500 miles miles to the north of the contiguous 48 states, Alaska's remoteness can add a pretty penny to your vacation's price tag. But that doesn't mean that an affordable trip isn't possible. Our suggestion? Base yourself in Anchorage, the Last Frontier's largest and most accessible city, which hugs the Cook Inlet and is surrounded by the Chugach Mountains. Celebrating its 101st year of establishment, the city offers plenty of ways to escape into the wild with little effort. Here's a guide.
Where to Stay
No doubt, accommodations often takes up a large chunk out of the budget, but you don't have to spend more than the low-$100s for spacious lodging in Anchorage. For a traditional hotel option, the locally owned Voyager Inn situates visitors right in the heart of downtown, located just off 5th Avenue on K Street. This spring, rates range from $115 per night for a deluxe room to just $135 for a Grand Explorer suite. Not only is daily breakfast included in the rate, all rooms also have a kitchenette for travelers who want to do their own cooking to save further on dining experiences. Also good to know: the inn is a sister hotel to Captain Cook next door, where Obama stayed as the first sitting president to visit the state.
Home rentals offer more great lodging options -- often with even more space and a glimpse into the local way of life. In town, you'll find plenty of Airbnb rentals offering the entire apartment or house for as low as $75 per night and averaging just over $200 per night in the spring. We particularly love this downtown apartment for its central location and proximity to cafes, grocery stores, and public transit. The one-bedroom, which has a pullout bed in the living room to accommodate a total of three guests, is available for $120 per night during the winter and $175 during the spring. For a more rustic experience, the entire two-bedroom Mayors Cabin is available for rent just blocks from downtown for $155 per night. Fine with sharing an apartment with a local? Private room rentals average $86 per night.
What to Do
You don't have to spend much more than $50 for a full day's of activities in town. First, get the lay of the land with an hour-long Anchorage Trolley excursion that takes you along the city's boundaries -- and through its history from early European settlers to record-setting earthquakes that have shaped the history and landscape of the city. Expect to see seaplanes, landmarks, and even some moose. Running from May until mid-September, the ride costs $20 per adult and runs at least once an hour.
Continue your education at the Alaska Native Heritage Center, comprised of indigenous dwellings around the lake in which visitors can learn about the resources, tradition, and lives of Alaska's nine native populations. You can catch live song and dance events indoors, along with dog sledding during the summer. Admission is by donation during the winter and $24.95 during the summer -- or pay $29.95 for a Culture Pass Joint Ticket that also gets you to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. A free shuttle runs hourly here from the the Log Cabin Visitor Center.
The next day, embark on a biking adventure along the 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail to Kincaid Park right from downtown. There are several locations for bike rentals, including two spots on L street, and a full day of use will only set you back about $30-$40. The trail winds its way along the coastline, passing wetlands and forested area that reveal a myriad of wildlife. You're highly likely to cross paths with more moose, and there are several great spots for bird-viewing. Black bears are even known to come down from the surrounding mountains and hang alongside the trail, and sometimes beluga whales can be seen traveling in the water.
If there's one smart splurge to make, it's to go 90 minutes east of Anchorage to take the 26 Glacier Cruise from May through September. The name of the five-hour cruise is actually a bit of a misnomer, as you actually see closer to 40 glaciers -- in addition to a variety of sea lions, harbor seals, sea otters, and porpoises. You could argue that the photo opps are worth the $149 fee alone, but in case that's not enough, a warm meal of fish and chips is also included. Also fun: drinking with glacier ice that the crew fishes out. To get to port, take a coach bus across the street from the Voyager Inn ($55), or take the train from Anchorage to Whittier ($96).
Curious about what else Alaska has to offer? Check out these seven most iconic Alaska experiences.