Editors' Picks: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Alaska!

In 1867, the Alaskan territory was purchased from Russia for the bargain price of $7.2 million (which worked out to about two cents an acre at the time). In January 1959, it became the 49th state. So now, Americans get the full benefit of its amazing natural beauty, which includes Denali National Park (home to the highest mountain peak in North America), the Aleutian Islands and many more breathtaking destinations.

But there's a lot more to the state known as "the Last Frontier" - from remnants of the 19th century gold rush, to the Iditarod race, to whale watching and magnificent glaciers. Up for an adventure? Check out our list of the 20 coolest things to do in Alaska.

1. Alaska Raptor Center, Sitka, AK

They do the hard work of rehabilitating injured birds like owls and bald eagles. Many get returned to the wild. Those that are too injured get a wonderful permanent home. Get an up-close look at how they do it, and a better-than-up-close look at these magnificent creatures.

2. Cruise Prince William Sound

The Sound is one of the most glorious places in Alaska, and a short day cruise is a perfect way to take in the beauty (there are multi-day cruises available, too). Many companies offer options, and its so worth it: from the snow-covered mountains to the insanely blue waters and lush evergreen forests, the scenery is unforgettable.

3. Alaska Botanical Garden, Anchorage, AK

"Garden" is hardly what you think of when you think of Alaska, but there are many hardy perennials and wildflowers that thrive in this climate. This lovely facility puts them all on display, and features a popular Family Nature Trail.

4. White Pass & Yukon Railway, Skagway, AK

It's a sight more luxurious than the manner in which 19th century miners took the route (on foot). Spring for the "luxury carriage," that lets you enjoy the scenery and the fascinating lecture on the area history from swivel club chairs (with snacks).

5. Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage, AK

Did you know there are 11 major cultural groups in Alaska? Now you do. This wonderful facility offers authentic artist demonstrations, native games, storytelling, activities, life-sized dwellings and so much more provide a fascinating look at the area's indigenous people.

6. Whale watching

Many types of whales show up in the waters of Alaska as part of their annual migration. Summer is the best time to spot both humpbacks and orcas (also known as "killer whales").

7. Drive Denali

There's a 92-mile road inside this amazing park, but private cars are limited in how far in they can go. There are tours that cover the whole thing, allowing for great views of grizzly bears, moose, glaciers, mountains and long rivers of ice. Truly eye-popping.

8. Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, Anchorage, AK

This gorgeous 11-mile trail is popular with cyclists, as it provides a lovely way to take in the scenery and historic information about Anchorage. You're also likely to spot interesting wildlife, like moose, on your ride.

9. Bear spotting

There are something like 50,000 black bears and 35,000 brown bears in the Alaskan wilderness. While you may spot them during typical tours, "fly-in" trips give you a much better chance to see bunches of them fishing in the rivers, hanging out in the sun and doing other bear-related things. The bonus? Scenery you're not likely to see otherwise.

10. Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Skagway, AK

In 1897, many hardy souls got "gold fever" and headed to this rugged part of the country, hoping to strike it rich. This park gives a great idea of their life and struggle. You can even try your own hand at gold panning.

11. Check out the Aurora Borealis

It's one of the most spectacular light shows that Mother Nature puts on, and your chances of seeing it greatly increase starting in the fall. From 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. are prime viewing times.

12. Running Reindeer Ranch, Fairbanks, AK

Get a little preview of Santa's antlered helpers at this family farm located in a pretty forest. You can pet them, walk with them and learn all about them. Kids and adults alike will love it.

13. Glacier Bay National Park

Hop on a boat and explore this gorgeous area. From the water, you get a great vantage point for spotting whales, bears with their cubs, and of course, amazing glaciers.

14. Get your fish on

The waters around Anchorage are considered among the top fishing spots in the country. You can grab salmon, rainbow trout and more. During the fall, you won't be competing with as many anglers, and you have the bonus of breathtaking foliage all around you.

15. Jewell Gardens, Skagway, AK

The gardens are beautiful, but what's really cool is the expertly crafted glasswork that is all around. Visitors also get a chance to learn how to blow glass and make their own creations.

16. Go dog sledding

Who needs four-wheel drive when you can traverse the landscape via a team of well-trained (and cute) pups? Dog sledding is a tradition in the state - and one of the most fun things you'll ever do.

17. Alaska Sealife Center, Sward, AK

It's a unique aquarium that lets you get up close to a variety of sea life, including otters, puffins and sea lions. The facility also gets high marks for how the staff educates visitors on local conservation.

18. Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum, Fairbanks, AK

Among the dozens of wonderfully preserved cars, you'll find a whole section devoted to the cars of Alaska (including what may be the state's first-ever automobile). And everything still runs.

19. Alyeska Resort, Girdwood, AK

It's considered one of the top ski destinations in the world, attracting champions who go there to train. There are also a variety of runs, suitable for non-champions who just want a nice run on serious powder.

20. Watch the start of the Iditarod

This 1,000 mile trek, billed as "The Last Great Race," gets its start in downtown Anchorage each March with lots of pre-race activities. You can meet the teams before they take off into the elements.

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