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Are you curious how to visit Alaska without a cruise? Contrary to popular belief, it can be done! Take it from me, a born and raised in Alaska who worked in the tourism industry, visiting Alaska without a cruise can be the best way to see my home state. Most people choose a cruise because they are unsure of how even to start planning a trip to this beautiful state on their own but, there are plenty of options for those looking to visit without a big cruise ship. Alaska has some fantastic all-inclusive tour operators that are ready with pre-planned travel packages to take the stress out of planning. Or for the independent type, there are plenty of resources so you can choose your own adventurer. I’ll share all my insider tips for planning for dream vacation to Alaska without a cruise ship and you’ll leave with memories to last a lifetime.
WHAT WE’RE COVERING
- Visiting Alaska without a cruise is a unique option for the more independent traveler
- See remote parts of the state by plane, train, or campervan
- Avoid the crowds and diffuse seasonal mass-overtourism
- Book independent excursions or all-inclusive packages with local companies
Why You Should Visit Alaska Without a Cruise?
News of the cruise industry canceling their cruises to Alaska in 2020 and 2021 due to COVID is devastating news for the Alaskan economy and the thousands of locals that rely on tourism. It was also a major bummer for anyone who planned to embark on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Alaska. But it’s not game over! The cruise industry is both a blessing and a curse for Alaska, contributing to tourism leakage in Alaska, a long list of environmental concerns, and overcrowding for locals in small communities. On the other hand, it is a convenient way to see some of the best locations in Alaska.
Regardless, it’s high time for the Alaskan travel industry to diversify, and I encourage those willing and able to explore Alaska away from a cruise to try it out. There is no time like the present to try something different and experience Alaska in a way most never have. Visiting Alaska without a cruise can be a more sustainable option, putting money into the economy, allowing travelers to engage in ethical and cultural tourism, and creating meaningful travel experiences. An added bonus, it’s a safer option amid a pandemic, plus you can see some local hidden gems and get off the beaten path for an adventure unlike any other.
If you are cruise hesitant amid the pandemic, increasing awareness surrounding their negative environmental toll, or you’re a curious adventurer wanting to explore all that Alaska has to offer, keep reading for my local tips for traveling to Alaska without a cruise. As a former Alaskan tour guide, a born and raised Alaskan, and someone who still works in the travel sector, I know all the ins and outs to help you plan the best trip of your life. Let’s dig in.
How to Get to Alaska Without a Cruise
More than 50% of people travel to Alaska on a cruise. Meaning that the majority of tourists have their flights or sailings booked for them. But getting to Alaska is easy on your own. There are often great deals from most major airport hubs in the United States. I recommend flying on Alaska Airlines for the best customer service, and sometimes you’ll even get commentary on your flight. If you’re not in the US, there are great flights from Iceland, direct flights from Frankfurt, and some good connections from Japan.
You can fly into Juneau, our capital, a great launching point for a Southeast tour, similar to what cruise lines might do. You can also fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks and rent a car for a complete interior land tour from Seward to Denali National Park. Flying into Anchorage is the easiest option; it’s our largest central hub, so you’ll likely get the most direct flights to save on carbon emissions. From there, you can connect to just about any part of the state in no time.
Budgeting & Accommodation
For many people, a cruise is an investment. So, you might think that planning a trip to Alaska without a cruise might save you money. I’ll be honest with you though, Alaska isn’t the cheapest place, and patching together your own trip can quickly end up being more than a cruise. If you’re on a road trip, you’re likely to spend quite a bit of money on gas, and in 2021-2022 car rental prices can be more than your airline ticket. Meanwhile, for those interested in visiting the more remote national parks like Gates of the Arctic – these trips can set you back $7,000+, not including your transport to Alaska. If you book many excursions, these can easily reach thousands of dollars for big flightseeing trips. Eating out at a nice seafood restaurant might set you back $35 dollars a plate. This is a far fetch from the all-you-can-eat crab buffets on a cruise. So, create a budget before you fly to Alaska and book as many things as possible so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. Pick 1-2 dream excursions that are worth forking over extra money.
In many cases, you will also be in charge of booking your own accommodation. Much of the land accommodation in Alaska can be rustic but pricy. Set your expectations for the style and price of accommodation on your trip. Airbnb is popping up as problematic for many Alaska communities contributing to gentrification. I encourage you to find a hotel, bed and breakfast, or rural lodge based on your itinerary and needs.
