I think we can all agree from the start that Alaska isn’t exactly known to be an affordable adventure. Alaska is a bucket list, I’m-gonna-have-to-save-for-this kind of trip. For starters, it’s not close to anything except the Yukon, British Columbia and Russia. And while Alaska is a giant piece of land, a lot of it is only accessible by plane or boat (Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, etc). After dropping cash on travel arrangements and lodging to hit all the top spots, you may be thinking you want to stick to the free activities like hiking (and you should – there is an endless amount of incredible hikes) but there are some activities like Seward whale watching, Denali flightseeing, Anchorage mountain biking, and Juneau kayaking that are 100% worth the money!
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Seward Whale Watching + 3 Other Alaskan Activities that are 100% Worth the Money
Seward Whale Watching – Kenai Fjords Wildlife and Glacier Cruise
The 6-hour Kenai Fjords National Park Glacier and Wildlife Cruise out of Seward heads towards either the Holgate or Aialik glacier and is topnotch for whale watching! But not just whale watching, the captain visits all the wildlife hotspots and keeps in close contact with all other boats out in the area to follow any reports of wildlife. On a rainy day in early July 2022, we saw orca whales (!!), humpback whales, dall’s porpoises, sea lions, sea otters, harbor seals, bald eagles, puffins, a ton of other birds and a black bear!
Alaska’s peak whale season is from May to September. Orcas are primarily seen in the Kenai Fjords during the King Salmon run from May to June. The humpbacks show up in numbers from June to July. Seeing orca whales in July is actually pretty rare, so we definitely got lucky! Both humpback whales and orcas can stick around until September but are only spotted occasionally later in the summer.
Highlights of this cruise:
- Incredibly knowledgeable captain and friendly staff
- Assigned seating in the heated cabin
- Well-organized boarding and lunch service
- Complimentary coffee, tea, and water. Snacks and other beverages for purchase.
If you prefer not to spend the night in Seward, you can make it a day trip from Anchorage! You can book an Alaska Railroad Roundtrip from Anchorage to Seward and opt for the afternoon cruise departure. The train arrives in Seward at 11:15 AM and the cruise departs at 11:30 AM. The boat dock is a 2 minute walk from the rail station. If that’s too close for comfort, there’s also a 4 hour cruise option that departs at 12:30 PM!
Seward whale watching should definitely be on your bucket list but if Seward doesn’t make it on your itinerary, you could also try these highly-rated tours out of Juneau, Ketchikan or Sitka!
- Juneau Wildlife Whale Watching
- Ketchikan Whale Watching and Wildlife Viewing Excursion
- Sitka Whale Watching and Marine Wildlife Shore Excursion
Denali Flightseeing Tour from Talkeetna
If you’re going to be in Alaska, you HAVE to take the Denali Experience Flightseeing Tour from Talkeetna (even if you gotta sell a kidney to do it). You’ll spend an hour and a half in a 6-to-10 seat bush plane, soaring over glaciers and getting up close and personal with snow capped mountains in the Alaska Range and Denali National Park. Pro tip: when the pilot asks who wants to sit up front, volunteer yourself as tribute!
There’s a more expensive option that includes a glacier landing but honestly, the flight experience was unreal without it and even when paid for, the glacier landing is not always guaranteed depending on weather. If that’s the case, you’d get your additional money back.
For a small plane, the ride was much smoother than expected and the pilots are super knowledgeable. We had a younger pilot named Phil from Philadelphia who was fabulous! If you’re going to spend your money on anything in Alaska, Denali flightseeing should definitely be at the top of your list!
Important note: Talkeetna is about 2 hours south of the main entrance of Denali National Park. It’s a funky little town that’s fun to spend the night in!
Anchorage Mountain Biking in Chugach State Park
This one’s a workout but so worth it! If you’re up to get your sweat on, the Fat Tire Biking in Chugach State Park Tour is an adventurous 12-mile bike ride into the Chugach Mountains on a well-traveled path. The guide stops several times along the way to an alpine lake to enjoy the scenery, give you a second to catch your breath, and educate. At the top, you earn yourself some views! Bikes, helmets, water and a few snacks are provided.
From experience, the lesson on how to properly use the gears matters, LOL. Don’t make it harder than it already is! Easier gears going up, harder gears on flat ground / going down. And wear bug spray!
Kayaking in Juneau with Mendenhall Glacier Views
Last but not least, kayaking in Juneau surrounded by mountains and glaciers! The Mendenhall Glacier View Sea Kayaking tour is a great option if you’re coming by cruise ship! The tour picks up at Mt. Roberts Tramway right in the cruise port and takes you on a guided kayak through Fritz Cove and the Mendenhall wetlands with views of Mendenhall Glacier in the distance!
If you’ll have a car, you could also opt to rent a kayak from Alaska Boat & Kayak Rental Shop and take your own adventure in Auke Bay or Auke Lake! Just know, the “dry season” in Juneau is from March to June, otherwise it can be quite rainy. Though spray skirts are included in the rental, make sure to come prepared with raincoats and weatherproof pants!
Other kayaking options:
There is an endless amount of activities that Alaska has to offer and it can be so hard to choose! When it comes down to it, you really can’t go wrong with anything Alaska has to offer… but Seward whale watching, Denali flightseeing, Anchorage mountain biking, and Juneau kayaking are definitely among the best!