A visit to Alaska is a dream trip for many people. Even though we have all been exposed to Alaska from various TV shows, books and stories, there really is so much more to know about America’s last frontier that you don’t often see on TV. After our recent visit, I put together a list of a few things we wished we had known more of in advance to help with planning our trip.
From accommodation, food and excursions, you will be paying top dollar for most everything. This doesn’t mean that you need to wait to go to Alaska once you have won the lottery. It is doable on a budget if you plan in advance. One way to reduce your overall spending is to reduce the times you eat out. Look for hotels that include breakfast, go to the grocery store to pick up a cooler for pack lunches, and keep those leftover dinners to eat the following day. Most hotels we visited did not have refrigerators, so plan ahead with a backpack cooler or a cheap cooler purchased in Alaska. Traveling during the shoulder season can also help with lower rates, however, keep in mind most of Alaska’s tourism industry relies on income from their very short summer season.
Mosquitoes are the official state bird (not really, but maybe it should be!)
Luckily my child watches every Alaska show available and warned us about the “wall of mosquitos” that we would see in Alaska. That is an exaggeration since we didn’t actually see a wall, but the one day temperatures hit 60, the bugs were out like crazy! When it’s warm outside, particularly during the peak travel season of summer, the mosquitos are out of control. Bring bug spray, wipes and wrist bands. They literally swarm at times, so it’s worth also checking out clothes that have mosquito repellent in them already (we LOVE Ex-Officio’s Bugsaway line) or spray your clothes with permethrin before your arrival. Make sure to get your socks and hats too!
There is no bad weather, just bad gear.
It’s something you should know about Alaska, but no one really tells you – there is a ton of precipitation year round. If it’s not cold enough to snow, it’s raining. But life doesn’t stop because of it and neither should your trip. So just come prepared. As we were told, ‘There is no bad weather, just bad gear’. A good rain jacket is a great investment. Rain pants are often recommended but mostly you won’t need them as there seems to be little wind to create sideways rain. If you have a toddler check out these muddy buddy suits that are perfect for the littles to splash around in! Don’t forget waterproof hiking boots or rain boots.
I don’t think many Americans from the lower 48 realize how insanely massive Alaska is and how few roads there are! To get an expansive view of Alaska be prepared to drive, hike, take boats and fly in small bush planes. Ideally a trip would also include a cruise, since there is so much to see from the water as well. I was really surprised by how few roads there are in the state. For example, in Denali National Park alone, which encompasses 6 million acres, there is ONE road that is about 90 miles long. Yep, that’s it. If you can manage it, save your pennies and take advantage of the small bush planes to get out into the middle of nowhere where the only way in or out is by plane!
‘Northern Exposure’ was supposedly inspired by the hippy town of Talkeetna.
If you happen to be one of the many summer visitors to Alaska, you will soon become aware of how long the days are. We have traveled to Ireland and Scandinavian countries in the summer so we knew how it would be to sleep with the sun out and wake up with it there again. However, in Alaska, since many activities are in the great outdoors with no opening or closing times, it’s easy to find that your days are much longer than you intend! This was especially true traveling with kids. It was a rare night that our son was in bed before 11 pm and he was always up before 6 am! My advice is to just go with the flow if you can, soak up as much of Alaska as you can with the extended daylight hours and sleep like a baby when you get home.
Alaska lies on several fault lines which means that earthquakes are a common occurrence here. Most often they are small, causing little to no damage, however for those not used to them, it can be quite unnerving waking up in the middle of the night to your bed shaking. If you want to keep up to date on current earthquakes before or during your visit, we love the QuakeFeed App that will tell you in real time the latest earthquakes around the world. While in Anchorage make a visit to Earthquake Park which commemorates the 1964 quake where an entire neighborhood slid into the ocean. Now it provides beautiful views over the city across the water.
From the animals to the weather, Alaska really is wild, in all senses of the word. In the last frontier you have to prepare for anything. The weather changes on a dime, from hot to cold and dry to wet, where 15 miles can mean a totally different climate. It’s crazy and true. Bring layers, you will need them all, often in a short span of time!
You are in the land of animals, where they outnumber people. As such, you are often deep in the wilderness where there is no phone service, so it’s important to understand the environment you are heading into. Be bear vigilant and moose aware wherever you go.
But most importantly, enjoy it. Soak it all in. This truly is the last frontier, where you can experience the world as it once was, where we are the visitors and nature is in charge. It is a humbling experience to be in the presence of such majestic animals and spectacular scenery. It is a trip everyone should do at least once. You will see up close and personal our impact on the world around us.
Have you been to Alaska? Anything else you think visitors should know before planning a trip?
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