The Best of Alaska’s Hidden Gems

Published: February 6, 2024

Many Alaska travelers know the state’s most popular attractions from Denali National Park to the Kenai Peninsula to the famed Inside Passage. Yet equally charming ways to experience authentic Alaska are best enjoyed by those who venture off the beaten path to explore untamed wilderness where they can discover Alaska’s “hidden gems”. 

There are surprises galore scattered across America’s largest and “wildest” state, including breath-taking hiking trails, tranquil coastal retreats, authentic cultural experiences, and Midnight Sun fun during Alaska in the summer. The allure of discovering things to do in Alaska beyond the mainstream tourist attractions is that you will find fewer crowds versus those at bucket list destinations and can enjoy them a mellower pace while also deepening your Alaska travel experience and providing you and your companions with many meaningful memories.

Hidden Gems in Alaska That Rate a “Must-Visit”

There are so many benefits to venturing off the beaten path in Alaska. Imagine a day spent practically alone on a hiking trail embraced by neighboring mountains, glaciers, lakes, waterfalls and wildlife. Or maybe you like discovering local culinary and cultural experiences recommended by Alaskans you meet on your trip. Perhaps you’d enjoy spending time chatting with folks in a quirky coffee shop or at a comfortable Alaskan lodge. Taking an Alaska off-the-grid trip to refresh and connect in the natural environment is what it’s all about up here in Alaska. 

Alaska’s hidden gems are everywhere, offering distinct experiences and uniqueness, even within some of the state’s top destinations such as the Kenai Peninsula, Denali National Park, urban outposts like Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau, and port towns like Whittier, Valdez and Cordova. Alaska’s biggest and best feature is its natural environment, a vast and diverse set of connected maritime waterways and land-based ecosystems which dramatically vary across every region. For anyone seeking an outdoor-based Alaska experience, visiting the state’s many secluded and scenic lakes, hidden waterfalls, awe-inspiring viewpoints, and pristine stretches of wilderness are a great place to start.

Breathtaking Hikes: Explore Alaska’s Untamed Wilderness

Alaska is a hiker’s nirvana with a network of easily accessed hiking trails from easy strolls to mountain goat treks. Hiking embodies Alaska off-the-beaten-path adventure and are often the path to other hidden gems from glaciers to mountain passes. 

Alaska’s most popular hike is Flattop Mountain, looming above Anchorage. While Flattop isn’t a hidden gem, its trailhead splinters to get hikers quickly away from busy paths and peaks, and deeper into the Chugach Mountains. One is fittingly named Hidden Lake, a steady hiking trail which ascends up to a beautiful natural lake above.

Many of Alaska’s scenic and secluded hiking trails start near urban areas, or just off main roads, making access convenient for Alaska hikers:

  • Anchorage is a hiking hub with countless trails for all hikers including its popular Coastal Trail
  • Palmer in the Mat-Su Valley has easy hikes (the Butte), moderate climbs (Lazy Mountain), and tough treks (Matanuska Peak, Pioneer Peak), as well as wandering, wonderful trail (Reed Lakes) with grand features from avalanche debris, to waterfalls, and glimmering lakes.
  • Fairbanks is surrounded by domes, but a drive down Chena Hot Springs Road gets hikers to truly unique off-the-main-path hikes: Angel Rocks and Granite Tors.
  • And a pair of Seward hikes have different approaches and views: the glacial magic of a hike up to the Harding Icefield, and the steady through-hike to luminous Lost Lake.

Whatever trail you take, bring broken-in hiking boots and a pack stuffed with layers, a windbreaker, a stocking cap and gloves, even in summer, snacks and even some bear spray. Unsure about the right hike or having some trail trepidation? Just jump on a Guided hiking tour and you’ll be sure to come home with some great “trail tales”! 

Woman enjoying a hike in Alaska mountains

Alaska hiker enjoying a view of an Alaska mountain range.

