Who doesn’t want to hop in their car or board a plane for Alaska to explore the last great American frontier? Many people do and so did we.
However, when we got there, we couldn’t help but think of the things we wished we’d known before we arrived.
To help our fellow travelers prepare for this amazing destination, we’ve jotted down our best bits of ‘wish we’d known’ for you. This stuff will help you and the locals that you meet along the way.
Some of these things are pretty basic but others are things that only the locals know about. These are also things normal writers don’t write about when it comes to Alaska.
Some stuff will be surprising to you but we hope these things will help you prepare for visiting Alaska.
Planning A Trip to Alaska?ULTIMATE ALASKA TRAVEL GUIDE
27 Things You Should Know About Alaska
1. Costs in Alaska Are High
You are going to pay more for everything. Most things in Alaska are more expensive than the lower 48, so do not just think you will buy it once you are here.
Try to bring everything you need and buy as little as possible. Pack those mud boots, insect repellent and sunscreen instead of buying them in Alaska.
97% of everything sold in Alaska is imported. Some basic items we found more expensive while traveling included:
- Subway footlong sandwich – lower 48 is $6.00, Alaska is $8.00
- Drinking water costs more. A gallon of water cost around $6.00 in Alaska.
- Fuel – Alaska is the gas state right, well even gas is more expensive in Alaska than the lower 48.
2. Alaska Is Huge
You would not believe the messages we believe from travelers telling us that they are planning a road trip all around Alaska and they are doing it all in two weeks.
We always laugh and say you should probably do some planning before taking off on that great Alaskan road trip. Many people don’t understand how large Alaska really is.
It is huge, so do not just think you are going to do a two-week road trip to Alaska. Alaska is the largest state in the United States. Sorry Texas, you are two times smaller than Alaska.
Alaska is also larger than all but 18 sovereign countries. So when planning your road trip around Alaska make sure you plan on how huge it.
3. You Can Get Sunburnt in Alaska
I don’t know about you but one thing I did not expect is to get a nice suntan while visiting Alaska. I expected 48 days of darkness. When you think of Alaska you think of cold, ice, and dark days where the sun never shines.
Some of that is true but some of that is false. There aren’t endless dark days like you think. The sun always rises and it may only peek out for 3-4 hours on the shortest day but there is still light.
Locals call it blue light when the sky is not dark but it’s not sunny. In the summer months, the days are nice and long, this is common knowledge.
Around Anchorage, it will be dusk at 11 P.M. and you will be just going to bed. Many hotel rooms do have dark out shades but the shades only block out so much.
Suggestions would be to bring a sleeping mask with you for your trip. The locals take advantage of the long summer day and celebrate at midnight sun parties and ball games.
4. The Climate
The weather in Alaska is one of the biggest things I wish I knew before visiting. When we visited Alaska it was colder back home than it was up in Alaska.
You may think Alaska is always cold or Alaska gets feet of snow all year round. Those are the biggest myths or misconceptions of Alaska.
Don’t get me wrong they have some killer winter months that are bone-chilling cold. But the normal traveler is visiting from May to October where temperatures range from 50-80 degrees.
The interior region of Alaska enjoys hot summers that can reach up to 100. If you are chasing northern lights in the winter months it is normally 10-20 degrees outside.
That’s not the below zero temperatures we all think of when you mention Alaska. Now on the snowy myth. Alaska does get some killer snow storms but their snow is different from what we get in Wisconsin.
It’s powder and is so light many houses have flat roofs. This surprised me when visiting because where I come from we cannot have flat roofs because the snow will cave them in.
Another surprise is that some parts of Alaska get the same exact weather as cities like Seattle. Wet and rainy. So next time you think of Alaska don’t think only of coldness and snow.
5. Alaska Has Earthquakes
Did you know many areas of Alaska are on or near a fault-line? Alaska has earthquakes all of the time, yes most of the time they are small and not too dangerous at all.
Alaska had the most powerful earthquake in North America on March 27, 1964. For someone who is not used to earthquakes or expecting earthquakes, this can be a little scary when it wakes you up in the middle of the night.
6. Wild Animals Aren’t Everywhere
Everyone thinks wild animals are everywhere in Alaska and that you will probably be eaten by a wild bear. Well, I hate to tell you but most of the wildlife in Alaska tries its best to avoid humans.
