Alaska, like the rest of the US, doesn't really have much of a bargaining culture, except perhaps in small markets or at some indigenous craft stalls.
Dangers & Annoyances
Alaska is a relatively safe place. The main dangers lurk in its extensive wilderness areas. These can be largely avoided by taking a few basic precautions.
- Alaska has an abundance of wild animals, even in urban areas. Carry pepper spray and avoid direct animal encounters.
- Beware of glacier crevasses and calving icebergs.
- In these northern climes fickle weather can change on a dime. Come prepared for the worst, even in high summer.
- Roads are rough and there is a lack of services, so if driving long distances ensure your vehicle is kept stocked with emergency supplies.
Bears in Alaska
Too often travelers decide to skip a wilderness trip because they hear too many bear stories. Your own equipment and outdoor experience should determine whether you take a trek into the woods, not the possibility of meeting a bear on the trail. The Alaska Department of Fish & Game emphasizes that the probability of being injured by a bear is one-fiftieth the chance of being injured in a car accident on any Alaskan highway.
The best way to avoid bears is to follow a few commonsense rules. Bears charge only when they feel trapped, when a hiker comes between a sow and her cubs, or when enticed by food. Sing or clap when traveling through thick bush, and don’t camp near bear food sources or in the middle of an obvious bear path. Stay away from thick berry patches, streams choked with salmon or beaches littered with bear droppings.
Set up the spot where you will cook and eat at least 30yd to 50yd away from your tent. In coastal areas, many backpackers eat in the tidal zone, knowing that when the high tide comes in, all evidence of food will be washed away.
At night try to place your food sacks 10ft or more off the ground by hanging them in a tree. Or consider investing in a lightweight bear-resistant container. A bear usually finds a food bag using its great sense of smell. Avoid odorous foods, such as bacon or sardines, in areas with high concentrations of bears, and don’t take food, cosmetics or deodorant into the tent at night.
Encountering a Bear
If you do meet a bear on the trail, do not turn and run; no human can outrun a bear. Stop, make no sudden moves and begin talking calmly to the animal. Speaking to a bear helps it understand that you are there. If it doesn’t take off right away, back up slowly before turning around and leaving the area. A bear standing on its hind legs is not on the verge of charging; it’s only trying to get your scent. When a bear turns sideways or begins making a series of woofing sounds, it is only challenging you for space – just back away slowly and leave. If the animal follows you, stop and hold your ground.
Most bear charges are bluffs, with the animal veering off at the last minute. Experienced backpackers handle a charge in different ways. Some people throw their packs 3ft in front of them, which will often distract the bear long enough for the person to back away. Many backpackers carry defensive aerosol sprays that contain red-pepper extract. These sprays cost $40 to $50 each and are effective at a ranges of 6yd to 8yd, but must be discharged downwind. Some people carry guns to fend off bear charges, but firearms should never be used as an alternative to common-sense approaches to bear encounters. You must drop the bear with one or two shots, as a wounded bear is extremely dangerous.
If an encounter is imminent, drop into a fetal position, place your hands behind your neck and play dead. If a bear continues biting you after you have assumed a defensive posture, then you must fight back vigorously.
Most museums, parks and major attractions will offer reduced rates to seniors and students, but most accommodations, restaurants and small tour companies will not.
- Best seniors card for US travelers to carry is issued by the American Association of Retired Persons (www.aarp.org).
- For students, an International Student Identity Card (www.isic.org) will often result in discounts for attractions in cities and major towns.
- There are no Hostelling International chapters in Alaska so the HI card is of little use in the Far North.
- Voltage in Alaska is 120V – the same as everywhere else in the USA.
Embassies & Consulates
International travelers needing to locate the US embassy in their home country should visit the website of the US Department of State (http://usembassy.state.gov), which has links to all of them.
There are no embassies in Alaska, but there is a handful of foreign consulates in Anchorage to assist overseas travelers with unusual problems.