Book a Multi-Day Tour with a Local Company
Alaska has dozens of local inclusive tour companies that offer set packages or customized itineraries. That means they will prepare all the transportation, lodging, excursions, and more. A lot of people book cruises for the ease of having everything taken care of for them, but most Alaskan tour companies do all that for you as well. I know and recommend Salmon Berry Tours, owned by two lovely local women who are passionate about Alaska. I used to work for Premier Alaska Tours and they are a well-organized professional company with great guides. Private Alaska Touring is also great and the team of travel curators is always working to offer the best packages. Northern Alaska Tour Company offers multi-day itineraries in and around Fairbanks and the Arctic circle. You can explore Native Villages, see polar bears, or visit one of the most remote national parks in the World, Gates of the Arctic. Alaskans LOVE showing off our state, and the most significant impact you can have is by putting those tourist dollars directly into our pockets with a carefully curated multi-day adventure supporting local businesses the entire way. Keep reading for a bigger list of all the inclusive tour companies that are willing to help you plan your whole holiday with insider knowledge.
Local Alaskan Inclusive Travel & Tour Companies
Check out these Alaskan tour companies that will help you plan the custom itinerary of your dreams, or pick from any of their pre-planned trips. You won’t even miss the hustle of a cruise as you trust local Alaskans to plan the perfect multi-day adventure.
- Alaska Private Touring: An all-inclusive local tour company operating year-round for the best of all seasons in Alaska. Get to know Alaska intimately with their 16-day tours, or just get a little test with a short trip. Have them plan something just for you, whether you want culture, outdoors, or something in between.
- Salmon Berry Tours: An all-inclusive local tour company operating year-round, including amazing winter tours to see a magical winter wonderland not possible with a cruise. They also offer fantastic summer packages to explore Alaska’s National Parks and more. Choose any of their 1-6 day tours or have them plan something just for you.
- Northern Alaska Tour Company: A flightseeing and tour company based out of Fairbanks Alaska offering Denali and Arctic Circle excursions. Multi or single-day trips to Indigenous towns, Gates of the Arctic National Park, Polar Bear tours, and more.
- Alaskan Dream Cruises: Take advantage of a multi-day (7-10 night) cruise, servicing small groups (max 70 people) venturing to remote Native villages, historical towns, coves filled with wildlife, and more. Support Alaskan-owned small-scale cruising for the very best of both worlds.
- Alaska Adventure Company: If you are looking for a wild backcountry adventure from fishing, remote cabin stays, wilderness kayaking, photography tours, and more, look no further. Build your dream Alaskan off the grid adventure.
- Premier Alaska Tours: If you had your heart set on a group or family cruise with all the relatives or several family groups, then reach out to Premier Alaska Tours. They are equipped for medium to large size groups and should be willing to curate a private trip for larger groups. I even had an entire quilting group on one of my tours when I worked with them – so anything goes.
- Alaska Tour and Travel: ATT traditionally specializes in pre and post-cruise land options, so you can still get that land tour you had your eye on – just without the cruise! They also offer 5-10 days Alaska highlights or off-the-beaten path itineraries. For independent travelers, they will plan your trip then give you the reigns with a detailed custom DIY tour of Alaska.
- Alaska Tours: They offer tour packages based on interest, so you can pick a multi-day train trip across Alaska, plan an epic road trip, or fly over the great state. They also have loads of great travel tips to help you start planning your own journey across Alaska.
- Greatland Adventures: Greatland offers a little bit of everything from connecting you with glacier kayaking and guided hikes with locals for the day to 14-day mega tours across the interior of Alaska.
- Alaska Adventure Unlimited: This family-owned company specializes in hyperlocal multi or single-day tours, including some unique offerings to Wrangell St. Elias National Park, photography tours, and more. This is the perfect option for family groups, as they even offer some budget-friendly group options.
- Alaska Alpine Adventures: If your ideal vacation is 12 days of remote guided hiking or a 7-day kayak adventure, then AK Alpine Adventures is the perfect tour company for you. They specialize in outdoor adventures for those that want to see the true wilderness and epic nature of Alaska.
- Wild Alaska Travel: For epic adventures to see polar bears and the northern lights and all the best of the cold Alaska winters, contact Wild Alaska Travel.
- Kenai Back Country Adventures: Another excellent option for outdoor lovers with epic multi-day hiking, rafting, and remote Alaskan adventures.
- Alaska Wild Land Tours: Have a great adventure anywhere in the state, including multi-day remote lodge trips to a tour up the Inside Passage.
