We take pride in providing authentic travel recommendations based on our own experiences. We may earn a commission when you purchase a product or book a reservation. Learn more ›
Planning an Alaska vacation or taking your first trip to the Last Frontier? There are plenty of key tips and things to know before going to Alaska to make the most of your experience.
If you’ve ever watched a TV show or movie set in Alaska, you might have a romanticized image of what it would be like to visit this great state. But the thing is, even though Alaska has many similarities to other states-like weather and green grass-it’s also different in some ways.
For example, if it’s wintertime when you go to Alaska then the average temperature will be much colder than that of your home state. And there are some of the most impressive wild animals in the Last Frontier state that aren‘t found anywhere else in the world.
So before visiting this beautiful place for yourself, take a read these are the things you should know about going to Alaska so that your trip goes without a hitch.
- Most Important Alaska Travel Tips to Know
- 1. Alaska isn’t as scary as you think
- 2. Alaska’s wildlife is spectacular
- 3. SUVs are recommended for road trips
- 4. June through September is the best time to watch bears
- 5. The Alaska Railroad is incredible
- 6. Sometimes the northern lights appear only on camera
- 7. The rain is sporadic and unpredictable
- 8. Alaska is big – like, really big
- 9. The weather can change quickly in Alaska
- 10. Alaska restaurant food can be expensive
- 11. Gas stations are rare
- 12. Alaska is great by sea and by land
- 13. The largest national park in the United States is in Alaska
- 14. You can only drive to a certain point in Denali National National Park
- 15. The Midnight Sun is a lot of fun
- What do I need to know before traveling to Alaska?
- What should you avoid in Alaska?
- How do I prepare for Alaska?
Most Important Alaska Travel Tips to Know
1. Alaska isn’t as scary as you think
Even though Alaska has over 5,000 earthquakes each year and over 3x the population of bears (including foul-tempered grizzlies, and completely deadly polar bears) relative to the second contender in the continental US, Alaska isn’t going to be as intense as you think.
And no Alaska is not always -30 degrees Fahrenheit each day. Alaska has some great summer weather and the falls are pretty good too.
The summers are extremely pleasant. Who wouldn’t love sunshine 24 hours a day?
See Related: Things to do in Anchorage, Alaska
2. Alaska’s wildlife is spectacular
The wildlife in Alaska is unlike anything you’ll find elsewhere in the United States (and perhaps the world). Dozens of different species of animals can be found in Alaska, from moose and elk to seals and foxes.
You can see deer and caribou almost everywhere since these animals are commonly domesticated in the area. Whales and otters can be spotted from the shore or on boat tours as well, particularly in southeast Alaska.
There are lots of other kinds of animals you might run into when visiting Alaska. These include wolves, grizzlies, and polar bears. It’s important to be aware of these animals when you’re visiting Alaska, especially if you’re going into the wilderness.
You need to know how to avoid and protect yourself from potential attacks, and also how to behave around these wild animals so as not to provoke them.
Some of the most common wild animals you’ll see in Alaska are brown bears. These dark brown bears can grow up to 800 pounds and are known for their aggressive behavior.
The best way to avoid bears getting the best of you is not to surprise them; let them know you’re coming. While you’re out and about in the wilderness, call out every hundred paces or so – even if it’s just “hey bears!”
If you encounter a brown bear, it’s important to stay calm and back away slowly without making eye contact. Never turn your back on the bear, but instead, keep it in your sight while slowly backing away.
If you encounter a grizzly (being much larger and a lighter shade than brown bears), your best option is to curl up into the fetal position, cover the back of your neck with your hands and play dead – again make no eye contact.
If they don’t buy it you’ll have to fight back. Go for the eyes. It’s highly unlikely you’ll encounter a polar bear, but on the off-chance, you do encounter a polar bear, your best hope is that it’s far away.
As the saying goes; If bear black, just step back, if bear brown, just get down, if bear white, say goodnight.
See Related: Dollar Flight Club vs Scott’s Cheap Flights
3. SUVs are recommended for road trips
If you want to rent a car during your trip to Alaska, you must be aware of a few things. First, the roads in Alaska can be quite dangerous, so an SUV is essential for those who want to feel safe while driving. Also, Alaska’s weather can change rapidly, so be prepared for rain, snow, and ice.
Make sure your SUV car rental has good tires and 4-wheel drive, and always carry a first-aid kit and extra clothes in case of sudden weather changes. It’s not easy to find a gas station at times, so you may even need to have a backup gas can in your trunk (especially during winter months). A road trip is an incredible way to see how beautiful Alaska truly is, so consider taking a road trip in your vehicle.
We didn’t rent a car when we visited Alaska except for a self-guided tour of Denali National Park and Denali Highway in a Jeep. You can watch the video of our experience from our YouTube channel below.
See Related: Best Road Trips in the USA
4. June through September is the best time to watch bears
Seeing bears in the wild is an amazing experience, and it’s something that you can only do in a few places in the world.