Emergency & Important Numbers
Alaska shares a statewide area code of 907, except Hyder, which uses 250.
|Road conditions||511 or 866-282-7577|
|Alaska Marine Highway||800-642-0066|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, air travel in the USA has permanently changed and you can now expect vigilant baggage-screening procedures and personal searches. In short, you’re going to have to take your shoes off. Non-US citizens should be prepared for an exhaustive questioning process at Immigration.
Crossing the border into Alaska from Canada used to be a relaxed process – US citizens often passed across with just a driver’s license. Now this process has also become more complicated, and all travelers should have a passport and expect more substantial questioning and possible vehicle searches.
For a complete list of US customs regulations, visit the official portal for US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov). Click on ‘Travel’ to find out the basics.
Travelers are allowed to bring personal goods (including camping and hiking equipment) into the USA and Canada free of duty, along with food for two days and up to 100 cigars, 200 cigarettes and 1L of liquor or wine.
There are no forms to fill out if you are a foreign visitor bringing a vehicle into Alaska, whether it is a bicycle, motorcycle or car, nor are there forms for hunting rifles or fishing gear. Hunting rifles – handguns and automatic weapons are prohibited – must be registered in your own country, and you should bring proof of registration. There is no limit to the amount of money you can bring into Alaska, but anything over $10,000 must be registered with customs officials.
Keep in mind that endangered-species laws prohibit transporting products made of bone, skin, fur, ivory, etc, through Canada without a permit. Importing and exporting such items into the USA is also prohibited. If you have any doubt about a gift or item you want to purchase, call the US Fish & Wildlife Service in Anchorage or check the website.
Hunters and anglers who want to ship home their salmon, halibut or rack of caribou can do so easily. Most outfitters and guides will make the arrangements for you, including properly packaging the game. In the case of fish, most towns have a storage company that will hold your salmon or halibut in a freezer until you are ready to leave Alaska. When frozen, seafood can usually make the trip to any city in the lower 48 without thawing.
If you are traveling to Alaska from overseas, you need a passport. If you are a US resident passing through Canada, you will need a passport to re-enter the USA. Make sure your passport does not expire during the trip, and if you are entering the USA through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) you must have a machine-readable passport. If you are traveling with children, it’s best to bring a photocopy of their birth certificates. If one parent is traveling with children alone, they will likely be asked for a letter of agreement from the other parent.
Most international visitors need a visa and should have a multiple-entry one if coming from the lower 48 through Canada.
Apart from Canadians and those entering under the Visa Waiver Program, foreign visitors need to obtain a visa from a US consulate or embassy. Most applicants must now schedule a personal interview, to which you need to bring all your documentation and proof of fee payment. Wait times for interviews vary, but afterward, barring problems, visa issuance takes from a few days to a few weeks. If concerned about a delay, check the websites of the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov), which provides a list of wait times calculated by country.
Your passport must be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in the USA. You’ll need a recent photo (2in by 2in) and you must pay a $160 processing fee, plus in a few cases an additional visa-issuance fee (check the State Department website for details). In addition to the main nonimmigration visa application form (DS-156), all men aged 16 to 45 must complete an additional form (DS-157) that details their travel plans.
Visa applicants are required to show documentation of financial stability, a round-trip or onward ticket and ‘binding obligations’ that will ensure their return home, such as family ties, a home or a job.
Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) lets citizens of some countries enter the USA for tourism purposes for up to 90 days without having a US visa. Currently there are 36 participating countries in the VWP, including Austria, Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK.
Under the program you must have a round-trip or onward ticket that is nonrefundable in the USA, a machine-readable passport (with two lines of letters, numbers and '<<<' along the bottom of the passport information page) and be able to show evidence of financial solvency.
Citizens of VWP countries must register online prior to their trip with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA; https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta), an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors traveling to the US. There is a $14 fee. Beware, there are several bogus ESTA websites.
