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Since the beginning of the widespread COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, interest in Alaska travel has dropped significantly. This is in part due to aggressive travel restrictions that the State of Alaska put in place in mid-March to limit the spread of the virus – especially to smaller Alaskan communities with limited medical resources to treat the serious symptoms COVID-19 causes.

While the State has begun easing some restrictions, it’s impossible to know when travel in Alaska will be “normal” again. I’ve been getting questions about Alaska travel in 2020, and I wanted to put together a few suggestions. I write a lot about Alaska and grew up there; I have the expertise on the tourism side and intimate knowledge about how Alaskans think in crises. This post was originally written to provide my best guesses for what the Summer 2020 Alaska season will look like; in August 2020 I updated it to address what I think the rest of the year will look like.

Please note: I am not a medical professional and none of these suggestions should be considered medical advice. I am making educated guesses based on the information we all have access to. I don’t have exclusive/early access to information on any future plans the State of Alaska might have for travel restrictions, COVID testing requirements, or mask mandates. In the end, your travel plans are your responsibility, and you follow (or ignore) my suggestions at your own risk.

So: should you cancel or keep your Alaska travel plans this year? Here are my suggestions based on your travel dates.

First Published: May 1, 2020 // Last Updated: August 25, 2020

What are the Current Requirements for Alaska Travel?

As of August 6th, 2020, here are the current requirements for all travelers visiting Alaska:

  • You must get tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours before departure and upload your negative result into the Alaska Travel Portal or have results available to show screeners at the airport.
    • If you are still awaiting results by arrival time, travelers will need to upload proof of a test taken into the Alaska Travel Portal or show that proof of a test taken to an airport screener and self-quarantine, at their own expense, while waiting for results. The results must be uploaded into the portal when received.
  • If you arrive without a pre-test, you can get tested upon arrival for $250 per test. You will be required to quarantine while waiting for your results.
  • You must complete a Travel Declaration Form and Self-Isolation Plan in the Alaska Travel Portal.
  • Even with your negative results, you must still follow strict social distancing for 14 days or until you receive a second negative test result from a test taken 7-14 days after arrival.
    • If you are taking a trip shorter than 7 days, you will not be required to take a second test.

There are a few important things to note in these requirements:

  1. There is no mask mandate in Alaska, but it is strongly encouraged.
  2. It is no longer acceptable to do a self-quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Alaska.

Keep all this in mind as you decide whether or not you want to go ahead with your existing travel plans, or to reschedule.

If Your Alaska Travel Plans are for May or June

I recommend rescheduling Alaska travel planned for May or June 2020. I do not believe the state will lift the current 14-day quarantine for out-of-state visitors before July 1st.

Additionally, Canada has closed their cruise ports to ships larger than 500 passengers until at least July 1st – and many of the major cruise companies have scrapped their entire summer scheduled sailings. Many businesses will not even be open all summer, especially in the cruise-ports of Southeast Alaska.

In short, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will travel to Alaska in May or June.

When should you reschedule to? I recommend rescheduling for 2021 unless you have a very specific reason to gamble on Alaska travel in August or September (such as a special occasion or ‘last trip’).

If You Plan to Visit Alaska in July

Valerie in Alaska

If you have travel plans for July, I’m sorry to be a bit useless here. I’m on the fence about July, but I personally wouldn’t risk it. I don’t think Alaska will be open for tourism at that point but I could be wrong.

It’s your decision if you want to hold that reservation and try to make the trip, but I strongly advise ensuring you have PPE to travel and keep yourself safe – and the Alaskans you meet on your trip. I also recommend being prepared to go into a 14-day quarantine if you choose to travel to Alaska in July and/or self-quarantining upon your return home.

When should you reschedule to? If you have flexibility, you could push to August or September 2020 – or take stress of your mind and rebook for July 2021.

If Your Alaska Travel Plans are for August or September

Pack for Alaska Hero

For those with travel reservations in August or September 2020, you may be among the lucky few who get to visit Alaska this year. At this stage, I recommend keeping your reservations and planning to go for now. If there is a summer season, it will be a short one – early August to mid-September. 

