Often when people announce they’re going to Alaska the first question they’re met with is: Why? Alaska doesn’t fit the bill for what most people picture on vacation, but that is part of the allure. The 49th state has rightly earned its nickname as the Last Frontier, packed with staggering mountains amidst glaciers clung to their sides, big game wildlife, towering icebergs, lively cities, a unique culture, historic mining communities and a thousand things in between. Do you need any more reasons to visit Alaska?
Now is a better time than ever to visit Alaska. And yes: the snow does melt in the summer.
1. The Northern Lights
Hint: The best months to view the aurora are March and September!
Kick back and watch mother nature at work. Watch ribbons of color burst from the sky and dance all around. Maybe if you’re lucky you’ll even hear the crackling of the late night atmospheric phenomenon. Note that due to the endless sun in the summer time the Northern Lights are not visible in June and July, and rare to witness in early August and late May.
Inside the ice cave at Spencer Glacier. Did you know you can visit Spencer Glacier by train? Check out this post to find out how you can visit!
With an estimated 100,000 glaciers within the state prepare to be wowed by ice. Alaska has a number of roadside glaciers that can be easily accessed by visitors. These include Byron Glacier, Matanuska Glacier, Mendenhall Glacier, Exit Glacier and many, many more!
A moose at Denali National Park.
No I’m not talking about Alaska’s nightlife. I’m talking about all the critters running about the majestic lands. From bears to moose, caribou, eagles and more. Alaska has no shortage of wildlife. One of the best places to see Alaskan wildlife? Denali National Park. Wanna self drive through Alaska’s most famous park? Read this post here to apply for your Denali Road Lottery Permit.
4. The Midnight Sun
The crack of 10pm in early May!
Being in the far reaches of the northern latitudes Alaska sees nearly endless daylight in the summer months.
5. All Those Roads to Nowhere
Alaska has no shortage of near-desolate roads.
There’s no shortage of roadtrip opportunities in the United State’s largest state. It’s true, if you sliced Alaska in half Texas would become the third largest state. It’s that big. Although the road network in Alaska only covers a tiny fraction of the land, there’s countless nooks to explore from the roadways.
6. Towering Mountains
Feeling tiny as the nearby mountains tower above you.
Alaska is home to North America’s tallest mountain: Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). Hardcore mountaineering not your thing? There are plenty of mountains to explore all over the state for every hiking/physical level. From the looming Alaska Range housing Alaska’s biggest mountains, to the far north Brooks Range, Chugach State Park and all the ones in between.
7. The Endless Adventure
This hike takes you to two stunning lakes, where you can bring packable kayaks or stand-up paddle boards to cruise around the glacially fed waters.
Alaskans are always up to something adventurous and seemingly crazy. Hiking, surfing, sea kayaking among icebergs, cruising along faces of glaciers and more! If you’re an adventure seeker, Alaska is definitely the place for you.
8. Remote Wilderness
You actually don’t have to venture far to get away from it all in Alaska.
Wanting to get away from it all? That’s an easy prospect in a land as wild as Alaska. Escape the crowds and check out Alaska’s lesser known attractions.
9. World Class Fishing
…and sometimes you catch little fish too, in my case!
Alaska is home to world class fishing and is dotted with exclusive and remote fishing lodges. Of course there are countless charter companies to take you out fishing for our tasty salmon, halibut, and more!
10. The Skiing and Snowboarding
Look at all that powder!
With long winters and regions that get dumped on, the backcountry opportunities are endless. For those not as wild at heart we do have a few ski resorts as well.
How to visit Spencer Glacier without a tour: The Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop
*This post contains affiliate links.
You probably ended up here because you were looking to visit Spencer Glacier, but the tours to Spencer Glacier are, let’s face it, ludicrously expensive. There’s good news for you! You can do it yourself. Simply take the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop train and take a short and easy hike right to Spencer Glacier.
You can visit Spencer Glacier as a day trip or plan to camp overnight. I’ll give you all the details in this post.
First off, your largest expense will be train tickets. The Alaska Railroad charges extortionate prices, so I apologize for that. Now are you seeing why us Alaskans DO NOT take the train anywhere?
The train ride is 16 miles from Portage Stop 2 to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. It takes about 20 minutes to go between the two. So to give you an idea of cost: you’re paying $2.50 per mile per person for this ticket. If that ain’t highway robbery… but you have no other choice.
*For summer 2017 kids 12yrs+ ride free with the purchase of one adult fare on the Glacier Discovery from Portage Stop 2 to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Call 800.544.0552 and mention promo code “KIDS RIDE FREE”. This includes a handful of other routes as well.
**Sign up for Alaska Railroad’s e-mail list here and be the first to know when they’re offering discounts!
Anchorage to Spencer Whistle Stop (return):
Adult (12yrs+): $123
Child (2-11yrs): $62
Infant (0-2yrs) with a seat: $62
Infant (0-2yrs) in lap: FREE
*With a valid military ID you will get 20% off ticket prices.
Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop Schedule:
The train departs Anchorage at 9:45AM and again departs Portage Stop 2 at 1:40PM and arrives at Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop at about 2:00PM.
Upon return the train departs Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop at 4:40PM and arrives at Portage Stop 2 at 5:00PM and Then finally arrives in Anchorage at 9:15PM.
Getting to the train stop:
If planning to take the train from Anchorage head to the downtown depot at 411 W 1st Avenue, near the Anchorage Port.
Taking the train from the nearest stop at Portage Stop 2 will be the cheapest. Portage stop 2 is located about 10 miles past Girdwood on the Seward Highway if you’re coming from Anchorage. Pull into the parking lot on the leftside of the road (the side opposite from the ocean if you’re at all confused). There is a building with a red roof in the parking lot with a sign that says ‘Kenai Fjords Tours’. Otherwise if you’re planning to take the train from Anchorage, you’ll hop on the train at the downtown depot, however this will cost you even more money.
Bring your luggage up to signs designating where to bring bags. They will first load the passengers on booked tours luggage into one car. They will then load you hobos bags going on a DIY trip into the second car. Don’t worry, they’ll make announcements. Just hand your bag to the baggage handler and then get on the train.
You can pretty much bring whatever you want: camping gear, bicycles, kayaks, rafts, SUP… etc.
*You can bring pets! Just bring their kennel and load them up with the luggage.
The train ride
Seats are assigned on your boarding pass, however, if the train isn’t packed you can plop down pretty much wherever. I personally think the views out the left side of the train on the way there (right side on return) are the best, however both sides are quite spectacular especially for tourists.
First stop will be to load up rafts on the train, no one gets off or on here.
Second stop is where you get off. They will make announcements on the train.
First luggage for those on tours are unloaded first. Your luggage will be taken off next. There is a little sheltered area and outhouse at the whistle stop.
Hike to the lake
You’ll see the gravel path meandering to your right when you get off the train, there’s even a sign that says ‘Spencer Glacier Trailhead’
Follow the gravel trail 1.2 miles until you arrive at the lake. It’s a flat hike and not difficult whatsoever.
Right before arriving at the lake there is an outhouse and a pump to get water from.
Hike to the glacier
Follow the gravel path for another 2.1 miles to the glacier. There are several lookouts along the way.
Kayak, raft, or SUP to the glacier
If you brought your kayak, raft or stand up paddleboard along you can go check out the glacier this way. The best time to head out is after 9PM when the wind typically calms down for the evening.
You can safely land to the leftside of the glacier along the moraine and climb up the scree on the moraine for great views.
Always stay at least 400 ft away from the face of the glacier, it does calve! Keep your distance from icebergs as 90% of the berg sits beneath the surface and they do roll. And go at your own risk! Falls into the lake can be deadly as hypothermia sets in quick. Glacial water is no joke.
Going onto the glacier
Another go at your own risk. Glaciers can be a dangerous place, they calve, shift and collapse. There are crevasses and you can fall in and die or get pretty mangled. Best to go if you’re experienced or with an experienced guide.
There are tide detergent blue pools up on top the glacier especially in the late spring. There are a couple ice caves on the front face of the glacier. Ice caving is pretty dangerous so really go at your own risk.
Making breakfast after a night of camping.
Camping is FREE!!
If you plan to camp and stay overnight, follow the gravel path along the lake. There are 9 spots that have somewhat of a clearing for pitching tents. I do recommend setting up camp a little back from the lake in the trees. The wind usually kicks up and is frigid, the trees will protect you.
There are two camping sites in the Spencer Developed Recreation Area that is by reservation only. You can reserve a spot by calling 800.544.0552. Campsite A rents for $65.00/n (sleeps 15) and B for $35/n (sleeps 10). These sites are located right along the lake and maintained.
There are bear boxes to place food in near the raft launching point at the lake (not far from outhouse). You can store food there, or just make sure to store food far from your tent. There are bears around here and they get hungry at night.
Public use cabin
The Bench Cabin is available to rent as well. It is a 5.4 mile hike from the start of the trailhead. The last 3 miles are very steep and up the mountain to the leftside of the lake. You can make reservations by calling 1-800-544-0552 mid June through mid September. For the offseason mid September to mid June make a reservation at recreation.gov.
