How much does it cost to go to Alaska? You’ve come to the right place to find out.
Budgeting is extremely important when planning a trip to the 49th state, because you can easily drop a few grand in a hurry if you’re not careful. Even a budget itinerary can cost a couple of thousand dollars.
In this post, I break down exactly how much it costs to visit Alaska based on the amount of money Felip and I spent during our week there. I also present a detailed list for how much you can expect to pay for each aspect of an Alaska vacation, including food, lodging, rental car, tours, Denali National Park expenses, and miscellaneous spending.
This post assumes the following: A two-person, seven-day summer vacation with round-trip airfare from the continental U.S. into Anchorage. Adjust your costs accordingly if you’re coming with a larger group, for a different length of time, during a different season or into a different city like Juneau.
For each category, I’m presenting the expected costs based on what type of traveler you are: Cheapskate (it’s possible to do Alaska on a budget, but not easy), Average Joe (welcome, everyone), or Moneybags (congrats, you lucky bastard.)
If you’re more of a visual person, at the end of this post, you’ll find an easy to read chart showing specific costs for each type of traveler.
How much does it cost to go to Alaska? Let’s break it down.
Flying to Alaska can cost an arm and a leg. When I first began researching flights from Chicago about six months before our trip, they were about $1,000 ($500 each way) per person. I kept checking airfares, and about 3-4 months before the vacation, I found a redeye flight on July 4 from Anchorage to Chicago for only $260 each and booked it immediately.
After waiting a few more weeks, I located a non-stop flight to Anchorage for about $360 each. That meant we ended up paying $620 each for the round-trip. Not too bad!
Don’t forget to factor in baggage costs. Most airlines going to Anchorage require a $20 or $25 checked bag fee.
Moneybags ($2600): You can pay a ton of you randomly book your flight without studying and holding out for a good deal.
Average Joe ($2000): Purchase when you find a decent fare for the dates you want to visit. A $1000 round-trip is about average.
Cheapskate ($1100): Check airfares daily, pounce when they are most affordable. Choose your dates of travel based on which days are the cheapest to fly. You may be able to find something for around $600 round-trip, as we did, if you get lucky. Try to get an airline with no checked bag fee.
We spent: $1285 ($620 each for airfare plus $45 for checked bags).
If you’re truly trying to do Alaska on a budget, lodging is one area in which to save a bundle. Campgrounds in the $25 range exist all over the state, so if you’re willing to sleep in a tent, you can sleep for cheap. Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Talkeetna also have hostels, while luxury lodges can be found across the state as well.
Moneybags ($1000): Luxury lodges all the way! You can easily drop more than $100 per day in housing in the summer.
Average Joe ($400): Staying in basic motels and a couple campgrounds can keep things affordable.
Cheapskate ($100): Couchsurf for free in the big cities. Sleep in your tent in cheap campgrounds everywhere else. Many hostels even rent tent space in the yard outside for less than the cost of a dorm bed.
We spent: $213.
By far our biggest hit was the price of a rental car. Rental car prices in Alaska soar after mid-June, when peak tourist season hits. In the last week of June, the average price for a week-long rental was in the $700 range. Two weeks earlier, the price was in the $300 range. That’s a huge difference.
If you’re trying to calculate how much it costs to go to Alaska, by far the most important factor is the time frame you choose. As illustrated, coming just a couple weeks earlier can literally save you hundreds of dollars on car rental costs.
We made a car reservation for $550 on Hotwire a couple months in advance, but kept checking the rates. Since it was a refundable reservation, we were able to cancel and re-book when at the last minute the price dropped to $391 for the full week. That was a huge savings (though we still paid around $600 after the insurance.)
Moneybags ($1500): Wait until the last minute and pay whatever the going rate is for a luxury vehicle. Rent at the airport and pay the airport surcharges. Or, rent a car one-way from Anchorage to Seward or Fairbanks and take the train back for the scenery. Or, go big and rent an RV!
Average Joe ($800): Lock in a good deal when you see one on Hotwire or some other site, preferably for an off-airport site.
Cheapskate ($250): Visit Alaska in May or early June for good deals before prices soar. Study rental car prices and pounce when prices are cheapest.
We spent: $591.
Aside: Should I take the train?
If you’re thinking that you might just take the Alaska Railroad instead of renting a car, think again. Prices for the railroad are outrageous during the summer months – $85 each way per person between Anchorage and Denali, which totals $340 for a round-trip for two. With multiple people, it’s actually cheaper to split the cost of a rental car and gas. The only way taking the train makes financial sense is if you are traveling solo.
Gasoline prices in Alaska are high, although I honestly didn’t notice much of a difference coming from Chicago, which has some of the highest prices in the country. In the summer of 2012, we paid between $3.75 and $4.50 a gallon in Alaska, depending on where we were. There’s no real way to keep your gas costs down except by driving less.
