Below you'll find some of the experiences I made, while I was in Alaska in 1997. Since this happened a couple of years ago, it might be a little bit out of date. Prices are probably higher and the road conditions could have been improved over the last years.
So this is only a short and very rough review on Alaska:
When to go to Alaska
My traveltime in 1997 was from late August until the middle of September. Highseason is July/August. At this time the parks can get pretty crowed, especially Denali NP. If you plan to go there in July/August you should get your hiking permit well in advance. The park staff only allows a certain number of people per day in each area. During summer places fill up quickly so chances are high that you won't get into the area you actually wanted to go.
Good alternative travel times are June and September. Temperatures are quite moderate and the weather is usually good. Don't take it for granted though, especially the panhandle has its own weather...normally wet and cloudy. Let me give you one advice: when you're at the south coast and it is raining...don't expect to have nice weather the next day. It usually rains a couple of days in a row. I would then recommend to drive a few miles to the north. There is a good chance that the weather is nice and sunny there although it rains at the south coast.
Getting to Alaska
The fastest way is, of course, by plane. Most flights from Europe stop over in Seattle before they continue to Anchorage.
If you have enough time you should consider to take the ferry from Bellingham,WA (north of Seattle) to Haines or Skagway at the panhandle. It takes about three days to get there and it's certainly a nice trip along the westcoast of British Columbia and Alaska (panhandle). Another option is to take the ferry from Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert and from there to Haines/Skagway.
Of course, you can also drive from Seattle to Anchorage by car but that's a very long way to go! You should bring enough time for that because there are certainly many attractive sights along the way, worth a stop.
Getting around in Alaska
There are a couple of bus companies connecting the principle cities. But except for Denali NP no real tourist attraction can be reached directly by the bus system. As with almost all of the National Parks in the States you'll mostly have to travel a distance too large to hike from the city to the actual attraction. Of course, there are travel agencies which can get you there, but I'm absolutely convinced that it's cheaper to rent a car, especially if you're a party of two or more. Unless you're planning to take a 2-week trip, having a car is always the best option.
Places which are not connected to the highway system can ONLY be reached by air. Some major attraction like Katmai NP (volcanic area) have a regular flight schedule. Also, there are several lodges in remote areas where you can only get to by plane.
If you don't plan to go to such places, airtrips are certainly not an option because you'll have the same problem as with the busses: to get from a city to the attraction. Prices are quite high, especially for sightseeing flights like over Glacier Bay. Only for charter flights and when you're a party of 3 or 4, prices can get quite reasonable.
This is not the transportation of choice if you just want to go from point A to point B very quickly. However, it is a very relaxing and charming way to travel around in alaska. Unfortunately, there are only a few train lines: from Fairbanks via Anchorage to Seward and the short distance from Portage to Whittier. Both routes are very well used by tourists, especially the part between Denali NP and Seward. The trains do not go very fast, average speed is on the order of 20-30 kmh, however, the views are very nice. Especially the trip from Anchorage to Seward through the Kenai Peninsula is really beautiful. Prices are rather high, about 50$ for the trip from Anchorage to Seward (one way).
By far the most affordable and flexible way of traveling. You easily reach the major attractions like Denali NP, Wrangell Mountains and the south coast. There are lots of things to see along the highways. You can stop and take a hike whenever you want and don't have to rely on bus schedules. I would defenitely recommend to rent a car in Anchorage (best rates) to get around in Alaska.
Camping in Alaska
There are lots of campsites along the highways and every major attraction has several campgrounds with the usual facilities. Prices range in between 10 and 20$ a night (including tent, car and number of persons in the party). There are no maintained wilderness campsites! If you're doing a multi-day trip through the wilderness, you'll always have to find a place to pitch up the tent on your own. But don't worry...there are enough open spaces and water.
I would strongly recommend to rent (or buy) a bear box for such tours! A bear box can not be opened by bears and is even supposed to smell neutral with your food inside.That way you can store your food away from the tent and don't have to worry about visits during the night from guests being 9 feet tall and asking for snacks. Also, the places where you cook, store the food and sleep should be arranged like a triangle with sidelengths of roughly 100 yards. Of course, that's not always possible but try at least to sleep far away from the place where you cooked and store the food.
Groceries and prices
Every smaller town has at least a little groceriestore. You should nevertheless plan to have enough food for two or three days with you. Driving times can get quite long and sometimes there are parts of the highway where you don't see buildings or even cars for hours!
Prices are quite the same all over the country (they might be a bit cheaper in Anchorage and Fairbanks). They are quite high, compared to Germany or the States, especially meat, fruits and vegetables.
I hope, that helped a little bit for those of you who are planning on going to Alaska. If you have questions, email me.
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