Last updated on November 17, 2022 by Wandering our World
Well, it’s that time of year again—time to start planning your vacation. But what kind of holiday are you looking for? Sun, sea, and sand; or winter sports, walking, and whale-watching? That’s what it often comes down to when deciding between Alaska or Hawaii for your next trip.
To help you plan that once-in-a-lifetime vacation, we’re going to do a deep dive into those two behemoths of the US tourism trade – Alaska and Hawaii.
The two most remote states in the US certainly pack a punch when it comes to keeping you entertained on your well-earned break. You can surf some of the world’s best waves or trek to see the US’ biggest mountain.
Do you want to go scuba diving with sharks in Hawaii or whale-watching from the comfort of a boat in Alaska? Do you want to gaze at the stars from atop a volcano in Hawaii or watch the Northern Lights while sipping a hot chocolate in the most northerly state? These states offer amazing, yet starkly different holidays.
Between them, Alaska and Hawaii can give you the chance to see something truly amazing on your next vacation, but which one is best for you?
Luckily there’s nowhere else online that has made such a monumental effort to show you what makes Alaska and Hawaii different, unique, and share what sets each apart from the other.
So read on to find out which is better for you – Alaska or Hawaii!
- Which Is Easier To Get To
- Which Is Easier To Get Around
- Which Has The Most Impressive National Parks
- Which Will Get Your Adrenaline Pumping
- Which Is Better For Relaxing
- Which Has The Most Impressive Wildlife
- Which Has The Most History
- Which Has The Best Hotels
- Where To Stay According To Budget Or Activities
- Which Is Better For Food
- Which Is Best For Families
- What Time Of Year Is Best
- Which Is More Expensive
- Which Is Better
Which Is Easier To Get To?
As with any journey, how much of an effort is needed to reach your destination will depend on your starting point. But generally speaking, Alaska and Hawaii are both relatively easy to reach. it just may take a bit of time to get there due to their remoteness.
Both states are served by busy international airports, and both are dotted with smaller regional airports too.
The easiest way to get to Alaska is to find a flight to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in Anchorage. Whilst Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Honolulu is Hawaii’s busiest airport.
One thing to bear in mind, though, is that Alaska is by far the US’ largest state, and Hawaii is comprised of several islands – so you may also need to utilize domestic flights to get around and see everything on your bucket list.
Which Is Easier To Get Around?
On that note, let’s have a closer look at the transport options within these two destinations.
Alaska is vast. It’s enormous—the second, third, and fourth largest states in the United States can all fit within Alaska!
But it is also the least densely populated state, and much of it is inaccessible wilderness that you probably won’t plan to visit. The main locations of interest, which we may look to travel to, include Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau—the state capital. These three locations are home to the state’s three busiest airports too.
Although considerably smaller by area, Hawaii has its own geographical obstacles to put in our way — the state is comprised of eight main islands and more than one hundred smaller islands.
Thankfully, the main islands are well connected, and getting around them is relatively easy. Oahu, the Big Island, Maui, and Kauai are separated by short, regular flights with spectacular views down onto the archipelago.
Related: Oahu vs. Big Island
Which Has The Most Impressive National Parks?
For those that like raw stats, Hawaii is home to eight official national parks, whereas Alaska is able to boast twenty-three!
But we’re more concerned with quality over quantity, right? Well, good news — both states are home to jaw-droppingly beautiful national parks.
Denali National Park and Preserve in Alaska is the home of one of the Seven Summits—the highest mountains on each of the seven traditional continents. Formerly known as Mount McKinley, Denali is the highest peak in North America, and an exceedingly impressive sight.
And whilst there are no prizes for guessing what dominates the view in Glacier Bay National Park (stunning glaciers of course), there may be prizes for the cutest harbor seal photo.
Hawaii is also home to an aptly-named national park—Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. This national park is special as it is the home of two of the planet’s most active volcanoes.
The active lava lake at Kilauea volcano is truly awe-inspiring, but be sure to check the conditions before setting off for that magical photo at sunset.
If you are an early riser and prefer sunrise activities, there are few sunrises as spectacular as those at Haleakalā National Park. But reservations are a must for this magical experience. The park is also a great place for moderate hikes, taking in the stunning scenery around the Summit District.
