best alaska flightseeing opportunities is from talkeetna

14 Things To Know Before Visiting Alaska in 2024

Alaska is the gem of the United States and is one of the places everyone should save up for and experience. It is honestly that amazing. With stunning mountain ranges, epic glaciers, delicious food, and the ability to try new excursions not offered in the lower 48, visiting Alaska is a life-changing time.

But it’s not exactly a straightforward trip. There’s a lot to research and learn before visiting to maximize your time. Inside, you’ll read some of my tips from my two trips to the Last Frontier.

Your Trip Will Be Expensive

a near eye level view of mount denali in alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch – Alaska 2024

Alaska is one of the most expensive states in the country to visit. (Hawaii is likely the other.) With a very short tourism season, businesses have to make their money in mere months. But most people realize this.

The State Is Bigger Than You Think

alaskan national parks visit alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

It’s hard to conceptualize just how big this state is. But my gosh, is it huge! It’s two and a half times the size of Texas and 20% of the lower 48. A short road trip is 4-6 hours, which for some east coasters could get you through a half dozen states. So, as you plan your trip, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Give yourself ample time to get from A to B, as you’ll likely want to pull over throughout the drive.

You Cannot Fly with Bear Spray

alaska bear watching lake clark
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Flying with bear spray is illegal, so when you land in Alaska, you’ll want to head to REI or another outdoor store to pick it up. And yes, if you plan to do ANY hiking in the Last Frontier, it’s crucial to have it on you. If not, you risk your life.

Hiking on the Tundra is Slow and Exhausting

denali national park camping
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

The odds are that this doesn’t apply to many people, but it’ll be slow-moving if you plan to hike on the tundra. The best comparison I can give is it is like walking on a wet, soppy sponge on top of a basketball. Due to this, your miles will take way longer than you expect. And you’ll be much more tired than when walking on dirt. If you have backpacking plans – say in Denali – plan for shorter days than you would normally, or else you’ll be exhausted or pitching a tent not where you anticipated.

Cruises Don’t Provide a True Alaska Experience

the alaskan range from a flightseeing trip in denali national park
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

I’m sure the Alaska cruise industry will hate me for saying this, but if you want to truly experience Alaska, a cruise is not the way to do it. You need to get on land, drive, see wildlife and the mountains, and see firsthand what Alaka is truly like!

Summer Starts Memorial Day Weekend

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

In 2021, we landed in Alaska on May 14. Many campgrounds were still closed (or snowed in), and many tours weren’t operating. Plus, the salmon hadn’t started running, which kickstarts much of Alaska’s summer. When we talked to locals, they said summer doesn’t really begin until Memorial Day. And lo and behold, two weeks later, you could tell things were ramping up.

Aurora Season is from September Through April

the best places to see the northern lights in the usa is fairbanks alaska
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

If you visit Alaska in the summer, there’s no chance of the Aurora. With daylight that pretty much never sleeps, there’s no opportunity to see the magic in the sky. But come September, the days shorten, and you’ll begin aurora season. I suggest heading to Fairbanks and seeing the best sights you’ve ever seen!

To See Katmai or Lake Clark National Park, you need to book a flight (or boat ride)

Lake Clark National Park flightseeing
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Katmai National Park and Lake Clark National Park are two of the least visited parks in the USA. And there’s a reason why. They require a flight (or boat, though this is less done). So, if you want to cross some unique places, make sure to budget a flight that will cost over $500 per person, if not more.

Rental Cars Aren’t Allowed on Some Roads

visiting alaska wrangell st elias
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

If you’re renting a car or camper van, double-check what roads you’re allowed to drive on. Many will not let you drive the road from Wrangell St. Elias to McCarthy (though I highly recommend it), nor will they let you drive the Denali Highway from Paxton to Cantwell (I also highly recommend it). Knowing what you can and can’t do will save you a lot of headaches and money.

The Kenai Fjords Boat Cruise is an Epic Time

Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Leaving from Seward, this was 1A on our top things to do in Alaska. It was a six-plus hour-long cruise that showcased glaciers, orcas, humpbacks, more birds than I could ever name, sea stacks, and a weird optical illusion. I can’t recommend it enough, and I still think back on it all the time!

For Summer Travel, Fairbanks isn’t Necessary Unless Heading into the Arctic Circle

wispy clouds with a jagged snowy peak running through it
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

While I mentioned Fairbanks earlier for the Aurora, you don’t need to go during the summertime unless you plan on visiting the Brooks Range or the Artic Circle. My parents went during the summer and said it was skippable—especially if you’re looking for more time in nearby Denali.

Drive Slowly to Protect Yourself and Wildlife

alaksa wildlife photography caribou
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

You never know when a deer, moose, or bear could cross the road. Stay alert while driving and stick to the speed limit. If you hit a full-grown moose, bad things are in store for you.

Be Prepared for Mosquitoes

savage river denali national park
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

Summer is mosquito season in Alaska. From May through August, it can be terrible. Bring plenty of bug repellent, wear long sleeves, and pray they don’t like your blood!

Bear Watching is Pricey but Incredibly Worth It

alaska bear watching lake clark
Photo Credit: Alec Sills-Trausch

1B in Alaska was seeing coastal brown bears in Lake Clark. It was one of the most incredible feelings and I was so happy we did it. I will note that it was not cheap. For two adults, it could easily run you $1,500 for a day. If this is on your bucket list, start saving up – but you won’t regret it!

Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside