9 Top Student Travel Destinations in Alaska

Alaska is the most raw, untamed, and naturally beautiful state in the United States and is home to several unique learning opportunities. Incorporating ecological, cultural, and historical learning opportunities in almost every city, Alaska is a widely untapped resource for senior trips and student travel. Immersing yourself into the wild north that is Alaska will provide ample opportunities to learn about native tribes and indigenous peoples, the history and importance of mining in this area, and the ecological effects of humans on such a vastly untouched natural setting. Explore the multitude of majestic mountains, valleys of moving glaciers, and countless winding rivers and shimmering lakes and see what it was like to live in this harsh-wintered tundra land 10,000 years ago! Wild Alaska is waiting for students just like you to come explore its seemingly endless opportunities for learning and fun!

Juneau- Take a trip to one of America’s most beautiful capital cities, Juneau, Alaska. Within this city you will find countless outdoor activities, cultural attractions, and natural wonders. Known for its history with the Gold Rush, this city was founded in 1880 by prospectors Richard Harris and Joe Juneau. Take in the history of gold fever with a trip to one of three city museums including the Alaska State Museum, Juneau-Douglas City Museum, or Last Chance Mining Museum. Head downtown for ample local shopping and eating opportunities, or stroll around to see the Juneau Artists Gallery, Caribou Crossing jewelry store, have a drink at the historic Red Dog Saloon, or get an informative tour of the Capitol building. Prepare yourself to have tons of outdoor fun as well, with options such as glacier flight-seeing, orca and humpback whale watching, salmon fishing, kayaking, skiing, or snowboarding down Mount Juneau. Make sure you save plenty of time here for the glaciers because Juneau boasts the 5th largest icefield in North America at 1,500 square miles and featuring 38 glaciers, some as old as the last ice age. Once you’ve had your fill of mining history and glacial bliss, head over to Tongass National Forest to have some quality relaxation time and get in touch with Alaska’s wild side.

Kodiak - Kodiak is an island city full of rich culture and history, as well as highly revered wildlife viewing opportunities. Come explore the town that has endured it all, from the humble beginnings of the Alutiiq tribes to the volcanic eruption of 1912 and tsunamis from the worst earthquake in North American history, and still maintained a thriving cultural and economic community. Kodiak welcomed Russian immigrants in the late 1700s who played a heavy part in shaping the local community, even today. Check out the Baranov Museum for more information about Russian impact and culture, housed in the oldest structure in the entire state of Alaska. The Alutiiq Museum is a great way to learn about the native people as is the historic Holy Resurrection Orthodox Cathedral. The close-knit fishing community of Kodiak has seen change upon change, starting when the U.S. bought the land in 1867. Fishing and hunting became an industry booster, and WWII era coastal forts tell the story of coastal defenses that started popping up in the area. Landmarks show the spots most affected by the Mt. Novarupta volcanic explosion, and harbors have been preserved to show the effects of the earthquake and Exxon Valdez 11 million gallon crude oil spill. With such a large and important history, it’s hard to remember what else Kodiak is known for - bears! Save time to catch the best views of Kodiak Brown Bears fishing for wild salmon at Katmai National Park, fish in any of the popular harbors around the island, or spend your afternoon birdwatching along the gorgeous Kodiak coasts!

Kenai - The Kenai peninsula is commonly referred to by natives and tourists alike as “Alaska’s Playground”, offering an all-in-one Alaska experience within its boundaries. On this peninsula you will be able to encounter the ‘most up-close and personal Alaskan experience’ within the 15,000 square miles of Alaskan wilderness. In the city of Kenai, start by checking out the Kenai Visitors and Cultural Center which features local art exhibitions, education programs, history exhibits, and information about the peninsula and city. One of the most popular tourist attractions within Kenai is Old Town, a historic district filled with authentic settler-era cabins, meat houses, forts, stores, churches, and hospitals. While in the downtown area make sure you check out all the Kenai performance venues offering local theater, dance, and music as well as unique art galleries. If you happen to be here on a Saturday you’re in for a special treat, with a farmers market style festival of local shopping and eating happening throughout the city. What Kenai is most known for, however, is their world-renown fishing opportunities! Fish for salmon, halibut, rainbow trout, and graylings from land or boat along the famous Kenai River. The area is full of diverse rivers, lakes, and bays, as well as ports to Cook Inlet, sandy beaches, two mountain ranges, and four active volcanoes. You will also have the chance to hike the Kenai Mountains, raft down the Kenai rivers, experience a bush pilot takeoff across the inlet, or just settle in for some one-of-a-kind bear and wildlife viewing sessions.

