How to Plan Your Second Trip to Alaska
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Think back: do you remember your first Alaska trip? Incredible, wasn’t it? I hear all the time that upon returning home, people immediately want to plan a return trip to Alaska. Most won’t – the world is big and they have lots of places to explore – but if you’re like me, you can’t help but plan a second trip to Alaska… or third, fifth, or tenth!
After growing up in Alaska, my family moved back to the Lower 48 years ago. That hasn’t stopped me from traveling back – I even made two trips in 2021 despite the ongoing global “situation.” Those marked my sixth and seventh trips, and I still have plans for future trips across The Last Frontier. They say that Alaska gets into your blood, and I believe it: I feel compelled to return time and again, and have built my business helping others do the same.
In this post, I’m speaking directly to those of you who’ve already visited Alaska once – and know you’ve gotta get back somehow. These tips will help you plan a second trip to Alaska that builds on the unforgettable memories from your first trip and helps you continue to explore and discover more. By the end, you’ll be all set to board that plane back up north.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yuit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
1a. Choose a New Region to Visit
Your second trip to Alaska – or third, fourth, or 10th – is a perfect opportunity to explore a different part of Alaska. As I mentioned in my guide to planning your (first) Alaska trip, you can probably only visit 1-2 Alaska regions depending on how many days you have to travel. The same goes for every trip you plan, unless you’re spending several months visiting Alaska (in which case – lucky you!).
Again, here are the five regions of Alaska:
- Arctic – The northern part of the state, with limited infrastructure and tourism options.
- Interior – The central part of Alaska, home to Denali and Fairbanks.
- Southcentral – Home to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula (and my home city, Eagle River), this is a popular spot visited by almost everyone who comes to Alaska.
- Southeast – Also called the Inside Passage, this area is home to waterfront communities including Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka. Most people visit by cruise, but you can hop between them by plane or ferry.
- Southwest – A vast swath of the western part of the state, mostly inaccessible except by plane (or long boat ride).
If you visited Southeast last trip (common for those who take an Alaska cruise), maybe it’s time to explore Southcentral and the Interior. If you’ve already visited all three, look into striking further afield – such as to the Arctic or Southwest (both high on my “next trip” list!).
1b. Choose a New Season to Visit
Despite having visited 1-2 regions of Alaska on your first trip, you undoubtedly haven’t seen and done it all in those regions, so you don’t have to choose a new region.
You can visit the same ones again and do different activities and/or explore during a different season. Alaska’s seasons are incredibly varied, and each one offers a different experience and set of activities to enjoy. Heck – even within the summer season, the months vary a ton: June has long days and the warmest, driest weather, whereas August is slipping toward autumn and you’ll see trees changing color and possibly even termination dust!
If you want to return to the same part of the state on your second trip to Alaska, consider doing it during a different season for an entirely different experience.
2. Try a New Mode of Transport
Once you’ve decided when and/or where to plan your return trip to Alaska, consider mixing up how you get there and how you get around. If you flew to (Southcentral) Alaska last time, maybe look into cruise options to explore the Southeast. If you rode the Alaska Railroad, try renting a car to explore other routes. And never forget that planes are an option – both commercial flights between destinations in Alaska and flightseeing.
The whole goal of visiting Alaska a second time is to experience something new, so mixing up how you get around this lovely, huge state will help create new memories even if you visit the same areas during a similar time of year as your first trip.
3. Research Activities & Experiences
Okay – all the big details are locked down: when you’re returning to Alaska, where you’re going, and how you’ll get there. Now it’s time to research activities and experiences based on those three factors.
Activities and experiences in Alaska change based on the region and season, so you’ll probably feel like you’re back to planning your first trip all over again. That’s part of the fun! It gives you a chance to let your mind become curious and stimulate your imagination. Here are some ideas to help guide you:
- Were there any activities you had on your “Nice to Do” list from your first Alaska trip that you didn’t get to do?
- Was anything rescheduled or cancelled on your first trip that you can try again?
- What’s unique to the places you’re planning to visit this time?
- Are there any season-specific activities you can’t do during another return trip? (Such as seeing the aurora, which is only an option during the winter.)
Using Google and my Alaska travel guide, you can brainstorm a big list and then…
4. Prioritize Your Must-Dos
Just as before, it’s critical to prioritize what you want to do during your second Alaska trip. Friendly – though unwelcome reminder: you can’t do it all! Literally, you could spend years in Alaska (as I have) or visit 10 times (as I’m planning) and still not have done it all.
Prioritize 1-2 activities per day for your trip, keeping in mind travel times between them too. Now that you have a better idea of just how big Alaska is, you can more reasonably plan your itinerary.
Don’t forget I have my Alaska itinerary packs too, which can help if you want a little assist in jump-starting your planning process. All of my itinerary packs focus on Southcentral and Interior Alaska, so they’re a great option for people who cruise through the Southeast/Inside Passage on their first trip.
Can’t see the quiz? Click here to open it in a new tab!
5. Book Flights, Activities & Accommodations
Next, get your credit card out – it’s bookin’ time. You already know what to do here: spend, spend, spend.
(Sorry, I have nothing else to say, this is just the nitty gritty part of committing to your trip plans!)
6. Double-Check What to Pack
Got all those dates, times, and confirmation numbers safely documented somewhere? Good! The worst of the trip planning process (spending all the money!) is now over.
At this point, I recommend double-checking my Alaska packing lists to confirm you have everything you need to pack for this second trip to Alaska, based on the new season, region, and/or activities you have planned:
I’m also working on a list of what to pack when the forecast calls for rain or if you’re visiting in the shoulder season (May or September). I’ll add those links here once I publish them!
7. Understand Any Travel Health Restrictions
Finally, I always recommend double-checking the travel health restrictions in place at the time you book your return Alaska trip. (Welcome to the new post-pandemic world!) While these may change between when you book and when you board your flight, it’s good to have a sense for them now.
Alaska has a single page for this info: covid19.alaska.gov/travelers Bookmark this page! Check it again one week before your trip.
You should also check each city you plan to visit to see if they have any specific requirements. For example, the State of Alaska may not have a mask mandate, but specific cities might (such as when I visited Sitka in late 2021). Pack a mask and your vaccine card too – individual businesses and restaurants can still require masks and/or proof of vaccination at their discretion.
Certainly planning your second trip to Alaska is easier than planning your first: you have a better sense of perspective and expectations for what Alaska is really like. You also know how unforgettable the trip will be – providing even more incentive to book that return Alaska trip and make a new set of memories.
Have any questions about planning your second trip to Alaska? Let me know in the comments or join my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook group!
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