Since September 11, the US has continually fine-tuned its national security guidelines and entry requirements. Double-check current visa and passport regulations before arriving in the USA, and apply for visas early to avoid delays. Overseas travelers may need one visa, possibly two. For citizens of many countries a US visa is required, while if you’re taking the Alcan or the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Prince Rupert in British Columbia, you may also need a Canadian visa. The Alcan begins in Canada, requiring travelers to pass from the USA into Canada and back into the USA again.
Canadians entering the USA must have proof of Canadian citizenship, such as a passport; visitors from countries in the Visa Waiver Program may not need a visa. Visitors from all other countries need to have a US visa and a valid passport. Check the website of the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) for full details.
Note that overseas travelers should be aware of the process to re-enter the USA. Sometimes visitors get stuck in Canada due to their single-entry visa into the USA, used up when passing through the lower 48. Canadian immigration officers often caution people whom they feel might have difficulty returning to the USA. More information about visa and other requirements for entering Canada is available on the website of the Canada Border Services Agency (www.cbsa-asfc.gc.ca).
Although it's part of the US, Alaska is a little more laid-back and less rule-bound than other states.
- Socializing Informality holds sway. Alaskans are more likely to dress down than up when going out, and high-five greetings are as common as handshakes.
- Politics Alaska is one of the US's more conservative states. You're less likely to encounter the liberal consensus prevalent in San Francisco or New York up here.
- Go Prepared Alaskans love the great outdoors, but they're not always overly sympathetic to outsiders who arrive unprepared and fail to treat it with the respect it deserves.
Gay & Lesbian Travellers
The gay community in Alaska tends to be less open than in major US cities, and Alaskans in general are not as tolerant of diversity. In 1998 Alaska passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages. That said, since Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) legalized same-sex marriage in the USA, public opinion polls in Alaska have generally swung towards greater acceptance of that concept.
In Anchorage, the only city in Alaska of any real size, there is Identity Inc, which has a gay and lesbian helpline, a handful of openly gay clubs and bars, and a weeklong PrideFest (http://alaskapride.org) in mid-June. The Southeast Alaska Gay & Lesbian Alliance (www.seagla.org) is based in Juneau and offers links and travel lists geared to gay visitors.
Alaskans affect a live and let live attitude, but don't always exhibit these values as regards LGBT visitors. If in doubt, same-sex couples may want to err on the side of discretion.
A travel insurance policy to cover theft, loss and medical problems is a smart investment. Coverage depends on your insurance and type of ticket but should cover delays by striking employees or company actions, or a cancellation of a trip. Such coverage may seem expensive but it’s nowhere near the price of a trip to Alaska or the cost of a medical emergency in the USA.
Some policies offer lower and higher medical-expense options; the higher ones are chiefly for countries such as the USA, which have extremely high medical costs. There is a wide variety of medical and emergency repatriation policies and it’s important to talk to your health-care provider for recommendations.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
It’s easy to surf the net, make online reservations or retrieve email in Alaska. Most towns, even the smallest ones, have free internet access at libraries. If you have a laptop or phone, free wi-fi is common in Alaska at bookstores, hotels, coffee shops, airport terminals and bars, although reception may be patchier than it is in the lower 48. If you’re not from the US, remember you will need an AC adapter and a plug adapter for US sockets.
The use of drugs (except marijuana) is against the law and results in severe penalties, especially for cocaine, which is heavily abused in Alaska.
The minimum drinking age in Alaska is 21 and a government-issued photo ID (passport or driver’s license) will be needed if a bartender questions your age. Alcohol abuse is also a problem in Alaska, and it’s a serious offense if you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). The blood alcohol limit in Alaska is 0.08% and the penalty for DUI is a three-month driver’s license revocation. You may also be given a fine and jail time.
If you are stopped by the police for any reason while driving, remember there is no system of paying on-the-spot fines and bribery is not something that works in Alaska. For traffic violations, the officer will explain your options to you and many violations can often be handled through the mail with a credit card.
