Tips for Planning your Alaska Vacation
Alaska is home to seventeen of North America’s tallest peaks (including the tallest in North America, Denali), 30,000 square miles of glaciers (an area about the size of Maine), 60% of the country’s total national park lands (including the largest, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park), and a total area bigger than Texas, California, and Montana - combined! With all of this greatness, it’s easy to see why planning a trip to Alaska is high on many travelers’ lists, and why it can feel a bit overwhelming. The good news is, no matter when or where you go, you are sure to have an incredible Alaska adventure. Our insider’s tips will help you get a head start on planning your next Alaska vacation.
When to Go
Your first decision is when to visit Alaska. While most visitors come to Alaska during the summer season, from June – August, every season and month offers its own unique experiences. Summer is best for the warmest temperatures, longest hours of daylight, best wildlife viewing, and the most tours, activities, cruise options, and accommodations available. However, if you’re looking to get away from the crowds and find better deals, consider visiting during the shoulder seasons in spring (April – May) and fall (September – October). Another big bonus for traveling in fall: the chance to witness Alaska’s incredible autumn colors.
Winter is the best time to visit Alaska for one of our top natural phenomena: the northern lights, or aurora borealis. This incredible colorful display is viewable from late August through April. You’ll also find an array of fun winter outdoor recreation activities like skiing, dog sledding, snowmachining, and more – plus some of the best festivals the state has to offer.
How long to go
Next, decide how long you can go. You could spend a lifetime exploring this great state, but you can plan a memorable and exciting visit even if you have just a few days. Most visitors spend seven to fourteen days in Alaska. Much of this decision depends on where you want to go and how you’re getting around.
Cruising is one of the most popular ways to visit Alaska – especially for first-time visitors – with most cruises lasting seven to ten days. If you have the time, we recommend adding on a post-cruise land tour (typically several days by train or motorcoach) so you can experience the Inside Passage by sea and go on to explore the Southcentral and Interior regions by land.
If you only have a long weekend or a few days, we recommend using Anchorage, Fairbanks, or Juneau as your home base. These are the state’s largest cities and home to our main airport hubs. You’ll find plenty of activities and accommodations in these communities, along with countless day-trip adventures available in the surrounding areas.
For visitors staying over a week and traveling to more than one of Alaska’s five regions (which we highly recommend), our biggest piece of advice is to plan for enough travel time between destinations. If you put the state of Alaska over a map of the Lower 48 states, Alaska stretches east to west from Savannah, Georgia to Los Angeles, California, and north to south from North Dakota to the Texas panhandle. Meaning – Alaska is a big state! Traveling between some communities can take a good part of the day (or more) depending on your mode of transportation. Many communities are not along the road system or railbelt and are only accessible by plane or boat. Make sure to account for travel distances and build in extra time to stop and smell the Arctic roses along the way! In Alaska, the journey is truly part of the adventure, and you’ll have just as much fun and see some of the most beautiful sights while traveling around the state as you do in your final destinations.
You could easily spend an entire vacation in just one of the state’s five regions: Interior, Southcentral, Inside Passage, Southwest, and Arctic. However, if you want to explore more than one region, plan to stay at least a week. Don’t try to pack in too many destinations when planning your trip. We recommend picking your top destinations and planning at least 2-3 days around each spot to give you enough time to travel and enjoy the area. Learn more about our regions, communities, and national parks & public lands to start planning your route - weather you're interested in visiting the top sights or getting off-the-beaten-track.
When to book
Most visitors book their Alaska travel three to six months in advance. The earlier you book, the better your chances to get your top picks for accommodations, tours, and activities. While it’s possible to book a last-minute trip to Alaska, we highly recommend booking early to ensure availability – especially during the summer months and around popular festivals and events.
Looking for some more planning help?
- Read our Travel Tips for answers to your most frequently asked questions.
- Explore Packages & Tours for customized itineraries and all-inclusive options for all travel types, from backcountry adventure to luxury travel.
- Learn more about Alaska weather, including temperatures, daylight hours, and packing lists for each region.
- Browse our Itineraries for travel ideas.
- Use our interactive map to see roads, train routes, ferry routes, and more to help you plan your journey.
- Check out how to get around Alaska, including cruising, flying, ferries, and motorcoach, train, and driving trips.
- Request a FREE Alaska State Vacation Planner for page after page of travel inspiration!
Alaska: AKA Your Next Adventure
Where will your Alaska adventure take you? Order our Official State of Alaska Vacation Planner and plot your course.