Alaska On a Budget. Plan Once-in-a-lifetime Trip

What has the biggest impact on Alaska budget. Itinerary. Tours and why you can’t skip them. Car rental, food, best time to visit. Why Alaska is kid-friendly

Drop everything and book your trip to Alaska! It is huge, unspoiled, uncrowded, and very different from the lower 48 states. And it is possible to travel to Alaska on a budget. We tried it out with a 2 and 7 y/o.

The budget to Alaska consists of air flights + accommodation + car rental + tours + food. Unlike Hawaii, unfortunately, having only a car isn’t enough. Tours are necessary because they give you access to the fjords, most glaciers, National Parks, wildlife, Alaska Native heritage, etc.

Alaska On a Budget

1. Best time to visit The Last Frontier

Choose July for the best possible and warmest weather. It is also a great time for hiking (the snow already melted and trails are open), wildlife watching, and wildflowers.

Fireweed is blooming everywhere during this time. In some way, it became a distinct symbol of our road trip:

Hatcher Pass (locals favorite place) with a fireweed in full bloom
Hatcher Pass with a fireweed in full bloom

2. Accommodation or what’s making the biggest impact on a budget

With a very short peak season (mid-June – August), getting good deals for accommodation is challenging. Be prepared to pay premium and book well in advance: 6+ months ahead. A 2-3-star hotel runs around $200 per night in-season in Alaska and much more if you book last minute.

To save on a trip we stayed only in Airbnb, hostels, cabins, cottages, and private rooms in Alaska. Hostels were amazing to stay with/without kids, but they filled up very quickly. We paid $100-$125 per night (for 2 adults, 2 kids).

In the pictures below: 1 out of 3 Airbnb’s we stayed in Anchorage, (under $100 both for 1 bedroom apartment):

South of Anchorage, close to the wilderness
South of Anchorage, close to the wilderness

Staying on the cheaper side with accommodations allowed us to spend more on tours. Frankly speaking, I wouldn’t even want to trade the experience we had with local hostels (and their hosts) for anything else!

Our cottage at the Seaside farm hostel:

all the cottage just for us!
all the cottage is just for us!

And view in 50 steps from the cottage:

Homer, Alaska
Homer, Alaska

3. Where exactly to stay during an Alaska road trip

We have a post “Alaska on a budget road trip itinerary” with a description of where exactly we stayed during our trip (Anchorage, Denali, Homer, Seward, etc.) and what kind of activities are nearby, like Denali National Park, pictured below:

Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park
Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park

Denali hostel we stayed in:

Erika running at the Denali Hostel bathing facilities
Erika running at the Denali Hostel bathing facilities

4. Ideal trip length to Alaska

Alaska is bigger than many people think. The distances are really long and there is a lot to see and do during the short summer season. We traveled as far as Denali National Park and Homer and visited tons of places in between. The whole trip took us 2 weeks.

Given the climate and time change, 7+ days is the minimum for an Alaska road trip, especially if you come with kids. And don’t forget, you’ll also have to adjust to white nights! We failed that :(. I’d say 10-14 days is the optimal stay, but if you could make it longer, it’s very worth it.

Alaska area compared to lower 48 states.
Alaska area compared to the lower 48 states. photo credit: Eric Gaba

5. Alaska on a budget. Tours

Alaska is one of the rare places where you’ll want to lay out the money on tours despite the high price.

While some must-see places are accessible by car, most top destinations and activities will require tour operators: fjords and glaciers, Denali, Kenai Fjords, and Katmai National Parks, halibut fishing, panning for gold, etc. Below are some of the tours we took:

26+ Glaciers tour from Whittier ($159 Adult + tax/fees, $80 Child age 2-11 + tax/fees):

Alaska on a Budget: If you have to choose only one pricey tour, I'd recommend "26 Glaciers"
Alaska on a Budget: If you have to choose only one pricey tour, I’d recommend “26 Glaciers”

The more affordable tours we liked a lot were: Panning for Gold ($20+), Reindeer Encounter ($15 per adult), Alaska Native Heritage Center ($29 per adult), and Alaska Conservation Center ($17 per adult):

Most tours we tried didn’t charge kids under 2 y/o.