Moneybags ($250): Drive all over the place and buy gas whenever you run out.
Average Joe ($150): Try to fill up in cities where prices are low.
Cheapskate ($80): Drive as little as possible – only between Anchorage, Denali and Seward. Skip the rest of the state to keep gas costs down.
We spent: $180. We drove all over the state, probably more than most people do, which is why we paid a bit more than the average traveler would.
DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Let’s assume you’re going to Denali National Park, because it doesn’t make sense to visit Alaska and not see this wonderful wilderness. The entrance fee is $10 each, but you’ll also need to pay for a shuttle bus if you plan on going more than 14 miles into the park, since that’s as far as cars are allowed. Shuttles start at $26 for the Toklat River bus. You should definitely take a bus of some sort, because most of the wildlife and mountains are beyond Mile 14.
Moneybags ($470): Take a private bus ride like the Kantishna Experience Tour and spend a night or two at one of the lodges in the park.
Average Joe ($165): Take the Wonder Lake shuttle bus and spend two nights in a park campground.
Cheapskate ($20): Pay the entrance fee only and backcountry camp near the park entrance or Savage River at no additional cost. You’ll see very little of the park this way, though.
We spent: $115 for a camper bus ride, one night in a campground and one night of backcountry camping.
We lived almost exclusively on fast food during our trip, because meals are one of the hidden costs of a trip like this. If you’re going to stay on budget, you have to pay as little as possible for sustenance. Remember, it’s possible to eat both healthy and cheap while traveling.
Fast food can be found in all the major cities – Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Wasilla – and even some of the smaller towns, like Talkeetna and Seward, have Subway sandwich shops. The $5 footlong is $9 here, though, so plan accordingly.
We did splurge for a couple of nicer meals at local restaurants. You have to eat at least one seafood dinner when you’re in Alaska, right?
Moneybags ($500): The cost of eating at expensive restaurants all the time can add up.
Average Joe ($300): Eat a few nice meals, otherwise buy meals at fast food or cheap local establishments.
Cheapskate ($175): Stock up on pop-tarts and fruit at Walmart for breakfast. Eat fast food lunches and dinners.
We spent: $192.
When it comes to attractions, you can be a real cheapskate if you want. But why would you go to Alaska and skip the chance to take a bush plane flight, or a whale-watching cruise, or a glacier hike, or some cool museums?
Moneybags ($1600): Take the Grand Denali flightseeing tour around the summit of Mt. McKinley ($375 each), the most luxurious whale-watching cruise you can find, and go to every attraction that interests you, from museums to reindeer farms.
Average Joe ($700): Choose a cheaper flightseeing option ($100-150 each). Choose a mid-level cruising option out of Seward and an ice trek tour on a glacier (look for online sales and discounts). Check out a museum or two in Anchorage.
Cheapskate ($40): Skip flightseeing entirely. Skip the guided tour at Matanuska Glacier and instead walk around the site on your own, paying only the entry fee. Go to free attractions in Anchorage. Skip the whale-watching cruise and hang out at Beluga Point with binoculars to look for whales from shore.
We spent: $880* (We received some discounted tours in exchange for blog coverage, but for the purposes of this analysis, I’m using the full cost.)
To be comfortable and safe in Alaska, you’ll want hiking boots, a winter jacket (even in summer), heavy-duty mosquito repellant, and probably some camping gear. Don’t forget about bear spray, which is not allowed on planes and will run you at least $25.
Moneybags ($400): Buy brand-new shoes, luggage, backpacks, clothing, or cameras.
Average Joe ($200): Spend $20 for The Milepost, a huge, thorough guide to the entire state. Bring camping gear from home. Buy new shoes but otherwise bring clothes you already own.
Cheapskate ($75): Bring all your used gear from home. Buy only the essentials in Alaska.
We spent: $228.
Of course you can’t visit Alaska without bringing home a few souvenirs. And you’ll need some cash in case you decide to check out a bar, buy a new shirt, or just need to stop for aspirin or other miscellaneous expenses.
Moneybags ($400): Buy your Sarah Palin vanity license plates (for ironic reasons, of course), moose dung swizzle sticks, “I Love Talkeetna” hats, Denali bumper stickers, and local native artwork.
Average Joe ($200): Buy souvenir tshirts, coffee mugs and other trinkets. Go to a few bars in Anchorage.
Cheapskate ($100): Buy only basic necessities and maybe a magnet or postcard.
We spent: $145.
How much does it cost to visit Alaska? The chart
Here’s the visual breakdown. Estimates are for a one-week trip for two with airfare from the continental U.S. to Alaska. Even the cheapskates will need to spend nearly $1,000 each.
We ended up paying $3,829, which breaks down to $1,914.50 each. It wasn’t the cheapest vacation I’ve ever taken, but it might have been the most memorable.
Would you consider traveling to Alaska? If you’ve already been, do you think these estimates are accurate?