Plan Your Own Adventure
Utilize local resources from experts to plan your own personalized trip. Alaska.org has some of the best ideas for independent DIY travelers allowing you to cobble together your very own adventure anywhere in the state. Explore Fairbanks has some great travel ideas for the interior and north of Alaska. Visit Anchorage has some great resources for Southcentral Alaska. Alaska Inside Passage will help get you started with Southeast Alaska travel tips. Of course, the posts in my Alaska section are always growing to give you more ideas like these awesome 70 local things to do in Anchorage.
Utilize Local Transportation in Alaska
One of my favorite facts about Alaska is that you can drive almost 1,000 miles and only make one left (or right) hand turn at a proper light and get from Seward to Deadhorse. So, even though we only have one major highway (which is really a bunch of smaller highways connected) you can access a huge portion of Alaska from the comfort of a car. And, if you want to be a real Alaskan, you’ll get off the highway and take to the air or sea to reach all the hidden gems and small villages that make Alaska such a special place.
Rent a Car / Van / Camper
2022 Car Update: Car rental prices are ridiculous in Alaska right now – as are gas prices – confirm your price and quote! On top of that my mom (a lifetime Alaskan) just said that many tourists are arriving at the car rental location of their booking and being told there are no cars. Yes, even people with bookings are ending up without cars. Make sure you call a day or two ahead and ensure your booking is still confirmed. Also, do not be late – if your car rental is for noon and you show up at 3 pm they probably gave it to someone who was there at noon. This is common for rental companies – so pay attention and be on time. Try booking a car away from major airports. If all else fails, try Turo. I have a couple of friends lending their cars using this program. And if that fails – take the train! My friend just planned 2 weeks in Alaska without a car and relied on trains, shuttles, busses, and more!
If you’re planning to stick to our central highway system including Southcentral Alaska (Anchorage, Seward, Homer, Girdwood, Palmer, Talkeetna, Valdez), the Interior of Alaska (Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Denali Highway), and even as far east as Wrangell National Park then renting a car, or campervan from Get Lost Campervans, might be the right option for you. For the summer of 2021, Denali National Park is offering exclusive limited driving permits into the park. Usually, private vehicles are not allowed in the park, so driving is a great way to safely see the park’s beauty while staying in your bubble. Alaska has some of the major rental companies such as Enterprise, Avis, and Hertz in Fairbanks and Anchorage.
Suppose you are the adventurous type without mobility or significant health concerns. In that case, I recommend getting off the main highways in Alaska and exploring some remote areas, such as the Denali Highway, or heading to McCarthy. For this, you are highly recommended to rent a 4×4 and ensure it comes with a spare tire or two – and know how to change a tire. A 4×4 is also a great option if you drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks in the winter. Alaska 4×4 Rentals has an excellent reputation for providing quality 4×4 rugged vehicles in Fairbanks and Anchorage. You can choose from a line of Jeeps, Suburbans, and for larger families, a 12-person 4WD option. Midnight Sun Car and Van Rental have AWD Subaru rentals and larger vans to fit the entire family. If you’re going down some of the more remote roads, then make sure you have great insurance; cracked windows and popped tires can be expected.
If you want to utilize Alaska’s numerous RV camping locations in Seward, Homer, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Valdez, Palmer, and beyond then check out ABC Motorhomes, Alaska Motorhome Rentals, or Go North Alaska. Most RV rentals are only available in Anchorage or Fairbanks.
If you prefer a smaller camper van, so you can navigate the smaller road more easily, check out River Wild Camper Vans, Get Lost Travel Vans, Alaska Camper Van Rentals, or Alaska Adventure. This would be my top choice for seeing Alaska, as you have the most flexibility about where you go and sleep.
As an alternative, you can also just add a tent to your car rental and utilize Alaska’s numerous camping grounds to save some money. Campgrounds are just about everywhere, so you’ll always find a place to pitch your tent. Campgrounds may get full on weekends and holidays, as we locals love using them every chance. It helps to plan your route ahead of time during the peaks in summer. You can rent camping gear from Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental in Fairbanks or Anchorage.
Sail the Seas with Alaska Marine Highway
If you had your heart set on seeing Southeast Alaska, including Juneau, Sitka Ketchikan, and more, don’t despair, do as the Alaskans do, and take advantage of our Alaska Marine Highway System. The marine highway is 3,500 miles of ferry routes that connect 35 communities, including connections to Canada and Washington State. You can access the ferry system from most coastal regions in the south, including, Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands, all the way to Bellingham, Washington. The Marine Highway also offers short-day trip ferries and shuttle ferries, so you can create a home base and take a short day or overnight trip to see your surroundings.
