Having traveled all the way to Alaska and back, I wanted to share a few more of my tips in a nice easy-to-digest list. If you're planning a trip to the Last Frontier state yourself, make sure you also check out my post about the cost of an Alaska trip, where you'll find some additional saving tips too. And if you have your heart set on an epic road trip from the Lower 48 to Alaska and back, you absolutely have to check out our detailed guide about driving to Alaska too.
My 25 Alaska Travel Tips
I hope you find these additional 25 tips helpful too, as they should give you a good idea on what Alaska travel is like this day and age.
Tip # 1: Plan ahead to save on costs
Even if you tend to be spontaneous when traveling, planning ahead when traveling to Alaska can really pay off. I've found that making reservations for hotels a year (!) in advance reduced the price by half. Yes, that means you have to start working on your itinerary a long while in advance!
Tip #2: Time your visit well
People visit Alaska all year round but unless you're prepared to deal with sub-freezing arctic temperatures, you should time your visit to the months of June-September. June and September are considered the shoulder season in Alaska. If you're thinking of going off-season in May or October, research the weather and destinations carefully and come prepared.
Read more in our post about the best time to visit Alaska.
Tip #2: Create your own Alaska Bucket List
There's so much to see and do in the state that it can be overwhelming. I truly believe each traveler has his/her own bucket list though, depending on personal preferences.
Whale watching, dog sledding, watching the northern lights, or seeing a musk ox - can all be activities to be included (or not) in your bucket list. Certain places may or may not be included as well. Maybe you absolutely must watch the bears catch salmon in Katmai National Park, or fly over Denali. Or maybe visiting an ice museum in Fairbanks is a "must-do" item for you.
Read up on all the options and make up your own list, then create your itinerary around that. The destinations and activities on your list could affect the length of your trip, as well as the right timing for it. You can see our own Alaska Bucket List here.
Tip #3: Plan your route taking daylight hours into consideration
In Alaska, there can be up to twenty hours of daylight per day during the summer season. The lack of darkness is a nice perk for travelers that drive on the roads of Alaska. Make use of the extra daylight but avoid driving when you're tired.
Keep in mind that these long daylight hours take place in June and July, and are more prominent the further up north you go. The days become shorter quickly in August and September, so be aware of that. When you are preparing your road trip and the rest of your Alaska vacation schedule, make sure that you do not have to drive when it is too dark.
Tip # 4: Budget Accordingly
Alaska is expensive to travel to mainly because of its location. Roughly 2,300 miles (3500 kilometers) separate Seattle, the nearest US city outside of Alaska, from Anchorage. Pretty much anything that is not produced locally needs to be shipped across the previously described distance into Alaska. Whether by truck, plane, or boat, that is a lot of distance to cover. Plane tickets are not cheap. Alaska travel has a ballpark cost of around $200-$300 per person per day.
So, budget accordingly and make sure you read my post about the cost of Alaska travel for 11 important budgeting tips.
Tip #5 Don't worry about cell phone coverage (unless traveling the Alaska Highway)
Alaska may still be called "The Last Frontier State" but in our experience, the infrastructure in the state is pretty good - and that includes cell coverage. We had good coverage for our At&T SIM cards pretty much everywhere, and that included data service. So, as long as you travel between the main cities, don't fret about cell phone coverage, like some sites would have you do.
The exception to this rule would be when driving along the more remote unpaved roads, like the Dalton Highway, or when leaving Alaska and crossing the border into Canada. We've had very little coverage while driving the Alaska Highway, or most roads in Canada, north of Prince George.
Read more about this and other topics in our guide about Driving to Alaska.
Tip #6 Get a cooler and stock up at grocery stores
We mentioned that Alaska can get expensive, and that applies to eating out too. I'd say prices in most chain restaurants were about 20% higher than in the Lower 48 branches. That's where getting our food from grocery stores paid off. Yes, that too was more expensive than in the rest of the US, but overall, it's a cheaper and often healthier option.
So, investing in a basic cooler (Amazon link) can really pay off. That's what we did during our trip. Most hotels offer ice machines, even in Alaska, so we'd just pack some into the cooler and bring some of our perishables with us.
