Visiting Alaska is really a bucket-list dream for a reason – rugged mountains, epic views, iconic wildlife and quirky locals have put this famously remote state on the travel map. For most visitors, Anchorage may be the first port of call, but there's a caveat for those making their way to the final Frontier state; Alaska certainly isn't cheap.
From expensive flights to pricey excursions, a vacation to Alaska can put a major dent inside your savings account. However, savvy travelers (and people who like to plan in advance) can take advantage of shoulder season deals that can make going to the state's largest city a little more affordable.
Here's our help guide to visiting Anchorage on a tight budget.
When to visit Anchorage to score the best deals
When traveling to Alaska, expect plane tickets to become your most significant expense. While you're unlikely to avoid high ticket prices, planning well in advance is essential for scoring the very best deals. Alaska Airlines often announces airfare deals via their social networking accounts, so be ready to pounce. The best times to help keep an eye out are Cyber Monday and immediately after New Year's Day.
Another great way to save on flights is to apply to have an Alaska Airlines credit card. If approved, you can generate 60,000 bonus miles and something free companion ticket each year. Restrictions almost always apply to these deals, so it's helpful to be flexible regarding your travel dates. To find the best possibility of savings on air ticket prices, try to visit Anchorage in the spring or fall shoulder seasons.
Visit Anchorage in spring to save
Anchorage's spring shoulder season runs from March through May, but you're best waiting until April to go to. As it's less than tourist season, you are able to snag bargains on cruises across the Alaskan coast, and you'll miss the worst of the cold. Inside Passage cruises begin at the tail end of April, and costs are notably cheaper for the first voyages of the season.
Marine enthusiasts can take advantage of discounted rates on sightseeing tours. Gray whales are the first migratory whale species to return in the spring, and glacier and wildlife cruises through Kenai Fjords National Park depart from Seward (a couple of 1/2 hours south of Anchorage) from mid-March to mid-May.
April is also noted for a sublimely quirky Alaskan event – the Alyeska Spring Carnival featuring the Alaska Airlines Slush Cup, a daring jaunt down a ski slope and right into a freezing pond. Live music, food trucks, and goofy games make this a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Participants also have possibilities to race mountain bikes and compete in an old-fashioned tug of war, or you can do what most locals do and sip a beer while cheering to find the best wipeouts. The good thing? The carnival is free of charge to go to, making this fun that won't leave a dent or dimple in your budget.
Fall brings more savings for outdoorsy types
A second shoulder season runs from August through November. However, try to visit in September to find the best weather for outdoor activities such as hiking and camping. This is also one of the best times to take a drive or hike on the Turnagain Arm, the scenic waterway running east from Anchorage.
For less than the cost of a tank of gas, you'll be spoiled by stunning views of fall foliage and breathtaking sunsets. If you're lucky, you may also catch sight of belugas and orcas frolicking in Turnagain Arm's rolling tides. Make sure to look inland and scan the cliffsides for agile mountain goats.
Bird enthusiasts will enjoy a leisurely walk down the Potter Marsh boardwalk. As late as September, northern pintails, canvasback ducks, red-necked phalaropes, red-necked grebes and northern harriers is visible as they prepare for their annual migration. The odd trumpeter swan has additionally been recognized to visit. Should you bring your binoculars, you might spot an eagle's nest in the trees all around the marsh.
Seek out affordable lodgings in Anchorage
Anchorage hosts plenty of snowbirds who flee to warmer climates during the icy Alaskan winter. This means that visitors possess a great possibility of finding an entire house to book for as little as $60 through rental sites for example Airbnb.
Typically, you'll find the ritziest rentals within the Hillside neighborhood, in regards to a 20-minute drive south from downtown. In addition to beautiful interiors, many homes around the hillside boast stunning panoramic mountain views. As an added bonus, use of a complete kitchen can significantly reduce your food bill.
If you want more traditional lodging options like hotels and hostels, there are plenty of options, but even in the cheaper shoulder season, you are able to bank on paying $140 -200 per night for any hotel room.