Want to go glamping?
Ascending Path offers fully outfitted overnight camping trips to Spencer Glacier. All gear, guides, equipment and meals are included as well train tickets to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop and a helicopter ride from the glacier to Alyeska Resort in Girdwood. It comes in at $799 per person…yikes.
Want a guided hike?
Forest Service Park Rangers give guided tours to Spencer Lake daily in the summer.
Want to go on a Kayaking adventure?
Take a guided kayaking tour of Spencer Lake to get up close to the glacier, like safely close.
Want to get out on the glacier?
If you don’t feel confident with your level of glacier trekking experience there is no shame in hiring a glacier guide!
Flights to Spencer Glacier
Check out Alpine Air Alaska for rates and tours. I have flown with these guys and recommend them.
Other important info:
Make sure to arrive back to Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop no later than 4:30 PM, to give enough time to load bags and get on the train. The train usually arrives by about 4:10 PM.
https://i1.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/1A3A8973-2.jpg?fit=3000%2C2000&ssl=120003000Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2017-06-18 08:00:092018-01-06 17:26:43Take the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop Train: Travel Alaska On A Budget
Hands down one of the most magical things in the world? Joining the iceworms* under the icy blue world of a glacier. The network of cerulean ice caves is what makes Mendenhall Glacier so unique and special. Mendenhall Glacier is a very popular tourist destination, conveniently located just 12 miles from downtown Juneau, so if you happen to be in Juneau or are planning a trip there a visit at least to the glacier is a must, but a visit to the Mendenhall Ice Caves will likely be one of the most amazing things you’ll ever see.
*Yes, iceworms really do exist!
Don’t put off a visit to Mendenhall Ice Cave for too long! The ice cave is rapidly melting, collapses from time to time and with all the shifts in climate more recently the glacier could disappear all together in a few years.
*This post contains affiliate links.
How to get to the Mendenhall Ice Cave
*Disclaimer: There is no way to guarantee access to the ice caves, it does collapse from time to time. Ask a park ranger at the theMendenhall Glacier Visitor Center for the latest condition information.
1. Go to Juneau
You must get to Juneau first. You can arrive either by air or water. Juneau is not connected to the outside world by road.
2. Head toward Mendenhall Glacier in the Tongass National Forest
The glacier is located about 12 miles north of downtown Juneau. Head northwest on Egan Drive, take a right onto Mendenhall Loop Road which will turn into Glacier Spur Rd. Follow Glacier Spur until you see Mendenhall Loop Road (yes, again) on your left, turn left and then continue on it. Take a right onto Montana Creek Road. Where the road “Y”s take the right onto Skater’s Cabin road. Follow Skater’s Cabin road to the parking lot at the end. This is the beginning of the ‘West Glacier Trail‘.
3. Start the Trek to Mendenhall Glacier Ice Caves
From the end of Skater’s Cabin Road parking lot, start on the West Glacier Trail and follow the trail 4.5 miles to the glacier. This is a long trek and the trail is difficult, can be dangerous in areas and is mostly unmarked. It can get slippery so be cautious where you step. This route includes bridges, hazards, loose rocks, inclines, declines and even stairs. It’s not uncommon for people to twist ankles, suffer sprains and even broken bones on this trail.
Expect the hike to take about 3.5 to 4.5 hours on average, each way. It is advisable to get an early start, especially in the winter when days are short.
3.5 Option: Rather than hike, kayak!
It’s possible to bring a kayak (or rent one back in Juneau) and kayak across the lake in the summer and land just to the western flank of the glacier.
3.75 Option: In the winter, walk across the lake
In the winter, if the ice is thick enough it is possible to walk across the frozen lake from the Visitor Center.
4. Arrive at the western flank of the glacier
Walk north along the western flank of the glacier. Be careful as the rocks and ice can be very slippery here. This is a good place to pop on your crampons.
Me under an ice arch on the western flank.
5. Start looking for a stream coming from the glacier
This will typically lead you to the entrance of an ice cave.
6. Start looking for the entrance into the ice cave
Glaciers are constantly shifting, changing, melting, moving and sometimes growing. When I visited the opening was quite obvious. Other visitors report having to duck down or even crawl to enter. It just depends on how the glacier has shifted.
Inside the opening of the ice cave.
7. Head on in
Once you’ve located the entrance, follow the tunnel in. Depending on the ice you can go to varying depths into the glacier.
Into the blue abyss.
8. Enjoy the Mendenhall ice caves!
The best way I can describe what being inside the ice cave is like is to say it’s what I’ve always imagined being trapped inside a sapphire would be like. The blues flicker and flash and appear to shift to different hues. You can hear the constant movement of the glacier with the occasional groan and creak. It’s somewhere that I wanted to stay in forever and run out as fast as I could- it is an eerie feeling being under a glacier, but amazing at the same time.
What to bring?
Hiking boots-– It’s a long hike to get out here and you want to be comfortable with good ankle support. Bringing a pair of rubber boots along will be handy as well as it can be wet going into the cave.
Crampons– or ice cleats. You don’t want to be slipping and sliding around on a glacier. Crampons will provide you with the most grip. Cleats will at least give you some traction. Depending on your plans Ice axes may be helpful, although not usually necessary for most visitors.
Water- It’s no brainer. It’s a long hike.
Snacks- Like mentioned with the water, it’s a long hike.
Layers and a rain jacket– Juneau is notorious for rain. Layers will keep you comfortable as it will be colder up on and in the glacier. You’ll most likely get pretty warm on the hike over.
Not comfortable going on your own? Hire a guide!
Beyond AK offers tours onto the glacier, including the ice cave. If you’re coming to Juneau on a short cruise ship stop they can arrange to pick you up and get you back to the ship before departure.
Have you been to Mendenhall Ice Cave?
Or an ice cave elsewhere? I’d love to hear about it!
*Since people in general are stupid and sue happy: Go at your own risk. Glaciers are incredibly dangerous places, especially if you are inexperienced. You can fall into crevasses, glaciers can collapse on top of you, you can slip and fall and much more. I’m not responsible for you injuring yourself, maiming yourself, or dying, or for any belongings or items you may lose/break out there. Be careful. If you are bound and determined to reach Mendenhall ice cave but don’t have much confidence in your glacier trekking abilities it would be wise to hire an experienced glacier guide.
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I’ve lived in, around or near Anchorage my entire life. Although I grew up not thinking it was too exciting of a place, after years of international travel I’ve come to realize how unique of a city Anchorage really is! You can hike a mountain and still be within the bounds of the city. Not 10 minutes away you can grab a beer and a meal. We have an extensive network of bike trails. Anchorage really has a lot on offer especially for outdoors lovers. And guess what makes it all the better? There a number of free things to do in Anchorage!
*Several parks and hikes mentioned here fall within Chugach State Park. Most Alaska State Parks are free to enter, however the many state parks parking lots charge a $5 parking fee per day (additional for camping). If you are an avid state parks user it is worth picking up a $50 annual Alaska State Parks Pass.
*Hikes come with a disclaimer: many do have a $5 parking fee, however; entrance to the park is free.
Hiking trails, the lake and a campground. Hiking connects in with Twin Peaks, Bold Peaks Valley, Pepper Peak and East Fork Trails.
Eagle & Symphony Lakes
*$5 parking fee… if you can find an open spot.
Park at the South Fork Trailhead back Hiland road in Eagle River. About 11 miles roundtrip to the lake and back. Great blueberry picking in the fall.
*$5 pakring fee.
2 miles roundtrip hike ending at the waterfalls. Short easy hike.
Up Skyline road in Eagle River. 1.5 miles roundtrip. Great views of the inlet and Eagle River to Anchorage from the top. This hike can be continued beyond to Blacktail for a longer trip.
*$5 parking fee
Ends at Rabbit Lake up in the Chugach Mountains. 14 miles roundtrip, suggested to camp overnight if doing the entire trail. Uphill the entire way. Rabbit Lake can also be accessed via the parking lot at the end of Upper Canyon Road (Upper DeArmoun Rd), this is a much more gradual and calm hike.
North Fork Eagle River
*$5 parking fee.
About 20 minutes north of Anchorage, on the way back to the Eagle River Nature Center. 1 mile roundtrip. Good trail for families with little kids. Easy with no elevation gain. Runs along side Eagle River.
Out in Eagle River, about 3 miles up Eagle River road, look for Mile High road and follow the switchbacks up until you come to a pull off and park there. Walk past the antenna and you’ll see the start of the trail. Good views to the ocean, and down into Eagle River valley. Continues and goes up to to Mt. Magnificent.
Winner Creek Trail
40 minutes or so south of Anchorage down in Girdwood. Nice hike through the forest. 6 miles roundtrip. Leads up to two canyons. Hand tram over the Winner Creek Gorge.
21 mile trek through Chugach State Park between Crow Creek Mine in Girdwood and Eagle River (the nature center). Some people split into an overnight trip.
*$5 parking fee, if you can find parking in the lot.
5 miles roundtrip, uphill the entire hike to the top. Great views of the inlet. Head towards Girdwood from Anchorage, about a half hour away.
