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I’ve been fortunate to visit Alaska multiple times. It’s a truly different and unique place, and according to their tourism board, they have more mountains, glaciers and wildlife than just about anywhere else in the world. The majority of travelers visit in the summer so I asked Mr. Alaska himself, my good buddy Scott McMurren, to provide some helpful tips for anyone who is visiting our 49th state. Below, he counts down his Top 10 Alaska travel tips and things to know before you go:

A highway in Alaska.
10. Alaska is big
Hey, I get it. You live in a big state. But Alaska is really big, like the XXXL size state. Cars are nice, but those of us who call Alaska home typically use planes to get around. Oh … those cruise ships that ply the “Inside Passage”. You’re likely to see about 1/5 of the state. Oh, it’s pretty…but that’s just one slice of paradise. TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Allow a little more time to get from place to place.

9. In Alaska, it can snow any day of the year
Back in 1970, it snowed 9.7 inches on July 19 near Denali National Park. That’s the North American record for the most snowfall in July. In all, 16 stations have recorded snow in July, according to our home town climatologist, Brian Brettschneider. TAKE HOME MESSAGE: Bring a couple of extra layers, a raincoat and don’t forget your hat and gloves.

Alaska travel tips: Get up high for the best views.8. You need to get high in Alaska
Ahem. Cannabis is legal in Alaska but we’re not talking about that. It’s important to gain elevation quickly to get a bird’s-eye view, whether it’s by helicopter, by plane or even by a tram. In Juneau, there’s a great tram that goes straight up from the cruise ship dock to Mt. Roberts. Take it and get a million-dollar view of the town, the Gastineau Channel and even the airport. In fact, the 737s fly right by at eye level. Or, take a helicopter and land on a glacier. In Talkeetna, you can take a ski plane and land on a glacier on Denali! THIS is your Christmas-card shot!

Alaska travel tips: Learn about Alaska's first people.7. Learn about Alaska’s first people
Long before Europeans arrived from Russia, Alaska was home to thousands of Alaska Natives. There are many different tribes in different part of the state: Yupik, Athabascan and Tlingit, among others. Their stories of surviving and thriving in this country are amazing. Many communities offer living tributes to these people where you can learn about their culture, their art and their way of life, which continues today. My favorite repository for this wealth is at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

6. Enjoy the bounty of the sea
You’re missing out if you don’t taste Alaska’s abundant seafood. Whether it’s crab legs, scallops, halibut, salmon, rockfish, cod or oysters, make it a point to feast on some seafood. In Juneau, enjoy Tracy’s Crab Shack. In Anchorage, you cannot go wrong at the Glacier Brewhouse.

5. Speaking of Brewhouses, Alaska is home to many fabulous micro-breweries

It’s the “beer-’round-here.” In Ketchikan, seek out Bawden Street Brewing. In Juneau, my favorite is Forbidden Peak Brewing in nearby Auke Bay. In Fairbanks, don’t miss Hoodoo Brewing. I’m meeting friends this weekend in Anchorage at Anchorage Brewing. Cheers!

4. Alaska’s National Parks really are the “secret sauce” in our state
Denali, Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords, Wrangell-St. Elias, Lake Clark, Katmai, Gates of the Arctic … and a couple more.  Put Alaska’s National Parks on your must-see list. Let Mother Nature work a miracle on you. Don’t miss Alaska’s state parks, either. Denali State Park, Wood-Tikchik State Park, Kachemak Bay State Park … there’s a long list.

3. Alaska really is the Land of the Midnight Sun

Here in Anchorage, we don’t see the stars for a couple of months. Although the sun dips beneath the horizon, it doesn’t really get dark. That’s fine with us, but you might want to pack some eye-shades when it’s sleepy-time for you. Johnny Jet tip: This is the best sleep mask I’ve used for comfort and absolute darkness.

2. Alaska has more nonstop domestic and international flights than ever
Anchorage has the most nonstops: to/from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, Washington DC, Honolulu, Newark and New York/JFK. Internationally, there are flights to/from Vancouver, BC and Frankfurt.
From Fairbanks, fly nonstop to/from Seattle, Minneapolis and Chicago. Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka have nonstop flights to Seattle.

1. Alaska can be expensive

That’s why smart travelers get the Alaska TourSaver book. It’s a travel coupon book with 100 offers from around the state, including 2-for-1 on the Alaska Railroad, 20 percent off Alaska Airlines and $15,000 in valuable travel coupons around the state. Flightseeing, accommodations, activities, tours and adventures–all in one place, the Alaska TourSaver.

Scott McMurren is an Alaska travel evangelist. After arriving 45 years ago “for three months”, he made it his mission to share the wilds and wonders of Alaska with travelers far and wide. Scott is a longtime travel columnist for his hometown newspaper, the Anchorage Daily News. Scott lives in Anchorage with his wife Christy, their kids + grandkids (they come and go), their little dog, Roo and lots of sporting equipment in various levels of disrepair. Check out his weekly travel e-newsletter, the Alaska Travelgram and the famous Alaska TourSaver travel coupon book.

Photo above: Standing up by Flat Top Mountain for a bird’s-eye view of Anchorage.


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1 Comment On "10 things to know about visiting Alaska"
  1. Anthony|

    Alaska is a fabulous place. Only been twice but would go again. The Alaska Railway to / from Juneau to Anchorage is well worth it. Denali is magnificent. I am not a big hiker but did hike several miles a day there. Again, it is spectacular. The State “bird” is the mosquito – yes, it is proportionately large like the State. We have gone in August – the “bird” is sleeping. Enjoy eating? Go. Don’t hesitate to spend a 2-3 days in Anchorage. Not like a lower 48 City.

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