Alaska traditionally has been a vacation destination for retirees who seek to see their first glacier or to experience the scenic wonder of Mt. Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley). But more and more families are traveling to Alaska. There are a number of great activities to experience in Alaska with children and a couple that are best avoided! Certainly the age of the children you are traveling with will dictate what you can and can’t do but there are many tours and destination suitable for people of all ages.
When booking hotels and excursions within Alaska, keep in mind that the child rate applies to children 11 years of age or younger and those over the age of twelve are considered adults. Another important aspect of traveling with children is becoming familiar with the car seat regulations. If you are traveling with a child under 65 pounds you will need to bring a car seat or booster seat along.
How to Travel
You have many options on how to travel around Alaska with your children. The most economical route is to travel by rental car. This allows you the most flexibility and if you are required to use car seats then you only have to secure them once. However, kids love a train ride as well! I would recommend traveling by car between Anchorage and Denali and then visiting Seward by train and bus. The train ride to Seward is about four hours and is the most scenic stretch of railbelt in Alaska.
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city and offers some of the traditional must do “kid” activities like a visit to the zoo and our local museum. The Alaska Zoo is home to many animals that inhabit the Alaskan wilderness including bears, moose, sheep, wolves and caribou. The zoo is also home to some unique non-native animals such as a Siberian tiger, Bactrian camels and yaks. It takes about 1.5 hours to walk through the Alaska zoo. A free shuttle from downtown Anchorage operates daily through the summer months. Admission prices are $7 for ages 3-17, $15 adults and $10 for seniors 65 years and older. The zoo offers family nights on Tuesdays and Fridays featuring animal presentations, talks by zoo staff and live music.
The Anchorage Museum is home to some wonderful Alaska exhibits and the Imaginarium, a hands on science discovery area. The museum also offers a Tote Kidspace which is specifically designed for children under the age of 5. Admission to the museum is $15 for adults and $7 for children. Another unique feature of the museum is the Thomas Planetarium which offers a movie on the Aurora Borealis which will delight visitors of all ages. Admission to the Planetarium is an additional $6 for adults and $4 for children.
For a nice outdoor activity with the kids, consider renting bikes in downtown Anchorage and riding along the Coastal trail. Bike rentals are available at the corner of 5th Avenue and L Street. The rental company will be able to direct you to the coastal trail. For the teen girls that need a shopping outing, visit the 5th Avenue Mall, one of Anchorage’s premier shopping malls.
Talkeetna is located two hours north of Anchorage. The most popular activity in Talkeetna is flightseeing around Mt. Denali. This is a great trip that would be enjoyed in equal measure by adults and children, as long as they are old enough to appreciate the grandeur of Alaska’s landscape. If you add a glacier landing to that trip then you would add the excitement of taking off on wheels and landing on the glacier on skis!
A visit to a dogsled kennel is also a great option in Talkeetna when traveling with children. This tour allows you to visit with the dogs and puppies and also take a ride on a wheeled cart pulled by dogs – this is the summer training method used when the snow has melted.
If you are traveling with older children consider a zipline tour in Talkeetna. Denali Zipline offers a three hour canopy zip line tour. Children need to be at least 10 years old and weigh 80 pounds to participate. Ages 10-11 is $119 per person and adults are $149 per person.
Denali National Park is a must see destination for Alaska visitors. The park is known for wildlife viewing and seeing Mt. Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. The best way to see the park is by bus. Private vehicles are not allowed past mile 13 of the Denali Park road. There are tours of varying length into the park. When traveling with children I do not recommend taking the Kantishna Wilderness Trails tour as this tour is about 13 hours long and covers about 180 miles round trip on a gravel road. This can be a long time on a bus with young children! I would recommend the shorter eight hour Tundra Wilderness Tour. This tour travels half the distance into the park and still allows you the opportunity to see some wildlife and hopefully see Mt. Denali as well.
The Husky Homestead tour is another opportunity to visit a dogsled kennel. This kennel is operated by Jeff King, a four-time winner of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. This tour gives you insight in to life in rural Alaska in addition to information on what it takes to run and win the 1049 mile Iditarod race. You will have an opportunity to cuddle the puppies and meet the dogs and view a dog sled demonstration.
Rafting on the Nenana River is a popular excursion in Denali as well, however the mild float trip is only available for children 5 years of age or older and the minimum age for the whitewater adventure is 12 years old.
Seward is the gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park which is known for beautiful glaciers and abundant marine wildlife. Day cruises are the best way to see the park. Major Marine Tours offers a six hour boat cruise that features an on board U.S. Forest Ranger to help narrate the tour and answer questions. They also run the Jr. Ranger program that is a favorite with kids, particularly those 11 years old and under. The cruise includes a glacier visit, a sea lion rookery, a sea bird rookery and the boat captain is always on the lookout for whales, sea otters and porpoise! The cruise also offers an on board prime rib and salmon buffet with rice and salad.
Another excellent option with children in Seward is the Alaska SeaLife Center. This marine wildlife research and rehabilitation center features kid-friendly hands on exhibits, a sea bird area and an underwater sea lion viewing area. This is the only public aquarium in Alaska.
The Seavey family has a strong tradition in dog sledding in Alaska. In fact, a member of the Seavey family has won the last three Iditarod Sled Dog Races. They offer tours of their kennel that include a two mile dog sled ride, a chance to meet the dogs and a behind-the-scenes look at training for Alaska’s last great race! They offer a one-and-a-half hour tour (perfect for kids) or a full day tour that includes a trip to Exit Glacier.
As you can see there are plenty of options in Alaska when you are traveling with children. For the active family there are also hiking, kayaking and fishing options. For the outdoor family, consider renting a motorhome and camping your way around our great state.
We hope to see you and your family in Alaska soon!