Seeing Alaska on a budget is possible – here’s how

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Let’s be honest. Alaska is not the cheapest destination in the United States. But with creative planning and the ability to trade luxury for a wilder wilderness experience, a trip to the north doesn’t have to destroy your credit card.

The good news is that an admission ticket to Alaska’s lush wilderness is free and refreshing: backcountry hiking and camping is always free, and you don’t need to charter. a seaplane to observe majestic wild animals. If you’re lucky, you may spot bears and moose through a bus window on the Seward Freeway or during an afternoon jog in Anchorage.

Here are some more ways to cut your costs in the 49th state.

Plane is usually the cheapest way to reach Alaska

Book well in advance to take advantage of the best deals. For drivers traveling to Canada from Lower 48, costs will vary depending on the type of vehicle, the price of gasoline (highest in Canada) and the distance traveled.

Anchor hotels usually offer free shuttles to and from the airport

Pre-organize through your accommodation or call upon arrival at Ted Stevens International Airport using the free phones in the terminal.

To avoid expensive domestic flights, stay in areas connected to the main road network

The compact and easily navigable Kenai Peninsula, an hour south of Anchorage by road or rail, is filled with classic Alaskan splendor, including glaciers, mountains and rugged fjords. Seward, 127 miles from Anchorage, is an ideal base. To the north, the Anchorage-Fairbanks Corridor is crossed by the scenic and well-maintained George Parks Highway and supports the Talkeetna arts community and the wildlife-filled expanses of Denali National Park.

There is no state sales tax in Alaska!

However, before you start dreaming of decadent nights in five-star hotels, be aware that most accommodations have a combined sales / tourist tax of between 5% and 15%. You can reduce your room bill a bit by avoiding high-tax cities like Ketchikan (14% tax) in favor of lower tax havens like Fairbanks and Skagway (8% tax) or – better yet – Nome and Valdez (6% tax) %)).

Visit in May or September for savings of 10-25%

Alaska’s tourist season runs from early May to late September, but if you avoid the summer months of June, July, and August and book well in advance, you can save a decent amount on accommodation. , flights and organized excursions. Indeed, if you’re self-sufficient and aren’t averse to a bit of rain (and the occasional snow), then April is a passable month in Alaska’s milder enclave. Alaskan’s harsh winters are relatively inexpensive, but only bearable if you’re a hardened local or an adventurous extremist.

No need to pay for a special visit to spot bears © Marc_Latremouille / Getty Images

Seeing wildlife doesn’t have to cost the earth

A simple bus ride along Denali’s 92-mile-long Park Road costs just over $ 50 round-trip and you’re virtually guaranteed to see an entire food chain of foraging wildlife. By comparison, a day trip by plane from Anchorage to Katmai National Park to see bears cracking salmon at Brooks Falls won’t leave much of a change from $ 800.

Weigh your transportation options

A shortage of rental cars in the United States, after Covid, pushed average daily rental rates up to $ 100 or more during the Alaskan summer season. Before you get into a vehicle, it helps to determine how much you are likely to need. Gas prices in Alaska are cheaper than in Europe, but still above the US average of $ 0.40 per gallon. Conversely, bus fares can be surprisingly affordable. The Anchorage-Seward run costs as little as $ 60 one way. Anchorage to Denali costs around $ 100.

Take the public ferry

The extensive state-run ferry system, known as the Alaska Sea Route, travels through the same spectacular scenery as cruise ships, but at a more reasonable price, especially if you’re willing to swap a cabin. to sleep in your seat or pitch a tent on the deck (bring plenty of tape to protect against gusts of wind). A fare for the 19-hour trip from Ketchikan to Juneau will cost you around $ 140. For the six-hour jump across Prince William Sound between Whittier and Valdez, you’re looking for around $ 65.

Opt for an off-season or a “repositioning” cruise

The Alaska cruise season lasts for five months, with May and September offering the best deals. You can save a lot of money – sometimes up to 50% – by going on a “repositioning” cruise, which takes the ship to and from its home port (eg Alaska-Hawaii, Alaska-California) early. and at the end of the season. Big boats are more economical than small boats. Carnival is one of the cheapest options.