So what do you fancy seeing: snow-capped mountains and glaciers or volcanos and tropical landscapes? Although simplified, that’s the big difference between the stunning national parks in both states.
Which Will Get Your Adrenaline Pumping?
In a word, ‘both.’
Both locations will be able to offer a “fix” for the adrenaline junkies out there.
The locals in Hawaii may tell you that nothing comes close to the feeling of catching a perfect wave. After all Hawaii is the perfect place for surfing.
World-renowned as the birthplace of surfing, Hawaii has long been at the forefront when it comes to dream vacations for surfers. With surf spots for the highly experienced as well as for total beginners, Hawaii is the world’s premier surfing destination, and will surely have your heart pumping.
If the water is not your natural environment, then hurtling down the side of a mountain on skis in Alaska may be the perfect way to set your heart racing.
You’ll be hard pressed to find more scenic ski runs than those in Alaska, and Alyeska Resort is one of the best. Boasting North America’s longest double black diamond ski run, Alyeska will surely get the blood pumping, but make sure you have the skill set and experience before trying it.
So do you prefer ski or surfing? If the answer is neither, there’s thankfully plenty of other ways to decide between Hawaii and Alaska….
Which Is Better For Relaxing?
A visit to Alaska or Hawaii doesn’t need to be high-octane and adrenaline-fueled. Both locations offer plenty of peace and tranquility to lose yourself in too.
For many, the first thing you think of when somebody mentions Hawaii is the beach. And with Hawaii being home to one of the world’s most famous and iconic beaches – Waikiki Beach – it’s easy to see why.
Lying down in the sand is perhaps the ultimate way to relax on vacation, and it should come as no surprise that Hawaii has better offerings than Alaska in this department.
So if you’re looking for sun, sea and sand – while reading that vacation book you’ve been meaning to read for years – then Hawaii will be the better choice. You’re also going to find resorts with gorgeous outside swimming pools in Hawaii, something you won’t come across in Alaska!
Although with its 6,640 miles of coastline, Alaska has plenty of beaches too. However the emphasis there is not on topping up the tan. Instead for rugged coastal photography and some solitude, Alaska’s beaches are definitely worth exploring too.
With its vast areas of wilderness and sparse population, it’s still easy to relax in Alaska, albeit in a different way.
Natural beauty will surround your every move in Alaska; you just need to stop and breathe it in. One popular destination is Chena Hot Springs, a short trip from Fairbanks. It’s a great place to enjoy the rejuvenating geothermal springs, take in the ice museum, and possibly even see the magical Northern Lights too.
Both Hawaii and Alaska are also perfect for star gazing. The remoteness of the two locations means there is less light pollution than in some areas, and the volcanoes of Hawaii are arguably one of the coolest places in the world to view the stars from. See if you can spot the Big Dipper constellation, which actually figures in the Hawaiian state flag too.
Which Has The Most Impressive Wildlife?
For those looking to get up close to some of the planet’s most impressive wildlife, you will be able to find the opportunity in both Alaska and Hawaii.
If you want to spot some apex predators in their natural environment, why not try to tick off the full set of Alaskan bears – the brown bear, grizzly bear, black bear, Kodiak bear, and polar bear? All exist within the Alaskan borders, but seeing the full set might require some luck.
Alaska is also home to such impressive beasts as the moose and caribou (known as reindeer to the Europeans). As well as smaller, cuter creatures such as the sea otter, sea lions, and seals. And if you are a twitcher, you may be able to spot falcons, owls, or the majestic bald eagle soaring overhead.
If you’re spending time close to the coast, you may also be able to spot a whale or two. Various species of whale can be seen in Alaskan waters, including the magnificent blue whale.
Humpback whales and belugas can also be spotted, as can the orca, although strictly speaking the orca is a species of dolphin (we imagine you’ll go Google that to double check now….).
Fear not, Hawaii can also deliver on the wildlife front too.
For those with a scuba diving license, one of Hawaii’s best known wildlife encounters is the famous manta ray night dive on the Big Island. Watch in awe as these giants of the deep swoop and glide above your head.
Not certified? No worries, you can still get in on the action by snorkeling, but the divers will get the best views.
