One of the questions I get from a lot of my friends is whether or not I think Alaska is safe to travel through alone. I always love talking about this, especially with friends who are seriously contemplating traveling to the Last Frontier for a bit of adventure travel. I get to talk about a state I love while they’re happy to get first-hand knowledge from someone who actually lived there.
This is a great question, and it’s one that doesn’t have a direct yes or no one-word answer. Traveling Alaska solo can be one heck of an adventure, and although usually I traveled with friends or others, there were plenty of times where taking off for days or weeks at a time solo just felt right. Some of those trips are among my favorite memories and best experiences of my life.
There were also a couple times where things got a bit nerve wracking, and that’s for a guy who is 6 feet tall and a brick wall 300 lbs.
Alaska is generally safe to solo travel as long as you use common sense and properly prepare for the areas you’re going to visit. Proper precautions need to be taken for local wildlife and knowing local crime stats or issues can help you plan for a safe once in a lifetime experience traveling through Alaska on your own.
My short answer is that with really friendly and interesting people, a general “Do what you want as long as you don’t hurt anyone” F-off type of attitude, you can meet a lot of great people on your solo journey.
But if I said it was all roses I’d be lying and there are dangers from wildlife, nature, and people hat need to be accounted for, just like anywhere else.
So read on for my tips, tricks, and honest advice for how to travel Alaska safely as a solo traveler.
Beware Wildlife: This Isn’t Disney
One of the amazing things about Alaska is the incredible wildlife. Most of the state is untamed wilderness and untamed is quite an understatement at that. While having a chance to get pictures of the bears, moose, or herds of caribou can be a great reason to head north, these animals are wild and pose a real threat when startled, threatened, or not treated with the proper respect.
This doesn’t mean you should be jumpy at every sound in the bush, but a little bit of understanding and preparation go a long way.
Bears are found throughout the state. And throughout the state means every single corner of the state. Even the most urbanized areas like Anchorage and Juneau will have bears in the actual city limits.
Even the “small” black bears are big animals with big claws and teeth, and if you ever face an angry or startled one, you become very aware, very quickly, that you are not on top of the food chain. Not up in the great north of Alaska.
When I lived there I carried both bear spray and a firearm where rules permitted (which is most places up there). There is a major debate on firearms vs bear spray, both can be important protection. However, it’s important to realize that the most important detail from what I carried was this: I was very thoroughly trained with both.
If you aren’t a marksman with a high caliber handgun, then strapping a .44 magnum to your side isn’t safety. And if you carry a small caliber firearm for bears and are stupid enough to use it, you’re just going to get it mad enough to make you dinner.
Bear spray is over 99% effective when used correctly. Key words: when used correctly.
Both firearms and bear spray can be effective in the right hands – here’s what you need to know for both.
Properly Using Bear Spray
Bear spray came about from laboratory tests after an incident where the use of normal pepper spray was reported to have helped drive away a charging bear. Multiple bear attack survivors became interested in this seemingly forgotten study after their own incidents, and you’ll find many of the founders of the most popular EPA approve bear sprays were made by individuals with this back story.
The reason bear spray is effective is because of the bear’s incredible sense of smell. According to a study done by the National Institute of Environmental Health a bear’s sense of smell is 2,100 times more sensitive than a person’s.
So if you are uncomfortable from a blast of pepper spray to the face, imagine how a bear is going to feel getting an entire cloud of that right up the nostrils.
What to Look for in Bear Spray
You want a bear spray that is EPA-approved because that means it has actually been tested in the closest a lab test can come to real world settings. This is not the kind of thing you want to go cheap on.
As of this article there are four that meet this criteria, though this is something that can change as more companies look to test even better mixtures or to get into this area of outdoor products.
The four trusted brands as of now:
Make sure to get spray that is not going to expire or be near the expiration date during your trip. Expired bear spray is a problem because the aerosol delivery system breaks down over time, making it impossible to deliver the potentially life-saving spray.
I’ve carried both UDAP and Counter Assault and have never had issues with either.
How to Use Bear Spray
The proper use of bear spray is to spray a cloud of the bear spray between you and the charging bear as it closes in between the two of you. Back away slowly, not turning your back, and release a second burst of spray as needed.
Take a look at YouTube videos demonstrating how to use bear spray, and if you’ve never used it before then I strongly recommend buying a 2-pack or 3-pack the first time so you have a can to practice with. Nothing beats real life practice to understand how to use the bear spray properly and to not get tripped up in the event of a real world confrontation.
Something like this is what I would recommend:
And here is a video tutorial:
How to Use Bear Spray Video
What If I’m Comfortable with Firearms?
Alaska has some of the most liberal gun laws in the United States, in large part because of how wild the state is. There is a genuine need for the common individual to be able to carry for protection and safety.
