Dos & Don'ts of Traveling to Alaska

October 23, 2019

Do book at least six months to a year in advance for Inside Passage cruises during the peak summer months. You may be able to join one on shorter notice, particularly in the spring or fall, but the exact ship and date you want may not be available. Be sure to make advance reservations for the Alaska Marine Highway ferries, too. Even the short ferry trip from Valdez to Whittier requires advance booking, especially if you are taking aboard a car or recreational vehicle.

Do look for a commercial operation when you go fishing that will clean, freeze or smoke your catch and ship it home for you. Some restaurants will even cook your catch for your lunch or dinner.

Do consider taking an overnight or extended tour of an Alaska Native village if you don't mind roughing it a bit. As a rule, these smaller areas don't have luxurious accommodations.

Do follow rangers' instructions if you see a bear in the wild. Bear attacks usually occur when unwary hikers step between a mother bear and her cub, when a bear is surprised and feels threatened, or when campers fail to properly store their food and garbage. Never keep food in a tent overnight (not even toothpaste or bug spray), and don't camp along animal paths, especially near a lake or river. Bears use these trails.

Do try the local berries, but avoid the poisonous baneberry—it looks like a red black-eyed pea when ripe. Also avoid devil's club, a plant with large leaves, red berries and thousands of sharp spines. The Alaska Salmonberry is particularly delicious and remarkably identifiable. Look for a large, golden-hued berry resembling a blackberry. These are typically found in southeast Alaska along the coast. A terrific field guide to take hiking with you is Alaska's Wild Berries by Verna Pratt.

Do expect to pay dearly for most things in Alaska. The state ranks as the most expensive place to travel in the U.S. This is not without reason: Most everything has to be shipped tremendous distances.

Do take along (or plan to buy) insect repellent if you're going during the summer—you won't find ticks or fleas, but hardy breeds of mosquitoes and blackflies survive in Alaska, and they'll make your life miserable if you're not prepared.

Do pick up a copy of The Milepost if you'll be driving outside of Anchorage. Available at most bookstores and groceries for a reasonable price, it has the lowdown on gas stops and scenic views. It even recommends fishing locations.

Do contact a professional Travel Advisor to help you get the most out of your Alaska vacation at the best value.

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