Valerie Stimac—Growing up in Alaska, I had no idea why everyone always wanted to visit my home state. Now that I’ve grown, moved away, and seen more of the world, I can appreciate how much allure there is in a wilderness destination so close to home.
I still hear frequently how much friends, relatives, or even strangers would love to visit Alaska, so here’s my guide to how to make that happen. While a trip to the Last Frontier will last forever in your memory, it shouldn’t have to last forever in your financial history. These are locally-known secrets to visiting Alaska without maxing your credit card.
Fly the (Admittedly Small) Shoulder Season
The view over a glacier fjord in Alaska. (Photo: Yuko Hirao/Stocksy)
Most destinations have about a month on either side of the most popular travel window where you can find a travel deal. Alaska’s travel season is pretty specific if you’re trying to avoid traveling with snow. Officially defined as the window between mid-May and mid-September, it’s best to consider it as the time between Memorial and Labor Days. Even still, a quick packing tip: prepare for snow nonetheless. It is Alaska, after all!
Because airlines know that these holiday weekends are so close to the start and end of the travel season, you can occasionally find great deals. This is especially true if you’re willing to fly through Seattle, but European travelers can also snag deals through Reykjavik. It’s possible to save on hotels around this time, especially if you’re willing to be flexible on dates. One great example is the Hotel Alyeska, an hour south of Anchorage. Through June 15, rates are as much as 50 percent lower than in the heart of tourism season: $149 per night, including free tram tickets to the top of Mt. Alyeska.
Use the Milepost While You Drive the Alaska Highway
The start of the Alaska Highway, in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, is marked by this “Mile 0” monument. (Photo: Valerie Stimac)
Some people love traveling by sea, but some would rather see the world by way of four wheels. If you’re one of the latter, the Alaska-Canada Highway (running 1,387 miles between Dawson Creek, British Columbia and Delta Junction, Alaska; with another 333 miles to Anchorage) is the perfect route for you.
Well known to Alaskans considering the route is an immense guidebook called the Milepost. Filled with useful information laid out by mile-marker — including pricelessly accurate notes on where wildlife can be found — the Milepost is also an advertising platform for small, family-owned businesses to promote and provide discounts. That means you can grab great deals on hotels, restaurants, tours, and more along the route, from places like the Liard Hot Springs Lodge (a well-priced overnight stop at the start) or the wonderful Yukon Beringia Interpretive Center outside Whitehorse. You can find the Milepost at most gas stations along the Alaska Highway, or order online for $34.95.
Work For It
The author, while she was working near Denali National Park. (Photo: Valerie Stimac)
A lot of people would love to find a job where they can travel the world, and Alaska is a great place to launch that branch of your career path. With over a dozen cruise companies and hundreds of seasonal operators, a little bit of internet research will show you who’s looking for seasonal help.
Often these providers in the tourism industry are willing to work out agreements for room and board as part of an employment contract, so you’ll have reasonably priced accommodations as part of the deal. You’ll still have to get your flights to and from Alaska, but if you time it right for traveling within the shoulder season, you’ll get a deal there, too. Check sites like Cool Works or Alaska & Yukon Jobs, where you’ll find cool opportunities. How about being an Iditarod puppy wrangler at Mad Stork Kennel or a manager at Denali’s (and potentially Alaska’s) best pizzeria, Lynx Creek Pizza.
Travel the Alaska Marine Highway System
While riding the Alaska Marine Highway, you can enjoy beautiful mountain vistas and the opportunity for wildlife spotting, too. (Photo: Valerie Stimac)
Here’s my best little-known secret: you don’t have to take a traditional cruise or go to Anchorage to see Alaska. (Most tour companies run trips from Vancouver or Seattle up to Anchorage, and travelers then fly the other leg of the trip.) But if you’re ready to see the state in a different way, then the Alaska Ferry is perfect for you. It’s much cheaper than an Alaskan cruise, and you get to ride with fellow less-traditional travelers.
Leaving from Bellingham (90 minutes north of Seattle), the Alaska Ferry goes all the way up the Inside Passage — as far as Whittier, if you want. And there are lots of other stops along the way, if you want a shorter trip. One-way fares are $572 for a four-day trip from Bellingham to Whittier, with add-ons for cabin amenities; ships fill fast, so book early for more options.
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