6. Alaska on a budget. Car rental or what can rip you off

Cars are expensive in Alaska during peak season. And there is an extreme pricing scheme. During our trip, a 3-week car rental was cheaper than a 2-week one. We even decided to extend our stay, as savings on the car rental almost cover an Airbnb for another week. Book in advance and try to play with dates.

at Hatcher Pass, North of Anchorage

Prices for summer 2021 on Expedia:

7. Alaska on a budget. Weather

The daytime temperatures range between 60-80°F (16-27°C) throughout summer in Alaska; rain is common. The weather can be very unpredictable. During our trip, it was hot and dry: 82°F (28°C) and up. A year later the maximum temperature was 64°F (18°C) and it rained very heavily.

Pictured below (to give you an idea of what to pack): is one of the coldest and hottest days during our trip:

8. Groceries. Shopping. Gas

The cost of food in Alaska exceeds the national average. In our opinion, in Anchorage, it was at least 20% pricier than in the lower 48 states. Plus, the further you go from Anchorage, the more you pay. The good side: food was of the same quality and variety. We did our groceries at Safeway, Carrs, and Fred Mayer.

As for the shopping, in Anchorage, you can find most of the stores you used to in the lower 48.

To save on meals, try to book accommodation with a kitchen. We also bought a portable cooler and were always stocked up with everything we needed for a picnic lunch.

Gas costs pretty much the same in Alaska. When heading up to Denali NP, fuel up in Wasilla. Gas prices will be much higher at any place after that. Same with food.

9. Planning trip to Alaska: Clothes and essentials

  • Amazon deliveries take longer in Alaska. Make sure you pack necessities from home.
  • Rain gear: waterproof shoes, jackets.
  • Layers, hats, gloves, fleece sweaters, fleece leggings.
  • Sun hats, swimsuits, towels, sunglasses, sunscreen. Shorts/t-shirts.
  • Bug spray, first aid kit.
  • Don’t rely on bear spray, act smart!
  • Annual National Park Pass, if you have one.
  • Mushroom and berries pocket guide.
  • A good camera and/or binoculars.
  • Water bottle, thermos.
  • An appropriate fishing pole ;). Even if you are not an avid angler, you’ll want to be in Alaska, look at the picture below:
Salmon run right in the middle of Anchorage in the ankle-deep water
Salmon run right in the middle of Anchorage in the ankle-deep water

10. Why Alaska is kids-friendly

Don’t be afraid to bring your kids on a road trip to Alaska. If you feel comfortable taking your little ones to Canada or Washington State, for example, Alaska will be no different.

It is a remote and the most sparsely populated US state, but you have the same great roads, and access to hospitals and stores (at least along our itinerary). Promise, you’ll want to come back. We do!

Erika (turned 2 in Alaska) and Artem (7) with catched chunks of Exit Glacier. Kenai Fjords NP. They both had a lot of fun in Alaska :)
Erika (turned 2 y/o in Alaska) and Artem (7) fished out chunks of Exit Glacier. Kenai Fjords NP. They both had a lot of fun in Alaska 🙂

11. Planning trip to Alaska: Books and Movies

There are plenty of amazing books and movies about Alaska. For older kids/adults interested in Eskimo life and culture, “Julie of the Wolves” is my top pick.

Jack London is an all-time classic and a superb storyteller. White Fang and Call of the Wild movies are based on his books. I know all his stories by heart and Alaska was my childhood dream due to his books.

Into the Wild is a popular movie and a true story about a young hiker, Chris McCandless:

photo credit: Wikipedia

Togo is great to watch with a family and Balto is a good choice for little kids. Both movies are based on a heartwarming, almost tragic true story.

Two more great books for adults are Fighter in Velvet Gloves and Ada Blackjack, an unbelievable story about a real female Robinson Crusoe.

12. All the favorite places in Alaska on My Maps

Alaska is stunning, wild, weird, and heartwarming. I was so impressed, that I was ready to move there and change my career path to a bush pilot. No joke! We actually met several people who did it: got a pilot license in the lower 48 states and came back to the Last Frontier to live a dream life 🙂

Check out all necessary information like hours, fees, and trail conditions before you go.

Thanks for reading, friends!

Read next:

Hatcher Pass: what a former gold mine looks like, scenery that reminds Iceland during summer, very close wildlife encounters, etc.

Alaska itinerary: 2 weeks road trip with a 2 and 7 y/o. Glaciers, fjords, salmon, panning for gold, Alaska Native heritage, wildlife, and National Parks.

Canada and the most popular tourist attractions: Banff, Jasper, Yoho National Parks

By Mrs. Grazy Goat

I am Ira, the author behind Grazy Goat. My husband and I run this blog and share our experiences about thrilling places and cultures. Our son Artem recently joined us and helps with editing.

We are very happy to have YOU here 😻

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