Alaska: Our Family-Friendly Fun in the 49th State

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Sarah Palin aside, Alaska is attracting a lot of attention these days, and no wonder. With towering mountains so rugged most residents haven’t climbed their craggy peaks, plus pristine waters so full of fish a family can fill their freezer in a day, Alaska is a cool destination among the adventure-minded, moms and dads included.

Alaska family fun

Alaska family fun: Fishing at Summit Lake on the way to Homer, Alaska

Pace Yourself

It’s a big, wild life we lead up here, and we love showing it off! While it’s easy to decide to visit Alaska, what’s not so simple is choosing where to go once you arrive. Alaska is divided into rich regions, all of which boast unique attributes and activities. Alaska possesses 21% of the land mass in the United States. With 572,000 square miles of gorgeous landscape, Alaska manages to fool many a visitor who makes tracks to see the entire state in seven days. Keep in mind, not all roads are smoothly paved freeways and many areas of Alaska are not easily accessible to human visitors. Especially when traveling with children, an itinerary is crucial to a trip’s success and enjoyment by all.

Choose One Region Per Visit

My family’s travels have taken us up, down, and all around Alaska’s roads, waterways, and air routes. The best itineraries, we’ve found, are those narrowed to one region, allowing for ample exploration and immersion into the history, culture, and outdoor recreation most guests to our state crave.

Pick Your Season

Keep in mind that Alaska is a four-season tourism state, but only during the summer months do most tour operators keep their doors open, usually May through September. A wonderful exception is Salmon Berry Tours in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city. Locally owned and delightfully staffed, Salmon Berry hosts small, intimate tours year-round to see the greater Anchorage area or the entire state. Guests choose from city tours of only a few hours or week-long excursions into Alaska’s Interior region of Fairbanks and beyond. Happily kids are welcomed here with open arms.

Visit during winter to see the beautiful Northern Lights while snowshoeing or Nordic skiing near historic Talkeetna or try the Iditarod Race special and receive up-close attention from a champion team as you witness the start to the Last Great Race.

Summer is king, though, if you want to experience the lush, rich environment of Alaska close-up. Scores of vacationers check Alaska off their bucket list each year.

Kachemak Bay Alaska

Throwing rocks into Kachemak Bay

Explore the Kenai Peninsula & Homer

A favorite family trip is traveling down the Kenai Peninsula toward Homer, at the very tip of the Sterling Highway and sprawled out along stunning Kachemak Bay. Allow five days to explore this region. Rent a darling cabin from Homer Seaside Cottages. Your posse can walk to just about every attraction this hamlet has to offer. From sticky buns at Two Sisters Bakery to a beach combing expedition at Bishop’s Beach and oceanic exploration at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, it’s all right there for a family’s utter satisfaction.

Like fishing? Take the kids down to the Homer Spit, a short drive from the cottages and the home of a myriad fishing charters that cart visitors into the open water for a few hours or for a full day of halibut and/or salmon fishing. A small lagoon on the spit offers easy fishing for kids of all ages. This a great option for parents who don’t want to spend a bundle on a fishing charter but still desire the experience of Alaskan fishing.

The Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies also operates a small classroom yurt to complement its bluffside Wynn Nature Center, where families can take advantage of the organization’s fabulous classes and exhibits. Homer prides itself on being hands-on with learning, and it definitely shows here.

Alaska otters Seldovia

A raft of otters interested in passengers riding the ferry to Seldovia

Take An Extra Day in Seldovia

Have an extra day? Take the Alaska Marine Highway to the quaint bayside village of Seldovia, home to the Seldovia Native population and a handful of folks who choose to live almost off the grid. Worth a trip simply for the delicious scenery and wildlife, a ferry ride to Seldovia can be fun for the whole family. A few hours spent hiking, biking or beach combing the rocky shores are priceless memory-makers. Take the “Otterbahn” trail from the end of main street and wind up and around a huge Sitka Spruce forest before crossing a number of raised walkways, eventually coming out at a lovely cove where otters frolic and humpback whales often feed.

Enjoy One Last Alaskan Hurrah

On your way home from the Kenai Peninsula, stop by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, an easy 45 miles south of Anchorage and a wonderful way to introduce kids to the incredible diversity of wildlife in Alaska. Open year-round, the center cares for injured or abandoned animals ranging from a cranky porcupine to a cadre of brown bears who never fail to amaze me with their antics. It’s a great driving break and a chance to see, hear, and, yes, even smell these critters close up. Plus, the moose calves are absolutely adorable in person!

It’s a sure thing once your family is back in the airport that you’ll be hearing pleas to return to Alaska.

Would you like to bring your family to Alaska? Why or why not? Tell us in the comments!

Erin Kirkland is a freelance travel writer specializing in family adventures within Alaska. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and youngest son. Visit her website, AKontheGO.com, for itineraries, packing lists, safety considerations, and reviews of family-friendly attractions and activities in the 49th state.

Comments

  1. I love Alaska & can’t wait to take my kids there someday. Erin offers some great advice here – pick one part of the state and concentrate your visit there instead of trying to see the entire state. And don’t worry about making a “bad” choice – it’s just not possible. If you like nature, wildlife and the outdoors, you will not be disappointed!

  2. My husband and I went to Alaska last summer. We drove down to Homer, then took a commercial float plane to Katmai to see grizzly bears catching salmon in the river. It was incredible to be 30 feet from about 14 bears and yet have no fear – they prefer the abundant fish and we were stationed on a cement platform. It was the highlight of our 2 week trip.

  3. Travel with Teens & Tweens says:

    We are heading to Alaska this summer and have been wondering whether the teens would get bored in Homer – great tips! Can’t wait to see it

  4. Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama says:

    Alaska is certainly on my personal bucket list. I hope to visit the 49th state someday. I know my kids would love it! Thank you, Erin, for the great Alaska travel tips!

  5. Elizabeth says:

    I’ve always been a tropical vacation kind of girl, but now that I live in a city where the sun shines all the time, Alaska keeps showing up on my radar. My brothers and parents have been several times but always backpacking in the wilderness, which doesn’t appeal to me. I prefer the idea of cabins and bakeries between visits to the grizzlies and the otters. Thanks for the suggestions! I’m sold.

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