With its snowcapped mountain ranges, sprawling glaciers, moss-carpeted rain forests and more, the Last Frontier wows at nearly every turn. But at these six best places to visit in Alaska, it’s certain: Alaska has simply outdone itself.

1. Tongass National Forest

Why it wows: Enter the forest’s old-growth woodlands and leave civilization behind. Columns of trees (Sitka spruce, western hemlock and others—some more than 800 years old) soar to the sky, while the floor is a verdant carpet of moss, ferns and lichen. Let the quiet stillness—save for the calls of birds here and a burbling stream there—envelop you.

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How to see it: As the world’s largest intact coastal temperate rain forest (nearly 17 million acres), the Tongass covers much of southeast Alaska’s famed Inside Passage—so there are many ways to enjoy it. Try departing from Ketchikan, where guided ecohikes lead you to waterfalls and viewing platforms. (If you prefer to go it alone, the Rainbird Trail—a five-minute taxi ride from downtown—is an easy, 1.3-mile forest trail with postcard-worthy views across the Tongass Narrows and the islands beyond.) Want to spread your wings? Here and in Juneau, zip lines take you flying through the forest’s canopy.

2. Brooks River Falls

Why it wows: One of the best places to visit in Alaska is bear country—and watching these massive creatures fish, forage and play in their natural habitat is a thrilling experience. One of the best places to do so is from the viewing platforms at this six-foot waterfall in Katmai National Park and Preserve, 250 miles southwest of Anchorage. Drawn to the abundant salmon, brown bears perch in the rushing river at the fall’s edge, waiting to grab fish in midleap as they fight their way upstream toward spawning grounds.

How to see it: Many visitors take guided day trips from Anchorage or Homer. During the peak of salmon migration in July, it’s common to see 20 to 25 bears around the falls—both males and, a bit downstream, mothers and their cubs.

3. Stony Hill Overlook

Why it wows: Just a single road runs through the 6 million acres of wilderness that is Denali National Park and Preserve. This stop along the way offers one of Alaska’s most stirring scenes: the road below stretching toward Denali—North America’s highest peak—and, on clear days, a nearly base-to-summit view of the mountain.

How to see it: Take the renowned Tundra Wilderness Tour, a day-long bus journey led by an informative driver-guide who stops for wildlife sightings. (Bear, Dall sheep, moose and caribou often amble across the road or climb the rocky slopes.) On clear days, the buses travel all the way to the overlook—62 miles one way—to treat riders to this magnificent vista. Local wisdom has it that clear weather around the mountain is more likely in the mornings, and also earlier in the mid-May-through-mid-September summer season.

4. Glacier Bay

Why it wows: This amphitheater of blue-tinged ice is awe-inspiring in its breadth and natural beauty, making it one of the best places to visit in Alaska. A fjord that extends for 65 miles along the Inside Passage, Glacier Bay is home to seven tidewater glaciers: miles-long swaths of ice that extend to the sea. Set against a backdrop of snow-covered mountains, the sight is otherworldly—and unforgettable.

How to see it: From the deck of a cruise ship or tour boat, you can expect hours of visual wonder as you float alongside icy stunners such as 21-mile-long Margerie Glacier. Keep an eye out for calving—when a glacier releases a chunk of ice with a thunderous crack, followed by a dramatic splash as the ice hits the water below. It can even seem as if you have the glorious scenery to yourself at times, thanks to the National Park Service limits on the number of vessels allowed in the bay.

5. Turnagain Arm

Why it wows: Alaska’s scenic beauty amps up along this narrow channel, an inlet just south of Anchorage. Sea, sky and dramatic mountains on each side, Turnagain Arm has it all—plus the chance to view Dall sheep, beluga whales and eagles. No wonder the 45-minute drive between Anchorage and Girdwood is considered one of North America’s most beautiful.

How to see it: Head via car or motor coach along the Seward Highway, which curves around the shore of Turnagain Arm. Another option: the train between Anchorage and the port of Seward, which hugs the arm with plenty of time to admire the views. On either journey, you’ll see Chugach State Park’s mountains jutting up on one side of the arm; on the other side, the sometimes 4-mile-wide flats (depending on the tide) stretch to the opposite shores of Cook Inlet, where more mountains soar to the sky.

6. Hurricane Gulch

Why it wows: The steel arch bridge that spans 914 feet across Hurricane Gulch offers a bird’s-eye view of classic Alaska. On each side of the bridge, it’s a steep, nearly 300-foot drop to Hurricane Creek and its salmon-packed waters that wind through a broad valley toward the Talkeetna Mountains.

How to see it: Take the eight-hour train ride between Anchorage and Denali for this and countless other photo opportunities (including, on clear days, views of Denali stretching high into the clouds). The train crosses the bridge just north of Talkeetna: Spring for the upper-level seats in the glass-domed viewing cars and spend time in the open-air vestibules taking in the panoramas, from birch tree forests in backcountry wilderness to Broad Pass and its views of the Alaska Range.

Ready to Explore?

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