Stikine River in the Inside Passage
Stikine River in the Inside Passage region

Intro to the Five Regions of Alaska

Intro to the Five Regions of Alaska

With more coastline than all the other contiguous states combined, and with over 660,000 square miles of land, Alaska’s vastness can be better understood and navigated by its five distinct regions. With their own unique landscapes, culture, weather, and history, each region offers a wide array of experiences for visitors to enjoy.

The Inside Passage Region

This iconic archipelago is home to Juneau, the capital city of Alaska. The coastal communities of Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Sitka serve as some of the most popular destinations to visit. This region is renowned for its wildlife, fishing, trails, glacier hikes, kayaking, berry picking, culinary scene, and more. It’s also home to the rich and vibrant Alaska Native cultures of the Tsimshian, Haida, Eyak, and Tlingit peoples. Here, after a day of exploring the trails and waterways, you can enjoy learning and experiencing these cultures up close in one of the many heritage centers and museums in the region.

Weather is mild in comparison to other parts of the state, and this region is home to the largest temperate rainforest in North America: the Tongass National Forest. Here, visitors will revel in the outstanding lush coastal views – with salmon-filled rivers, wildlife sightings, trails, and glaciers – all in one place. The Mendenhall Glacier – one of the most iconic sights in all of the state – is as inspiring as it is legendary, located just outside of Juneau. Spend the day glacier trekking, photographing, hiking, and more, on or around this world-famous landmark.

Also home to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, this 3.3 million acre park is a living testament to a millennia of life. Here, visitors can experience waters, fjords, and glaciers that date back millions of years, while enjoying coastal views, rainforests, mountain trails, and more. Stop by the Huna Tribal House, a heritage center dedicated to the preservation of the living Tlingit culture and history. 

Cruising is the most popular and easiest way to explore this region, with a wide variety of itineraries available ranging from a few days to several weeks. This region is also accessible by plane and ferry, while the communities of Haines, Skagway, and Hyder are accessible by road (though you have to drive through Canada to get there).

Best ways to get around: By boat (cruise or ferry), by plane

Gateway Community: Juneau

Top Destinations: Glacier Bay National Park, Tongass National Forest, Misty Fjords National Monument, Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway, Juneau

Off-the-beaten-track Highlights: Haines, Petersburg, Wrangell, Prince of Wales Island

Best for: Cruising, coastal scenery, glaciers, marine wildlife

Traditional Homelands of: Tlingit, Haida, Eyak, and Tshimshian Peoples

Kayaking by Dawes Glacer in the Inside Passage
Kayaking by Dawes Glacier in the Inside Passage

The Interior Region

Known as the heartland of Alaska, this region’s landscape is as diverse as it is wide. Accessible by road or plane, this region makes up over 570 square miles of land and is home to one of the most recognizable landmarks in Alaska: Denali National Park and Preserve. Here, visitors can experience everything from Athabascan culture and history to mountains, rivers, lakes, archaeological sites, moose, bears, caribou, eagles, and more.

The largest town in the region is Fairbanks, where the nearby Chena Hot Springs offers a great place to unwind both under the northern lights in winter and midnight sun in summer. The town of North Pole is just a short drive south of Fairbanks, where visitors can enjoy visiting Santa’s house year-round.

Traveling the world-renowned Alaska Highway, which stretches from Canada directly into this region, will bring you to the towns of Tok and Delta Junction, where panoramic views of mountain ranges, forests, and wildlife will have you singing the praises of Alaska long after you’ve left.   

Best ways to get around: By road, by plane

Gateway Community: Fairbanks

Top Destinations: Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Chena Hot Springs, North Pole

Off-the-beaten-track Highlights: Kantishna, Denali Highway

Best for: Northern lights viewing, wildlife, mountains & vast landscapes

Traditional Homelands of: Athabascan Peoples

Denali National Park
Denali National Park in the Interior Region

The Southcentral Region

The Southcentral region is the most populated region in the state, and home to the well-known city of Anchorage. While more than half of the state’s population lives here, the region’s population density is still lower than most areas in the contiguous United States, and the area is alive with wildlife, panoramic views, and recreational opportunities. Hikes, glacier trekking, fishing, and more are popular here. 

Anchorage boasts hiking and coastal trails, with destinations like Kincaid Park and Chugach State Park, along with a wide range of urban attractions including museums, restaurants, and shopping. To the north, the Mat-Su Valley’s pride, Hatcher Pass offers mountainous views and gold mining history. To the east, Glennallen acts as the gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the nation’s largest national park, which is home to 9 of the 16 highest peaks in the United States. To the north, the mountain town of Talkeetna grants grand views of Denali to visitors along with its charming Main Street.

To the south, the alpine hamlet of Girdwood is home to the largest ski resort in Alaska. The Kenai Peninsula (Homer, Seward, Kenai, and more) and Prince William Sound (Valdez, Cordova, and Whittier) offer views of glaciers, waterfalls, rivers, and lakes, with world-renowned fishing, wildlife sightings, and day cruises. Similarly, Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the state’s most popular destinations, boasting outstanding coastal views, whale watching, kayaking, and glacier & wildlife day cruises. Cordova, known for the world-famous Copper River and its abundant salmon population, offers fishing and mountain views in equal measure. 

