Alaska's extreme geography and incredible natural treasures, including majestic mountains and glaciers, fjords and forests, and unparalleled wildlife both on land and in countless waterways, draw up to 2 million visitors a year. A major element of Alaska's appeal is its remoteness, but travelers departing from major cities on the West Coast of North America, including Vancouver, British Columbia, have numerous travel options to consider. The fastest and generally most convenient way to travel from Vancouver to Alaska is to fly, but cruising, driving or traveling by ferry add a considerable element of adventure to the journey. If you're willing to take your time getting to Alaska, and in some cases do a significant amount of research and planning, then the trip itself from Vancouver to Alaska will be as memorable as exploring America's Last Frontier.
Whatever your point of entry into Alaska, traveling there from Canada requires crossing an international border, so valid passports are required.
Nonstop flights are available from Vancouver to Anchorage – but not to other Alaskan cities – only during summer months. Only one stop is required to fly to Anchorage at other times, and at any time of year to Juneau, Fairbanks and Ketchikan. These flights usually involve a stop in Seattle before going on to Alaska, giving you the option to drive, or take the train or bus, the approximately 140 miles from Vancouver to Seattle to pick up a nonstop flight to Alaska. With two stops, dozens of other Alaskan cities and towns can be reached by air from Vancouver, among them Kodiak, Barrow, Sitka, Skagway and Nome. The major airlines providing these flights are Alaska, Delta and American.
Driving from Vancouver to Alaska is a considerable undertaking. The most direct route from Vancouver to the Alcan Border crossing covers 1,800 miles, the equivalent of about 35 hours of nonstop driving northward through British Columbia and the Yukon territory. Approximately halfway through the journey you'll be driving parallel to Alaska to the west, but a lack of maintained roads means you can't reach the state without continuing north. From the Alcan border, the closest major town in Alaska is Fairbanks, another 300 miles up the Alaska Highway.
There are, of course, plenty of interesting towns, cities and attractions at which to stop along the way to Alaska, and spectacular scenery for the entire route. Among them are Xatśūll Heritage Village, a showcase of First Nations culture in British Columbia; the historic fur trading center of Fort St. James; Meziadin Lake Provincial Park just off the Cassiar Highway; Whitehorse, the capital of the Yukon; and Dawson City, the epicenter of the Klondike Gold Rush.
The major roads connecting Vancouver and Alaska are well-maintained, but some sections are narrow and winding. The route can be driven at any time of year, but in winter, late fall and early spring you will need appropriate tires or snow chains. Cell phone service can be intermittent; services, including gas stations, are generally no more than 50 miles apart.
One of the most popular ways to travel from Vancouver to Alaska is by cruise ship, an option available only from late April to September. One-way and return cruises to Alaska departing from Vancouver are offered by many major cruise lines, including Holland America, Princess, Celebrity, Disney, Royal Caribbean, Regent and Silversea. Most range from seven to 14 days in duration, call at a number of Alaska ports and offer a wide range of shore excursions. The benefits of cruising include the convenience of all-inclusive travel, a fully pre-planned itinerary and an unmatched vantage point while passing through the spectacular Inside Passage and Gulf of Alaska, depending on your itinerary.
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry service travels from Vancouver to Alaska, although this requires additional travel from Vancouver to one of two ferry departure points: Bellingham, Washington, 55 miles south of Vancouver and accessible by car, bus or train, or Prince Rupert, British Columbia, about 900 miles north of Vancouver by road, and also accessible via road and ferry through Vancouver Island. The Alaska Marine Highway covers 3,500 miles of the North American coastline from Bellingham to Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. From Bellingham, the ferry takes 38 hours to reach Ketchikan. That route continues to Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines, Skagway and Sitka. Traveling on the ferry from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan takes seven hours, followed by stops in Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake, Sitka, Juneau, Haines and Skagway. The ferries lack the luxuries of cruise ships, but do offer onboard concessions. Many passengers opt to camp overnight in tents, which is permitted on heated decks.