Alaska became the third US state to legalize recreational marijuana in February 2015 after a state ballot. Pot shops have been springing up in larger towns and cities since 2016, but this isn't Amsterdam quite yet. Wise up on the law before you arrive and use discretion at all times when imbibing.
The basic rules regarding marijuana are as follows:
- You must be 21 or over.
- Qualifying adults can possess up to one ounce of marijuana for personal consumption.
- You must buy it from a licensed facility.
- You can't smoke in public areas or on federal land (eg national parks and forests).
- It is illegal to drive while impaired.
- You can't take marijuana out of the state.
Unlike many places in the world, Alaska has no shortage of accurate maps. There are detailed US Geological Survey (USGS) topographical maps for almost every corner of the state, even though most of it is still wilderness, while every visitor center has free city and road maps that are more than adequate to get from one town to the next. For free downloadable maps and driving directions there’s Google Maps (http://maps.google.com).
For trekking in the backcountry and in wilderness areas, the USGS topographical maps are worth the small cost. The maps come in a variety of scales, but hikers prefer the smallest scale of 1:63,360, with each inch equal to a mile. Canoeists and other river runners can get away with the 1:250,000 map.
You can order maps in advance directly from USGS or you can view and order custom topo maps from cartography websites such as Mytopo. GPS units and accompanying mapping software that includes Alaska are available from Garmin (www.garmin.com).
- Newspapers Alaska has more than 30 daily, weekly and trade newspapers, with the Anchorage Daily News being the largest and the closest thing to a statewide newspaper.
- TV & Radio The largest cities have local TV stations, while radio stations are found all over Alaska. NTSC is the standard video system (not compatible with PAL or SECAM).
Prices quoted are in US dollars unless otherwise stated. Keep in mind that the Canadian system is also dollars and cents but is a separate currency.
In Alaska ATMs are everywhere: at banks, gas stations, supermarkets, airports and even some visitor centers. At most ATMs you can use a credit card (Visa, MasterCard, etc), a debit card or an ATM card that is linked to the Plus or Cirrus ATM networks. There is generally a fee ($1 to $3) for withdrawing cash from an ATM, but the exchange rate on transactions is usually as good if not better than what you’ll get anywhere else.
Hard cash still works. It may not be the safest way to carry funds, but nobody will hassle you when you purchase something with US dollars. Most businesses along the Alcan in Canada will also take US dollars.
US coins come in denominations of 1¢ (penny), 5¢ (nickel), 10¢ (dime), 25¢ (quarter) and the seldom seen 50¢ (half-dollar). Quarters are the most commonly used coins in vending machines and parking meters, so it’s handy to have a stash of them. Notes, commonly called bills, come in $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 denominations.
Like in the rest of the USA, Alaskan merchants are ready and willing to accept just about all major credit cards. Visa and MasterCard are the most widely accepted cards, but American Express and Discovery are also widely used.
Places that accept Visa and MasterCard are also likely to accept debit cards. If you are an overseas visitor, check with your bank at home to confirm that your debit card will be accepted in the USA.
Banks are the best place to exchange foreign currencies as the exchange counters at the airports typically have poorer rates.
Wells Fargo, the nation’s sixth-largest bank, is the dominant player in Alaska with more than 400 branches, eight in Anchorage alone. Wells Fargo can meet the needs of most visitors, including changing currency and offering 24-hour ATMs.
Although slowly becoming obsolete thanks to ATMs, the other way to carry your funds is the time-honored method of traveler’s checks. The popular brands of US traveler’s checks are American Express and Visa, but keep in mind most banks won’t cash them unless you have an account with them and that stores or motels will only cash denominations of $100 or less.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
Tipping in Alaska, like in the rest of the USA, is expected.
- Bars If you order food at the table and it's brought to you, tip 15%, the same as at restaurants; 10% if you're having a drink or appetizer at the bar.