You can fly to Juneau, using the ferry to access Skagway, Hoonah, and Sitka. Then from Juneau, you can make your way down to Ketchikan, where you could fly back to Washington or settle in for a long ferry ride to Bellingham. The ferry can eat days of your itinerary. For example, getting from Juneau to Ketchikan is 20 hours, so if you’re not up for a night on the ferry, then stick to Juneau and utilize the day and shuttle ferries to see plenty of unique spots in southeast Alaska.
Ride the Train
One of my favorite ways to get around is riding the Alaska Railroad. The railroad connects the interior of Alaska, and you can combine rail legs with renting a car. You can save money by only renting a car for a few days and riding the train for the rest of the way.
During the summer, the Alaska Railroad runs from Seward to Fairbanks. My favorite route is Anchorage to Seward, which passes by glaciers, and through mountain passes, and you’ll see plenty of wildlife. However, I would argue that every leg of the train is awe-inspiring. The trek from Anchorage to Talkeetna passes over braided glacial river beds and through moose-filled marshlands, with the Talkeetna Mountains and the Chugach Mountains surrounding the valley. The leg from Talkeetna to Denali passes through wild forests dotted with lakes, bears, moose, and mountain views. The journey from Denali to Fairbanks is probably my second favorite. It traverses the Alaskan tundra with endless views of the vast wilderness. You enter a high-elevation pass nestled among the mountains where the caribou migration happens, and a sense of calm washes over you with the silent beauty of Alaska.
Local Tip: The Alaska Railroad has amazing “specials,” such as the Glacier Discovery Train. This train runs from Anchorage to Whitter and makes whistle stops so you can get out and go berry picking, take a walkout to a glacier, or hang out and enjoy the scenery. They even have overnight or multiday packages where they plan an epic adventure by rail; all you need to do is book your tickets. This is something you can not do if you’re cruising. So, if you are a train lover, take advantage of their specials and packages. The train does book up fast in the summer months, so make sure you plan your route ahead of time and secure your tickets.
Take to the Skies
Alaska has the most extensive seaplane base in the world, the largest air cargo hub, and more air traffic with small single-engine planes than anywhere else. You can’t even drive to our capital, Juneau – you must fly there. Alaska and Horizon Airlines fly to most major towns and cities, enabling you to explore Bethel, Nome, or Utqiagvik. Ravn Air offers access to smaller towns. However, the ideal way to fly around Alaska is by booking an overnight or sightseeing excursion with Rust’s, K2, Alaska Adventure Company, or Northern Alaskan Tour Company. This way, you can see Alaska from a small plane and land somewhere remote for a unique experience.
I highly recommend booking the inclusive Wilderness Place Lodge trip with Alaska Adventure Company. Fly to a ‘luxury but still rustic’ wilderness lodge, eat amazing food, plan excursions, relax, or go fishing. I also use Rust’s Flying Service for friends and family when they visit and recommend their overnight at Katmai Lodge to see bears feasting on Salmon.
Catch a Bus or Shuttle
Alaska has a pretty shit public transportation system, so don’t expect to hop on a convenient bus from downtown Anchorage to Eagle River soon. But we do take care of our tourists, and you have plenty of options to catch a motorcoach ‘bus’ from Anchorage to Denali National Park—the Park Connection Shuttles people between Denali and Seward. Most shuttles operate daily, if not several times a day, during the summer season. My former employer, Premier Alaska Tours, operates these shuttles, and they are fantastic.
If you are in Anchorage with time to kill and want to see the gorgeous Turnagain Arm, including a scenic drive, a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, Girdwood, or Portage Glacier, then book a shuttle day trip to see all the highlights of the Anchorage area with Turnagain Arm Shuttle. If you want to hike Anchorage’s Flat Top, you can catch a shuttle from Anchorage to the trailhead and back with the Flat Top Shuttle. Ketchikan and Talkeetna have a tourist taxi service that acts as a shuttle service. There are dozens of options like this around Alaska, including Seward, Juneau, Fairbanks, and more. If you need help finding excellent shuttles or transportation hops near any of your destinations in Alaska, let me know!
Cruise with a Small Sustainable Alaskan Cruise
While large multi-national cruise companies are problematic for small communities, the answer isn’t simply taking everyone off the cruise and putting them on land. Alaska’s infrastructure isn’t quite ready for that. Additionally, numerous small flights can add up in terms of carbon output.
