Note: The State of Alaska released its phased re-opening plan on May 6, 2020. In all phases (currently), interstate travel requires a 14-day quarantine upon arrival in Alaska. If you do not already have reservations, DO NOT BOOK NEW TRAVEL THIS SUMMER.
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 (primarily around in-state travel), it’s hard to know when visitors will be allowed to travel in Alaska again. As a result, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about Alaska travel in summer 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. These are my best guesses for what the Summer 2020 Alaska season will look like.
Please note: I am not a medical professional and none of these suggestions should be considered medical advice. I also have zero control over whether or when Alaska might ease restrictions and allow out-of-state visitors. If my suggestions are wrong, I’m sorry – I am only making educated guesses. At the end of the day, your travel plans are your responsibility and you can follow (or ignore) this advice at your own risk.
So: should you cancel or keep your Alaska travel plans this summer? Here are my suggestions based on your travel dates.
First Published: May 1, 2020 // Last Updated: May 16, 2020
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 Your Alaska Travel Plans are for July
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
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 Plan to Visit Alaska this Winter
At this point, I have no reason to suggest re-booking Alaska winter travel plans. While we don’t know how COVID-19 will behave in the population this summer and autumn, I think that Alaskan travel providers will be desperate to re-coup lost summer tourism dollars this winter.
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:
- How to Stay Warm on a Winter Weekend in Fairbanks, Alaska
- How to Plan an Aurora Trip to Alaska
- The 21 Best Places to See the Northern Lights in Alaska
- Aurora Photography: 15 Tips for How to Photograph the Aurora
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 instead. 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 hotel 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 Summer 2020. I’ll be updating my Alaska posts for 2021 starting in August; they’ll be ready for that season soon.
May 12, 2020 Update
I’ve been getting a lot of questions from people who want to book travel this summer. At this point, I am advising everyone: do not book Alaska travel this summer.
Alaska Health Mandate 0010, which discusses interstate and international travel, currently requires everyone to do a 14-day self-quarantine upon arrival in the state. It is set to be reviewed before its expiration date on May 19, 2020, and as of today, it seems unlikely that the state will let it expire. I expend them to extend it within the next week. Additionally, Governor Mike Dunleavy released a phased re-opening plan (Health Mandate 0016) on April 24th which doesn’t even address interstate travel.
The state is still intensely regulating intrastate travel to help protect communities throughout the state. Interstate travel presents a higher risk as states have all managed their COVID-19 response differently and testing/infection rates vary widely from state to state. I don’t think you should expect that Alaska will allow visitors this summer; autumn and winter are great seasons to visit and I’m happy to help you plan your trip for summer 2021.
May 16, 2020 Update
As of this morning, the State of Alaska has updated Health Mandate 0010 through 11:59pm on June 2, 2020. There are no new updates beyond that, but it’s worth noting that at this point, all May travelers should expect to take a two-week quarantine upon arrival or reschedule their plans.
Let me know any questions or concerns in the comments.