5 Ways to Avoid the Early-Summer Crowds in Alaska

by  Teresa Bitler | Jun 5, 2014
Mendenhall Glacier National Park in Alaska
Mendenhall Glacier National Park in Alaska / chaolik

Roughly one million people visit Alaska's ports as a part of the cruising season each year. That's a lot of people between May and September. Thankfully, there are a few ways you can avoid getting lost in the mass influx. Here's how:

1. Visit in shoulder season.
You probably don’t want to visit Alaska in winter, when it's cold and many seasonal businesses are closed, but summer peak times (especially June) always means the largest cruise crowds. Instead, plan your trip for May or September. Although the weather can be more unpredictable during these months, the days are shorter, making it easier to spot wildlife like bears and moose at feeding times. Bonus: September visits also mean spectacular fall foliage.

2. Check the dock schedule.
Typically, cruise ships will dock one or two days per week. It might take some sleuthing, but an internet search or two should reveal the dates. Your best bet is to check the websites of each port's tourism bureau or chamber of commerce – and you can always give them a ring if you're having trouble locating the information. And, obviously, you'll want to plan your visit outside of cruise docking days.

3. Steer clear of the pier.
Cruise ship passengers tend to stick to a two- or three-block radius from the dock to shop, eat, or otherwise pass the time as they wait for excursions. You can get away from the crowds by staying further inland, which shouldn’t be much of a challenge. Anchorage, for example, covers about 2,000 square miles, from the coast of Cook Inlet to the edge of the Chugach Mountains. Just stick to the other 1,999 miles when a cruise ship docks, and you probably won’t see many of its passengers.

4. Go for a ride.
If you're on a cruise and want to ditch your fellow travelers, pick up a map and explore the neighborhoods further inland by foot, taxi, or car. Most of the roads in port towns are two-lane, paved, and easy to navigate. If you're exploring on your own, the ferry – called the Alaska Marine Highway System – is another option. Catching the ferry is a great way to see the smaller communities of Alaska’s Inside Passage, such as Wrangell, where visitors can explore the history of the local Tlingit tribe, or look for wildlife. Just know that it can take between three and six hours to go from port to port.

5. Venture out.
Most large cruise ships stick to the Inside Passage, so an easy way to escape the crowds is simply to visit Alaska's other regions. Head to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, the nation's largest park, or fly to Kodiak Island, home of the Kodiak brown bears. Even at a highly popular tourist attraction like Denali National Park and Preserve, it just takes a smidgen of effort to find some personal space. Remember, Alaska is an immense 365 million acres, or one-fifth of the size of the combined Lower 48 states. Set out on a hike in Denali, and, within minutes, you’ll be alone in the vast wilderness. And if you're seeking true remoteness? Schedule an outback hunt, fishing expedition, pack trip, or guided hike anywhere in Alaska, and stay at a secluded B&B or wilderness lodge.

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