more of when you will want to plan your visit.
This is when most travelers want to visit Alaska. This is because of the beautiful weather, warm temperatures, and nearly 24-hours of daylight that we enjoy in Alaska during the summer hours. Alaskan summers begin around Memorial Day (end of May) and last until the first two weeks of August. Temperatures can range from 45℉-70℉, although, summer of 2019, Anchorage broke a National record for seeing nearly 90℉ in July! The beautiful views of mountain ranges, green forests, and a sun that never sets is a major draw for many travelers.
Winters in Alaska are on the range from mild to extreme. If you are a lover of snow, this is when you want to travel to Alaska. Since Alaska contains 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States, including Mt. Denali (Mt. McKinley) sitting at 20,320 feet, is the tallest mountain in North America, you have lots of options for peaks to climb. Even though the darkness fills most of the day, this doesn’t stop Alaskan from getting out and enjoying the crisp temperatures snow machining, dog sledding, snowboarding, skiing, and everything else you can imagine doing in the snow…even in the darkness.
Of course, there is always Spring (also known as Break Up Season, not because of couples breaking up but because of the ice cracking and melting) and Fall (better known as Hunting Season) that you can come and visit but Spring is neither as pretty as visiting in the summer, but it is also very muddy, so there is less to do in the Spring. Hunting season, I mean, Fall, is a very pretty time to visit. The air is cool, and the colors are breathtaking! Not quite the colors of an East Coast fall, but there is some competition. You won’t see as many locals around because most of them are out hunting – but there isn’t a better time of year if you want to do a little road-tripping.
What to do with Kids in Alaska
So, those are the seasons of when you can come and visit – let’s start talking about WHAT there is to do outdoors in Alaska with kids!
1. Go Dog sledding
Despite what you may think, dogsledding isn’t just a tourist trap or something that is used on TV to make Alaska more rural. There are two major dogsled races that happen out of Fairbanks and Anchorage every winter. However, many Alaskans live in the “bush” country and use dog teams every day as part of their lifestyle. A great activity to do with kids is live out your inner Iditarod fantasies and take a tour with Salmon Berry Tours takes guests to the Talkeetna (which is between Fairbanks and Anchorage) homestead of Dallas Seavey, a four-time Iditarod Champion, where you’ll be able to meet professional mushers and adorable Iditarod champion Alaskan Huskies. Then you can hop on a two-person sled for an unforgettable run through private, birch tree-lined trails. This is more of a winter activity, but you can still take a tour to visit the homestead during the summertime as well.
2. Ride a Mountain Bike Through Denali
This is a truly unforgettable experience. You can take a few days to enjoy Denali National park, and if you visit during the summer, you can book a room at Pursuit’s Denali Backcountry Lodge. This lodge is located deep inside the massive Denali National Park—it’s 92 miles from the Denali Visitor’s Center and accessible only by one road to give you a better insight into Alaskan life. But once you get there, you can borrow one of the lodge’s mountain bikes for a two-wheeled adventure. It is amazing to get out inside the park to experience the landscape in a unique and quiet way. Oh, and be sure to bring your bear-spotting binoculars.
3. Whale Watching in Juneau
This is a great experience for kids traveling of all ages. Everyone enjoys seeing whales, seals, dolphins, puffins, and the vast array of wildlife that you will see during a wildlife cruise. You can do either a full or a half-day group tour. Begin with a cruise to view Humpback whales and other marine life from a picture-perfect vantage point. You can find when is the best time to travel to see the most wildlife in the fjords but there is always wildlife to be seen in the nook of Alaska.
4. Zipline the Wilderness
Just because Alaska is primarily wilderness doesn’t mean that there aren’t a plethora of adventures to be had in the great and wild outdoors. There are several zipline companies throughout the state that you can try out depending on where you are traveling, e.g. here in Denali and a good overview here. Take you and your kids through a fantastic series of zip lines in the lush Alaskan canopy. You will zoom from platform to platform while your friends and family cheer you on! There is no better way to get your heart will be pumping as you zip high above the ground through the treetops!
5. Pioneer Park – Better Known as “Alaska Land”
Alaska Land (a name still used by locals), now renamed Pioneer park, is a great place to spend the day in Fairbanks. The park is free, so you can save money and still learn about Alaska’s tough history through grueling winters that dropped below -80℉ or about the strategic military advantage the United States had because of rural outposts and brave Bush pilots in WWII. There are also lots of shopping and food cabins. Each of the cabins you’ll see around the park is original structures from when settlers came to Fairbanks, so even shopping is a historical trip.
6. University of Alaska Great Museum of the North
Spend the afternoon wandering around the University of Alaska Museum of the North in Fairbanks. This is a great place to bring the family because it is not only educational, but the kids get a kick out of the Woolly Mammoth that is in the exhibit room. The locals’ joke about with tourists when giving directions and say, “take a left at the iceberg,” this isn’t Alaskans being rude, the architectural design was based on one of Alaska’s many icebergs that we have floating off the coast of Barrow. This came about because of this where a lot of teams that submit their research into the museum are based close to Barrow. This museum is also the ONLY research and teaching museum in the state of Alaska.
7. Gold Dredge No. 8
Goldstream Dredge No. 8 is a ladder dredge operated by the Fairbanks Exploration Company from 1928 to 1959. It is located on the Old Steese Highway between Fairbanks and Fox (where I grew up). Starting in the 1920s, water was brought to the area through the 90-mile Davidson Ditch for gold mining. Keep in mind that this is a summer activity, only open to tourists between May and September so make sure you check their website, they also book up fast during the summer, so book this tour out early to ensure that you get a chance to PAN FOR GOLD! Yes – you keep any gold you find; I’ve found several flakes myself!
8. Chena Hot Springs
I saved the best for last! It is important to have options, and if you like lots of options – Chena Hot Springs is the place for you. You can make your visit a half-day, full-day, weekend, or an entire week Chena hot springs has what you need. A full range of summer and winter activities you can book through their activities counter. Of course, the first draw is the hot springs themselves. This is a great place to soak up relaxing minerals from the springs – if you make a trip in the winter, this is one of the most famous locations where you can view the Northern Lights! And of course, what better way to do so than while soaking in the hot springs, so you aren’t freezing your butt off?
There are also great overnight options; in 2005, a hotel was built to start accommodating the influxes of tourists, but if you want to bunker down in a cozy cottage, there are “spring side” cabins available as well.
Don’t just use this list though, get your good shoes on and take a hike, a walk, or a simple stroll in the great outdoors of Alaska. This vast wilderness is a fantastic state to experience with your family with kids of all ages. We hope that this list helps get you started with your planning process for the Great North of Alaska.