17 Charming Small Towns in Alaska (2024)

By far the largest state in terms of area whose name comes from the Aleut word meaning “a great land,” the exquisite beauty of Alaska is legendary.

Despite its vast size, Alaska has few large cities but, happily, it has many charming towns offering all of the history, culture, and scenic wonders any traveler could hope for.

With that in mind, we’ve compiled a list of the very best small towns in Alaska.

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1. Seward

Image: Seward. booizzy. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

Nestled on the breathtaking Kenai Peninsula between mountains and the ocean, it’s not hard to see why this one makes any list of the best small towns in Alaska!

Explore Kenai Fjords National Park, described as the “essence of coastal Alaska,” and marvel at the 40 glaciers flowing from its Harding Icefield.

Take a sightseeing cruise of one of the most reliable wildlife viewing areas in the world – Seward’s Resurrection Bay is home to sea lions, seals, whales, bald eagles and more!

Join a behind-the-scenes tour of an Iditarod dog sled team facility to learn about how these champion racers are trained and even take a dog sled ride!

Wander the town’s lively waterfront, stopping at the Alaska Sealife Center to peek through their “windows to the sea.”

Hop aboard the Alaska Railroad for a comfortable and scenic ride to the next town on our list, Girdwood.

Check out our ultimate Seward guide if you’re still looking for more exciting things to do in Seward.

2. Girdwood

Image: In Girdwood. Scott McMurren. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

An ideal year-round destination, Girdwood offers a bountiful selection of scenic adventures for the outdoor enthusiasts among you.

Hit the slopes in Glacier Valley, Alaska’s only ski resort, or opt for snowshoes and explore the frozen waterfalls of Lower Winner Creek.

Rent an all-terrain vehicle and explore the wooded trails of Chugach Mountain Range.

A little slower pace more your speed? 

Bike the flat, easy trails of the 5k Nordic Loop, or enjoy music, pie-eating contests and berry picking offered at the Alyeska Blueberry Festival

3. Homer

Image: Homer, Alaska. Amy Meredith. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

You’ll have to go out of your way to enjoy the charms of this end-of-the-road town on the stunning Kachemak Bay, but we think it’s worth it (hint: taking a ferry or a plane can get you there a bit quicker!)

Stroll along Bishop’s Beach or window shop in Old Town (don’t miss a treat at Two Sisters Bakery), and explore the art galleries, museums, and curiosity shops along downtown Pioneer Avenue.

Head out to the narrow finger of land known as The Homer Spit, and cast a line (salmon is abundant here) from the boardwalk while you watch the boats return to Homer Harbor.

Hop on a water taxi from the Spit for a guided “Creatures of the Dock” tour, or opt for a fully narrated tour of Kachemak Bay.

Join a tour at the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center, guided by a local naturalist, and watch for sandhill cranes, moose and even the occasional porcupine! 

4. Eagle

Eagle, Alaksa
Image: Eagle, Alaska. FairbanksMike. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Situated just west of the Canadian border and overlooking the Yukon River, with a hamlet of log cabins and clapboard houses, Eagle makes just about every list of quaint towns in Alaska.  

Take the popular historical walking tour of the best-preserved boomtowns of the state’s mining era, including its six restored turn-of-the-century buildings.

Book a float trip from Eagle downriver for 154 miles through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (the Preserve’s Visitor Center is in Eagle and a great place to stop in before heading out). 

5. Sitka

Image: Sitka. dancingnomad3. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

Historic ties to the native Tlingit, Russian occupiers, and American settlers, combine to give Sitka its unique heritage.  

Visit the Sitka History Museum for an overview of the ways these various ties influenced the region.

Head out to the 107-acre Sitka National Historic Park to tour Tlingit Indian Fort and marvel at the collection of carved totem poles.

Explore the Sitka Maritime Heritage Society museum’s WW II navy boat shop and marine railway.

Create your own Alaska adventure with a tour of Sitka’s bays and inlets by kayak, or take on the high ropes challenge course.

In addition to an abundance of tourist attractions, Sitka’s low crime, good schools, and family-friendly vibe also get the town frequent mention as the best small town in Alaska to live in!

6. Talkeetna

Image: The Coffee Cabin. WordRidden. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Nestled at the base of Denali (and, not surprisingly, serving as the gateway to Denali National Park) with breathtaking views of the Alaska Range, this funky village is rumored to be the inspiration for the fictional community portrayed in the popular 90s TV show, Northern Exposure.

