Are you ready for lovely yet cheap things to do in Alaska? The Last Frontier state is indeed brimming with plenty of budget-friendly adventures for all travelers. Dive right into this post and discover 10 amazing yet pocket-friendly ways to explore Alaska!
We’ve tried our best to make this exploration simpler for you; check out the slides below to get a quick glimpse of the top budget-friendly activities in Alaska:
- Mendenhall Glacier: Top Hiking Trails In Alaska
- The Upside-Down Forest: Uniqueness Of Alaska
- Anan Wildlife Observatory: Best Attractions In Alaska
- Katmai National Park: Another Bear Spotting Destination In Alaska
- Museum of the North: Culture & History Of Alaska
- Aurora Ice Museum: Ice & Snow Sculptures
- Bear Tooth Theatre Pub: Unique & Fun Activities
- Chugach State Park: Diversity Of Alaska
- Potlatch Totem Park and Museum: Quirky Places Of Alaska
- Alaska Zoo: Interesting & Inexpensive Things To Do In Alaska
- Explore Cheap Things to Do in Alaska with a Trusty Rental Property
Mendenhall Glacier: Top Hiking Trails In Alaska
Located at the heart of Alaska’s capital is the world-famous Mendenhall Glacier. It’s the most accessible glacier in the world, so never miss an opportunity to see it while you’re in Alaska!
There are plenty of budget-friendly ways to explore the Mendenhall Glacier:
- Go hiking to get up-close to this beautiful glacier. Lots of interesting hiking trails lead to the glacier – Nugget Falls, Steep Creek Trail, Eat Glacier Loop, West Glacier Loop, and The Trail of Time. Note that each trail may vary in difficulty, so plan your hikes well.
- Experience the ice-cold Mendenhall lake by kayaking or going on a guided canoe tour. Kayaking is only recommended for experienced kayakers due to the water temperature. Meanwhile, guided canoe tours with whale-watching and glacier visits can be taken by anyone.
- Try out a guided hiking tour inside the glacier cave itself! Serious adventurers can explore the glacier cave with guides – the changing glacier shape and rushing waters make it difficult and dangerous to explore on your own.
Just in Alaska for a quick trip? Head over to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center to get excellent scenic views of the glacier and its surroundings. You can also learn more about the glacier’s history and formation through short films and talks from the staff. Hike up the short 20-minute Photo Point Trail to get the most picturesque glacial views before leaving the area.
The Visitor Center has an entrance fee of $15 for adults 16 years old and up. That makes it one of the most affordable and cheap things to do in Alaska. Note, however, that different rates may apply to other activities such as kayaking and canoe tours.
The Upside-Down Forest: Uniqueness Of Alaska
Location: Glacier Gardens, Juneau
Head over to Glacier Highway in Juneau for an exciting botanical treat – The Upside-Down Forest at the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure.
Set in a backdrop of a lush rainforest, you’ll find upside-down Sitka spruce and Western hemlock trees with their trunks buried 5-7 feet under the ground. Then, the tree roots are planted with colorful flowers on top, earning them the nickname “Flower Towers”. The upended 15-feet tall trees with their root bowls served as a lovely vessel for the flowering plants. Beautiful landscapes complement the uniquely charming flower towers.
Petunias, begonias, and fuchsias are lovingly planted and arranged on the tree root bowls. You’ll also spot different rhododendrons, Japanese maples, azaleas, elderberry shrubs, and Devil’s clubs.
The 50-acre garden is owned by Steve and Cindy Bowhay, both master gardeners and former local commercial fishermen. They purchased the land to start a reclamation activity. Steve sought to rebuild the stream and tap hydroelectricity to power greenhouses.
Entrance to The Upside-Down Forest and Glacier Gardens cost $15.95 for kids and $26.95 for adults. The lovely experience is well worth the cost!
Anan Wildlife Observatory: Best Attractions In Alaska
Location: Wrangell District, Tongass National Forest
Want to spot some Alaskan brown and black bears? You can do that at the Anan Wildlife Observatory! This place offers you a great platform for viewing Alaskan wildlife, including brown and black bears. Bear spotting is one of the most interesting cheap things to do in Alaska.
The observatory is home to the Anan Creek, touted as Southeast Alaska’s largest pink salmon run. The abundance of salmon in the creek attracts a large number of adolescent brown bears and adult black bears, sharing the same fishing spots to get some salmon. July and August are the prime months to spot the bears.
Anan Wildlife Observatory is only accessible by boat or floatplane. You’ll be dropped off at the beach, then rangers will give you information before you commence a half-mile hike to get to the observation deck itself.