Short hike through the lovely greens of Girdwood to this picturesque little waterfall. (I’ve been corrected that it’s not technically a waterfall, but whatever).
Just south of Anchorage, park at the Potter’s Marsh parking Lot. Half mile of boardwalks over the marsh to view local bird species. Likely to see Arctic Terns, Seagulls, Yellow Legs and more birds. Moose frequent the area too.
Ship Creek Salmon Viewing Deck
Watch salmon run through the creek while fisherman try to catch them. Located on Whitney road in the downtown area.
Outdoor science education center. Learn about the creeks, forests, wildlife and plants around Anchorage.
Native Village on the north outskirts of the Municipality of Anchorage. Visit the historic park to see St Nicholas Orthodox Church, the spirit houses and learn about the culture, history and traditions of the Dena’ina Athabascan people.
Love the arts? And do you love free things to do in Anchorage? You have options.
First Friday Art Walk
First Friday of every month. Make your rounds to the local galleries checking out the artwork of the local talents.
Music in the Park
Every Wednesday and Friday from noon to 1pm at Peratrovich Park. Come listen to local Alaska music and Alaska Native Performers.
Not the adventurous outdoorsy type? Anchorage offers a few markets to peruse and they fall into the category of free things to do in Anchorage. Although if you want to purchase you’ll have to pay, but looking is always free!
The Anchorage Market
Saturdays and Sundays off 3rd Avenue in downtown Anchorage in the summer. Alaska’s largest open air market. Eat food from local vendors, buy locally grown vegetables and buy artwork and gifts.
The Spenard Market
Farmer’s Market under the windmill in Spenard every Saturday in the summer May-September. Buy locally grown vegetables, and goods.
Anchorage Farmers Market
Every Saturday in the summer, located off 15th Avenue and Cordova. Come by to purchase local produce.
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It’s no lie: Alaska is f&*%^!@ expensive. Everything in Alaska is expensive. I know, I live here. Tourism in Alaska seems to be geared to target people on high budgets and with almost zero public transportation; traveling Alaska on the cheap can be daunting . But that’s where I come in. Here’s some recommendations to help you travel Alaska on a budget as well as general information on how to travel Alaska and what kind of activities are available.
*Some links in this post are affiliate links.
Quick budget tricks:
Come Early or Visit Late– Alaska has a short summer. It realistically spans May to September at its outer limits. The tourist season falls along the Alaskan summer. Tourism isn’t in full swing yet in May, and weather is typically nice and clear, making it in my opinion the most optimal month to visit and making flights, rental cars and excursions a little cheaper. September can be a beautiful month with the change of color but it can also sprinkle a little snow from year to year as far south as Anchorage.
Visit in the Off Season- Are you into wintersports or want to chase the aurora borealis? If you’re up to the cold and snow the winter can be a rewarding and equally as stunning time of year to visit in Alaska. Not to worry though many different winter temperatures can be found around the state, Alaska spans 1,420 miles north to south (2,285km). Temperatures in the southeast can be balmy in comparison to the rigid interior and frozen north.
DIY- Yup, do it yourself. Cut down on costs by self driving, pitching a tent and preparing your own meals.
Keep your eyes peeled for Airline Sales- We already know, getting here is expensive! Compare flights on Skyscannerand keep an eye out for the best deals.
Use Mileage- You think getting here is ridiculous, try getting around Alaska. Alaska Airlines has a pretty good stranglehold on the intercity travel within the state. Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta and United all fly to Alaska. Check to see if your preferred airline or a partner flies to Alaska and cash in them miles. If you have a mileage plan through Alaska Airlines many times a roundtrip ticket between two cities in Alaska will come in at 15,000 miles. Good to keep in mind.
Get Outdoors– There are endless opportunities to enjoy the nature Alaska is known for, for free! Some parking lots at recreation sites and state parks will require an on average $5.00 parking fee for the day, $10 for overnight spots.
Northern Lights Coupon Book- Many tourists swear by it, I’ve never actually purchased one, although I did have a couchsurfer leave one with me as he was leaving the state and it had some good deals in it. This book comes out each year will set you back $55 for a copy but offers some big savings on tours, hotels and more. Can be a good value depending on if you plan to book a lot of tours and hotels, etc. You can purchase one online or pick one up in Alaska. Check out their website here.
Alaska Map. Public Domain, by Ian Mackey. Red=Roads, Purple=Rivers, Black=Railroad.
Money and costs:
You ended up here because you’re most likely looking for way to travel Alaska on a budget. Here is some general money information:
Currency: Alaska is one of the fifty nifty United States. Yes, I have to mention that because many people aren’t sure what we are. Canada? Our own country? Russia? Are all likely guesses from people. Alaska accepts the US dollar as payment, although near the Canadian border you can sometimes find shops accepting Canadian dollars.
ATMs are easily available in cities and towns, although once you get away from civilization banks and ATMs disappear.
Exchange Rate: Last updated May 2017.
1 Euro= $1.10 USD
1 GBP= $1.29 USD
1 CAD= $0.73 USD
1 AUD= $0.74 USD
1 NZD= $0.69 USD
1 JPY= $0.01 USD
1 CNY= $0.14 USD
1 RUB= $0.02 USD
Don’t want to worry about getting cash? No problem! Travelex offers good deals for currency exchange.
Costs will vary widely depending on your style of travel and comfort level. These are all ballpark averages and should be treated as such. To give you a rough idea for planning here are some general costs in May 2017:
Campsite= Free to $10 per night.
Small car rental= $35/day in the winter and shoulder seasons, but average closer to $100/day in the peak time when booking closer to arrival.
Larger car/SUV rental= $50/day in the winter and shoulder seasons, but average closer to $140/day in the peak time when booking closer to arrival.
Food= $1-5 per meal if cooking for self (even less if you plan to forage or live off ramen noodle packets), $10-15 per plate at a budget restaurant/cafe, $20-30 per plate at a midrange restaurant and $30+ per plate at a higher range restaurant.
Entrance to museums, cultural centers= $10-15 per person.
Entrance to parks= Free to $10 per person. Most of Alaska’s state and national parks are free to enter. Denali charges $10 per person to enter. Many state parks with road access and a parking lot will charge a $5 parking fee.
When to Visit:
This is all heavily dependent on what activities you want to partake in and what kind of temperatures you like. With that said Alaska’s weather is a bit of a rollercoaster and highly unpredictable. Plus, it’s a huge piece of land- 663,300 mi² ( 1,710,000 km²), the biggest state in the USA and roughly about 1/5 the size of the ‘lower 48’ states combined therefore making the temperatures and weather vary widely. YES- It’s bigger than Texas, so leave your ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ shirt at home. Note that the following seasons are according to whats to be expected in the southern part of the state. Expect winter to be longer and summer slightly shorter from the interior and further north.
By and far the most popular time to visit. It’s safe to say the June, July and August are officially Alaskan summer, but it can arguably be extended to May and September. Summer is the warmest with long long days as the sun will either barely dip below the horizon or never go down depending on where you go. June is usually a drier warmer month with July and August typically giving more rain, though this is unpredictable.
Most people would regard the end of August, September and to mid October Fall. Snow can fall at any time, although usually will stave off until mid to late October around Anchorage (can vary big time year to year). Temperatures tend to fall steadily as the season goes on but is still a good time of year to get out on hikes and go camping. This is more of a shoulder season and costs tend to drop and most the tourists usually have left by September. September (and sometimes if lucky into October) is a great time to get out and enjoy the changing fall colors.
Winter will usually last from mid to late October until mid March. These are the darkest months of the year, with December through mid February in particular, the darkest. Expect cold temps and snow. Good time to visit for winter sports enthusiasts.
Spring usually stretches from Mid-March until April-May. The days are getting longer and the skiing is getting good as the season begins. Weather tends to be clear and warm, although it’s not unheard of to have a surprise dump of snow even into May.
Getting to Alaska:
You have three options to get to Alaska
If you have the time and are already planning to pass through Western Canada driving into Alaska is an option via the Alaska-Canada Highway. Or the Alcan as most Alaskans refer to it. This is also part of the great Pan-American Highway Adventure- the road spanning from Ushuaia, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.
The most common way to arrive in Alaska by far. Anchorage, Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan all are international airports with connections to other US states as well as Canada*, Germany*, Iceland* and Russia*. US cities that have direct service to Anchorage include Chicago, Dallas, Honolulu, Kahului, Kona, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Portland, Salt Lake and Seattle. Keep an eye out on Skyscanner and Expedia for deals, or cash in mileage for a ticket.
*All international flights seasonal flights to/from Anchorage and/or Fairbanks.
An option is to take a cruise up from Seattle though the Inside Passage to Anchorage or the Alaska Marine Highway System. Shop here for Alaska cruises. The Marine Highway starts (or ends depending on how you look at it) in Bellingham, Washington (state), makes an international stop in Prince Rupert, BC, and connects the following communities by ferry: Akutan, Angoon, Chenega Bay, Chignik, Cold Bay, Cordova, False Pass, Haines, Homer, Hoonah, Juneau, Kake, Ketchikan, King Cove, Kodiak, Metlakatla, Ouzinkie, Petersburg, Port Lions, Sand Point, Seldovia, Sitka, Skagway, Tatitlek, Tenakee Springs, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, Valdez, Whittier, Wrangell, and Yakutat. It is possible to bring vehicles by ferry. To check on prices and see the route map click here. Although the Marine Highway is in a sense a form of public transport, it’s not that cheap but still can be a good option.
