Top 15 Most Charming Small Towns in Alaska
Alaska, known as The Last Frontier, is packed with treats for adventurous souls. Its natural beauty calls to those who enjoy the great outdoors and wildlife. Plus, there are a ton of things to see and do in Alaska’s forests, like hiking and camping.
However, the little towns often hold charming secrets and rich history, telling the story of the Alaskan Natives, the gold rush, and those other brave souls who made the Alaskan wilderness their homes!
I’ve been lucky enough to live in one of the following small towns and visit a few of the others! If Alaska beckons you as well, you’re likely to find solace in one of the beauties below.
So without further ado, here are the top 15 best small towns and villages in Alaska!
With a population of 5,585, Kodiak is a town nestled on the coast of an island bearing the same name. Kodiak Island lies off the south coast of Alaska, a short plane ride from Anchorage. This coastal town was named by Russian explorer Stephan Glotov in 1763 and is the main town on Kodiak Island.
Visiting this little town provides a natural and historical experience. Kodiak is home to indigenous Alutiiq people, where their rich history is showcased at the Alutiiq Museum & Archaeological Repository. In addition, you can visit Ft. Abercrombie State Historic Park, which contains the remains of a World War coastal defense installation. There is a golf course here too!
After taking in all of the local histories at the museum, there are numerous hiking trails and a park for nature lovers and backpackers to enjoy. Start your journey at Mill Bay Beach Park. Afterward, hike along Saltery Cove Road. Biking and ATV exploration are also options for those who like to travel faster.
Finally, take a wildlife tour or go whale watching. Fishing is also available as well as plenty of hiking opportunities. Kodiak is a nature lover’s playground, with diverse wildlife, the beauty of the coast, and plenty of photo opportunities. I spent five years of my childhood on this majestic island, and it will always hold a special place in my heart!
Located in central southeast Alaska is Wrangell, known for its natural beauty. Glacier, wildlife, and adventure are the three most prominent features of this town.
Its population is approximately 2502, with many residents having a Tlingit background. This town was ruled by four nations; Tlingit, Russia, Great Britain, and the United States. Because of this, Wrangell has a rich history, some of which is showcased at the Chief Shakes Island and Tribal House Historic Monument, Nolan Center & Wrangell Museum, and Petroglyph Beach State Historic Park.
Otherwise, Wrangell has much for visitors to explore. For the wildlife enthusiast, there is so much to see. You can view animals like eagles, shorebirds, herons, and songbirds on the shore. On the water, you will get a chance to view black and brown bears, eagles, migratory birds, sea lions, harbor seals, and whales. There are boat excursions available to take you to these scenic areas to safely enjoy the wildlife.
Fishing for salmon and halibut is a typical visitor’s pastime. However, the true adventurer’s spirit can roam free in over 100 miles of forest road. All explorers, including bikers, hikers, or those traveling by RV, can access lakes, rivers, and campsites to complete the experience in Wrangell’s natural beauty.
Wrangell also hosts many festivals throughout the year. The most notable are The Stikine River Birding Festival, which celebrates the arrival of spring and all the migratory birds, fish, seals, and sea lions, and Alaska Bearfest is the last week of July, celebrating all things bears! If you want to indulge in everything, pick the time of year to visit wisely or make repeat trips!
Healy is a coal mining town with 1,025 residents. It is located about 11 miles north of the Denali National Park and Preserve‘s entrance. In the early 1900s, Healy was initially established as a coal-mining town. Today many residents earn their living from the Usibelli Coal Mine.
Healy provides year-round service to the Denali National Park, including lodging and activities. However, this Park isn’t Healy’s only point of interest. Due north of the town sits the historic Stampede Trail, a route to the Stampede Mine, built in the 1930s but ceased operations in 1970.
The track is now used by mushers, snowmobilers, and skiers in the winter, while some summer visitors travel through on ATV tours and others search for the Fairbanks City bus where the subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into The Wild, Chris McCandless, lived.
If you’re more interested in the mines, Usibelli Coal Mine conducts daily one-hour tours throughout the summer.
In the Southwest of Alaska, on the northeast side of Bristol Bay, lies Naknek. This quaint town has a population of roughly 468 residents. The mixed population holds Non-Natives, Aleuts, Yup’ik Eskimos, Alutiiq, and Athabascans. Native Alaskans settled the area 6,000 years ago because of the abundance of salmon.
