Alaska Trip Planning with Kids: Everything you Need to Know (from a local)

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I grew up in Alaska, spending my childhood playing in lakes and fishing with my dad. I have a lot of firsthand experience as a child, and now I’m raising two kids of my own in Alaska.

Alaska is an incredible place for kids, and this article breaks down everything to consider.

Alaska isn’t a place loaded with pre-planned kids activities. It’s a place where kids can get their hands dirty, explore nature, learn about fishing and hunting for food, and get a little wild.

Prepping Your Kids for Alaska

If you are visiting Alaska from somewhere urban or a place without a ton of wildlife, Alaska will be quite different for the kids, hopefully in a great way!

For younger kids, there are some great books and shows to introduce kids to Alaska. Here are some of my favorites:

For older kids, they can learn about Alaska’s Gold Rush as well as the Indigenous people of Alaska.

Mosquitoes

Something to prepare your kids for is the amount of mosquitoes you’ll likely encounter. They’re worse around freshwater and wooded areas, and prefer the shade. The best deterrents are clothes that cover your skin, a hat, and mosquito repellent.

You’ll also need some sort of mosquito spray. I’ve tried eucalyptus brands but have found that Deet works best. However, every person is different, and for some people Eucalyptus works great.

So if you’d rather avoid Deet, I have heard that many people are successful with this more natural spray and Murphy’s Natural Balm (it’s a roll on, easier with younger kids).

When I hike I bring this Thermacell too, which is a great option to avoid sprays.

Alaska Daylight

Alaska is the land of the Midnight Sun. Around mid-May to mid-July, it doesn’t get dark, but rather you’ll experience dusk for a few hours before the sun returns. Because of this, younger kids may have trouble sleeping until later at night.

Generally during Alaska’s summer months kids stay up later playing in the long daylight hours. When we camp and travel around, our kids often stay up until 10-11 at night. Our toddler goes to bed a bit earlier, but is still up MUCH later than normal.

A few things you can do to help your kids sleep include staying at places with blackout shades. Most home rentals will list if they have blackout shades. The same goes for RV’s.

For babies and young toddlers, I cannot recommend the SlumberPod enough. I was hesitant to purchase it because of the price, but it has been well worth it for us. We even brought it on a trip to Maui for our daughter’s nap time.

It’s essentially a blackout tent that goes over a packnplay (there’s no bottom on it). We have used it in hotels, Airbnb’s, and it even fit in our 26′ motorhome.

When you first open it, there is a slight smell, so I recommend purchasing it a few weeks before you leave so it can air out a little bit. I also recommend getting the little fan for some air circulation inside.

For older kids (and adults), I recommend a sleep mask. I have this inexpensive one from Amazon and it works great.

Long Drives

Alaska is a big place, and to see the state, expect to spend many hours in a vehicle. It’s not uncommon to have a 6 hour drive to get from one place to the next.

While you can only do so much to prep your kids for long drives, you can plan to bring stuff to keep them busy. For our kids (under 10) we bring lots of books, a few small toys, and snacks. Our oldest can get car sick so we also bring kids dremamine and these compact but so handy throw up bags.

We encourage them to look out the window and always be on the lookout for wildlife. For our son we give him these inexpensive binoculars for something to do.

How to Get Around Alaska with Kids

The two main ways people get around is via car or RV (motorhome). There are pros and cons to both, and I have an in-depth article on things to consider with an RV in Alaska.

I personally think an RV is such a fun way to experience Alaska. You can stay at campgrounds and RV parks the entire time. And often, these parking areas are in fantastic locations or places where an RV is the only option. You also don’t have to unpack and repack every day or so which can be a big perk with kids.

If you have young kids, though, you’ll want to check with the RV company to see if they have a safe car seat option. Most newer models do, but it’s worth asking about when you book.

But if you’d rather not be in such close quarters, there are many types of vehicle rentals.

