This was the question we got asked by our friends who planned to spend their vacations with an umbrella drink on Cape Cod or in the Bahamas when they learned we were headed to Alaska with our (then) young children in 2006. Why, yes, sometimes it is cold...but in mid June it was also light out till after 10 PM every night, and Alaska had wild, remote places where we could see all kinds of wildlife. We also encountered a "heat wave" in Anchorage!
Please see our complete trip report linked here Alaska 2006
Here are my three top tips for planning an Alaska family trip
1. Decide about your budget and what activities you'd like to do:
Recently, a friend asked about the possibility of an Alaska trip for their teens and I heartily approved the idea. A good place to start is to get State of Alaska Vacation Planner. We did a mass market Inside Passage cruise from Vancouver to Whittier (Anchorage) AK, followed by a lodge based guided trip from Anchorage, to an off the grid lodge on a glacial lake, and into the heart of Denali national Park. For reasons I note in my trip report, I wouldn't recommend a mass market large cruise ship as the best or ONLY way to see Alaska. A mass market cruise added to a trip to the interior or choosing a small ship cruise would be a better way to really experience a taste of all Alaska has to offer. A range of budgets can be accommodated from very affordable camping trips that can be self arranged via Alaskas's Marine Highway ferry system to top of the line fully guided lodge trips like the one we took offered by Alaska Wildland Adventures and similar outfitters.
2. Start collecting gear you'll need:
So, yes, it CAN be cold, but it can also be warm!
-A good windblock fleece or wool sweater with a water proof anorak or light parka will allow you to layer on and off. During our trip, temperatures ranged from a chilly 40's in Glacier bay National Park to "heat wave" 80's in Anchorage. Tuck wool or fleece gloves and hat into the pockets and you'll be covered in any weather situation.
-A great pair of hiking or walking shoes. If you don't plan to do any backpacking or lengthy hikes, you can probably get by with a low walking shoe with excellent padding and traction, but you'll want comfortable shoes that will manage a variety of wet and rough terrain, and to break them in ahead of time.
-A set of binoculars for each person. You can buy an inexpensive set for each the children if you don't want to invest a lot, but animal sightings can be fleeting and you don't want to spend all the money to take the family to Alaska and then have two family members miss out on an animal sighting because you are passing one pair of binoculars among the whole family! If you are doing a cruise, it is worth buying or borrowing a pair with vibration reduction. (VR) Having binoculars will allow wildlife viewing that includes details and behaviors of the animals instead of just fleeting specs in the distance. Be sure to have everyone practice using them in the back yard before leaving so that when the moment comes to quickly see an animal you will be familiar with the equipment.