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How to Plan a Trip to Alaska

How to Plan a Trip to Alaska

Looking at how to plan a trip to Alaska? We share the best time to visit Alaska, what to see and do and tips for planning a trip to Alaska.

Alaska is the largest state in the US and offers over 663,000 square miles of untamed wilderness, glaciers, and diverse wildlife. It attracts over two million visitors each year.

From the mesmerizing Northern Lights in the dark winter skies to the sunlit expanses of the summer tundra, Alaska provides a backdrop for adventure like no other.

Whether you’re drawn by the prospect of kayaking beside towering icebergs, hiking through pristine national parks, or participating in unique cultural festivals, Alaska promises an array of experiences that cater to both the intrepid adventurer and the curious traveler.

How to Plan a Trip to Alaska

Best Time to Visit Alaska

Best Time to Visit Alaska

The best time to visit Alaska depends largely on your preferred activities and tolerance for varying weather conditions.

If you’re seeking to witness the Northern Lights, the optimal months are from September to April when the nights are darkest. Statistically, the peak viewing times are in March due to increased solar activity.

Summer months, particularly June through August, offer up to 24 hours of daylight in some areas, which is ideal for hiking, wildlife viewing, and fishing. Temperatures average 60°F to 80°F.

If you’re interested in winter sports or the Iditarod sled dog race, February and March are your best bet, with colder temperatures that hover around 0°F but can feel much colder due to wind chill.

What to pack for Alaska

When packing for Alaska, it’s essential to prepare for diverse and unpredictable weather by focusing on versatility and layering.

Start with moisture-wicking base layers, vital for staying dry and warm, as temperatures can fluctuate significantly between day and night.

Fairbanks can experience a 20°F change within 24 hours. Include a waterproof and windproof jacket, crucial for the coastal areas where rainfall can exceed 60 inches annually.

For footwear, waterproof hiking boots are indispensable for exploring rugged terrains and for wet conditions.

Don’t forget accessories like gloves, hats, and UV-protection sunglasses—essential during both summer’s endless daylight, which can extend up to 22 hours in northern regions, and winter’s reflective snowscapes.

Lastly, pack a high-SPF sunscreen and bug spray, as mosquito populations peak during the warmer months, particularly in June and July.

How to stay safe in Alaska?

How to stay safe in Alaska?

Prioritizing safety is essential in Alaska due to its remote and wild environment. If engaging in outdoor activities, particularly in isolated areas, always carry a satellite phone or a GPS device, as cell service is notoriously unreliable. Less than 20% of Alaska is covered by cellular networks.

Bear encounters are a significant risk, so equip yourself with bear spray, which studies have found effective 90% of the time in deterring aggressive bears when used correctly.

Before any wilderness adventure, register your travel plans with a local ranger station or via a safety app recommended by Alaskan authorities to facilitate rescue operations if necessary. You should also check the location of nearby hospitals, emergency centers and a dentist in Anchorage. Write down their contact location or save it to your phone.

Be aware of the weather conditions. Sudden changes can lead to hazardous travel or outdoor experiences, and hypothermia is a real danger, especially as temperatures can drop precipitously, even during the summer months.

Be very cautious of river crossings and glacier treks where hidden crevasses pose serious threats. Adequate preparation, including knowledge of first aid, understanding local wildlife behavior, and awareness of your surroundings, can greatly mitigate risks.

Alaskan Wildlife

Alaskan Wildlife Watching Tips

When planning your Alaska Itinerary, make sure to include wildlife watching. Wildlife watching in Alaska is a prime attraction, but it requires knowledge and preparation to ensure safety and respect for natural habitats.

Alaska is home to over 95% of the US brown bear population, primarily concentrated in areas like Katmai National Park and Kodiak Island, making bear safety essential. Always maintain a minimum distance of 300 feet.

For marine wildlife such as whales, the Kenai Fjords and Glacier Bay National Park are prime viewing spots, especially from May through September when humpback and orca whales are frequently spotted.

When observing moose, which are more commonly encountered throughout the state, keep at least 50 feet away, as they can be unpredictable especially during rutting season in the fall. Always use binoculars or telephoto lenses to maintain a safe distance, and adhere to established trails and viewing guidelines to minimize impact on wildlife and their environments.

Kenai Fjords

Best things to do in Alaska

There are plenty of gorgeous landscapes to explore, offering many things to do in Alaska.

Begin with appreciating the studying landscapes and catching the incredible wildlife at Denali National Park . 

Cruise through Kenai Fjords to witness the marine life and gorgeous Glaciers.

Take a scenic train ride on the Alaska Railroad for breathtaking views then head to Juneau, the capital of Alaska, to enjoy its outdoor and cultural experiences.

Take a wildlife cruise to spot, whales, sea, lions and puffins or visit in the winter months to see the Northern Lights.

Head to Fairbanks for its vibrant art scene and learn about the history but also try to visit some of the smaller towns that offer a local charm like Talkeetna. 

There are also some unique Alaskan foods for you to try as well!

Adventure Activities in Alaska

Alaska’s rugged landscape offers a plethora of adventure activities.

Dog sledding, a traditional mode of transportation turned to sport, is particularly popular and accessible from November through April, with the famous Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in March attracting spectators and participants globally.

Adventure Activities in Alaska

Ice climbing is another thrilling pursuit, with Valdez hosting the annual Ice Climbing Festival every February, where climbers tackle some of North America’s most challenging ice walls.

For water-based adventures, kayaking amid icebergs in Prince William Sound offers unparalleled views and interactions with marine life from May to September.

Those seeking aerial adventures can explore by helicopter or small aircraft tours, which provide dramatic aerial views of Denali, the highest peak in North America, and are available year-round, weather permitting.

How to get around in Alaska

Renting a vehicle is often the most flexible option for exploring, but it’s essential to choose a model suitable for varied terrain, particularly if visiting remote areas or during winter when four-wheel drive is indispensable.

Due to Alaska’s size—the state spans over 663,300 square miles, more than twice the size of Texas—driving between destinations can be time-consuming. For instance, driving from Anchorage to Fairbanks takes approximately 6 hours under good conditions.

Regional flights are a practical option for covering larger distances quickly, as many towns, including some major tourist destinations, are accessible only by air.

The Alaska Railroad offers another scenic travel option, connecting key destinations such as Seward, Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks, providing a unique vantage point of Alaska’s interior.

Preparing well for your Alaskan holiday—by choosing the right time to visit based on your interests, packing appropriately for fluctuating weather, observing wildlife safely, embracing thrilling adventure activities, and navigating the vast terrain wisely—will enhance your experience and ensure it remains memorable.

With Alaska’s tourism contributing over $4.5 billion annually to the state economy, each visit not only promises personal enrichment but also supports local communities.

Remember, the key to a successful trip lies in thorough preparation and respect for the natural environment, ensuring that Alaska continues to thrive and inspire visitors for generations to come.

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