Juneau: The state capital, located in the Southeast. Great start to explore Alaska’s panhandle, Mendenhall Glacier and nearby Glacier Bay National Park near Gustavus. Read further on my posts on to see why you should include Mendenhall Ice Cave and the Shrine of St. Thereseon your visit to Juneau.
Fairbanks: The golden heart city, a great starting point for Alaska’s fierce interior. Best general area to see the aurora in winter (of course you’ll want to head out of town a little ways to get away from light pollution).
Matanuska Valley: Palmer and Wasilla are the two biggest community. Lots of outdoor explorations available and also a great jumping off point for south-central Alaska. Only a 1 hour drive north of Anchorage.
Kenai/Soldotna: Good place to stop off, resupply or use as a base for adventures in the Kenai Peninsula. Other nearby communities include Seward, Homer, Kasilof and Ninilchik.
Barrow (Utqiagvik): Point Barrow, the northernmost point of the USA, where the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas meet. The annual whale harvest and celebration is an amazing time to visit.
Nome: In northwestern Alaska. Ceremonial Finish of the Iditarod. Not reachable by road from other parts of the state.
Bethel: Small town in southwestern Alaska. Not reachable by road from other parts of Alaska.
Kotzebue: In northwestern Alaska, very remote and no road access to other parts of the state.
Savage River, Denali National Park.
Denali National Park: Alaska’s most visited national park and home to Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley). $10 per person to enter the park and camping fees do apply (anywhere from $16-30 per campsite per night). You can only self drive yourself to the Savage River campground in the summer (this is only a short distance into the park). If you want to go further in you are welcome to cycle or hike the entirety of the road or opt to pay for one of the park’s buses. The non-narrated shuttle buses run between $26.50 and $34.00 depending on distance for adults 15yo and up and free for children under 15yo. The narrated tour buses will set you back about $80 per person. There is also are also free courtesy shuttles between the sites accessible by public road (that means the cut off is Savage River), the courtesy shuttles do the following: The Savage River Shuttle, Riley Creek Shuttle and the Dog Sled Demonstration Shuttle. All Make stops at the Denali Visitor Center and Wilderness Access Center. Click here for more information from the US National Park Service. Did you know in mid to late September each year you can self drive the length of the road to Kantishna in Denali National Park? Check out my post on how to get a Denali Road Lottery Permit to find out more and apply!
Kenai Fjords National Park: Another popular stop on the tourist trail on the Kenai Peninsula. Free to enter as there is no entrance fee or camping fees.
Glacier Bay National Park: Near to the tiny town of Gustavus, a short air taxi, flight or ferry ride from the capital of Juneau. Free to enter and to camp.
Katmai National Park: That postcard picture of Alaska with the bear catching a salmon right out of a waterfall? Yeah, that’s in Katmai. Brooks Falls to be exact. No entrance or camping fees. Camping is backcountry style and careful planning is essential because this national park is crawling with bears. The only spot to camp that is serviced is Brook’s Camp Campground and is protected with electric fences Costs: $12 per person per night June 1 through September 17 and $6 per person per night in May and September 18 through October 31. Campers are limited to 7 nights in July and 14 nights per calendar year. Group size is limited to 6.
Wrangell/St. Elias National Park: Accessible by road, biggest accessisble settlement is McCarthy. Free to enter and to camp as there is no entrance gate to the park.
Kobuk National Park: In northern Alaska and extremely remote. Known for its sand dunes. No camping or entrance fees exist, although getting here can very expensive as there is no road access. Most visitors arrive by air taxi from Bettles or Kotzebue.
Gates of the Arctic National Park:
Remote park in the north of Alaska. Beautiful treks out into the Brooks Range. No park entrance of camping fees. Accessed only by air taxis from Bettles, Anaktuvuk Pass, Coldfoot or by hike from the Dalton Highway where the eastern park boundary runs along the highway.
Lake Clark National Park:
Located on the Alaska Peninsula, just north of Katmai National Park. No roads, no campgrounds and only one maintained hiking trail. This is the backcountry. Access is usually by air taxi. No entrance or camping fees.
State Parks: There are many state parks in Alaska. Click here to view the full list. More popular ones include Chugach, Denali, Hatcher’s Pass & Independence Mine, and Prince William Sound State Parks to name a few.
Alaska, from above!
Getting around Alaska:
Going about it on your own is going to be your best bet at keeping to a budget. The only public transport in existence is within cities. Between cities? Forget it. In the summer months there are some tourist buses that go between common points of interest, but are expensive. Another option is by train, which you guessed it can be expensive but can be a great option for sightseeing but many times is more expensive than the price of a roundtrip airfare outside the state. Very little of the landmass is reachable by road. In fact, 82% of Alaska’s communities are not on the road system, making the use of boats and planes both commonly used modes of transportation to many places in the state.
Renting a car can be a cost effective way to see the state, especially if you’re traveling with others. It also gives you the flexibility to go where you want, when you want.
Buy a Car:
Buy something cheap and used, resell it at the end. This is a common tactic you see for longer term travelers in New Zealand and can be done in Alaska as well. If your plans include a longer term itinerary in Alaska this could be a great option as you will be able to get a decent return when you sell the car off in the end.
Hitchhiking is a good way to travel Alaska on a budget. Although not recommended in the winter because of long stretches of road and bitter cold temps. Of course hitchhiking comes with risks; there can be wildlife to be wary of along roads and of course you could get picked up by someone who has motive to do something bad to or rob you. It is possible and majority of the time goes without hiccup, but be careful out there. A great place to post or look for hitchhiking opportunities is Couchsurfing. I get e-mail updates from the Anchorage page and often see people posting that they are driving from point A to point B on date C and have D seats available, or for people looking for a ride headed from point E to point F on a range of dates.
If there’s a road, there’s a way! In the summer you’ll see many cyclists cruising around Alaska. Make sure to review the road rules and be cautious; plenty of Alaskans plow around in giant SUVs and are quite oblivious to anything else on the road and just like in other parts of America they’re too busy texting while driving whilst snap chatting a selfie and Facetiming. Unfortunately bicyclists are at a disadvantage in an accident here by about a metric tonne, so be careful.
No, it’s not a tunnel underwater (I once had a friend ask this when referring to the Marine Highway), it’s a ferry system connecting a few parts of the state. Not cheap by any shot but can be used as a way to get around the vast state. The Marine Highwayconnects Bellingham, Washington and Prince Rupert, British Columbia to many ports in Southeast AK, South-central, AK and the Aleutian Islands.
Depending on where you want to get to in Alaska, flying may be your only option. Alaska is largely inaccessible. Alaska Airlines, Ravn Air, Penair, air taxis and several charter flights connect Alaska’s towns, cities and villages. Larger airports served within the state are Aniak, Cold Bay, Barrow (Utgiavik), Bethel, Cordova, Deadhorse, Dillingham, Homer, Kenai, Kind Salmon, Kodiak, Kotzebue, McGrath, Nome, St. George, St. Paul, Sand Point, Sitka, Unalakleet, Unalaska/Dutch Harbor and Valdez. Keep checking on Skyscanner and Expediafor deals. Air taxis are your best bet of getting to very remote places.
Yet another area that can be expensive, but if your willing to tent it or stay at a strangers place you can save big time on sleeping arrangements. There are very few hostels and guesthouses in Alaska. If you plan to go remote and away from cities, towns and major tourist centers indoor accommodation options can be non existent.
There are countless opportunities to camp in Alaska! It’s not only a great way to save, but also gets you outdoors in nature. Some popular hikes allow free camping along routes (no cost), larger parks and national parks may have designated camping sites and will on average range from $10-$30 per site, per night. There are privately owned camp sites as well around the state. You can expect fees to be higher and may include amenities such as electricity and water.
Mostly found in cities or towns. Expect to pay in the $40-100 per night range.
AirBnb gained a lot of popularity over the last couple years. I’ve had in general good experiences using it. Click my linkhere to sign up for AirBnB and receive $20 off your first booking!
*I do get credits toward my bookings if you sign up using the above link. Upon signing up you will get your own link that you can share with friends that will get you credits.
Public use cabins:
There are many public use cabins available around the state. Fees can vary from free to over $60 per night. Check out what cabins are available in state parks here. If you join the Mountaineering Club of Alaska and pay the $20 yearly membership you can have access to seven beautiful little cabins scattered through the Talkeetna & Chugach Mountains. A word to the wise: many of the public use cabins book up far in advance especially for the summertime. Plan to book months in advance, but you can always check for last minute cancellations. The Mountaineering Club cabins are generally on a first come, first serve basis.
