What’s the Best Way to Travel Alaska? Try These 6 Tips

February 20, 2024 • Todd Smith
We’ve come up with this list of 6 expert tips to help you assess the best way to travel to Alaska. Whether you’re returning for more travels, or seeking to do it right the first time, follow our advice and you can’t go wrong.
A small ship seen in front of a blue tidewater glacier in Alaska

What’s the best way to travel to Alaska? The best way to see Alaska and its wilderness and wildlife? Our number-one tip is to go by small ship. Read on to find out why—and for 5 more ways to ensure you get the best experience visiting for the first time.

We’ve compiled this list since we’ve had so many travelers come to AdventureSmith Explorations after being aboard a big cruise ship in Alaska saying that they want to return to really experience Alaska.

There’s so much more to Alaska than just seeing it from a ship deck in passing, and that’s where we come in. Our team sends hundreds of well-prepared travelers to Alaska each year. Plus, with my background as a guide and our crew continuing to travel to Alaska each season, we’ve become the go-to resource for sustainable, authentic Alaska travel that takes you off the beaten path—by land and by sea. Let us help you plan the best Alaska trip.

ON THIS PAGE The Best Way to See Alaska:
1. Choose a Small Ship Cruise
2. If You Travel by Land, Don’t Miss the Coast
3. Get Outside—in Any Weather
4. Enjoy the Solitude
5. Relax, You Will See Wildlife
6. Don’t Keep the Great Land to Yourself
More Alaska Resources
Find Your Own Best Way to Visit Alaska

A man in a blue jacket and grey hat stands smiling on the shore with a big blue glacier behind him


You have questions.
We have answers.

1) Choose a Small Ship Cruise

Alaska is a place you must experience by sea. Some of the state’s most iconic features (glaciers, fjords and whales in Alaska) are best accessed by ship, and many towns are only accessible by ship—for example, the Inside Passage’s many island- or mountain-bound towns. Thus, many people choose to cruise the region. What the average traveler doesn’t realize is that the cruise experience can be shortchanged by the wrong ship or itinerary for your interests.

Most travelers do not go to Alaska for midnight buffets; they go to be immersed in the environment.

For instance, big ships have been known to cruise some 700 nautical miles in one day—while small ship Alaska cruises take a week to sail such a stretch. Larger cruise ships can also only peek into the inlets and small bays where small ships sail deep into to make their secluded anchorages.

Most travelers do not go to Alaska for midnight buffets and crowded port towns filled with tchotchkes; they go to be immersed in the environment. Small ships (up to 100 guests) provide this in spades, with most of your travel time spent off the ship in remote areas, exploring by guided hikes and kayaking.

If getting away from the crowds and truly seeing Alaska in an active, immersive way is the experience you seek, you simply must choose a small ship cruise.

I love what some of our past passengers wrote about their Glacier Bay cruise aboard the 12-guest Sea Wolf: “We saw the large cruise vessels poke their noses in the general direction of some of the Bay’s treasures. But at no time did any of us wish we were anywhere but with the crew of the Sea Wolf.”


Get started with all you need to know
about small ship cruising in Alaska.

2 Zodiac boats with guests in orange life vests travel in calm water by green forested shoreline on a Lindblad Alaska cruise.

2) If You Go by Land, Don’t Miss the Coast

Just because we think the best way to visit Alaska is by boat, doesn’t mean we haven’t also stayed in lodges. Combining a small ship Alaska cruise with an Alaska land tour is ideal if you have the time and budget to visit Alaska for more than a week. But if you simply prefer to overnight on land, don’t miss exploring Alaska’s iconic coastlines and tidewater glaciers by boat.

On our Glacier Bay Backcountry Explorer, for example, you can take day boats into Glacier Bay National Park. And our unique options that utilize Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge all take a boat to get to this isolated lodge deep in the park. The journey is truly the reward here!   


See our list of the top lodges in Alaska.


3) Think Outside the Boat – In Any Weather

The best way to see Alaska is to be outside, in any weather. If you choose a small ship, it’s a given you’re going to spend a lot of time outside, off the boat.

At AdventureSmith, we encourage our travelers to “Think Outside the Boat” to be best prepared for their trip. Small ships are set up to include many off-ship activity options: everything from daily hikes and inflatable skiff rides to guided kayak tours and even snorkeling (with a thick wetsuit provided) on select expedition ships.

The key to enjoying Alaska: don’t be afraid of a little fog & rain.

The key to enjoying this off-ship adventure in Alaska is that you can’t be afraid of a little fog and rain. The likelihood of rain on your trip to Alaska at any time in the sailing season is high (you’re in a temperate rainforest after all), but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s truly fun to experience the elements of Alaska, as long as you are ready for it (hint: read our Alaska climate guide).

