Why You Should Consider a Trip to Alaska Summer 2021


As I landed in the Anchorage airport in February 2021, I was prepared to experience something new in travel – a line to get into Alaska. There were a row of podiums and iPads manned by masked locals up late welcoming visitors into Alaska. When I arrived, visitors had to have proof of a negative COVID19 test within the last 72 hours before they could enter Alaska. It was a smooth, efficient process and if you filled out the forms on their app before arriving. And just like that – I was welcomed and allowed to enter Alaska…a weird feeling for a domestic trip!

However, in the 12 days I was traveling in Alaska, the COVID19 rules were evolving. No longer was it mandatory (it’s still suggested) to present a negative test to enter. In addition, while I was there the entire state went from partial capacity to full capacity for indoor establishments. It was really strange to walk into a café one day at 50% capacity and the next day at full capacity.

Alaska’s COVID19 rules seem to be changing fast. In fact, it’s hard to keep up with travel restrictions and local rules. This isn’t an article about the most up to date COVID19 rules for Alaska, for that you need to check here.

alaska covid rules

Instead, you’ll find information in this article about what it’s like to travel around Alaska during the pandemic: What to expect, how the tour industry is handling it, and try to answer that question, “should I plan a trip to Alaska in 2021?”

Alaska Vaccinations

The day I left they announced that they were the first state to open up the vaccine to anyone 16 and older. In fact from the first 20 minutes of being in Alaska I had locals telling me stories about how well the vaccinations were going in Alaska.

Trip to alaska covid

After all, Alaska has a built-in requirement for the vaccine – cold. Stories of vaccines being delivered by dogsled, snowmobile, boats, and bush planes were all over the news. This spirit of ‘no distance is too far’ was alive and well in Alaska. It’s one of the things I love about visiting Alaska – even though it’s huge and people are spread out, they find ways to traverse it that make it seem do-able.

In fact, nearly every tour operator I met had their first dose of vaccine already. I was surprised because my biggest concern about traveling to Alaska in 2021 was that I would bring the virus with me to their beautiful remote areas and communities and put them in jeopardy. That’s why I was more than happy to get tested before coming.

Small Businesses Hit Hard in Alaska – Take a Look at the Talkeetna Roadhouse

I talked to many of the travel businesses I toured with about how the pandemic has affected them. It was really educational for me. I certainly know what I’ve been going through, but it was interesting to hear other’s stories. I sat and talked for a long while with Trisha Costello, the owner of Talkeetna Roadhouse Bakery and Inn. I’ve been there in the past trips to Alaska during normal travel times, so I was eager to stay there during the pandemic and give her business, as well as have a chance to talk to her about the pandemic’s effects.

trisha costello

Out of anyone I encountered, I think she had some of the most radical changes to her business. After all, the Talkeetna Roadhouse is a gathering spot, it’s where people came to share, eat, sleep, and do laundry! The Roadhouse is really known for family style and communal everything. When social is in your DNA as a business, but you can no longer be social – how do you continue to exist?

This is what Trisha has had to grapple with for the past year. She seems to be handling it, but you can also tell that it’s been a struggle – physically and mentally. She has made so many changes to her business – and she had to start by laying off all of her employees. So that means she’s been a one woman show for over a year now.

TAlkeetna roadhouse
The normally bustling communal tables in the Roadhouse are empty

One is a Lonely Number When Running a Business

When we first arrived in Talkeetna and walked around, I found Trisha up on the roof of the Roadhouse shoveling about 2 feet of snow off the roof! There’s a lot to do to maintain a place in Alaska at any time of year, but winter is particularly hard.

Roadhouse Talkeetna snow
Trisha shoveling roof snow

After letting her staff go (ranging from 21 to 45 people depending on the season). She closed the bakery, canceled events, and any pie baking classes she holds in the winter. Essentially, she only left the Roadhouse/Inn open. As of March 2021, the only people who can go inside the Roadhouse are the people that are staying there. She had to privatize the normal communal bathrooms which meant not being able to host people at capacity. And she allowed a 24 hour buffer of vacancy for the rooms on either night of a reserved stay to allow a deeper clean.

talkeetna alaska roadhouse

To see all of the changes, Check out her article on The Roadhouse in Time of the Pandemic.

She told me that she felt she knew this was going to be a long process for her and Talkeetna from the beginning, “I felt like early on it was going to be a long haul. I hold a reservation book for rooms and the tsunami of cancellations was mind blowing. I think if you were just a restaurant or brewery, you didn’t really see it coming as you did when you have lodging reservations. I saw it coming…especially when other countries were cancelling their reservations. I really felt like this is serious. “

Taking Safety Seriously

She has treated it very seriously – in fact she had safety in mind for all of her guests constantly by communicating via text message when breakfast was ready, requiring masks in the building, as well as social distancing by safely timing everyone’s breakfasts.

That’s right – she’s still serving her incredible breakfasts with blueberry sourdough pancakes made from sourdough starter from 1902! Add some eggs, bacon, and reindeer sausage with real maple syrup and delicious coffee…it felt like the Roadhouse that I remember in normal times! She also left her famous ginger molasses cookies in everyone’s rooms and even gave us a little bag when we left. She did every bit of this herself – in addition to cleaning all the rooms, picking people up from the train station, and clearing 2 feet of snow off of her roof!

“There’s nothing worse than being in a business that’s all about saying yes to everyone…and then all of a sudden you have to say no,” she said. I could tell that it hurts her to say no. But when you have no staff, you have to say no.

“If I go down…” her words trailed off as she finished the sentence in her head. “I can’t even afford to get the flu right now,” she explained when I commented about how seriously she has taken the distancing and safety in her establishment. That’s why it’s so hard to have everything hinge on one person.

I stayed at the Roadhouse during my Talkeetna stay, but she had to put us in the little apartment above the Museum a block away that she uses as overflow. It was absolutely charming to stay there and it had plenty of room. It actually used to be the apartment that the teacher lived in for the old schoolhouse!


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