Scenic overlook with view of bay and Kodiak, one of the best towns in Alaska

The 17 Best Towns in Alaska in 2023 (According to a Local)

In your travels in Alaska, you may spot a bumper sticker reading “Relax, it’s not the Lower 48.” Alaskans cherish their laid-back lifestyle. Nowhere is this more evident than in the small Alaska towns scattered throughout the state. 

Even the “big city” of Anchorage is a bit too busy compared to these charming locales. Towns in Alaska are low population-wise, but bursting with character.

In this article, we’ll take a look at some of Alaska’s small towns and the attractions they offer. For a guide to Alaska’s urban areas, stay tuned for my guide to Alaska’s best cities!

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17 Best Towns in Alaska


Escape the “big city” of Anchorage in these laid-back twin towns.

Aerial view of downtown Palmer in Alaska
Aerial view of downtown Palmer

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This Alaska town lies about 45 miles north of Anchorage (Alaska’s largest city) and offers a good glimpse of small-town life in Alaska. Here you will find broad valleys hemmed in by lofty mountains and some of the best farm country in Alaska.

In August the otherwise sleepy Palmer springs to life with the Alaska State Fair. Palmer is also the closest major town to the Matanuska Glacier. Two more unique attractions in Palmer are the Musk Ox farm and the Reindeer farm. The long daylight hours of Alaskan summers make for ideal produce-growing conditions. This results in gigantic produce, including cabbages as large as beach balls!

In the winter, Hatcher Pass is one of the more popular skiing destinations for locals. It is also the location of the defunct Independence Mine, which now operates as a museum. The local lakes, rivers, and forests offer plenty of outdoor activities in the summertime.


Kodiak is perfect for day hikes and wildlife viewing.

Kodiak in Alaska under the blue sky
Kodiak in late September

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This town shares its name with Kodiak Island, the second-largest island in America. The town is small, and the local road system is quite limited by most people’s standards, but don’t let that fool you! There’s plenty of adventure to be had here. The smaller scale of things here makes Kodiak one of the best towns in Alaska for day hikes.

Most of Kodiak’s 30 hiking trails take 1-3 hours to traverse. A great way to end a day of hiking is with some ice-cold local beer at the Kodiak Island Brewery. The shores and forests are also great for bird watching. In the spring and summer months, the waters off Kodiak are great for whale watching too!

The rivers outside town are great for salmon fishing. In summer and early autumn, expect to see some of Kodiak’s famous brown bears sharing the river with you! Most of the island is zoned within the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. The best way to get there is to travel to one of the villages on the island by air.

If you want to take a Kodiak “road trip” head out to Fossil Beach. Here you can find fossilized remains of a variety of invertebrates. The long sandy beach on the road right before Fossil Beach is a popular place with the locals. Even at the height of summer, though, it’s nowhere near as crowded as the popular beaches of the Lower 48.

For more, check out my guide to all the best things to do in Kodiak.


Art galleries, halibut, and natural beauty abound in this town.

Overlooking view of Homer Spit from a forest in Homer
The Homer Spit

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One of the most adventurous ways to get to and from Kodiak is via the ferry from Homer.

Homer’s ferry terminal sits at the end of the Homer Spit, a thin strip of land jutting out into the gorgeous Kachemak Bay. One of the best ways to see Homer is on a road trip from Anchorage. The drive takes about 5 hours but is jam-packed with beautiful scenery.

Besides the ferry terminal, a whole shoal of restaurants, hotels, and bars call the Homer Spit home. One of the most popular establishments on the spit is the Salty Dawg Saloon. There are also plenty of more family-friendly options on the Spit, too. The Land’s End Resort offers accommodations and the classy Chartroom restaurant. On summer days, the views from its patio are spectacular!

Homer is one of the more eclectic towns in Alaska and has several art galleries well worth a visit. If you prefer chasing fish to contemplating paintings, Homer is also one of the best places to fish for halibut. Kachemak Bay State Park lies across the bay from Homer and is a great place for adventure tours. 


Experience the beauty of southcentral Alaska.