The more prepared you are mentally and physically, the more enjoyment you will have. A good waterproof rain jacket, rain pants, the commonly provided “Alaskan tennis shoe” (muck boots) and of course a good attitude can make grey days no big deal. Oftentimes the weather changes fast in Alaska, so those who are ready to experience the varied weather are often treated to beautiful moments like rainbows, sunbows and fast-moving fog. Larger Alaska expedition ships (those in the 40-100 guest range) often have hot tubs on the deck where you can watch the fog lift and the skies clear.


Stay in the loop on
Alaska trips & deals.

4) Take a Moment to Enjoy the Solitude

Something many travelers crave, but don’t always pinpoint, is their need for remoteness and solitude. Alaska is the perfect destination to unplug as it offers vast expanses of wilderness. Thus, the best way to travel to Alaska is to ensure you’re not among the crowds.

When I was working as an expedition leader in Alaska, I would always ask my guests to sit in silence for a few minutes when out hiking on a trail. At the end of the trip, many remarked this time experiencing the vast Alaskan solitude was one of the most powerful experiences of their whole trip.

While enjoying the silence is something any Alaska traveler can include on their trip, guided or not, small ship cruises create daily opportunities for this, as well as nights anchored in dark, silent coves instead of crowded ports.

If you choose to travel by land, seek solitude by skipping the well-trodden hotel route and stay at a place that shows you remote Alaska at its best. Staying at a wilderness lodge deep in the mountains, out on a remote coast or at the base of Denali offers up-close interaction with the landscape and wildlife, and more chances to take in the views—from your room’s windows or perhaps even your own porch. View all of our Alaska land tours, curated by our team to deliver such an experience, or learn more in our How to Visit Denali National Park guide.

5) Relax, You Will See Wildlife

Many travelers heading to Alaska have big name bucket-list wildlife that they want to see. This is great, but so often we can get stuck on seeing one or two big things and then end up disappointed that it didn’t happen. This can then dim down all the other incredible wildlife sightings that happen almost constantly while sailing through Alaska on a small ship.

People are amazed by coastal Alaska and the diversity of wildlife on land and in the water. Many think Alaska’s all Arctic icescapes and are then astonished it’s so rich and full of life. They can be taken aback with the amount of wildlife seen.

Let go of your expectations & enjoy each surprising moment to get the most out of your trip.

We always say the best way to visit Alaska is to let go of your expectations. Enjoy each of the surprising moments to get the most out of your trip. The likelihood of seeing the wildlife you are looking for is high, but if your big-ticket item doesn’t happen, think of it as a perfect opportunity to return.

Guests on a land tour viewing and taking pictures of a grizzly bear in a field in Katmai Alaska.
Photo by: Adventure Specialist Andrew Browning

6) Don’t Keep the Great Land to Yourself

Alaska is a place you will make memories to last a lifetime. Make it better by experiencing this epic destination with friends and family. Travelers can greatly benefit from reduced rates generated by a group. Some ships offer savings for a certain number of travelers booking together, and for smaller vessels, your group can save significantly by chartering the whole ship to design your own experience. 

Learn more about the best Alaska cruises for families and Alaska charters to bring the whole gang! Sharing the journey is truly is the best way to travel Alaska I’ve found after returning here with my own children.

Father in sunglasses & blue jacket paddles tandem kayak with son sitting behind on a sunny day in Alaska.


1-on-1 consultation.
Start planning today.

Alaska Trips
Alaska Small Ship Cruises
Best Time to Visit Alaska
Alaska Travel Guide
Small Alaskan Cruise Lines
Glacier Bay Cruises & Tours
Alaska Inside Passage Cruises
Alaska Whale Watching Cruises
Alaska Yacht Charters
Luxury Alaska Cruises
Alaska Family Cruises
Alaska Cruise Deals
Alaska Tours
Visiting Denali National Park
Alaska National Park Tours
Alaska Trip Reviews

Comment on this post

Comments will be moderated and will appear after they have been approved.

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required.

  • Dave says:

    We’ve traveled to Alaska three times on small ships (Uncruise Adventures) that we booked through Andrew. This article is right on the money. Small ships are the best way to see Southeast Alaska. We’ve seen weather ranging from 70’s to mid-30’s and from clear to snowing. Being ready for the environment is the secret to enjoying the small boat experience.

    • AdventureSmith Explorations says:

      Dave, thank you so much for sharing your first-hand expertise. Feedback from AdventureSmith travelers like you is priceless. And we are so glad to hear you enjoyed your time in Alaska and working with our Adventure Specialist Andrew. The fact that you’ve visited Alaska three times by small ship is a testament to how unique the adventure cruise experience is each time!

test message
View Wishlist