Once you get to the deck, you can start viewing and spotting bears around the area. Opt for the photo blind for a more up-close view – 4 to 6 people can use it for 30 minutes.
The best time to go there is from July to August, but the observatory’s shoulder season is from June 15 to September 15. Only 60 guests are allowed each day, and you must secure a permit before going to the observatory. It’s advised to secure a permit as early as 6 months before your trip, especially when traveling during peak seasons.
At the time of writing, Anan Wildlife Conservatory is only issuing 12 permits per day to observe precautionary measures against the COVID-19 virus.
Katmai National Park: Another Bear Spotting Destination In Alaska
Location: King Salmon
Ready for more brown bear sightings? Head over to King Salmon, southeast of Anchorage, to the Katmai National Park! This place is renowned for its large brown bear population – they have around 2,200 bears on the park itself!
Katmai is one of the few areas on Earth with an unaltered habitat for brown bears. Katmai National Park enables scientists to study them and visitors to see them without interrupting their typical life cycles.
Most brown bears congregate in Katmai due to the abundance of sockeye salmon in the area. Brooks River is a prime destination for sockeye salmon, hence, bears often fill up the river especially during July and September. You can visit Brooks Camp inside Katmai National Park for great views of these bears without interrupting them in their natural habitat.
Other good places for bear sightings inside Katmai National Park include:
- Geographic Harbor (August to September)
- Hallo Bay (June)
- Swikshak Lagoon (June)
- Moraine Creek/Funnel Creek (August)
Bears get their salmon, clams, and vegetation food from these areas, that’s why it’s a good idea to visit them during their peak seasons.
Bear watching is one of the exciting albeit cheap things to do in Alaska! For instance, visiting Katmai National Park is completely free! Fees are only collected when staying in Fure’s Cabin and at the Brooks Camp Campground.
Museum of the North: Culture & History Of Alaska
Location: University of Alaska, Fairbanks
Fairbanks offers plenty of sights including cultural attractions to interesting museums to top Alaska road trips. Find out more about Alaska’s culture and history by planning a visit to the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Museum of the North. This place is a top attraction for good reason – it’s among the interesting, educational, and cheap things to do in Alaska!
The Museum of the North is nestled inside the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ campus. Here, you’ll find bits and pieces of Alaska’s history, painting a profound picture of authentic Alaskan heritage and culture. The museum houses numerous collections, including but not limited to the following:
- Separate animal collections (marine invertebrates, birds, mammals, fish, amphibian, reptiles, birds, etc.)
- Fine Arts Collection
- History Collection
- Archaeology Collection
- Earth Sciences Collection
- Alaska Frozen Tissue Collection
- Alaska Center for Documentary Film
Step inside and be greeted by several interesting exhibits and artifacts such as gold nuggets, Eskimo carvings, and a mummified Alaska steppe bison that’s been existing since the Ice Age. The museum is truly a testament to biological diversity, especially in the Arctic region.
The Museum of the North is open year-round, with different hours for winter and summer seasons. The entrance fee for children aged 5-14 is $9, while adults pay $16. Tickets to in-museum movies cost $5. Visitors are allowed 2 hours to explore the museum.
Aurora Ice Museum: Ice & Snow Sculptures
Location: Chena Hot Springs Resort, Fairbanks
Fairbanks has another interesting museum for you – the Aurora Ice Museum! This attraction is tucked inside Chena Hot Springs Resort and offers a chilly yet amazing winter wonderland experience for you and your family.
Acclaimed ice carver Steve Brice and his wife Heather created the amazing ice sculptures you’ll find inside Aurora Ice Museum. Ice chandeliers change colors to resemble the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Popular sculptures include an ice outhouse, a polar bear’s bedroom, life-sized jousting knights, and a Christmas tree bedroom. There’s also a bar where adult visitors can enjoy Appletini cocktails in icy martini glasses.
The ice sculptures and chandeliers are all made from locally-sourced ice and snow – around 1,000 tons of it! Temperatures inside the museum are at around -7 degrees Celsius, but not to worry because they offer free parka rentals on-site. Unique geothermal technology keeps the museum intact and prevents the ice from melting year-round.
Visiting the Aurora Ice Museum is indeed among the fun yet cheap things to do in Alaska! Kids under age 5 may enter free, accompanied by a paying adult. Children and youth 6-17 years are charged $10 upon entry, while adults pay $15. If you’re over 21 years and want to try their Appletini cocktails, purchase one when you buy your tickets for $15.
Chena Hot Springs is also one of the top swimming holes in the US. For a complete overview, check out our dedicated sampling.
