How much does it cost to go to Alaska?

moose kissing

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.

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moose alaska
CHECK OUT THESE OTHER QUIRKY TRAVEL GUY POSTS FROM ALASKA!
-Photo Essay: 88 Images from Alaska
-Answers to Frequently-Asked Alaska Questions
-Wildlife sightings in Denali National Park
-Strap on Those Crampons and Hike Inside Alaska’s Matanuska Glacier
-Seeing Killer Whales in the Wild? Check.
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This article 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.

AIRFARE

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.

alaska airlines plane

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).

LODGING

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.

RENTAL CAR

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.

rental car

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.

alaska railroad trespassing

Aside: Should I take the train?

If you’re thinking that you might just take the Alaska Railroad to save money 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.

GAS

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

denali-fee-sign

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.

 

FOOD

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.

ATTRACTIONS

ice museum welcome

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.)

SUPPLIES

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): 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.

MISC. SPENDING

moose gift shop

Of course you can’t visit Alaska without bringing home a few souvenirs. 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.

And you should seriously consider purchasing The Milepost, a huge, massively helpful guide referred to as “the bible of Alaska travel.” It breaks down every main road mile-by-mile, letting you know exactly where to find the nearest restroom, scenic viewpoint, or popular wildlife-watching spot. A new version is published each year – see link below.


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.

how much does it cost to go to Alaska

Would you consider traveling to Alaska? If you’ve already been, do you think these estimates are accurate?

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35 Responses to How much does it cost to go to Alaska?

  1. Arti August 2, 2012 at 12:48 am #

    Now I know whom to contact if and when I travel to Alaska in my life!!
    A wonder post for all those planning a travel there!
    Arti recently posted..Happy Raksha Bandhan

    • Scott August 2, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

      Hopefully folks will find the info accurate and helpful.

  2. Caanan @ No Vacation Required August 2, 2012 at 5:22 pm #

    I love a good travel cost break down.
    Caanan @ No Vacation Required recently posted..Time to Ask Life’s Tough Questions

  3. Eileen Ludwig August 2, 2012 at 8:31 pm #

    Love your story and break down of costs. Did your luggage ever catch up to you.
    Eileen Ludwig recently posted..Fascinating Fantasy of Flight Greatest Aircraft Collection

    • Scott August 2, 2012 at 9:31 pm #

      Yes, a week after I got back to Chicago the luggage showed up. Finally!

  4. Spencer August 14, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

    Nice breakdown of costs. I am planning a trip to Alaska in 2014 so this helps my alot.

  5. Erin March 4, 2013 at 4:48 pm #

    Great breakdown! As much planning as a person can do, seeing someone else’s budget and costs are always helpful!

    Thanks!

    • Scott March 8, 2013 at 5:13 pm #

      Thanks, since I couldn’t find a breakdown like this before I went, I was hoping it would be helpful for others.

  6. Amanda March 14, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Wow! Wonderful breakdown of expenses. Thank you so much for posting this. I want to visit Alaska and I wanted at least a ball park of expenses- and I had no idea where to start! Thanks again… Great info!

    • Scott March 15, 2013 at 9:15 am #

      No problem, I’m glad it can serve as a starting point for people trying to budget their own trips!

  7. Srivatsa April 5, 2013 at 11:14 am #

    wow…this is a great! Thanks for taking time to break it down in to categories and explaining them with cost.
    We are planning on a 2 week alaska trip in early september. I am with you on lodging. I do not like to spend a lot of money on lodging unless we would spend a lot of time in the rooms. As long as sleep is comfortable, I am good.
    Currently I am finding cheapest airfares at 330 from San Francisco to Anchorage. Do you think it is a good price?
    While researching, I came across TourSaver and Northern Lights Coupon books for purchase. They seems to have a lot of 2 for 1 deals. Do you have any experience with these.
    Thanks again!

    • Scott April 5, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

      Isn’t it fun planning out a trip like this? 330 from San Francisco to Anchorage sounds like a good price. Since the trip isn’t until September, you may be able to get a better deal if you wait longer and keep monitoring fares on a regular basis (maybe by signing up for fare alerts at farecompare.com.)

      Some people swear by those coupon books, but it depends how much you plan to do. I didn’t bother with them because I didn’t expect to use most of the activities and deals listed in them, so I wouldn’t have gotten my money’s worth. For a two week trip, it may be a good deal for you. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  8. Yu Ye April 12, 2013 at 2:13 am #

    I book the ticket from dfw-yvr, then anc-dfw in August timeframe at price $630 for nonstop. Is this good deal?

    • Scott April 14, 2013 at 10:59 am #

      Is that $630 for the roundtrip? If so, it’s an amazing deal.

  9. kris moore July 7, 2013 at 12:23 pm #

    I am an average budgeted traveler and I don’t think I could have stayed at even cheap motels for $400 for a week. In July the best rates for motel was about $110 to $130 per night.

    • Scott Shetler July 7, 2013 at 9:21 pm #

      A couple nights in $100 motels plus four nights in campgrounds would work out to about $400. Hostels with private rooms for couples are also available in Anchorage and Talkeetna for around $50-60 per night, and those are a great alternative to the more expensive hotels.

