Do you dream of visiting Alaska but worry that your budget might not sustain the adventure in the Last Frontier state? Is it possible to travel to Alaska on a budget? How can you save some money during your Alaska adventure? In this article, you’ll find great tips on how to plan a budget trip to Alaska.
It won’t be a very cheap trip because Alaska is cut off from the rest of the US. All shipments take longer and are more expensive. Also, Alaska is a vast state and, at the same time, the most sparsely populated. Many regions are cut off from the rest of the world, and no roads exist. The tourist season is short, so residents and tour operators have little time to make a living.
But if you follow a few tips, you can experience an unforgettable low-budget vacation in Alaska.
The fastest and cheapest way is to fly to Anchorage or Fairbanks. There you’ll find most international and domestic flights to Anchorage. Therefore, airfares are more affordable. Use popular search engines like Skyscanner or Kayak to find the cheapest flight options. Also, Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska, and you’ll have the best selection of stores, car rentals, and reasonable access to the rest of the state.
Choose a flight that lands in Alaska during the day and book a window seat. Thanks to this, you’ll have a breathtaking flight over the Alaska mountain range without the extra charge for a flightseeing scenic tour, which costs a few hundred dollars.
You can also drive to Alaska via the famous Alaska Highway – spectacular views. You’ll need to allow more time for such a trip, though. The drive from Vancouver to Alaska takes at least 4 – 5 days. Moreover, gas prices on this route aren’t low. It can be a viable solution if you have at least a month or a month and a half for your dream adventure in Alaska.
Tips on How to Plan a Budget Trip to Alaska
With peak tourist season running from June to August, there are a number of great itineraries for Alaska. Therefore, if you’re interested in a budget trip to Alaska, plan it earlier. Late May and the first half of June are great times to travel to Alaska when nature comes to life after a long winter.
There are no tourist crowds yet. It’s still quite chilly, but the scenery of awakening nature will compensate you for the cold. Another idea is the end of the season, in the first half of September. Fall in Alaska is beautiful, and prices start to drop. Some services are closed for the winter season as early as mid-September.
Alaska is a vast state, so it pays to pick one of the regions for your first trip and focus on that. You can save some money that way. Focus on Southcentral Alaska: the area around Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula is a good idea for your first visit to Alaska. The second option is to travel along the Parks Highway: Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali National Park, and Fairbanks.
No matter which region you choose, you’ll see some of Alaska’s most representative places with breathtaking nature.
Choose a cheaper means of transportation in Alaska
The prices in Anchorage and Fairbanks are reasonable, but you should book a vehicle in advance. If you choose Southcentral Alaska or Alaska Parks Highway, a 2WD car will be enough. Thanks to this, you can save money on 4WD, as some gravel roads, like Dalton Highway or getting to Kennecott Copper Mine, are accessible only with 4WD. You can also consider an Alaska railway connection, as these two regions are well connected by train.
Kenai Fjords National Park is easily accessible from Anchorage, as there is a scenic train route to Seward. However, if you choose to go north, there are also trains to Fairbanks via Denali. Also, buses operate on major routes and between major cities. The cons of using public transport are that you won’t get everywhere, so research the Alaska activities you want to do first.
Lodging in Alaska is quite expensive, so the cheapest option is to stay in campgrounds, national parks, or state parks in a tent. Camping in Alaska ranges from $10- $35 per tent per night. Every few nights, you can take a cheaper hotel on the route.
However, camping is the best solution for a real Alaska adventure and being closest to nature. Before you choose this option, you should check what to pack for Alaska because it’s essential for your comfort and safety, as you are in a bear country. Adapt your packing to the activities you want to do.
And remember that Alaska weather is unpredictable, so be prepared for all seasons. Pack rain and windproof clothing and good quality waterproof boots with excellent traction. In the summer, mosquitoes can be unbearable, so repellent is necessary.
You can prepare cheap but nutritious and filling breakfasts or sandwiches for lunch in the mountains on your own. Moreover, you will also find many affordable dining places along the route. There are food trucks during the summer season. They offer delicious meals at better prices than restaurants.
Try spinach bread in Talkeetna or noodles and burgers from food trucks in Anchorage. At Homer, make sure to visit Salty Dawg Saloon and drink a beer with the locals. You can also buy a charter cruise for halibut fishing. The fish you catch will provide you with food for at least a few days. It’s one of the best things to do in Homer. Moreover, during such a cruise, you can encounter and admire marine wildlife.
Alaska is, above all, a highly mountainous space and nature. You will find excellent mountain hiking trails in the Hatcher Pass area. The place is easily accessible from Anchorage, as it’s only 60 miles.
The nearest town is Plamer, where you will also find accommodation at very favorable prices and several campsites. The trails on Hatcher Pass are well-marked. And you only pay $5 a day for parking. Moreover, backpacking in this area is also possible. The best hiking trails are April Bowl Loop via Hatch Peak, Reed Lakes, Skyscraper Mountain, and Marmot Mountain.
Hatcher Pass is also famous for one of the best-preserved gold mines in Alaska – the Independence Mine. Paying only $5 for parking, you can see one of the most important relics of the past from the gold rush era.
It was thanks to the discovery of gold that Alaska began to be populated, and gold mining played a huge role in the development of this place. You can look inside a few buildings with items from the gold mining era.
The most interesting ones are the General Managers House, Bunkhouse No. 2, and Assay Office. Moreover, if you have a pan and shovel, you can try panning for gold at the Independence Mine.
The glaciers in Alaska are impressive. But how can you experience them when you see glacier tours costing $125 – $400? You don’t need to buy a tour to see the glaciers. Some are available for free.
You need to know which ones, dress appropriately, and hit the trail. While visiting Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park, you can hike the Exit Glacier area and take Glacier View Loop Trail or the more strenuous 8.2-mile round trip Harding Icefield Trail, which is a spectacular day hike.
If you plan to visit Whittier, you can take a 4.2-mile out-and-back Portage Pass Trail, a moderately challenging route with stunning glacier vistas.
How to plan Alaska on a budget when wildlife-watching tours are so expensive? Indeed, wildlife-watching trips can cost a fortune, especially if you dream of seeing bears in inaccessible places like Katmai or Lake Clark. But you can also spot bears in other areas for free.
Pack your binoculars. Lots of grizzly bears roam Denali. Along the route to Seward, you can encounter black bears. Almost always, there is a chance to meet moose. Plenty of them is along the Parks Highway and Seward Highway. The best bald-eagle-watching spot you will find near Homer in Anchor Point. Especially in the morning, you can admire Bald Eagles feeding at Anchor River State Recreation Area.
One of the most beautiful low-budget adventures you can plan in Alaska is camping in Denali National Park. You have a choice of several primitive campgrounds managed by the NPS. You must prepare for the adventure as there is: no electricity, telephone coverage, Internet, stores, or other amenities.
There are also no marked hiking trails, so you must be experienced hiking in the mountains. The park impresses with its space and wildness. In good weather, you can observe North America’s highest peak, Denali, which rises 20,310 feet above sea level. You must book your camping spot ahead; prices vary from $12-25.
If you are experienced in the wilderness, you can get free backcountry permits for overnight trips in the Denali backcountry. When camping in Denali, you can move around via Denali NPS free buses (opposite to costly tour narrated buses).
If you think carefully about what adventures you want to have in Alaska and prepare well for your trip, you can organize a great vacation in Alaska, even on a budget. And they will be better than all-inclusive tours. You’ll experience closeness to nature, wildlife, and the most beautiful places in Alaska without spending a fortune.