I have used Couchsurfing quite a bit in my travels. If you don’t know what it is; Couchsurfing is a website where you can look for people offering free accommodations in places you plan to travel or you can opt to host travelers if you’re at home. I have both surfed and hosted on numerous occasions and have had all positive experiences, in fact most the people I have met through Couchsurfing still keep in touch and have even visited and met up with me again! Sign up for your Couchsurfing account here. Couchsurfing can be perfectly safe, read on to find out more on safety and more info in my post on Couchsurfing.
On etiquette: In most cases where I have surfed, I usually offer to buy groceries and help prepare meals for my hosts since they are after all, letting me stay for free. Everyone I have hosted in my home has always showed up with a bag of foods to prepare a meal with. This isn’t a must-do, but it is a nice offer. You can always bring small gifts from home to thank guests as well. Be creative.
Hotels & Lodges:
Hotels can be found in most areas that tourists venture, unless you plan to get off the beaten path. Hotels typically are expensive and will run a minimum of $100 per night. Many hotels and lodges that cater to tourists come with a price tag much higher.
There are endless activities to get out and explore in Alaska. These can range from free to thousands of dollars.
The trekking options in Alaska are endless! Most are free (may have a parking fee for use of car lots). Good websites to check out for hiking trail information are Alaska.org, Alaska Hike Search and All Trails. Like to have a book in hand? Check out these books with information on Alaska hikes.
Alaska is known for its world class fishing. Whether you want to fly fish from the bank of one of our famous rivers or charter a boat to catch some delicious wild halibut in the open ocean, Alaska has it all! Apply for you Alaska fishing license online here. You can also pick up fishing licenses and tags at most grocery stores and even some gas/petrol stations around the state. Fishing charters can range between $100 to $350 or more.
Explore a glacier:
With an estimated 100,000 glaciers (only 616 have actual names) around the state you have endless opportunity to get out and enjoy at least one! Alaska has a number of easily accessed glaciers that you can almost drive a car right up to view. Check out this list of Alaska’s roadside glaciers. Other great ways to see glaciers are by longer hikes, flightseeing & heli tours.
*Glaciers can be a dangerous and treacherous place. People do get injured and killed by them. Glaciers can calve, people fall into crevasses and more. If you choose to walk out onto, ice climb, go ice caving, etc. you are taking your life into your own hands. Go at your own risk.
Chasing the Aurora: Predominately a winter activity. Head to Fairbanks and the surrounding areas for the best viewing opportunities. The months of March and September are typically when they are the most active and the cold isn’t too bitter either! Aurora can be seen all over the state. just head to an isolated dark place away from city lights. Watching the northern lights dance is always free, unless of course you opt to take an aurora tour, and remember that this is no guarantee you will actually see them. Aurora is difficult to predict and weather needs to be clear to see them.
If you plan a winter or spring visit hit the slopes! There are several resorts around the state, the biggest of which is Alyeska Resort in Girdwood about 40 minutes south of Anchorage. Girdwood is regularly ranked as one of the best ski towns in the world. You can find lifts operating at Hilltop Ski Area and Arctic Valley in Anchorage; Eaglecreston Douglas Island near Juneau; Aurora Ski Land, and Moose Mountainnear Fairbanks; Mount Eyakin Cordova. Numerous backcountry operators around Alaska can take you out on skiing and snowboarding excursions around the state. If you are experienced you can go into the backcountry without a guide at your own risk. Having avalanche training is extremely advisable as well as a shovel, probe andbeacon and of course knowledge of how to use them. Shop for outdoor and ski gear here! Always go with others and check avalanche conditions before you go.
*Skiing and snowboarding are all at your own risk, even at a resort. Avalanche danger is very real. Many people die every year in avalanche and ski/snowboard related accidents. Avalanches can occur at any time, even when conditions appear to be safe. You can die out there and/or be incredibly injured.
There are plenty of mountaineering options in Alaska. Hello! you know the highest peak in North America is here right? Yup, that would be Denali. Most mountaineering trips in Alaska are not to be taken lightly and many are very treacherous. For example Denali has the biggest vertical rise of any mountain with a base above sea level on Earth, even in summer temps can dip far below the freezing mark and avalanches are a real worry. Many mountaineers prep themselves for months before climbing Denali. Another famous but rarely summited peak is Mt. Foraker, one of Denali’s neighbors and is basically to Denali what K2 is to Everest. More technical and more difficult than their high flying neighbors. I personally know someone who has died on Foraker.
Plenty of ice climbing chances around the state in the winter and even year round on several glaciers. This can be quite dangerous. If you have your own equipment ice climbing can be enjoyed in most places for free. Several companies offer ice climbing tours that you can expect to pay over $100 per person, per day for.
Alaska’s fishing is world class. From combat fishing on the Kenai to reeling in 100+ lb. halibut out in the sound, we got it all. Apply for an Alaska fishing license here.
A popular activity for Alaskans and tourists alike. With all the lakes, rivers and coastline Alaska has there are countless kayaking trips to be had. Kayaking tours are offered and usually average in the $100 range per person.
Are you an Iditarod fan? There are a few companies offering tourists their chance to mush a dog sled.
A great way to view Alaska’s glaciers from the comfort of a ship. $60 per person and up. Some do include lunch and can have transportation to/from hotel for an extra charge.
Personally if I recommended anywhere to splurge on you Alaskan travels it would be for at least one flightseeing tour. This is probably my favorite angle to view Alaska from. Prices can get quite expensive, but it offers you a very unique way to see the state’s beautiful sites. Expect to pay $150 and up per person for a fixed-wing airplane flight tour, $350 and up per person on helicopter tours. Some tours include landings on glaciers, lakes, etc.
Alaska, particularly the Anchorage area has a great network of bike trails.
Bears, Moose, Dall Sheep, Caribou, Musk Ox… the list goes on. Hiring a guided tour can prove costly, some costing $400 per day! Don’t worry wildlife doesn’t charge a fee themselves and with a little luck can even be viewed while keeping your eyes peeled during long road trips. A great place to view wildlife is in Denali National Park on a bus tour which would set you back about $80 per person and will stop for wildlife so you can pour out and take photos or watch through binoculars.
Want to learn more about Alaska Native People’s traditions, culture, history, and languages? Check out the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage (Admission: $24.95 adult, $16.95 child) and the Anchorage Museum (Admission: Free for Members of the museum, $15 adult, $12 AK residents, $10 seniors, $10 students, $10 military, $7 children age 3-12yo and kids 2yo and under are free). In Barrow (name recently restored to Utqiagvik) you can find the Inipiat Heritage Center ($10 adults, $5 students, $5 child, Seniors and Children 6 & under are free).
*Enjoy and partake in these activities, but remember: At your own risk. You can die or be injured doing any of these activities.
Alaska has some damn good food, especially when it comes to seafood. Your best budget option for eating is to stop by a grocery store and stock up on your own food and supplies. If cuisine isn’t you’re priority your money can last a bit longer in Alaska by preparing your own meals. Depending on where you’re going and what your plans are there may be no restaurants in your path anyways.
In most cities Carrs, Fred Meyers, Walmart and Target chain stores can be found. There are always locally ran food stores and or general stores as well to purchase goods from.
Foods to eat before you leave:
Fresh Alaska salmon (especially Copper River Red)
Alaskan King Crab
Blueberries (sorry, only available in the late summer & fall)
Alaska has several great micro breweries!
If you happen to be around Anchorage on the weekend in the summer months, stop on by the Anchorage Market and Festival at 741 E 13th Ave. Several food vendors from around Alaska offer up some yummy Alaskan dishes (and some from the outside too). On Saturdays, Sundays and Wednesdays check out the similar Tanana Valley Farmer’s Market in Fairbanks at 2600 College Rd.
In most cities you can find restaurants serving up popular dishes from all over the US and the world. Alaska has a lot of good sushi restaurants. Some of my personal favorite restaurants in Alaska include: Moose’s Tooth, Glacier Brewhouse, 49th State Brewery, Double Musky, Silver Gulch, and Mile 229 Parks Highway Restaurant. These are just a few, of course there are many many more!
Yes it’s possible, although mostly limited to summer months to forage for your own food! It can be challenging but it is an option for those really looking to live off the land and save money. DON’T FORAGE ON PEOPLE’S PROPERTY! They tend to get pissed, and many Alaskans have guns and might shoot. Here a couple books to check out:
Alaska can be a wild place.
Take your usual precautions when in towns and cities that you would in cities elsewhere in the world. Note that Alaska does have an extremely high rate of violent crime and sexual assaults, abuse and violence. Anchorage especially is particularly rough as of recent. Violent crime has always been high here, but seems to be elevating at a staggering level. Be careful.
Much of Alaska is wild, remote and treacherous. Attacks by wild animals do happen but aren’t common. Always make lots of noise when in the wilderness to help ward off animals, they are usually more scared of you than you are of them and it is always advisable to go as a group or at least with a buddy.
Natural disasters and forces of nature can and will kill you in Alaska. Alaska is very prone to Earthquakes, extreme cold temperature, avalanches, wildfires, tidal waves, treacherous roads and much more will not hesitate to maim or kill you.
