A trip to Alaska is something that appears on the bucket list of almost every traveler. It is our nation’s forty-ninth state, and for many people who love to travel, it’s the final frontier. Everyone wants to go to Alaska, but surprisingly few have made the trek. For many, it might be the Alaska trip cost.
There are many reasons to visit Alaska. It’s beautiful and unique. Wildlife abounds. The human history of this northernmost state is intriguing; some of the native people of this region live in ways that are very similar to the ways their ancestors did, and hardy immigrants from all over the world have traveled to Alaska to explore or settle for hundreds of years.
This state’s culture is vastly different from any other, and the attractions you visit and the experiences you have in Alaska will almost always take your breath away.
It’s no wonder that everyone wants to go there. So what’s holding you back?
Many people who wish to visit Alaska hesitate to do so because of the cost. Although a trip to Alaska can be quite spendy, it doesn’t have to be that way.
A trip to Alaska can cost whatever you wish to spend. There are many budget options for travel to and in Alaska and there are dozens of free and low-cost activities to enjoy once you get there.
On the other hand, if luxury travel is more your style, there are plenty of options for that, too.
Alaska is not entirely rural and rustic and there are lots of providers there that cater to guests who seek comfort and top-level service.
Most travelers fall somewhere in the middle and there are plenty of mid-range options available for them too. Alaska is for everyone, and your Alaskan dream vacation can become a reality more quickly and easily than you might think. Read on to learn more about how much an Alaskan vacation will cost so you can start planning your trip.
Table of Contents
- Before You Visit Alaska
- Travel Insurance
- Outdoor Travel Gear
- Getting to Alaska
- Taking a Cruise
- Traveling Around Alaska
- Driving & Rental Cars
- Your Food Budget
- Popular Destinations in Alaska
- Denali National Park
- Other Destinations
- Your Activity Budget
- Average Daily Expense Breakdown for Your Alaska Vacation
Before You Visit Alaska
The best way to make the best of your trip and get the most bang for your buck is to plan. While there are many positive things to say about spontaneity and going with the flow, for a destination like Alaska, it’s wise to map out your route and book many of your activities in advance. That way, you can get the most out of your trip.
In addition to planning, there are two other big things you should do before you depart. First, you should invest in travel insurance.
Second, you might need to do some shopping. Check out our suggestions below.
Buying travel insurance in advance of your trip is a wise move. It will give you immense peace of mind and if anything bad happens along the way, you won’t have to spend a bundle to make things right again.
Travel insurance policies cover things like trip cancellation, trip interruption, trip delay, lost or stolen bags, emergency medical treatment, and emergency evacuation. Most also include active adventure sports and rental car damage coverage or offer them as add-ons to the policy you choose.
Numerous reliable and reputable companies offer travel insurance for you to consider. World Nomads is a great and affordable option; AIG Travel Insurance, Insured Nomads, and RoamRight are all great, too.
The great thing about travel insurance it is very affordable. Even top-tier coverage won’t cost you much over $10 per day, and there are cheaper policies with lower reimbursement ceilings available too.
No matter what plan you choose, if you ever have to use it, you’ll be able to see that it’s worth every penny you spend on it.
AVERAGE COST PER DAY: ~$10/day or less
Outdoor Travel Gear
If you already spend a lot of time outdoors, you likely have many of the clothes and items recommended for Alaska, but if not, you’ll want to make some purchases to make sure that you’re prepared for this somewhat rugged destination.
No matter what time of year you go, Alaska can be cold at times. Even in the summer, once the sun begins to set, you’re going to get chilly at night. Be sure to dress in layers so you can be ready for anything. Thermal underwear is never a bad idea. Gloves might come in handy, too. If you’re going in the winter, you’re going to need a warm winter coat – don’t cut corners with this purchase, or you’ll be sorry!
Most travelers visit Alaska in the summer season, though. Daylight is long during this time of year and the bugs use every moment they have to live their lives to the fullest.
Of course, you’ll want to take lots of photos while you’re there to remember your trip. Although your camera phone will do the job quite well, there’s no better time than the present to invest in a higher quality camera.
Some people also like to journal while traveling so you might as well pick up a travel journal for your adventure, too.