Naknek is known for its sockeye salmon fishery, which is currently the richest of its kind in the world. With six salmon processors in operation, this town is prepared to handle peak activity during the red salmon run from mid-June to the end of July.
You will get to partake in fishing for pink, king, silver, and sockeye salmon or fly fish for rainbow trout as a visitor. You will also have access to several high-end fishing lodges.
If fishing is not your jam, you can take a dive into history! Naknek’s rich culture is featured in Bristol Bay Historical Museum, or you can visit the Russian Orthodox St. John the Baptist Chapel in Naknek.
Only accessible via plane or boat, with a population is 2,829, Cordova can be found on Prince William Sound, which is in the Gulf of Alaska. It is 52 air miles southeast of Valdez and sits on the Orca Inlet. A feature of note is the Eyak Mountain which stands proudly above the town.
This town has been home to the Eyak, Chugach Region People, Tlingit, and Athabaskan. They have organized themselves into a federally recognized tribe, while The Native Village of Eyak governs the welfare of its tribal members.
Visitors can get to know the history by visiting the Cordova History Museum. For the more adventurous types, the Mt Eyak Ski Area is available for outdoor snow activities. Miles Glacier Bridge and Kayak Island State Marine Park are also great places to visit.
If you want to see the gorgeous town from a new perspective, helicopter and air tours are available for you to get a glimpse the more remote parts of Cordova, as well as the Glaciers!
Talkteen has a population of 1,237 and sits beneath Denali. It was founded at the height of the Alaskan gold rush in 1919. It is well-known for its panoramic view of the Alaskan Range and is a popular starting point for expeditions to Denali.
Denali is not the only attraction, however. Fishing, kayaking, and four-wheeling are options during the summer. Winter brings snowmobiling, dog sleding, skiing, float tours, and much more.
Hikers may find trails of interest in Talkeetna, especially those with an eye out for wildlife. You’ll find moose, grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, caribou, fox, otters, eagles, and more on your trips. Whether you are taking it easy or you are a fearless adventurer, Talkeetna has something for everyone.
With a population of just 86 residents, Eagle is well-preserved boomtowns of the Alaska mining era. It overlooks the Yukon River and sits just six miles west of the Canada/Alaska border.
With log cabins and clapboard houses dotting the landscape, there is a lot more to this small town than meets the eye. Eagle was established by The Athabascans in the early 1800s. Over the years, Eagle had grown to 1500 residents, known amongst themselves as “Paris of the North.”
Eagle has Alaska’s most extensive “museum system,” with five restored turn-of-the-century buildings. The Eagle Historical Society hosts a three-hour town walking tour throughout the summer. At the same time, float trips from Eagle through Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve are available for visitors to try!
Often called the gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush, Skagway has a population of 1,059 residents and is an old frontier town.
Skagway is a great stop for adventurers and tourists alike. If you enjoy hiking and history, “the world’s longest outdoor museum” Chilkoot Trail is where you should be! Hikers and adventurers may also be interested in a trip to the Harding Glacier, where you can see, touch, and interact with the glacier up close!
Good news for those who would like to visit without going into forests: cruise ships often stop here due to Skagway’s location at the northern tip of the Inside Passage. You can ride on the White Pass and Yukon Route rail or visit Klondike Gold Rush — a National Historical Park that tells the history of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897-98.
Hoonah is a largely Tlingit community on Chichagof Island, with a population of approximately 808 people. You’ll find it in the southeast region of Alaska’s panhandle.
This small community has a big personality and so much for travelers to learn about and partake in. Start with Icy Strait Point, then try an ATV or jeep tour! Whale watching and other wildlife tours are available for animal lovers.
On the other hand, The Huna Tribal House of Xunaa Shuka Hit may catch the attention of those curious about what happened since the Tlingit villages were destroyed 200 years ago. You can also learn how they have been rebuilt.
Finally, there is no shortage of 100% Alaskan-owned souvenir and gift shops for you to mark your adventures. Visit the Warehouse Shops at Icy Strait Point and take the time to explore this historic structure that was once a cannery.
Want to visit the famous gold rush town? Head to Nome, which overlooks the Bering Sea and holds 3,850 residents within its borders. Nome is the home of the last great gold stampede in the history of the American West.
Known as the “most exciting destination for adventurers” by some, Nome presents an extensive list of activities for its visitors. The most notable is the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race and the annual migration of many bird species in late spring.
Activities include dog sled rides, The Annual Fireman’s Carnival, The Iron Dog, and cross country skiing. Nome is also an excellent location for those who want to see the Northern Lights.
