Alaska is truly America’s last great frontier attracting nearly three million explorers, naturalists and tourists each year, with more than half of them arriving by cruise ship. Alaska’s majesty and vast wilderness areas can only be appreciated up close and in person.
Aside from taking a job on Alaska’s North Slope in the oil industry, you may see Alaska up close and personal via at least five possible modes of travel. Here’s a quick overview:
An estimated 1.7 million people visited Alaska aboard cruise ships in 2023 with more than a dozen cruise lines offering itineraries ranging from seven to fourteen days. Most itineraries are inside passage voyages exploring three or four ports along Alaska’s southeast coast from Seattle or Vancouver, B. C. Such cruises offer an almost all-inclusive experience but only touch a small part of Alaska.
Alaskan cruise tours offer a combination of a three to six-day land tour and a 7-night cruise. I recommend taking the land portion first before cruising southbound to Vancouver (add a few extra days in British Columbia to round out your experience). I personally prefer the six-day escorted land tour that begins in Fairbanks and includes Denali, Talkeetna and Anchorage.
Fly directly to Anchorage or Fairbanks and travel around the state via the Alaskan Railroad, which operates year-round. This is a great option for explorers who may wish to rent a vehicle for private guided or unguided expeditions.
Fly to Anchorage and rent a fully stocked camper accommodating four to six people and explore Alaska’s vast wilderness from local and national park campsites. A van rental outfitter is located about a mile from the airport, and they will pick you up upon arrival.
Join a group tour arranged through a major tour operator. Many such tours include a cruise portion, but most are focused solely on land-based vacations. Such tours typically range from nine to 17 nights.
The Alaska Railroad operates year-round service from Anchorage to Fairbanks and offers compete tourist itineraries, as well as point-to-point travel. It’s a great way to view dramatic vistas from the comfort of your seat or from the rear platform.
All these travel options offer outstanding experiences and value that fit budgets ranging from moderate to luxury. The answer is usually in the middle depending upon your travel style and personal preferences. Each option may also range from easy to strenuous, so know your physical abilities and plan accordingly.
Planning your Alaska adventure should start at least 10 to 12 months in advance of a cruise or cruise tour and no later than six months before most land tours. In fact, now’s the time to begin planning your 2024 Alaskan travel adventure.
Most people have never experienced the spectacular light show offered in November and December by the Aurora Borealis. Winter months offer special activities without so many tourists for hearty travelers.
Once you visit America’s 49th state, you will want to return again and again experiencing a different mode of travel each visit. Alaska is a pristine destination, so plan to leave nothing behind but your footprints as you depart the land of the Midnight Sun.