Family Time at the Last Frontier: Five Kid-Friendly Activities in Alaska
At first glance, the vast and untamed state of Alaska seems like an intimidating place for a family vacation. With a little planning, however, it is possible to enjoy the state's wondrous signature experiences with kids. After all, what child wouldn't delight in spotting whales in the ocean, seeing a chunk of ice break off a glacier or riding in a sled pulled by huskies? A family trip to Alaska is a singular opportunity to engage with the state's vibrant indigenous culture and explore the gold rush history that shaped many local communities.
Be Awed by Local Wildlife
Sure, you can get your wildlife fix at the Alaska Zoo (4731 O'Malley Rd., Anchorage, AK) in Anchorage, AK the state's largest city, but one of the most thrilling experiences you can offer a child in Alaska is the chance to see animals in their native habitat. Take a boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park (1212 4th Ave., Seward, AK) to see killer and humpback whales. Marvel at some of the state's iconic land mammals, including moose and black bears, when you explore the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge (1 Skihill Rd., Soldotna, AK), which offers both hiking and canoe trails suitable for families.
Catch a Glimpse of a Glacier
Glaciers are among the most distinctive scenery Alaska offers and there are many opportunities to marvel at them. From Anchorage, it's a short trip to Prince William Sound, AK where you can take your pick of day cruises, many of which operate from the town of Whittier. Don't leave without seeing the glaciers in College Fjord, which bear the names of Ivy League universities. In summer, opt for a boat tour of Glacier Bay National Park through Glacier Bay Lodge and Tours (179 Barlett Cove Rd., Gustavus, AK). The price for adults is $205.00; children pay $102.50. Lunch is included.
Revisit Alaska's Gold Rush Heritage
Gold was discovered in Alaska in the mid-1800s. Today, visitors of all ages delve into that history. In the city of Fairbanks, AK take a tour and pan for gold at Gold Dredge 8 (1803 Old Steese Hwy. N., Fairbanks, AK ), which operated from 1928 to 1959. The tour includes not only the dredge itself, but also a train ride along some of the original mining routes. Miners show visitors how to pan for gold, and you are guaranteed to take some real ore home with you as a souvenir. Adults pay $40 for the tour; children pay $25. There's no fee for infants ages 3 and under.
Learn About Native Alaskan Culture
A trip to Alaska is a fantastic opportunity to learn about the state's 11 major cultural groups. Start at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage (8800 Heritage Center Dr., Anchorage, AK), where, in addition to art exhibits, representatives of various indigenous groups offer performances and demonstrations. Watch Native American artists make crafts in the Hall of Cultures and witness a dance or game demonstration at the center's stage, known as the Gathering Place. The center is open daily in summer. Adults pay $25; children between the ages of 7 and 16 pay $17; and children ages 6 and under get in free. A discount is available for residents of Alaska. Consider also visiting Sitka National Historical Park (106 Metlakatla St., Sitka, AK), where you can view authentic totem poles.
Go for a Heart-Pumping Ride in a Dog Sled
One of the signature experiences in Alaska is riding in a sled pulled by huskies or other dogs—an activity known as mushing—and it's one the kids will cherish. The closest option near Anchorage is the Alaska Mushing School (19391 West Lakes Blvd., Big Lake, AK), where a sled ride costs $169 per person. For an additional $100 per person, you'll get round-trip transportation to and from Anchorage. Included in the price is a tour of the kennel. In Seward, during the summer, opt for a tour with Seavey's Ididaride (12820 Old Exit Glacier Rd., Seward, AK), run by the Seavey family, which has a long and rich mushing tradition. The cost is $74 per adult and $37 per child.
- Travel Alaska: Wildlife Viewing
- Alaska Native Heritage Center: The Experience
- Alaska Native Heritage Center: Buy Tickets
- Sitnka National Historical Park: Hiking in Sitka
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Kenai National Wildlife Refuge - Refuge Reflections Visitor Guide
- Frommer's: For Families in Alaska
- Alaska Mushing School
- Seavey's Ididaride
- Gold Dredge 8
- Visit Anchorage: Glaciers in Prince William Sound
- Glacier Bay Lodge and Tours: Glacier Bay Day Tour
Since beginning her career as a professional journalist in 2007, Nathalie Alonso has covered a myriad of topics, including arts, culture and travel, for newspapers and magazines in New York City. She holds a B.A. in American Studies from Columbia University and lives in Queens with her two cats.