Alaska Visitors Guide

Seeing Southcentral Alaska by river, lake and sea

For many people, being near or out on water is at once deeply soothing and thrilling. If that’s true for you, Southcentral Alaska has world-class water adventure opportunities for every ability level.

Up close with the glaciers

Picture an ice slab the size of a house cleaving in slow motion from a massive blue and white glacier, sending up sparkling spray as it slips into the water beneath. You’re witnessing this in real time from a boat, at a safe distance but still close enough to hear.

While seeing a glacial calving event isn’t guaranteed, getting a firsthand look at a glacier is reliably awesome. Bonus: You don’t need a perfect sunny day to get the best views. The beautiful glacial blues are actually more prominent when it’s overcast.

Several outfits offer boat tours less than a day’s drive from Anchorage.

If you’re based in Anchorage and have limited time, check out the Mv Ptarmigan to Portage Glacier. Only an hour’s drive from Anchorage, you’ll spend about an hour on Portage Lake cruising right up to the face of the ice. Tickets run $49 per adult and $29 per child.

For those with more time, the 26 Glacier Tour run by Phillips Cruises & Tours says it all in the name. The nearly six-hour, narrated cruise covers 150 miles of Prince William Sound, and includes breathtaking views across College Fjord and Blackstone Bay. Tickets are $189 per adult, $125 per child, and include a meal.

Wildlife viewing

Alaska isn’t just about pretty, old ice: You’re here to see the incredibly diverse and often charismatic wildlife! Whales, sea otters, puffins and Steller sea lions abound. Many day cruise operators focus on wildlife viewing (and you’ll likely get some glaciers in there too).


Major Marine Tours, based in Seward, cruises to Kenai Fjords National Park, where the whale-watching is world class — but then, like so much in Alaska, so is the rest. Running from $109 for an adult/$54 per child for an early spring tour, to an 8.5-hour cruise at $289 per adult, there’s an array of day tours to choose from, including private charters.

Also based in Seward, Kenai Fjords Tours ventures into Resurrection Bay and beyond, offering options for different interests and food on every tour. Choose between a wildlife vs. glacier emphasis, or calmer water tours for those with concerns. Pricing ranges from $50 per person in the early season to $238 for a full day tour.

Want to get really close to the action? Little compares to paddling at eye-level in calm blue saltwater near a wild and forested shore, watching shorebirds wheel overhead, spotting eagles on their perch, and seeing otters floating on their backs nearby. Homer provides a stunning starting point for outfitters such as True North Kayak Adventures, which runs kayak trips in gorgeous Kachemak Bay in the $150-per-person range.

Finally, while you’re out on the water, why not catch some dinner? There are myriad salmon and halibut fishing charter options in both Seward and Homer, and easy pack/flash freeze/ship outfitters back on land to get your catch conveniently and safely processed. Check out Alaska Northern Outfitters in Seward and Homer Charter Fishing in Homer as starting points. Trips run roughly $400 per person.

River rafting

Your view of Alaska is going to change the closer you are to the water. Guided rafting trips provide a family-friendly experience with more of an adventurous edge than cruises, yet still appropriate for a wide range of mobility levels.

If you choose a guided rafting tour on the fabled Kenai Peninsula, you’ll experience an otherworldly green-blue river moving your raft along surprisingly swiftly as you scan the shoreline for bears feeding on fish. This region is teeming with life. One outfitter is Alaska River Adventures, offering half- and full-day float trips beginning at $64 per adult and $29.50 for kids.

For those looking for adventure, NOVA tours based in the Matanuska Valley offer a glimpse of a more rugged, exposed, grand Alaska that makes you feel like you truly are as far north as you traveled. The light hits differently up there across an expanse of glacially fed river and jagged mountain peaks. Their Matanuska River overnight tour is customizable for different experience levels, and starts at $550 per adult and $350 per child.

Up for a spicier ride? Try a guided trip with Chugach Outdoor Center or NOVA to Sixmile Creek, near Hope. This fabled local whitewater destination is considered intermediate to advanced and not for the faint of heart (or for those who can’t swim). Choose between a Class IV, two-canyon itinerary, or three canyons including IV and V rapids, $139-$215.

Another option for experienced and intrepid explorers is the versatile and increasingly popular packrafting. For the uninitiated, packrafts are highly portable personal inflatables designed to compress into a backpack, enabling you to flex your backpacking skills while accessing more remote, wild water. You get to hike in and paddle out! Alaska Packraft School guides an overnight packraft trip through fabled Crow Pass, which includes 15 miles of hiking and 8 miles of rafting on Eagle River, for $600.

Lakes of the Great Land

Alaska has over 3 million lakes, and some beautiful ones are only a stone’s throw from Anchorage.

Eklutna Lake sits 12 winding road miles away from the Glenn Highway. It’s tucked back into the Chugach Mountains but, at 7 miles long, is the largest lake in the region. On a clear day, it glows an ethereal blue-green. Lifetime Adventures at the lake’s edge provides day-rental kayaks starting at $50 per rental.

Craving even more adventure and an “only in Alaska” experience? Hardy travelers can try paddleboarding on an icy blue glacial lake at Knik Glacier with Alaska Sundog Guiding, for $999 per person.

The options for witnessing Southcentral Alaska from its many waterways are as numerous as there are bodies of water. You could spend a lifetime trying to see every one. Instead, why not pick one or two out of the best the region has to offer, and enjoy yourself fully while you’re there? It’s as sure of a bet you can make on creating an unforgettable life experience.