- Restaurants From 15% for cafes/chain eateries to 20% for upscale restaurants.
- Taxis 15%.
- Tour guides 10% for bus tour guides, 15% to 20% for wilderness guides on glacier treks or white-water-rafting trips.
Banks 9am–4pm/5pm Monday to Friday; 9am–1pm Saturday (main branches)
Bars and clubs City bars until 2am or later, especially on weekends; clubs to 2am or beyond
Post offices 9am–5pm Monday to Friday; noon–3pm Saturday (main branches open longer)
Restaurants and cafes Breakfast at cafes/coffee shops from 7am or earlier; some restaurants open only for lunch (noon–3pm) or dinner (4–10pm, later in cities); Asian restaurants often have split hours: 11am–2pm and from 4pm.
Shops 10am–8pm/6pm (larger/smaller stores) Monday to Friday; 9am–5pm Saturday; 10am–5pm Sunday (larger stores)
The US Postal Service (www.usps.com) is one of the world’s busiest and most reliable, but even it needs another day or two to get letters and postcards to and from Alaska. With an abundance of internet cafes and the availability of internet at libraries, hostels and hotels, think email for quick notes to friends and family. For packages, especially heavy ones, it’s faster to use private carriers in Alaska such as United Parcel Service or Federal Express (www.fedex.com).
Public holidays for Alaskan residents may involve state and federal offices being closed, bus services curtailed, and store hours reduced.
New Year’s Day January 1
Martin Luther King Day Third Monday in January
Presidents’ Day Third Monday in February
Seward’s Day Last Monday in March
Easter Sunday Late March or early April
Memorial Day Last Monday in May
Independence Day (Fourth of July) July 4
Labor Day First Monday in September
Columbus Day Second Monday in October
Alaska Day October 18
Veterans’ Day November 11
Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November
Christmas Day December 25
- Smoking There is no statewide smoking ban in Alaska but a growing number of cities including Anchorage, Juneau, Nome, Palmer, Skagway and Unalaska have a city ban on smoking in bars, restaurants and clubs.
Taxes & Refunds
There is no national sales tax in the USA and no state sales tax in Alaska, but towns have a city sales tax plus a bed tax.
Telephone area codes are simple in Alaska: the entire state shares 907, except Hyder, which uses 250. Phone numbers that begin with 800, 877 and 866 are toll-free numbers and there is no charge for using one to call a hotel or tour operator. If you’re calling from abroad, the country code for the USA is 1.
Coverage is surprisingly good, even in remote areas. Prepaid SIM cards can be used in some international cell (mobile) phones for local calls and voice mail.
Cell (mobile) phones work in Alaska and Alaskans love them as much as anywhere else in the USA. When calling home or locally in cities and towns, reception is excellent but overall, in a state this large, cell-phone coverage can be unpredictable and sporadic at times. The culprits in most cases are mountains.
Most travelers still find their cell phones to be very useful. Before you head north, however, check your cell-phone provider’s roaming agreements and black-out areas. It may be possible for international travelers to purchase a prepaid SIM card that can be used in their phones for local calls and voicemail. You can also purchase inexpensive cell phones from AT&T along with prepaid cards for calls.
Better still, with a wi-fi connection you can call using Skype or WhatsApp for free.
With the exception of several Aleutian Island communities and Hyder, a small community on the Alaska–British Columbia border, the entire state shares the same time zone, Alaska Time, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Standard Time – the zone in which Seattle, WA, falls. When it is noon in Anchorage, it is 4pm in New York, 9pm in London and 7am the following day in Melbourne, Australia. Although there is a movement to abolish it, Alaska still has Daylight Saving Time when, like most of the country, the state sets clocks back one hour in November and forward one hour in March.
Toilets in Alaska, as in the rest of the US, are modern and generally clean – when you can find them. Many campgrounds and wilderness areas have non-flushable latrines, which may (or may not) have toilet paper and hand disinfectant available. As a precaution, it's a good idea to carry both when traveling outside cities.