Alaska’s weather is horribly unpredictable. You can even have extreme cold as well as extreme heat. Always be prepared, always bring layers and check the forecast but expect the worst. The weather can and will kill you.
Check out my Alaska page with more Alaska related posts!
If you’re coming to Alaska and you’re not a US citizen, head over to my post on the ESTAto see if you’re eligible for the visa waiver program.
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In September every year Denali National Park, one of Alaska’s best known landmarks, allows visitors to drive in their own vehicles to the end of the park road to Kantishna (weather and road conditions permitting). If you would like to drive your own vehicle past Savage River in Denali National Park you will need to get your hands on a Denali Road Lottery Permit.
Road Lottery permit winners are allowed to fit as many people can legally fit in their car, truck or van and drive in on their specified date. The dates for 2017 are September 15th through the 19th, with 400 cars per day allowed in. The campgrounds at Riley Creek, Savage River and Teklanika River are al open as well during the road lottery, they do have to be reserved in advance, which you can do at www.reservedenali.com or by calling 800-622-7275 or 907-272-7275. Some hotels in Healy and Cantwell will still be open this weekend for those not looking to camp.
During the summer you may go by tour bus, shuttle, bicycle or foot the entire length of the road but not generally with your own vehicle. You can even take a flightseeing tour of the park.
Step 1: Apply For The Lottery
You must apply between May 1 and May 31 prior to the lottery. You can apply over at www.recreation.gov or over the phone. There is a $15 fee per entrance that is non-refundable. The lottery winners will be announced Sunday, June 18, 2017.
If your name is selected you will be notified by e-mail. You will charged an additional $25 if your name is drawn for the lottery. The permits are transferable, so you could have someone else apply for you and transfer the permit to you.
Step 2: Pick up permit for your day at park headquarters
This is assuming that you were selected or that you had a permit transferred to you.
You can begin driving into the park at 6am. I’d advise to arrive the day before and pick up your permit so that you do not have to do it in the morning. When you pick up your permit you also will need to pay the $10 fee per person for entry into Denali National Park. The $10 fee gives you entrance to the park for a 7 consecutive day period.
Step 3: Drive into the park!
At 6am the date of your permit you can drive into the park. You have until midnight that night to be back past the Savage River bridge on your way out of the park. Weather permitting, you have the opportunity to drive the entire length of the road to Kantishna. There are years that the road is closed as soon as Savage River at mile 12. It is not uncommon for some or all of the road to be closed several hours. Just remember that all fees are not refundable in the event that the road is closed due to weather or conditions of the road.
(These are directly from the road lottery application page)
-Each person may submit only one application. A non-refundable $15 application applies.
-The applications selected for the Road Lottery permit will be charged the $25 fee automatically. The park entrance fee of $10 per person is payable at the Denali Visitor Center when you pick up the permit.
-Interagency Federal Land passes will cover the park entrance fee. Please bring your pass with you along with photo identification.
-The person who picks up the permit must be the person who was selected or have the selected winner’s written approval (in the case of transferring the permit to another person).
-Permits may not be re-sold. However, you may give your permit to someone else. To do so, first print the reservation confirmation email. The reservation-holder should write a note on it indicating the name of the person you wish to give the reservation and then sign the note.
-Only vehicles with Road Lottery permits will be allowed to drive beyond the Savage River Check Station at mile 15 of the park road.
-For those with a Road Lottery permit, the park road beyond mile 15 is open from 6:00am to 12:00am. Areas further west on the park road will close prior to midnight.
-Riley Creek, Savage River and Teklanika River Campgrounds are open during Road Lottery. Reservations are available at www.reservedenali.com or by calling 800-622-7275 or 907-272-7275.
-Don’t Move Firewood: Help protect our forests! Prevent the spread of tree-killing pests by obtaining firewood at or near your destination and burning it on-site. Moving firewood is illegal in some states. Visit dontmovefirewood.org to learn more.
Now who’s ready to start applying for their Denali Road Lottery Permit?
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All you need to know about travelling to the United States of America with ESTA
Travelling to the United States has not always been the simplest task. There are many factors that can contribute to a rather stressful experience. For example, those going on holiday to the U.S. have to pick a destination, a hotel, save up spending money, buy flights and then they have to obtain a visa, amongst other things. All-in-all, there is a lot to consider when travelling there.
In some cases obtaining a visa can take somewhere between 6-8 months. That means planning the holiday could take more than half a year. There is, however, a new resource which travellers can use when entering the U.S. At least for citizens of 38 countries that is. To find out if your country qualifies for ESTA,click here.
Introducing the ESTA
The ESTA is the perfect resource for those travelling to the US from one of the 38 countries eligible, especially for business or tourism purposes, as well as connecting flights that involve the U.S.
Unlike the longer waiting time that a visa may require, an ESTA usually takes less than 72 hours from starting the application to receiving the authorisation email, granting the applicant access into the U.S. All you need to complete the ESTA application is an electronic passport and an internet connection. The application takes no longer than 30 minutes to complete.
Once the ESTA form has been completed and the application receives a successful response, they can then travel the U.S. as many times as they like for two years. During that two year period, they should note that they must not remain in the U.S. for more than 90 days per trip!
There are certain aspects of the ESTA which applicants should take note of:
– Even if an ESTA is granted, you may not be able to enter the United States, as the officials at the border have the final say on who can or cannot enter the country.
– It is worth noting that at the border, officials may ask to see evidence of your planned journey along with evidence that you have enough money to support yourself for your proposed trip.
– If an ESTA is rejected, applicants will have to apply for a visa to enter the United States
– Once an ESTA is approved, it is valid for two years. However, if the passport of the holder expires before the two years, the ESTA will also expire.
– The cost to apply for an ESTA is $14, if your application is rejected you will only be charged $4.
Ready to apply for you ESTA?
Click here for more information and to apply for you ESTA today!
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Winter is in full effect up here in northern hemisphere. What better time to start planning your trip to this off the beaten path Caribbean destination?
The Ultimate Culebra Travel Guide!
This post contains affiliate links.
Puerto Rico’s little gem off the east coast with some of the world’s most stunning beaches and a fun relaxed pace. Are you looking for beautiful, idyllic beaches, yet laid back, sans designer store, and barely touched Caribbean? Good, this is the place for you.
The lay of the land:
Dewey is the main town on the island. This is where your concentration of shops, hotels, restaurants, bars and the ferry terminal are located. It’s fairly small, no need to worry about getting yourself too lost here.
The airport is located just slightly north from Dewey.
Flamenco Beach is probably Culebra’s biggest tourist draw. It’s located on the north shore of the island.
Zoni Beach is another popular stop, located on the east coast.
You can pick up these maps when you get to Culebra!
Easy for US citizens seeing that Culebra along with its bigger sibling Vieques, are a part of Puerto Rico thus technically making it a territory of the USA. Where I’m going with this is that they use the US dollar.
There is one ATM on the Island at the Banco Popular in Dewey, near where the ferries dock. Yes, Culebra is just small enough that you can give directions this vague! Otherwise just stock up on cash before leaving Puerto Rico. Cash is still the favored form of payment here.
Several grocers, shops and restaurants around Dewey accept Visa and Mastercard.
The lines are blurred here, you can spend a lot and live a little more luxuriously or you can kick around on the backpacker budget (not quite as dirt cheap as you’ll find in SE Asia or Central America). Considering that this is the Caribbean and the natural beauty of some of the beaches Culebra really is a bargain for what you get. From tent camping to lovely villas, walk or cycle the island or rent a golf cart…. you have plenty of options here that will fit most any budget.
You have a plethora of options here considering just how small the island is.
Your cheapest bet will be camping on Flamenco Beach. Camp slots are $20 per night with up to 6 people allowed to stay at each site. There are restrooms available albeit online reports say they’re pretty dismal. If you don’t have your own camping gear don’t sweat it, gear can be rented nearby. As well as there being a few food kiosks just in a little ways from the beach (trust me, you can’t miss them). Want more info on camping in Culebra? Check out this website.
There is one hostel on the island that will run you $32.50 on up per night and is located in Dewey. Check out the Culebra International Hostel and make bookings here.
There are several midrange priced guesthouses and hotels scattered around Dewey. Expect to pay around $90 per night.
The other great option here is AirBnB. There are several AirBnB rentals on the island (this is actually what did). If you want to receive $20 off your first AirBnB booking Click Here!
Food & Alcohol:
There are several small shops and grocery stores around the island where food and alcohol can be purchased if you’re trying to save. Expect similar prices to what you pay in Puerto Rico.
There are also several restaurants and bars around the island. Expect to find dishes priced between $3 on up to $25 or more. There are prices to fit most budgets around here. Your cheaper options can be found at Zaco’s Tacos, El Panino and Tiki Grill. Personally I think my favorite dish I sat down to in Culebra was at the Krusty Krab, the grouper there is perfect.
Expected just like anywhere else in the USA. 15% is the norm.
Walking is always free! Another option on the cheap is bicycle rental. start by checking outPedal Powerwhere bicycles can be rented for $20/day or $120/week. Another option is the Kayaking Puerto Rico office.