Talkeetna’s status as one of the best little towns in Alaska is the result of having maintained the historic flavor of its days as a turn-of-the-century gold mining center.

Stroll Main Street’s two blocks of historic buildings, shops, art galleries, and restaurants – founded in 1921, Nagley’s Store holds a place on the National Register of Historic Places.

Stop in at the locally owned Denali Brewing Company and enjoy a signature ale on their outdoor deck, and then stroll down to admire the Susitna River from Riverfront Park.

7. Cordova

Image: Cordova. Joseph. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Travelers in search of the unique and unusual may want to consider a trip to Cordova for its annual Iceworm Festival (yes, this is a real insect that lives deep within the glacial ice of northern Alaska!) complete with a parade and crowning of Miss Iceworm.

Check out relics from the town’s early railroad days, a three-seater kayak made of pine and sealskins, and (of course!) an exhibit devoted to the ice worm at the Cordova Historical Museum.

The Ilanka Cultural Center features an impressive collection of Native American art from around the state and one of only five intact killer whale skeletons in the world.

Join a boat tour up the Copper River for breathtaking views of Childs Glacier (one of the most active in Alaska) and the 1910-era four-span trestle Million Dollar Bridge.

8. Valdez

Image: Fireworks. FairbanksMike. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Hugging the rough Alaskan coastline at the head of a deep fjord in Prince William Sound, Valdez is best known as the Southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska Oil Pipeline.

But this picturesque town, surrounded by some of the world’s tallest coastal mountains (earning it the nickname of “Little Switzerland”) is also home to tidewater glaciers, rainforests, and a thriving arts culture.

From the small harbor at its heart, the town stretches towards the mountains, creating a dozen walkable blocks of restaurants, shops and museums.

Head into one of several seafood restaurants to enjoy the fresh bounty of the Sound and the Copper River.

Wander the three museums collectively offering a full history of both Valdez and the greater region and one of the largest collections of Alaska Native artifacts in the world.

9. Wrangell

Image: Sunset – Wrangell, Alaska. brewbooks. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

Serious history buffs won’t want to miss Wrangell, one of the oldest towns in Alaska and the only one to have been held by four nations: the original Tlingit, Russia, England and the United States.

Although a dozen totems are scattered throughout the town, including an impressive killer whale totem adorning an ancient Tlingit grave, be sure to cross the pedestrian bridge to Chief Shakes Island with its replica Tlingit tribal house and six totems surrounding it.

Stroll the boardwalk along Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park past displays explaining the history of rock carvings thought to be 8000 years old (tip: ask a local about the timing of high tide since most carvings are only visible during low tide!)

Stop by the Wrangell Museum, home to an extensive photograph collection depicting the area’s history from the gold rush through the exploration of the English and Russians. 

10. Petersburg

Image: Petersburg, Alaska harbor. brewbooks. [CC BY-SA 2.0] via Flickr

From the street names to the public art and architecture, Petersburg is bursting with its Norwegian heritage.

Tour downtown, taking in the many murals and sidewalk designs, and don’t miss Sing Lee Alley, in the center of old Petersburg with its many examples of rosemaling (a traditional, flowery folk art).

Stroll down to the waterfront along any one of the town’s three scenic harbors to watch the boats come in and out – you may even spot a sea lion or the occasional humpback whale!

Enjoy additional wildlife viewing from the platform at Eagle Roost Park, a short walk from downtown, or on a day cruise to LeConte Glacier.

Head over to Bojer Wikan Fisherman’s Memorial Park to admire the bronze statue of this local fisherman and his crew, who were lost at sea, as well as the Valhalla, a replica Viking ship.

11. Ketchikan

Image: Ketchikan. Kimberly Vardeman. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Ketchikan sits at the southernmost entrance to Alaska’s famed Inside Passage and borders the Misty Fjords National Monument, an area so beautiful it’s known as the “Yosemite of the North.” 

Hitch a ride in a seaplane for soaring views of the snow-capped peaks and waterfalls of the Misty Fjords.

Try ziplining through the trees and over the streams of the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary, where you may even spot a bear hunting for salmon!

Join a guided tour of scenic Totem Bight State Historical Park’s clan house and totem poles to learn about the rich Tlingit history and heritage.

Grab a coffee and stroll the boardwalk of shops along Creek Street – be sure to watch for historic markers identifying things like the town’s former brothel!

12. Moose Pass

Moose Pass
Image: Red Float Plane With Mountains. Steve Betts. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Of the many cute towns in Alaska, this one may have bragging rights for the best name!

