If you’re planning to visit Alaska, you’ll need to arm yourself in advance with some basic knowledge before you go.
Alaska is a stunning destination world-famous for its combination of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and cultural diversity. From its towering mountains and stunning glaciers to its diverse wildlife, Alaska has something to offer every type of traveler.
However, one of the main attractions of Alaska is the vast wilderness experience. Not many people realize that traveling to Alaska by land is very difficult, which is why we have prepared this guide on things to know before visiting Alaska, so that you can travel to this majestic land without any hitches.
So, when you’re ready to explore the icy fjords and dense forests and empty out your binoculars to look for grizzly bears, bald eagles, and humpback whales, keep reading to reveal our top tips for a trip to Alaska.
Tips for visiting Alaska in 2023
From stunning glaciers to vibrant local cultures, these essential tips will help you prepare for an unforgettable Alaska vacation.
1. Understand the vastness and wilderness of Alaska
Did you know that Alaska is the largest state in the United States?
Its area is about 663,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers) and includes a vast wilderness of rugged mountains, glaciers, and vast tracts of uninhabited land.
Alaska is very remote, and although it offers a variety of natural beauty, wildlife, and cultural experiences, many of its towns and natural wonders can only be reached by boat or floatplane.
This makes planning a trip to Alaska quite a challenge, as some places are not easy to get to, or are difficult to reach.
Choosing a cruise to visit Alaska is a great idea because it gives you the opportunity to visit some remote and historic places quickly without any hassle.
There’s a lot to see, so do your research before you book anything in a hurry, and mark the places that are high on your radar. Alaska Bucket List -You can’t see everything!
If you decide to do the cruise option, note that many cruise ship operators sail in Alaska, and most will have different routes and ports of call.
Plan in advance where you want to go, the most important places you want to see, and then plan your itinerary from there.
2. Find out the best time to visit Alaska
The best months to visit Alaska depend largely on the specific experiences you’re looking for and the areas you want to explore.
The peak tourist season runs from May to September when the weather is relatively mild and activities are in full swing.
However, there are clear advantages to visiting during different months.
Climate and seasonal considerations
For those planning to visit by cruise, the main months are usually June, July and August.
During this period, cruise routes operate at full capacity, offering a wide range of itineraries and shore excursions.
You’ll likely see stunning natural wonders like towering glaciers, icebergs, and humpback whales.
The lush landscape comes alive with blooming wildflowers, and wildlife sightings can include bears, eagles and seals.
Furthermore, the longer daylight hours allow for more exploration time.
It’s worth noting that popular ports of call like Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway can get crowded during these peak months, so I suggest booking shore excursions in advance.
Visiting in May or September, known as shoulder season, offers a different perspective. Although the weather may be a little cooler and the rains more frequent, there will be fewer crowds and potentially significant cost savings.
Alaska faces extreme weather conditions. Winters are cold and snowy, while summers can be mild and pleasant, so it is essential that you pack the right clothes, and be prepared for unexpected weather changes.
Traveling in May, I packed a lot of layers: thermal base layers, long-sleeve shirts, fleece jackets and heavy-duty wind/rain jackets.
Surprisingly, for most of my time in Alaska in May, the weather was very mild and sunny.
So I only needed a rain jacket and other warm clothes underneath when I got up early and walked around on the deck, or during days when we were close to the glaciers.
So decide if you want to see snowy views, or if you’d rather experience the vibrant colors of summer.
Basically, I would say it’s best to visit in the spring or winter for more snowy scenes, and in the summer for the wildflowers and warmer weather.
3. Think about the wildlife encounters and outdoor activities you want to do
From glaciers to grizzlies! Exploring Alaska will include at least some wildlife encounters because Alaska is home to diverse wildlife, including bears, moose, caribou, and bald eagles.
I was lucky to see whales, eagles and sea lions during my trip.
Alaska offers plenty of outdoor activities such as hiking, fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and walking.
There are plenty of opportunities to get out into nature in Alaska. Some adventures might include zip lining, kayaking, whale watching, or dog kenneling in the snowy mountains.
