Planning a Family Trip to Alaska

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So, you are thinking about planning a family trip to Alaska? AMAZING! You came to the right blog post. Alaska will change your life. But there are many things you should think about before planning a family trip to Alaska, which is why I am so excited to have this {rare} guest post by Alaska expert, Noel  DeChambeau. He is going to walk us through his approach that will help you to successfully plan this Alaska trip of a lifetime.

Planning a Family Trip to Alaska

Planning a Family Trip to Alaska

As a full service travel agent, I do book the world, and there are many types of trips I know in, out, back and forward. Planning trips to Europe, especially Paris and Italy, theme park travel like Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World, all-inclusives like Beaches and Sandals, and of course I know every cruise line really well.

But when guests approach me to travel to places I have less experience with, I partner with a destination company to help plan.

Recently, the B family of 8 guests (multi-generational) came to me to assist with an Alaska land adventure. That is how I met Noel, whose Alaska travel company came HIGHLY recommended by other agent friends of mine.

Noel helped us plan an amazing adventure for the B family, totally customizable. Planning a family trip Alaska is not an easy task, and I am so excited that Noel is sharing his best tips for preparing to plan a trip like this – keep reading, and be sure to connect with me, who can help you get started!

Thinking about planning a trip to Alaska? Click the banner below to get started!

Long Island Travel Agent


Planning a Family Trip to Alaska: What is there to See?


Let’s call them the “Alaska Five”

I have sat on the Alaska Travel Industry Marketing Committee for years. Every four years we conduct a major study that asks our visitors why they came to the State. In thirty years, the main five reasons have not changed.  Guests come to see:

  1. Glaciers
  2. Mountains
  3. Mount Denali (formally McKinley)
  4. Wildlife and
  5. Wilderness.

Alaska’s entire travel industry is built around helping visitors experience these five things. Admittedly they are broad categories but if you start by identifying and prioritizing this list, you will find yourself a long way in planning your family trip to Alaska.

Alaska Glaciers

Here is why:

Alaska has the most glaciers in the world, to the point where only a fraction of them are named. However, when people think of Glaciers, they normally picture Tidewater Glaciers; massive forces of nature sliding into the sea. These must be seen on Alaska’s Coast from Cruise Ships or dayboats.

On the other hand, the largest mountains in Alaska can’t be seen from the sea. The Greatland has five major mountain ranges including the Alaska Range which is the home of the tallest Mountain in North America – Mount Denali at 20,322 feet. You must go to the Interior of the Alaska to see this.

And yes, Wildlife is abundant in Alaska…but…

Many people envision Alaska as like the Serengeti with herds of caribou covering the Tundra, moose munching in every pond and Brown Bears fishing for salmon in every stream. While Alaska is indeed blessed with an abundance of wildlife, it is also a tough place to live for critters. The amount of land a black bear needs in the lower 48 to feed herself is about a mile square. In Southeast Alaska, that jumps up to 10 miles, and in the Interior, it can be 100 miles.

Alaska Brown Bear

To reliably see these animals means you have to plan on visiting very specific places. This translates to journeying to one of the five National Parks in the State; more specifically Denali National Park for land mammals, Kenai Fjords National Park or Glacier Bay National Park for marine wildlife.

Wilderness is something Alaska has in abundance. But there are several types of ecosystems from Tundra Arctic to the largest rainforest in the world – the Tongass National Forest out of Ketchikan.

Alaska Family Trip PRO-TIP:  out of the Alaska Top Five, determine what you and your families have to see and in what priority.  Build your Alaska trip around those.

Planning a Family Trip to Alaska Caribou

Is Alaska a good Place for Kids?


This is a running joke in my household. But there is a grain of truth in it. Planning a family trip to Alaska is no different. The Greatland offers so many amazing and wonderful things to see and do that it can be daunting to deliver the desires of everyone traveling with you.

Alaska Dalton Highway
Dalton Highway and North Slope of Brooks Range near Galbraith Lake and Atigun River, Gailbrath Campground and landing strip in distance.

Grandma and Grandpa are fine with that salmon bake, but really don’t see the sense in ziplining with the teenagers. But everyone can agree they want to see a whale. So, there is no such thing as “Fun for the Whole Family” But in Alaska there is fun for everyone in the family. Alaska is a great place to travel with kids.

Alaska Family Trip PRO-TIP: Plan an itinerary that has a wide enough variety of activities that every age will have a lasting memory.

On your Alaska family trip, don’t be afraid to split up. Let Dad and Daughter go fishing, while you and everyone else take that jetboat ride up a glacially braided river.

You may be saying now “How do I do that?”


Which is the appeal of the place after all… right?

Planning a Family Trip to Alaska

How to Plan a Family Trip to Alaska

Visitors have a really hard time grasping just how big and how far away the 49th State is.  I blame this on a specific moment in all our grade school experience.  You remember that first map of the United States you were asked to color in? The one that showed Hawaii and Alaska down in the left-hand corner next to each other? And do you remember that Alaska was almost the same size as Hawaii? Well…it’s not. Not even close.

And it isn’t located there either…just off of the Gulf of Mexico.  It is as far to fly from New York to Anchorage as it is to fly New York to Moscow.  And, when you get there, you are in a place as big as one fifth the United States.

Planning a Family Trip to Alaska

So, you can’t over plan an Alaska trip. Especially with a family. No one in your clan will ever talk to you again if you try and visit Juneau, Glacier Bay, Anchorage, Seward, Denali Park and Fairbanks all in seven days; a traveling distance of 1595 miles!

Consider doing Alaska in ‘chunks”.  For example, perhaps start with a 10-day adventure featuring  a cruise and a land trip following the route of the Alaska Railroad.


Alaska Cruise or Land Tour? Or Both?

Cruise are great and there is a myriad of choices that Harmony can help you with. But if you are trying to decide how to do Alaska, first do this. Take a map of Alaska and cover the section that you see on a cruise. This would be the Inside Passage and probably the Gulf of Alaska.

Alaska Cruise Itinerary

How much of Alaska is left? ALL OF IT.

I have always said to just cruise to Alaska is like going to Disneyland and sitting in the parking lot. Don’t get me wrong, I love Alaska cruising, and for a family it is simple, and a good choice if you are going for the first time, but beyond glaciers it is hard to enjoy the other four “Alaska Five” on the deck of a ship.  To see a bear on shore from 10 stories up on a ship is nearly impossible.

Holland America Cruise to Alaska

Alaska Family Trip PRO-TIP:  When you have prioritized your Alaska Big Five, call Harmony. She will work magic to pull together a trip you and your family will remember fondly for years to come.  But know this…it won’t be your last. Once you go to Alaska…. you never come all the way home.


About the author:  Noel DeChambeau

Noel has been working in the Alaska travel industry for over 30 years. He began as a Driver-Guide in College. He helped start Royal Highway Tours which is now the Alaska land division of Princess Cruise Line. He was the Division Manager for Princess living in Fairbanks and covering the Yukon, Denali and the Arctic. After earning his MBA at the University of Alaska, Noel moved to Holland America Line where he was the Director of Alaska Marketing for 17 years. It is now Noel’s pleasure to work with travel professionals such as Harmony Skillman in putting together customized Alaska Adventures.  Noel along with Ranodda, his wife of 42 years, calls Everett, Washington his home.

Planning a Family Trip to Alaska


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