Planning a Family Vacation to Alaska? Here’s Everything You Need to Know, See, and Do!

Alaska was on my bucket list for a very long time, and once I visited it, I just want to go back!

I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to share everything I learned preparing our trip and being there. You will find here tips and resources that will help you plan and get ready for your coolest adventure!

Regarding Covid-19, Alaska has no special entry or travel testing requirements. However, you should check the Alaska Travel site before booking your trip. 

Check out our other family travel resources here!

Ward Lake Trail Head, Ketchikan, Alaska

Shape it your way

Where to go, what to see and do, how to get there… there is no fit-to-all answer if we are talking about Alaska.

  • You Can Book a Cruise

The most popular -and maybe easier- way to visit Alaska is to book a cruise. There are basically three types of cruises: Inside Passage, Northbound, and Southbound cruises.

Inside Passage’s Cruises are the only ones that make it a round trip, being the port of call usually Seattle or Vancouver. These cruises are shorter, with around 3-4 stops from Ketchikan to Juno, and are usually prepared to entertain our small ones. Also, flight arrangements are easier for a round trip. Northbound Cruises depart from Vancouver arriving at Anchorage -from where Southbound Cruises set sailing to Vancouver. These are longer and you also get to visit the ports and parks in the Inside Passage but add more glaciers and longer stops including Anchorage. Many of them have also land excursions. If you are into cruises, probably you would like to compare packages and prices here. You can start booking for 2022 cruises now!

  • You Can Take the Ferry

A slightly different option is traveling by ferry from Washington state to Juneau or even to Whittier, the closest ferry port to Anchorage. Since this past May, Alaska Ferries removed the Covid-19 test requirement.

Once in Anchorage, you can take the train to Denali National Park and other destinations, as Fairbanks.  You can check availability and book your tickets online or by phone. For the tour packages, you need to call, as the ones on the page are not updated since 2020. Alaska Trains require masks for all passengers.

  • You Can Fly to Alaska and Explore it By Land

Alaska is as beautiful by land as it is by the ocean. There are many packages for land exploration with partly or fully guided bus tours. Some options combine road and railroad adventures, you need to call to book your trip as online reservations are not available after Covid.  If you are more of a free spirit, you may opt for self-driving tours where you explore at your own pace driving a car or an RV. It’s up to you!

Have this into consideration when booking your flight:

Tip #1: Use search sites or apps that allow you to play with flexibility in time, stops, and airports. Find the best price and check with the airline! For us, baggage fees were cheaper and cancellation options only available if buying directly through the airline.

Tip #2: We save more than $100 per ticket flying from Wichita to Seatle in the late afternoon, staying overnight, and departing to Alaska in the first hours of the morning (considering the hotel stay cost!). 

Tip #3: If you have an overnight stop check that the time between arriving and departure of your flights is less than 12 hours, so you avoid paying the baggage fee twice!

First-day hike 2020, at Refuge Cove Recreation, Ketchikan, Alaska. After enjoying the trail, we witnessed the Polar Bear Challenge, where people of all ages got into the frozen waters!

Choose the perfect time (for you)

Most tours and attractions only operate from Spring to Fall in Alaska, but this doesn’t mean that you can’t visit Alaska during winter: in fact, if you are into ice-carving competitions, sled dog races, Northern Lights, and why not, spending Christmas visiting your friends, that will be your season! If you are trying to keep a budget, consider that lodging prices go down by 25-40% outside the peak season. Also, the museum’s tickets are free and you can find more discounts at the art and craft shops.

What you want to experience and the way you want to do it will define the best time for you and these guys have a lot to say about it.

If you are looking for the perfect weather -relatively warm temperatures, most daylight hours, and lower chances of rain- you better check the voice of the experts.

Make sure to visit Ketchikan

Ketchikan is the first Alaskan city and a cruise stop in the Inside Passage. The climate there is moderated by the sea, so the winter is milder than in Wichita- incredible but true. Also, it’s where our dear friends live and that’s the reason why it was our perfect destination for Christmas when we traveled in 2019!

If you are looking for beauty at its best, you can’t go wrong with Ketchikan. Nature is breathtaking there. The sea and the nearby islands, the Tongass National Forest, the many trails leading to lakes, falls, mountain forests, and beaches. Scenic views. Wildlife. The Native American Totem Poles -telling stories about the people and the animals living in harmony- are everywhere in the city, parks, and museums.

