Alaska is larger, colder and more remote than any other state in America. No matter what budget you’re working with, there are countless thrilling adventures to be had here.
As Alaska is big, so too is its beauty. A vast, uninhabited wilderness overwhelms the comparatively small cities in the state, such as commercial-minded Anchorage, the largest, and the tucked-away state capital city, Juneau, with no road access.
While these cities offer several sights and attractions to explore, it’s still the grandiose outdoors that draws people to Alaska, a state also known as The Last Frontier.
It might not surprise you to learn that most visitors to Alaska are first time visitors. For many, Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime vacation destination. It’s far away, it’s expensive, and it takes a decent amount of time to do the place any justice. Chances are, if you’re planning a trip to Alaska, you’re wanting to make sure that you get the most out of your time that you possibly can. One way to do that is to be as prepared as possible, and that’s where these recommendations will come in handy!
For starters, don’t get sticker-shocked; Alaska is not a cheap destination. The standard of living is often over 25% higher than the national average, and many goods must be imported, which results in higher price tags. As a result, you’ll see noticeable markups on things like restaurant food, gasoline, and groceries.
If you’re looking to elevate your trip to the Last Frontier, I’ve included some of the top luxury experiences that you need to try. If you’re working with a smaller budget, there are still plenty of options available; read on for my steals, deals, and splurges for your trip to Alaska.
Steal: Talkeetna Roadhouse
A hundred years ago, roadhouses were a common reprieve for fortune seekers streaming into frontier Alaska. Back then, the hybrid inn, restaurant, bar, post office, you-name-it buildings were found about every 10 miles—thought to be the distance a person could walk with all their belongings in a single day—and numbered in the thousands. Today, only a few are left, with the Talkeetna Roadhouse being one of them. The rooms are modest but cozy, and the sourdough pancakes (made with a starter that dates back to 1902) are the stuff of legend.
Deal: Chena Hot Springs Resort
A favorite spot for locals and visitors alike, this resort centers around a natural-rock lake where guests soak in the mineral-filled waters. The actual hot springs were discovered in 1905 by brothers Robert and Thomas Swan, who had heard that a U.S. Geological Survey crew had seen steam rising from a valley near the upper Chena River but hasn’t found the source. Long story short: The brothers found it and turned it into a commercial venture. Today there are 86 simple rooms, plus a year-round ice museum and heated yurts for Northern Lights–spotting.
Splurge: Sheldon Chalet
The most mind-boggling detail of this five-room luxury lodge is that it even exists.
Perched 10 miles from the top of Denali, the highest mountain in North America, and found within the bounds of the third-largest national park in the U.S., Sheldon Chalet is one of the most remote accommodations on the planet. The only way in is via a small aircraft from nearby Talkeetna. But don’t expect anything less than ultimate luxury: The Sheldon Chalet has a live-in chef who can prepare everything from charcuterie plates to king crab feasts for guests.
All this opulence comes at a price, to be sure: $23,000 a night, with a two-night minimum stay (and three nights recommended). It’s the kind of once-in-a-lifetime, tell-the-grandkids trip where every detail is memorable.
Steal: Eat Your Way Through Anchorage
Despite what you may think, Anchorage is actually a city with a very lively food scene. Some inexpensive spots to keep on your radar: Moose’s Tooth for unique pizzas and locally crafted beer (expect at least an hour wait time); F Street Station, an unofficial pilot bar that’s home to the best (and most reasonably priced) halibut sandwich in town; Wild Scoops for ice cream crafted from hyper-local ingredients; Fire Island Rustic Bakeshop for treats produced by a James Beard-nominated baker.
Deal: The Crow’s Nest
What could be more bucket-list worthy than this epic fine-dining restaurant with a view? The Crow’s Nest has been around for decades, and winning awards for just as long. Visit for their incredible dishes featuring local Alaskan ingredients, their award-winning wine list of over 10,000 bottles, or simply the restaurant’s sublime views of Anchorage.
Splurge: Fine Dining in Juneau
Alaska’s capital Juneau is also known for its vibrant food scene, and amidst its bistros and craft bars, gourmet restaurant SALT stands out. Under the care of award-winning chef Lionel Uddipa, SALT offers modern Alaskan cuisine that utilizes fresh ingredients sourced from sea and land: pan-seared halibut, ginger king salmon, filet mignon, and Mediterranean pasta, among others.
Steal: Free or Inexpensive Cultural Experiences
If you’ve come to Alaska knowing nothing about the 49th state, the Anchorage Museum is a good place to start. Exhibits distill the historical, cultural, political, social, and artistic elements that have gone into making the Last Frontier what it is. The flagship exhibition is in the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, which houses more than 600 Alaska Native pieces, ranging from Tlingit war helmets to Iñupiaq feast bowls. Be sure to check out the Art of the North galleries—with paintings, photography, sculptures, video, and more aimed at offering a glimpse into what life in the international north has been like throughout time. For more local art, Dos Manos Gallery, an artist co-op, sells everything from handcrafted earrings and apparel to prints and ceramics.
Deal: Denali National Park Tour
Alaska is home to some of the largest state and national parks in the country, as well as some of the most expansive wilderness areas in North America. Hiking, paddling, fishing, and whale spotting are a few of the many ways to enjoy these wilderness treasures.
Denali is the third largest National Park in the United States, encompassing North America’s highest mountain in the northern part of the Alaska Range. Most people who visit Alaska’s Denali National Park will do so by bus, often as a shore excursion from a cruise, a day trip from the town of Talkeetna, or a hotel near the park entrance.
Splurge: Northern Lights Private Tour
The final frontier is a dream destination for many travellers, an untamed wonderland with an abundance of things to do. In Alaska, you can catch sight of crashing glaciers, reel in a record-breaking halibut, encounter stunning wildlife in America’s most beautiful National Parks, or try to cash in while panning for gold. To fully experience these feats, you’ll almost always need to book a tour with a professional operator.
My recommendation for a splurge in Alaska would be a private, guided Northern Lights adventure. Most tours include transportation services, hotel accommodations, and tours and activities. Prices generally range from $1000 – 1500 per day.
While the best viewing of the Northern Lights is generally outside of town, I should note that it’s possible to witness auroras from nearly anywhere in Alaska when the sky is clear.
In short, Alaska is a wonderful place to visit, with once in a lifetime experiences available at all price points.
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.