Thinking about a move to Alaska, but the ol’ decision-maker seems to be frozen? Well, friend, you're in luck. We've taken the time to compile an insider's guide to the state, complete with plenty of juicy facts, mind-blowing trivia and some weird stuff on the side. We'll touch on some of the biggest factors worth considering, and have a bit of fun while we’re at it. Bundle up, though, it’s going to get ice cold in here.
Alaska in a Nutshell
Alaska is an Aleutian word that very loosely translates as "the great land." But that just wasn’t enough—the state’s official nickname is The Last Frontier due to its distance from the continental US and because of its rugged landscape and otherworldly climate. Also, it’s not to be confused with The Final Frontier, that’s space. There’s a difference. And then there’s the confusing one, The Land of the Midnight Sun. So apparently, in summer, the sun never fully dips below the horizon, creating a day that literally lasts for months. Ugh, hopefully it’s a Saturday and not a Monday.
Another fun lil’ factoid about Alaska—it's huge. Seriously, it's the biggest of all the states in the country by a landslide. In fact, Rhode Island could fit in this place 425 times. It’s actually bigger than Texas, California AND Montana combined.
But despite its ginormous surface area, Alaska's population is pretty much microscopic. It ranks 48th in terms of population, with 738,068 current residents, which makes it THE most sparsely populated state. There are only 29 Alaskan cities that have a population greater than 1,000 people.
Adding to the isolation factor, the place is actually losing people. In 2017 alone, 1,727 Alaskans moved out. The net loss has been happening for the past couple years, and looks like it’ll continue for a couple more. But what's driving people away from this great state? Is it the cold? The echoes? Perhaps we'll find out along our journey behind the scenes.
Alaska's unemployment rate is the highest in the nation, currently at 7.3% . So that's a little discouraging. Maybe there’s just a large number of people livin’ off the land, as brutal as that may sound. The minimum wage, however, is higher than the federal minimum, at $9.84/hour. Locals say that wages are higher in general here, so that's good to know.
According to zippia.com, the fastest-growing professions in Alaska right now are: dentist, personal care assistant, cab driver, receptionist, crew member, billing specialist, kitchen steward and cook. Those lucky enough to be making the big bucks include: pediatricians, OB/GYNs, psychiatrists, dentists, nurse anesthetists, CEOs and optometrists.
So despite the high unemployment rate, you've still got plenty of options for work once you land here. Ever thought about about training sled dogs? It’s just a thought.
But where would you retire once you've clocked out for the night? Let’s chat a bit about housing next.
Whether you're looking to get yourself a cozy cabin in the woods, a super-chill igloo or a regular ol’ rambler just outside of Anchorage, you’ll find it here. Take the following stats with you on your house-hunting journey.
Zillow.com says that the current median home value is $307,600, and that values have increased around 0.6% over the past year. Homes are currently listed on the market for an average of $284,900. But if renting is more your speed, you can get a house for an average of $1,695/month. Rent here might not be cheap, but it's also not as devastating as you might expect.
Now let’s talk to our apartment-lovin’ friends. In the state's capital, Juneau, rentjungle.com says you'll find one-bedrooms going for an average of $1,205/month. Not too shabby, we’d say. You'll pay a bit less if you move to the state's biggest city, Anchorage, where bestplaces.net shows the average apartment listed for $1,044/month, or $1,080/month In Fairbanks. Homer, though, is where you want to go if you’re on a shoestring housing budget. You'll find some super-cheap listings at about $793/month.
Finding a brand spankin' new place isn't lookin' too promising at the moment, though. There's just not much going on in the way of new development. There's a little bit underway in/around Anchorage, in south-central Alaska, and a hair more further north, in/around Fairbanks. Other than that, the majority of real estate will have some years on it. Which is cool if you like that rustic personality.
Don't panic, but locals say there's a bit of a housing shortage in the state at the moment. People are having some trouble finding a place to live, and the lack of new development isn't doing anyone any favors. So if you're planning to move to The Last Frontier, maybe find yourself a nice friend to stay with at first. And while you overstay your welcome, you can keep hunting for the right digs for you and experience the Alaskan culture for yourself.
Culture and Natives
Alaskans like to describe themselves as "conservative and rough." These people are fully capable and well-equipped to live off the land, from hunting and fishing to chopping wood and using oil lamps when the power's out. The typical Alaskan is cloaked in heavy-duty boots and an even heavier jacket. It’s function over fashion here—where every day is all about making yourself as comfortable as possible in some pretty cruel weather.