Tip #7 Eating out? Check reviews to avoid tourist traps
You can definitely eat out occasionally. We certainly did. When you do, take a few minutes to check out things in a site like TripAdvisor or Yelp. See what reviewers recommend to avoid the tourist traps and find the places that provide you with an authentic experience. That's how we found the Talkeetna Roadhouse where we had a lovely lunch, sharing a table with other travelers. The waitress introduced everyone and it was great to chat with a local pilot on his way to fly over Denali!
Tip #8 Watch for wildlife on the road
This piece of advice goes both ways. Yes, we all want to see wildlife. It's one of the reasons for visiting Alaska, right? If you see vehicles pulling over, then pull over and get your camera ready. A moose or a bear may be on the side of the road.
Having said that, when the animals get too close to the road, it can be dangerous. Very much so. So watch out for that when driving, especially during the early morning hours and around sunset. Click here to learn more about the dangers on the road including pictures of what happens when a truck meets moose.
Tip #9 And watch for wildlife on trails
Wild animals are all over the place in Alaska, so watch out for them and keep your distance. We try to follow the National Parks' rule about keeping a distance of at least 25 yards from herbivores and 100 yards from predators such as wold and bear.
We did encounter a mother moose and her calf on one trail, which was a great experience in its own right but made us back away and return to the car, rather than try and get too close to the animals (they were literally blocking the trail). We've encountered bears in Alaska as well. You can read here about how a Grizzly bear got to within 5 yards of us. Way too close but that was the bear's decision - not ours.
Tip #10 Get up and close with Alaskan wildlife in sanctuaries
A great way to safely watch Alaskan wildlife up close is by visiting the sanctuaries and research stations. We got to see Musk Ox and learn all about them when visiting the LARS station in Fairbanks. We also saw wolves, bears, moose, musk ox, caribou and every other local animal you can think of at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. We had a great time at the Alaska Sealife Center in Seward, where we got to see a rescued baby walrus!
Tip #11 Don't give up on seeing the Northern Lights
The Northern Lights can be seen between October and November or in March. However, you could see the awe-inspiring lights during shoulder seasons as well. Don't give up on seeing them if you're in Alaska in September though! We managed to see a great display of the Northern lights in early September! Take a look at out this our post about the best times to see the Aurora Borealis in Alaska including our own photos of the lights in September.
Tip #12 Include the coast in your itinerary
If you're visiting Alaska on a cruise, then you'll be seeing a lot of the coastline. However, if you're flying into Anchorage for a few days, it can be easy to focus on Denali and a drive up to Fairbanks. Great destinations, for sure, but I highly recommend incorporating a coastal town like Seward, Homer or Valdez in your itinerary for a more complete Alaskan experience.
Tip #13 And make sure you take at least one cruise to see whales and glaciers
Once at the coast, go on a cruise to see Alaska from the water. Yes, it's not cheap, but I guarantee it'll be one of the most memorable days of your trip. Possibly of your life. Nothing beats the experience of watching a tidal glacier calf and drop into the ocean or seeing a pod of Orca whales crossing the water. Read more about our cruise of Kenai Fjords National Park here.
One of the most common summertime activities is going on a whale-watching cruise. Peak migration season is during the summer even though different whales appear in Alaska from spring through autumn. Read more about the best time for whale watching in Alaska in this post.
Tip #14 Driving the Alcan? Top up on fuel
On both routes from the Lower 48 to Alaska - the Alaska Highway and the Cassiar - you could easily go for 3-4 hours of driving between gas stations. And that's during the summertime. If you're traveling anytime between mid-September and mid-June, some of these stations may be closed for the season.
In Alaska itself, consider your distances and look up gas stations ahead of time, to make sure you have plenty of fuel to spare. Our rule of thumb was simply to top up whenever we were half-full. Again, if you're considering this, make sure you read our guide about driving to Alaska.
Tip # 15 Use pull-offs to safely view the scenery
Make sure to take advantage of the high-quality pull-offs so you can have pictures of the beautiful countryside. Stopping your car frequently may be time-consuming, however, the pictures that you will get are completely worth it.
Stay safe and avoid stopping on the shoulder of the road. Many of the main Alaska roads are winding and have vegetation along the road which could further block another driver's line of vision.
Tip # 16 Pack Multiple Layers and Prepare For Chilly Weather
Alaskan winters are super cold and you will need your best winter clothes and gear. However, the rest of the year it is cold in the mornings, but when the afternoon comes around, the temperature becomes moderate. Having multiple layers that can easily be removed throughout the day. A few hats and casual clothing is all you will need for a week in Alaska.
