Alaska’s mountains, glaciers and vast wilderness, while offering breath-taking natural beauty, also present barriers to travel. In fact, getting around in Alaska can be a little like getting home for Neal Page in the movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. In the movie, Page who’s played by Steve Martin goes on a “three-day odyssey of misadventures” trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Alaska has, out of necessity, lots of options in transportation that make venturing into the state quite… well, adventurous.
Planes: The only practical way to reach many parts of rural Alaska is by plane. Alaska has about six times as many pilots and 14 times as many aircraft per capita as the rest of the U.S. The Lake Hood seaplane base in Anchorage, one of 138 in the state, is the busiest and largest in the world with an annual average of 190 take offs and landings daily (as many as 400 a day in the summer months).
Trains: The Alaska Railroad which is owned and operated by the state offers year round passenger and freight service chugging along 470 miles of track between the large port cities and hauling nearly a half million travelers a year. The railroad runs daily express trains from Anchorage to Denali during the summer months.
The privately owned White Pass and Yukon Route provides passenger service between Skagway, Alaska and White Horse, Yukon Territory. The railway maintains one of the steepest railroad grades in North America, climbing to 2865 feet at White Pass in about 20 miles.
Automobiles: Driving in Alaska’s major cities is much like driving in any major U.S. city. However, the wide open terrain of Alaska with its weather extremes and enormous distances between populated areas make road-based infrastructure less practical. Highways in the state range from six-lane freeways to one lane gravel roads. In fact, less than 50% of Alaska’s highway system roads are paved. There are highways linking key locations but by the time you get from point A to point B, you may be on a dirt road.
Boats: Alaska has a marine highway system operating 3,500 miles of ferry routes along the coastline connecting 28 Alaska towns including Juneau, the only U.S. state capital “off the road system. No roads lead to Juneau because it is sandwiched between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean. The only way in is by air or sea. Alaska’s ferry system runs regularly throughout Southeast Alaska weaving through the misty labyrinths of the Inside Passage and many seasoned tourists recommend it over the big cruise.
Dog Sled: Snowmobiles have largely replaced dog sleds as transportation in the most remote and rural areas of Alaska, particularly in the arctic. But dogsledding is widely available as a recreational activity and dogsled racing is still celebrated in the state with the running of the 1,150-mile Iditarod Sled Dog Race from Anchorage to Nome. For visiting dog lovers, there are kennel tours, dogsled excursions and opportunities to meet Iditarod racers and their champion dogs.