A regular sedan works just fine. You do not need any sort of off-roading vehicle for the main roads in Alaska.

Nearly all the roads you’ll use are paved and well-maintained (except for the occasional pothole you’ll come across). Many parking areas are gravel.

And then there are some roads in Alaska that are only gravel, and if you plan to drive these you’ll permission from your car rental company.

Skilak Lake Rd, McCarthy and Kennicott, Hatcher Pass Summit to Willow, and Denali Highway (not to be confused with the road to Denali NP) are typically off-limits for car rentals. There are, however, a few companies that allow you to drive these roads including Alaska 4×4, GoNorth, and Rentasubaru.

Camping in Alaska with Kids

To camp with kids or not. I’ve seen people tent camp with babies and toddlers, but know many people would never attempt this endeavor. I’m not sure I could camp with a baby or young toddler, but once my son was 3, we started camping with him.

There are a few very important things to keep in mind when camping in Alaska. 1. It doesn’t get dark. I always pack a sleep mask whenever I travel, but kids might not want to wear one. So you’ll want to think about how good of a sleeper you have. 2. It gets chilly or just outright cold at night, so you’ll need to plan accordingly.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably visiting from out of state. There are companies that rent out camping gear so you don’t need to lug yours up. REI has a camping package with a flat fee that includes nearly everything you’d need at a surprisingly reasonable cost.

Alaska Outdoor Gear Rental is a local company that has everything you could need for camping.

Speaking of gear, I thought I hated camping until last year when I finally purchased a nice sleeping pad (after months of research, this is the one I settled on and LOVE it). I just thought they were all glorified blow up beds, but I was wrong. They’re padded and also inflate. So if you are a side sleeper or just don’t want to sleep on hard ground, I recommend the splurge (or renting one!).

Best Types of Accommodations with Kids

Alaska has all your typical lodging such as hotels, Airbnb’s, and B&B’s. There are also many unique lodging experiences, most of which can save you money.

If camping isn’t your thing, there are some great in-between options for a more rugged experience.

  • Alaska has many state cabins available for rent year round. The most popular locations fill quickly, so it’s important to check when they open for booking. Most of these cabins are dry cabins without any frills, and many require hiking or paddling to get there. If you love to be out in nature and want a more authentic Alaska experience, I recommend looking into this option. They’re also very affordable too. Some of my favorite cabins are at South Rolly Lake, Hatcher Pass, and Eklutna.
  • Many people rent out private dry cabins as well, and these will cost less than a regular hotel or house rental. I love these ones at Miller’s Landing, but there are many around the state.
  • Yurts are also super popular in Alaska. These circular structures are so much fun for kids too. We have stayed in many around the state, and they typically cost less than an Airbnb. These ones are in a DREAM location if you want to splurge!

Where to Go in Alaska with Kids

Alaska is a big state but there are really two main airports to consider. Anchorage is the main airport and my recommendation. It’s a few hours from all the top things to do in Alaska and the most accessible.

Fairbanks is another option. Usually people choose Fairbanks if they plan to stay inland and visit Denali National Park or perhaps Wrangell-St Elias (although you can get to either from Anchorage too).

From Anchorage, you can drive south to the Kenai Peninsula. Along the way, you can stop at glaciers, a wildlife conservation, go to a Sealife Center, explore beaches, fish, hike, and get out on rivers and the ocean.

If you head north, you can explore more glaciers, Denali National Park, Valdez, and other national parks too.

Top Places to Visit with Kids

There are so many great places to visit in the Alaska, and the top places also happen to be great spots for kids too. But if I were to pick, here are some of my favorite places to go with our children.

SewardSeward is only about 2 1/2 hours from Anchorage, making it an easy trip with younger kids. It’s a small fishing town set in a deep fjord, and is a popular cruise port. There’s a fantastic playground in Seward with perhaps the best views in the world. Next to it is a skate park, and there’s a paved trail lining the water.

