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:
- There is no mask mandate in Alaska, but it is strongly encouraged.
- 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
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 Have Already Booked a Trip to Alaska in Winter 2020/2021
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:
- 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 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.