  10. Sri July 21, 2013 at 7:09 pm #

    Thanks Scott. This is very helpful for my planning.

    • Scott Shetler July 25, 2013 at 10:54 am #

      No problem Sri, I’m glad it was useful for you.

  11. Katherine July 24, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

    Hey Scott, thanks for the info. Seems like i belong to the cheapskate category here :) found roundtrip flight with Virgin for $400, and rental car for $400 a week (after tax and fees) for August. Are there excursions you would recommend?I’m going to Anchorage, Denali, Seward, and Homer, and towns in between. I’m not a huge cruise fan nor into fishing, but I love photography, so I’m planning on mostly hiking, but do you think the glacier cruise is worth it? Any recommendation for the most scenic ones? What about glacier hikes or flightseeing tour? Where would be the best location and not crazy expensive?

    Thanks so much!!!

    • Scott Shetler July 25, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      Hi Katherine, the glacier cruise was long and the moments of excitement were sporadic, so if you’re not a huge fan that might be worth skipping. Then again, cruising is the main reason to go to Seward, so it depends on your budget. If you’re going to splurge for one thing, I would go for a flightseeing trip rather than a cruise. I think the cheapest flightseeing options are $99 flights out of Anchorage, but for a few hundred dollars you can fly from Talkeetna into Denali Park above the glaciers and mountains. Glacier hiking also provides great pics. Matanuska Glacier is cheap and great to hike on. Exit Glacier (near Seward) can also be reached by a short hike. If you missed my photo essay, this might provide some other ideas: http://quirkytravelguy.com/photo-essay-88-images-from-alaska/ Alaska remains one of my favorite vacations ever. Enjoy your trip!

    • Sri July 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm #

      Hello Katherine,

      I am planning to visit Alaska during end of August.
      Can you please let me know the information on how you have booked your accomodation ?

      I managed to get the same price for flight and car

      Thanks, Sri

      • Katherine July 25, 2013 at 3:44 pm #

        Thanks so much for the info Scott, I think I might do the grand tour with talkeetna air taxi like you did, gonna look into matanuska glacier hike.

        Hi Sri:

        for accomodation I’m planning:

        day 1-2: Anchorage backpackers hostel

        day 3-4: camping at wonderlake one night, and either igloo (depending on availability) or backcountry camping for the second night

        day 5: camping at portage valley cabin and campground (there are other campgrounds in this area, but this one has shower)

        day 6-7: seward moby dick hostel

        day 8: camp homer (better for tent camping, if you have RV, homer spit campground might be a good option too)

        hope this helps :)

        • Sri July 25, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

          Thanks Katherine.

  12. Nik August 3, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    Hi Scott – Thanks a lot for sharing great info.
    I was trying to decide between MICA / NOVA guides for the Matanuska glacier hike. From what is seems like a lot more people go with MICA, also the number of people writing reviews for MICA are more than ten times than NOVA. I like to support smaller / lesser known businesses, if NOVA provides the same quality of service as MICA then I would choose NOVA. Since you have done the glacier hike at Matanuska would you have any input on NOVA vs MICA.
    Thanks
    Nikita

  13. Lynn October 3, 2013 at 8:43 am #

    Hi Scott,
    We are planning a trip to AK. Is this itinerary feasible? Fly to Anchorage, take train up to Fairbanks. Either drive or take tour to Arctic Circle, then take rental car back to Anchorage, stopping at different places like Denali and Talkeetna to sightsee and maybe do a little fishing. This is all in first week. Then the second week, drive down to Soldotna and stay at a guide service place for a week for salmon/halibut/etc fishing. Would we have trouble finding hotels to stay in during the first week if we don’t book them ahead of time? Planning on going early June 2014. Any info would be appreciated! Thanks! :)

    • Scott Shetler October 3, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

      Hi Lynn, that sounds like a busy itinerary, but it is probably feasible as long as you don’t go too far into the Arctic Circle and take too much time up there. There aren’t a ton of hotels so you may want to book in advance. I stayed at hostels in Anchorage and Fairbanks, so I’m not sure how quickly the actual hotels fill up. Early June is a good time to go. As noted, the earlier you go, the cheaper a rental car will be. But you could face a big surcharge if you pick up a rental car in one city and return it in another.

      • Lynn October 3, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

        thanks, Scott. Will check on that surcharge for the rental. You have a lot of great info on your site! It has helped tremendously!

        • Scott Shetler October 7, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

          I’m glad the info helped, Lynn. I’m sure you will enjoy your trip!

  14. mehmet deniz April 25, 2014 at 10:50 am #

    Hi,Scott ,thanks for the info.I want to visit Alaska on 2015. Are 5 or 6 days enough for a good trip in Alaska because from Turkey coming to Alaska is min. 1,5 days .

    • Scott Shetler April 25, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      Yes, 5 or 6 days is a good amount of time to visit Alaska and experience many of its best parks and attractions.

  15. Jen June 4, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

    Hi Scott! Do u have any idea how much a tour costs to see northern lights?

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