Seward Alaska Playground Summer Mountain Backdrop

If you stay in town, it’s easy to walk everywhere. The Sealife Center is in town and is always a hit with kids.

There isn’t much of a beach or place for the kids to play in town. Instead, drive about 2 miles past the town along a gravel road. You’ll end up at a place called Lowell Point. You can park here and play at the large beach area and river.

There’s another parking spot at Tonsina Trail. From here you can explore the other side of the beach. Near the forest there’s a spot that’s fantastic for tide pooling. We always find all sorts of crabs, starfish, and critters I didn’t even know existed.

It’s worth it to check a tide table to see when it will be out, because when the tide is in, the beach disappears.

Aside from that, there’s plenty of things to do. Take a glacier and whale day cruise (HIGHLY recommend), go hiking, book a day trip with Seavey’s Dog Sled Kennel, and hiking/exploring Exit Glacier.

Tidepooling Seward Lowell Point Alaska Summer

Homer – Homer is a fishing town at the end of the road. It’s a longer drive than Seward and takes about 5 hours to get there. Bishop’s Beach is a large stretch of sandy beach that’s fun for everyone.

There’s some hiking, great restaurants (Wild Honey serves up fantastic crepes!), and the long Homer Spit that’s fun to walk and explore (and is stroller friendly too). I like heading to Land’s End Resort at the end of the spit and enjoying the deck while our son plays on the rocky beach. Here’s a 2-3 day Homer itinerary loaded with all sorts of fun things to do.

Homer Beach Alaska

Kenai Lake (Quartz Creek Campground) – We stayed at Quartz Creek campground one summer and our son loved it. Many of the campgrounds have trails to Kenai Lake and in the summer it can get hot enough to go in (well, a little). At the beginning of the road, there’s the Cooper Landing Brewing Company which has a small sandy play area for kids. If you’re camping or RV’ing, it’s a great campground to stay at.

Eklutna Lake – Near Anchorage is the large glacier fed Eklutna Lake, which also supplies Anchorage’s city water. There’s a 13-mile trail that skirts the lake and there are many hiking trails nearby. When the lake is low (typical in the summer), there’s a large stream and lots of dried mud to play in. Even if you only stay for a little bit, the drive is beautiful and it’s worth a stop.

Eklutna Lake

Hatcher Pass – This is a fantastic place to go for kids of all ages. From beginner hikes to advanced multi-day hikes with dry cabins, it’s natures playground. There’s an old mine here too, Independence Mine, that’s been preserved and can be walked for free. It’s stroller friendly at the mine but there’s also many hiking opportunities in the area, so a hiking pack is a better option if possible.

Since our son was 4, he’s loved hiking Gold Cord Lake trail. It starts just up the road from Independence Mine (you’ll see a small footbridge off the road after the main turn). The trail has beautiful views the entire way up, with a short steep section toward the top. When he was younger we just made sure he stayed close in those spots.

View from Gold Cord Lake

Girdwood – Girdwood is a great spot near Anchorage for kids of all ages. The Hotel Alyeska has a decent size pool with large windows looking out at the mountain. There’s also a large jacuzzi area kids can go in too. The hotel is nice if you have young kids – there’s a lot to see inside and a few restaurants too. There’s a tram you can take to the top of the mountain with a restaurant at the top.

There’s also a lot of great hikes. From the hotel you can easily hike Winner Creek or attempt Mt Alyeska (you get a free tram ride down if you hike up). There’s a fat tire bike rental shop in town and many trails.

View from top of Alyeska facing mountains Girdwood Alaska

Girdwood Brewery always has at least one food truck and there’s a large outdoor area with fire pits and hang out spaces.

There’s a good sized playground just off the road, and it’s a great place for young kids to get their wiggles out! We stop here sometimes on the way to Seward to grab lunch at the brewery, then let our son run around for a while at the playground. It’s a win win :).

