What Is Bethel, Alaska, Known for?

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Huskies pull a dog sled through snow covered ground through the woods.

Bethel, Alaska, is a beautiful destination that many overlook. The riverside city is small and unique. Visiting in the summer is ideal for bird watching or fishing. However, if you’re up for braving the cold winter, you may witness a dog sled race. 

Keep reading to learn about Bethel, Alaska. We’ll also give tips on what to do when visiting this small city. 

Let’s get started! 

About Bethel, Alaska

Bethel, Alaska, is a 1.25-hour flight from Anchorage. It’s the most populous community on the Kuskokwim River, 50 miles upriver from where it flows into Kuskokwim Bay. In 2020, the population was 6,548 residents. 

The Yup’ik people established Bethel, and 41 people were living there, according to the 1880 U.S. census. It was historically an Alaska Commercial Trading Post.

About a decade later, the community moved to its current location due to erosion. They opened the first post office in 1905. 

What Is Bethel, Alaska, Known for?

Today, people consider Bethel, Alaska, the economic hub for surrounding native villages. It’s also the main port of the Kuskokwim River. 

The city is challenging to access, as you can only fly or boat in. Therefore, many people don’t own cars. Most residents rely on taxi cabs to navigate the remote location.

There are more cabs per capita in Bethel than in any other city in the U.S. Additionally, there are only 16 miles of roads inside the city, and only 10 miles have pavement. 

Bethel hosts the K-300 dogsled race and the Cama-I Dance Festival. The K-300 is a premier middle distance race that starts and ends in Bethel. The Cama-I is a dance festival that draws in people state-wide.

Are There Bears in Bethel, Alaska? 

The Yukon Delta is home to brown and black bears. While it’s rare to see a bear roaming through town when people are present, there are bears in Bethel. You can typically find them by the river, in the wilderness, or at the local dump scrounging for food.

Traveler’s Tip: Have you heard the chilling stories behind Portlock, Alaska?

How Far Is Bethel, Alaska, From the Ocean? 

Bethel, Alaska, is 40 miles from the Bering Sea. It’s in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge and sits on the Kuskokwim River, which flows into the Kuskokwim Bay on the Bearing Sea. Bethel’s location provides harsh and cold winters with storms across the sea and Delta region. 

What Is There to Do in Bethel, Alaska? 

Visiting Bethel, Alaska, affords you a rare look at a remote city. We highly recommend preparing to live like a local for authentic cultural immersion. So let’s look at the six top things to do in Bethel.

Bird Watching

Bird watching is a popular activity in Bethel. You may spot shorebirds, seabirds, tundra swans, emperors, white-fronted geese, cackling geese, and black brant.

Since Bethel, Alaska, is in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, it’s a hotspot for birding. Birders know the refuge for its shorebirds who come in the summer, but there are also native birds that stay in the region year-round. When you visit, you can take a tour with local experts.

Kuskokwim 300-Sled Dog Race

The Kuskokwim 300 sled dog race takes place every January. The race starts and ends in Bethel, allowing you to see the excitement of sending off the racers and welcoming them over the finish line.

If you visit during the race, be prepared for cold weather and dress appropriately. We recommend booking your accommodations in advance as many people will visit the city for the race.

You can also get involved by volunteering to help with various tasks during the race. It’s an excellent way to see and participate in the race.

Pinky’s Park

Pinky’s Park is in Bethel and makes for a fun and relaxing place. It’s a 22-acre park with two miles of wooden boardwalks, decks, trails, playgrounds, sports fields, and a community garden.

The park’s namesake is Thomas “Pinky” Sekanoff, who walked across the Bering Strait to escape the Russian Revolution in the 1900s. 

Fishing

Fishing is one of the most popular activities in Bethel, Alaska, since the city revolves around the river and waterways. Rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, and Arctic grayling are the primary fish you’ll catch, and you’ll find salmon in the summer and fall. You can take a fishing tour of the Kisaralik River.

You can also hire a float plane to take you to remote places on the outskirts of Bethel. Guided and unguided tours are available.

Wildlife Viewing Trips

Wildlife viewing trips are available from Bethel during the summer months. The day-long tours leave from the Bethel harbor and take you down the Kisaralik River with guides who are certified biologists.

You’ll have an opportunity to see various animals and birds. However, there is no guarantee you’ll see wildlife. There are hundreds of species that you may encounter in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

Three otters floating on their back in a river.

Glacier Tours

You can embark on glacier tours from Bethel. The trips usually involve riding on a small plane to get to a glacier in the region. There are many tour guides throughout the state, so we recommend deciding which glacier you want to see and booking transport from Bethel or Anchorage to get to a tourist hub.

It will likely be more costly for transportation out of Bethel. You may cut expenses by seeing a glacier before or after arriving in Bethel, Alaska.

Is Bethel, Alaska, Worth Visiting?

Bethel, Alaska, is a unique experience and is worth visiting. You’ll immerse yourself within the small community and see what it takes to live in a remote area with harsh weather. We recommend going in the summer for at least a week to get the most out of your stay. 

Will you be going to Bethel, Alaska, on your next summer trip?

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