It’s a well-known fact that cats prefer solo travel. And what better place for a cat to get their paws wet than in the great state of Alaska? With its stunning scenery and endless opportunities for adventure, Alaska is the perfect place for your next solo adventure. Whether you are looking for a peaceful communion with nature, to scale a wall of ice, or, to get up close and personal with a Kodiak grizzly, Alaska has something for all slow traveling cats!
Planning for your Alaskan adventure
First things first, we need to talk about travel logistics. When planning any trip it’s important to understand how to get there, how to get around, and where to stay. But Alaska is different than your everyday, run-of-the-mill, tourist destination. This great state is in a remote location and has massive surges of tourism during the summer and early fall. As a result, there are a few things to consider:
Traveling to Alaska
Depending on the amount of time you have, getting to Alaska can be a major part of your adventure.
Taking the ferry from Seattle to Anchorage is one of the most unique travel experiences you can have in the US. Often referred to as a lower-cost cruise, the ferry sails right through the most beautiful parts of the infamous Inside Passage. If you decide to take the ferry to Alaska you can expect very few amenities. Accommodations are sparse and you will have the option to either purchase a stateroom or sleep out in the open. There is also no wifi for most of the journey, making it the perfect opportunity for a digital detox.
If you are looking for a little more comfort without giving up the view, you can also take a cruise to Alaska. Several major operators offer one-way cruises, generally leaving from Vancouver, Canada.
Driving through Canada is another adventurous way to get to Alaska. If you take this route from Seattle, you can expect to be on the road for approximately 6 days and 5 nights. An undeniably beautiful drive, you’ll find plenty of stops to explore and lots of time to ponder life as you pass through vast areas of emptiness. If you love driving, this could be a great way to start your trip! Just make sure to have some basic vehicle repair equipment and safety supplies, in case you run into any problems. When we say that Alaska is in a remote location, that’s no joke!
Flying is definitely the quickest way to get to Alaska. You can easily fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks on most major airlines. If you opt to fly, make sure to book a window seat. You may get lucky and get a view of the famous northern lights from the comfort of your own aircraft.
Once you arrive, you’ll have several options for touring the state.
- Driving: Assuming you do not make it to Alaska with your own car, renting one will give you the most flexibility and opportunity for adventure during your solo trip to Alaska. A well-planned road trip is a perfect way to get away from the crowds and experience Alaska up close and personal. With almost no public transit outside of Anchorage and Fairbanks, you’ll need to fend for yourself for most activities.
Pro Tip: If you are slow traveling in Alaska (1+ months), consider buying a used car and reselling it when you leave. Due to limited inventory, cars tend to hold their value well in Alaska.
- Taking the train: The Alaska Railroad offers several routes between points of interest and could be a great way to supplement your need for a vehicle. Recognized as one of the most scenic train rides in the world, the Alaska Railroad is not only functional in getting you from place to place, but it’s also an amazing activity to enjoy during your travels in Alaska.
- The ferry system: If you are looking to explore the coastal areas of Alaska, the ferry system is a relaxing way to get between destinations. It can also double as an opportunity to view some of the area’s most famous sea life.
- Regional flights: Flying is also a great supplement to driving. This is especially true if you intend to tour Southeast Alaska, which is not accessible by road.
- Cruising through Alaska: While this travel method offers the least flexibility, it also has some advantages like having your food, accommodations, and ground transportation taken care of. Depending on what you hope to get from your solo adventure in Alaska, a cruise may be just the ticket!
Depending on the time of year you visit Alaska, there may be a shortage of traditional accommodations. Given the major fluctuations in tourism, you may need to get creative.
Staying in a good hotel has a lot of advantages, with comfort landing at the very top of the list. If you are planning on staying in a hotel during the summer in Alaska, you should aim to book about 6 months out. A consistent favorite is the Hotel Captain Cook, located in downtown Anchorage. If you are looking for more of a resort experience, the Alyeska Resort can not be beat for views and access to activities (including amazing skiing in the wintertime).
A popular alternative to hotels is renting an RV through a service like Outdoorsy. The use of an RV is a great approach to touring Alaska since provides its own accommodations and gives you the flexibility to travel anywhere on the road system. Alaska has a ton of campgrounds and most of them do not require reservations, even in the high season.
If you do not want to spend your vacation driving an RV you can still spend the majority of your time tent camping, using a regular vehicle.
Pro tip: If you don’t want the trouble of carrying your camping gear from your home base all the way to Alaska, the second-hand stores in Anchorage almost always have camping gear abandoned by last season’s tourists.
This is one of my favorite ways to tour new areas. Using a site like Hipcamp, you can find plenty of “glamping” sites throughout the state. These typically involve some sort of permanent structure like a dry cabin (cabin without indoor plumbing) and then access to water and electricity nearby. This is an amazing way to get close to nature without having to set up and tear down your tent every time you want to move to a new location.
Building the best itinerary for solo travel in Alaska
Now that you have an idea of the logistics required for solo travel to Alaska, it’s time to get to the fun part – deciding what to do!
When planning a solo journey, it’s always important to figure out a way to connect with others. If you are like me and are not so comfortable approaching strangers to chat, then it’s a good idea to build a few activities into your plan that will naturally facilitate interactions with others.
Pro Tip: Before traveling to Alaska join a few groups on social media that focus on travel in Alaska. The local population is active on many platforms and gives great tips on things to see, as well as, general travel advice.