Girdwood Brewing Company Outdoor Summer Patio Alaska

This is just a small handful of places to visit with kids. Really, any place you visit will be fun for kids as the outdoors are a natural playground for kids (even older ones).

Top 10 Things to Do in Alaska with Kids

Where do I start with this, there’s so many fun things to do with kids in Alaska! Here are some of the best bucket list worthy things to consider doing when you’re here! I added the best ages for each activity.

1. Dog Sledding (all ages) – Summer or winter, dog sledding is a fun thing to do for everyone. If you’re visiting in the summer, they have carts that the dogs pull around. We did a trip with Seavey’s Kennel just outside of Seward one summer and had a fantastic time. I actually had my 3 month old daughter in a front carrier and she slept through the whole thing (it’s a little bouncy). It’s perfect for all ages, and our 6 year old loved it too.

After the ride they took us into a large room with memorabilia and provided a short presentation with one of the dogs. The entire tour ended up being a lot of fun and informative too.

Seavey's Summer Dog Sledding tour alaska summer

2. Whale Watching (all ages) – There are fantastic opportunities to see whales in Alaska. Up here you can see grey whales, belugas, orca whales, and humpbacks (among others). The best place for tours on the road system is in Seward, but you can also see whales in Homer, Valdez, and Whittier.

There are shorter 4-6 hour tours that I recommend for younger kids under 5. This one with Major Marine Tours is my favorite – it’s a 6 hour cruise but seeing Aialik and Holgate glaciers up close are so worth the extra time!

If 6 hours seems like too much (I get it if you have a 1-3ish year old), they also do a shorter 4 hour cruise that stays closer to the bay. You’ll see tons of wildlife, but won’t get close to a glacier.

Or you can do a longer tour with the same company, like this one that goes out to three glaciers and even the Chiswell Islands to see puffins and other seabirds. The longer tours go out into bigger waters, so if you get motion sickness easily, prepare yourself ahead of time or opt for a shorter tour.

3. Charter Fishing (7+) – A charter fishing trip is an incredible experience for kids. I recommend this for older kids, though, since the days are long and the boats aren’t always best suited for small kids.

Homer and the nearby towns of Nikiski and Deep Creek are incredibly popular for halibut fishing. For halibut fishing out of Homer, you’re out in big waters, so the waves can be rough. There are also charters from Seward. If you want a river fishing experience, look for options along the Kenai and Russian rivers.

4. Bear Viewing (7+) – A bear viewing excursion typically involves a float plane trip out to a remote location. Some tours work okay for younger kids, but for the most part, you’ll be getting out of the plane and close to these bears. Because of this, your kids should be old enough to listen to instructions and be quiet if needed.

The most popular bear viewing flights are from Anchorage and Homer. Smokey Bay Air, Beluga Air, and Alaska Bear Adventures are some popular companies, but there are many more to choose from.

5. Beach Combing (all ages) – This is such a fun activity for kids, especially younger kids. Our son has loved beach combing since he was 3. We will often find octopus, crabs, clam shells, sea shells, and all sorts of crustaceans. My favorite spot is in Lowell Point, just a few miles past Seward. We usually bring a bucket and small shovel for the kids to use.

6. Rafting (8+) – There are rafting opportunities all over the state. You can find class I-III rapids or larger IV-V rapids. Popular spots for rafting are Talkeetna, Six Mile Creek (near Hope), the Kenai River, and Denali. For an easy going float down the river, check out this two-hour scenic float on the Kenai.

7. Museums (all ages) – Anchorage and Fairbanks have some fantastic museums for kids of all ages. For younger kids, the Anchorage Museum has an Imaginarium area full of science experiments, bubbles, Alaska geology, and even a section for toddlers too.

8. Glacier Walking (8+) – Walking on a glacier is a unique once in a lifetime experience. Most guided glacier tours require children to be over 8 years old for safety. There are also helicopter tours that land on glaciers and many allow young kids.

