Planning your Alaska vacation doesn't have to be intimidating, although it might seem so at first. The 49th state covers as much ground as one-fifth of the entire continental United States.
You actually have an advantage if you're planning your vacation yourself. Alaska vacation packages often try to schedule every minute of every day to cover all this ground. You can zero in on the things that interest you most if you personally plan your itinerary.
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Consider also: How to Financially Plan for a Vacation
How to Get There
Flying into Anchorage might be the easiest option. Rent a car or take a train from there to reach other destinations you'd like to visit. Just keep the size of this state in mind.
Be warned if you're thinking of making the trek into Alaska by car. You can't get there without passing through Canada, and the Canadian government and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have banned all non-essential travel over the border through June 21, 2021, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. There's been no indication yet as to whether this restriction will be extended into the summer.
You might consider a small-ship cruise if you're interested in vacation spots along the famed Alaska coastline. These ships can take you into Alaska from Seattle so you can avoid that Canadian border snag. You'll have accommodations on board, and you'll get some close-up views and off-ship tourist opportunities as well because these boats are smaller than big cruise lines. They have better maneuverability to get into smaller ports.
Consider also: Best Ways to Save Money Renting an RV
When to Visit
Alaska.org recommends planning your trip for one of the "shoulder seasons" – late May or early September. Large cruise lines tend to visit in June, July and August, and the major hotels are typically booked months in advance and charging top dollar during this time.
Consider also: Is There an Airbnb Stay in Your Travel Plans?
Where to Stay
Pinpointing a location for your stay might be your biggest challenge because there's so much of Alaska and many of its prime spots are far apart. The state is officially broken into five regions: Arctic, Interior, Southwest, Southcentral and the Inside Passage.
The Alaska Travel Industry suggests doing your research into each of these regions to identify which offers the most attractions you're interested in. For example, the Southwest region is known for its excellent bear-viewing areas. Then select accommodations that are roughly in the middle of those attractions. Their website offers both city and park maps to guide you.
You'll be within striking distance of many wilderness attractions if you make Anchorage your home base. Several excursions are day trips from this location. Stay in a hotel or look into vacation rentals. You'll have access to fine dining and nightlife here if roughing it 24/7 really isn't your style.
Be warned if you're thinking of making the trek into Alaska by car. You can't get there without passing through Canada, and the Canadian government and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have banned all non-essential travel over the border through June 21, 2021, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Planning Your Fun
The best place to stay depends on what exactly you want to see. You can schedule a land tour to visit a selection of small towns, maybe Mt. McKinley in Denali. You might be able to catch the northern lights from Fairbanks. The state offers "flightseeing tours" that allow you to take in its breathtaking landscape from the sky. The Alaska Railroad offers day trips, too.
Alaska.org provides an interactive tool on its website to help you narrow down the places and attractions you're interested in seeing.
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Traveling in the Age of COVID-19
Of course, all this is easier in some years than in others, but Alaska has you covered in the age of COVID, too. You can receive a vaccine for free if you fly into one of the state's four major airports after June 1, 2021: Ted Stevens Anchorage International, Juneau International, Ketchikan International or Fairbanks International.
You can enter the state without being tested for the virus, but you can be tested for free upon arrival as well if you like.
Consider also: Do I Need a COVID Passport?
Some parks and forests closed their visitor centers in 2020, so call ahead if you're visiting in 2021 to check their status. The Alaska Public Lands Information Centers recommends checking back now and again for updated information as the COVID landscape changes.
- Alaska Travel Industry Association: COVID-19 Travel Information
- Alaska.org: Nine Trip Planning Pitfalls to Avoid
- Alaska.org: Contact Us
- Alaska Travel Industry Association: Planning Your Trip
- Alaska Travel Industry Association: How Much Time Do I Need to Visit Alaska?
- Alaska Travel Industry Association: Bear Viewing – Southwest
- Alaska Public Lands Information Centers: Important COVID-19 Update
- Alaska.org: Best Way to Plan and Book Your Alaska Vacation
- AARP: Best Ways to See Alaska