Just slightly more expensive (and the most fun) is renting a golf cart from either Carlos Jeep Rental or Jerry’s Jeep Rental. A golf cart will run you about $30/day. You can’t beat having the wind whip through your hair.
The most expensive option is renting a full on jeep from either aforementioned rental. Expect to pay $50+/day.
Public transit doesn’t really exist here. the Publicos around the island operate as taxis, expect to pay $3-5 depending on the length of journey.
Activities probably aren’t going to bleed you dry here. The beauty of Culebra is that there isn’t much to do other than relax. You’ll probably spend your time lazing around one beach and making your way to another. However a handful of tour operators can take you on excursions around the island.
What To See & Do:
Beaches, beaches and more beaches. Of course catching a nice sunset, snorkeling among some pretty pristine corals and kicking back are going to be the most popular.
Regularly ranked as one of the top 10 beaches in the world. A long strip of sugary white sand with neon turquoise crystal clear waters. A main draw is checking out the tank on Flamenco Beach. It’s been covered in colorful graffiti and is a must see if you end up out here. The US navy used to use Culebra as a bombing and gunnery practice site and were eventually chased out, and this a remnant. There is also another tank hidden back in the trees off the beach as well. Camping can be had here. This is the most popular beach on the island for obvious reasons, but it won’t feel crowded.
A nice, normally fairly quiet beach on the eastern side of the island. On a clear day you can see clear over to St. Thomas. But don’t worry if you don’t have perfectly clear skies, you’ll still be able to take in views of nearby Cayo Norte and Isla Culebrita.
Can be reached by renting a private boat (will run you about $150-200). If you think the beaches back in Culebra are quiet, these are barely touched. You may have it to yourself.
Playa Tamarindo & Playa Melones:
Both on the west coast, nearly right next to each other and usually pretty calm. Perfectly situated for a great sunset. Bring your bugspray, the sand fleas come out in full force at dusk.
‘Hector the Protector’ statue near the dock in Dewey.
Parallel park your golf cart on one of the roads and walk around Culebra’s compact little town. A number of shops, restaurants and bars are all located along the main streets here.
Stroll into a dive shop in Dewey and you can set up a trip. Or if you have your own snorkel gear you can venture out. Plenty of good places to snorkel- check out that map at the beginning of post for dive sites.
Culebra is super safe, even at night. Head down to any of the beaches and listen to the waves crash ashore and gaze up at the night sky. Flamenco is a great option for a night time visit. You’ll probably even run into some families out camping and some fisherman. Light pollution isn’t too bad there.
Short on time?
If you only have a day to spare, want to see Culebra and aren’t bothered by shelling out some dollars a great option for you is to take a catamaran day trip from Fajardo. These types of tours will set you back about $120 For a visit to Flamenco as well as other beaches on the island, snorkeling and a lunch. Start shopping tours here.
Getting in & Out:
Culebra is officially part to the US territory of Puerto Rico. You will most likely be coming from Puerto Rico and will need a passport if you are not a US citizen. US citizens only need a driver’s license/state ID card.
The cheapest option. Tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminal office in Fajardo for about $2.25 one way or $4.50 roundtrip. The ferry operates as listed:
The only drawback to taking the ferry is that it can fill up, there are recommendations to be there several hours before the ferry leaves in order to get a ticket. Making the biggest issue that there is no guarantee you’ll make it on as residents of Culebra and Puerto Rico have priority over tourists. The other complaint seen online is that the sea can get fairly rough through here, so sea sickness may be a concern. Still a great option for budget travelers and for people with a flexible schedule.
A website exists claiming that they can book your ferry tickets online. I personally do not know if this is possible or if this is legitimate. Anyone who has used it, please e-mail me and let me know!
phone shot out the window of the plane.
More expensive but more efficient and predictable. Air Flamenco & Vieques Air Link offer connections to Culebra from both Isla Grande Airport and Ceiba Airport. Ceiba is the cheapest option as it is lies on Puerto Rico’s east coast. The flight lasts about 15-20 minutes and will set you back $88 roundtrip. Expect to pay a little more from Isla Grande.
Culebra is a part of Puerto Rico and is a US territory. Check out the US govt website to find out if or what sort of visa you may need to visit.
Puerto Rican, American and Seafood can be found around Dewey.
English and Spanish are the most widely spoken here.
Culebra is a pretty safe place. Just use usual precautions and you can avoid most unfavorable situations.
Mosquitos and roosters are about the only two nuisances around the island. Mosquitos can carry Dengue out on Culebra. Make sure to bring bug spray. Zika is present in Puerto Rico in general as well. Roosters mostly will wake you crowing at the morning sun, but sometimes they can be a little aggressive and steal find right off your plate at a restaurant. You will never so much in your life see a chicken cross the road as much as you will in Culebra.
I’ve been to other parts of Arizona that I found much more attractive. I mean, not so attractive I’d pack up and move there.. But attractive enough to keep me entranced to the point that I wouldn’t object another visit. And then there was Tucson…
Even while searching what to do in Tucson I came across a blogspot blog titled ‘Tucson AZ Sucks‘ adorned with the tag line ‘A Place Where Dreams Go To Die’.
Apparently I’m not the only one. I even found a hilarious map of Arizona and New Mexico with the area stretching from Tucson to just outside Las Cruces highlighted in yellow and big bold letters laid overtop saying ‘USELESS’. I can’t say I felt dissimilar.
And nothing bad happened here to turn me against Tucson. I just didn’t like it.
The only things I found visually appealing were Saguaro National Park, and it’s nearby Picture Rocks.
Maybe I didn’t spend enough time there, but I just don’t see my ass willingly going back. I can’t help but feel in the summer especially it must be pure, unadulterated hell on Earth. I also feel that I could apply this to the whole region encompassing Tucson stretching clear over to Las Cruces. Sorry Sonoran Desert, you just don’t do it for me.
After coming back home and talking to the Tucson snowbirds that are back in Alaska for the summer I was told that I clearly missed the arts scene and the cute downtown area, but I don’t see me revisiting for those. I 100% find the landscapes around here where I live photographically pleasing, whereas I found the look I had around Tucson, well, completely uninspiring.
So there, I didn’t like Tucson.
And don’t get all butthurt people, at least I didn’t tear it to shreds like all the websites and forums that I found online dedicated to people’s hatred of Tucson.
And do not take this as a recommendation to not visit. If you wanna go, knock yourself out, buy that ticket and go. Who knows, maybe you’ll love it. I just didn’t.
PS: Mom, I’m still sorry you were born there.
Love it? Hate it? What do you think of Tucson?
https://i1.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/image-1.jpeg?fit=3264%2C2448&ssl=124483264Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2016-04-26 07:38:562016-04-26 07:38:56I didn't like Tucson... There, I said it
A fluffy, cool, blinding white paradise hidden right off the US-Mexico border in New Mexico’s northern end of the Chihuahua Desert that is quite possibly the most underrated, unheard of, and unappreciated of all the parks in the USA. I had learned after my parents short lived move to the south of Utah that some of the best parks this country has to offer are the ones you may not have heard of. While the Grand Canyon is amazing in its own way, I can’t believe that the uniqueness of White Sands hasn’t skyrocketed it to fame.
My biggest recommendation if you’re going to pay a visit to White Sands National Monument is to camp at least for one night while you are here. It’s the kind of place you need to experience at every pinnacle of a 24 hour period. Early morning, high-noon, the sunset and of course middle of the night are all astonishing in their own ways, each with their very own palette of color.I’m pretty sure at sundown Grant referred to it as hell on a lollipop.
Information on White Sands:
White Sands National Park is the biggest gypsum sand field in the world, with more than 275 square miles of this magical white powder. To be more exact on it’s location it is down in the Tularosa Basin of the Chihuahua Desert (yes, like the Taco Bell dog. if you’re too young to understand what I’m talking about I’m sure the little mutt is somewhere on YouTube saying his catchphrase- Yo Quiero Taco Bell, so get with the program).
The sand dunes were formed by an ancient sea that evaporated approximately forever ago and then a day (If you’re dying to know, you know how to google, you got here didn’t you? Unless of course you clicked some link on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or wherever…. but I still believe in you, I’m sure you can google until your fingers fall off). Pair that with the fact that the Tularosa basin as no drainages, voile, you have a massive gypsum sand dune field that can’t be carried away by rainwater. And if you’re that big of a nerd (I am) you can also google how gypsum is formed in the first place. Hint: Evaporated ocean usually leads to sedimentary gypsum!
Another interesting piece of information I thought worth mentioning: The sand stays cool! Gypsum reflects light, rather than absorbing it and if I’m remembering correctly I think I read a sign saying gypsum retains moisture. So kick off your sandals and flap those bare feet around!
El Paso is the closest major airport, otherwise Albuquerque and Tucson are comparable distances from White Sands. We flew into Tucson because we found tickets for dirt cheap coming from Alaska, with that said the drive from Tucson to Las Cruces is one of the worst drives I’ve experienced in my life, an unadulterated hell. You’ll pass a neat pile of rocks rocks near the pull off for the Dragoon Mountains (it’s closed) just outside Tucson and then it’s vast, barren, nothingness until you hit Las Cruces. Next time going to White Sands I will most definitely come from a different direction, not that that should stop you if you would be coming from that direction, I’m just saying be prepared for over 200 miles of misery.