In many areas, Alaskans can be pretty isolated in literally the most extreme sense of the word. Because of that, they've developed a hearty resilience, plenty of grit and some pretty thick beards, to boot. Apparently you'll find lots of "authenticity," "helpfulness" and "resourcefulness" among the population. You'll also pick up on some quirky, small-town feels, considering the state is pretty much made up of super-small, spread-out towns.
Alaskans are from all over, but you’ll meet plenty of natives (Aleuts, Inupiat, Yuit, Athabascans, Tlingit and Haida) and Russians, too. Alaska is less than 50 miles from Russia and it’s been said that you can even see Russia from your back yard.
But no matter where they're from, Alaskans enjoy all forms of winter sports, including snowboarding, skiing and snowshoeing. Locals love the natural aspects of their state, including the rain forests, glaciers, mountains, islands and rocky shorelines. Alaskans pride themselves on their incredible seafood, too, like crab and fish (especially salmon and halibut). And they're super-passionate about their wildlife —they actually have festivals for both eagles and whales. This place is definitely a haven for nature lovers (nature likers, too).
The Great Land Trivia
Locals have said that Alaska "feels more free than most parts of the country," partly due to the isolation, and partly because of the scenic atmosphere. With such a small population of people, the state remains filled with gorgeous nature everywhere. Luckily, there’s plenty of daylight for you to enjoy it. For about 80 days each year, Alaska never experiences total darkness. Locals say it's tempting to stay up all night and do stuff, given the contrast to the super-short, bitterly cold and darkness-filled days of their (much longer) winters. It can be pretty hard to sleep, though, when Mother Nature won't turn out the lights.
Most of the highest mountain peaks in the US are located in Alaska, including Denali, the tallest and largest. There are also more than 70 active volcanoes, three million lakes and 3,000 rivers here. It’s a landscape painter’s total dream.
Adding to the crazy isolation vibe is the fact that not a whole lot of the state has a road system. Many towns can't be reached by car at all. Because of this, the roads that do exist are usually crowded. Nearly half of the state's population lives in Anchorage, so that's where you'll find the worst traffic. You'll also notice that many villages here have no amenities whatsoever. Stick to the "big" cities if you want a hotel, some good grub or high-speed internet.
One quarter of the country's oil supply comes from Alaska. A good supply of the country's salmon comes from here, too. The largest salmon ever caught was from the Kenai River, and weighed a whopping 97.5 pounds - now that's a real BIG fish.
We're going to be blunt, now. Don't move to Alaska unless you're a fan of the cold - and serious cold, at that. The lowest ever-recorded temperature was -80 degrees Fahrenheit at Prospect Creek Camp, in 1971. That's a tad chilly. Also, don't move here unless you're a fan of moose - or at least eating them. They're apparently all over the place and they cause all kinds of traffic accidents. Locals also say that these suckers are mean and nasty - and that's why they have no problem serving them up with fries. Now you know all about what to expect, should you decide to don your snowshoes and take up residence here.
Can't-Miss Alaska Fun + Activities
No matter if you're into extreme winter sports or King Crab fishing, Alaska has plenty to offer.
Here just a few of the state's coolest attractions:
- Aurora Ice Museum: The largest ice environment in the world is located in Fairbanks at the Chena Hot Springs Resort. Inside you'll find all sorts of ice sculptures: polar bear bedrooms, jousting knights, a two-story snowball fight scene, an ice bar (complete with ice cocktail glasses, of course), a giant chess set and an igloo. There's even an ice toilet (though we recommend holding it). But the coolest part? Everything's lit up with the colors of the Aurora Borealis. Several tours are given throughout the day, and parkas are provided, though you probably already brought your own. And please, don’t lick the sculptures.
- Santa Claus House: This trading post in North Pole was styled to look like the actual house the real Santa lives in. When it opened in the '50s, the owners began receiving thousands of letters from children each December, so they began answering every one of them. How awesome is that? Now if only they’d take care of all the shopping, too.
- The Upside Forest of Mendenhall Gardens: In Juneau, you'll find a unique garden marked by upside-down trees. The treetops are buried in the ground and the roots extend up and out, creating the perfect basket for flowers and mosses, which drape down the trees. They're referred to as "natural flower pots" and the area is known as the "hanging garden of Alaska." It's definitely strange, but it’s even more totally gorge.
- Totem Bight State Historical Park: In Ketchikan, you’ll find a collection of Native Alaskan artifacts. Opened in 1940, the park recreates 19th century Native Alaskan village life, featuring totem poles and structures that were salvaged and restored. There are 15 incredible totem poles and a clan house for guests to check out. Raven, bear, wolf, killer whale and beaver symbols are found throughout the park, showcasing their powerful significance in Tlingit mythology.