If you still have your heart set on a cruise but want a better and more sustainable alternative, I suggest a small local Alaskan-owned cruise company. Sail with Dream Alaskan Cruises on a 7-10 day adventure with a small group of up to 70 people. Local Alaskans will take you to tiny Native Villages, remote and rural towns, hidden wildlife sanctuaries, and more. A local small-group cruise is perhaps the best way to see the beauty of southeast Alaska while avoiding the large crowds of mega cruises and ensuring your money goes right back into the community. This is the perfect sustainable ecotourism option for an authentic tour of Alaska’s southeast without all the crowds.
Book Independent Excursions
If you don’t want everything planned for you by booking with a local Alaskan tour company, then utilize the home base strategy and book mini 1-3 day excursions from there. For example, if you use Anchorage as your home base, you can book a one-day flightseeing tour with Rust’s to see bears in Lake Clark. On another day you can take Alaska Railroad down to Seward for 1-2 nights for whale watching with Major Marine Tours. By doing this, you will know the Anchorage area intimately and have a wide range of options to see the surrounding area. You can quickly fly to other great home bases, including Juneau and Fairbanks. Juneau will give you access to the Alaska Marine Highway system to see some of the southeast locations you would have on your cruise. Fairbanks will provide you with access to the interior and Arctic Circle.
One of the best parts about visiting Alaska without a cruise is allowing the time and flexibility to do these things. When I was working with people cruising in Alaska, many of them asked about overnight trips to remote cabin to go fishing, and I would have to break the bad news that the rushed cruise itineraries didn’t allow for those types of trips.
Excursion Operators and Alaskan Experiences
Check out these local tour guides for epic day trips and excursions around Alaska. This list focuses on big excursion companies (rather than must-see places like museums) similar to those offered on cruises. It is just a small sample of the hundreds of execution operators in Alaska.
- Greatland Adventures: A tour company based in Anchorage offering everything from fat-biking, ice climbing, glacier viewings, and northern lights tours. They employ locals and are open year-round, which is a great sustainable option!
- Rust’s Flightseeing Tours: Rust’s offers winter flightseeing tours based out of Anchorage.
- Seward Ocean Expedition: A small family-owned boat company out of Seward offering wildlife viewing, photography tours, remote skiing or snowshoeing adventures, and even scuba activities in the winter.
- Adventure 60 North: An outdoor company based in Seward offering access to Kenai Fjords National Park via biking, skiing, or snowshoeing.
- Ascending Path: An outdoor adventure company offering snowshoeing and other winter activities.
- Alaska Photo Treks: Get expert photography advice and tips as you explore the Anchorage area with photography to get the best photographs to make all your friends jealous.
- Turnagain Arm Shuttle: See the best of the Turnagain Arm, including a conservation center, scenic views, glaciers, and more.
- 907 Tours: Several tour options, including a trip to Matanuska Glacier and wildlife excursions near Anchorage.
- Alaska Wild Guides:
- Trygg Air: Book a flightseeing adventure to see a walrus colony, to a wildlife refuge, or to see bears. The Trygg experts have unique wildlife and wilderness packages for one-of-a-kind experiences.
- Lazy Otter Charters: See Prince William Sound with glacier tours, kayak rentals, or take a ferry to a remote cabin (must be booked separately and in advance.)
- Alaska By Air: As their name says, see Alaska by air with flightseeing tours, including Denali. They also offer flights for remote lodges and fishing trips.
- Major Marine Tours: I only recommend this family-owned business for wildlife viewing and glacier excursions in Prince William Sound out of Seward. They are amazing!
- Alaska Railroad: Connecting Seward to Fairbanks with scenic trips through Alaska’s wilderness. Commentary and dining options are available—book combo tickets for a unique experience partnering with local Alaskan businesses.
- Anchorage Downtown Tour Group: A native-owned tour operator plans custom and special tours for winter exploration.
- Big Swig Tours: Taste the best craft beers in Anchorage with Big Swig.
- AK Finest: A native-owned tour company that offers city tours of Anchorage and the surrounding area
- True Alaskan Tours: Explore the hidden gems of the entire southeast region with ziplining in Ketchikan, fishing in Sitka, whale watching in Juneau, or seeing Wrangell National Park with a family-owned company.
- Frontier Excursions: See the best of Skagway and the Yukon with fun day trips, including scenic train rides, rafting trips, or a trip to Emerald Lake.
- Adventure Bound: Visit Tracy Arm Fjord just outside of Juneau for up-close glacier encounters and a scenic boat ride.
