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What is Alaska like?

Geography: Alaska is impressive for its sheer size. It accounts for one fifth of the United States' total land area with more than 580,000 square miles. From rainforests to deserts and gold-bearing river valleys to the tallest peaks in America, Alaska's natural beauty is extensive. In fact, 17 of the 20 highest peaks in the United States are located in Alaska, with Mount McKinley peaking at 20,320ft. Alaska hosts 15 national parks, preserves, monuments and national historical parks. Additionally, the National Park Service plays varying roles in the administration of 13 national wild rivers, two affiliated areas and a national heritage area. Alaska is also home to 49 National Historic Landmarks and 16 National Natural Landmarks.

Wildlife in Alaska: A great variety of wildlife is found in Alaska. Some of the largest land mammals, including moose, caribou, and bears can be seen throughout the state. Along the coastline, look for whales, porpoises, sea lions, seals and otters. Dall sheep and mountain goats can be seen nimbly scaling the steep roadside cliffs. Alaska is also home to hundreds of bird species, including the largest population of bald eagles in the US. The protection of Alaskan wildlife and its habitat is an important goal of both state and federal governments. Currently, more than half of all National Parks in the United States are found in Alaska.

History: It is believed that the earliest inhabitants of Alaska were Asiatic groups who crossed the Bering Land Bridge into what is now western Alaska, near Nome. The descendants of these peoples are the present day Yup'ik, Inupiaq, Aleut, Tlingit and Athabascan tribes. In the mid 1700s, Russian sailors discovered the land of the Aleuts and named it Alyeska. The Russians laid claim to the lands that eventually stretched from the Aleutians to Sitka. In 1867 Alaska was purchased from Russia for a price of $7,200,000 or less than 2 cents per acre. In January 1959, Alaska became the 49th US State. Alaska is now home to 627,000 hardy residents.

When is the best time to visit Alaska?

The best time to visit Alaska depends on interest, but most tours are offered during the summer months from mid-May through mid-September, with a limited amount offered in the winter. Summer is the most popular time to visit, with July being the busiest month. The warm weather and long daylight hours allow you to enjoy all that Alaska has to offer. In addition, services at the state and national parks are open, fish are abundant and the bears are out of hibernation. From November through March, Alaska is a beautiful, winter wonderland. Prices are lower and, with fewer visitors, the availability is better. There are numerous outdoor activities, such as dog sledding and skiing, Alaska hiking tours, and the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) is visible. You will also find many unique events, such as the Iditarod and the World Ice Art Championships.

What are the options for Alaska Cruises?

All Alaska Tours offers both large and small ship cruises of the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay National Park. Each type of Alaska adventure cruise has its advantages. The large ships are so stable, you hardly feel as if you're moving. They are elegant and have all the facilities onboard that you would expect, such as a swimming pool, fitness center, shopping, fine dining, and more. Entertainment is provided onboard, as well as all your meals. The smaller ships typically have fewer than 100 people on-board, giving the cruise a more personal feel. They are less ritzy and offer fewer on-board amenities, but are more personable than large ships. Due to their small size, these ships can navigate right up to the face of glaciers and into narrow passageways that the larger ships cannot reach. This allows for visits to less "touristy" towns and to be closer to the wildlife along the way.

Independent Touring

There are numerous ways to tour Alaska: cruising, group tours, and independent programs. Independent Touring can include a rental car or scheduled transportation such as rail, plane, bus, or ferry. While you may be with a group during a day excursion or train ride, you are not with the same group of people each day, nor is there a tour leader with you. Independent touring offers the flexibility of traveling at your own pace, as well as allowing for customized itineraries. It is also often a more economical and leisurely way to travel.

Drive or take the train?

There are many travel methods for the large state of Alaska. The two most popular ways to see the state are by renting a car or riding the Alaska Railroad. If you choose one of our Self Drive Tours they include a rental car, and you have the advantage of being masters of your own schedule. With our fully pre-planned itineraries you will know where you are staying at night, but you can make stops along the road for scenic lookouts, go for a hike or take an one of many possible excursions along the way. If you choose to travel by railroad, you will be able to admire the scenery without worrying about doing the driving. Also, there will be a guide on-board to inform you about the state and its history, point out wildlife and answer questions. Our Alaska Railroad Tours are a great choice for many visitors who are also taking an Alaska Cruise Vacation.

Accommodations in Alaska

All Alaska Tours has access to a large inventory of hotels, Alaska Lodges and boutique properties throughout Alaska. With our tour packages, we offer the choice of standard or upgraded accommodations. Depending on the city, standard accommodations may be the only option. The main difference between standard and upgraded accommodations are the amenities offered.

