How to Travel to Alaska on a Budget

Jun 18, 2023

Planning Your Trip to Alaska

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Alaska, known as "The Last Frontier," is a dream destination for adventurers and nature enthusiasts alike. With its vast landscapes, abundant wildlife, and unique culture, it offers a truly unforgettable experience. Yet, what often holds people back from visiting is cost. However, it's a common misconception that a trip to Alaska must come with a hefty price tag. In reality, with careful planning and a little flexibility, you can explore the wonders of Alaska without breaking the bank. Join me as we get your next Alaska trip planned as cheaply as possible, without skimping on the best experiences.

alaska landscape
Fox Island, Kenai Peninsula Borough

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Alaska depends on your interests and preferences. Summer (June to August) is the most popular season, as it offers long daylight hours and mild temperatures. This, however, is also when Alaska is most crowded. For this reason, you would be better off traveling from mid-August to mid-September. This time frame still offers the wildlife viewing and outdoor activities (hiking, fishing, etc.) that highlight a trip to the Last Frontier. We traveled in the middle of August and were pleasantly greeted by pleasant temperatures and less crowds in places such as Denali National Park. However, if you're interested in winter sports or experiencing the Northern Lights, consider visiting during the winter months (November to March). Flights during this time are considerably cheaper, however the weather is not as friendly. Fall is brisk, with the average temperature in places such as Anchorage dropping from the 40s-50s range in September to the 20s by November.

Transportation Options

There are various ways to travel to Alaska, depending on your budget and preferences. The most common options include:

  1. Flying: Major airlines offer flights to Anchorage, the state's largest city, and Fairbanks. You can also find flights to smaller airports such as Juneau and Ketchikan. At time of writing, Fairbanks offers the best deals on flights with Anchorage not far behind. To help bring that cost down even further, traveling between September-March will offer you deals that are extremely hard to pass up, which September offering more frequent discounts. If you look hard enough, you'll be able to find sub-$400 roundtrip flights. When we flew out of Chicago in August of 2022, we found roadtrip Delta tickets for under $300!
  2. Cruise: Many cruise lines offer trips to Alaska, often departing from Seattle or Vancouver. This is a popular option for those who want to explore the beautiful coastal scenery and visit multiple destinations in one trip. Common companies are Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean. These cruise ships mainly travel out of Alaska, so they're a perfect fit if you're looking for an addition to your itinerary while you're already there. However, the cheapest week-long option will run you about $330. But, taking into account the fact that the $330 includes food and accommodation, it's a pretty good deal. Royal Caribbean is a bit cheaper (you can find week-long deals for under $300) and is more family-centered with their offerings, so consider them if you're traveling with the family.
  3. Driving: If you're up for an adventure, consider driving to Alaska via the Alaska Highway, which connects the state to the contiguous U.S. and Canada. The Alaska Highway is 1,387 miles (2232 km) long and starts in Dawson Creek, British Columbia and ends in Delta Junction, Alaska. If you're up for a longer sightseeing trip, consider the 2,260-mile road trip from Seattle to Alaska, which takes around 42 hours. Some scenic stops on this route include Banff National Park, Vancouver, and Lake Louise. But remember, gas adds up!
alaska cruise
Eklutna Lake, Chugach State Park

Accommodation Choices

Alaska offers a wide range of accommodation options to suit every budget and preference. You can choose from hotels, lodges, bed and breakfasts, hostels, and vacation rentals. For a more immersive experience, consider staying in a wilderness lodge or a cabin. Booking accommodations in advance is highly recommended, especially during the peak summer months.

With the rise of companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo, there are tons of options that fit whatever you're looking for. Most are reasonably priced as around Anchorage or Fairbanks. If you're truly wanting to get as close as possible with nature, be sure to book a campsite in one of the many state or national parks (or check on Hipcamp for some unique stays)!

We managed to book our week-long Airbnb for around $500. Divided among the two of us, $250 was pretty good for a week of comfortable living!

Exploring Alaska's Attractions

Outdoor Adventures

Alaska is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. There are countless opportunities for hiking, fishing, wildlife viewing, and glacier exploration. Some must-visit destinations include Denali National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, and Glacier Bay National Park. Take note, out of the 8 national parks in Alaska, only 3 are accessible by car (Denali, Wrangell-St. Elias, and Kenai Fjords). The other 5 require either a boat or air taxi, which will drive the price of your trip up considerably. 

Even if you're not super into hiking all day everyday, you should definitely add at least one of the national parks to your list. The views in each one are different and absolutely incredible. Denali is by far the most popular national park and for good reason! When weather conditions are clear, the view of the Denali mountain is breathtaking. 

Don't forget to pack appropriate clothing and gear for your activities, as weather conditions can be unpredictable. But even with the changing conditions, hiking and other outdoor activities are a great way to enjoy fun experiences without spending much extra money!

kenai fjords national park
Kenai Fjords National Park

Cultural Experiences

Alaska's rich history and diverse culture are worth exploring during your visit. Learn about the state's indigenous peoples at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage or visit the state capital, Juneau, to explore its historic downtown and museums. You can also attend cultural festivals and events, such as the Alaska State Fair, to get a taste of local life. The Alaska State Fair usually runs for about 2 weeks and was the perfect way to spend a night after a long day of trails. We got lucky that the state fair aligned with the time that we were in Alaska! Tickets will run you $12-$14 per adult and $8-$9 per child ages 6-12.

Wildlife Encounters

One of the highlights of any trip to Alaska is the opportunity to see its incredible wildlife. From bears and moose to whales and eagles, there are plenty of chances for unforgettable encounters. Popular wildlife viewing spots include Katmai National Park, Kodiak Island, and the waters of Prince William Sound. Guided tours and boat trips can help maximize your chances of spotting these magnificent creatures.

If Kenai Fjords National Park makes it onto your agenda (and it should), you should definitely consider taking a wildlife cruise. We did the Resurrection Bay with Fox Island tour through Alaska Collection which included a $125-per-person 5 hour tour with a lunch stop on Fox Island, where we were served salmon, grilled Steak, salad, assorted breads, and sweets. Throughout the cruise, you will have the chance to see Orcas, Humpback whales, puffins, sea lions, and more! 

alaska wildlife

Final Tips for a Memorable Trip

Through the combination of plane tickets, car rental, housing accommodation, food, and everything else, my grand total came out to be about $980 for a total of 8 days. So whenever someone tells you a trip to Alaska will run you a couple grand, there are ways to make it so that's not the case!

Before embarking on your Alaskan adventure, make sure to do thorough research and plan your itinerary carefully. Be prepared for varying weather conditions and pack accordingly. Lastly, don't forget your camera, as you'll surely want to capture the breathtaking beauty of Alaska's landscapes and wildlife. Happy travels!

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