- Gastineau Company: Explore Juneau, including Mendenhall Glacier, whale watching, and more – all with a small group and local guides.
- Skagway Tours: For adventures in and around Juneau and Skagway, including whale watching and beer tastings, then check out Skagway Tours.
- Alaska Shore Tours: For a full look at all the shore excursions t cruise guests in Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, then this is the place. Reach out to them and let them know you’re an independent traveler and see what your options are.
- Out to Sea Expeditions: Get an intimate look at Alaska’s wildlife in a zodiac boat with this small family-owned company.
- Ketchikan Taxi Tours: Explore Ketchikan, including everything from their charming pub scene, to Native art, and flightseeing, fishing, and culinary tours.
- Misty Fjords Air: Take a special flightseeing tour into Misty Fjords or other areas of the Tongass National Forest.
- Sitka Wildlife Tours: Explore the best of Sitka with walking tours, scenic boat rides, and other adventures.
- Temsco Helicopters: Land on a glacier!
Interior / North
- Denali Back Country Lodge: Experience the best of Denali National Park wilderness in a remote lodge deep in the park. Relax at the spa, take guided walks, and enjoy some peace.
- Alaska Wildlife Guide: Take off and see the best of the interior and northern with walking tours of Fairbanks, a trip to Chena hot springs, or northern lights tours.
- Gold Daughters: Pan for gold in the golden heart of our state, Fairbanks with the Gold Daughters.
- Denali National Park Tours: Take the Tundra Wilderness Tour into Denali National Park to see bears, moose, caribou, and countless other wild animals.
- Denali Raft Adventures: Go rafting down the wild Alaskan glacial-fed rivers.
- Alaska Aurora Adventures: Experience the Northern Lights, the Arctic Circle, and the best of the interior and vast north of Alaska.
- K2 Aviation: See Denali up close with flightseeing tours offering summit views and a look at all the jagged peaks on the Alaska range.
- Husky Homestead: Visit Ididitrod Jeff King’s summer hour for his dog sled team, including cuddling husky puppies.
For More Ideas:
Check out my favorite women-owned businesses in Alaska for some ideas of new places to visit, tour operators, and tour guides that are dominating the industry.
When to Visit
Visit During a Shoulder Season
Normally I recommend skipping Alaska during the peak cruise seasons. Alaska experiences mass-over tourism in the summer during cruise ship landings, but the summer of 2021 without cruises is shaping up to be a promising season with fewer crowds. Otherwise, I would suggest visiting during autumn. Autumn is one of my favorite seasons in Alaska and it honestly rivals any east coast state for foliage. The mountainsides explode with vibrant oranges, yellows, and reds. Bears gorge at all you can eat buffets preparing for the fat bear week. The days are still long enough for adventure-filled afternoons. Most of the crowds have dissipated and the locals are friendly and out in full force enjoying the last days of summer. In short, if you can visit Alaska in the autumn for a colorful trip filled with wildlife sightings.
I won’t lie, visiting Alaska in spring is not for the faint of heart. If you love unexpected snowstorms followed by massive puddles of snowmelt then this is the season for you. It’s not all bad though, as Alaska emerges from 7 months of winter there are moments where you feel honored to be part of a rebirth. Alaskans are wearing shorts in 40-degree weather and suntanning with beers and outdoor dining. It’s worth a few unexpected snowfalls to enjoy the birth of spring.
Alaska in Winter
Alaska is fantastic in winter. A quiet calm washes over the state as tourism numbers decline. But, there is still plenty to see and do, including Northern Lights Tours, Ididitrod adventures, hot springs, glacier adventures, and more. Check out my top reasons to visit Alaska in winter, my favorite spots to visit, and tour operators that are open all year round specializing in winter adventures. For a winter adventure, I highly recommend booking an inclusive winter package from one of the tour operators, since driving in snow and icy can be really scary – especially since we don’t maintain the road haha.
Enjoy Exploring Alaska Without a Cruise
Seeing all the best of Alaska away from the big cruise ship has never been easier by taking advantage of Alaska’s transportation options, local tour operators, independent excursions, and even a small locally owned cruise company. When it is safe to do so, book a trip to Alaska and see a side that no one has ever seen with a customized tour without a cruise ship. Skipping the cruise ship is a sustainable and authentic way to explore beautiful Alaska.
Make sure to share with all your friends and family dreaming of an Alaskan holiday, but aren’t sure what to do if their cruise was canceled or they are curious about alternatives.
- Have you visited Alaska without a cruise? What are your top tips?
