Sitka, Alaska

9 Most Picturesque Towns In Alaska

Alaska is the best place to see the nation's wilderness through the remote getaway into the state's scenic beauty. The dramatic vistas of mountains, coastline, and woodlands, are unparalleled in these nine most picturesque towns of the US State of Alaska. Possessing a whole other atmosphere, the colder remote environment of Alaska will transport one into an entirely different world. Immersing in the myriad of sightseeing opportunities, one will feel "at one" with nature for an unforgettable and historically rich journey into this part of the country. 


Aerial view of the Resort Town of Girdwood, Alaska
Aerial view of the Resort Town of Girdwood, Alaska, at sunset. 

Some 48 km outside of Anchorage on the Turnagain Arm, Girdwood's picturesque area is especially famous for its spectacular hiking opportunities and the rare tidal bore rushing into the inlet each day. Originally known as Glacier City, the town is surrounded by seven glaciers that can be best seen via the ropeway Mt. Alyeska Tram ride to the top of Mount Alyeska at 2,300 feet. Despite snow-filled mountains everywhere, Girdwood hosts one of the best resorts in Alaska that offers prime skiing at Mt. Alyeska. In the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, the families can get up and close to the rehabilitated or abandoned wildlife and critters before they are returned to the wild. 


A lake at Gustavus, Alaska
A Lake at Gustavus, Alaska. 

Although the small town of Gustavus does not sit far from the state's capital Juneau, with a population of fewer than 500 residents in the highly picturesque area, it appears to transport one into a far-away world. Sitting in a tight hug of the surrounding mountains, the town can be reached only by a regional plane or a ferry from Juneau. The trip is worth it for the unmatched vistas anywhere else, attracting waves of tourists each year. The town also serves as the entrance to the Glacier Bay National Park, which opens up the never-before-seen scenery and wilderness to the curious, such as the magnificent Icy Straits and the region's remarkable wildlife. 


Carved Totem Pole in Ketchikan, Alaska
Carved Totem Pole in Ketchikan, Alaska. 

Located in the southeast of Alaska, Ketchikan is surrounded by inlets and islands for unparalleled 360° views. The plethora of activities offers endless opportunities to sightsee regardless of the adventure or exploration one chooses to pursue in the great outdoors. The town is famous for its Tlingit totem poles, and the Ketchikan's Totem Heritage Center is a must-visit for its 19th-century collection of totem poles salvaged from abandoned villages in the area. Boasting the most totem poles globally, Ketchikan displays re-carvings of the older ones through the Potlatch Park, the Saxman Totem Park, and the Totem Bight State Park. The picturesque Newton district spreading uphill from the glassy water has several architecturally magnificent buildings in town, including the 1930 First Lutheran Church. To know more about the historical significance, one must stroll on the boardwalk along the enchanting Creek Street Historic District.


Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church on Kodiak Island, Alaska
Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Church on Kodiak Island, Alaska. 

Floating in the Gulf of Alaska in the south of the state, the eponymous Kodiak Island is the largest in Alaska and the second-largest island in the United States. Separated from the mainland by Shelikof Strait in a 50-km stretch, it is the host to the picturesque town of Kodiak on its northeastern coast, as well as an extension of the Kenai Mountains. The town was founded as the first capital of Russian Alaska in 1792 by the Russian-American manager of the Northeastern Company, Aleksandr Baranov. Called Pavlovsk Gavan or Paul’s Harbor, the town suffered severe damage in 1912 from an erupted Novarupta Volcano, while in 1964, a massive earthquake caused by tsunamis destroyed much of it, again. As one of the largest fishing ports in the United States today, it comes with a charming coastal setting and wildlife. Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository hold the archaeological artifacts, while the Baranov Museum tells the town's rich history. Complete with numerous hiking trails, including the Mill Bay Beach Park, and the rugged Saltery Cove Road, there is also a chance to run into the indigenous Alutiiq people to learn more about their own history and culture.


Kayak to Ailik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska
Kayak to Ailik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park, Seward, Alaska. 