Girdwood - Girdwood, Alaska is a small mountain town about 36 miles south of Anchorage. Unlike Anchorage, however, Girdwood strives to provide a small town vibe and allows guests to escape all the city hustle and bustle. Girdwood is known as the new recreation capital of Alaska, home to the only year-round resort in Alaska, the Alyeska. The city is situated between peaks of the Chugach Mountain Range and nestled in a lush temperate rainforest, giving the area a completely unique geographical setting. Home to 7 permanent glaciers, the city was originally called “Glacier City” and was originally visited by gold miners in need of a permanent and easy-to-find supply camp. After the railroad came through in 1915, industry boomed and the landscape once again changed, bringing about a golden era in tourism. The Alyeska Resort combined with the local Chugach Powder Guides provide the absolute best opportunities for nordic skiing, snowmobiling, and dog mushing. With regular precipitation and snowfall the winters here are ideal for snow sports, and the summers are full of long days (reaching 20 hours of sunlight and conversely during the winter) perfect for fishing, hiking, biking, rafting, or scenic flying. This resort destination is a perfect spot for a class trip or graduation celebration!

Denali National Park and Preserve - The Denali National Park is home to 6 million acres of raw, mostly untouched Alaskan land situated between the cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks. The southern portion of the park is covered by the majestic Alaska Range of mountains and the entire preserve is bisected by only one winding road. Within the park you will witness a vast variety of Alaska landscape, from the low elevation taiga forest to the high alpine tundra. The unfenced land in Denali National Park gives way to abundant wildlife, including a documented 40 mammal species, 170 species of bird, and 15 species of fish, all well adapted to the harsh Alaskan winters.When traveling through this area your group will see the “wild, dangerous, and beautifully unchanged” landscape, as well as great examples of moving landscape with frequent landslides, moving glaciers, and plenty of glacial-fed rivers changing pace daily. Your group will also have the chance to see North America’s tallest peak Mt. McKinley, at 20,320 feet. Besides all the natural wonders and photographic scenery, you also have the opportunity to stop at the Denali Visitors Center, where you can brush up on local area facts and history. Be sure to check out the Cultural Resources Program exhibit while you’re here, which tells the story of 12,000 years of the people and land of Denali.

Mat - Su Valley - Get ready to start your great Alaskan adventure here at Matanuska-Susitna Valley, more commonly referred to as Mat-Su Valley. Located in south-central Alaska, this outdoor lover’s paradise boasts the best views of Denali while still being only 45 minutes north of Anchorage. Taking up a whopping 23,000 square miles, this destination is an all-in-one vacation location, offering all of Alaska’s scenic views, outdoor activities, and historical landmarks all within the valley. Mat-Su Valley was settled in 1935 by Midwest farmers looking for more fertile farmland. Finding just that, the valley now serves as an agricultural wonderland, boasting some of the largest vegetables imaginable including a 103 pound cabbage grown in the farming community of Palmer. You can also see the site of the earliest settlers and learn more about the local history of this valley in Palmer. The “Last Great Race” Iditarod trek path can be visited in the valley, as well as the city of Talkeetna which provides access to Mt. McKinley, North America’s highest mountain peak. You will be thoroughly astounded as you take in the views of Mat-Su Valley’s tall mountains, huge glacier valleys, ample rivers and lakes, hiking trails, camping grounds, and historic frontier communities. Choose between flight-seeing the glaciers peaks, ATV-ing Knik Glacier,  kayaking the 500 miles of exceptional recreation rivers, or almost anything else you desire at Mat-Su Valley!