I personally am holding my reservations for a small-ship cruise in mid-September 2020. If you’re rescheduling from earlier in the year, you can always join me on this trip if it happens!

However, I strongly recommend purchasing travel insurance to help protect your investment in the event your trip is canceled or you’re not allowed to take it. Some travel insurance providers are not covering coronavirus-related travel cancellations, so be sure to read carefully before you buy.

When should you reschedule to? If you choose to reschedule, consider which experiences you hoped to have in Alaska. For summer activities, re-book to May or June 2021 to help re-infuse the Alaskan tourism economy next year.

If You Have Already Booked a Trip to Alaska in Winter 2020/2021

Alaska Northern Lights Trip Hero

At this point, I don’t advise planning a trip to Alaska before the end of 2020. If you have travel booked for October, November, or December 2020, I recommend rescheduling for at least February, March, or April 2021. I can’t guarantee that travel restrictions/testing requirements will be lifted by then – but it’s possible we might have a better handle on the virus by then and you can better enjoy your trip.

I took my most recent trip to Alaska in February 2020 and loved it; here are several resources to help you plan a winter trip:

If You Don’t Have Confirmed Alaska Travel Plans but Want to Book a Trip

While I know we’re all eager to get back out and explore the world, if you don’t currently have travel plans and reservations, I would hold off and plan your trip for 2021 or later. There are many people who already have reservations that are changing frequently and it’s a tumultuous time to try and make a trip happen.

Additionally, many small hotels and tour providers pay fees for purchases, ticket changes, and refunds depending on their payment structure. You may actually hurt these travel operators even more by booking right now and having to change or request a refund.

I hope this helps you make a decision about your own Alaska travel plans this summer. While I know many of my travel articles are evergreen, it’s hard to know whether you can use them for 2020 or 2021. I’ll be updating my Alaska posts for 2021 starting in late 2020; they’ll be ready for that season soon.

Let me know any questions or concerns in the comments.

26 comments

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Thank you so much for all your insight! We are currently keeping our plans to visit the last week in July and just hoping it works out ok. We’ll continue to follow your postings closely!

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Thanks for reading, Amy! I hope your trip goes well!

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We visited in July 2020 and had an absolutely amazing time! No problems getting in (although super stressful waiting for test results, one of which wasn’t reported until after we arrived), Denali was open for the bus ride we booked in advance (thanks to your suggestion), we got shockingly close views of bears catching salmon swimming upstream to spawn, and we rode bikes along the water in anchorage and almost ran into a moose! Such a once-in-a-lifetime experience, particularly with discounted tickets and without the tourists:)

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Sounds like a great trip, Amy!

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Wow. I started researching an Alaska trip for the last week of July and first week of August because our workplace won’t allow us to travel internationally as planned. I was overwhelmed earlier with all the cities and different tours. When I found your website it was just what I wanted to read until I got to the part that I shouldn’t be planning a trip LOL. When we do go I have saved your website and will gladly click on your links. Thank you so much, Janice in Nashville

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Thanks for reading, Janice! I hate to be a downer on it summer travel this year… but it’s definitely best to wait and plan it for next year (or this coming winter!) if you can! Stay safe and healthy!

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Hi- any updates as of July 2? We would like to plan a trip for the first week of September 2020. What would be a disadvantage of doing so at this time?

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Thanks for reading, Madeline. There haven’t been any changes since the beginning of June, but I recommend checking out the link at the top of the post (in the purple box). That’s all the official info from the State. I think it’s possible they will re-enter lockdown if cases continue to rise, so it’s up to you if you try to book a trip.

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Hi, we currently have hotel, airline and car rental reservations for August 31st. I have had many people tell me to cancel them, but have this gut feeling that Juneau may want to recoup some of their summer losses. We are aware of the current mandate, and will be exploring local options for testing prior to travel. We are supposed to be there 8/31-9/14, so I guess we will continue to scope out the current mandates. If you have any further insights, please advise.

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Jill, I agree with your friends or others who have advised you to reschedule. It’s better to stay home and keep everyone healthy than to risk anyone getting sick, even with testing. Juneau (and the whole State of Alaska) is planning ahead for 2021 and beyond rather than focusing on this year. I hope this helps!