Eat like a local to make your money go further
Anchorage's unpretentious greasy spoons are also the least expensive dining options in town. You are able to snag a burger for as little as $6 at the Lucky Wishbone or get a delicious rice bowl with three toppings for less than $10 at Yak and Yeti Cafe.
The more adventurous eater may have a half-pound Alaskan reindeer sausage or a German-style bratwurst from Yeti Dogs, hailed among the 25 best food trucks in the usa by Food Network. Both sausages is only going to set you back $5.50.
If you're looking for some thing classically American, like a pepperoni pizza, the no-frills Great Alaskan Pizza Company offers $10 large pizzas every single day. For those days when you awaken feeling ravenous, Kava's Pancake House will fill you up with massive breakfast platters for $14.
For snacks, visit the Walmart Supercenter on A St to find the best prices in town. Don't overlook Anchorage's farmers' markets – from mid-May to September, markets full of local produce and treats bounce round the city on several days of a few days.
Get outdoors on the cheap
Many of Alaska's famous nature have entry fees, on top of the steep prices for organized tours and activities. Adventurous types can also enjoy a less expensive wilderness experience in nearby Chugach State Park, which starts just seven miles from the Anchorage city limits. Parking is simply $5 and campsites go for $20 per night – pretty good for access to 495,000 acres of mountains, lakes and glaciers, linked by hiking and biking trails. The experience continues in adjacent Chugach National Forest, a level larger area of wilderness flanking Prince William Sound.
Save money on souvenirs by shopping downtown
Alaska has a lot of eccentric souvenirs to select from to help you don't forget this enigmatic corner of the country. Whether you're thinking about moose nugget swizzle sticks (made from real moose poop) or gold pan jewelry, you'll think it is at affordable prices downtown. Trapper Jack's Trading Post and Grizzly's Gifts sell deeply discounted t-shirts, hats, and foodstuffs. For reasonable handicrafts, check out the Anchorage Market at the Dimond Focus on Friday, Saturday or sunday – the marketplace traditionally opens within the first week of May.
A little off the beaten path in midtown, you'll find the Alaska Fur Exchange, with handmade gifts created by Alaska Native artists which are unparalleled in craftsmanship. Although prices are greater than you'll purchase more commonplace souvenirs, they're still reasonable which crafty gifts are sure to bring a smile towards the face of the individual receiving them. Choose from bone carvings, masks, jewelry and Alaska Native dolls.
Seek out budget-friendly activities throughout the peak season
If your schedule doesn't allow a vacation to Anchorage during either of these two shoulder seasons, you may still find affordable things to do in high season. For any reasonable $25, you can explore 10,000 many years of culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, and also the same entry fee enables you to go gold panning at Crow Creek Gold Mine. History buffs can see Anchorage's historical sites on the trolley tour for $20 -35.
Families will certainly love seeing the seals, polar bears, and tigers at the Alaska Zoo, where admission for adults/kids is just $17/10. And over-21 can go to any one of Anchorage's downtown bars and pay attention to great live music for free most nights of the week (tune in to everything from jazz and country to metal).
Festivals offer plenty of fun for free
Anchorage hosts several large festivals throughout the year and none charge an admission fee. In February, the world-famous Fur Rendezvous (Fur Rondy) festival takes over the town, with everything from parades to snow carving, dog sled competitions and outhouse races. Think of it as Alaska's version of Mardi Gras.
In the summer, you will find three big festivals that draw large crowds. Held between June and July, Summer Solstice, Girdwood Forest Fair and Anchorage Pride all feature music, food, beer, art, parades, and dancing, along with a great time is had by all.
Daily Costs in Anchorage
- Self-catering apartment (including Airbnb): $50 -100 an evening
- Basic accommodation for two: $140 -200 a night
- Local bus transport ticket: $5 a day, or $26 for one week
- Latte from the coffee hut: $5 -6
- A sit-down breakfast: $14
- Light lunch from the food truck: $5 -15
- Seafood dinner for 2: $45 -60
- Growler (take-away bottle) of craft beer: $10 -18