Planning Your Trip To Alaska

This section of the Vacation Planner explains some of your choices for getting to Alaska and options for travel around the state during your visit. After you've decided how you want to travel, the Vacation Planner's Travel Directory can help you find specific travel services to, and within, Alaska.

Alaska is BIG, so allow enough time to really enjoy your trip without rushing through scenery and activities. If your time is limited, consider a packaged tour featuring highlights from several regions. Or you might prefer to travel independently, exploring Alaska at your own pace. Many visitors combine a few brief tours with an independent travel itinerary, enjoying the best of both options.

Getting to Alaska is easy. Air travel is fast, leaving you more time for other vacation activities. Arriving by car, camper, or scheduled motorcoach, can take five to ten days, but gives you a chance to enjoy the landscape. Cruise-ships and ferries can bring you to Alaska in three to seven days. Many visitors use all three travel modes during their trip.

Advance reservations are recommended for tours, accommodations, and travel by air, rail, cruiseship, or state ferry. This is especially important during the peak season from May through September.

Travel By Air

Several cities in the Lower 48 states offer nonstop flights to Anchorage and Fairbanks. If you're traveling to a destination in Alaska's Inside Passage, connections are made through Seattle. Locations in northern Alaska are accessible from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

Several foreign countries offer air service to Anchorage International Airport. Travelers flying the Great Circle Route to other continents may have "stopover privileges" in Alaska to allow local travel.

Flights Within Alaska: Most in-state flights are on jet or turboprop aircraft. Scheduled air taxi and air charter services provide access to small communities and remote destinations via propeller-driven "bush planes." Helicopters are increasingly popular for flightseeing.

Transfers: Ground transportation is available at larger Alaskan airports.

Travel By Sea

Many visitors like to combine an Alaska vacation with the pleasures of a sea voyage aboard a luxury cruiseship or state-owned ferry.

Cruiseships: From May to September, cruiseships visit Anchorage, Juneau, Skagway, Ketchikan, Sitka, Valdez, Seward, Homer, Nome, and Seattle, as well as Vancouver and Prince Rupert in British Columbia. One-way and round-trip cruises are available, and several companies offer cruise/tours that combine a cruise with a land tour. Smaller cruise vessels and charter boat operations offer port-to-port travel and day excursions.

Itineraries vary with each shop. The most frequently visited sites include Misty Fjords National Monument, Wrangell, Petersburg, Tracy Arm, Haines, Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, Malaspina Glacier, Valdez, Columbia Glacier, College Fjord, and Whittier.

Alaska Ferries: The Alaska Marine Highway System provides practical, dependable ferry service on three separate routes. Visitors can board the ferry in Bellingham, Washington, at Prince Rupert in British Columbia, and at several ports in Alaska.

The Inside Passage route links ports in Canada and Alaska. On the Southcentral route, ferries call at communities in Prince William Sound and also provide a connection to the Southwest route, which offers seasonally limited service to the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Island.

The ferries carry vehicles as well as passengers, and most offer food service, sightseeing lounges, and staterooms. Travelers without staterooms may sleep in public lounges or on solarium decks. Short local tours are available in many communities, and most coincide with ferry stopovers. Various arts and education programs are available on board.

Schedules and tariffs vary according to time of year. From October 1 to April 30, many rates are lowered. Senior citizen discounts may be available on some sailings. Reservations are required year-round, and early reservations are strongly advised. Contact the Alaska Marine Highway, P.O.Box 25535, Juneau, AK 99802-5535; (907)465-3941 or 800-642-0066.

British Columbia Ferries: BC Ferries provide year-round passenger and vehicle service between Port Hardy on Vancouver Island, and Prince Rupert on the mainland. BC Ferries sail north one day and south the following day during summer, and make the trip once a week in winter. Contact BC Ferries, 1112 Fort Street, Victoria, BC, Canada V8V 4V2; (604) 386-3431.

Travel By Rail

If you like the romance of the railroad, you can come to Alaska via a unique combination of rail and sea travel (there is no direct rail connection to Alaska). Begin by taking Amtrak to Seattle, travel to Bellingham via air or motorcoach, then continue north by cruiseship or Alaska state ferry.

Once you've arrived in the 49th state, the Alaska Railroad provides passenger service on a scenic 470-mile route, ranging as far south as Seward, and as far north as Fairbanks. Large windows and dome cars offer passengers an unrestricted view of the landscape, and a chance to see beavers, moose, Dall sheep, and other wildlife.

Rail service between Anchorage and Fairbanks provides access to Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park. On the southern end of the rail corridor, you can connect with the state ferry system at Seward and Whittier. Except for the Anchorage-Seward route, the railroad operates year-round, with reduced services from September to May.

The railroad offers a variety of travel and sightseeing packages. You might consider rail travel in one direction and a return trip by air. Contact Alaska Railroad, Passenger Service Department, Box 107500, Anchorage, AK 99510-7500; 800-544-0552 or (907)265-2623.

The vintage White Pass & Yukon Route narrow-gauge private railway offers day excursions from Skagway, and rail/bus service between Skagway and Whitehorse.

Travel By Highway

The famous Alaska Highway links the Lower 48 states to the 49th. Once this way a rough road for the adventurous, but the modern Alaska Highway is traveled by thousands of people every year, in all sorts of vehicles. The highway is open year-round, and all but a few miles are paved. Short delays may be caused by seasonal repairs or road maintenance. Traveler services are available at frequent intervals, although some businesses close during the winter.