Valdez/Prince William Sound -  Get ready to take in the breathtaking sites of wild Alaska as you travel to Valdez, a destination popularly known for holding America’s most scenic roads, as well as the infamous Trans-Alaskan pipeline.  The 800 mile feat of architectural engineering that is the Trans-Alaska pipeline travels from Prudhoe Bay to the Port of Valdez and carries an astonishing 25% of the nation’s oil. Valdez, known also for its majestic tourist destination Keystone Canyon, and historic brush with the gold rush, is another destination where the scenery really does say it all. During the scenic drive down “Adventure Corridor” you will be able to witness several larger-than-life mountains, drive between glacier valleys, and get closer than expected to several impressive waterfalls. Make sure you head over to the site of the natural fjord (Port Valdez) and take advantage of kayaking, ice fishing, ice climbing, or any other of the many outdoor activities popular in Valdez.
You can also choose to take a cruise of the popular Prince William Sound from Valdez, with Phillips Cruises. The "26 Glaciers Cruise" is just one great example of local tours, offering a 5 hour cruise with unbeatable up-close views of glaciers, wildlife, and mountains within the sound. You will even get close enough to touch the glacier ice, the captain of the vessel navigating it as close as ¼ of a mile from shore! Large groups of otters and seals can be seen in the early summer months, as well as year round views of humpbacks, orcas, minks, bears, goats, eagles, and over 200 species of bird. The cruise offers a hot lunch and a guarantee for no seasickness aboard their Klondike Express catamaran, as well as an on-boat U.S. Forest Service Ranger ready to answer any ecological or location based questions!

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park -  Don’t miss a chance to visit the nation’s largest national park, the impressively large area in which some of the tallest mountains, largest glaciers, and most important Alaskan history is found. Sitting on 13.2 million acres (that’s right, 13.2 million), Wrangell-St. Elias National Park can hold Switzerland, Yellowstone National Park, and Yosemite National Park all within its boundaries! This area holds 9 out of 16 of the tallest mountain peaks in the United States. Near the confluence of the 4 major mountain ranges in the area, you will also find the Wrangell Mountain, an active volcano that last erupted in the early 1900s.During your visit to this World Heritage Site national park and preserve you will be able to get a taste of true Alaska wildlife and history, with the winning mix of rugged yet inviting outdoor adventure everywhere you look as well as multiple mining history sites and landmarks. The few roads connecting the park give you the sense of discovery, as well as a more manageable sense of time to see everything you’d like. Some of the many exciting things you will be able to see up close and personal during this trip is a view of Bagley Icefield, the largest sub polar ice field on the continent, Malaspina Glaciers which are larger than the state of Rhode Island, Copper River, the site of very successful copper, ore, and gold mining, and tons of native Athabaskan Indian villages perfect for wildlife watching the abundant caribou or moose.

Fairbanks - Many people miss out on the opportunity to visit Fairbanks, a city further out than most, but this gem of a town is a great vacation destination for many reasons. Known as the "Last Frontier" and also the "gateway to Denali," this area in Alaska is vastly wild outside of city limits. With access to the Denali National Park, as well as thick surrounding woodlands, Fairbanks is a wild adventure lover's paradise. In the city you will have the chance to take in the past era of the gold rush while catching up with the vibrant and diverse art and culture scene present today. You can get an up close glimpse of the Trans-Alaskan pipeline, the 800 mile feat of engineering made in the 1970s, or head over to Pioneer Park for an authentic look at frontier days complete with original log cabins. Check out the University of Alaska Museum, the only research museum in the whole state, and brush up on your northern lights facts while observing the real thing or the famous Fairbanks midnight sun! Fairbanks is also full of great food, from fresh seafood to caribou steaks! Top your day off here with a cruise down the Chena River, or maybe a dip in the close by Chena hot springs.