The first place to contact when planning your adventure is the Alaska Travel Industry Association, the state’s tourism marketing arm. From the ATIA you can request a copy of the Alaska Vacation Planner, an annually updated magazine, as well as a state highway map and schedules for the Alaska Marine Highway ferry service.
Almost every city, town and village has a tourist contact center, whether it is a visitor center, a chamber of commerce or a hut near the ferry dock. These places are good sources of free maps, information on local accommodations and directions to the nearest campground or hiking trail. The National Recreation Reservation System is the national camping booking system.
Most trips to Alaska pass through one of the state’s three largest cities. All have large visitors bureaus that will send out city guides in advance.
For other tourist information:
Travel with Children
Everybody is a kid in Alaska. Whether it’s a sitting by a stream full of bright red salmon or watching a bald eagle winging its way across an open sky, encounters with nature’s wonders will captivate five-year-olds just as much as their parents.
Best Regions for Kids
- Anchorage & Around
Packed with parks, urban salmon streams, bike paths and plenty of artificial amusements. Head south to ride the Alyeska Tram or take the whistle-stop train out to Spencer Glacier for unique ways into the backcountry.
- Kenai Peninsula
Ice-blue rivers for floating and fishing, boat tours that cruise right up to calving glaciers and sea-lion rookeries, and wilderness cabins for roughing it – but not too much.
- Denali & the Interior
A combination of intensely wild lands and the distractions of ‘Glitter Gulch’ or Fairbanks, the Interior entertains with big animals, huge mountains, hot springs and even an amusement park. Plus there’s pizza readily available.
Gold mines and glaciers, whales and salmon, hiking trails and boat tours: the Southeast has a little bit of everything but on an Alaskan-sized scale.
Alaska for Kids
The best that Alaska has to offer cannot be found in stuffy museums or amusement parks filled with heart-pounding rides. It’s outdoor adventure, wildlife and scenery on a grand scale, attractions and activities that will intrigue the entire family – whether you’re a kid or a parent.
If your family enjoys the outdoors, Alaska can be a relatively affordable place once you’ve arrived. A campsite is cheap compared to a motel room, and hiking, backpacking and wildlife-watching are free. Even fishing is free for children, since anglers under 16 don’t need a fishing license in Alaska.
The key to any Alaskan hike is to match it to your child’s ability and level of endurance. It’s equally important to select one that has an interesting aspect to it – a glacier, ruined gold mine, waterfalls or a remote cabin to stop for lunch.
Paddling with children involves a greater risk than hiking due to the frigid temperature of most water in Alaska. You simply don’t want to tip at any cost. Flat, calm water should be the rule. Needless to say, all rentals should come with paddles and life jackets that fit your child. If in doubt, hire a guide to go along with you.
Children marvel at watching wildlife in its natural habitat but may not always have the patience for a long wait before something pops out of the woods. In July and August, however, you can count on seeing a lot of fish in a salmon stream, a wide variety of marine life in tidal pools, and bald eagles where the birds are known to congregate. Marine wildlife boat tours work out better than many park shuttles because, let’s face it, a boat trip is a lot more fun than a bus ride. Nature tours that are done in vans are also ideal for children as they stop often and usually include short walks.
Like elsewhere in the USA, most Alaskan restaurants welcome families and tend to cater to children, with high chairs, kids' menus of smaller sizes and reduced prices, and waiters quick with a rag when somebody spills their drink. Upscale restaurants where an infant would be frowned upon are limited to a handful of places in Anchorage. Salmon bakes are a fun, casual and colorful way to introduce Alaska’s seafood, especially since they often come with corn and potatoes – familiar items at any barbecue.
- Flattop Mountain Trail Anchorage’s most popular family day hike.
- Mt Dewey Trail Short grunt up steps and over boardwalks to the top of a wooded hill above Wrangell.
