Where To Go Camping in Alaska
The Last Frontier is known for being wild and rugged, making it a spot on every good camping bucket list. While much of Alaska camping is primitive, there are several spots for traditional camping accommodations that fit all interest levels.
Bring your hard-sided camper for any dispersed camping in Alaska, or plan to pitch a tent only in popular, well-established campgrounds. Always bearproof your tent and campsite by keeping food, toilets, and smelly things in your vehicle or high up a tree (both well away from your tent).
Best Times to Go Camping in Alaska
Summer is easily the best time to camp in Alaska, no matter what part of the state you’re in. While you can camp in several sections of the Last Frontier, south-central Alaska is far and away the most popular.
Accommodations here are incredibly seasonal, so while campsites are plentiful in summer, options become much sparser in the off-season. With long days during the summer, it’s easy to be out hiking for hours and still have plenty of daylight when you get back to camp.
If you’re in the south-central, late spring and early fall camping is an option, but off-season accommodations, again, are sparse. For those interested in free camping, late spring and early fall are options in the relatively temperate parts of the state. In Seward, for example, late spring and early fall lows are usually above freezing, and the daytime high tends to be in the low to mid-50s.
Fall camping is beautiful as the leaves change, but prepare to be self-sufficient. Even though the south-central temperatures are more moderate, this is still Alaska. Fall here is something everyone should experience at least once, but you want to make sure you’re prepared for quick changes in the weather.
From mid-fall to mid-spring, camping is difficult at best. Unless you’re incredibly skilled, camping out of season in Alaska really isn’t advisable. Given its northern location (hello northern lights, aka aurora borealis), it’s nearly dark all the time during the winter.
National Park Service Sites in Alaska
There are 19 National Park Service (NPS) sites in Alaska, and 12 of them have camping. While the majority of Alaskan NPS sites have camping, it’s almost exclusively dispersed camping. Only four of the sites offer developed campgrounds, while the rest are hike-in primitive sites.
Outside of the most visited sites, you’ll be hiking into the backcountry and selecting a tent site. There are no developed sites in the backcountry; campers need to choose a spot carefully and minimize their impact on the land. If you aren’t sure how to choose a campsite efficiently, contact the ranger station for tips. And keep in mind this grizzly country, so soft-side tent camping really isn’t advised.
Many of these NPS sites, while you can camp in them, aren’t on the road system. Dedicated outdoor enthusiasts may want to charter a plane to get to these sites, but most amateur adventurers should stick to the beaten path.
- Denali National Park & Preserve
- Kenai Fjords National Park
- Katmai National Park & Preserve
- Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve
- Gates of the Arctic National Park & Preserve (primitive camping only)
- Cape Krusenstern National Monument (primitive camping only)
- Bering Land Bridge National Preserve (primitive camping only)
- Aniakchak National Monument & Preserve (primitive camping only)
- Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve (primitive camping only)
- Wrangell-St Elias National Park & Preserve (primitive camping only)
- Noatak National Preserve (primitive camping only)
- Kobuk Valley National Park (primitive camping only)
National Forests in Alaska
Alaska only has two national forests, however, they’re the two largest in the country. The Tongass National Forest covers 17 million acres, and the Chugach covers just under 7 million.
The Chugach is much more trafficked than the Tongass since it’s only about 35 miles from Anchorage. The Chugach, however, sees a low visitorship since it’s located in the southeast section of Alaska (also known as the Inside Passage). This region isn’t easy to get to, so most visitors will skip it.
- Tongass National Forest
- Chugach National Forest
Best Free Camping in Alaska
More than half of Alaska is federally managed. While not all of that is particularly easy to get to, there is still plenty of free camping to be had in the Last Frontier. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) each manage about a third of the federal land, with the National Park Service and US Forest Service (USFS) managing the remainder.
What makes Alaska’s free camping unique is just how much dispersed camping is offered on NPS land. While in most states, it’s not legal to free camp on NPS land, Alaska is the exception. There are several NPS-run spots that allow primitive camping at no cost.
Some of the best free campsites in Alaska include Exit Glacier Road near Seward (not pets permitted here), Deadman Lake Campground in the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge, and the Upper Trail Lake Pullout Area near Moose Pass.
Alaska State and Public Parks
Alaska has 34 state parks, and 26 of them offer camping of some sort. Much of the time, that will consist of public-use cabins, though some parks offer tent camping. Most parks that offer public-use huts have anywhere from one to six, so accommodations are limited. Of those 26, though, these 10 are especially worth the time to see.
- Chugach State Park
- Denali State Park
- Kachemak Bay State Park
- Chilkat State Park
- Quartz Lake State Recreation Area
- Point Bridget State Park
- Birch Lake State Recreation Site
- Eagle Beach State Recreation Area
- Chena River State Recreation Area
- Nancy Lake State Recreation Area
RV Resorts and Unique Stays
As rugged as Alaska is, there are bits of comfort here and there. Of course, don’t expect luxurious amenities to be spread throughout the state, but there are some bright spots. These six spots offer unique and relaxing stays.
- Alpenglow Luxury Camping
- Borealis Basecamp
- Coldwater Lodge & Market
- Sourdough Sue’s Bear Lake Lodging
- Tolsona Wilderness Campground
- Tok RV Village and Cabins
Alaska has a certain mystique to it that captures the imagination of all adventure travelers. Once you’ve been, though, you’ll always want to return.