The ParkChasers are heading to Alaska! This is the first installment in a series on how to prepare for an unforgettable Alaskan vacation. With millions of acres of national parks to explore, follow along with us as we plan our next adventure!
When Greg finished his MBA in 2014, we planned one of our favorite trips ever: 10 Hawaiian national park sites in 10 days. Amy wraps up her Master’s program in May of next year and we’re planning to top this vacation with a two-week Alaskan tour. In 2017, Parkchasers will depart on our biggest national park adventure yet. Our mission: Chase the best-of-the-best national park experiences the Yukon has to offer. Today we thought we’d share some tips on how we choose the dates for an upcoming vacation.
It’s great to have a goal.
Because when it comes to Alaska, the numbers are big.
Alaska’s national parks cover around 54 million acres of land (more than 60% of everything managed by the NPS). This is spread across 23 national parks, 16 National Natural Landmarks, and 49 National Historic Landmarks. Yet, all of Alaska’s parks combined have only 2.6 million visitors per year. Last year, 2 million more people went to Yellowstone than all of Alaska’s sites.
These parks are remote. VERY remote. Most have no trails, no roads, and definitely no gift shops. Guided tours, multi-day backpacking, and self-sufficiency will be the name of the game while we are there. So far we’ve talked about travel by float plane, raft, train, and ferry-boat – and that’s just in the first 5 days. Planning this trip will mean pushing our boundaries, both in how we prepare and in how typically see parks.
Deciding When to Go
At least one thing about planning this vacation hasn’t changed. The first step is to decide our travel dates. When planning any big national park vacation, here are the four factors we always consider:
As much as we don’t like to admit it, our jobs dictate when we get to travel. Time off in May, late-August, and October comes few and far between because of our work demands. We’re grateful we get more holiday time than most though, so planning around the busy seasons doesn’t seem so bad.
Answering the question “well…what do you want to do while we are there?” is typically our second step. Whale watching, cross-country skiing through Denali and the salmon run all happen in very different seasons. Deciding when to go largely depends on what we want to do when we get there.
To narrow down our Hawaii trip, we both came up with our top 2-3 experiences and planned from there. This strategy helped us choose our dates for Alaska also. For Greg, freshwater salmon fishing and caribou watching were top on the list. For Amy, catching a glacier calving and hiking in Denali ranked first. While these wont be the only things we do, it helped rule out the winter months.
A national park trip should always include a conversation about the weather. Knowing up front what you are likely to encounter on your visit can make or break a vacation. There’s nothing worse than getting all the way to your destination only to find out the visitor’s center is already closed for the year. Or the epic hike you’ve been reading about for months is so busy in July that cranky tourists are the only wildlife you see. For Alaska, we’re looking at June through August as the best weather for the activities we planned.
What? Who thinks about finances on vacation? We do. And we have better vacations because of it. We always save the total cost of our vacation before we go. That way we don’t have to spend a single minute thinking about paying for things when we should instead be having fun. Knowing that Alaska will be our most expensive trip to date, it means we have to plan dates in 2017 that give us enough time to save. Cheaper flights on Tuesdays? Off-season prices? Early bird booking deals? Planning dates early gives us time to shop around and look for the best experiences for the best price. Sometimes it is definitely worth paying more for a non-stop flight home. Other times, we’d rather spend the extra $150 on new camping gear before we go. Either way, our planning for Alaska will include a budget and planning for the best value.
Have you been to Alaska? Do you have tips and ideas for us on how to have the best vacation? Comment below to be a part of our Project Alaska adventure!