View while riding on a raft in Kenai River
Rafting down the Kenai River

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Soldotna lies about 3 hours down the Sterling Highway from Anchorage. The nearby Kenai River offers some of the best inland sport fishing tours in the state. The river gets its distinctive light blue hue from glacial run-off. Several campsites sit along the banks of the Kenai River for those wanting to rough it a little.  

No corner of Alaska is without natural beauty. The mountains and forests of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge are great for hiking and taking in the serene majesty of southcentral Alaska. Brown bears, black bears, and moose call this place home. You may even espy Alaska’s only wild cat–the lynx–here!

The Soldotna Progress Day towards the end of June offers concerts, food, and craft beverages. The Soldotna Progress Days also has car races and a rodeo well worth checking out. 

👉 Pro Tip: It’s always a good idea to bring bug spray if you plan on going for a hike in Alaska. Alaska’s “unofficial state bird,” the mosquito, thrives in wetter areas. Expect to encounter more of them in lowland areas!


This unique town is your gateway to Prince William Sound.

View of the town of Whittier in Alaska from afar
Whittier, AK. The tall building in the background houses all the town’s residents.

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This town, though small, has a one-of-a-kind quirk–all its residents live in one apartment building. This Alaskan town serves as a hub for Alaska’s ferry system. It is also a great hub for exploring Prince William Sound. Private glacier cruises also depart from Whittier. For a more adventurous experience, book a kayak or jet ski tour!

To get to Whittier via the road system, you will need to pass through North America’s longest tunnel! The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel carves through 2.7 miles of mountain. Traffic flow is regulated here, alternating between auto traffic and the Alaska Railroad. Don’t even think about trying to hold your breath here! 


A world-class aquarium and scenic setting make Seward unforgettable.

Aerial view of a small boat harbor in Seward

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This cozy Alaska town on the shores of Resurrection Bay is home to Alaska’s premier aquarium.  The Alaska Sealife Center houses a wide variety of Alaskan coastal species. It’s a must-see for any family visit to the Last Frontier. Seward also serves as one of the best towns in Alaska for exploring the Kenai Fjords National Park.

You can get to Seward via the Alaska Railroad or the Old Seward Highway. The town also has a small collection of murals scattered throughout its streets. The murals depict different aspects of life in Alaska, and it can be fun to go on a “treasure hunt” to find them all. Seward has plenty of cozy restaurants to sample local fair and world cuisine  


A cozy town that is great for aquatic and alpine adventures!

View of boats at a harbor in Valdez, Alaska
Valdez boat harbor in winter

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The port town of Valdez lies nestled between the mountains and the sea. Although small, the town plays a critical role in Alaska’s oil industry. It’s the terminal of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The mountains surrounding the town offer all kinds of adventures, from hiking to heli-skiing.

Boat tours from Valdez give up-close looks at glaciers and local wildlife. Valdez is also a great place for whale watching. Local white-water rafting tours brave the canyons of the Chugach Mountains. The Keystone Canyon is a great place for scenic drives and hikes.

Another noteworthy aspect of the town is that it stood near the epicenter of the notorious 1964 Good Friday earthquake. The Valdez Museum houses an exhibit about earthquakes and events surrounding it.


Come see the Sea Otter Capital of the World!

View of a camping tent in Cordova, Alaska
Camping outside Cordova

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Another great spot on Prince William Sound is the town of Cordova. Explore over 100 miles of hiking trails in the Chugach National Forest. Cordova sits at the mouth of the Copper River Delta, and, as such, is great for salmon fishing. 

The salmon also draw bald eagles and bears, so it’s a great place for wildlife viewing. In Cordova, the “Sea Otter Capital of the World,” it’s quite common to see shoals of otters chilling in the local harbor.

Learn more about the local native culture at the Ilanka Cultural Center. Gift shops here also sell the unique Copper River Fleece products decorated with traditional Native motifs. After a day of adventure, head to Huey’s for the best burgers and brews in town!


This small town with tons of rustic charm is the gateway to Denali National Park.

View of stores from the outside in Talkeetna, Alaska
Storefronts in Talkeetna (photo: Michael Rosebrock / Shutterstock)

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Talkeetna is a great hub for tours of Denali National Park. Travel to Talkeetna by either the George Parks Highway or the Alaska Railroad. Beat the crowds and get the best views of Denali by booking a flight-seeing trip out of Talkeetna. The Denali Park Zipline offers airborne thrills of a lower-flying kind.