Consider staying at a hostel or cabin

Accommodation in Alaska is expensive. There is a dearth of bargains, even in the motel arena, and the tiny nature of most cities means that there are often few opportunities to shop. However, tourist-oriented cities usually have at least one hostel with dorm beds between $ 25 and $ 35 per night.

Another option is the cabins. Alaska is full of basic cabins for public use in state parks and its two national forests, Chugach and Tongass. Many of them are within walking distance, others are accessible by kayak. Cabins can typically accommodate between three and eight people and can cost as little as $ 25 per night all-inclusive, although $ 60 to $ 70 is more common. Designs vary, but most have wooden sleeping platforms, stoves, pit toilets, tables, and a nearby water source. Pre-reservation is essential.

Motorhome at Worthington Glacier
A motorhome can reduce accommodation costs – and it’s perfect for exploring this rugged landscape © RobsonAbbott / Getty Images

Travel with a tent or motorhome

In a land of strong adventure possibilities, camping is a popular option. Campgrounds are teeming with overnight fees ranging from free to $ 15 for rustic public campgrounds and $ 30 to $ 45 to park your RV in a luxury private campground with full hookup and heated toilets with showers. Many cities that welcome tourists operate a municipal campground. Book in advance in high season, especially on weekends. For seasoned hikers with a lot of outdoor experience, backcountry camping is usually free.

Master the picnic

Cheechakos (newcomers to the state) pulling up a chair at their first restaurant in Alaska usually take a disbelieving glance at the menu and consider a three-day fast. Eating out can be prohibitive in the final frontier due to the short tourist season and high labor costs for wait and kitchen staff. However, many travelers are surprised that food prices in Fairbanks and Anchorage supermarkets aren’t much higher than at home.

The solution: prepare a picnic (ideal for hiking), prepare your own dinners in your campsite / campsite or book accommodation with kitchen or kitchenette. Eating out doesn’t need to be banned entirely – halibut deserves at least one outing – but you might want to make it more of an exception than a rule.

Guides, outfitters and tour operators cost money

They also provide safety, local knowledge, and peace of mind in the often harsh Alaskan wilderness. However, with a little homework before the trip and the right equipment, it is possible to organize hiking, cycling or kayaking trips on your own. For safety reasons, it is always preferable to travel as a couple or in a group. Day hikes are a good option if you are not very experienced. Try Flattop Mountain near Anchorage or the Perseverance Trail in Juneau.

A woman walks through a spring landscape with the snowmelt on the mountain behind her
Hiking and accessing Alaska’s most epic landscapes are free activities © HagePhoto / Getty

Make the most of Alaska’s national and historic parks

Entrance to Alaska’s eight national parks is largely free. The only park that charges an entrance fee is Denali ($ 15 for a seven-day pass). The warning ? Most state parks are remote and require expensive transfers by boat or plane. The Denali and Kenai fjords are exceptions. Both are easily accessible from Anchorage by car, bus, or train, and offer plenty of free attractions including glacier viewing, wildlife viewing, hiking, and camping.

Alaska’s two major historic parks – Sitka and Skagway – are also fabulous and free. Filled with museums and heritage sites, and offering free walking tours with park rangers in the summer, these are perfect places to soak up the state’s surprisingly eclectic history and culture.

Sharpen your fitness and hone your outdoor skills

The more adaptable and independent you are, the more options you will have to reduce costs. Alaska specializes in the pure and the unpackaged. If you can ditch romantic dinners for freeze-dried camping food and swap IMAX theaters for a tent under the stars, you’ll not only have a life-changing experience; you can afford to come back and start over.

Daily costs in Alaska

Hostel room: $ 25-35 (bed in dormitory)
Basic room for two: 140-170 $
Independent apartment (including Airbnb): from $ 130
Anchorage-Seward Transit Ticket (127 miles): $ 60-70 one way
Coffee: $ 3.50-4.50
Sandwich: $ 8-9
A dinner for two: 60-80 $
Beer / pint at the bar: $ 6-7


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