15 Surprising Things About Living in Alaska

Do you have what it takes to follow in the footsteps of the people on Great American Country’s Living Alaska? If you’re thinking of making the move to a colder climate, here are a few things you might not know about what it’s really like to live on the last frontier.

By: Kelly Connolly

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It's bigger than you think.

While it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the largest state in America is, well, large, Alaskans are quieter about the size of their state than Texans are—even though Texas could fit inside Alaska twice. Alaska extends further west than Hawaii and reaches north into the Arctic Circle, which means there’s a lot more to its climate than snow-capped mountains. People who live in the tundra don’t often see trees, much less mountains, while cities in the rainforests of the Southeast could go a year without seeing more than a dusting of snow.

There is no bad weather—only bad gear.

Travel + Leisure once ranked Anchorage the “worst-dressed city in America,” but you probably won’t see many of its inhabitants losing sleep over that dubious honor. In a state with such extreme weather, people tend to dress for practicality first; rain and snow are no excuse to skip that hike or work from home. Live in Alaska long enough, and you might find yourself redefining snow days. You might also find yourself wearing leggings to the mall.

You’ll take your vitamin D where you can get it.

Business in Alaska might not grind to a halt when the weather gets bad, but everything stops when the sun comes out. Some teachers have sunny day plans specifically designed to get kids soaking up those rays when the weather allows it, and on weekends, any sunny day spent indoors is a day wasted. It’s a rare Alaskan who can make it through winter without the help of vitamin D supplements or an ultraviolet lamp.

Winter is for hobbies.

When the days are dark and short, even the most outdoorsy Alaskans are likely to find themselves spending more time inside. Plenty of Alaskans are self-taught bread bakers, artists, knitters, or musicians who picked up their skills during the coldest months of the year. Some towns even host costume parades, talent contests, and wearable art shows to give residents a chance to show off the fruits of their cabin fever.

Nature calls to everyone.

Even if you move to Alaska with no intention to climb high peaks or hike a glacier, you’ll probably get there eventually. Alaska offers views like nowhere else, and the best way to experience it is often to bushwhack a trail, pitch a tent, or set out in a kayak. With the right supplies, you’ll be scaling mountains in no time.  

Local libraries are your friends.

Most cities in Alaska don’t have box stores stocked with every possible form of entertainment, but their libraries have teamed up to make up the difference. Alaska’s libraries are joined in a network designed to make it easy for them to share books, movies, and digital resources across the state. If you’re in the mood to watch a certain movie, you might just have to wait a few weeks.

Everything changes when the cruise ships leave town.

Many of Alaska’s coastal ports host one or two cruise ships a day during the warmer months. Tourism is a necessary and appreciated part of the economy—but when the ships are away, the locals will play. Some cities celebrate the end of cruise ship season with organized parties, and while a few businesses might close down during the offseason, others offer deals to keep residents coming back. Being able to find a table at your favorite café never hurts, either.

Food prices aren’t always what you’d expect.

Fresh-caught Alaskan salmon can be pricey in the lower 48—or “down south,” as the locals might say—but Alaskans are swimming in it. If your fish isn’t free, it’s still bound to be much more affordable than it would be anywhere else. Pizza, on the other hand, could cost over $20. Any food that has to be shipped to Alaska comes at a hefty price, and you’ll need to stock up; grocery stores run out easily if barges or planes can’t deliver their shipments. 

Wildlife might interrupt your commute.

In many parts of the state, it isn’t uncommon to wake up to a moose in your front yard. You might get a great viral video out of the encounter, but moose can be dangerous when provoked, so Alaskans have learned to take caution. Plenty of residents’ commutes are delayed by a moose or bear in their path, and bear spray is a must-have on hikes. 

Alaskans have a pioneer spirit.

Not all of Alaska is remote, and it’s possible to live in any of the state’s more populated areas without ever going hunting or forsaking wifi. But plenty of Alaskans do it anyway. Whether they live in Anchorage or out on the tundra, Alaskans enjoy being self-sufficient. Many fish, hunt, chop their own firewood, and grow their own food. It’s not uncommon to see a chicken coop in an Alaskan backyard. 

Native culture is still alive.

Alaska’s Native people come from a variety of distinct cultures, but all share an interest in preserving traditions that were endangered during colonization. Schools work to teach kids local Native languages and stories, and anyone who is interested in learning about Native culture can visit institutions like the Alaska Native Heritage Center, in Anchorage, or the Totem Heritage Center in Ketchikan.  

The time zones catch up to you.

The Alaska Time Zone, which incorporates all of the state except the western Aleutian Islands, is an hour behind Pacific Time. That extra hour makes a difference, whether you’re trying to do business with someone on the east coast—four hours ahead—or just waking up early to catch a football game. But there is one sporting event that takes place entirely on Alaska time: The Iditarod is the talk of the state.

Familiar faces are everywhere.

For a big state, Alaska is a small world. Most cities and towns are small enough for people to know their neighbors, and since so much of the state is accessible only by ferry or plane, Alaskans spend a lot of time traveling in groups. It isn’t unusual to run into at least one person you know at the airport. If you don’t, you might just make a new friend; Alaskans may be independent, but most are also as welcoming as they come.

You get paid to live there.

From rent to food to the high cost of travel, Alaska isn’t easy on the wallet. To help offset the cost of living in the 49th state, the state government offers everyone who has lived in Alaska for a full calendar year, January to December, an annual Permanent Fund Dividend. The amount varies from year to year, but it’s always welcome—and since airlines usually drop ticket prices when the PFD is distributed, there’s no better time for friends and family to book their next visit. 

The stargazing is unbeatable.

There’s a reason the Alaska state flag features a constellation. Without the ambient light of the big city, Alaska offers some of the clearest skies in the country—at least, when it’s not raining. And while the Northern Lights can sometimes be hard to track down, there’s no way to miss them when they’re active. Our advice? Invest in a really good camera.

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