If you’re up for hiking and camping, you can access Denali State Park, the wilder side of the Denali area, from here. After a day full of adventure, head to the Talkeetna Roadhouse or the Denali Brew Pub for a refreshing draft and dinner. The local rivers and lakes are great for fishing, floating, and camping. You can also take the Hurricane Turn Train to tour the local backcountry.


The main hub of Alaska’s Kuskokwim region

Aerial view of Bethel surrounded with tundra in Alaska
The tundra surrounding Bethel

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This town in western Alaska is a major hub for the remote villages of southwestern Alaska. Its proximity to Anchorage makes it one of the best towns in Alaska for a taste of the tundra. No roads lead to Bethel, but flights on Alaska Airlines depart daily. 

In the darker months, Bethel is a good bet for a place to see the northern lights. In January, Bethel hosts the Kuskokwim 300 dog sledding race. The race lasts less than 19 hours, but plenty of festivities fill the week around the race too.

Shop handmade souvenirs and home-grown produce at Bethel’s Saturday Market. Bethel is also a great place to learn more about Alaska’s Yupik Natives. The Cama’i Dance Festival on the last weekend of March is an unmissable opportunity to see Native dances from across the state.

👉 Pro Tip: Everyday grocery items are much more expensive in Alaska’s remote villages! If you plan on visiting them, make sure you factor this into your expenses.


The end of the Iditarod trail and the beginning of Arctic adventures!

A wooden carved at the welcome sign of Nome in Alaska

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Looking for an adventure off the beaten path? Then make your way to Nome! This remote town on Alaska’s Seward Peninsula stands at the end of the famous Iditarod trail, but you’ll have to take an airplane to get here. The easiest connection is aboard Alaska Airlines out of Anchorage

👉 Misnomers: The town of Seward, Alaska is on the Kenai Peninsula in southcentral Alaska. The Seward Peninsula lies far to the north on the shores of the Bering Sea.

Local museums preserve the frontier history and Alaska Native cultures. One of the main draws in the frontier days was gold and you can try your hand at panning for gold at the beach. If you fancy a refreshing dip in the Bering Sea, join locals for the Midnight Sun Festival’s Polar Bear Swim. You can fish from the shores here and cook what you catch using the abundant driftwood for fuel.

The local road system spans 350 miles in the surrounding area, connecting Nome with several outlying villages. At first, it may seem like there’s “nothing” out there, but the austere vastness of this region is what gives it its unique beauty. Nome has a limited number of rental options, but you can also book tours to explore this wild land. 

Utqiagvik (aka Barrow)

America’s northernmost town makes for an unforgettable Arctic experience.

View of a Whale Bone Arch in Utqiagvik
The Whale Bone Arch at America’s northernmost point

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The remoteness of this Alaskan town and its extreme climate make it less accommodating to casual travelers. If you love adventure, though, Utqiagvik offers an opportunity like no other. The longest winter night here lasts from late November to late January, with uninterrupted darkness! The summer solstice sees 24 hours of daylight, with the sun never actually setting.

Hike out to Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States. There, the lonely Whale Bone Arch stands as a symbol of the local people’s deep ties to the sea. The Iñupiat Heritage Center tells the story of the Iñupiat who have braved these austere lands above the Arctic Circle for centuries. Locals celebrate July 4th with traditional Native Alaskan games.   

North Pole

It’s Christmas every day in this town outside Fairbanks.

View of the Santa Claus House from the outside
North Pole’s famous Santa Claus House

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This tiny town keeps the Christmas spirit alive, even at the height of summer. There’s an actual Santa Claus Lane here, as well as other festively-named streets. Shop for Christmas decorations and goodies year-round at the Santa Claus House.

North Pole is a perfect stop on a family trip to Fairbanks. While it is Christmas all year here, the best festivities happen in early December. Locals mark the first Sunday of December with a candlelight ceremony, Christmas caroling, and the lighting of the town’s official Christmas Tree.

