Getting Around Alaska: Should I Fly or Drive?

Published: July 6, 2022

Once you’ve arrived in Alaska, the fun phase of your travels is just beginning. There are many ways to get to Alaska’s special places and unique adventures, but two of the most popular are driving and flying. But which to choose? And when?

There is no pat answer here. The choice is yours and really boils down to personal preference and how your Alaska itinerary lays out. But here are some factors to consider when deciding whether to primarily drive or fly during your Alaska visit.

Flying Between Destinations in Alaska: The Pros

A Birds Eye View

One of the best aspects of traveling between Alaska destinations – whether flying, driving or otherwise – is soaking up the scenic grandeur. Driving and flying give you heavy doses of both, just from different perspectives.

You get a pilots view flying over a glacier with Alpine Air near Girdwood.

Book yourself a window seat on any type of commercial airline travel in Alaska and you’ll likely get a bonus flightseeing tour upon liftoff. Bright glaciers, majestic mountains, wonderfully colorful fauna, flora and tundra, mirror-like dots of large and small lakes, wild veins of wide rivers: it’s all breathtaking and one of the few times you’ll wish you were stuck on an airplane a little longer.

Unique “Fly In” Destinations

Another advantage to flying is access to off the beaten path destinations for hiking, fishing, skiing and more that you simply can’t get to except by bush plane, float plane or helicopter (let alone commercial aircraft).

Many very popular and not so well known but incredible destinations in Alaska are simply not accessible by either boat or car. For instance, no roads will get you to some of Alaska’s most fascinating, historic and iconic communities, including its capitol Juneau (and most other beautiful Southeast ports), the heart of the Gold Rush and Iditarod in Nome, or the top-of-the-world Alaska Native community of Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow). Many of Alaska’s top luxury and adventure lodges can’t be driven to, either. Same goes for classic Alaska experiences like Brooks Falls bear viewing, hanging out on one of the many glaciers in the shadow of Denali, or getting into the adventure-filled and epic Gates of the Arctic National Park. They are all, however, accessible by plane. Large airlines fly to towns in every corner of the state, smaller regional airlines get you to smaller towns, villages and far-off places, and private businesses and pilots can get travelers to remote lakes filled with fish, unbelievable camping spots, or the start of a rafting, kayaking or hiking trek.

Time is Money

Then there’s the old saying, “Time is money.” Six-plus hours on the road driving between Fairbanks and Anchorage may be scenic, but it can also be downright exhausting when compared to the convenience of less than an hour in the air between the two (not to mention the bonus view of Denali and Foraker’s peaks). There’s serious convenience and Point A to Point B efficiency to flying that you just can’t get with driving.

Driving Between Destinations in Alaska: The Pros

Up Close and Local

Driving might not give you a bird’s eye view of Alaska’s awesome sights, but it does give you the chance to see and experience things up close, as well as stop to take a photo (or 10!). In Alaska, the main roadside attraction is wildlife, especially moose, mountain goats, eagles, with the occasional bear, fox, porcupine, caribou and musk ox, if you’re lucky. Good luck seeing them from a plane. And you can pull over anytime to enjoy the view, whether it’s wonderful wildlife, Denali or another impressive peak poking out of the clouds, or any of the hundreds of only-in-Alaska landscapes that are practically indescribable.

Dall Sheep Ewe And Lambs Denali Natonal Park Alaska Summer/Nigloo Mtn

Flexibility to Change Your Mind 

Here’s where traveling by car is most beneficial and convenient. Want to pull over on the Seward Highway and Turnagain Arm and look at mountain goats and beluga whales for hours? Take your time. Want to change plans and spend another day in quaint and quirky places like Homer and Talkeetna? No problem. Want to revise your itinerary or rip it up entirely? It’s your trip and you’ve got the steering wheel. If the journey is just as important as the highlights of your destination, and you aren’t on a tight schedule, then take your time and enjoy all the fun things you discover along the Alaskan way.

Write Your Own Alaska Story 

Have you read some of the stories our travelers tell us after their trips to Alaska about their personal experiences? They’re amazing! Some of the most fascinating ones come from those folks who drove from point-to-point, meeting locals, discovering “only in Alaska” cultural memes and trivia and seeing so much in only a week or two. Getting behind the wheel will give you the freedom to explore – and what’s not to like about THAT?? You will feel like you have a gone a month after only a few days in Alaska.

Temsco Juneau

So, what works best for you? You choose! But whichever it is, flying or driving through Alaska, Happy Trails to you and yours