- Are you interested in visiting Alaska without a cruise? Let me know in the comments what you’re most excited about!
I don’t really like cruises so I would love to explore Alaska another way. This was a really helpful and informative post for me!
For a Southeast Asian like me, Alaska and all the other destinations in the far north or far south seem like another planet entirely. But I’d really love to go someday if I had the chance. Good to know of all these options.
I feel the same way about parts of SE Asia, but they are both beautiful in their own ways. I hope you are able to see Alaska some day and I would love to visit more of SE Asia! Cheers.
Thus us very informative. I’ve been looking to do Alaska w/o the cruise. I’m planning on coming in May. I want to do sights & do a 2 day fishing trip.
There are lots of great locally-owned companies that you can hire for a guided fishing trip. I hope you enjoy!
This is a great guide. I’ve always felt that cruises were the only way to see Alaska but cruise ships are really not my thing. I’ll definitely look more into exploring on my own now.
Most people visit Alaska on a cruise, but you get such a unique experience working with a local tour company or going it on your own. I hope you are able to independently visit sometime in the near future.
I’m so glad I came across this post. Alaska has always been on my bucket list – but i’m not a cruise fan. This is a much better way to visit in my opinion – saving this for when I finally make it there!
Awesome, I hope you are able to see Alaska without a cruise, it really is the most authentic and sustainable way to see my beautiful home state!
I have been wanting to visit Alaska to see the Northern Lights and stunning landscape for years, but have always been intimidated to travel there. Thank you so much for this incredible guide – I am more inspired than ever to go now!
The Northern Lights are best usually in January-March, but it really depends on the solar flares. I recommend booking one of the Northern Light tour packages with Salmonberry or Northern Alaska Tour Company you’ll have a great experience whether or not the lights are out and get advice on the best time to book.
Oh I’d love to visit Alaska! I’m not much of a cruiser so it is good to know that there are plenty of options for a non-cruise visit! Those excursions sound amazing! I wouldn’t know which ones to pick! A photography tour sounds like a great place to start! I always take thousands of photos when I travel and locals always no the best spots! Thanks for the great guide!
The photography tours are amazing! You see some of the best places to take photos, animals, and landscapes while getting some personalized tips. Alaska is a wonderful place to take photos and if you visit without a cruise you have plenty of time to get an intimate look at all the hidden gems.
Really enjoyed reading your insight. I’ve honestly never considered visiting Alaska without a cruise, so this was eye-opening. Will keep this handy for a future trip!
Awesome, I hope you are able to plan a trip to Alaska without a cruise in the near future. It’s so worth it.
Alaska has been on our list for a long time. Thanks for such a detailed post! Saving for when we make it to Alaska!!
Hi Deb, thanks so much for reading and saving. I hope you are able to use it in the future to plan a trip to Alaska without a cruise.
I am not a fan of cruises for sooo many reasons (the main ones being pollution…but covid-19 made me even less keen!) so it is fab to see just how many options there are for exploring without the cruise.
Fab post as always Susanna!
Thanks, Josy, Cruises cause a lot of problems for Alaska – invasive species, air, and water pollution. On top of that most of the money doesn’t even stay in the state. So, I hope this guide will help people plan a more sustainable trip to Alaska.
Thank you so much for this post! I am planning a trip in late July of this year. Hope to be able to utilize some of your tips and recommendations!
Amazing. I hope you have a wonderful time and feel free to reach out if you have any questions. You’ll love visiting Alaska without a cruise.
I love how thorough this guide is. Avoiding a cruise ship is a lot more sustainable, and I’m sure also a lot more rewarding. Most people look for simplicity when planning a vacation, but traveling to a place as stunning as Alaska deserves a bit more research and effort, to make the most out of it. With this post there’s no excuse, since all you need to know to plan it is in one place. Excellent post, Susanna! :)
Thanks so much, Coni. You really nailed it: it’s worth spending more time to plan a personalized dream holiday in Alaska. It’s better for the locals, better for the traveler, and it’s better for the environment. Win. win. win. Thanks for reading and I hope you’re able to plan a trip to Alaska in the near future without a cruise.
Enjoyed reading your guide. I am just starting to plan our family trip to Alaska for next year. A co-worker is going next month without the cruise and since most of our group are not into cruising, this was very helpful. I have usually been a do-it-yourselfer but it may be time to enlist the help of some of the tour groups mentioned. My grandson who will be 13 definitely wants to see polar bears. There will be at least 8 of us and that is a lot of folks to wrangle.