With firearms keep in mind that with a bear charge you need something that is high caliber. For a handgun .357 Magnum or .44 Magnum is about all I’d recommend. While the right shotgun or high powered rifle would be better, just carrying those around is weird to see, even up there.
You would also need to make sure you could transport your firearms to and from, and this can get tricky.
From personal experience, I had a shotgun and a .44 magnum when I lived in Alaska. The shotgun I was able to take back to the Lower 48 without issue. The .44 magnum was seized by the ATF, we were told because we flew over Canadian air space and Canadian laws on firearms differed, and it took nearly 2 years to get the revolver back.
Though to the ATF’s credit, as Dad said, “At least they had the good decency to clean the gun before finally returning it.”
The Best Strategy: Avoid Confrontation
The good news is that avoiding bears is generally easy as they don’t have an interest in dealing with people and in fact will normally try to avoid people when possible.
So that is all you need to know about the bear spray vs gun debate for a worst case scenario but if you are with a group, aware of your surroundings, and avoid making mistakes, you should be good the majority of the time.
For further reading on this topic check out: How do I survive a bear attack?
While there are plenty of concerns about bears, truth be told moose cause more deaths per year. A moose is absolutely huge, surprisingly so even if you’re used to seeing them, and can seem very calm and relaxed…until they’re not.
These animals are massive, and even bears don’t want to mess with them. No matter how gentle or laid back they seem like, give them a healthy birth. Moose seem chill because they have nothing to be afraid of.
Give them plenty of room, don’t make sudden movements or use a camera with flash, and give them double plenty of room if there is a calf close by. They are majestic animals and incredible to see…from a distance.
Also be very careful if they are anywhere near a road. A full sized moose will fuck up a tractor trailer or bus that hits it – much less a pickup, van, SUV, or car.
There are only very limited areas where you might ever run into a herd, and usually it’s a herd of caribou (which, yes, are the same animal as reindeer). I only saw one once, and that was while hitching a ride along with a buddy who had a job as a driver taking hunters from Fairbanks up to the Brooks Mountain Range. This happened once and when a herd moves around the vehicle, you park, turn it off, and just watch the animals move by at their own leisure.
That’s the right way to handle it. Don’t honk, don’t make major noise, don’t startle big animals with hooves, antlers, and surrounding you in large numbers. It just isn’t a smart move.
And if you take pictures from inside the vehicle, for the love of god make sure flash is turned off.
If you are on foot when you see a herd of caribou at a distance, just be smart. Keep your distance, don’t approach too close, and take your time. You’re in an incredibly wild and naturally beautiful place and if you’re there in summer you have 23-24 hours of sunlight to enjoy it.
As long as you use common sense, you should be good.
Take a look at any place you’re planning to hike and see what’s in the area. Talk to local rangers to see if there are any common practices, concerns, etc. They are going to know what’s happening on the ground better than any online guide, website, or other general guidebook.
The most dangerous animal in Alaska is people, just like with most places you would travel. I don’t want to give you the wrong idea: most people in Alaska are friendly at their core, even if that core is wrapped around an unusually direct bluntness and surprisingly widespread “Don’t give an F as long as you ain’t hurting no one” attitude.
However, there are a lot of rough and tumble people in Alaska. Many people who are hardened because of many hard seasons of hard work. And there are people who have clearly been touched by the harshest part of one too many winters where the sun doesn’t shine a lick.
There are dangerous people in Alaska, and the cities by population have some of the highest crime rates in the United States. While a large amount of this crime takes place in the winter months, crimes like assault, sexual assault, and murder happen at larger rates, especially per 100,000 people. Again, this happens far more often in winter than other months, but it is something to be aware of.
You will also find more of this crime in Anchorage than anywhere else. This is why knowledge and knowing the places you’re visiting in detail is so important. A little research can tell you where to be the most wary, what parts of certain towns/cities are less safe than others, and you can plan your way around those places accordingly for a safer better adventure.
Research Where You’re Going in Alaska
Various places have different concerns versus others. Anchorage has some major crime concerns while Homer is one of the two safest cities in the entire state. Bears are found very commonly in some areas and sparsely in others. Earthquakes can be a bit gnarly in the south but are generally just mild tremors (if anything) in the middle of the state.
Understanding the ins and outs of each area you are going to visit in detail is the best way to protect yourself from any potential issues that can arise.
Fortunately, there are many great resources that can help with this.
- Neighborhood Scout
- University of Alaska Remote Travel Safety Guide
- Alaska Lands Public Information Center
You can never underestimate the importance of knowledge and knowing the places you’re visiting in detail. Prudhoe Bay and parts of Anchorage can get really sketchy. Homer, Sitka, and Wasilla are generally very safe.
