Five Tips for Planning the Perfect Alaskan Vacation
Alaska is home to some of the most beautiful spaces in all of North America. Each year, tens of thousands of people flock to the "Last Frontier" from the continental US, from Canada, and from different parts of Europe and Asia. Planning an Alaskan vacation isn't like taking the family to the beach. It requires much more intentionality. Because the frontier can be wild and dangerous, going to Alaskan unprepared is a recipe for more than just a bad time. It's also a recipe for potential harm. If you're thinking about heading to Alaska, here are five tips to get you started.
AN INTERIOR CAPPED BY TWO VERY DIFFERENT CITIES
While Alaska in its entirety is roughly a third of the size of the continental US, most visitors stay within a seven or eight hour zone. The south boundary is Anchorage, the state's largest city. With just more than 300,000 people, Anchorage can feel like the sort of city you'd find in the Lower 48. It's got bars, restaurants, parks, and culture. It also has the largest selection of hotels and the most sizable airport, which features direct flights to and from a number of cities. Most people will choose to start their journey in Anchorage because it makes a suitable starting point for exploring the rest of the state.
Fairbanks is the second largest city, but it's distinct in culture, size, and accessibility. With just more than 30,000 people, Fairbanks feels like a small town. It has distinct Native Alaskan cultural elements, too, differentiating it from the cultural modernity of Anchorage. Fairbanks has its own airport, but you'll pay much more to fly there. Likewise, you may find Fairbanks to be more remote. It sits largely on its own just before the truly desolate parts of Alaska that are found to the north.
CONSIDER THE ALASKA RAILROAD AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO CAR RENTAL
The Alaska Railroad bisects the state, running from Seward in the south to Fairbanks in the north. It hits most of the popular destinations in the state, including Anchorage, Denali National Park, and Fairbanks. The train is less like a standard Amtrak and more like a tour bus. Tour guides narrate the trip, pointing our wildlife, historical sites, and other cultural attractions. Those new to the area will have the opportunity to see moose, bear, and host of other animals for the first time. Often, when the train approaches some large game, the tour guide will point it out, allowing passengers to stop and observe. Those flying into Alaska can take advantage of the many hotel shuttle services that run to and from the many train stations in the state. Because of how popular the train has become, many hospitality businesses accommodate passengers who use this old world form of transportation.
PREPARE FOR PERPETUAL SUNSHINE
Most people visit Alaska in the summer. Around June, the sun won't set on the state, and the further north you go, the brighter it will be. In Anchorage, the sun shines bright for 22 hours with a couple hours of dusk thrown in for good measure. In Denali National Park and Fairbanks, you'll experience a bright morning all day long. This may disrupt the sleeping patterns of some travelers. You'll want to prepare for this by bringing eye shades or other forms of sleeping assistance. Smart travelers will prepare for shifting schedules, as well. Many Alaskans use the midnight sun to do various activities, including shopping, recreation, and driving. You'll need to adjust if you want to stay on schedule with the locals.
ACCOUNT FOR THE TREMENDOUS SIZE
While Texans might claim that everything is bigger there, and Montanans might talk about Big Sky Country, Alaskans have the real claim to the most sizeable terrain. Not only are the animals and mountains bigger in Alaska, but the distances are bigger, as well. Even short drives from Point A to Point B can take an hour. If you want to take a trip into Denali Park, you might drive for a whole day to get to certain campsites. It's critical to plan for this. Don't expect to hop from place to place. Give yourself ample time to enjoy your surroundings so that you won't be rushed in your travel.
CENTER THE TRIP AROUND SOME PARK EXPERIENCE
Alaska is known most for its wilderness, and there's no better way to see it than by gearing your trip to one of the parks. Most people visit Denali, the home of North America's highest peak. There, you can hike through the beautiful mountains or raft through the Nenana River. You have the chance to see bears, moose, caribou, bald eagles, and many other beautiful animals. To the southwest of Anchorage, you'll find Kenai Fjords National Park, where boats take you through glaciers and expansive ice fields. Further to the west is Katmai National Park, where the iconic grizzly bears fish for salmon in the river streams. See one of these parks or use a long trip to see them all. It's the best way to experience a slice of true Alaskan wilderness.
An Alaskan vacation can provide vistas and memories that will last a lifetime. Consider the size of the place, prepare for the elements, and be sure to base your trip out of one of the excellent parks. Whether you take Alaska by rail, road, or sea, there's no reason your trip should lack for adventure.