Nestled on the Kenai Peninsula and surrounded by the Chugach National Forest, Moose Pass can be a lovely stop along the scenic Seward Highway or an ideal jumping-off point for adventure.

Choose from numerous lakeside B&Bs for a relaxing weekend amidst breathtaking alpine vistas, or plan to visit during the lively Summer Solstice Festival when residents and visitors alike celebrate the longest day of the year.

Hike the 23-mile Johnson Pass Trail (which is part of the original Iditarod Trail from Seward to Nome) over a 1550-foot pass and around several stunning lakes.

13. Ester

The lively spirit of Ester residents (often referring to themselves as the “independent people’s republic of Ester”) makes this one of the more colorful of Alaskan small towns.

First established as a gold mining town but now best known for its artist colony, Ester offers an array of galleries and studios as well as a weekly open-air market, filled with painting, jewelry and photography.

Conclude a day spent enjoying Ester at the Malemute Saloon, where you can step back into gold rush history while enjoying a local brew, food and live music.

14. Skagway

Image: Broadway street Skagway. amanderson2. [CC by 2.0] via Flickr

Tucked in a valley at the northernmost point of the legendary Inside Passage, Skagway welcomes up to five cruise ships per summer day for good reason.

The more than 20 loving preserved historic buildings along Broadway Avenue (one of which, the outlandish Arctic Brotherhood Hall, might possibly be the most photographed building in Alaska!), bring the town’s intriguing history to life.  

The Mascot Saloon, one of 70 saloons in Skagway during its heyday as “the roughest place in the world” is now the only saloon in Alaska not serving any kind of alcohol – but stop by anyway to enjoy an interior restored to its gold rush days and featuring exhibits on the varied vices common in turn-of-the-century boom towns.

Take a ride in a vintage car of the White Pass and Yukon Route Narrow Gauge Railway, an International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark (which is no small feat- it shares that designation with things like the Panama Canal!) as it climbs 3000 feet in 20 miles, through the spectacular scenery of glaciers, gorges and waterfalls.

15. Gustavus

Image: Gustavus. slashvee. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

This tranquil little town, home to just 450 year-round residents, offers all of the colorful history and scenic charm as much larger towns but with a lot less hustle and bustle of crowds.

Located along the shores of Icy Strait, surrounded by Glacier Bay National Park (and possessing the closest airport to the Park), Gustavus enjoys some of the most pristine and majestic wilderness in the world.

And there are nearly endless ways to enjoy it!

Join a Glacier Bay tour, hop aboard a whale-watching boat, wander the quiet beaches, stroll through the shops and galleries in town, hike or bike the Nagoonberry Loop Trail, or rent a kayak to explore the protected coves.

16. Hoonah

Image: Fishing boats Hoonah Alaska. Bernard Spragg. NZ. via Flickr

Self-proclaimed as one of the “most authentically Alaskan” towns in the state, Hoonah sits on beautiful Chichagof Island (the fifth largest in America) amidst steep coastal mountains.

The town’s center is the restored salmon cannery of the former Hoonah Packing Company, now home to a museum (with a fascinating mid-1930s era cannery line display), local arts and crafts shops, and restaurants serving up freshly caught seafood. 

If you’re looking for an adrenaline rush, don’t miss the world’s largest and highest (5,330 continuous feet long with a 1300-foot vertical drop!) zipline with its mountain and ocean views.

A slightly less death-defying gondola ride up into the mountains provides the same view for the more faint-hearted (raising my hand here!)

Hire a fishing boat to take advantage of the Icy Strait prime fishing – targets include halibut and five species of salmon.

Choose from various other excursions which include Alaska native dance performances and cruises to Point Adolphus for viewing bears, whales and eagles.

17. North Pole

North Pole
Image: North Pole, Alaska. Amy Meredith. [CC BY-ND 2.0] via Flickr

No list of Alaska’s small towns would be complete without what is perhaps the most famous address in the world.

What may not be as well known is that North Pole has something to offer everyone – even the most determined scrooges among us!

For those who crave Christmas year-round, North Pole’s attractions are a no-brainer: drive streets with names like Kris Kringle Lane, visit the Santa Claus house (complete with live reindeer!) and, during summer and holidays, even see the big guy!

Visitors with a bit less holly jolly spirit will be pleasantly surprised by restaurants that have been featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives,” outdoor activities amidst the Arctic beauty of Chena Lakes Recreation Area, and one of the best views of the Northern Lights (check out some of the best Northern Lights tours from the North Pole area here!)

Written by: Heather Bakas

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