North Pole is also a great place to see the northern lights. The nearby Chena River State Recreation Area offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking and rafting. In the winter, enjoy cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and ice fishing

Unalaska (aka Dutch Harbor)

Explore the wind-swept capital of Alaska’s fishing industry.

View of Unalaska from a mountain
Looking back toward town

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If you’ve watched Deadliest Catch, you’ll be familiar with Unalaska. Getting here can be expensive, but if you love remote, beautiful places, Unalaska is the place to go! One good thing about being so remote is that there are no bears here, so you can hike with an easier mind in the hills outside town.

After a day of exploration, get a drink and some grub at the Harbor View Bar and Grill or the Norwegian Rat Saloon. You can also rub elbows with the locals at these establishments. As a lifelong Alaskan, I can assure you will likely meet some memorable characters! A walk along the docks here will give you an up-close look at the town’s famous fishing fleet.

If you like history, check out the Holy Ascension Cathedral. The church, one of Alaska’s oldest historic buildings, has stood since 1896 and preserves many rare religious icons from the early 1900s. Unalaska also serves as a hub for the Aleutian Chain’s most remote communities including Adak and the Pribilof Islands.


A hidden gem in southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage.

View of a wooden signage in Wrangell

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The islands of southeast Alaska have a mild climate and receive lots of rain, making them ideal for plant life. Wrangell is a great place to take in the lush forests and serene beauty of Alaska’s forests. Hike up Mt. Dewey Trail for a view of the surrounding area. Float down the Stikine River or kayak through the nearby coastal fjords. Visit in early spring to see massive flocks of migratory birds. 

The replica tribal house Chief Shakes Island gives a glimpse back into the local native culture. The building is new, but experts believe the totem pillars are authentic. Another testament to local native culture is the petroglyphs carved on stones at Petroglyph Beach. The Stikine Restaurant offers hearty helpings of American/pub fare.


Alaska’s gold rush days live on in this cozy town.

Scenic view while riding the White Pass Railroad
Riding the historic White Pass Railroad

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Skagway is one of the best places to learn about Alaska’s gold rush history. This charming town on the Inside Passage has over 100 historic buildings and transports you back to the town’s wild frontier days. Gift shops offer unique Alaskan memorabilia. 

For a great through-hike, travel up the famous Chilkoot Trail that took prospectors over the mountains to the fabled goldfields of the Yukon. There are also lots of great day hikes out of Skagway. Take a ride on the scenic White Pass Railroad, but be sure to bring your passport. The route crosses into Canada.

In addition to the above, there are lots of great tour options available in Skagway. Olivia’s at the Skagway Inn is an excellent choice for distinctively Alaskan dishes. The Klondike Doughboy bakery makes excellent pastries and is a great start to any day in Skagway.


A unique combination of glaciers, forests, and surfing!

Colorful sky over the Hubbard Glacier during sunrise
Hubbard Glacier at sunrise

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Many Alaska cruise ship tours stop in Yakutat. Like other places in coastal Alaska, Yakutat is great for wildlife viewing. Yakutat is also a great jumping-off point for seeing the Hubbard Glacier and touring Glacier Bay National Park. The oceans and rivers around Yakutat make for great fishing trips. 

Yakutat is also one of the best towns in Alaska for surfing! The best waves roll in from mid-April to mid-June and again from mid-August through September. Rent a board at Icy Waves Surf Shop and hit the waves!

Take to the skies for a fly-by tour of Mt. St. Elias. For more land-based adventures, hit the trails around Yakutat for an enchanting trek through the lush Tongass National Forest.  The Yakutat Lodge combines cozy rooms and great grub for visitors to this tiny town.

👉 Planning an Alaska Trip? Use my guide on the Best Time to Visit Alaska to figure out when to visit these amazing towns.

FAQs About Alaska Towns

What are the major towns in Alaska?

The major towns in Alaska include Bethel, Homer, Kenai/Soldotna, Kodiak, and Palmer/Wasilla

What is the best small town in Alaska?

Homer is the best town for accessibility and epic scenery. Skagway is the best town for learning about Alaska’s gold rush and frontier history. Kodiak is, in my opinion, the best town for a variety of day hikes.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this list of the best towns in Alaska! For more incredible ideas for your Alaska vacation, check out my guide to all the best places to visit in Alaska.

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