Alaska, the last American frontier, is a special place to see before you die. I first stepped foot on this majestic land in August last year — prime time to catch the best weather and wildlife this state has to offer. Although the summer is considered the high season (the most expensive time to go), I highly recommend going around this time for an impactful first impression. After visiting only once, it has become my favorite destination in the U.S. If you end up having a short stay in Alaska like me, you’ll want to hit the highlights and main attractions: Denali Park, Girdwood, Whittier, Cooper Landing, Seward, and Homer. If you’re smarter than me, you’ll try to stay longer than 5 days.
Generally, roundtrip flights to Alaska from central and eastern U.S. cost no less than $600 (similar to Hawaii prices), but if you hack the system right you can book your departure, arrival, or connecting flights separately and save a lot of money.
I scored a great nonstop deal on JetBlue from Seattle to Anchorage for $270. They were doing a summer special rate that was only available on certain dates in August. My roundtrip flight on Alaska Airlines from Dallas to Seattle was only $200. So in essence you don’t have to fly the same airline to get a better price on the same route. Both JetBlue and Alaska Airlines are the ones I recommend checking first before you venture off with other carriers. I also only booked out about a month in advance on a whim.
In the summer, Alaskan rental car rates are skyrocket — for 5 days I would have had to pay the equivalent of $500. I used my American Advantage miles to get one — it only cost me 10,000. Renting a car in Alaska is a must if you really want to take in all that it has to offer. You see so much more on the road and you can stop anytime you want to get out, breathe, take pictures, and take your time wandering. Many visitors come in through cruises and stay near the Seward and Denali areas, but they hardly have enough time to explore beyond those places. Hope, Cooper Landing, and Homer are just a few jewels that are easier to get to by having your own car. There are shuttle buses and a railroad train you can take if you opt to take public transportation for a day or two.
There are no shortages of B&B’s and cabins in Alaska. There are many unique and eclectic accommodations to choose from. Bell in the Woods is a favorite B&B I stayed in Seward. In Cooper Landing, I stayed in a cabin on a fisherman’s land through Airbnb. There is another wonderful B&B / private home I chose while in Homer where a friendly moose would come into the yard. Every single host was friendly, welcoming, and shared wonderful Alaskan stories. There are plenty of motels and hostels too — both great options if you’re looking to save a buck or two. Just like rental cars, accommodations are expensive in the summer months.
I decided to do what most tourists do in a minimum week condensed down to 5 days. I only spent one night in each attraction point on my Alaska road map — Anchorage, Seward, Cooper Landing, and Homer. Unfortunately I didn’t have time for Denali on this trip, but I plan to include it in the next. If you are considering an once in a lifetime experience, then I would start with the dog sledding & helicopter tour in Girdwood. It’s not cheap, but it’s totally worth it! You are flown out to a mountain top glacier where you are greeted by the official Iditarod dog race teams. They take you for a spin where you even get a chance to steer the sled!
Prince William Sound is located in Whittier which is about an hour and a half away from Anchorage and where you can catch the all day 26 glaciers cruise tour. I opted for the half day tour due to driving time constraints and it still exceeded all expectations. You get pretty close to the receding ice glaciers and they feed you a decent fish and chips lunch aboard. There was a little drizzle of rain while we were out in the water, but not enough to stop me from having a great time.
The Alyeska resort in Girdwood has a ski lift that takes you up a mountain where you can see spectacular views of the surrounding area. It’s a great place to have lunch and take in the view after the short hike up to the top. Although I did not stay here, I highly recommend this resort as your home base if you plan on spending most of your time in the Girdwood or Seward area. It’s a big and beautiful establishment.
Fishing for salmon and halibut is another favorite activity to do in Alaska. I booked a half day salmon charter tour departing from Seward out to the Kenai Peninsula on my last day in Alaska. The weather that day was cloudless with blue skies and waters where you could see straight down below to the jellyfish and variety of fish. My boat mates ended up catching both male and female salmon as well as some rockfish. Cooper Landing is also a popular spot to fish for salmon with its turquoise rivers. You can take a kayak or canoe out and spend all day on the lake.
Homer is known as the halibut fishing capital of Alaska. Charters are offered from here, too. Homer is also known for the enormous King Crab legs. The purple flowers scattered across the rolling green fields against a backdrop of ice capped mountains is a sight that no photograph can do justice. You have to see it with your own two eyes.
I was lucky to have perfect weather throughout my trip. The temperatures never dipped below 50 and the days were warm in the mid 70's. The food was fresh and the air was crisp. Alaska and her land makes you feel alive.