Most travelers hope to see animals such as moose, bears, otters, and whales on a trip to Alaska, however, you may not be that lucky. Sorry, it’s just reality.
You would not believe the number of tourists that complain about not seeing wildlife. It’s wildlife, they are unpredictable and just because you think of Alaska being this overran place of crazy wildlife it’s just not the case.
Yes, bears do walk the streets of Juneau, Alaska and you will probably see more bear butts crossing the highway to Denali National Park than you will see in the park itself but if you really want to see Alaska’s great wildlife you will need to get off the tourist path.
7. Limited Or No Cell Phone Service
Everyone thinks since your heading into one of the most remote places on the earth you will not have cell phone reception. This is a huge misconception many people have about Alaska.
Yes, some parts of Alaska do not have cell phone service but most of the tourist paths do and we were surprised on our Inside Passage cruise about the number of days we had cell service.
Just keep in mind Alaska is huge so it is going to be impossible for cellphone providers to be able to cover every square mile. However, tourist paths, cities, and major highways have coverage.
It is common to lose reception once outside cities but it was surprising the little towns that did have great coverage.
Keep in mind lots of variables go into coverage, mountains can block out reception. You will need to just accept that your cell phone will not work 100% everywhere but it will work 80% of the time.
Alaska has normal cell phone providers as we do in the lower 48, Verizon, At&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile are just a few of the top providers.
8. Gas Stations
You would think it would be common to have a gas station in every town in Alaska, as you can find one on almost every block in the lower 48.
Many towns in Alaska only have one gas station that is not open 24 hours and they do not have pay at the pump. We ran into this while road tripping in Alaska on some of the most popular highways.
Just because you think there will be another gas station just a few miles down the road or on the outskirts of town, does not mean there will be one. So take advantage of every gas station you see.
It is a good idea to always fill up and keep your tank full before leaving for an adventure.
9. It Is Not All Undiscovered Territory, You’re Probably On Someone’s Property
I know what you are thinking and you probably have seen it on TV where Alaska has endless land that is open for everyone to just put up their home and start living. But that is not the case.
It is just like anywhere, you can’t go walking on someone else’s land and you cannot just put up a building anywhere, let alone something as little as camping anywhere.
This is a common issue for many travelers who think they will just pull off on the side of the road to camp while road tripping in Alaska. Most land in Alaska is owned by the government but may be leased by someone.
It is best to only camp at campsites otherwise fines can be as much as $500. Those “No Trespassing” signs are not a joke, they are real and just because you do not see a sign does not mean you can trespass.
Alaskan residents take it seriously and are not friendly to anyone walking on their land, even if you did not know it was their land. This is where the saying ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ comes from.
In Alaska, someone can shoot if they feel that their property or themselves are threatened.
10. Most Roads Are Paved
Road tripping in Alaska is high on many people’s lists. The years of bumpy dirt roads have been long gone in Alaska. At least on major highways and on the major tourist paths.
Popular roads like the Alaska Highway are now modern and well maintained throughout the whole year. There are still a few of those bumpy dirt roads in Alaska, though, like the Dalton Highway into the Arctic.
All roads go somewhere right? Well, that is not the case in Alaska. Many roads just end in the middle of nowhere. It is best to plan out your adventure and make sure you are well prepared.
11. Most Of Alaska Is Inaccessible By Car
And speaking of road trips, the truth is that most of Alaska is actually inaccessible by cars. Road tripping in Alaska is limited to a very small part of the state.
I always laugh when someone tells me they are planning a road trip to Alaska and they start naming off names of places you can’t reach with a car in Alaska.
This is one of those things you should know about Alaska before planning your road trip. Did you know the capital of Alaska, Juneau, can only be reached by boat or plane?
At least 80% of Alaska is unreachable by car. That is where the bush planes, boats and snow machines come in.
12. There Are Cops Everywhere
Don’t think that just because you are in middle of nowhere, Alaska, that you can get away with speeding. There are cops everywhere along all of the highways looking for a tourist who is driving fast.
Just on our trip from Anchorage to Fairbanks, we saw a total of 12 police cars monitoring speed in one day. If you’re caught speeding in Alaska you will face a fine up to $300.
Speeding tickets jump up over 100% from May to October. A speeding ticket could ruin your great Alaskan road trip so it is best to stay at the posted speeds.
Speeding aside, police also monitor areas for illegal camping. So as I’ve already mentioned, don’t try to wild camp in areas. Stick to the campgrounds.