AVERAGE COST: These purchases will be completed before you depart, so they’re not technically part of your day-to-day trip budget. However, the amount you spend will depend on what you don’t already have and also what you wish to buy or skip, so the price range for this section is: $0-$500+
Getting to Alaska
Now that you’re ready to go, your next step is to figure out how you’ll get up there. You have several options to consider. Most visitors to Alaska choose to fly, but you could also take a ferry, take a cruise, or drive your own car or a rental.
Unfortunately, taking a train to Alaska is not an option – although it would be quite beautiful. The historic Alaska Railroad provides service in Alaska, but there’s no train to take you up there, so you’ll have to choose one of the other options.
Alaska’s Aviation System is the largest of its kind in North America. It’s not uncommon for locals and visitors to fly from place to place because roads are quite limited in many areas.
Alaska has 239 airports within the state boundaries. Two of them – the airports in Fairbanks and Anchorage – are international airports, and are where most people land when visiting the state.
As you can imagine, the prices of flights to Alaska fluctuate drastically based on your departure airport and the time of year. Most passengers coming from anywhere other than the west coast will need to switch planes in California, Oregon, Washington, or Vancouver before continuing north.
As it is quite cold and dark in Alaska in the winter, you’ll find the cheapest flights during November, December, and January, but you’ll need to prepare yourself for almost constant darkness if you choose to go then.
Flights are more expensive during the busy tourist (and well-lit) spring and summer season from May to September from all departure points.
AVERAGE COST: We found a flight for a $206 round trip from Seattle to Anchorage in January 2023 on Skyscanner. However, an average flight from New York City to Anchorage in August 2022 was around $600 around the Alaska trip cost.
There is a ferry departing from Washington that will transport you to Alaska and this can be a great way to get up there. The Alaska Marine Highway System covers over 3,500 miles and stops in over thirty ports. You can bring your car or travel as a passenger.
Fares are based on a dynamic pricing system that changes with demand so it’s wise to buy your tickets as early as you can. You’ll need to buy a ticket for your vehicle and a separate one for yourself. However, keep in mind that if you want to bring your car, it will cost quite a bit.
We did a sample search to get a quote on taking a small SUV there this summer this way, and one way was over $3,000. The passenger fare isn’t cheap either; the seven-day journey costs around $1,000 per person, and that doesn’t include a cabin for sleeping – that’s extra.
AVERAGE COST: Around $1,000 for a passenger, around $3,500 for a passenger and a vehicle.
Can you drive to Alaska? Of course, you can! It’s quite far, but that certainly doesn’t stop the people who choose to take it on.
The drive is spectacular and will take you through Canada’s British Columbia and Yukon territories before you re-enter the United States in Alaska.
It will take about forty-three hours of driving to get to Anchorage from Seattle, but you can reach the southernmost part of Alaska by motor vehicle in just nineteen hours (although then you’ll need to take some ferries to get around that area since its mostly islands).
Seattle to Anchorage is about 2,300 miles. If you take a car that gets twenty-five miles per gallon, and if gas costs are around $3/gallon, it will cost you around $300 to get there. Not bad – but don’t forget that you’ll have to drive back, too.
Also, if you do choose to drive, keep in mind that the route is quite remote and desolate for the vast majority of the way. You’ll need to plan your stops to sleep and get gas and eat very carefully, or you may find yourself hundreds of miles from these services when you need them the most. Driving to Alaska is not recommended in the wintertime.
AVERAGE COST: $600+ roundtrip in gas from Seattle, plus gas from wherever you’re coming from….
Taking a Cruise
Many visitors to Alaska choose to visit this great state via cruise ship. Although an Alaska cruise will cost more per day than Caribbean cruises, they are one of the best deals out there when it comes to visiting Alaska affordably.
You could fly to Alaska and then depart for a cruise out of Anchorage that drops you off at the end in Vancouver or Seattle or do the reverse. Each day you’ll wake up in a new port and you’ll see a new part of Alaska with little effort on your part. Best of all – you’ll be able to enjoy the included onboard dining and other ship amenities between ports.