Alaska is one of those places, and during the summer months, you have a good chance of seeing the ubiquitous brown bears, along with grizzly bears, black bears, and even polar bears.
If you’re planning on visiting Alaska, make sure to pack your binoculars and camera, and be prepared for some amazing wildlife sightings!
See Related: Things to do in Juneau, Alaska
5. The Alaska Railroad is incredible
The Alaska Railroad is an incredible way to see the state of Alaska. The railroad travels from Seward to Fairbanks, and it’s a great way to see Alaska’s glaciers, mountains, and wildlife. The train has dome cars that allow passengers to see all around them, and the windows can be opened so that passengers can smell the fresh air and hear the sounds of the forest.
The train also has a dining car that serves delicious meals made with fresh Alaskan ingredients, and there’s also a bar where passengers can relax and enjoy a drink. You can watch the video of our Alaska Railroad and GoldStar Service Review from our YouTube channel below.
6. Sometimes the northern lights appear only on camera
Cameras can detect northern lights more accurately than the human eye – sometimes even when you can’t see them. This is because cameras can see more colors than the human eye, and are able to pick up on the different hues of the northern lights.
If you want to see the Northern Lights in all their glory, be sure to bring your camera with you. The Aurora Borealis, known as the Northern Lights, can be seen in Alaska from September to April.
The best time to see them is usually in late winter or early spring. The northern lights are caused by the interaction of the solar wind with the Earth’s magnetic field. They can take on a variety of different colors, depending on the atmospheric conditions.
There are several places in Alaska where you can see the Northern Lights, including Denali National Park, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. Be sure to check the weather forecast before going, as the Aurora Borealis can be elusive and hard to see when it is cloudy. You could go a week of your Alaska trip solely seeking out the northern lights.
See Related: Things to Do in Homer, Alaska
7. The rain is sporadic and unpredictable
The rain is a big part of life in Alaska and it can be unpredictable. You never know when it’s going to rain, how hard it will rain, or for how long it will rain.
Some people find the rain frustrating, while others find it refreshing.
It’s important to be prepared for any kind of weather, so always take a jacket and an umbrella with you when you go out. And don’t rely too much on weather forecasts-they can often be inaccurate.
See Related: Things to Do in Wasilla, Alaska
8. Alaska is big – like, really big
Alaska is the largest state in the US, and it’s more than twice the size of Texas. It’s also one of the most sparsely populated states, with just over 700,000 residents. Most of Alaska is wilderness, and there are few roads connecting the towns and villages.
Alaska is so big that it makes sense to fly to certain areas instead of driving. There are certain towns and areas that are only accessible by boat or airplane!
So if you’re planning to visit Alaska, be prepared for a lot of driving – or flying – to get around.
9. The weather can change quickly in Alaska
One thing you need to know about Alaska is that the weather can change quickly. The temperature can go from hot to cold in minutes, and the weather can be unpredictable.
So be sure to pack clothes for all kinds of weather, and be prepared for everything from rain to snow. It’s also a good idea to bring a raincoat or an umbrella if you’re visiting Alaska in the summer or fall, just in case there are showers.
And remember that the higher you get in elevation, the colder it will get, so be sure to pack warm clothes even if you’re visiting during the summertime.
10. Alaska restaurant food can be expensive
What is important to know about traveling to Alaska on your budget? Alaska needs to import most of its food, given how isolated it is from the rest of the country. There are many options of good restaurants in Fairbanks.
Restaurant meals might be significantly more expensive than what you pay at home. Please do not let this deter you from sampling Alaskan cuisine.
Make arrangements for this but plan a little extra money for your trip. These meals were sourced from Latitude 65 in Fairbanks and were amazing.
See Related: Best Breweries in Fairbanks Alaska
11. Gas stations are rare
You should also be aware that there are few gas stations in Alaska, so ensure you have enough fuel to get you to your destination. And finally, cell phone service is limited in Alaska, so be prepared for that too.
You’ll notice as you drive that nearly all Alaska residents have a gas tank outside their house, both natural gas for heating their homes in winter and fuel. If this is your first trip to Alaska, plan your road trip or with your car.
12. Alaska is great by sea and by land
Alaska is a great place to visit because there are many things to do. You can go hiking, camping, fishing, and whale watching in the summer, and dog sledding, snowboarding, and skiing in the winter. There are also beautiful glaciers and mountains to see.
But what makes Alaska a great destination is that you can enjoy it on both land and sea. For example, some of the best glaciers are seen on an Alaska cruise, such as the Kenai Fjords.
Conversely, Alaska’s interior is where you’ll find some amazing national forests, tundra, and sprawling mountain ranges with plenty of land tours such as Jeep excursions, flightseeing, and helicopter tours.
You can rent boats or take cruises to see the beautiful coastline and marine life, or you can go on land tours to see the bears, moose, and other animals that live in the forest. Alaska is definitely a must-see destination for anyone who loves nature.