- Perseverance Trail A path into the heart of Juneau’s mining history.
- Park Entrance Area Around the entrance to Denali National Park lies an assortment of short, safe trails, including the Horseshoe Lake Trail leading to an oxbow lake where moose are often seen.
For a Rainy Day
- Anchorage Museum Tons of stuff for kids, including an Imaginarium Discovery Center and planetarium.
- Alaska Sealife Center Diving seabirds, swimming sea lions and a tide-pool touch tank are found in Seward’s marine research center.
- Dimond Park Aquatic Center Flume slides, bubble benches, tumble buckets and interactive water sprays in Juneau.
- Sitka Sound Science Center Five aquariums, three touch tanks and a working hatchery.
- Pioneer Park Train rides, salmon bakes and genuine pioneer history entertain the offspring in Fairbanks.
- Mendenhall Glacier Fascinating and easily accessible natural feature that's capable of dropping the jaws of any age group.
- Sitka Sound Sheltered waters, plenty of wooded islands and a good local guiding company make this one of Alaska's best family sea-kayaking spots.
- Petroglyph Beach Search for ancient rock carvings and sea life at low tide in Wrangell.
When to Go
Summer is by far the best time to visit: the odds of spotting wildlife are good, salmon are swimming upstream, hiking trails are free of snow and the weather is as good as it’s going to get. Crowds and lines are rarely a problem, unless everyone is stopped and staring at the same large mammal, so traveling during high season doesn’t pose too much of a problem crowd-wise. Festivals abound during the summer, and most are family friendly.
A lot of Alaska's tourist-oriented businesses close down between October and April.
Note that between May and September you’re going to have to deal with bugs. A lot of them.
Many independently owned accommodations and lodges in small towns won’t offer amenities such as rollaway beds or cribs, but chain motels will. If you absolutely need a crib at night, either check in advance or bring your own travel crib.
Sleeping under the stars – or Alaska’s midnight sun – can be a memorable experience and is easy on the budget. Numerous campgrounds are connected to the road system, which means you won’t have to lug heavy backpacks around. For toddlers and children younger than five years, the best way to escape into the wilderness is to rent a wilderness cabin. Many are reached by floatplane, an exciting start to any adventure for a child. The rustic cabins offer secure lodging in a remote place where children often have a good chance of seeing wildlife or catching fish. Cabins usually sleep between four and eight.
Many national car companies have safety seats for toddlers and young children for about $10 extra per day. Unfortunately, the smaller, independent agencies away from the airports, which generally offer better rental rates, often do not have car seats.
One of the best ways to see Alaska with toddlers or young children is on a cruise ship. The larger the ship, the more family amenities and activities it will offer. Disney cruises serve Alaska. Smaller cruise ships, those that hold fewer than 200 people, do not work as well as they are usually geared more toward adventurous couples. But the Alaska Marine Highway System is well suited to families. Children have the space to move around, and large ferries such as the MV Columbia, MV Kennicott, MV Malaspina and MV Matanuska feature both current movies and ranger programs on marine life, birds and glaciers.
On the Alaska Railroad children can walk between passenger carriages and spend time taking in the scenery from special domed viewing cars.
For all-round information and advice, check out Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children.
What to Pack
You’ll be able to find almost anything that you forgot to pack in the larger towns. The most important thing to remember is layers – you simply can’t pack warm enough. High-quality outerwear, especially rain gear, is important on any hike or camping trip. Don’t forget a hat. Finally, sunscreen and insect repellent are indispensable.
Feature: National Parks for Kids
America's national park system offers numerous activities specifically geared toward children, and many of them are enshrined in the 'Junior Ranger Program.' This program, designed for kids between the ages of five and 12, provides activity books on parks, which children complete to receive a sew-on patch and certificate.