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Hi Valerie,
Thanks for sharing your insights.
I and my husband are confused about whether to make bookings for 2 weeks’ early September trip.
What do you recommend based on the latest COVID travel advisory?
We plan to visit Anchorage – Seward – Denali National Park – Fairbanks. (not visiting Juneau as whale watching tours are canceled).

Side question: What is the probability to get to see whales at the boat at Seward?

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Great question, AJ – I plan to update this post this week.

I would not advise any travel to Alaska this year. If you want to visit in the summer, I recommend planning your trip for 2021.

I’ve heard stories of many experiences being sold out due to limited capacity, hotels not even being open/not having the correct reservations or changing them and not notifying the guests, and more. It’s just not a good year for a visit if you really want to enjoy it!

I hope this helps!

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I will not be going to AK this summer. I cancelled a few reservations. Even if I were to take the pre-test, there is uncertainty if the result would arrive in time. Quarantine for 14 days or however long when reaching AK would be impractical and costly. I normally spend only a week there. Hope to go in 2021, and hope COVID-19 comes under control. This summer will be the first miss since the summer of 2004. For those who make it to Alaska, the Last Frontier, have a great time! LC

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I think you made the right decision, Lawrnce! I don’t think this is the year to visit Alaska.

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How do the Alaskan authorities approach a person getting an Alaska airlines flight? What authority? Local police or sheriffs? Do they take to a private room to be tested? Is it considered an arrest? Or is there actually no on there to determine whether or not you are an Alaskan resident? Simply trying to visit my son

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Adam, I’m not sure what you mean. I recommend checking out the requirements here: https://covid19.alaska.gov/health-mandates/ I don’t know the exact process as I am not encouraging anyone to visit Alaska this year and cancelled my own travel plans.

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Thanks so much for the info. I’m planning on visiting in November (potentially) so any information that is kept up to date is extremely helpful. Definitely want to be educated so I appreciate it!

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Glad to help as much as I can, Avery!

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Planning a trip for September 17-26. Getting tested before we go and flying Delta. We are a little nervous but will be equipped with all appropriate PPE. Not planning on restaurants but take out and preparing meals at the places we stay. Any more word on safely traveling to Alaska ?

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Have a good trip, Nicki! Sorry, but I don’t have any other advice – I’m not advising people to go at all.

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Hi my husband and I want to plan a trip for December- Jan to see the lights what do you recommend?

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Thanks for reading, Jocelyn. I don’t advise booking a trip right now, but it’s your choice as long as you comply with mask rules and the testing requirements. I have a guide to seeing the northern lights here: https://www.valisemag.com/alaska-northern-lights-trip/

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We were just in Alaska for Labor Day weekend last Thursday – Monday. We lucked out on the weather and all of our activities/lodging remained intact. Restaurants were at limited capacity. Spent 2 days in Seward and I will say that most restaurants and excursions were closing up for the season so we went at the right time and caught sunshine for the entire trip there. For not having a mask mandate I would say 99% complied even while outdoors. Such a beautiful state! Glad we were able to make it and enjoy ourselves.

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I’m glad you had a good trip, Losalind!

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My sons and I Just completed a fantastic visit to AK (late Aug/early Sept)! The travel experience from airports to water taxis etc was seamless…of course the key was that we were able to get a negative Covid test within 72 hours of departing for AK. Navigating The travel portal was a breeze! Once we got to AK we were able to do most everything we planned to do-granted hiking/camping/fishing were our activities of choice so social distancing was easy but even when we ate at restaurants Covid was a non factor…most places had outdoor seating with plenty of space between patrons (many had indoor seating as well)… masks were required and EVERY establishment was very sanitary. An unexpected upside to traveling during the pandemic was that we often felt like we had this great state to ourselves! Additionally, the “ local experience” was enhanced greatly as business owners often went out of their way to accommodate our needs as they so appreciated our patronage…all in all Alaska was everything I hoped it would be and more-it was definitely a trip of a lifetime that will never be forgotten!!

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Glad you had a great trip, Jeff!

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