Trying to visit Alaska with kids? Or maybe you live in Alaska with kids already, but just don’t know how to get started traveling the 49th state. If that describes you, podcast guest Erin Kirkland has some great advice.
Erin is an expert in traveling around Alaska with kids. And she doesn’t just know what Alaska has to offer — she’s personally experienced it and makes a business out of sharing it with her others. Her website, AKontheGo.com, has tons of trips and tricks for exploring on the Last Frontier. And her guide book, Alaska on the Go: Exploring the 49th State With Children, is a wealth of information on the practicalities of seeing the state.
Erin came on the Humans Outside podcast to share with her us some of her best tips and tricks for taking on Alaska as an insider. Her suggestion even got me to try staying in one of the Alaska State Park cabins this year. I asked Erin what she would tell people who want to come see Alaska, and she said she gives them the same wisdom she gives families who are already here.
What did she tell us? Here’s her top advice.
1. Don’t try to see the whole state in a week.
Alaska is huge — HUGE. And while visiting all of the sections available by road is probably technically possible, it’s just not a good way to really experience the state.
“They try to see too much, and what happens with kids of any age, not just littles, is that it’s exhausting,” she said. “I mean, you’re just spending one night at each place and you’re not seeing anything. You’re just kind of capturing this surface-level viewpoint without getting out and immersing yourselves in it. And I think that’s a huge mistake and a waste of money.”
Instead, she said, pick what interests you most (Arctic tundra? Denali? Fishing? Glaciers?) and focus on that
“I always ask what they want to do, and I base their trip around what interests they have,” she said. “Because if they have no interest in salmon fishing or halibut fishing or going on a boat, then one area like Kenai Peninsula might not interest them that much.”
2. Get in the car and do a big road trip.
Even while focusing on one area, there’s something to be said for hitting the road and moving incrementally through the region. And that’s especially true for Alaskans who want to branch out and really experience where they live, she said.
“I would say the best thing for Alaskans to do is get in their car and just do a big road trip. We don’t have a lot of roadways in Alaska, but the ones that we do are an incredibly scenic, very diverse landscape,” she said. “And take your time. I mean, Alaskans consider our roads, as you know, as I’m trying to get from here to there. So the kid has a hockey tournament in Fairbanks, so we’re going to drive up and then drive back and we’re not going to take any extra days. Oh my goodness, you should take the extra days. Drive the Denali Highway for crying out loud. Or go down to the Kenai Peninsula down to Homer and cross Kachemak Bay. Go over there. So go someplace you’ve never been.”
3. Check out an Alaska State Park cabin.
Erin took a group of kids to a nearby State Park cabin as part of an event last year, and was delighted to realize how close to the city, yet far away feeling it was. If camping outside in the summer isn’t your thing, the cabins make great summer getaways. And in the winter they can even be the perfect cozy, off-grid getaway.
“The great thing about these cabins is that they’re open all year. So I have friends that spend Thanksgiving down there every year and I was like, ‘Wait, why do you do that?’ And now I get it. It’s so close. It’s so easy to get to,” she said.
Bonus tip for Alaskans: Visit Juneau.
While visiting the state capitol may not seem like a tall order or even that interesting for those who live in the Lower-48, Alaska’s state capitol, Juneau, is a special trip. That’s because it’s hard to get to. Visiting requires a plane or long ferry ride.
Erin said it’s worth the effort — and Alaskans should make visiting a priority.
“The other thing is that I want all Alaska families to take their kids to Juneau,” she said. “I think that’s a really important thing — so many of us grew up doing a field trip to our state capitol, wherever that would be. Because of the geography, it’s just a little more challenging and we tend to fly over Juneau instead of stopping in Juneau. I think every kid from South Central or Interior or Far North should get down to Southeast and really dive into what our legislative system looks like, and feels like.”