The most accessible glacier you can walk on near Anchorage is Matanuska Glacier. There are many tour companies that run daily. I recommend this one (here’s the winter option) as I know the company and they have a great reputation.

Matanuska Glacier Alaska Man on Glacier
Matanuska Glacier

9. Hiking (all ages) – Alaska is a hiking paradise. Even if your kids have never hiked before, I highly recommend trying a few hikes while here.

My favorites for younger kids include Gold Cord Trail at Hatcher Pass, the Eagle River Nature Center near Anchorage, Eklutna Lake, Reflections Lake near Anchorage, the Coastal Trail in Anchorage (it’s flat but makes for a nice walk/bike ride), Exit Glacier in Seward, Tonsina Trail in Seward, and Winner Creek in Girdwood.

Eagle River Nature Center Overlook wetlands summer alaska

I’ve always been so impressed with our son’s hiking abilities. Kids are so much more able than most people realize. When he was younger we’d keep him entertained with wild scavenger hunts, searching for dinosaurs, and pretending to be airplanes. Snacks always help too.

If you have a children under 4 years old and want to do some hikes, but don’t want to bring a big carrier, I recommend checking out these lightweight carriers with Trail Magik. I love the concept – this kid carrier folds up into a small water bottle. It attaches to your backpack in the front so you can still have your backpack and can carry your toddler once they’re worn out.

10. Animal Viewing (all ages) – There are many opportunities for animal viewing in Alaska. There’s a reindeer farm in Palmer, the Alaska Conservation Center near Portage, the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage, and the Alaska Sealife Center.

And hopefully you’ll spot a few moose and other wildlife roaming around in the wild while you’re here.

Bear in Alaska AWCC

Packing List with Kids

Packing for older kids doesn’t technically require anything different than a regular packing list. But I would recommend a few things to make their experience more fulfilling.

I have my son journal every day when we travel. It’s fun for him to recap his days and articulate his favorite memories of the trip. A kindle, book, or something to do for long drives is also helpful (maybe even a travel pillow too).

Young boy in Seward Alaska Boots
My son with Bogs boots

For younger kids, these are the Alaska specific items I recommend getting:

  • SlumberPod – If you can swing it, I highly recommend a SlumberPod for babies and young toddlers. We bought one for our daughter and it truly was a lifesaver for nap time and bedtime when she was 6 months – 18 months.
  • Baby’s Brew – If you are using formula, the Baby’s Brew portable bottle warmer is a lifesaver on the road. I recommend it even at home since it has a USB plug and can warm up water anywhere you go.
  • Oaki rainsuit – There’s no way around it, it rains a lot in Alaska. In the summer, my son uses this rain suit which is light and packs small.
  • Kids Dramamine – If your kids tend to get car or seasick, pack or pickup some Dramamine
  • Ball cap – If your child doesn’t mind wearing a hat, a ball cap can help protect them from mosquitoes and from the sun when it shines. The sun sits lower in the sky in Alaska, even in the summer, so it’s more likely to hit their eyes.
  • Rainboots – Be sure to pack some rainboots for the kids. Ours love splashing in the puddles and streams everywhere we go! These Bogs are my go-to, they’re not super pricey and easy to slip on and off.

What is the Best Age to Bring Kids to Alaska?

I think any age can be a great age to visit, but I understand that each age comes with its challenges.

There’s no way around it, traveling with young kids is challenging. I’ve found that it’s hard once babies are mobile but still crawling or learning to walk. And then it’s hard once they’re walking up to about 3 years old.

For us, we found the sweet spot to be closer to 4 years old. They’re big enough to carry things themselves. They can watch screens or entertain themselves better on long flights, and they can handle tours and the travel required without too many meltdowns.

Reflections Lake Wasilla Alaska Sunset

Of course you can travel at any age, but I personally think it’s more fun when they can do more activities. And once kids are 8 years old, a lot more of the tours are available.

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