The Nome Recreation Center offers many exercise options in the summer, including racquetball and all your standard gym equipment. You can visit a traditional Native village, go fishing, try a wild flower excursion, or pan for gold!
Finally, visitors can drop by the National Park Service Visitors Center. They have many displays on offer including interactive, natural, cultural history displays.
With well-known points of interest like the Exit Glacier and Kenai Fjords, Seward attracts visitors from far and wide to enjoy its beauty.
Seward has a population of approximately 2,773. Despite its many attractions, this small town is known for its fishing endeavors and the Alaska railroad system.
When you visit, start your day with a cup of locally roasted coffee and head out for a few hours of exploration. Begin easy, with a trip downtown and enjoy the history of the area. Then try a dog sled ride tour or take a helicopter tour and touchdown on the Godwin Glacier.
You can even go ziplining, fishing, or dog sledding. If you love the snow, Seward is an excellent vacation spot for you in the winter and spring. Snow doesn’t often leave until May. You can ski and ice skate to your heart’s content!
Check out my guide to the best hotels in Seward.
12. Moose Pass
Moose Pass has a small population of just 315 people, and it sits one hundred miles south of Anchorage.
Oscar Christensen and his partner, Mickey Natt, arrived in 1909 and founded this little town during the Hope-Sunrise gold rush.
This scenic mountain village tucked away in the Kenai Peninsula holds mountain lakes and berry patches ready for visitors to enjoy their beauty. Hunting and fishing are available as well.
Most notably, Moose Pass has many trails for hikers to explore, like Johnson Pass Trail,
Carter Lake Trail, Victor Creek Trail, Lost Lake Trail, and Ptarmigan Creek Trail!
13. Trapper Creek
Trapper Creek is a little town sitting beneath Denali’s Shadow, just off the George Parks Highway. This town dates back to 1906, when gold was discovered in Cache Creek, and has approximately 358 people. The residents here live semi-off-the-grid.
Visitors can expect fishing, hunting, and ATV tours as the primary sources of entertainment. Peter’s Creek has a rustic camping area set up by the Mat-Su Borough. Here you can fish for salmon and pan for gold!
Ester is a historic mining town with 1,622 residents. When miners made a gold strike at Ester Creek in 1906, this little town was established. Gold mining still occurs in the hills surrounding the Ester.
Currently, Ester is populated with professors from the University of Alaska Fairbanks as well as many artists. Since so many residents are writers and other creative souls, Ester is best known as an artists’ colony.
Galleries and studios dot the town selling jewelry, paintings, and more. There is a Community Market held every week during summer where artisanal items are sold. If you love art, Ester is the place for you!
With the largest population on this list, at 8,371, Sitka is a charming city near Juneau facing the Pacific Ocean on Baranof Island. Its history is rich with Tlingit and Russian influences, given that it once belonged to Russia and is populated by many Alaskan natives. Sitka became Alaska’s first capital city, with the transfer ceremony from Russia to the U.S. being held there.
For visitors to get there, you can only arrive via sea or air since it is an island. Once there, you have plenty to do! You can try the ATV, bike, or driving tours. You can hike, hunt, or go golfing on the side of a mountain!
If you are more interested in the waters, kayak tours and rentals are available. Plus, there are wildlife boat tours and boat rentals. You can also cruise around Southeast Alaska or try a fishing charter!
Sitka has an abundance of activities, great for extended trips or repeat visits! I have been to Sitka twice, and each time I was able to enjoy new experiences!
Alaska is Bursting with Personality!
Alaska continues to amaze even the most veteran outdoor lover. With so much to do and see, genuinely experiencing Alaska may take years and many, many visits!
Whether you are touring the state to hike in every town or just want to explore the culture, you are in for a long ride! Yet, each little village in Alaska with its prominent personality charms its visitors, leaving a long-lasting mark on their lives and reminding the rest of the world that there is beauty in simplicity.
My personal choice for an Alaskan small town adventure is, of course, Kodiak. The beauty of the landscape, the colorful houses, and the abundance of wildlife make it an easy choice for me. But I realize I might be biased having grown up there!
If you are flying into Anchorage, and you don’t want to tack on extra flights, then Talkeetna is an excellent choice. It is roughly a two-hour drive from the city, and the views of Denali are stunning.
Honestly, Alaskan small towns are so charming and welcoming, you really can’t go wrong with any of the spots on this list! But if you need more Alaska inspiration, check out these other articles on things to do in the Last Frontier.