With its breathtaking landscapes, magnificent wildlife and a wide range of extraordinary outdoor experiences, it’s no surprise that Alaska is a much sought-after destination.
This far-flung jewel of the United States has natural beauty, a deep Indigenous culture and fascinating history. Sprawled across close to two million square kilometers, the state is massive: for scale, Alaska is bigger than California, Texas and Montana combined! It’s made up of a dizzying array of landscapes — from subarctic plains and glistening fjords to dense evergreen forests and soaring mountain ranges.
At its core, it’s a place that will awaken the adventurer deep within you with its unbelievable sights and sounds. However, thanks to its size, rugged terrain and vast unpopulated areas, traveling to the region is far more complicated than most other North American locations.
To really do this spectacular region justice, pre-planning will go a long way. Our travel experts have a slew of fun Alaska vacation ideas, and they can help you plan your dream trip. From dealing with sudden adverse weather conditions to the best way to reach its most remote corners, we take you through a few things to know before going to Alaska.
Trips to Alaska are largely seasonal
If you’re hoping to book a spontaneous trip to Alaska, you might want to press pause. While some places, such as Anchorage and Fairbanks are great to visit all year round, other areas are seasonal and must be pre-planned.
The best time for an Alaskan adventure is widely considered to be between June and August. It’s the state’s summer season, when daily temperatures sit comfortably in the 60 degree Fahrenheit range, and the skies above its epic landscapes are often bright blue and clear.
You can even experience daylight for up to 24 hours in the height of Alaska’s summer, giving you plenty of hours to enjoy its many opportunities for adventure. June and July are peak months for bear-watching, although excursions to see these majestic creatures have limited spots. Hotels also get booked up quickly during peak time, so it’s important to plan your Alaska vacation well in advance.
Would you rather see Alaska’s great wildernesses, including the epic Glacier Bay National Park, with fewer crowds? If you are looking for great Alaska vacation ideas, here’s an expert tip: travel there in late spring or early autumn.
You’ll still benefit from good weather and have the chance to witness countless incredible sights, from whales gliding along the waters at Seward to vibrant fall scenery in Denali National Park. May and September also mark the beginning and end of the bear-watching season when you still have a chance to glimpse them catching salmon in the fast-flowing rivers of Katmai National Park.
Frozen scenery and the promise of experiencing the Northern Lights draw a good number of visitors to Alaska during the winter months. While it can be a rewarding season to immerse yourself in the state – especially for those interested in some fun Alaska vacation ideas such as dog sledding, ice skating or cross-country skiing – it has a few drawbacks.
Roads and airstrips in more remote areas can become unusable, while temperatures plummet below freezing point. You’ll need to wrap up fully for outdoor expeditions and be prepared for delays. Another important thing to know before going to Alaska in winter is that the days are much shorter. With fewer daylight hours (just three on average in January), there’s far less time to fit in daytime activities and excursions before nightfall.
Alaska can be expensive
Just like the Polar regions, a trip to Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s not just because of its otherworldly landscape and remoteness. There are limited availability in the state compared to other destinations, making your experience a bit more exclusive, and therefore more expensive.
There are some ways to save money on your Alaska vacation, though. For starters, you could stick to easily accessible locations which don’t require boats or flights to reach them. This may rule out some national parks — including Glacier Bay National Park — as only three out of eight are accessible by road. If you do decide on flightseeing tours to these destinations, note that they get booked up early and can add more than $1,000 to your overall trip cost. They are, however, unparalleled experiences that you’ll no doubt cherish for years to come.
If you’d still like to include some exclusive experiences to your trip, book well ahead of time. Ideally, you should start chatting with our experts at least a year before you’d like to visit. We’ll ensure you experience all the sights on your bucket list, including securing your spots on much-coveted wildlife excursions.
Parts of Alaska are not easily accessible
If you were to plan your trip independently to Alaska, you’d likely come across all sorts of practical and logistical obstacles. It’s a notoriously tricky region to traverse, with some parts — such as Prince William Sound — counting among the most remote and untouched places on the planet.
By far one of the best ways to do this spectacular state justice is to book a tour with an experienced guide. At Enchanting Travels, we specialize in providing safe and sustainable tours to some of the world’s most stunning regions. We will curate your trip based on your Alaska vacation ideas, while ensuring you enjoy an eclectic mix of experiences.
Whether your priority is spotting grizzly bears in the wild, seeing thousands of sea birds nesting in rugged clifftops or taking a trip along the Alaska Railroad, we can make it happen.
Alaska has limited accommodation options
While Alaska may be an exclusive destination to visit, its accommodation options aren’t as conventionally luxurious as many other locations that we offer. However, what they might lack in the way of swimming pools, spas and fine dining, they more than make up for in terms of authenticity and stellar locations.
Expect to stay in mid-range hotels in Alaska’s cities and towns. Elsewhere, you’ll have the opportunity to sleep in rustic wilderness lodges accessible by small planes. They might not offer you the quintessential five-star luxury experience you’re accustomed to in big cities or other tourist places, but it’s hard to beat waking up to uninterrupted vistas of the Alaska Mountain Range or the brilliantly blue Kachemak Bay near Homer.
What to know before exploring Alaska by road
Our numerous tour options allow you to experience different aspects of this amazing state by road, rail or boat. Discover the wild and untamed landscapes of Alaska’s interiors on our Last Frontier Road Trip or chug along through the countryside to Fairbanks — the Gateway to the Arctic Circle — on an Alaskan Rail Adventure.
Setting off on the open road around Alaska can be a truly rewarding experience. If you do decide to take a road trip, there are several things to be aware of:
- The availability of premium cars is limited, so you’ll want to book a hired car well in advance.
- Hoping to drive from Fairbanks to the Arctic Circle? Please note that many car hire companies don’t allow vehicles to be taken this far north.
- Be aware that hire companies also prohibit driving on gravel roads which can rule out more rural or interior routes.
- Gas stations are few and far between in Alaska, so make sure you plan each stage of your journey carefully to avoid running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.
- Watch out for wildlife on the roads, including crossing grizzly bears.
Why our Alaska cruises are a great option
An Alaska cruise is a brilliant option for those who want to soak up the awesome scenery around the region’s coastline.
Our partner, UnCruise Adventures, offers water-based Alaska tours between April and September. There are over a dozen different itineraries to choose from, featuring everything from whale-watching in Juneau’s Auke Bay to trips to gazing awestruck at the magnificent Sawyer Glacier.
You could also journey around the tiny islets in Prince William Sound or venture further south to soak up Sitka and the astoundingly beautiful Alexander Archipelago. Expect some wondrous wildlife watching, and enjoy activities such as kayaking, hiking and more. Ultimately, cruising around Alaska is a good way to see a selection of its more off-the-beaten-track locations with enjoyable transit times and fewer crowds.
What to pack for your Alaska trip
You will need plenty of layers when visiting this region. The weather in Alaska can fluctuate greatly throughout the day, so you’ll want a range of clothes (including thermals and a down-insulated jacket) to help keep the chill off. Visiting in winter? Woolen layers, hats, scarves and gloves are a must.
Your chosen tour will also no doubt feature several outdoor excursions, whether that’s hiking the heritage trails around historic McCarthy or fishing in the Gulf of Alaska from Whittier. Sturdy walking boots are essential, as are quick-drying clothes in case you get wet. You’ll also need high-quality waterproofs and a supply of sunscreen and insect repellent if you’re spending most of your time in the great outdoors.
Inspired to travel to Alaska? Reach out to our experts for some of the most immersive Alaska vacation ideas, and they’ll create a personalized itinerary packed with exclusive experiences, curated to match your travel dreams.
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