A traveller's guide to Alaska
Bordering Canada to the east and facing Russia across the narrow Bering Strait to the west, Alaska is unlike anywhere else in the USA. Separated geographically from the rest of the country, it has a reputation for quirkiness, rugged individualism and a spirit of adventure. It holds a powerful appeal for those who love the great outdoors (and don’t mind a bit of snow) – some 60% of Alaskans were born elsewhere.
With more miles of coastline than the rest of the USA combined, an ocean cruise has long been the traditional way to see Alaska (and can be perfectly paired with a tour of the Canadian Rockies) – but travelling by land can give you a whole new perspective on this wild, untamed state.
If you’re thinking of a holiday in Alaska, this mini traveller’s guide gives you an overview of some of the state’s highlights, a packing checklist, and a handy FAQ. You’ll also find information on our Alaska holidays – some of our most adventurous American tours. Ready to explore the ‘Last Frontier’?
Denali National Park
Sprawling across around six million acres (with a single road cutting through it), this national park gives you a taste of true Alaskan wilderness. It’s home to the ‘Alaskan Big Five’ – grizzly bears, Dall sheep, caribou, moose and wolves – and is watched over by mighty Mount Denali, the highest peak in North America.
We usually stay a few miles from the park entrance on our holidays to Alaska, so it’s easy to explore on your day at leisure. Ask your tour manager for ideas of what to do or where to go.
Alaska is famous for its spectacular landscapes, so it goes without saying that there are some amazing scenic drives here. One of the best is the Seward Highway, a 127-mile stretch of road connecting Anchorage (Alaska’s biggest city) and the harbour town of Seward.
Tracing a route along Turnagain Arm before snaking up into the Chugach and Kenai Mountains, you’ll spy glaciers, alpine lakes, forested mountains and whale-dotted waters glinting in the sunshine as you travel.
Prince William Sound
With protected waterways, fjords, glaciers and islands, Prince William Sound offers 10,000 square miles of true Alaskan beauty. Home to whales, porpoises, sea lions, seals and sea otters, we think the best way to explore is by boat – our Alaska holidays include a relaxed afternoon cruise where we’ll watch for wildlife and take in our stunning surroundings (including Columbia Glacier, the biggest glacier in the Sound).
Alaska’s Inside Passage
While our land-based trips to Alaska focus around the Southcentral and Interior regions of the state, opt for an Alaska cruise and you’ll likely be heading for the Southeastern region, AKA Alaska’s Inside Passage.
With the Coast Mountain Range on one side and a scattering of islands on the other, it’s definitely a scenic part of the state. As your Alaska cruise progresses, you’ll admire lush rainforest, impressive glaciers, fjords, mountains and rivers, all the while keeping a look out for the incredible wildlife that calls this area home (think brown bears, humpback whales, harbour seals and swooping eagles – our Senior Copywriter, Nicola, wrote a fantastic account of her wildlife-spotting Alaskan cruise).
Gold rush towns like Juneau and Skagway are fantastic to explore, and Ketchikan offers a fascinating insight into the culture of the native Tlingit and Haida Indians (be sure to look out for the numerous story-telling totem poles).
Wondering what to pack for your Alaska holiday? Put these essentials on your checklist:
· Comfortable walking shoes, ideally waterproof
· Layers – the weather can be changeable, and while the Interior region can be warm in summer (think average highs in the mid-20s), coastal areas are a fair bit cooler
· A rucksack for when you’re out and about
· Camera, plus a charger or spare batteries (and an extra memory card if you’re a particularly keen snapper)
· Waterproof phone case for rainy days and boat trips
· Eye mask – in summer, the sun doesn’t set until gone midnight in northern cities like Fairbanks
· Mosquito repellent
· Suncream and sunglasses
· Binoculars, for spotting all that wildlife
A few frequently asked questions about travel to Alaska…
When’s the best time of year to visit?
Our favourite time to visit Alaska is between May and September, when the weather’s warmest and the days are lovely and long. And if you’re wondering when is best to go on an Alaskan cruise, it’d be the same time. Product manager Phil recommends June in particular: “The natural phenomenon of the annual Salmon Run happens from May through to September in Alaska and British Columbia. June is an incredible time to visit, as the run is normally in full flow by then.”
Which Alaska cruise is the best?
It depends what you’re interested in, but our preferred itineraries take in the Alaskan Inside Passage – it’s incredibly scenic, there’s native Alaskan and gold rush history to learn about, and the wildlife-watching is superb. We like to combine the Canadian Rockies with an Alaska cruise – Deluxe Alaskan Voyage and Rockies and Alaska Grand Discovery follow broadly the same route, with the former including a journey on the famous Rocky Mountaineer train.
How much do I need to tip in Alaska?
As with the rest of the USA, tipping is a big part of life in Alaska – for good service, 18-20% is the norm.
Can I drink the tap water?
Yes, tap water is safe to drink. We recommend bringing a refillable bottle with you.
What’s the time difference in Alaska?
Alaska is GMT-9 hours.
For further information about our Alaskan holidays, contact our friendly travel advisors.
Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.
Laura | About the author
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