Our kids with their loved friends Emma and Violet, in a Clan House at Totem Bight Park

The city lies south to north in a narrow strip surrounded by the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. In the heart of Downtown is Creek Street, one of the most popular things to see in Ketchikan. Just by its entrance is Parnassus, a lovely book store with plenty of local books, beautiful things, and great staff. Visit Cape Fox Lodge’s restaurant and enjoy the delicious food and panoramic views. To taste the authentic Alaskan flavors order halibut, salmon, or Alaska King Crab! 

Creek Street. While the kids were running and laughing, we were enjoying the walk and the conversation with our friends, Jason and Shawn. Thank you for making our time in Ketchikan unforgettable and full of love and good memories!

Favorite Things to Do with Kids in Alaska

Kids can have a blast in Alaska, there are many things to do with them every season! We did some of the activities from this list and the others are on our bucket list for our next visit.

1. See the Northern Lights

This is a magical experience for all ages! The best time to see them in Alaska is from August to April, during winter. Fairbanks is one of the best locations to see the northern lights and many tours there also take you to the Arctic Circle.

2. Go Dog Sledding

This is something your kids will remember forever! In Anchorage or Seward there are rides available all year long, for packages and prices check the Ididaride Tours site

3. Visit Denali National Park

Summer is the best season to visit Denali National Park. The bus services start in May but the roads that go through the park are not fully open until mid-June. Not only the beautiful scenery and Alaska’s most famous peak but also the magnificent wildlife are going to captivate you in the visit: you can spot all Alaska’s “Big Five” (moose, caribou, wolf, Dall sheep, and grizzly bear) in Denali! You can have many tips to make the best of your trip with kids checking this site.

4. Celebrate Alaska’s Heritage

To watch and learn about totem poles is an amazing and educative experience for your kids. In Ketchikan, you can visit Totem Bight Park, Tongass Historical Museum, or Totem Heritage Center. You can also visit Sitka National Historical Park or Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage to learn more about Alaska’s history.

5. Look for Bald Eagles

While we visited Ketchikan we saw dozens of bald eagles and the kids were super excited each time! Here is one of the best pictures I was able to take:

Even when America’s national bird is found in all Alaska State, is easier to see it in  Southeast Alaska and Southcentral coastal zones. One of the most popular spots is in Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve from fall to winter, where thousands of bald eagles gather on the Chilkat River looking for the late run of salmon.

6. Explore Nature Hiking (Easy and Short Trails)

We love hiking! Of course, our kids prefer the ones that are shorter and easy and packed with things to see along the way. Their favorite trails in Ketchikan were Ward Lake Trail and Coast Guard Beach Trail, both of which are open all year long. These are some of the “treasures” we found (and left there) in the Coast Guard Beach Trail:

7. Go Fishing

One of the favorite family activities in Alaska is go fishing! You have the option of freshwater, seawater, and even ice fishing! From late May to October is Salmon season, and depending on the time you go there you will find different species. If you miss Salmon season, you can always look for halibut in the sea, and there are many tour packs that are family-friendly. 

Expect to be surprised (always)

I love planning family trips. I love going through all the available resources online and choosing the best fit for my family’s taste and budget. I check the weather to know what to pack and expect. But I also love giving space to the unexpected.

While getting ready for your adventure, keep your mind and heart open and be prepared to be surprised by Alaska! I’m sure you are going to love it as much as I did.

This was our view from the house we rented at Rotary Beach for Christmas 2019. Lodging prices go down by 25-40% outside the peak season. Also, the museum’s tickets are free and you can find discounts at the art and craft shops.
Eliana lives in Andover with her wife and their triplets. Originally from Argentina, she is happy to raise her kids experiencing different cultures from the places the family has lived in: Buenos Aires City, Maschwitz, Costa Rica, Arkansas, and ICT area since June 2019. So here she is, trying to keep it all together at home while working part-time as an IT Consultant, volunteering in her kid’s school, and cheering at recitals, races, and games. She also manages to steal time to do what she loves: running, riding her bike, building relationships, and writing about her adventures, feelings, and thoughts.