Tip # 17 If you're into it, then Go Fishing
Fishing lovers will enjoy the peak of the Alaskan fishing season which is in the summer. The best time of the year to catch king salmon begins in mid-May and extends through July. The best time to catch red salmon is from mid-June to mid-August.
The silver salmon season occurs later in the year and extends from July to September. There is a small time frame to catch chum and pink salmon between mid-July and mid-August too. Please take the time to research the need for permits. They are required for many types of fish.
Tip # 18 Visit a National Park
If you are going to travel to Alaska, then you are probably attracted to the idea of visiting at least one or two Alaskan national parks. It is important to know that most of Alaska’s national parks are completely inaccessible by road. Unless you can afford to pay for a special excursion, then you will only be able to visit these parks:
- Wrangell-St Elias National Park
- The Klondike Historic National Park
- Denali National Park
- Kenai Fjords National Park
Make sure you read my post about which Alaska National Parks to visit - and how.
Tip #19 Take the early shuttle in Denali
A very specific tip but an important one. Almost all visitors to Alaska incorporate Denali National Park into itinerary and for good reason. Since you can't drive your own car into the park, you'll need to take the shuttle or a tour bus. Either way, make sure you book one of the early rides - the earlier the better - as that increases your chance of seeing wildlife. That's how we got to see 19 bears in Denali, plus lots of other wildlife. You can read our full Denali report and more tips for visiting the park here.
Tip # 20 Experience Nightlife in an Alaskan City
When it comes to nightlife in Alaska, one city shines compared to the rest. Anchorage is the state's largest city, and it is known to keep its 250,000 to 300,000 residents entertained with amazing food and unique drinks. Then again, Fairbanks, being a university city, also has its share of festivals and events, especially during summertime, where daylight keeps the locals out into the small hours.
When visiting, try to sample some of that nightlife for a unique northern experience. And speaking of festivals -
Tip # 21 Check for local events
One of the most important Alaskan events is the Iditarod dog sledding race which takes place in March. If that's too early in the season for you, check out what's on offer during the time of your visit. Here's a good page that can start you off while in the planning stages but do Google your locations and dates to look for more.
We visited the Alaska State Fair in Palmer during our trip and had a blast. It was a great mix of local booths and shows that provided an authentic fun experience.
Tip #22 Incorporate an exciting outdoor experience
Alaska has many outdoor experiences to offer. Take your peak from heli-skiing, sleddog mushing, kayaking, ice climbing, and ATV'ing through forests - and much more. For an affordable option, you can try renting a bicycle and exploring the awesome network of bike trails around Anchorage. There are many tour operators, so do your research and peak the activity that's right for you.
Which brings me to the next point...
Tip #23 Stay safe when outdoors
Enjoying the outdoors is great but always best to do with a sense of respect for mother nature and what she can throw at you. Other than wildlife - which we have discussed earlier - you should also be aware of the weather and of the unique risks associated with ice, snow, and glaciers.
Never attempt to hike a glacier on your own, unless you're absolutely sure you know what you're doing. Glaciers can be as treacherous as they are beautiful. If you want to hike on a glacier, that's awesome. Find a guided excursion that works for your itineraries and do so safely, with the right gear and a qualified guide who knows the glacier.
Tip # 24 Consider Flightseeing
If you want a different perspective of Alaska, then go above it. There are several companies that run small airplanes and helicopters to some of Alaska’s most beautiful places such as the Denali National Park. It is important to know that you have to arrange an air taxi (small plane) to take you to some of Alaska’s more remote parks.
We haven't done this ourselves but it's definitely something that's on my own bucket list for our next visit to Alaska.
Tip #25 Get to know the locals
I mentioned visiting the State Fair and enjoying the local flare of things. Another great experience was a dinner we had with a local family! One of our blog readers here was generous enough to invite us to dinner in her home when in Alaska and we took her up on the offer. We had a wonderful evening together with her family and got to learn so much about what life in Alaska really is!
If this is something that you might be interested in, I highly suggest couch surfing. You don't have to sleep over at people's homes but you can easily find a local host who would be happy to meet up, show you around and make friends. You can read more about couch surfing in my post here.
Plan, Prepare, and Have a Great Trip!
I hope you enjoyed these tips! If you have more to add, please leave me a comment below!