In contrast to many places you might choose to visit, it’s Alaska’s unformed newness that makes it so interesting and fun. Despite the best efforts of tour planners, the most memorable parts of a visit are unpredictable and often unexpected: a humpback whale leaping clear of the water, the face of a glacier releasing huge ice chunks, a bear feasting on salmon in a river, a huge salmon chomping onto your line.You can look at totem poles and see Alaska Native cultural demonstrations, and you can also get to know indigenous people who still live by traditional ways. And sometimes grand, quiet moments come, and those are the ones that endure most deeply. And of course, one of the all-time favorites – a helicopter trip to Glacier Bay where one dons “space-like” boots and ventures out onto the glacier itself.Alaska is a seasonal destination with cruises starting in May and ending in mid-September.
Best Time to Go
You can’t go wrong visting Alaska anytime between May 10th and September 15th. The days are long, nature is in full bloom, and the air is alive with energy.
Most tours operate mid-May to mid-September, with the exception of those into Denali (mid-June to end of August). Peak season is mid-June to mid-August.
All U.S. citizens must have a passport when traveling by air to or from Bermuda, Canada, the Caribbean, Central and South America and Mexico. Citizens of Canada, Mexico and the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda also must have a passport or other designated secure document to enter the U.S.
Passports are required for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders with the U.S. and for cruise passengers returning to the U.S. from Mexico, the Caribbean, Canada or Bermuda.
US / Canadian Dollar
Banks will exchange currency in most of Alaska’s tourist areas. The nontourist areas are less equipped. If you are heading into the bush, take cash—theft is pretty rare in those areas, and credit cards are not always accepted.
You can count on ATMs in cities with more than 3,000 people. Areas far from the metropolitan areas of Anchorage or Fairbanks are much less likely to have 24-hour cash access. Banking hours are generally Monday-Friday 10 am-5 pm.
Do’s & Don’ts
Do book at least six months to a year in advance for Inside Passage cruises during the peak summer months. You may be able to join one on shorter notice, particularly in the spring or fall, but the exact ship and date you want may not be available. Be sure to make advance reservations for the Alaska Marine Highway ferries, too. Even the short ferry trip from Valdez to Whittier requires advance booking, especially if you are taking aboard a car or recreational vehicle.
Do expect to pay dearly for most things in Alaska. The state ranks as the most expensive place to travel in the U.S. This is not without reason: Most everything has to be shipped tremendous distances.
Do take along (or plan to buy) insect repellent if you’re going during the summer—you won’t find ticks or fleas, but hardy breeds of mosquitoes and blackflies survive in Alaska, and they’ll make your life miserable if you’re not prepared.
Do pick up a copy of The Milepost if you’ll be driving outside of Anchorage. Available at most bookstores and groceries for a reasonable price, it has the lowdown on gas stops and scenic views. It even recommends fishing locations.