Large cruise lines like Carnival, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Norweigan, and others offer cruises to Alaska for around $1000 a person for a week’s journey. If you don’t like those giant cruise ships, there are many smaller cruise lines serving Alaska as well, but due to their smaller size, you can expect to pay a lot more.
Also, remember that many Alaskan cruises are one-way trips only, so you’ll need to pay for a flight as well. Still, seeing Alaska by boat can be perfect for many travelers and an Alaska cruise is something that you’ll never forget.
AVERAGE COST: $1,000 + flight – $10,000 + flight
Traveling Around Alaska
Once you get to Alaska, you’ll need to get around within the state as well. There are many ways to do this.
While you won’t have to worry about in-state Alaksa transportation if you bring your own car or if you take a cruise, people who fly in or take a passenger ferry will need to think about this sort of thing if they plan to see much of the state.
As mentioned above, there are over two hundred airports in Alaska. If your time is limited and you want to get places quickly, flying between destinations may be your best option.
AVERAGE COST: $varies; depends on where you’d like to go. A midsummer flight from Anchorage to Fairbanks on Alaska Airlines is around $100 one way.
Driving & Rental Cars
The Alaska Interstate Highway System covers over 1,000 miles but that’s nothing when you think about just how large Alaska truly is.
Still, these highways will take you to many of the places you want to go and will allow you to explore Alaska at your leisure. Driving is easy as long as you stick to the highways. Look out for animals on the road and other hazards, and you’ll want to drive mostly during daylight hours to enjoy the view.
You can book a rental car near most of the larger airports; you can see what’s available on RentalCars.com. Keep in mind that rental cars are in high demand in Alaska, though, so you should book far in advance, and you should expect to pay more than you will most other places in the USA and the world.
AVERAGE COST: $50-100/day, if you can find one to rent
If you choose to visit the southeastern part of Alaska, you’ll need to travel by boat between destinations as these southern cities are mostly on islands. Again, the Alaska Marine Highway System and its many ferries come to the rescue here. You can view the route map and travel times on its website and you can make reservations there as well.
AVERAGE COST: $varies; passenger-only fare from Ketchikan to Juneau, for one example, is $145
The Alaska Railroad was founded in 1903 and has 470 miles of track. It’s a fun way to get around the state if you want to sit back and relax and enjoy the view outside.
From its headquarters in Anchorage, it goes south to Seward and north to Fairbanks with several stops along the way. Again, the price depends on where you’d like to go, and prices are higher during the summer tourist season than they are in the winter.
AVERAGE COST: $varies; One way from Anchorage to Fairbanks in July is $259 per person aged 12-64.
See Related: Alaska Railroad Review: GoldStar or Adventure Class?
Your Food Budget
A traveler’s food budget is difficult to estimate as every person’s needs and desires are different. If you’re planning a budget trip to Alaska, you can find affordable restaurants almost everywhere that you’ll visit.
Alternately, you can go to a grocery store and make your own meals in your room or at your campsite. On the other hand, if you have complicated dietary restrictions or prefer high-end, fancy restaurants, you won’t have any trouble finding establishments that can meet your needs in most places in Alaska too.
Many foods cost a bit more in Alaska than they do in the Lower 48 since much of it is imported from elsewhere, but the difference isn’t too immense for a traveler on vacation. When it comes to dining, you know yourself best.
You can estimate your daily food cost based on what you’ve spent on other vacations in the past. Add a little extra for good measure to make sure you’re covered, but you won’t likely spend much more on food in Alaska than the amount you spend at home or on any other trip.
AVERAGE COST: $varies
See Related: 12 Best Breweries in Fairbanks, Alaska
Popular Destinations in Alaska
There are so many amazing places to visit in Alaska. It will be hard to narrow down your plans. However, due to the rather high transportation costs outlined above, it’s wise to stick to just one or two destinations if you’re trying to visit Alaska on a budget.
If money is no object, traveling from town to town within Alaska is absolutely worth it. Check out our list of destinations below to help you plan your trip.
We’ve also included accommodation options below for each city or town. These are examples to show you what kind of accommodations you will find in Alaska, but also know that there are options at all price points to consider in each location.
The amount of money you spend on accommodations is dependent on your personal needs, desires, and preferred style of travel.
Ketchikan is the southernmost city in Alaska. It was incorporated in 1900 and today has a population of just over 8,000 people. It’s a major cruise port for Alaska and many people visit it; there are many great photo opportunities and it’s a very typical Alaska town.
In Ketchikan, visitors can learn a lot about the native people of the region and view totem poles or they can learn about the work of lumberjacks at the Great Alaska Lumberjack Show.
There’s great hiking on the edges of town and countless outfitters offering whale watching cruises, bike tours, seaplane rides, kayaking tours, ziplines, and more. The Misty Fjords National Monument Wilderness is nearby, too. You’ll never run out of things to do in Ketchikan.
Mid-Range Property – The Inn at Creek Street
This property is in the middle of everything and is within walking distance from all the town’s major attractions. There’s a restaurant on-site, but some rooms have kitchens. This hotel is inside a historic building and is just around the corner from Creek Street which is known for its shops and restaurants.
Sitka is also in the southeastern portion of the state but it is quite a bit north of Ketchikan near Juneau. This small town is mostly situated on Baranof Island and must be accessed by boat. Sitka was part of Russia until 1867 and much Russian influence, including St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral and the Russian Bishops House, is still visible.
Visitors will enjoy stops at the Alaska Raptor Center, Fortress of the Bear, and the Sitka National Historical Park and Totem Park. Again, there are many opportunities to hike on the outskirts of town and there are plenty of companies that will take you fishing, boating, camping, and wildlife-watching during your visit if you choose.
Mid-Range Property – Sitka Hotel
The Sitka Hotel has a bar, restaurant, shared lounge, and free Wifi. If you’re traveling with children, family rooms are available. Some rooms have patios and others have views of the sea. Breakfast is provided and the front desk staff will be happy to advise you about local activities.
Juneau is the capital of Alaska and it’s a fun town to visit. It’s much bigger than Sitka and Ketchikan described above; its population is just over 32,000 and it’s the second-largest city in the United States by area! The city itself is on a hill but is very walkable and there is plenty to do there during your stay.
The Alaska State Museum is excellent and the Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure is an attraction that will help you learn more about Alaskan native plants. There are dozens of bars and restaurants in Juneau too, so this is a great place to visit if you wish to try some authentic Alaskan cuisine.
Budget Property – Alaska Hotel and Bar
This historic hotel was built in 1913 and has great character that will make you feel like you’ve traveled back in time. There is a bar and gift shop and laundry facilities are available too. Some rooms have televisions, and the second floor is accessed by stairs only. Still, this is in a great location for your visit to Juneau.
Between 1896 and 1899, Skagway was a stepping-off point for the Klondike Gold Rush; 100,000 prospectors came to this area hoping to get rich. Only a few did. Today, this remote town is a likely stop if you take an Alaska cruise, but it’s worth visiting otherwise as well.
Skagway is a town that is trapped in time, and you’ll feel like you’re living history when you visit this place.
The White Pass & Yukon Railway departs from here on scenic, roundtrip journeys several times each day and your ride will likely be a highlight of your trip. Learn about the gold rush at the Klondike Gold Rush National Park Visitor’s Center or about working women of the time period at the Red Onion Saloon Brothel Museum.
Budget Property – Westmark Inn Skagway
The Westmark Inn Skagway is right in the center of downtown and you can reach everything you want to see from it with ease. Reception is open 24 hours a day and there’s a tour desk to help you plan your next move. The rooms are comfortable and pleasant.
Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska by far and it’s not even close; its population is 280,000 which is 250,000 more residents than the second-place city, Fairbanks. It would be easy to fill an entire week’s visit with things to do in and around Anchorage, and many visitors do just that.
One of the first things you should do in Anchorage is visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center; you’ll learn a great deal about Alaska’s native people here and how they have lived and still live today. The Anchorage Museum – the largest museum in the state – is also excellent and should not be missed. There are plenty of great restaurants and shopping opportunities, too.
In this area, it’s easy to find providers offering adventurous activities like dog sledding, day cruises to Kenai Fjords National Park, bear viewing, gold panning, whale watching, guided hiking and camping, fishing, flightseeing, and more.