This region can be visited by plane, boat, train, and is more accessible by road than any other region in the state. The George Parks Highway can take you north from Anchorage to Fairbanks (Interior region), and the Seward and Sterling Highways connect the Kenai Peninsula. The Glenn Highway travels northeast from Anchorage and leads to Tok, also connecting to the Richardson Highway that heads to Valdez.

Best ways to get around: By road, by train

Gateway Community: Anchorage

Top Destinations: Anchorage, Seward, Girdwood, Homer, Mat-Su Valley, Talkeetna, Kenai Fjords National Park, Prince William Sound, Kenai Peninsula

Off-the-beaten-track Highlights: Valdez, Cordova, McCarthy, Seldovia, Halibut Cove, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park|

Best for: Road trips, easily accessible adventures, mix of culture and wilderness

Traditional Homelands of: Athabascan, Sugpiaq, and Eyak Peoples

Knik Glacier in the Southcentral Region
Knik Glacier in the Southcentral Region

The Southwest Region

The Southwest is one of the most varied and remote regions, with landscapes so vast and a population so low, it’s only accessible by plane or boat. Here, Lake Clark National Park and Preserve and Katmai National Park and Preserve offer views of jumping salmon and famous fat bears. To the south, Kodiak Island boasts its own Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge – home to the only habitat of Kodiak brown bears in the world. Fishing in this region is one of a kind, where the waters are full of spawning salmon, halibut, cod, and more, leading to some of the most bountiful catches in the world. 

Stretching out west to the far reaches of the Bering Sea, the islands of the Aleutian Chain bring you to Unalaska, where the port of Dutch Harbor highlights an ever-changing crab and fishing industry, with WWII bunkers to explore against a backdrop of panoramic ocean views. Here, bald eagles and wild horses make for a truly unique viewing experience. 

To the north, Bethel, the most populated rural area in the state, is 68% Alaska Native, making it one of the highest Indigenous-populated areas in Alaska. The Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center brings to life the beautiful culture and heritage of the Yup’ik Peoples with museum displays, dance, workshops, and a library.

Best ways to get around: By plane, by boat (ferry & some cruise lines)

Gateway Community: Most commercial flights to this remote region depart from Anchorage

Top Destinations: Kodiak, Unalaska / Dutch Harbor, Katmai National Park, Lake Clark National Park

Off-the-beaten-track Highlights: Dillingham, Wood-Tikchik State Park, Bethel, Pribilof Islands

Best for: Remote adventures, brown bear viewing, birding, rich salmon runs

Traditional Homelands of: Yup’ik and Cup’ik, Unangax̂ and Sugpiaq Peoples

Views on Kodiak Island
Kodiak Island in the Southwest region

The Arctic Region

Located above the Arctic Circle, the Arctic region sits on top of the world. Home to protected lands such as the Brooks Range, Kobuk Valley National Park, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the landscape of the region is diverse. From arctic coastline to tundra and dry deserts, this area has been home to the Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik Peoples for a millennia and boasts a rich Indigenous culture. In Utqiaġvik, traditions such as Nalukataq, a spring whaling celebration, and archeological findings and art displayed in the Iñupiat Heritage Center serve as reminders of the enduring Indigenous culture of the region.

Visitors can enjoy 24-hour sunlit days from May-August, while reveling in the vast landscape that gives life to a unique wildlife habitat. The Arctic Ocean is home to whales, walruses, seals, polar bears, and other unique species. As the least populated region of the state, the towns and cities in this region are distinctly different from other regions. 

Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay is known for the start of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, while the towns of Utqiaġvik (the furthest northern point in Alaska, formerly known as Barrow) and Nome (widely known for its role in the 1925 Serum Run and finish line of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race), offer one-of-a-kind experiences. Traveling to this region can be accomplished by plane or the Dalton Highway, while traveling within the area is typically done by air.

Best ways to get around: By plane

Gateway Community: Most commercial flights to this remote region depart from Anchorage and Fairbanks

Top Destinations: Nome, UtqiaġvikGates of the Arctic National Park

Off-the-beaten-track Highlights: Kotzebue, Wiseman, Coldfoot, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, St. Lawrence Island, Dalton Highway

Best for: Remote adventures, Iditarod Sled Dog Race, vast Arctic landscapes, unique wildlife

Traditional Homelands of: Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Athabascan Peoples

Sukakpak Mountain (4,460 feet) seen from the Dalton Highway outside Coldfoot in the Brooks Range in Alaska’s Arctic
Sukakpak Mountain from the Dalton Highway in the Arctic region. Photo Credit: Travel Alaska, Matt Hage 

With so much to offer, learning about Alaska's regions is a great starting point for mapping out your travels. Explore Alaska maps and learn more about each region here. 


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