What to know about car rentals

All Alaska Tours uses reputable, nationwide car rental agencies, positioned throughout the state for your convenience. All car rentals include unlimited mileage and taxes. For international driver we include Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) covering damage to the vehicle. Additional insurance such as additional liability coverage is optional and can be purchased directly from the rental agency. U.S. car insurance policies that include comprehensive and collision coverage usually cover rental cars in Alaska; please check with your insurance provider to be sure. For travelers without U.S. car insurance, please let us know and we can add the required insurance for you. 

Most of Alaska's roads are two to four-lane paved highways, but we also have smaller dirt roads that are regularly graded. Winter driving is safe - the main roads are cleared, though certain highways are closed throughout the winter. Rental car companies do not allow their cars to be driven on the Denali Highway, Dalton Highway and McCarthy Road. For current road conditions, you can call 511 once you reach Alaska or visit 511.alaska.gov.

NOTES: A valid driver's license and credit card in the driver's name is required for ALL drivers and must be shown when accepting the car. Typically, drivers must be 25 years of age or older. Canadian residents are not allowed to rent a car in the U.S. and cross the border with it into Canada. 

Car Category Accommodates Sample*models
Compact 4 adults; 1 large and 1 small suitcase Chevrolet Cobalt
Midsize 4-5 adults; 1 large and 2 small suitcases Chevrolet Malibu, Toyota Corolla
Full-size 5 adults; 2 large and 2 small suitcases Pontiac Grand Prix, Chevrolet Impala, Toyota Camry
SUV 5 adults; 2 large and 2 small suitcases Ford Escape, Ford Explorer, KIA Sorrento
Minivan up to 5 adults with luggage Chevy Venture
* This is a SAMPLE of the vehicle model/type for each category. The actual vehicle model is not guaranteed!

What to pack

The general rule for Alaska is casual, comfortable clothing that can be worn in layers. The first layer should be something thin and next to the skin (try to avoid cotton). The second layer adds warmth and allows you the option of removing if it gets warmer (mostly fleece or similar). The third layer should protect you against rain and wind if necessary. For day cruises into Prince William Sound and Kenai Fjords National Park, for example, we recommend an extra layer including a scarf, hat and gloves, as it can be chilly on the boats. Comfortable walking shoes or water repellent hiking boots are also important. A day pack is a particularly useful item to bring. Other personal items we suggest are: small flashlight, hair dryer (most hotels rooms do not have them), insect repellent, binoculars, adequate supply of prescription medication, photographic film and camera. You will find a duffel bag or soft-sided luggage is the most practical for Alaskan style of traveling, particularly when in small planes and boats. Restricting yourself to one piece of luggage is recommended.

Alaska's Weather

Weather in the North can be unpredictable. Mid-June through mid-August is usually the warmest time of year, especially in the Interior, where temperatures can reach well above 80°F / 27°C; it is not uncommon to see temperatures reach 90°F / 33° C in Fairbanks. However, it is important to note that evening temperatures can still be cool in the summer. The southern coastal regions of Alaska can be wet and cloudy at any time of year. Average summer temperatures range from 40°F to 60°F (4° - 15°C). In general, Alaska and Western Canada temperatures average above 50°F / 10°C for at least four months of the year (mid-May through mid-Sep).

Winter temperatures can be extreme, dropping to –50°F / -45°C in the Interior. Typically, though, winter temperatures range from 0°F / 18°C to -30°F / -35°C from November to March. While it can rain throughout the summer, May is the driest month and September is the wettest.

  April May June July Aug. Sept.
Anchorage 43/5 55/13 62/17 65/18 63/17 53/12
Barrow 7/-10 24/-4 39/3 46/7 43/6 34/1
Dawson Ciy,YT, Canada 35/2 47/8 58/15 62/17 57/15 45/7
Fairbanks 42/5 59/15 71/21 72/22 66/18 54/12
Juneau 46/7 55/13 62/17 64/18 62/17 56/14
Kodiak 41/5 47/8 54/12 58/15 60/16 54/12
Whitehorse, YT, Canada 33/1 45/7 54/13 59/15 56/14 46/7

Alaska's time zone

Most of Alaska uses Alaska Time, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Time and four hours earlier than Eastern Time. Alaska participates in Day Light Savings Time.

When and where can you see the Auroa Borealis / Northern Lights?

While the Aurora Borealis / Northern Lights is active year round, it is almost impossible to see during the summer when Alaska experiences nearly constant daylight. The best chance to see the aurora is in northern areas during the winter months of October through early April. Historically, the best viewing has been from Fairbanks north and on dark nights with clear skies. According to the University of Alaska Geophysical Institute, the best months to see the Aurora are February and March.