Family Vacations to Anchorage and Seward, Alaska

Anchorage Skyline, Alaska
Anchorage Skyline (courtesy, Anchorage CVB)

Anchorage and Seward Highlights

  • Find out about whaling and view indigenous art and artifacts at the Anchorage Museum of History and Art.
  • Get safely close to a grizzly bear, moose, musk oxen, and bald eagles at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
  • Drive the scenic Seward Highway for views of snowcapped mountains, vast glaciers, and Alaskan wildlife.
  • Cruise Kenai Fjords National Park in search of whales, sea lions, otters, and puffins.
  • Feed an octopus or a puffin and observe huge Steller sea lions sun themselves on rocks at the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Anchorage is the gateway to Alaska's wild frontiers. Drive north or board the Alaska Railroad and you reach Denali State Park or, further along, Denali National Park. Head south for 127 miles on the Seward Highway to Seward, and you arrive at the embarkation port for many of the large cruise ships sailing the Inside Passage. The road connecting Anchorage and Seward is one of America's great drives, affording views of icy blue glaciers, waterfalls, and slopes green with spruce trees and purple with wildflowers.

At Anchorage's Alaska Native Heritage Center, an outdoor park and museum, watch dancers, listen to native tales, and view wood carvers and native dwellings—it's all part of learning about the five major indigenous groups in the state: Athabascans, from the state's interior; Yup'ik and Cup'ik from the west coast; Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik; Aleut and Alutiiq from the north Pacific; and Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian from the southeast. To illustrate the center's 2006 theme, "Living from the Land and the Sea," the village sites feature trapping and snaring tools, harpoons, and other food-gathering items.

The Anchorage Museum of History and Art presents 10,000 years of Alaskan history through artifacts and art. Browse canvases of pristine glaciers and of seal hunters, see whaling pots used to boil blubber, and admire Yup'ik wood and feather masks as well as Athabascan moosehide, bead, and beaver mittens. There's a children's gallery here as well.

When driving the Seward Highway, visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (milepost 84). The center rescues, rehabilitates, and, when possible, releases its recovering residents. On view are moose, bald eagles, black bears, musk oxen, bison, and Hugo, a grizzly bear and permanent resident because she's lost the skills to forage in the wild (and yes, Hugo is a female).

Seward provides access to spectacular Kenai Fjords National Park. On a wildlife-watching day cruise you're likely to spot orcas, humpback and minke whales, sea lions, and puffins. Kenai Fjords Tours, as well as other companies, offers various trips. One of the most exciting gets you within 100 yards of a glacier—near enough to hear the thunderous crack of icebergs calving into the sea.

This summer the Alaska SeaLife Center, a research and conservation facility, debuts its educational boat trip into Seward's Resurrection Bay. The 2.5-hour outing, shorter than most other tours, may be just the right length for younger kids, and the ship still cruises past the sea lion rookery. At the facility, view harbor seals, as well as the star residents, Steller sea lions, some of whom weigh in at a burly 2,000 pounds. The facility also showcases tufted puffins, long-tailed ducks, black oystercatchers, and other sea birds. Want to feed a puffin or feel what it's like when an octopus—probably the inquisitive Layla—slides one of her eight sucker-lined arms over yours? Then, reserve the puffin or the octopus encounter in advance (open to ages 12 and older).

Tip: It's cold and frequently wet out on the deck of a day cruise, so be sure to bundle up in warm layers and wear a hat and gloves—even if it is summer—and bring raingear. You'll be glad you did.

Recommended Side Trips: Denali National Park, Denali State Park, Homer's resident family expert Candyce Stapen has written the book on family travel, having authored some 1,400 travel articles and 27 books, 26 of them on family travel. She is the winner of the 2004 "Caribbean Travel Writer of the Year for North America" award and a three-time winner of the Society of American Travel Writers' Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism award. Her articles have appeared in publications including Nick Jr , FamilyFun , Parents , Better Homes & Gardens , Conde Nast Traveler , National Geographic Traveler , and the Family Travel Network , among others. Her book, the National Geographic Guide to Caribbean Family Vacations is available from

Published: 3 Oct 2007 | Last Updated: 17 Aug 2012
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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