If diving is your thing, and the mantas haven’t satisfied your big animal cravings, you can also see various sharks patrolling the Hawaiian waters—whale sharks, hammerheads, and tiger sharks can all be seen by the lucky underwater adventurer. (Related: Shark Attacks In Hawaii).
As a chain of islands, Hawaii’s land-based fauna is perhaps a little less impressive than Alaska’s collection of bears, but it is home to an impressive array of birdlife, including hawks, eagles, kites, harriers, and owls.
However Hawaii is a place where you can snorkel and scuba dive. And while that’s technically possible in Alaska as well, it’s going to be cold, not as pleasant, and you’ll likely see far less marine life.
Which Has The Most History?
For World War II buffs, both Hawaii and Alaska can offer the chance to visit places which were strategically important to the course of the war.
The most well-known of these locations is Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. You have probably seen the movie, or at least heard of this important event which signaled the start of the US’ direct involvement in the hostilities. Head to the island of Oahu to see the remnants of that bloody battle of 1941, including the USS Arizona.
During the war, the Japanese were looking to control the Pacific, and as part of the same wider plan that included the attack on Pearl Harbor, they also looked to gain strategic positions in Alaskan waters, especially in the Aleutian Islands, which stretch away from the Alaskan mainland, out into the Pacific Ocean.
In June 1942, the Japanese attached Amaknak Island and the twin military installations of Dutch Harbor Naval Operating Base and Fort Mears. This site is now listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Both Alaska and Hawaii have something to offer the anthropologists amongst you too.
The Bernice Pauahi Bishop Museum in Honolulu offers great insight into Hawaii’s history, as does the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.
Both states have a rich history surrounding the indigenous people of these lands and there’s plenty of indigenous history and culture to discover in both.
Which Has The Best Hotels?
Okay, so after figuring out how to reach your destination and get around, your next task is to source some suitable accommodation for your budget and your needs.
The good news is that both destinations have plenty of choices; the bad news is that finding the perfect fit for you may take a little longer.
Most tourist visits to Alaska center around a few main areas, such as Juneau, Denali National Park, Kenai, Seward, Fairbanks, and Anchorage. These locations all offer excellent choices of lodging, from the luxurious to the more modest. Depending on your location, your room may come with a stunning ocean, glacier, or mountain view.
The major tourist destinations within Hawaii will also be able to provide visitors with plenty of accommodation options.
Oahu is the busiest location, and therefore has the most choices. From high-rise beachfront resorts to more modest studio apartment rentals, Oahu will have options for every budget.
The Big Island, Maui, and Kauai will have slightly fewer options, but all offer excellent hotels within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean.
Where To Stay According To Budget Or Activities
Best Hotel For Northern Lights: Nestled among the beautiful Chugach Mountains and some wonderful ski trails, the four-star Alyeska Resort is the ultimate Alaska experience. There’s many excursions you can do at this resort – like dog sledding and glacier hiking – but what it is really renowned for is being one of the best hotels in Alaska to see the Northern Lights. See photos and rates here!
Shoestring: Just one minute from the beach and with free bike rental, Hakuna Matata Hostel on Maui is fun, cheap and friendly. You’ll be making memories in no time here, and without damaging your bank account. See photos and rates here!
Budget: Located in the heart of Waikiki, 2 minutes walk to the famous Waikiki Beach and surrounded by shopping and dining is the luxury boutique Halepuna Waikiki hotel. This four-star hotel will stretch budgets, but the panoramic views of the ocean and city – alongside the gorgeous infinity pool – will be worth it. See photos and rates here!
Luxury: Montage Kapalua Bay on Maui is one of those hotels we all wish to stay in one day. It’s extravagant beachfront luxury on a 24-acre landscaped resort with unparalleled views to the sea and beach access. It’s everything you’d expect of a five-star resort and more. See photos and rates here!
Which Is Better For Food?
After all that adventure and adrenaline, you will have probably worked up quite an appetite. Luckily both Hawaii and Alaska will see you well fed.
The obvious choice for those visiting Alaska is salmon – arguably the tastiest salmon you will ever consume will be in Alaska, unless the bears get to it first.
You will struggle to find fresher salmon than that served in Alaskan eateries. Another great way to replace the energy lost while exploring this wilderness state is to enjoy a fat caribou steak – just don’t tell Santa.