Even the “sketchy” areas are often like any place you visit: in limited areas that can be easily avoided or are more dangerous during certain times of day/night versus others.
Male Vs. Female Alaska Travel Concerns
Again, I never want to discourage females from visiting Alaska even when traveling solo. The state is amazing, the overwhelming majority of people are awesome (some of the best & most interesting I’ve ever met) and following the common sense travel rules for safety should keep you safe. Especially in summer where tempers tend to be mellow thanks to constant sunlight and tourists abound.
However, it would be remiss of me to pretend there aren’t additional safety concerns for females traveling in Alaska versus male travelers.
So emphasizing again that you should visit the state, especially if you are an experienced traveler, let’s deal with real-life issues that do exist.
Is Alaska Safe for a Woman to Travel Alone?
Short answer yes, longer answer is “Generally yes, but there are additional precautions that should be taken especially in cities and doubly so outside of summer months.”
The FBI has confirmed that Alaska is the most dangerous state for women, as measured by sexual assault cases.
- National Average: 42.6 per 100,000
- Alaska Numbers: 161.6 per 100,000
These aren’t good numbers at all, and before breaking them down let me say this first: ONE single sexual assault is one too many in my book, and nothing in the following is meant to downplay any danger of this or any experience any female traveler has had in Alaska, in their home towns, or anywhere else for that matter.
But I also believe in showing the full information on an argument and this is about safety, so some surrounding information so you have more to make an informed decision on travelling the area or not.
- Those Alaska numbers still come out to 1 in 617
- Domestic violence is a known issue in Alaska especially during winters and can contribute to those numbers
- Crime of all kind, and especially these crimes against women, skyrocket during winter months when the sun disappears – if you visit during the summer the actual numbers during that season are much lower
- Certain areas are very dangerous for female travelers not paying attention – and the tools above can help to show where to be on guard (or skip entirely) and which areas are relatively safe
- Concealed carry is legal in the state, so you do have the right to carry weapons/tools to defend yourself (as always do research on the details before doing so)
I wish there was good news on this front, but unfortunately there isn’t. And the extreme climates and winters make it almost certain that’s not going to change. During the summer months when most travelers visit it is much safer.
Take the appropriate precautions, do your research, and ask other female travelers who have made the trip (solo and otherwise) to ask their advice. Then make the decision that’s right for you, aware of the unlikely, yet potential, dangers in the given areas you visit.
So while women will have additional safety concerns when traveling Alaska, especially if you’re winter visiting hoping to catch the Northern Lights, overall it is safe to travel solo as long as you take the standard safety precautions.
Like many places most people around the Last Frontier are very friendly and looking to share the wonderful things that make the state such an incredible place that so many of us fall in love with.
U.S. Woman Vs. International Women (First World)
So crime in the United States is FAR higher than other first world nations. Meaning if you are a woman traveler from Europe, Japan, or South Korea you might be stunned by some of these crime numbers.
The truth is that despite how many people in the United States are scared about traveling elsewhere and paranoid about crime, as far as first world nations go it’s much more dangerous to travel in the United States than other countries. An article here delves into studies on the reasons, but it also points out something interesting: the crime rates aren’t that much higher than many first world countries, they’re at least comparable, but fatal crimes are much higher in the U.S. versus other nations.
So the numbers can be shocking from women traveling from other countries. But with crime stats context gets overlooked a lot. The majority of violent crimes, by a huge amount, are from acquaintances – people who already knew each other or knew each other very well.
Stranger on stranger crime, especially violent crime, is much less common.
There’s also no difference between the resources/dangers for American-born women traveling solo to Alaska versus an internationally-born woman traveling solo in Alaska. So while the numbers can be shocking depending on where you come from and what you’re used to, an experienced traveler who knows to be aware of their surrounding environment, does research on where they’re visiting, and takes all the ordinary travel precautions will almost certainly have a great experience.
And maybe a wonderful adventure that makes the trip to Alaska one of the best ones you ever took.
But do the research, and make that decision that you’re comfortable with.
Final Verdict: Is Alaska Safe to Solo Travel?
There are going to be risks wherever you travel, and if you are hitting a place as wild as Alaska, it’s undeniable that some risks will be greater than they would be in more conventional tourist destinations. But it’s called an adventure for a reason!
Don’t let all the potential negatives frighten you off. Alaska is an amazing place that tens of thousands or more travel solo each year in, and even when I lived there I soloed my way through many parts of the state that I wasn’t familiar with. It’s a wonderful place of stunning nature, one of a kind people, and a treasure of life-long memories just waiting to be unlocked.
Take the proper precautions. Study areas before you go there, take normal safety measures, and read articles like this one but know that if you aren’t negligent then there are a ton of adventures just waiting for you to experience them in a state that is near and dear to my heart.
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