Set closely to the Gulf of Alaska in the south of the state, Seward was established in 1903 when the area still had the influence of the Russian fur traders and a trading post from the 18th century. Today, its historic downtown area is wonderful for shopping and viewing local art in many galleries. Known as one of the most beautiful towns in Alaska, the myriad outdoor pursuits on the table, including hiking trails, watersports, gliding, picnicking, and relaxing by a fire in the evening, can be enjoyed in an unmatched scenic atmosphere. The town also brims with knowledge-gaining opportunities, with the town's Kenai Fjords National Park completed by wildlife viewing is a popular family pastime, as are the Alaska SeaLife Center, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and the Alaska Native Heritage Center.


Downtown of Sitka, Alaska at sunset
Downtown of Sitka, Alaska at sunset. 

Set on the Baranof Island of the state's southern "tail of Alaska," Sitka is only accessible by air or sea, making the journey a picturesque escapade. Once there, one will find themselves on the Pacific Ocean coast, with freshwater rivers and lakes offering varied outdoor pursuits. Established by Russians as Novo-Arkhangelsk in 1799, the remnants of the Russian Empire are innate in discovering the town, including the picturesque St. Michael’s Cathedral from the 19th century, and the Russian Bishop’s House from the 1840s being one of the oldest surviving wood buildings of Russian America. Sitka was Alaska’s capital when the power was transferred to the US, with October 18th marking the celebration of the Alaska Purchase. Today the charming and walkable downtown holds many restaurants, art galleries, and local shops, while the outdoor fanatics will enjoy hiking the many trails or meandering among the Tlingit totem poles at the Sitka National Historical Park. 


Main shopping district in Skagway, Alaska
Main shopping district in the small town of Skagway, Alaska. Editorial credit: Ruth Peterkin /

Set in southeast Alaska, the town of Skagway is popularly accessed by a cruise ship, being along the highly-demanded cruise route, the Inside Passage. Its main street, Broadway, features picturesque shop facades and many restaurants along the wooden sidewalks, while the Historic Centre is filled with Wild West-style wooden buildings. As the starting place for the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896, with the "gold rush stampede" occurring shortly after, the town brims with "rich" history that can be learned about at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Visitor Center, as well as at the neighboring abandoned town of Dyea. Loads of trails offer stunning views of Skagway, while the White Pass and Yukon Railroad tour offers a narrow-gauge railroad journey with a glass-domed ceiling for unparalleled views of the region from the comfort of one's seat.  


Stores and pub in Talkeetna, Alaska
Facade of stores and pubs in the small old town of Talkeetna, Alaska. Editorial credit: Claudiovidri /

Set in the shadow of the tallest mountain peak in North America, Mount Denali (Mt. McKinley in the past), Talkeetna was established at the height of a gold rush period and the expansion of the Alaska Railroad routes just over a century ago. Popular for spending the winter and summer vacations, one will feel the town's predominantly relaxed and hippie vibe, especially on its one very lively main street. One can purchase hand-crafted goods from the local artisans' shops and stands, with local restaurants in between. There is also an opportunity to get face-to-face with Denali by a charter flight, although the free stunning views of the Alaska Mountain Range can be attained at the Riverfront Park where the three Alaskan rivers of Chulitna, Talkeetna, and Susitna, confluence.


Fishing boats at dock in Valdez Harbor, Valdez, Alaska
Fishing boats at dock in Valdez Harbor in Valdez, Alaska. Editorial credit: Victoria Ditkovsky /

Part of southern Alaska, the picturesque town of Valdez is set on the Valdez Arm, off the Prince William Sound, and at the Chugach National Forest's border. As an industrial town with significant commercial importance to the state, it is modern enough to feel like home but remote enough to getaway. The myriad of outdoor recreation opportunities includes river rafting, ice climbing, heli-skiing, and fishing at Port Valdez in the surroundings of unreal mountain views. The appreciators of wild nature will love the dramatic Shoup Bay with campgrounds and hiking trails galore, backcountry hiking, and visiting the beautiful Bridal Veil Falls. For the cultured, there is the Valdez Museum to learn about the history of the area, as well as the annual Last Frontier Theatre Conference.

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