Planning a Trip to Alaska: Everything You Need to Know

Published: April 2, 2024

Alaska, often called the Last Frontier, is a destination where the wild thrives, the northern lights dance and the landscapes inspire awe at every turn. It’s a place where wildlife roams freely, glaciers carve paths through the earth, and every day promises an adventure.

At Alaska Tours, we understand that planning a trip to Alaska can seem overwhelming.  And we’re often asked how to make the most of an Alaskan adventure. The most frequent, and perhaps the most important, question we encounter is “How far in advance should I start planning my trip to Alaska?” Given Alaska’s brief peak season, planning your trip requires foresight and early action to ensure that you can explore Alaska to its fullest, embracing all that it has to offer without compromise!

Whether you’re looking to kayak your way through serene fjords, explore the thrill of spotting grizzlies in their natural habitat, or experience the charm of quaint, historic towns. In this guide, we cover all the ins and outs of planning a memorable Alaska vacation. So let’s dive in!


Why Should You Plan Your Alaska Trip Early?

Understanding Alaska’s Peak Travel Season

Alaska has a short peak travel season. With about 80% of Alaska visitors traveling to Alaska between June and August, hotel space fills up quickly. To capture the essence of this peak season, planning a trip to Alaska by the end of January is your best bet for securing prime accommodations and experiences. Last minute reservations may be available up to a month in advance of travel, but routing, itineraries and hotel choices will necessarily be based on remaining availability.

Securing Exclusive Alaska Experiences

Exclusive Alaska experiences that are in high demand, such as all-inclusive lodge stays inside national parks, small ship cruises, and multi-day fishing trips should be booked as early as possible – up to a year in advance is required for some!

Navigating the Shoulder Season

May and September, the “shoulder season” in Alaska, are quieter months and do not sell out as early. Booking your Alaska Holiday 2-3 months in advance is usually sufficient during these shoulder seasons. Shoulder seasons also boast cooler temperatures and less crowded attractions compared to peak summer.

two wooden chairs facing out to grass coast line, a lagoon with a canoe and a tidewater glacier

Viewing Pederson Glacier from Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge

Maximizing Your Alaska Holiday

Booking Day Trips and Must-Do Activities

Day trips can usually be arranged closer to your travel dates. We require at least 10 days’ notice to book a tour, to allow us time to confirm it and send you your travel documents before you leave home. However, we recommend making reservations further in advance for any activities that you know you want to do, because any tour can potentially sell out. 

Wildlife viewing tours, Fishing trips, and Helicopter tours tend to fill up first. You don’t want to be disappointed when you arrive in Alaska and find out that a tour is unavailable, therefore something you should definitely book in advance.

Up-close view of a diving whale from Juneau.

Embracing Alaska’s Winter Wonderland

Winter is a completely different Alaska experience, with winter sports, like skiing, dog sledding, and Northern Lights viewing taking center stage. Many national parks, hotels, and summertime activities are closed. Because it is a quieter season with fewer visitors, it is easier to book your vacation only a few weeks in advance. 

However, during the holidays, including Christmas, New Year’s, and Spring Break, many Alaska winter tours sell out about two to three months in advance.

green bands of aurora over a paved road in Alaska in winter

Aurora Over Denali (Kent Miller/NPS)

How to Plan a Trip to Alaska – Top Tips

Planning an Alaskan adventure can be both exciting and overwhelming.  To ensure your trip is unforgettable for all the right reasons, here’s a step-by-step guide to help you navigate the key considerations:

Choose Your Ideal Time to Visit

  • Seasonality: Alaska boasts distinct seasons, each offering unique experiences. Summer (June-August) is peak season with mild temperatures and long daylight hours, ideal for hiking and wildlife viewing. Spring (May) and fall (Mid August-September) offer shoulder season advantages – fewer crowds and stunning fall foliage. Winter (December-March) transforms Alaska into a snowy wonderland, perfect for aurora borealis viewing and winter sports.

Determine Your Travel Duration

  • Trip Length: Alaska is a vast state, and travel distances between destinations can be significant. Consider how much time you realistically have available for your trip. A week allows for a taste of Alaska, while two weeks or more opens up opportunities for exploring diverse regions.

Set a Realistic Budget

  • Cost Considerations: Alaska can be an expensive destination. Factor in flights, accommodation, tours, meals, and any additional activities. Research average costs and set a realistic budget that aligns with your travel style.

Pick Your Alaskan Destinations

Craft Your Alaskan Bucket List

  • Must-Do Activities: Alaska is an adventurer’s paradise. From glacier kayaking to flightseeing over Denali, identify activities that top your list. Research tours and excursions in advance, especially for popular activities during peak season.

Secure Bookings in Advance

  • Accommodation & Tours: Popular hotels and tours can fill up quickly, especially during peak season. Book your accommodation and any essential tours well in advance to secure your desired dates and avoid disappointment.

Plan Your Transportation & Logistics

  • Getting Around: Look into several transportation options to get around between destinations. While trains and scheduled buses provide convenient access to some destinations, their routes have limitations. Renting a car or motorhome grants you the most flexibility, allowing you to explore off-the-beaten-path locations and discover hidden gems at your own pace. 

Pack for Alaskan Weather

  • Layers are Key: Alaska weather is unpredictable. Be prepared for anything by packing layers of clothing, including waterproof gear, hiking boots, warm hats, and gloves. Whether you’re packing for an Alaska cruise or exploring the wilderness, make sure to review weather forecasts closer to your departure date for specific needs.

Let Alaska Tours Be Your Guide

Alaska beckons with wild landscapes, captivating wildlife, and endless adventures. Let this guide empower you to plan your dream Alaskan escape. Remember, with a little early planning, you can unlock the best experiences and create memories that will last a lifetime.

Ready to start planning your Alaskan adventure? Contact Alaska Tours today! We’ll help you craft the perfect itinerary to experience the Last Frontier in all its glory.