The obvious choice when vacationing in Hawaii is the seafood – and if you’re a seafood lover then Hawaii may be the better choice for you than Alaska.
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, fresh seafood has been a staple of Hawaiian diets for centuries. And the sushi options and poke bowls (see photo below) will leave you craving more every time.
Other crowd-pleasers include Huli Huli chicken, a special Hawaiian barbecued whole chicken. And for snacks, you have to try the spam musubi – the Hawaiian snack of choice.
Which Is Best For Families?
Both Alaska and Hawaii offer great options for family vacations with kids in tow.
There are plenty of activities in both locations to keep the kids busy and to keep them learning whilst on vacation.
For Hawaiian adventures, the island of Oahu has a myriad of hotels stretched along its beaches, many of which have kids’ clubs and organized activities to keep the children entertained.
With excellent snorkeling and marine life, ocean-loving kids are sure to have a blast in Hawaii. And if your kids prefer to keep their feet on dry land, you can’t go wrong with a Jurassic Park Movie Tour – yep, that famous Hollywood movie was filmed in Hawaii!
Recommended: The Best Hawaiian Island For Kids
But if your kids are budding naturalists, the rugged, diverse terrain and variety of wildlife that abounds in Alaska is sure to be a winner.
Alaska is a great location to teach your children of the importance of conserving the natural world and all of its wonderful flora and fauna. And you can always threaten to feed them to the bears if they misbehave…
And if they are behaving, you can reward them by taking them to hand-deliver their Christmas wish list letters at Santa Claus House.
Again, it all depends on what sort of activities your kids enjoy. Why not tell them about the activities above (minus the bear eating) and see what they say!
Alaska vs. Hawaii: What Time Of Year Is Best?
The best time of year to visit these amazing locations will depend somewhat on which activities you are looking to do.
Generally speaking, in Alaska, the peak months are June through August. This is when temperatures will be at their warmest. But if you are planning on skiing or watching the Northern Lights, this may not be the most ideal time for you.
The Northern Lights in Alaska are best observed during November through March, and this is also the time of the year with the most snowfall – so plan accordingly.
Hawaii is great to visit at any time of the year – which is one big advantage it has over Alaska. But the peak season is from April through to June. The downside of these months is that the average hotel price will be at its highest too. Avoid public holidays at this time to avoid the highest rates as well.
With an average daily temperature of 78 degrees, the holiday period in December is also considered a prime time to visit Hawaii. The months between these two peak times can be hurricane season, so bear in mind that at this time of the year, you may have to deal with some interesting weather conditions.
Which Is More Expensive?
With a large chunk of vacation budgets being allocated to cover accommodation, this is an important area to consider when deciding on your vacation location.
The average daily spend per person on accommodation will likely be slightly higher in Hawaii, but with so much choice, you can usually find something to suit your needs. Definitely avoid peak times to bring the accommodation costs down a little.
Public transport costs are slightly higher in Alaska, though, so if you plan to spend a lot of time travelling around, bear this in mind.
However, Hawaii also proves to be a little less kind on the wallet when it comes to eating out. But it’s possible to feed yourself well in both locations without remortgaging the house. If fine-dining is on your agenda in Hawaii though, you will find great options in both Honolulu and Waikiki.
Lastly, due to its vastness and the need to travel farther, you may find that the average excursion price in Alaska is a little higher than it will be in Hawaii.
Alaska vs Hawaii: Which Is The Better Choice?
While it should be pretty obvious to skiers and surfers which location will suit their needs best, for the rest of us, it depends on what we are looking for from our vacation.
Although very different, both destinations are fantastic places to snuggle up to nature and marvel at its diversity.
Hawaii is home to the world’s most active volcano; Alaska has one of the Seven Summits. Alaska has bears; Hawaii has sharks. Hawaii may come out on top for the astronomers, although the Northern Lights are damn impressive too. And for family vacations, a big choice to make is between Santa Claus and Jurassic Park.
Life is full of difficult choices, and choosing between these two states is one such decision. But you can rest assured that both Hawaii and Alaska are more than capable of taking your breath away and providing you with the vacation of a lifetime. So whichever you end up choosing, we’re sure you won’t regret it.