Planning Your Trip
Itineraries & Tours
Top Destinations & Things to Do
Rugged and remote, Alaska is truly The Last Frontier. Melting glaciers, diverse landscapes, eight national parks, and the big five—grizzly bears, moose, caribou, wolves, and Dall sheep—are what you’ll find in this grand state. As you're planning your Alaska getaway, use this guide to learn about what to do and see there, where to stay, how to plan, and the best ways to save money.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit Alaska is during the summer months, beginning in mid-May through mid-September, when the weather is warmest and driest.
Language: In America’s 49th state, the majority of the population speaks English, followed by Spanish and other Indo-European and Asian languages. And 5.2 percent of Alaskans speak a native language.
Currency: The U.S. dollar is the official currency. Credit cards are widely used throughout the state, however, in smaller towns, cash is the preferred method of payment.
Getting Around: Transportation and getting around Alaska depends on whether you’re traveling to the coastal regions or inland. Cruises, large and small, are the optimal way to experience the coastal regions, while small aircraft, train, and/or a bus (likely, a combination of all three) will help you get to more remote areas inland.
Travel Tip: Timing is everything when planning your adventure to Alaska. Clear and dark night skies, free of light pollution, are needed to witness the aurora borealis; the great caribou migration happens at specific times of year; and the national parks, many of which are only open seasonally, are an excellent way to explore distinct ecosystems, see wildlife, and gain knowledge of indigenous Alaskan cultures.
Things to Do
Experiencing Alaska is all about adventuring in the outdoors. Be bear-aware and go hiking or get a duck-view of the ocean via kayaking to see marine wildlife. Take a small boat and witness a glacier calving. Ride on the Alaska Railroad to see wide expanses of scenic land. Of course, visiting one, or many, of the eight national parks is a must-do activity as well: Denali National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve, and Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve are the most popular and accessible.
See the tallest peak in North America: Visit Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, with a summit elevation at 20,310 feet above sea level. Enlist the services of Pursuit, to arrange for travel through the park, a view of Denali, and a stay at Denali Backcountry Lodge, located in Kantishna at the end of the road, mile 92.
Marvel at diverse ecosystems and wildlife: To spot Alaska’s big five, visit Alaska’s interior, and to witness marine life, stick to the coastal regions. You’ll want to travel by boat to see whales, sea otters, seals, sea lions, and walrus in the water, and to see mammals, book a flight seeing tour or land excursion. More than 900,000 caribou travel across Alaska’s tundra as well as 32 different species of carnivores.
Gasp at the aurora borealis: While it’s possible to see the northern lights any time of year, for the best chances of seeing them, you’ll have to bundle up and visit Alaska during the winter months, when the skies are the darkest (summer is the season of the Midnight Sun). Fairbanks, or Alaska’s interior region, is the best and easiest place to go to see the bands of light, as are the far northern regions of the state.
What to Eat and Drink
Seafood is as fresh as can be in Alaska. Five different species of salmon—coho, chum, pink, sockey, and king; Pacific halibut; rockfish; Pacific cod; shrimp and scallops; oysters; and wild Alaska king crab are widely available and worth a try. Wild game—moose, caribou, reindeer—is also popular. You’ll likely find cured and preserved meats throughout the state, as well as in local grocery stores, like reindeer sausage or jerky. Fish and chips are a popular dish as well. And, for dessert? Try anything with berries. From blueberries to cloudberries to lingonberries, order a slice of pie, a mixed-berry cobbler, or a berry-infused ice cream to satiate your sweet tooth.
Tasting local craft beers is also a great way to sample the flavors of Alaska. Visit or drink brews from Juneau’s Alaskan Brewing Co., Anchorage Brewing Co., Skagway Brewing Co., Haines Brewing Co., or Denali Brewing Co. in Talkeetna, among others.
Where to Stay
The places to stay in Alaska are as diverse as the state itself. Choose from hotels and lodges, wilderness and backcountry accommodations, cabins for bear viewing or fishing lodges, or RV parks and campgrounds. Brooks Lodge, for example, is ideal for visits to Katmai National Park to see the bears catching salmon in the river. The Lakefront Anchorage—a Millennium Hotel or The Hotel Captain Hook are great for stays in the city of Anchorage because of the dining options available and central locations. Talkeetna is a popular stop along the Alaska Railroad route, due to views of the Denali and Alaska Range mountains, and a stay at Talkeena Alaskan Lodge, with its on-property hiking trails and award-winning dining at Foraker Dining Room, is an excellent place to rest your head. And, of course, cruises have their own accommodations, ideal for exploring coastal regions in the state.
Cruises, of all sizes, are best for sightseeing the coastal regions, while land tours, which use air taxis, trains, or transportation buses, are best for seeing the immense interior. Jet service is available from the lower 48 states to Alaska’s major airports in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Larger airports partner with smaller chartered carriers to get passengers to the smaller communities and remote areas throughout the state. The most popular airports include:
- Fairbanks International Airport: Non-stop service is available to Europe as well as the lower 48 states. This airport is small, yet it has all of the conveniences that are needed for air travel.
- Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport: With a population of 208,000, Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska. Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, Condor, United Airlines, and Delta Airlines service this airport.
- Juneau International Airport: This airport, located in the state capital, serves smaller communities in the district and has a seaplane base.
- Ketchikan International Airport: Not accessible by road, travelers who fly into this airport, located on Gravina Island, will have to take a ferry ride to the main city.
- Kodiak Airport: This is a public and military use airport, with only three runways.
- Nome Airport: If you’re planning on seeing the finish line of the famed Iditarod dog mushing race, then you’ll need to fly into Nome, Alaska. This public use airport has two runways.
Booking a tour of Alaska is the easiest way to plan for logistics, using insider knowledge. Many of the national parks are difficult to access, remote, and require multiple legs of transportation. Additionally, cruises are a popular way to travel and see the coastal regions. You can enjoy excursions to explore the state, safely and with a guided adventure.
Learn more about how to travel within the state or along the coastal regions with these articles: Should You Visit Alaska by Land or by Cruise?, Alaska Railroad Grandview Scenic Train—Anchorage to Seward, and the best Alaskan tundra tours.
Culture and Customs
Alaska has a long-standing culture and when visiting the state, you may want to learn more by visiting Sitka National Historic Park, where totem pole carving, basket weaving, and beading arts have been re-energized. The state’s historical library and state museum is located in the state’s capital, Juneau. Three types of indigenous populations live in Alaska, with diverse ethnic, lingual, and cultural roots: Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut.
Money Saving Tips
- Check for available public transportation options when you’re in a larger city like Juneau, Fairbanks, or Anchorage. In many cases, you can see some of the popular sites in a much more affordable way.
- Make sure you pack all necessary travel items, especially technology or electronics, so that you won’t have to pay high-dollar to purchase them once in Alaska.
- Peak seasons runs June to August. To save money, consider visiting outside of summer and book your trip for the shoulder season.
- If you’re driving, make sure you rent a gas-efficient car due to the number of miles you’ll likely be driving to get from point A to point B.
- For a decent price on a cruise, book early and shop around for the best deal. In many cases, it might be less expensive to cruise round-trip from Seattle. Cruise excursions can be pricey and limited. Consider booking experiences through local vendors.