13. Not Everyone Is An Alaskan Bush Person
When we think of Alaska we think of popular TV shows like Alaskan Bush People or Deadliest Catch. They paint a picture of the typical person from Alaska being from the backwoods, tall buff men who are flannel-wearing, unintelligent people.
This may be the case for a select few Alaskan residents but many are just like you and me from the lower 48. They dress well and don’t act like crazy bush people who can’t interact with other people.
Don’t let this misconception about Alaskan residents put you off and don’t shy away from conversations either. Some of of our favorite travel memories, ever, come from shared drinks and conversations with Alaskans.
14. Alaska Is Dog-friendly
If you are not a dog person, this is something you should know about Alaska before visiting. Alaska residents love their dogs and they go everywhere!
Dogs by far out rule the few cats, everyone has a dog. We love this because that means lots of cities are dog-friendly where you can find dog parks and other dog amenities throughout.
In many restaurants, you will find dogs sitting below the table waiting for their owners or even walking next to them while they are shopping in the local grocery store.
15. Function Over Fashion In Alaska
It is function over fashion when it comes to dressing for Alaska. From the popular Carhartt jackets to the rubber boots. It’s all about having something that will keep you dry and warm.
Be prepared to see many residents wearing their Xtratuf boots in the middle of town with jeans and or skirts, shopping and even dining with them on.
These are brown rubber boots that are the number one choice in Alaska and are known as the official state shoe of Alaska.
In the lower 48 you would never see anyone sporting brown rubber boots, heck I feel weird when I run a few quick errands in my camo rubber boots. But in Alaska that’s normal. It’s 100% function over fashion.
16. People Are Either Very Helpful Or Avoid You
Just like anywhere in the world, there are friendly people and there are unfriendly people. Alaska is no expectation.
There are a lot of friendly people who live in Alaska but there are also a lot of people who would say “give me my gun, my land, and stay away.”
So as a traveler this can be hard, as some residents will act like they do not see you while others will give their shirt off their back.
Do not take it personally if some residents snub you because you are that tourist from the lower 48. It has happened to us and this is something I wish I knew before visiting Alaska.
There will be some places you will walk into and the locals will stare, this happened to us at the non-touristy places. That said, we never met an Alaskan that wasn’t quick to warm up to us, either.
17. The Homeless People In Alaska
Alaska is not a state I would want to be homeless in and this is not something I ever thought about until I saw the homeless people on the streets of Juneau and Anchorage.
Alaska actually has some of the highest per capita rates of homelessness and alcoholism in America. Where are they coming from? Most of the homeless people in Alaska are Alaskan Natives from Northern and Western Alaska.
Many major cities are doing what they can with the large numbers of homeless people. This is something that will surprise and sadden you as a traveler when visiting Alaska.
18. The South Reference
This is something you should know about Alaska before talking to locals. It all started when a local person asked me ‘where from down south did you come from?’
I quickly answered that we visited Juneau and the Inside Passage. The local just turned away shaking his head.
When someone in Alaska says “The South,” they are not referring to the South that you and I would think about, like Florida, Georgia, Alabama or Texas.
They are talking about all the states in the lower 48. This can be a little difficult for some to think about since we have all grown up being told what states are in the South.
This reprogramming can help you in a conversation because if you know what the local is actually asking you, you will probably get along with them better than if you don’t understand. It is better to know then sound like a fool.
19. There’s A Well-Beaten Tourist Path
That’s right, from May to October there is a well-beaten tourist path in Alaska. This was surprising to me since no one writes about it or talks about it. Just under 2 million people visit Alaska annually.
There’s a popular road trip path that comes up from British Columbia from the lower 48. This brings plenty of RVs, camper vans and motorcycles.
The other popular tourist path is the cruising path that is from Anchorage to Denali and then the ever-popular Inside Passage cruise.
While it is possible to venture beyond these two popular areas, surprisingly, not many people actually do it. The biggest factor in this, I am guessing, has to do with the time needed to access more remote areas and high costs.
20. You Can’t Drive Into Denali National Park
The park road through Denali National Park is 92 miles long and passes through low valleys with snow-topped mountains. It would make for an epic road trip if you could drive through the park, but you actually cannot.
Most visitors find out the day they show up that there is only one road in Denali and that private vehicles can only drive a small part of the road.
