For some, camping means driving a motorhome to a paved campground, backing in to a level parking area, hooking up the water and power, and relaxing on lawn chairs around a steel fire ring while pre-split spruce quarters give off a cheery glow. For others it means hiking many miles over a rough trail to a high mountain lake where the only shelter is a tent and your meals are the fish you caught or whatever you carried in on your back. Either way, Alaska offers endless opportunities.
If you're staying in a campground, you can get by with an inexpensive tent, sleeping bags, pads, and perhaps a camp stove. If the tent leaks, or the stove won't stay lit you can always drive to town. But if you're camping in a remote area, that may not be an option. Therefore it is in your best interest to take take a closer look at the features and quality of your gear. Check out our Gear Pages for details on everything you need.
The state of Alaska is dotted with hundreds (if not thousands) of public and private recreational cabins. Some of these were build by homesteaders many years ago, but they passed into state or federal hands when the owner moved on. They are now maintained by the appropriate agency for public use. Most cabins offer basic amenities such as plywood bunks (without bedding), a wood or oil-fired stove, table and chairs and in some cases, a boat to use. Shelters are also available. These are usually a three-sided structure with a roof and are designed to mostly keep you protected from rain and snow. They are very rustic, but can be a welcome break. Finally, tent platforms may also be available. A tent platform is basically a wooden deck with tiedown points to secure your tent. Steep terrain, combined with thick vegetation make it impossible to find a clear, level spot on which to pitch a tent, and that's where a tent platform is ideal. Though some campers will roll the dice in hopes of finding a structure unoccupied, in most cases cabins must be reserved well in advance of your trip. Never put your entire trip on the line, expecting to find the cabin unoccupied!
For complete listings of recreational cabins, shelters and tent platforms around the state, check out our Cabins pages.
Alaska offers endless possibilities for tent camping on public lands, whether you prefer the amenities and access of a public campground or the freedom of pitching your tent where you like in a remote location. But before you go, be advised that Alaska has private lands where trespass is forbidden. In many cases the land is not fenced or posted, but you can still be cited for trespassing. Some landowners offer fee-based trespass rights; check in advance to ensure you don't end up on someone else's property. The single best place to verify land holders is the Bureau of Land Management's Public Lands Information Office.
Let's have a look at the differences in camping opportunities around the state.
Summer campers in Region 1 should come expecting rain. If you're geared for it, it's actually quite pleasant. The sound of raindrops on the cabin roof, or even on your tent's rainfly is a soothing lullaby while you relax in your warm, dry shelter.
The comfort and security of a sturdy cabin adds tremendously to one's enjoyment of the wilderness. There are close to 200 public-use cabins and shelters located in the Tongass National Forest and surrounding areas throughout Region 1. Most of them offer nearby opportunities for fishing, hunting and hiking. Some are situated near coastal areas, and others are located on lakes in the interior of some of the larger islands. Some cabins even include a boat and oars. Finally, some cabins also include a shed where hunters can care for game meat, work on hides, and the like. If you are hunting out of a recreational cabin, please carry your bones and meat scraps some distance away from the cabin to dispose of them. Otherwise you are forming an attractant for bears to come to the cabin, and you could unintentionally cause problems for subsequent users.
For more a complete list of cabins and shelters in the Tongass, including reservation information, rental fees, amenities, and much more, CLICK HERE.
There are a number of campgrounds in Region 1, which offer RV or tent camping. Here is a list of locations:
The Panhandle offers superb wilderness camping opportunities, however vegetation in some areas is really thick. If you're camping in old-growth forested areas, avoid camping too close to large trees; dead limbs can break off and land on your tent! Choose a clearing instead.
Region 2 offers excellent camping opportunities of all types. There are dozens of recreational cabins (public and private), road-based campgrounds (tents, campers and RVs), and many wilderness camping opportunities.
The Chugach National Forest covers the entire North Gulf Coast area, and it contains 40 public cabins that are available by reservation with the Forest Service's office AT THIS LINK. Some of the cabins are along the coast, with beautiful views and great fishing opportunities nearby. Most are remote, and area accessed either by floatplane or boat. Some are on the road system. Skater's Cabin, just outside Cordova, is also available.
The Kodiak / Afognak island group offers remote wilderness cabins as well. Check with the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge for cabins on Kodiak Island, and with Afognak Island State Park for cabins on Afognak.
There are a number of campgrounds in Region 2, which offer RV or tent camping. Here is a list of locations:
Region 2 offers excellent remote camping opportunities. The Prince William Sound area offers superb beach camping that can be accessed by boat or by floatplane. In most cases you'll have the entire beach to yourself, with activities like beach combing, clamming, hiking, hunting and fishing all right from the doorway of your tent. Refer to Paul Twardock's "Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound" for specific locations. Another must-have for boating in the Sound is Jim and Nancy Lethcoe's landmark book, "The Cruising Guide to Prince William Sound". It contains tons of information on safe anchorages for your boat, and shore-based camping areas.
The Kenai Peninsula offers both fly-in and hike-in camping in many areas. Check out the Johnson Pass Trail, Resurrection Pass Trail, and others. These trails offer access to remote fishing and hunting opportunities as well. CHECK THIS LINK for a partial listing.
The Eastern Arctic offers excellent remote camping opportunities, and some road-based camping as well, though the road system here is limited. The Interior offers much more road-based opportunities, but some remote camping here as well. Most of the folks camping off the road in this area are either fishing or hunting on a fly-out basis.
Region 4 is a study in extremes. On one hand it contains Anchorage, which houses half the population of the state. It therefore has the most extensive road system in the state, and the greatest number of roadside camping opportunities. On the other hand, it also contains lower-key road-based camping to the east along the Copper River. Farther west of Anchorage is roadless wilderness for hundreds of miles. With the exception of a handful of isolated communities, the entire area is wilderness. Most folks heading into this area are on multi-day wilderness expeditions for hiking, wildlife viewing, hunting or fishing.
With the exception of a handful of smaller villages, this area is remote wilderness; some of the most remote Alaska has to offer. Public campgrounds are nonexistent, but remote camping opportunities abound. Be extra-careful to bring along a solid, four-season mountaineering tent and other equipment appropriate for remote wilderness expeditions, because when that airplane drops you off and buzzes off over the horizon, you're on your own.
Alaska is bear country! Anglers must be aware of the possibility of encountering bears along any salmon stream. Revillagigedo Island has a robust black bear population and due to heavy vegetation in many areas, encounters can happen at close range. In recent years there have been reports of brown bears on the eastern side of the island. Take the following precautions: