Creek Street historic boardwalk in Ketchikan, Alaska. Image credit Ric Jacyno via Shutterstock

9 Best Small Towns To Visit In Alaska

Alaska, The Last Frontier, a land of ice and mountains with a history that long precedes the purchase of this territory from the Russian Empire in 1867 by the United States. The region was first inhabited by prehistoric humans during the Upper Paleolithic period when nomadic foragers crossed the Bering land bridge. As millennia progressed, these foraging groups became distinct cultures, with a total of twenty individual Indigenous peoples inhabiting the territory in 1741 when Vitus Bering claimed the region for the Russian Empire.

Since the colonization of Alaska by the Russian Empire, its history has been filled with fascinating events such as the Klondike Gold Rush, the Aleutian Island Campaign of WWII, to Alaska becoming the 49th state in 1959. This history, combined with the natural beauty of the state, has made the tourism industry boom over the past few decades. So whether you are visiting Alaska by ship, land, or sky, adventure awaits in these small towns in the Land of the Midnight Sun.


Flowers blooming in the marina in Sitka, Alaska.
Marina in Sitka, Alaska.

Founded in 1799 by Aleksandr Baranov, Sitka, Alaska, is one of the best places to learn about pre-colonial Alaskan history, particularly at the visitor center in Sitka National Historical Park, just a short drive outside the Sitka townsite. While in town, make sure to save a morning stroll down Lincoln Street in downtown Sitka, an enchanting main street with lovely art shops and picturesque historical buildings, including the Tilson Building. Just outside of the town line, there are multiple parks and nature preserves to explore. From Starrigavan Recreation Area, the Alaska Raptor Center, and Old Sitka State Historic Park, Sitka is the perfect place to learn about the humans and the animals of Sitka and Alaska as a whole.


Overlooking Fairbanks, Alaska during a summer storm.
Fairbanks, Alaska during a summer storm.

The city of Fairbanks, Alaska, is the second-largest community in the state. It has a population of 32,000 people and is in Alaska’s interior region, 350 miles north of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska. For those traveling to Alaska with the hope of seeing the northern lights, Fairbanks is the perfect destination. But, during the height of summer, the sun does not set completely, so you may want to plan your trip for the spring or fall. If you are, however, visiting Fairbanks in the summer, not to worry. There is lots to do during the long northern summer days, such as visiting the Chena Hot Springs, exploring the Alaskan wilds on an ATV tour, or visiting Gold Dredge 8, a retired mechanical gold pan from Alaska’s Klondike Gold Rush era.


Aerial View of the Town of Healy, Alaska.
Overlooking the Town of Healy, Alaska.

Located 250 miles north of Anchorage, Healy, Alaska, is the closest permanent community to the world-famous Denali National Park and Preserve. As such, it has a constant flow of tourists during the warmer months of the year. With all sorts of lodgings, including hostels, lodges, B&Bs, and luxury hotels, there are accommodations for every sort of tourist, from shoestring backpackers to those looking for a little pampering before they journey into the park. Healy sits 11 miles from the north entrance of Denali National Park, with a variety of transport options to get you there.

Most hotels provide a shuttle for their guests that runs multiple times a day, while there are also public shuttles that you can buy tickets for online. If you want to explore the park, make sure you bring rain gear, as it rains in this region approximately 145 days a year, with most of these days falling between June and August. In Healy, you can also book in-and-out, full-day tours of Denali National Park, including unique experiences such as a Denali Fat Truck Tour or a Denali Jeep Excursion.


Native American Totem and Clan houses at Totem Bight State Historic Site in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Native American Totem and Clan houses at Totem Bight State Historic Site in Ketchikan, Alaska.

As the first port of entry in Alaska for ships on northward journeys from the continental United States and other southern waters, Ketchikan has been nicknamed the "First City." Located at the southern entrance to the Inside Passage on Revillagigedo Island, Ketchikan is known for its strong Indigenous community, gorgeous landscape, and its Pacific deepwater fishing industry. Popular with cruise ships, every year nearly 1.4 million cruise ship passengers visit this city.

Top attractions include orca sighting boat tours and the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, with an absolute must-do being spending a day wandering Creek Street, an elevated boardwalk pathway lined with local artisan shops and unique stores, all along Ketchikan’s remodeled old Red Light District. For those looking for accommodations, Ketchikan offers lovely hotels and lodges, including Cape Fox Lodge and The Landing Hotel.


Seward Harbor in Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska. Image credit Raisa Nastukova via Shutterstock
Seward Harbor in Resurrection Bay in Seward, Alaska. Image credit Raisa Nastukova via Shutterstock

Located on Kenai Peninsula, Seward is a coastal town with a permanent population of nearly 3,000 people. It is the last stop along the Alaska Railroad and marks the end of the Seward Highway. Sitting on the shores of Resurrection Bay, this small town has a lot to offer. From the Alaska SeaLife Center, not to be missed for any animal lover, to Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska, is physically a relatively new town. This is because of the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, when nearly 90% of the townsite was destroyed. Today, Seward is a hub for those looking to explore the local landscape, especially Exit Glacier, Grayling Lake, and Ptarmigan Lake. Just remember, Seward is in the heart of Alaskan bear country, so travel in groups, and where you can hike with a local guide.


Juneau is often one of the main stops for cruise ships on their way to Anchorage.
Juneau is often one of the main stops for cruise ships on their way to Anchorage.

Located on the shores of the Gastineau Channel, in the Alaskan panhandle region, Juneau is the capital city of the state of Alaska. Surrounded by four state parks, Point Bridget State Park, Eagle Beach State Recreation Area, Ernest Gruening State Historical Park, and Wickersham State Historic Site, Juneau is also in the vicinity of the 1,500-square-mile Juneau Icefield.

If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind excursion from Juneau, a visit to the Mendenhall Glacier is an experience you will never forget. Hike up in a guided group, or take a helicopter which not only gives you a bird’s eye view of the icefield but also lands on Mendenhall Glacier. In town, there is also lots to do. Learn about Juneau and the entire state of Alaska by visiting the Alaska State Museum and the Alaska State Capitol Building, or take a relaxing tour around Glacier Gardens.


People on the street in downtown Skagway in the summer months.
Downtown Skagway in the summer months. Image credit Darryl Brooks via Shutterstock

Founded in 1890, picturesque Skagway is home to a great deal of fascinating Klondike Gold Rush history. Called "The Gateway to the Yukon," this town sits just 22 miles from the Canadian border. In town, and particularly in the National Historic District, the ambiance of the Klondike Gold Rush era, circa. 1890, has been preserved. From the old general store to Boas Tailor and Furrier Shop, over twenty buildings are managed by the National Parks Service so to protect them, and their gold rush history, for future generations.

A great place to stop in for a drink or meal after shopping in downtown Skagway is the Mascot Saloon, the longest-running saloon in town, which dates back to 1916, and the Klondike Gold Rush. For those visiting Skagway in the spring and fall, it is also a wonderful place to experience the northern lights.


Fishing boats docked in boat harbor at Kodiak, Alaska
Boat harbor at Kodiak, Alaska.

Located on Kodiak Island at Chiniak Bay, the town of Kodiak was founded in 1793 under the name Pavlovsk. During the era of Russian colonization, Kodiak was the capital of Russian Alaska and, consequently, is the site of the oldest Russian Orthodox church in the United States, it having been built in 1794.

Today, visitors to Kodiak can explore the coastal landscape at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park or learn about the Alaskan Pacific sealift at the Kodiak Laboratory Aquarium and Touch Tank. For those interested in the prehistoric history of Alaska, a visit to Fossil Beach at Pagashak Bay will be a highlight for you. But make sure to bring extra warm clothes, the beach is often windy and cold even when the weather in Kodiak is calm and sunny.


Overlooking the beach and waterfront homes in Nome, Alaska
 Beach and waterfront homes in Nome, Alaska.

Located on the western border of the Seward Peninsula, Nome, Alaska, sits on the shores of the Bering Sea. It is steeped in Klondike Gold Rush history, being the last location of a gold stampede, which is a drastic population influx due to the identification of a gold deposit. Today, Nome is known for it being the finishing line of the annual Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. In March, visitors from around Alaska and the world descend on the small town of Nome in order to cheer in the winner and to celebrate the history of this, more than a century-old, 1,049-mile-long race. Other things to do in and around Nome include visiting the Carrie M. McLain Memorial Museum and taking a tour out to the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve.

The Take Away

No matter if you are visiting Alaska for the first time, or are a veteran visitor to the region, there is more to see and learn than could be done in a lifetime of visits. From the spectacular landscapes of Denali National Park and Preserve, the unforgettable whale watching tours out of Juneau, and the Klondike Gold Rush history of Nome, there is not a town in all of Alaska that does not have something unique to discover. So get excited for your journey into The Last Frontier, or start planning a visit; there is a world of possibility waiting for you in Alaska.

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