Camping – Chugach State Park’s Bird Creek Campground
This lovely campground is on the outskirts of Anchorage and is managed by the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. There are twenty-four campsites and most can accommodate RVs, but sites are first-come, first-served so be aware of that fact. Guests can stay for up to seven days. The state park is on the water so you can enjoy fishing, boating, and whale watching nearby, and there are many great trails to hike, too.
Denali National Park
The Denali National Park area is very popular with tourists from the United States and around the world. It is best known for being home to North America’s tallest mountain, Denali, which rises to a height of 20,310′. This is one of several Alaska national parks that you can’t miss.
There are lots of fun things to do when you visit Denali National Park. First, be sure to visit one or both Denali National Park visitor centers – Denali and Eielson – to get a good overview of the park. Then, decide if you want to walk, bike, hike, shuttle bus, or drive around this spectacular place.
At Husky Homestead, you can meet sled dogs and learn about the Iditarod from champion Jack King. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try whitewater rafting or zip-lining nearby, or you can sign up for a tour by helicopter or on horseback.
See Related: Best Helicopter Tours in Denali National Park
Luxury Property – Grande Denali Lodge
If you’re looking for a high-end property with incredible views, then you’ll love the Grande Denali Lodge. This log-cabin-style hotel is perched on a cliff and is just a mile and a half from the park. Rooms have desks and refrigerators. The lobby features a beautiful stone fireplace, a restaurant, and a gift shop.
Fairbanks is almost right in the middle of Alaska and it is one of the coldest places in the state. Somehow, it managed to become Alaska’s second-largest city, and today it has a population of about 32,000. It’s home to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and many of the residents are connected to the college in some way.
This is a great destination for seeing the northern lights if you visit in the wintertime and that’s why most people go to Fairbanks on vacation. However, there are lots of things to do in the summer months too, including museums like the Aurora Ice Museum and Pioneer Park. As with the rest of Alaska, there are lots of outdoor activities to try as well.
Budget Property – Sven’s Basecamp Hostel
There aren’t a lot of hostels in Alaska but there are a few and this is one of the coolest you’ll find. It offers both dormitory accommodations and private rooms including family rooms for groups. There are free bikes you can use, a shared kitchen, a TV room, luggage storage, and a barbecue. A local bus stop is down the street.
In a state as large as Alaska, there are many other great places to check out that aren’t listed here as well. Visitors also love places like Talkeetna, Homer, Nome, Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), Valdez, Seward, Whittier, and others. However, for your first visit, you’ll get plenty of Alaska from the places described above.
AVERAGE ACCOMMODATIONS COST: $50-$500/night
Your Activity Budget
As you can see, there is a wide variety of things to do in every one of the above destinations. Every traveler is different, so the amount you spend on activities during your trip to Alaska is up to you and is probably the most variable expense of all.
On one hand, if you want to enjoy a low-cost, budget Alaskan adventure, you can still have an incredible time. Hiking on local trails costs nothing, nor does walking around these towns and taking it all in.
You can visit national parks for little to nothing and spend an entire day there, and many museums are low or no cost, too. It will be easy for you to fill an entire day with fun and adventure without spending very much money at all.
On the other hand, there are plenty of full-service, high-cost adventures to try in Alaska if money is no object and if you want to check off items on your bucket list. Multi-day hunting or fishing excursions are available all over Alaska.
You can take a helicopter trip to a glacier, go flightseeing over national parks in a floatplane, or go crabbing in the Bering Sea on one of the boats seen in the show The Deadliest Catch. The possibilities are endless. What you do and spend is up to you.
Most travelers are somewhere in the middle. It’s probably wise to set an activity budget for yourself before you depart so you don’t overdo it!
AVERAGE COST: $varies based on your tastes and desires
Average Daily Expense Breakdown for Your Alaska Vacation
It’s hard to determine an average daily cost for travel in Alaska because every traveler is different. Hopefully, our ranges listed above will help you to make an estimate for you. Keep in mind that it’s possible to visit Alaska on the cheap if you desire.
In most cases, your biggest expense will be getting there and getting around; other overall expenses will fluctuate based on your tastes and choices. No matter how you choose to do it, though, an Alaska vacation is an adventure that you will never forget. Start planning today!
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