Tranquil Coastal Retreats: Unwind Amidst Alaska’s Wilderness

Alaska’s lesser-known coastal towns and secluded beaches offer peaceful escapes from the crowds at popular spots like Homer, Juneau and Seward. Some of the prettiest places in Alaska are cruise ports like Valdez, Cordova and Whittier, and Kenai Peninsula towns and beaches that have their own unique off-the-beaten-path character and charms of truly hidden gems worth finding.

Activities and attractions in these coastal catches include beachcombing, fly fishing and sport fishing, Alaska wildlife tours, kayaking adventures, and local cultural experiences. Southeast Alaska ports are rich with natural beauty, Alaska Native cultures and history, and small town vibes.

Even from popular ports of Homer and Seward, visitors can embark by water taxi or by kayak to explore special places off the beaten path from hidden coves, to tucked-away lodges and cabins, and long, lovely beaches, where eagles watch from treetops, otters watch from the water, and other Alaska marine wildlife make their appearance.

Kayaks on Eklutna Lake. Photo by Juno Kim

Kayaks on Eklutna Lake. (Source: Juno Kim)

Immerse Yourself in Authentic Alaskan Culture

Uncovering and experiencing Alaska’s rich cultural heritage is a gem in its own right. Some of the best cultural experiences in Alaska are found at lesser-known historical sites, museums, and art galleries that offer a deep understanding of the state, its people and history.

From learning about Alaska Native traditions to visiting historical places in Alaska that reveal the lifestyles and highlights of Alaska’s famed Gold Rush, Russian explorers, and the transition of a rural, remote outpost to a modern 49th U.S. state, museums, galleries and historical sites in every community tell that region’s tale. And local art galleries featuring artisan works as well as the Alaska Native Centers in Anchorage and Fairbanks are cultural treasures.

Alaska is filled with authentic local experiences, such as traditional Alaska Native events, sampling Alaskan cuisine at restaurants and food trucks, friendly farmers markets and fairs, and local artisans and residents. They’ll gladly share with you some “only in Alaska” tales and their best tips to other hidden gems you might enjoy visiting on your Alaska trip. And, as you explore, you will also be supporting these businesses, venues and communities where these locals thrive.

Art Gallery at the UAF Museum of North Fairbanks. Photo by Megan Ko.

Art Gallery at the UAF Museum of North Fairbanks. (Source: Megan Ko)

Wilderness Awaits: Wildlife Abounds

Many unique activities and experiences in Alaska get even more fascinating and personal – and the opportunities for wildlife viewing get more exciting – the further you are from the masses.

Perfect off-the-beaten path wildlife viewing adventures are among the most thrilling and uniquely Alaskan, from bear watching and whale watching to wildlife and marine cruises to birding! And many other adventures combine opportunities to share your travel experience with Alaska’s friendly animals – from dog-sledding over glaciers, to kayaking and whale watching, and wildlife encounters that instill new learnings about wildlife habitats and behaviors.

Grizzly bear walking with her cubs in Alaskan Marshlands.

Grizzly bear walking with her cubs in Alaskan Marshlands.

Dance to the Lightshows of the Northern Lights

And finally, last but never least, one of Alaska’s truly spectacular gems are the Northern Lights. These every changing lightshows are never guaranteed to appear on any given night in Alaska but after you learn when you most likely to see aurora borealis (and where) you can factor that into any Alaska itinerary. The science behind Aurora Borealis is fascinating. For optimal chances of seeing the Northern Lights, you’ll want to head to Alaska’s Interior Region. And check out these fun myths and legends about the Northern Lights – who knew??

A pair of shutterbugs capture shots of the northern lights outside Anchorage, Alaska. Photo by Jody Overstreet.

A pair of Alaska travelers capture shots of the northern lights outside Anchorage, Alaska. (Source: Jody Overstreet)

Alaska’s hidden gems give all travelers a new perspective into off-the-beaten-path travel experiences, allowing all to explore beyond well-trodden paths and develop a deeper appreciation of Alaska’s authentic beauty, magic and spirit. Igniting your sense of adventure and exploring the true wildness of Alaska will bring visitors rich rewards. And meeting local Alaskans give travelers a better understanding about the best of Alaska by land and water.

Contact us today to learn more about the trip itineraries which will treat you to the best of Alaska’s hidden gems!