Found 350 miles South of Anchorage and set against the Wood River Mountains the town of Dillingham in Alaska is a destination with an ancient and rich heritage. Visitors come here to enjoy the beauty and vast Alaskan wilderness on the doorstep.
The local population is mostly made up of Yupik Eskimo and for Bristol Bay region Dillingham is known for freight, transportation and tourist services.
Natural landscapes and wilderness tours as well as excellent fishing are the main reasons tourists visit Dillingham and the wider area. There are also those who come to the town for short- or long-term contract work too.
Whatever the reason for visiting Dillingham, here are some of the top things to do and see whilst in the town.
1. Wood-Tikchik State Park
Wood-Tikchik State Park is the largest and most remote state park in the US spanning almost 1.6 million acres. This single park covers practically half of the State Park land in Alaska a good portion of of all state park land in the United States.
There are many different species of wildlife that can be found within the park including Moose, caribou, and brown bear. Smaller animals are also in abundance you are sure to see beaver, muskrat, otter, fox, wolverine, mink, and even porcupine if you know where to look.
Facilities here are few and far between, with some rustic fishing lodges and camping grounds which have the “pack it in, pack it out” practices.
2. Walrus Islands State Game Sanctuary
This sanctuary protects a group of seven islands and their nearby waters in northern Bristol Bay, which are around 65 miles southwest of Dillingham.
Some of the islands are accessed by permit only including the popular Round island to protect the wildlife and other resources here. The reasons for the permits are provide the public with an opportunity to view and photograph elusive wildlife residing here including the pacific walrus, whilst minimising impacts to these species and their habitats.
The other islands do not require an Access Permit and are open to the public uses as long as they do not damage resources or disturb wildlife. Activities that are allowed include fishing, wildlife watching, hiking and camping.
3. Camping on Round Island
Part of the Walrus Islands Sanctuary as above, Round island in an excellent place to camp providing you have permissions and permits in place. Camping is permitted in certain sites between the months of May and August.
Camping on Round Island is definitely for the adventurous type. There are platforms to set up your tents and a cook shelter at designated camp sites on the island. You will need to bring your tent, camping gear, and food for the duration of your stay. You should also be prepared with extra supplies for any delays due to storms and bad weather.
To get here from Dillingham you will need to take a local commuter flight to the Togiak which takes around 25 minutes and then a 35-mile boat taxi or tour to the island.
4. Samuel K. Fox Museum
Within this museum you can find many Yup’ik objects, part of Sam Fox’s collection. Main exhibits include original , with Emberg’s signature, a large basket collection, skin sewing and fur exhibit and the Dave and Mary Carlson collection.
There are also Shamans hands and many historic photographs from the area. It is a really interesting places to visit to admire the native art and learn more about Dillingham and the surrounding area.
The museum is free to enter and can be found on Dillingham Street West.
5. Lake Aleknagik
Known as the Gateway to Wood-Tikchik State Parks, Lake Aleknagik is 20 miles long and 16 miles wide. This is a massive waterway which gives visitors boat access to the surrounding area.
There are some facilities for boats and float planes and he Wood-Tikchik Park ranger station is located here. In the summer time you can make use of the picnic tables and shelters as well as the wheelchair accessible boardwalk.
6. Cannery Tours
Tours of Peter Pan Seafoods in Dillingham are offered in the summer months. Tours focus on the historical portions and the long history of the cannery that was established in 1901, making it one of the country’s oldest operating canneries.
The Bristol Bay fishery is the largest sockeye fishery in the world and this high volume of fish keeps this cannery and other facilities very busy at this time of year. Book your tour locally upon your visit to the town.
7. Beaver Round Up Festival
A time to celebrate traditions and family togetherness, there are many different things to do at this annual festival. The event is centred around the Western Alaska Championship Sled Dog Races which is a three-day, up to 20-mile sprint race.
There are parades with floats, fun runners and of course the racers. Regular events include bingo, basketball, tug of war and traditional storytelling and crafts. The festival is held at the beginning of March and it is a bustling fun time to visit Dillingham.
8. Togiak National Wildlife Refuge
The magnificent Ahklun and Wood River Mountains are found in this National Park near to the town of Dillingham. The area is a combination of lakes, coastline forests and mountains some of which were formed by earthquakes and volcanos of the past.
It is a haven for wildlife and those mammals making their home here are wolf packs, moose, brown and black bear, coyote to mention but a few. Sea life can also be found here and it is not uncommon to see seals, sea lions, walrus and whales at different times of year along the 600 miles of coastline within the refuge.
9. Salmon Fishing
There are plenty of fishing opportunities in Dillingham and you can take sea plane tours or boat tours to the best places to fish depending on what you are looking for and the time of year you visit.
Bristol Bay Lodge offers its visitors an all -round Alaskan adventure when it comes to fishing here. Especially if you are new to fishing or a relative beginner, these friendly tours will make you feel at home. There are also tour operators for the more experienced fishers and the opportunity to take your own boat and equipment out into the bay.
10. Wandering Bear Bakery
Priding itself on producing wholesome fresh food this bakery in Dillingham is a popular choice. You will find a delicious variety of bagels, and gluten-free bread, including artisan unique berry creations both savoury and sweet.
You can find the Wandering Bear Bakery on Agulawok Drive, and look out for the daily specials as different products are baked on different days.
11. Dillingham Guides
You will find many experienced guides in Dillingham who are experts in their field. Whether it is a fishing guide such as Alaska Kingfishers or wildlife and hunting guides such as Tikchik Airventures, there are many types to choose from to suit your needs.
If you are looking for one to one expert guides, you book in advance and explain exactly what you want to arrange a tailored tour just for you.
12. Sea Inn Bar
This bar is a great place to relax and unwind in Dillingham. You can find Sea Inn Bar on First Avenue Street near to the coastline. The staff and locals are very friendly, and visitors enjoy the experience and a great atmosphere.
You might find different events depending on when you visit, this might include a DJ, live music, quizzes and dancing.
13. Bayside Diner
Traditional family restaurant that serves home-made burgers and typical American food. There are also free refills on fountain drinks. There are breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, some favourites being the homemade breakfasts, the club sandwich and chowder.
You can find the restaurant on Main Street in Dillingham, located above the Bristol Inn being part of the same complex.
14. Wildlife Tours
If bear watching is on your agenda when visiting Alaska, you can take a sightseeing flight from Dillingham to nearby Parks such as Katmai National Park & Preserve.
Here during the months of July in particular you can see Brown Bears at Brooks Camp river and Waterfalls. This is because the salmon are migrating upriver and the bears come out to feed on the abundant food source.
You can take a day tour and enjoy the visitor centre and auditorium with daily ranger-led programs to get to the best of your day tour.
15. Winter Outdoor activities
As well as fishing and wildlife watching, visitors to Dillingham can enjoy some other exciting activities. These include dog mushing, snow machining, cross country skiing and ice fishing. So if you are looking to try some new outdoor sports or want to continue with a sport you enjoy, there are a few different options in the town.
Local companies include Alaska’s Bear Claw Lodge, Tikchik Air Ventures, Nushagak Paradise Lodge and Bay Air Inc.