Aside from mixing group activities with solo adventures, I also like to mix and match popular attractions with smaller, more unique experiences. Here are a few ideas for your solo Alaskan adventure:
Alaska’s most popular attractions
Sealife Tours: If you only do one professional tour, you should make it a sealife tour of the Kenai Fjords or Glacier Bay. Sealife tours are the most efficient way to see Alaska’s best which includes whales, birds, coastal bears, glaciers, and the famous jagged coastline where the mountains seem to melt into the ocean.
Bear Viewing Tours: Almost every town offers some form of a bear viewing tour. The best tours (and the most expensive) are fly-in, fly-out wilderness camps, where your guide will take you into the backcountry to get a close look at these majestic creatures in their natural habitat. Katmai National Park is a great place for bear viewing.
Alyeska Resort: This is a popular destination no matter what time of year you visit Alaska. Known for its unbeatable ski runs in the winter, during the summer you can still enjoy a laundry list of mountain-based activities like hiking, biking, river rafting, and wildlife viewing. And the best part is that after a day full of adventure, you can relax in their world-famous Nordic spa.
Denali National Park: Known as the tallest peak in North America, Mt. Denali is truly a sight to behold. Aside from the famous mountain, Denali National Park is known for its extensive backcountry (and lack of defined hiking trails). For National Park enthusiasts and experienced campers, this is a bucket list item.
Smaller, unique experiences
Anytime you ask a local what to do in Alaska, one common theme always comes up: walk on a glacier. The feeling of exhilaration of standing on such a powerful, dynamic, and beautiful formation of ancient ice is nearly indescribable. The best place for a fairly priced guided glacier hike is Matanuska Glacier, located just outside of Palmer.
An adorable little village on the way to Denali, Talkeetna is a constant favorite of locals. There are a ton of campsites and river-based activities, nestled in the cutest little town you’ve ever seen. This is also an ideal location to grab pictures of Mt Denali without going into the park. A visit to Talkeetna may involve brunch on Main Street, an ATV tour, including views of Denali, relaxing by the river, and then dinner and music at Denali Brewpub.
Chena Hot Springs
Possibly the most “local” activity you can do, fishing is a way of life for many Alaskan residents. If you are lucky enough to be in Alaska during the annual salmon run in July and August, you should take some time to experience the excitement around this natural occurrence. Looking to get your hands dirty? Plenty of charters will teach you the art of fishing for salmon in Alaska’s pristinely blue, glacier-fed rivers. For a more relaxed day, check out a deep-sea fishing charter, where your guide will show you, step by step, how to catch Alaska’s most coveted fish.
Relaxing by the sea
Another favorite getaway for Alaskans is relaxing in one of the state’s picturesque seaside towns. The most popular destinations are Homer, Seward, and Valdez. All three are equally beautiful and chock-full of Alaskan adventures. Homer is the best place for deep sea fishing, Seward is the gateway to the Kenia Fjords National Park and Valdez is known for some of the tallest coastal mountains in Alaska, making great opportunities for hiking, biking, and skiing in the winter.
Top Solo Travel Tips for Alaska
Now that you have your logistics and itinerary planned, there are just a few more tips for having an unforgettable solo journey in Alaska.
Join group hikes
Group hikes are a great way to connect with others during your solo travel and, also to stay safe. While solo hiking can be rewarding, I would strongly advise against it in Alaska. There are several reasons that Alaska is unique in this regard. One is the active wildlife (mostly bears and moose). Hiking in a group will create more noise and help prevent you from sneaking up on any unsuspecting wildlife. Additionally, the Alaskan landscape is rugged and even the most established trails can be difficult to follow sometimes.
Look for small adventure tours
Last summer I joined a small kayaking tour of Spencer Lake, run by Chugach Adventures. In my group of 12, I met 3 other solo travelers. The opportunity to exchange stories while also experiencing the stunning site of Spencer Glacier and its turquoise icebergs became one of my fondest Alaskan memories. Looking for smaller tours can enhance your ability to connect with your fellow travelers.
Enjoy a solo picnic
Why fight the crowds at restaurants when you can buy perfectly good local cuisine at the grocery store and enjoy an unbeatable view alongside it? Because of the state’s neverending supply of stunning nature, you can pull over nearly anywhere for an amazing view of the mountains or water while you enjoy your meal. Alaska is a particularly great place to enjoy summer solo picnics due to its extended daylight hours.
Be prepared for wildlife encounters
Since Alaska is known for its dense population of local wildlife, it’s extra important to be prepared. The best thing you can do is purchase bear spray, learn how to use it, and carry it on a front-facing harness. Aside from bears, the Alaskan moose are more dangerous than you think. Look out for moose with flattened ears, raised hair, and/or approaching you (even slowly). If you experience these behaviors, back away slowly.
Don’t be shy about driving solo
Due to the sparse population of the state, the simple act of driving between towns can provide as much beauty as some of the most famous scenic drives in the lower 48. One of my favorite drives is the Seward Highway between Anchorage and Seward. If you are traveling during the colder months, make sure to have some extra warm clothes, just in case. I also like to keep a spare car key in my jacket or pants pocket just to be extra sure I don’t lock myself out in the cold!
Always share your travel plans
Conclusion on solo travel in Alaska
Traveling solo in Alaska is a truly unique experience. Its boundless nature makes it easy to feel comfortable in solitude. Additionally, the overall culture is very friendly to solo travelers, offering plenty of opportunities to connect with locals or other adventurers.
Alaska is an amazing place to recharge and is full of so many opportunities to explore its natural beauty that it should be on any solo traveler’s bucket list. Whether you are an experienced solo traveler or just getting your feet wet, Alaska is sure to provide exactly what you are looking for.