Hi Deb, I hope you have your dream trip to Alaska! With a group that size I certainly would recommend booking a small group tour with one of Alaska’s local tour operators such as Salmonberry or Private Alaska Touring! They will take care of the logistics and wrangling everyone with awesome itineraries.
My wife and I have cruised three times into Alaska. Two times we added a land travel package.
Loved the trains, Denali, the Animal Rescue location between Anchorage and Steward, etc
Next year will be our 50th Anniversary and my wife would be thrilled to enjoy this type of sustainable yet fun vacation
Hi Thomas, I’m so glad you’ve been able to visit Alaska so many times. I previously worked as an Alaskan tour guide that took people around as part of their land package. I loved meeting so many great people. Problems with the companies aside, cruising is a great way to see some very hard-to-access parts of the state, places some of us locals hardly get to, so it can be a very incredible experience to connect with awe-inspiring nature. I hope you enjoy your 50th anniversary in Alaska and seeing it without a cruise offers a whole new experience!
Hi: I would love to visit all 8 National Parks in Alaska. Is there a company that hosts this tour that you could recommend?
This is very difficult to do on one trip and there is not one company that offers all 8 parks in one go. Realistically unless you have a very large budget both in time and money some of these parks are better off being visited over the course of some time. Some of the parks you can access yourself – like Kenai Fjords and Denali – others like Kobuck and Gates of the Arctic you’ll need a guide and these trips can be in the $7,000+ range for both parks and book very far in advance. Alaska Alpine Adventures and Arctic Wild are some of the companies for the more N. National parks that you can reach out to and inquire about more options with them. I also suggest you look through my recommended list of tour guides in this post to find something that suits your needs. Good luck!
When I worked for a Native company based in Anchorage, I would have to go there for business reasons. Remember it’s part of the U> and has pretty much the same kinds of stores and chain restaurants as the lower 48. (FYI, the best selection and prices for souvenirs are in the Walmart in the midtown area.) I went twice in winter and learned that Anchorage is gets a small amounts of snow at a time and does not usually treat the roads. Driving is on snow packed down by traffic. I had several summer trips and had no problems driving places by myself (mature woman). I went to Palmer and Talkeetna a couple of time. Drove down along Turnagin Arm in early morning, perhaps the most breathtaking scenery in the world, to Whitier for a glacier cruise. I took the bus to Seward (I highly recommend this) and spent a lovely day despite fog obliterating the view there. I loooove the Anchorage Museum. The Alaska Native Cultural Center is excellent. The ride to the Eagle River Nature Center in Chugach State Park runs with mountains on one side of the road and the glacier blue Eagle River on the other. I’ve seen Denali on a clear day and want to get closer. I did chicken out from driving by myself to Hatcher Pass since the unpaved road violated my rental car agreement. I would go back in a heartbeat.
This is one of the most detailed, thorough and helpful travel blogs I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot!). Thank you for sharing all this wonderful information about Alaska! I have saved your post, and will definitely be using this advice when we book our Alaska 2023 visit. We are planning on visiting in Autumn (fall). Would you please be able to tell me what the ‘latest’ travel date is we should plan for if we want to take advantage of the marine highway ferry and the local train network? Thanks again!
Hey Samantha, thanks so much for reading. I hope you have the best time in Alaska! Thankfully since locals use the Alaska Marine Highway for transportation, it runs year-round (though with a limited schedule, which you can find on their website). The same goes for the Alaska Railroad, which also has some winter routes. So, depending on your schedule and timeframe, you can take advantage of these services year-round!
We are planning to come in early June 2023. Could you advise on going to Homer to fish and so there any other way to get there except by car
Hey Joe, Homer has an airport, and you can fly there from Anchorage and a few other places around Anchorage. There are lots of fishing charters in Homer, which is a great place for fishing. Unfortunately, I haven’t used a charter company, as my family usually fishes without one. But I am sure the tourism board has some good recommendations! Best of luck, and have fun fishing!
I love all your information! We planned our own travel vacation to Alaska last July. Everyone assumed if we were going to Alaska, we’d be taking a cruise. Many cruises start in Seattle and you spend the first few days just traveling to Alaska. Besides, cruise ships carry thousands of people and all you might get is a few hours to explore. We did take a one-day cruise in the Kenai Fjords, but we did a lot of hiking and exploring on our own and it was so much more worthwhile than taking a cruise ship! Thanks for all your information for those who want the option to do it themselves!
Sounds like you had an awesome cruise-free trip through Alaska! What a great way to see my home state! Thanks for sharing your experience.