13. The largest national park in the United States is in Alaska
Love touring national parks? Some of the best national parks in America are located in Alaska, such as Denali National Park, Katmai National Park, and Kenai Fjords National Park. Plan to visit at least two national parks to make the most of your Alaska trip.
The largest national park in the United States is in Alaska. You might not have heard of the biggest national parks in the U.S., but Alaska is home to three of the most visited national parks in the United States.
Wrangell-St. Elias has glaciers, abundant animals, and an incredibly high mountain of more than 18,000 feet. On 132.2m acres, this park is a significant attraction for many visitors. Elias National Park is the largest national park of all time, and it’s six times as big as Yellowstone.
See Related: Best Family Vacation Spots in Alaska
14. You can only drive to a certain point in Denali National National Park
Did you know you can only drive to a certain point in Denali National Park? Mount Denali is Alaska’s highest summit as well as the entire North America. Denali National Park has amazing mountain ranges, walks, and views.
However, private vehicles can only travel 15 miles to Denali Park Road. After this, visitors are allowed to walk through the park or they need to take a tour bus.
The first 15 miles of Denali National Park are still well worth a trip to see some spectacular sights and the natural beauty of Alaska.
See Related: Best Denali Hiking Tours | Denali National Park
15. The Midnight Sun is a lot of fun
Here in Alaska, the sun doesn’t set for weeks on end in the summer, and it’s a strange and wonderful thing to experience. You can go about your day as usual, but it feels like the middle of the night because the sun never goes down. Be sure to pack clothes for all weather conditions. It can be sunny one minute and pouring rain the next.
Is there anything better than the sun shining all day long? If you’re a night owl, solely because you love the things that typically happen at night, you’ll be in heaven for the midnight sun in Alaska, where it’s sunny 24 hours a day.
You can go to outdoor concerts that feel like it is still the afternoon or brewery hop around town. There are several festivals that celebrate the start and end of the midnight sun that are a ton of fun.
If you love travel photography, there are plenty of tours where you can capture that cascading sun that looks like it’s going to sunset but rises back at midnight. You’ll love Alaska solely for these types of experiences.
What do I need to know before traveling to Alaska?
Alaska is a great place for family vacations, fishing trips, camping, and dog sledding. But there are some things you need to know before traveling to Alaska because of its unique environment.
The climate vastly differs from most other habitable parts of the United States.
And it can be hazardous if unprepared for storms because nineteenth-century rural Alaskans had no electricity or gas pipelines until 1959.
Additionally, people may experience shortness of breath because of the crisp air they breathe. The air contains less oxygen than other parts, but it’s still safe to breathe.
You also want to watch out for moose crossing the road. They are Alaska’s largest land mammal and could cause some severe damage. When visiting Alaska, you should always bring warm clothes like hats, gloves, boots, and coats because temperatures can drop below zero degrees Fahrenheit in winter.
What should you avoid in Alaska?
It depends on your favorite thing to do and the activities you plan on embarking on.
Many people who travel to Alaska for vacations or work live here six months out of the year and typically don’t even think about packing outdoor-oriented clothing, so avoid packing light during your visit.
When someone travels from a warm-weather destination and realizes that they’ll need five layers instead of 1-2 for their trip, it’s like a sucker punch. It’s not the time to be a hero and try to pack light.
The thing you don’t want to do is fly up here in May thinking you’ll get by with shorts, flip flops, and tank tops because when Friday rolls around, and it’s 55 degrees at 3:00 in the afternoon and then 5:30 that night it drops down into the 20’s you won’t be happy.
How do I prepare for Alaska?
You need to prepare for your Alaska vacation, whether it is your first trip or if you’ve already visited Alaska and if you plan on visiting during the summer or winter.
Here are some Alaska travel tips to help you make the most of your trip.
The climate varies greatly depending on where you’re going in Alaska.
For example, Anchorage can be up to 10 degrees warmer during the summer and 20 degrees colder during the winter than Fairbanks. Because of this, you’ll want to plan your clothes accordingly-bringing a coat isn’t enough!
Be sure not to forget sunscreen, sunglasses, bug spray, camping gear (if you plan on visiting Alaska during the summer), and rain gear.
Also, cold weather clothes – like heavy sweaters or coats-are a must for visiting Alaska in the winter.
Alaska has many unique animals that can be dangerous to humans if they feel threatened, including brown bears, black bears, and moose. Always be aware of your surroundings and don’t approach wildlife.
The temperature can change very quickly in Alaska.
It may be 80 degrees during the day and below freezing at night, so dress accordingly. Also, remember that you’ll need more clothes for visiting Alaska in the winter.
- Wam Winter Backpacking Destinations
- Places to Visit in Your 20s in the US
- Must-Have Tips to Avoid Having a Boring Vacations
- Best Travel Credit Card Deals for Airline Points
- About the Author
- Latest Posts
Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.