Otherwise, you must take a park bus that is operated by a private company with a contract to do so. This can be disappointing if you planned on entering with your own vehicle and it should be something you know before planning your road trip to Denali National Park in Alaska.
21. Alaska is home to 7 of the 10 largest national parks in the USA
The largest national park in America is not Yellowstone, Death Valley or even the Grand Canyon. Instead, that title goes to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in southeastern Alaska.
Alaska is home to 7 of the 10 largest national parks in the USA. Each of those giants has something special to offer to every visitor.
The Gates of the Arctic National Park is one of the least visited national parks and is Alaska’s northernmost park. We visited it on our trip to Alaska.
Denali National Park has the tallest peak in North America and has glaciers and forests to explore.
Glacier Bay National Park is best to know for its bright blue glaciers, which stretch from the mountains to the cost.
22. Not all Towns Are Open Year-Round
Did you know many of the popular tourist towns, like Denali, close down for the wintertime? That’s right, all of those large resorts go into hibernation over the winter months.
Even the popular national parks close for winter and reopen up in late spring. This is something to know if you are traveling in Alaska at the end of Fall, some places may have already started to close. The same goes for early spring.
23. Many Students And Foreigners Head To Alaska To Work
Alaska is known as the land of opportunity and during the tourist months, they are in need of workers. So naturally many students and foreigners head to Alaska to work the tourism seasons.
There’s always a need for hotel, motel, and resort desk clerks, bus drivers, to name a few. Most jobs are only for the summer months, if you are looking for a year-round position, you should look elsewhere.
So if you are traveling in Alaska don’t be surprised when you check into that hotel the person behind the desk speaks limited English or is a young college student.
24. Alaskans Love Their Coffee
If you love a good cup of coffee you’re going to love Alaska. Did you know Alaskans love their coffee so much that it is normal for a little town to not have a bank but have four little drive-through coffee shops?
It’s true, they even have coffee drive-through shops where you don’t have to get out of your car. This is nice for those winter months.
Alaskans love their local coffees too, so in many towns, you will only see locally owned non-chain coffee shops. Locals detest chains in this respect and anyone who tries to put one in ultimately fails.
25. Alaska Has Some Great Beer
I’m not a huge beer drinker but after visiting Germany I’ve turned into a beer snob and when you think of great beers Alaska does not come to mind. Well, it now does for me.
Alaska has some of the best beers in the world like HooDoo and Alaskan Brewing Company to name a few. What makes their beers so great? It’s all in the water.
The state has some of the freshest water in the world. So naturally, they would be able to produce some great beers. So when visiting Alaska don’t be scared to try some of the local beers.
26. Alaska is For Foodies
When I think of Alaska I think of great adventures like exploring ice caves or flying over glaciers. I don’t really think of traveling to Alaska for its food.
Turns out, Alaska has some great local spins on dishes, as well as their own flare to cuisine. This is something I did not know.
When you think of Alaska, what food comes to mind? Probably crab and salmon, right? Well, it is true you can find some of the largest and freshest king crabs here, but there is so much more.
Caribou (Reindeer) burgers, snow goose burgers and Salmonberry pie just to name a few. You can even sample salmon ice cream in Juneau!
The food varieties are endless, even in the smallest of towns. Juneau, for example, you can find a mixing pot of restaurants from Poki Poki that offers Sahimi bowls and burritos to the traditional Alaska Fish and Chips Company at the Flight Deck.
27. Alaskans Make Something Out of Nothing
Alaskan’s inventiveness always surprises me and this is not something you think of until you have traveled to Alaska. They seem to be making something out of nothing and what seems to be junk they turn it into something useful.
You can find this inventiveness everywhere in Alaska. Keep an eye out in local hand made gift shops, where you can find art made out of used spoons and old records.
But this thinking also goes deeper than just souvenirs for travelers. It’s a way of life in Alaska.
Did you learn something about Alaska that you didn’t know? Tell us in the comments below!
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More on Alaska:
- Ultimate Alaska Road Trip Guide
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- Ultimate Guide of Things to Do in Juneau, Alaska
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- Alaska National Parks-The Fabulous 8
- 2017 Travel Review – 7 States and 7 Countries
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- Denali State Park Heli-Hiking Adventure in Remote Alaska
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- 19 Photos That Prove Juneau, Alaska is More Than Just A Cruise Stop
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