Historian Harry Ritter once wrote that Alaska is “like nowhere else—wild, extreme and amazing.”
That being said, when you’re considering a move to Alaska, you might want to know a bit more about what you’re getting into. Or, if you’re exiting Alaska for the Lower 48, you might want to understand what you’re leaving behind.
To give you a better sense of how Alaska sizes up to the rest of the United States, we’ve put together a few comparisons. Taken together, they’ll give you a new perspective on how life in the Frontier State stacks up to life elsewhere.
So, How Big Is Alaska?
Most people know that Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. It measures 665,384 square miles, putting it well ahead of the next largest states:
Largest States by Total Area:
- Alaska – 665,384 mi2
- Texas – 268,596 mi2
- California – 163,694 mi2
- Montana – 147,039 mi2
- New Mexico – 121,590 mi2
However, you might not realize exactly how large Alaska’s 665,384 mi2 really is.
Consider these surprising facts:
- Alaska is about one-fifth the size of the Lower 48.
- The next largest state, Texas, would fit into Alaska 2.5 times.
- In fact, if you combined the area of Texas, California and Montana, it would still be less than the size of Alaska.
- East to west, Alaska measures 2,500 miles, which is just about the distance from Savannah, Georgia, to Santa Barbara, California. (Which is one of the reasons why you might want to think twice before doing a DIY Alaska move.)
In fact, Alaska is the seventh-largest country subdivision in the world. It ranks just below the State of Queensland in Australia—but consider this fact: While Queensland boasts a population just over 5 million, only 737,438 count themselves as Alaska residents.
But What About Water vs. Land Area?
Interestingly enough, when you look at the United States in terms of the bodies of water within state boundaries, you’ll discover some new names in the top five:
States with Largest Water Area:
- Alaska – 94,743 mi2
- Michigan – 40,174 mi2
- Florida – 12,132 mi2
- Wisconsin – 11,338 mi2
- Louisiana – 9,174 mi2
You’ll notice, however, that Alaska still tops the list. Whether you’re looking at water, land or total combined area, Alaska is #1 in every category. Even Michigan’s Great Lakes can’t compete, square-footage-wise with Alaska’s more than 3,000 rivers and 3 million lakes. In fact, the Yukon River, which starts in British Columbia and flows through Alaska into the Bering Sea, is the third-longest river in the United States.
How Many People Live in Alaska?
As we hinted when comparing Alaska to the Australian state of Queensland, the population density is low in the Frontier State—the lowest of all the states, with a density of 1.3 people per square mile.
To give you some contrast, check out these statistics from other regions of the U.S.:
- Wyoming, the second-least dense state, features 6.0 people per square mile.
- In contrast, New Jersey, the state with the highest population density, squeezes 1,210 people into every square mile.
- And, take in this astonishing number from Washington, D.C., which has a population density of 10,589 people per square mile.
Imagine a square parcel of land that measures a mile on each side. Visualize 1.3 people in it—or even two people—and then think about what that same piece of land would look like with 10,859 people in it.
That visual will give you a feel for just how much land Alaska has to offer—and how few people occupy it.
That being said, people in Alaska obviously aren’t spread out evenly. Instead, many can be found in Alaska’s cities and towns.
How Big Are Alaska’s Biggest Cities?
Some people move to Alaska for the off-the-grid lifestyle. Others simply want to enjoy quiet, open acreage with few other people around. For those who crave company, there’s Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage, with a population of 291,826
If you’ve never lived in a city that size, know that it’s the 68th largest city in the United States. It’s just a little smaller, population-wise, than Cincinnati, Ohio and just a little larger than St. Louis, Missouri.
If Anchorage sounds too crowded, you might want to choose a different spot in Alaska, such as the next-largest city, Fairbanks. Its population of 31,535 makes it the 1,002nd largest city in the U.S.
To put it into perspective, Fairbanks shares a similar population with these three U.S. cities:
- Manassas, VA (35,205)
- Lewiston, ME (35,131)
- San Juan Capistrano, CA (34, 793)
Now when you’re choosing where you want to live in Alaska, you might also want to consider how difficult or easy it will be to get yourself home.
What About Roadways in Alaska?
You might have heard that Alaskans like to get creative with getting around: planes, ferry boats, snowmachines (you might know them as snowmobiles) and even dog sleds are common forms of transportation in the Frontier State.
This is probably partially due to the Alaskan “can do” attitude and also to the fact that there are only 14,336 miles of public roads in Alaska, which puts it well behind the other largest states, as you can see in this chart:
Miles of Public Roads:
- Alaska: 14,336
- Texas: 679,917
- California: 394,383
- Montana: 150,257
- New Mexico: 161,015
In fact, in terms of mileage of public roads, Alaska has around as many as the state of Delaware, the second-smallest state.
That being said, you’ll want to master the state’s various modes of transportation because there are plenty of extraordinary sites to see.
What Makes Alaska So Different from Other States?
A lot of things—and the answer will be different, depending on who you ask. This list of the top ten reasons to move to Alaska is a great start.
In addition, we’d like to highlight two features of Alaska that make it stand out from the rest of the country.
Alaska is home to twelve of the thirteen highest mountain peaks in the United States, including the highest, Denali (formerly known as Mt. McKinley):
Highest Major Summits in the United States
- Denali: 20,310 ft. (AK)
- Mount Saint Elias: 18,009 ft. (AK & Canada’s Yukon)
- Mount Foraker: 17,400 ft. (AK)
- Mount Bona: 16,550 ft. (AK)
- Mount Blackburn: 16,390 ft. (AK)
- Mount Sanford: 16,237 ft. (AK)
- Mount Fairweather: 15,325 ft. (AK & British Columbia)
- Mount Hubbard: 14,951 ft. (AK & Canada’s Yukon)
- Mount Bear: 14,831 ft. (AK)
- Mount Hunter: 14,573 ft. (AK)
- Mount Whitney: 14,505 ft. (California)
- Mount Alverstone: 14,500 ft. (AK & Canada’s Yukon)
- University Peak: 14,470 ft. (AK)
In addition to breathtaking mountain peaks, Alaska also hosts the second-most national parks in the United States. The top spot goes to California, which has nine parks. Alaska is right behind with eight.
That being said, if you’re measuring by acreage, Alaska wins, hands-down. The state has devoted 32,526,051 acres to National Park Land, while California only has 6,313,164. Additionally, you’ll find the largest National Park in Alaska: the 8.3 million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve.
To sum it up, you won’t find a lot of big cities, people or roadways in Alaska, but you will find plentiful land that’s just waiting to be explored.
Getting a Clearer Picture of the Frontier State
Now that we’ve taken you on a tour of some of the more prominent features of the Frontier State—and how they compare to those of the other United States—you might have a better sense of what makes Alaska so unique. Whether that inspires you to head for the Land of the Midnight Sun, pack up for the Lower 48 or stay right where you are—well, that’s up to you.
However, if you’re moving to, from or around Alaska, we’d be happy to help. Our Anchorage-based team has extensive experience moving to even the remotest parts of the state. Just get in touch with us for a quote. We’d be happy to help you find your home in the largest state in the Union.