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Planning a Trip to Alaska

Lodging in Alaska runs the gamut from off-road camping (pull the car over and set up shop -- it's legal unless designated otherwise) to luxury wilderness lodges with all the amenities.

rv camp camping alaska mountainsOn the bottom end of the spectrum is camping, the traveler's best friend when it comes to visiting Alaska on the cheap. There are campsites throughout the state, ranging from the free and bare-bones to the fully-hooked-up RV sites with shower facilities, toilets and a snack bar or restaurant. Alaska's Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation has a solid list of the public options, including info on fees and facilities. Finding an aggregate of commercial campgrounds is more difficult, but an Internet search should yield results.

For the budget-conscious traveler who needs a break from camping, there are a few dozen affordable hostels spread out through the state. There are also some 200 rentable cabins (first come, first served) located on public lands spread throughout the state. These often isolated accommodations may be located on lakes, along shorelines, in alpine areas or by trails. They typically have a heating stove, sleeping bunks, tables and chairs, and an outhouse. Renters are responsible for bringing their own supplies, including food, bedding and cooking supplies. To find these, the Web site for Alaska's Public Lands Information Centers will get you headed in the right direction.

Bed and breakfasts are available throughout the state and have the added incentive of provided a hearty meal to get travelers started before a day of hiking or kayaking. Accommodations range from the very basic -- a spare room in someone's home during the tourist season -- to full-fledged log cabins for rent, which are available year-round.

On the upscale side are amenity-laden luxury wilderness lodges, which include gourmet meals, beer and wine, daily guide service, private cabins, fishing and kayaking excursions, and even morning yoga classes. Luxe examples include Kachemak Bay Wilderness Lodge near Homer and Winterlake Lodge, located about 200 miles north of Anchorage along the Iditarod trail.

Packing Essentials and Staying Safe
When it comes to packing, a good pair of warm, waterproof hiking boots and solid waterproof rain protection are key (especially in places like rainy Ketchikan, when the downpours can come fast and furious). Layering clothing is also essential, as weather swings can be dramatic at night or during the day when a dense cloud covers the sun. But the most important item, in our opinion, is bug spray. Mosquitos are often referred to as the state bird, and you'll need to bring the most potent bug spray you can buy to repel these monsters.

With certain regions getting so much summer sun, sunscreen becomes another must-pack item. Binoculars and extra memory cards/batteries for your camera (you'll never see a photo that you don't want to take) round out our list. If you're looking for a more intense experience, trekking and/or camping equipment naturally becomes important. See Three Must-Pack Items for a Trip to Alaska and our Interactive Packing List for more suggestions.

bear bears alaska stream waterOn the safety front, many travelers' greatest concern is of a bear attack. The good news is that attacks are incredibly rare -- the vast majority of the time, the bear wants nothing to do with you and will have heard you coming long before you hear or see it. Some experts recommend making loud noise (or using a "bear bell") as you hike, just to be sure that any nearby creature gets the message that you're coming through. For greater safety, hike with a group and carry bear repellent spray (similar to pepper spray, but formulated slightly differently).

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  • Get the Free Independent Traveler Newsletter!

    --written by Dan Askin; updated by Christina Liva and Sarah Schlichter

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