How to Plan a D.I.Y. Alaska Trip

Car, bus, train or plane? Among the many modes of land transportation in Alaska, interior flights are expedient, trains are scenic, buse...


Among the many modes of land transportation in Alaska, interior flights are expedient, trains are scenic, buses are a relative bargain and driving may be more economical for a group, according to travel planners.

If you fly into Anchorage or Fairbanks, you’re in what’s known as the “railbelt” of Alaska, served by the Alaska Railroad, which also runs south of Anchorage to Seward. Travelers can upgrade to domed cars for best viewing to Seward on the railroad’s GoldStar Service ($224 one way from Anchorage in early June, compared to $113 in regular cars) or to Denali with the private Wilderness Express service ($249 from Anchorage, versus $176).

A Park Connection bus between Denali and Anchorage costs $100 one way in summer.

Like other parts of the country, Alaska is experiencing a rental car crunch as demand outpaces supply, resulting in higher rates, nearly double statewide compared to 2019, according to Kayak.

“All over the U.S.A., we’re seeing elevated car rental prices, but it can still be cheaper than piecing together train and motor coach combinations, particularly if you’re more than two travelers,” said Anna Harrison, the owner of the agency Travel Observations in Pittsburgh.

Rental cars, however, are hard to find this summer. Clicking around the Avis Alaska site for a rental car recently, I couldn’t find a weeklong rental, a compact for $473, until late August. Travel experts warn against one-way car rentals, which are more costly than round-trips.

Two more ways to save include basing yourself in Anchorage, which has a range of accommodations, and doing day trips, or rent a car, camper van or R.V. and camping.

“Anchorage is great as a base for those who are short on time and who don’t like moving around each night,” Ms. Harrison said, noting that travelers looking to use loyalty points or miles are more likely to be able to do so in the city.

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