The adventure begins in Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Where a monument in the center of town is marked "Mile 0 Alaska Highway." The highway officially ends 1,422 miles to the north, in Delta Junction, Alaska. Crossroads in Canada provide access to the highway networks of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory. Branch highways, such as the Cassiar, Klondike, Robert Campbell, and Klondike Loop, give you the freedom to take personalized side-trips. In addition, some of the world's most scenic highways lie across the border in Alaska.

Driving Interior and Far North: Beginning 73 miles north of Fairbanks, the Dalton Highway is also known as "the road to the top of the world." This 414-mile gravel road parallels the northernmost portion of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. At Mile 116 you'll cross the Arctic Circle, a highlight of any trip to the Far North. Amenities are limited, but expansive vistas, caribou herds, and tundra wildflowers combine to make this a spectacular journey. Consult the State of Alaska Department of Transportation at (907) 456-7623 for road conditions and public access restrictions.

Traveling south from Fairbanks, the Richardson Highway parallels the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, winding through mountain passes and over rushing rivers. The highway runs 368 miles south to the port city of Valdez and beautiful Prince William Sound. An alternate route, the Parks Highway generally parallels the course of the Alaska Railroad. This highway skirts Denali National Park and Preserve as well as Denali State Park, and offers excellent views of 20,320-foot Mt. McKinley.

Although you can not drive to Nome, almost 300 miles of local roadways offer access to regional villages. Rental vehicles are available.

Driving Southcentral: Heading south from Anchorage, the Seward Highway hugs the shoreline between the Chugach Mountains and the waters of Turnagain Arm. At Portage Glacier, 53 miles out of town, a Forest Service visitor center offers interpretive exhibits, and views of the glacier and icebergs.

At a railway stop near Portage, you can drive your vehicle onto a flatcar and take a short rail trip through mountain tunnels to Whittier. From there you can drive onto a ferry to cruise across Prince William Sound to Valdez, where you return to the highway system.

Southwest of Portage, the Kenai Peninsula offers a picturesque shoreline drive to Homer, or a drive through mountainous river valleys to Seward and Resurrection Bay.

Driving Inside Passage: The region's terrain makes highway travel impractical, so residents rely upon state ferries. The ferries and highway systems meet at five different spots: Bellingham in Washington; Prince Rupert and Stewart/Hyder in British Columbia; and Haines and Skagway in Alaska. Ferry travel through the Inside Passage is popular, so make reservations well in advance.

For your information

The general information in this Vacation Planner will help you start planing your trip to Alaska, but should not be considered complete. Prices and schedules, where given, are for 1995/96, but are subject to change.

Please consult official airline and ferry schedules, highway maps, and guidebooks for current information. See the Where to Ask: Guidebooks, Maps, Videos sections of this book for a list of useful travel-planning materials. Your travel agent can also provide assistance, as well as the businesses listed in the Where to Ask: Travel Agents/Trip Planners sections of this book.

For state maps, campground maps, and general information brochures, contact the Division of Tourism, Dept. VP, P.O.Box 110801, Juneau, AK 99811-0801; (907)465-2010; FAX (907)465-2287.

Once you've arrived in Alaska, you'll probably want to stop at the visitor information centers located in Alaska's larger airports, most city centers, and at several highway junctions. Visitor centers are listed in the regional Where to Ask sections, and in the Where to Find More Information pages following the regional sections. Most of the visitor centers are staffed by volunteers, who can offer travel advice and other tips that will make your trip memorable.

A word from the experts: plan ahead, make your reservations early, and enjoy Alaska!

Things To Remember

General Information: Alaska's larger towns and cities have major medical facilities, full banking, and most other travel services. The electric current is standard U.S. 110-115V, 60 AC. Alaska observes all major U.S. holidays, as well as Seward's Day on the last Monday in March, and Alaska Day on October 18. Drinking age is 21, although Alaska has several "dry" villages where any possession of liquor is illegal.

Crossing the Border: U.S. and Canadian residents do not need passports or visas to travel through Canada and Alaska, but should carry a driver's license or voter's registration. Identification is also required for all minors traveling in your party. Persons under 18 years of age not accompanied by their parents should carry a letter from their parents granting permission to travel to Canada.

If you are driving through Canada, be prepared to show proof of liability insurance and your vehicle's registration or rental papers.

You can take your dog or cat through Canada, with proof of a current rabies vaccination. Inquire ahead regarding permits for other animals or birds.

Disabled Visitor Services: Alaska offers a broad range of year-round vacation experiences for persons with disabilities. For resources referrals, call the State of Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development at (800)770-4833, Access Alaska at (907)248-4777, Alaska Horizons Unlimited at (907)337-2629, or Challenge Alaska at (907)563-2658.

Driving Regulations: Alaska and Canada will honor a valid driver's license, from any state or country, for 90 days after entry. Seat belts must be worn by all drivers and passengers in all areas of Alaska. All children under age four, regardless of weight, must ride in a federally approved child safety seat.

Firearms: You may carry firearms for protection or hunting in Alaska. Airline passengers must declare their firearms and check them as baggage. Hunting rifles may be taken into and through Canada; Canadian law prohibits transporting handguns or automatic weapons. Unloaded rifles may be mailed to Alaska, if sent to a federal firearm's licensee (check with the U.S. Postal Service for shipping requirements). Mailing handguns or ammunition is prohibited. For further information contact the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (907) 271-5701.

Public Transportation: Anchorage, Fairbanks, Ketchikan, and Juneau operate public transportation systems.

Time Zones: Almost all of Alaska is in the Alaska Time Zone, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Time. The westernmost Aleutian Islands and St. Lawrence Island are on Hawaiian-Aleutian Time.