There is also a small commuter airport in Alamogordo which is about 15 minutes from the White Sands visitor center.
There is no public transport to White Sands National Monument, so if flying into one of the above places, plan on renting a car.
White Sands visitor center is located on Highway 70. If coming from Tucson you’d take I-1o East to Las Cruces, or if coming from El Paso you’d take the I-1o West to Las Cruces. From Las Cruces take Highway 70 East. You will have to go through a US border patrol station not far before reaching the park, have your IDs ready. They did search our trunk and check all our IDs. I’m guessing to make sure we weren’t smuggling any humans and anything fun like cocaine through from Mexico or something, who knows.
From Albuquerque take the I-25 South until Socorro where you will exit onto US-380 East to Alamogordo and then take Highway 70 West to the visitor center.
Once you’ve arrived at the visitor center the scenic road into the park goes for about 8 miles where it comes to an end.
$5 for adults and Free for kids under 15 years old. These passes are good for 7 days.
$3 per person, per night (after park entrance fee is paid).
Other permits that can be purchased are:
Lake Lucero Tours:
$8 per adult, $4 per person ages 15 & under.
Full Moon Bike Ride:
$8 per adult 16 & older, $4 per person ages 15 & under.
Full Moon Hike:
$8 per adult, $4.00 per person ages 15 & under.
$8.00 per adult, $4 per person ages 15 & under.
Free days/who’s eligible for free passes and closure information:
Active duty military will get a free annual pass to the park (does not include any other permits ie: backcountry, lake tour, full moon bike or hike, or photography tours.
White Sands is part of the national park service, so they do participate in ‘free days’ where the entrance fee is waived, you can read the list of free dates here.
White Sands has certain closures due to testing at the White Sands Missile Range nearby. The park is usually closed for no more than 3 hours at a time. If you plan to visit and are on limited time, call the visitor center at +1 575 479 6124 to find out closure dates and times. You can also visit this page here, for the next upcoming closure information.
Camping doesn’t get better than this
There are only 10 back country camping sites at White Sands National Monument and they can fill quickly. You cannot reserve campsites in advance, so it is first come first serve. We made sure to show up at the visitor center just before 9 am when they open to make sure we got a spot. As mentioned above the camping fee is $3 per person in addition to your park entrance permit.
The camp sites range from 0.4 miles and 1.1 miles from the trailhead parking lot. All camp sites are located in an inter-dune area (between peaks of the dunes) and the trail, along with campsites are marked with orange posts.
White Sands has a giant variance in night to day temperatures so make sure to pack accordingly. It does get quite cold at night and hot in the day. Visiting in the first week of April the day time temps were up into the mid 80ºF’s and the night-time temperature dropped into the 30ºF’s. There are creepy crawlies that live in the plants out there, so be sure to bring a tent. I’m totally fine with scorpions, spiders, snakes and the such but if one of you come crawling across my face in my sleep, prepare to die. Make sure to have a warm sleeping bag and dress in plenty of layers, the temperature drops acutely around sunset.
Pack enough food and water for your stay. People have died out here by wandering out without water. It’s the desert, bring water. The visitor center does sell snacks and drinks during their opening hours. Otherwise, food and drinks can be purchased at several stores in nearby Alamogordo. The gates to the park do get locked after sunset, so you are locked in there for the night… No sneaking off to Alamogordo at midnight from some McDonald’s.
So, what the hell do I do there?
Lotsa stuff, plenty! Sledding, hiking, climbing the dunes, picnicking.. so many activities!
Climbing sand dunes:
Pick a dune, any dune. You’re surrounded by them. We arrived on a Saturday in the late afternoon after the hellish drive from Tucson. There were tons of people out, I’m guessing mostly from nearby Alamogordo, the nearby military base and Las Cruces. Most were hanging out atop a sand dune adjacent to a parking lot with chairs and umbrellas, a cooler and a boombox while the kids slid down the dunes in saucer sleds. There were a few people scattered out to further away dunes.
You can buy saucer sleds at the visitor center and sled down the dunes. We never actually did this (I live in Alaska, I know sledding, like damn near luge status) but from what I hear is that they can be purchased cheaply and the visitor center will buy them back for slightly less than you paid, so essentially it seconds as a rental shop. You do have to wax these bad boys or else you’ll just be stuck in the sand. I’ve done some sandboarding, I know.
Take a hike:
There are a number of hiking trails around that are marked. You can also, wander off into the abyss if that’s what you’re dying to do, but beware: winds shift dunes and sand blows to cover your footprints quickly and you can lose your way… and you could die, or get injured, severely sunburnt, attacked by poisonous critters… so on, and so forth. Or you might live, but I figure we might as well cover all the bases so some idiot doesn’t try to sue me because they read a blog that didn’t say, hey you can do this, but you could probably die. And since we’re covering all the bases, I’ll just throw in alien abductions too, it’s not that far from Roswell after all. From many a South Park episode I do know that anal probing is not unheard of with the extraterrestrials (I think extraterrestrial is probably more politically correct than alien… you know like the little person vs midget and dwarf thing and America’s love affair with being PC), and does look quite uncomfortable.
I’m not going to type until my fingers fall off and/or the carpal tunnel sets in because the nice people at the NPS have already done that and have a nice official page on hiking set up already, read up more on each hiking trail here.
There are guided hikes with park rangers as well, so why don’t you just click that little link above, because they talk about the guided hikes there too.
Have yourself a picnic:
There is a neat little picnic area with some strange, almost artsy looking covered picnic tables. If each table had wheels and foot holes it would sorta look like some industrial version of Fred Flinstone’s car.
Watch that sunset:
One of the more mind-blowing sunsets I’ve experienced was here at White Sands. As the sun moves the sand dunes seem to change colors. Pinks, purples, oranges, blues. It’s something you gotta experience .
The star gazing here is top-notch. You get some light pollution from Alamogordo and Las Cruces, but damn. I ain’t seen the milky way like that at home. Even Lex, my amazing friend albeit being blinder than a bat stumbled out of the tent sans glasses at 3:30 am and could see it.
On the note of night skies, I was informed on Instagram by a user that commented on one of my photos is that nights with a full or fuller-ish moon are quite stunning. We were there when the moon would’ve been about half full, but we never did see it rise so we did not get to experience that. But the IG commentor did say that you gotta see it with the bright moon out because it lights up the sand dunes. Thanks, as if my FOMO wasn’t already off the chain! But really though, thanks for giving me a reason to 100% go back and camp again!
Tips, warning, hate to say I told you so’s:
Lots of it, don’t F around here with this. You can go a little while without food, but your ass will die pretty quick without water. You can fill water bottles/jugs at the visitor center. We brought several smaller water bottles and 3 one-gallon jugs to camp overnight.
Bring sunscreen or cover up!
The sun is intense out here, especially for the pasty. All three of us wore 50 SPF, I made it out unscathed. Lex and Grant on the other hand were burnt A.F., even after applying 50 block several times through the day. Three weeks later I think Grant is still peeling off pieces of skin large enough to make Goldmember jealous.
Know the upcoming closures!
How terrible would it be if you were on some fast forward tour of the American Southwest and only had a couple hours to check out White Sands and it happened to be during a closure? Save yourself the heartache. The more you know, ding-ding-dong.
Be ready for cold nights!
Bring warm clothes, I mean really warm clothes especially outside the dead-of-summer months. A family of campers hiking out the day we were hiking into our camp had a water bottle that was frozen solid from the night before. I wasn’t kidding when I say it gets freakin’ cold.
And be ready for really hot days!
It’s still astounding to me the temperature variance in one day in the desert. Be prepared. Please don’t have a heat stoke, and like I said above: BRING WATER! Another option is to visit in the earlier morning and then in the late afternoon to avoid the sun and heat at their strongest.
White Sands is dog friendly! Yup, you read that right! As long as you have your furry friend on leash they are welcome. Just make sure to clean up the poop. Without opposable thumbs, dogs just can’t do it on their own.
So if you find yourself at White Sands National Monument, enjoy yourself! It’s a beautiful place.
White Sands is one of the more surreal places I’ve gotten to visit, and I’m telling you here: the photos still don’t do it justice. I actually saw some photos on Instagram of White Sands National Monument a few months ago and couldn’t stop thinking about it ever since. Then of course on my way home from Puerto Rico in February where did I fly over? White Sands, so not only did I get a nice reminder that I needed to go, but I also got to see it from above!
Have any of you been to White Sands National Monument? Who’s about to start searching for flights or mapping their road trip now?
https://i2.wp.com/adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/562A6296-3.jpg?fit=8680%2C5681&ssl=156818680Nicolehttps://adventuresoflilnicki.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/aolnheader1.jpgNicole2016-04-21 16:58:462016-04-21 22:04:34A Magical Getaway: White Sands National Monument