Alaska, the last frontier! It is bigger than most people can imagine. Having your own vehicle to get around can be the most convenient way to cover ground, but don’t be discouraged if renting a car isn’t in the cards for you. You can enjoy this massive state with a variety of transportation! In fact, considering the amount of land, there aren’t actually very many roads. Here are eight examples of how to get around without your own motor transport:
- Public Bus. In the cities of Alaska, we are still waiting for that metro train. In the meantime while you are in Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau there are city bus systems that are an effective way to get around. The one in Anchorage is even connected to Google Maps. Just search for directions for where you want to go, and select the “Transit” search option. Even smaller towns like Skagway and Seward have some limited transit options during the summer months.
- Alaska Railroad. Not only is this a practical way to get between, Seward, Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali National Park, and Fairbanks, but also one of the best things you can do during your trip to Alaska. It’s comfortable and so scenic. A ride on the rail might be your favorite part of your entire vacation. It can also give you access to camping, fishing, and rafting areas that there is no other way to get to. The Alaska Railroad operates the last flag stop service in the United States and it is primarily used only by locals.
- Kayak/Canoe/Raft. There is water everywhere! Alaska has over 3,000,000 lakes, over 3,000 rivers, and the longest coastline out of any state in the country. The kayak was in fact invented by the Native Alaskans and has been a major way to get around for thousands of years. Going by paddle can give you access to glaciers, coastal towns without any roads, and a slice of boreal forest that is all your own.
- Bicycle. If you have the endurance, exploring Alaska by bike can be an amazing experience. It can be renting a bike for a single day of exploring a single town or taking a multi month venture taking you over mountains and unpaved roads, or something in between. Seeing the sights on two wheels will give you a unique story to tell. If you want the ultimate experience, outfit your bicycle with camping gear and sky’s the limit!
- Small Plane. It might as well be the official state transportation. It is not the cheapest way to get around, but it will be memorable. Only 10% of the state is accessible by road and there are remote villages and national parks that depend on these aircraft to get supplies, doctors, and mail. The small airplanes are generally split into two catagories: bush planes and float planes. The former are for landing on mountains and tundras, and when outfitted with skis can land on glaciers and snow. The latter land on lakes, fjords, and slow moving rivers. In fact Anchorage has the busiest float plane airport in the world. When you take a small plane to a remote lodge, uninhabited island, or native village you not only have a lifetime experience, you also participate in the culture and heritage of the state.
- By Foot. This may sound ridiculous at first, but for backcountry hikers this will be very exciting. Alaska is all about the nature, and one of the best ways to experience it is by heading out into the wild. There are several established routes that take you one way between inhabited places. Some examples are the Crow’s Pass Trail and the infamous Chilkoot Trail.
- Alaska Marine Highway. The state owned ferry system is a well established mode of transport. It is great for people who want to sail the Inside Passage, but don’t like the idea of being on a huge cruise ship with only a few hours in each port. The Marine Highway can take you places the huge ships can’t get into and then you can spend a few days there to actually get to experience the town. The ferries can also get you to Kodiak Island where the largest bears in Alaska are found. You can even sail the whole way to the Aleutian Islands where so few tourists get to visit. Depending on your route, the journey may take only a few hours or several days. For those longer sailings you can book a state room or even camp on the deck. For an extra fee you can also bring a car so you have full freedom to explore in each location.
- Thumb. It surely has its inherent risks, but hitchhiking is surprising common and culturally accepted means of transportation in Alaska. I have been both the hitchhiker and the driver giving a lift and have met and seen people soliciting for a ride just about anywhere I have seen a car. It requires patience, endurance, and knowing when to say no. Be sure to pick a spot to stand where cars will see you for some distance before passing you and where they won’t be driving super fast. Always make safety your first priority. Many people have done it and have had wonderful stories to tell of the people they have met on the road!
And this isn’t an all-inclusive list either. Don’t forget about ATVS, dog sleds, sail boats, skis, and snowshoes! If you don’t plan on having a car when you visit Alaska, you don’t have to be limited by what you see. After reading this article you may actually think it is more limiting to have a car, and there may be some truth to that.
Do you have any interesting stories about alternative transportation in Alaska? I would love to read them in the comments below!