- Musk Ox Farm: In Palmer, you can visit a livestock farm that houses and cares for musk ox, an animal totally adapted to life in Alaska’s extreme cold. These beasts (who look like a bunch of long-haired hippies with horns) were brought back from the brink of extinction by the farm's owners starting in 1964. Now, they’re thriving. And smelly. Their musk can really pack a punch.
Pros and Cons of Alaskan Life
Alright, so talking about ice sculptures and upside-down trees is cool and all, but don't you want to hear what Alaskans themselves have to say? After all, it doesn’t get more real than that. So here’s a list of a few things Alaskans had to say about the good and the ‘meh’ of life in the largest state in the land.
Pros (as voted on by real-life Alaskans):
- Natural beauty: One local pretty much summed it up when she said, "Everywhere you look in Alaska could be a shot in National Geographic." We probably couldn't have said it any better, so we won't even try. From the mountain landscapes and sparkling rivers and lakes, to the (hopefully not lava-spewing) volcanoes and the Northern Lights, Alaska is gorgeous. 'Nuff said.
- What taxes?: There is no state income tax in Alaska, and most of the state doesn't have sales or property tax, either. This helps to offset an otherwise crazy-high cost of living for the state, and locals ain't complainin'.
- Permanent Fund Dividend: Did you know that you can get paid just to live in Alaska? Well you do now. Residents who've been freezing their tails off in Alaska for a full calendar year AND plan to spend the rest of their lives doing so are eligible for a nice little "thank you" from the state. In 2018, the dividend amount given to everyone was $1,600. It's one more way Alaska attempts to offset its high cost of living and keep people warm through the long winters.
- Tight-knit people: Due to the isolation vibe running strong throughout the land, mixed with the tiny, spread-out towns, people here tend to bond very tightly. They know how tough surviving can be, so they're ready and willing to help each other do just that. You make a friend in Alaska, you've got yourself a friend for life. So choose wisely.
Cons (also from the mouths of real Alaskans):
- Crazy cold: So you already know Alaska is cold, we’ve made that pretty clear. Central Alaska, around Fairbanks, is referred to as "an excellent example of a true continental subarctic climate." The most extreme temperatures in the state happen 'round there. Winters commonly see temperatures fall below -50 degrees Fahrenheit, and occasionally even below -60 degrees. Locals described the cold here as "bitter and biting," and we think we'll take their word for it.
- Natural predators: The downside to all that awesome nature in Alaska? All the things that are hiding there, just waiting to meet you. It's not uncommon to see bears and moose (or is it meese?) roaming the streets, or your front lawn. And in the summertime, you can expect to have some pretty bloodthirsty mosquitos swarming your backyard BBQs. Alaskan Trekker says that the "mosquito population is the stuff of legend." Better get your swatting hand ready.
- Painful travel: We've said that not all of the state has “actual” roads, and as a result there are several areas only accessible by ferry or plane—in fact, Juneau is one of them. Even when roads are available, it takes forEVER to get anywhere in this state. Everything's just so spread out and far away. So that Saturday morning Target run of yours might turn into more of a weekend Target road trip.
- Everything's expensive: Because of its distance from "the lower 48", things in Alaska are more expensive—way more. Shipping alone drives costs through the roof. Depending on the area, things like groceries are much pricier than in other states. You might get the wind knocked out of you when you look at those receipts. Luckily, again, there’s no tax.
That's enough of the serious stuff for now. Time to learn about a few Alaskan laws that’ll make you really scratch your head. Check out the craziness for yourself.
From our friends at onlyinyourstate.com:
- You can't push a live moose out of a moving airplane. Sorry, Bullwinkle. No skydiving this weekend.
- You can't whisper in someone's ear while they're moose hunting. Seems a little strange, because if you yell, you’ll spook the moose.
- You can't give a moose an alcoholic beverage. You’ll just have to make friends with them another way. Have you tried giving a moose a muffin?
- You can't groom a dog in Juneau. We were really disappointed the entire list couldn't be made up of only moose-related laws (we told you Alaskans were obsessed with moose, didn't we?), but alas. You'll find some of the most unkempt dogs in the state's capital, apparently.
Head Straight to the Land of the Midnight Sun
Well folks, there you have it—our backstage pass to Alaska, covering all things factual, trivial and flat-out weird. We're not pretending that we hit all of your major concerns about moving here, but we hope to have set you on the right path to making that decision of yours.
If enjoying way less taxes, salmon, bears on your lawn, gorgeous sights and 80 days of sunlight are you’re thing, then we wish you luck in Alaska. You may even have your bags already packed.
Just remember, bundle in layers. So many layers.
NOTE: if you decide Alaska isn't calling to you, we've also covered the other states to help you find your perfect match. If Alaska seems way too cold/dark, have you thought about Florida?