If you want to feel like a millionaire for a few hours, I can recommend the whale watching cruise out of Juneau (it was very beautiful).
8 of us set out on a luxury yacht, stocked with champagne and canapés, to spend an unforgettable few hours whale watching in gorgeous sunny weather.
Then, from Skagway, we experienced a dog breeding experience in a wooded area. Another trip offered dogs mushing in the snow, which I think would be really cool.
Alaska is an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise. You can experience exciting adventures like salmon fishing, ziplining over green canopies, or taking a thrilling dog sled ride.
The official state sport of Alaska is dog sledding, reflecting the importance of dog sledding in the state’s history and culture.
4. Learn about Alaska Native culture
Alaska is rich in Alaska Native cultures, with diverse indigenous communities including Inuit, Yupik, Tlingit, Haida, and Aleut.
You may want to explore their traditions, arts, and history by visiting cultural centers or participating in cultural events that provide insight into Alaska Native heritage.
We visited Ketchikan, an Alaska Native community, where we explored the significance of the magnificent totem poles carved by indigenous peoples to depict stories, myths, and ancestral lineages.
Fun fact: Ketchikan boasts the largest collection of Native American totem poles in the world.
Alaska is also rich in Native American heritage and vibrant local communities.
When docked in port cities like Juneau, Ketchikan, or Skagway, you can explore indigenous art, visit historic sites, and interact with locals who share their traditions and stories.
You can quickly immerse yourself in the cultural fabric of the region through engaging activities and displays, and gain a deeper understanding of Alaska’s history and heritage.
We enjoyed a thoroughly entertaining and educational shore excursion to the Great Alaskan Loggers exhibit in Ketchikan, which delved into Alaska’s rich logging history.
The show was full of raucous laughter and colorful information, not to mention the crazy antics of the skilled and accomplished lumberjack athletes!
5. Think about the best way to visit Alaska
You may dream of visiting Alaska by land, but realistically, you will find some places difficult to reach.
Many towns and cities in Alaska are only accessible by water or seaplane, so when it comes to planning a way to get around, you’ll need to consider time and cost.
Cruises are great, especially if you’re short on time to vacation, because they allow you to get to key sites easily.
6. Pack a wide-angle lens to capture stunning views
Alaska boasts some of the most stunning scenery on Earth, providing endless photo opportunities.
For example, cruising along the Inside Passage allows you to see some of Alaska’s most iconic sights such as vast glaciers, icebergs, ancient forests and craggy mountain peaks.
If you’re looking to get stunning photos of towering glaciers, majestic fjords, snow-capped mountains, cascading waterfalls, and more, pack a wide-angle lens so you can capture it all.
Alaska is also home to a large number of icebergs.
You may be lucky enough to witness the thunderous calving of huge ice blocks, and be amazed by the bright blue colors of glaciers like Dawes Glacier, Hubbard Glacier, or the famous Glacier Bay.
These also provide images with some great scenes and backgrounds for photos.
7. Be environmentally conscious when visiting Alaska
A trip to Alaska is actually an educational trip in itself.
Naturalists and expert guides often accompany cruises, providing insightful commentary and organizing informative lectures on the environment and conservation.
Even if you don’t visit by cruise, be sure to get a lesson in sustainability practices so you can enjoy nature without harming it.
Learn about glaciology, marine biology, and the unique ecosystems that thrive in this pristine environment.
You will definitely gain a deeper appreciation for the delicate balance of nature and the importance of environmental conservation efforts if you do this.
8. Don’t miss the unforgettable sunsets and northern lights
Alaska’s high latitude makes it an ideal destination for viewing stunning sunsets and the northern lights.
On clear nights, if you’re lucky, you may have the opportunity to see the dancing colors of Aurora Borealis.
9. Don’t miss Alaska’s natural wonders
according to Alaska Daily NewsAlaska is home to about 100,000 glaciers, including the impressive Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay, which cruise ships routinely visit.
Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay are magnificent natural wonders that attract tourists from all over the world to Alaska.
Although we didn’t visit either, we were fortunate to witness the dramatic breakaway of a glacier as a huge chunk of ice fell into the sea at Dawes Glacier – truly amazing.
Hubbard Glacier is the largest glacier in North America, located in Discension Bay, off the coast of Yakutat in southeastern Alaska.
It extends for about 76 miles (122 km) and is about 6 miles (9.7 km) wide at its face.
The Hubbard Glacier is famous for its dramatic calves, where huge chunks of ice break off and crash into the sea, creating huge waves – a breathtaking sight.
The face of the glacier can reach about 350 feet (107 m) above the water, with the majority of its mass still hidden beneath the surface.
According to the National Park ServiceGlacier Bay National Park and Preserve is home to more than 1,000 glaciers, making it a picturesque glacial wonderland. “Most of them are high in the mountains, but there are a few notable glaciers that extend all the way to the sea.”
The park covers an area of approximately 3.3 million acres and includes a variety of landscapes, including fjords, mountains, forests and coastlines.
The glaciers within Glacier Bay National Park seem to be constantly changing and evolving. Some glaciers have retreated significantly, while others have continued to advance, creating a dynamic and ever-changing landscape.
Located in southeastern Alaska, Endicott Arm Fjord is a fjord known for its remote beauty and magnificent glaciers.
As an offshoot of the great Tracy Arm Gorge, Endicott Arm enchanted us with its towering cliffs, cascading waterfalls and vibrant blue icebergs.
If you can, book a trip that takes you from the cruise ship to a smaller boat, and you’ll be able to dodge the icebergs on Endicott Arm, as well as get up close and personal with massive waterfalls.
The highlight of this stunning landscape is the Dawes Glacier, a massive tidal glacier that descends into the fjord.
Located in southeastern Alaska, Dawes Glacier is a magnificent natural wonder located within Tracy Arm Fjord.
This glacier displays towering ice cliffs, bright blue colors and cascading waterfalls.
I loved the full day excursion that took us on a full day cruise from Discovery Princess on a smaller ship that could travel along the Endicott Arm, getting closer to Dawes Glacier, where we witnessed a huge tower of ice break free. Icy face.
How to choose the right Alaska cruise
If you decide to visit Alaska on an Alaska cruise, here are some additional tips to consider in order to choose the right cruise for you.
- Think about your favorite destinations and specific ports of call you would like to visit.
- Search through different cruise itineraries to find the one that matches your interests and the destinations you want to visit.
- Research different cruise lines and their ships to find the one that best suits your on-board preferences.
- Consider factors such as on-board amenities, dining options, entertainment, cabin types, and overall atmosphere. Do you want a kid-friendly ship with lots of kids activities, or do you prefer an exploratory ship geared toward an adult audience?
- Set a budget for your cruise and consider the total cost, including the base fare, surcharges, gratuities, on-board expenses, and any additional activities or excursions you plan to participate in.
- Compare prices and offers from different cruise lines to find the best value for your money.
- Think about your preferred travel dates and the amount of time you can devote to your cruise. Consider factors such as weather and peak seasons. Make an informed decision.
- Read reviews and ask for recommendations from experienced cruisers or social media groups to gain insight into the quality of service and overall onboard experience. There will be a different level of customer satisfaction between different cruise lines and ships.
- Most Alaska cruises traverse the Inside Passage, a scenic coastal route known for its natural beauty and wildlife.
- Popular ports of call in Alaska include Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, and Sitka.
- Plan shore excursions to explore each destination’s unique attractions, like the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau or the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in Skagway.
before you go
Alaska is truly a land of extraordinary beauty and diverse experiences. Whether you’re drawn to its magnificent glaciers, abundant wildlife, local cultures, or picturesque wonders, a cruise to… Alaska promises adventure And pinch me moments.
Just go and immerse yourself in the pristine wilderness, and let the magic of Alaska leave an indelible mark on your soul. It will definitely stay in my mind forever!