Bear Tooth Theatre Pub: Unique & Fun Activities
Location: Spenard, Anchorage
Enjoy films in a whole new level at the Bear Tooth TheatrePub! This movie house brings you fresh food you can eat a full meal while watching a movie in their 275-seater theater.
Order burritos, cheese fries, chicken skewers, nacho plates, salads, burgers, pizzas – they have a wide selection of freshly-made food on their menu! Kid-friendly selections and beverages are available. Adults may also enjoy a selection of craft beers, margaritas, or wine to go along with their meals. The theater features second-run independent, contemporary, classic, and foreign films.
You may also head to Bear Tooth for the food alone! There’s an outdoor café-style dining area where you can feast on delicious and affordable meals similar to the ones available inside the theater. Food take-outs and deliveries are also available.
General admission tickets cost $4 for 2D movies and $5 for 3D movies. Meanwhile, reserved single seats cost $5 for 2D and $6 for 3D films. Food items start at $4 for kid’s menus and $6 for adults.
Chugach State Park: Diversity Of Alaska
Location: Seward Highway, Anchorage
Next on our inexpensive destinations in Alaska list is Chugach State Park! This scenic park is located mostly within the Municipality of Anchorage, with a small portion occupying the Matanuska-Susitna Borough. It’s the US’s third largest state park with around 495,000 acres of picturesque land!
Hiking and camping are great ways to explore Chugach State Park on a budget. Get your gears ready for these awesome trails:
- Ptarmigan Pass Trail
- Blueberry Knoll
- McHugh Peak
- Crow Pass Trail
- Mount Eklutna Loop
- Eklutna Lakeside Trail (also good for biking)
- Panorama View Trail (great for skiing during winter)
Meanwhile, popular campgrounds include Bird Creek, Bird Creek Overflow, Eklutna Lake, and Eagle River Campgrounds.
Explore beautiful dense forests and enjoy the mountain peaks at Chugach State Park! A word of warning: the park is populated with bears, so come prepared. Chugach State Park typically charges a parking fee of $5 per trailhead, campground, or recreation area. Visit their site to see their fees table.
Potlatch Totem Park and Museum: Quirky Places Of Alaska
Potlatch Totem Park is a privately-owned attraction sitting just next to the larger Totem Bight State Historical Park. However, Potlatch is unique in that it doesn’t duplicate what’s inside Totem Bight!
Potlatch is situated on a large clan house with four smaller clan houses inside it. The houses depict the lives of local tribes in the Tlingit fishing grounds of southeast Alaska. Marvel at the intricate hand-carved interiors that tell stories of communal family settings in an artistic way!
Come to Potlatch’s totem carving shed to see how local resident carvers create amazing totem poles from freshly-cut cedar logs. Here, you’ll also find information boards to enlighten you about the ancient Tlingit mythology that often comes into the totem pole designs.
There’s also an antique car and firearms museum inside the park. Before you leave, stop by the store to purchase some souvenirs. It’s free to enter Potlatch Totem Park and Museum!
Alaska Zoo: Interesting & Inexpensive Things To Do In Alaska
Location: O’Malley Road, Anchorage
Our final item in this amazing list of cheap things to do in Alaska is a visit to the Alaska Zoo! This is a private non-profit zoo that shelters injured, orphaned, and endangered animals.
Alaska Zoo features several animals such as bears (brown, black, and polar), river otters, wolverines, mountain goats, Dall sheep, caribou, moose, owls, amur tigers, Tibetan yak, harbor seal, coyote, wolf, red foxes, and many more!
The zoo offers other activities apart from visiting and viewing the animals. Enjoy live music at The Lawn, participate in Critter Chats with Zookeepers, and have fun with Summer Camps. There’s also a greenhouse, playground, petting zoo, picnic area, Discovery Center, coffee shop, and souvenir store inside the zoo!
Zoo admission rates are $17 for adult non-residents, $13 for seniors 65+ and military adults, and $10 for youth aged 3-17 years. Kids 2 years old below can enter free of charge.
Explore Cheap Things to Do in Alaska with a Trusty Rental Property
Whether you’re going on a wildlife adventure or to an icy museum treat, you surely won’t run out of fun and cheap things to do in Alaska! And as you journey to The Last Frontier, you’ll need a trusty rental property to keep you safe, secured, and cozy.
You can seamlessly book the right rental property near major Alaskan attractions with Rental Trader. Our platform allows you to search, connect, and book your preferred rental properties hassle-free. On the flip side, you can also post rental property listings for free if you’re an Alaskan offering your vacation homes to tourists.
Plan your Alaska getaway now and enjoy the state’s rich culture, heritage, and biodiversity!