Parks with active Junior Ranger Programs in Alaska include the following:
- Denali National Park & Preserve
- Wrangell-St Elias National Park
- Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
- Sitka National Historical Park
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
Of all Alaska's parks, Denali is probably the best set up for kids. The Murie Science & Learning Center has a number of hands-on exhibits suitable for children, and a few of the ‘Denali-ology’ day courses are specifically designed for families with younger children. Denali Education Center also has day and multiday youth programs ranging from ‘bug camps’ (for budding entomologists) to extended backpacking trips. Look out for free 'Discovery Packs,' available at the visitor center, which include a binder filled with scientific activities and also the tools needed to carry out experiments. Among other fun things, kids can test the water quality of nearby streams and make plaster casts of animal tracks. Other kid-friendly Denali attractions are sled-dog demonstrations, nightly campground talks and a daily ranger-led hike to Horseshoe Lake.
Travellers with Disabilities
Thanks to the American Disabilities Act, many state and federal parks have installed wheelchair-accessible sites and restrooms in their campgrounds. You can call the Alaska Public Lands Information Center to receive a map and campground guide to such facilities. The Alaska Marine Highway ferries, the Alaska Railroad and many bus services and cruise ships are also equipped with wheelchair lifts and ramps to make their facilities easier to access. Chain motels and large hotels in cities and towns often have rooms set up for guests with disabilities, while some wilderness guiding companies are experienced in handling wheelchair-bound clients on rafting and kayaking expeditions.
Access Alaska (www.accessalaska.org) Includes statewide tourist information on accessible services and sites.
Challenge Alaska A nonprofit organization dedicated to providing recreation opportunities for those with disabilities.
Flying Wheels Travel A full-service travel agency specializing in disabled travel.
Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality Lobbies for better facilities and publishes Open World online magazine.
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
For many travelers the only way to enjoy Alaska is to volunteer. You won’t get paid, but you’re often given room, board and work in a spectacular setting. Most volunteer roles are with federal or state agencies and range from trail crew workers and campground hosts to volunteering at the Arctic Interagency Visitor Center in Coldfoot and collecting botanical inventories.
The following organizations offer a range of volunteering opportunities.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures US distances are in feet, yards and miles. Dry weights are in ounces (oz), pounds (lb) and tons, and liquids are in pints, quarts and gallons. The US gallon is about 20% less than the imperial gallon.
While most violent crime rates are lower here than elsewhere in the USA, women should be careful at night in unfamiliar neighborhoods in cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks or when hitching alone. Use common sense; don’t be afraid to say no to lifts. If camping alone, have pepper spray and know how to use it.
Alaska Women’s Network Has listings of women-owned B&Bs and travel agencies across the state.
Women’s Flyfishing Alaska’s premier outfitter for women-only fly-fishing trips and a great web resource for women arriving in Alaska with a fly rod.
If you are a foreigner in the USA with a standard non-immigrant visitor's visa, you are expressly forbidden to partake in paid work and will be deported if you're caught working illegally. Employers are required to establish the bona fides of their employees or face fines, making it much tougher than it once was for a foreigner to get work.
To work legally, foreigners need to apply for a work visa before leaving home. A J-1 visa, for exchange visitors, is issued to young people (age limits vary) for study, student vacation employment, work in summer camps and short-term traineeships with a specific employer. One organization that can help arrange international student exchanges, work placements and J-1 visas is International Exchange Programs (IEP), which operates in Australia (www.iep.com.au) and New Zealand (www.iep.co.nz).
For nonstudent jobs, temporary or permanent, you need to be sponsored by a US employer, which will have to arrange an H-category visa. These are not easy to obtain, since the employer has to prove that no US citizen or permanent resident is available to do the job.
Seasonal work is possible in Alaska's national parks and at tourist attractions and tour companies. Punch-the-clock work in fish processing plants has traditionally been a staple among US students looking for some quick cash. Contact park concessionaire businesses, local chambers of commerce, canneries and adventure outfitters. Lonely Planet's The Gap Year Book has more ideas on how best to combine work and travel.