In 2022, Alaska’s imports totaled $3.75 billion. Imagine that: nearly four billion dollars of goods, commodities, supplies, and materials that were all shipped to the Last Frontier.

Getting freight to Alaska is only half the battle. Whereas in the lower 48, it’s pretty easy to throw freight on a truck and get it where it needs to go, that’s not the case in Alaska. Only 18% of Alaska’s communities are accessible by road, and only about 31% of Alaska’s public roads are paved.

So how does all that freight get to—and around—Alaska? In this article, we’ll give you an overview of Alaska freight movement—and how long it takes.

If you’re an Alaska resident (or considering becoming one!), you’ll get an inside look at how the items needed for everyday life make it to the Last Frontier. If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur in Alaska, you might get some new ideas for shipping the items that keep your Alaska business moving forward.

Let’s start with the basics.

How Does Freight Get to Alaska?

Freight moves to Alaska by ship (ocean freight), by truck (over-the-road freight), by plane (air freight), and via rail (with a little help from a specialized barge). These same modes keep freight moving around Alaska. However, as we mentioned earlier, leveraging these modes in a state characterized by rugged terrain and remote communities can require some serious know-how and creativity.

We’ll break it all down for you so you can get a sense of how each freight mode works within Alaska—and how long each one takes.

Ocean Freight to and Around Alaska

Ocean freight is generally the most cost-effective way to move freight, and it’s a vital mode for both getting freight to Alaska and moving freight around Alaska.

In fact, the state’s reliance on ocean freight only continues to grow. From 2014-2020, the freight tonnage handled at the Port of Alaska at Anchorage increased by almost 25%. The port handles around half of the inbound freight for the state, 70-75% of which stays in the Anchorage/Mat-Su area.


Increase in freight tonnage passing through the Port of Alaska from 2016-2020.

Overall, the state of Alaska has a total of 58 commercial ports, five of which are among the U.S. Department of Transportation’s list of the 150 busiest ports in the nation, based on volume shipped inbound and outbound.


Number of Alaska’s 58 commercial ports that are on the DOT’s list of the 150 busiest ports in the U.S.

In other words, ocean freight is a critical mode for Alaska freight.

Additionally, Alaska’s 58 commercial ports act as a lifeline to move freight all around the state. A network of barges connects Southcentral Alaska ports like Anchorage, Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova, as well as Southeastern Alaska ports like Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Haines, Skagway, and Wrangell.

Western Alaska ports like Bethel, Dillingham, Dutch Harbor, Naknek, Nome, and others are also accessible by barge from late March through mid-September. During the winter months, though, barges don’t run to Western or Arctic Alaska, so other modes, like air transportation, come into play.

And speaking of other modes, remember how we mentioned a rail connection to Alaska? There’s actually a rail barge to Alaska from Seattle—a boat with roll-on-roll off capacity for rail cars, plus racks for carrying cargo. Talk about Alaska ingenuity at work! We’ll explain more about this innovative method of moving freight in the section on rail freight below.

Although ocean freight is a cost-effective mode of freight transportation, it can also be a slower one. Let’s take a look at the kind of transit times you’re looking at for Alaska ocean freight.

Alaska Ocean Freight Transit Times

90% of merchandise goods that arrive at the Port of Alaska in Anchorage come from the Port of Tacoma. Due to the sheer volume of freight moved from Tacoma, the port is sometimes called the “Gateway to Alaska.”

Ships that leave Tacoma for Alaska take 3-4 days to reach Anchorage, 5 days to reach Kodiak, and 7 days to reach Dutch Harbor.

Average Northbound Transit Times from the Port of Tacoma

~3-4 days

~5 days

~7 days
Dutch Harbor

Barges also leave from the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma, headed for the Port of Alaska. In addition, there’s also barge service that continues on to deliver goods to destinations like Cordova, Dutch Harbor, King Cove, Kodiak, Seward, Sitka, and Valdez.

Average Barge Transit Times from the Ports of Seattle/Tacoma

9-14 days

4 days

6 days

10 days

9 days

Of course, ocean transportation has its limits. It can only get freight to locations that are accessible by water. Additionally, due to Alaska’s harsh winters, there are times of year when moving cargo by boat to some parts of Alaska isn’t feasible. Finally, as we mentioned, it’s also one of the slower freight modes.

For all those reasons, air freight also acts as vital link connecting Alaska residents with all the things they need.

Air Freight to and Around Alaska

Like ocean freight, air freight is critical for moving goods both to Alaska and within the state.

The majority of Alaska’s inbound air freight, as measured by tonnage, arrives in Alaska from Washington and California. As you might expect, electronics dominate commodity-wise, which is common for the mode. What you might not realize is that much of those electronics only pass through Anchorage, which has become a vital stop-over point for air cargo flights. In fact, in terms of metric tonnes handled, Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) was the fourth-busiest airport in the world in 2021. While some of those goods stay in Alaska, others continue on to their final destination.


2021 global ranking for Ted Stevens International Airport (ANC) in terms of metric tonnes of air cargo handled.

In addition to electronics, domestic Alaska air freight also includes precision instruments, machinery, pharmaceuticals, transportation equipment, chemical products, and miscellaneous manufactured products. If you’re surprised to see so much equipment on this list, keep in mind that carriers use equipment like L-100 Hercules aircraft—which can carry up to 48,000 pounds and land on rural airstrips—to move freight around Alaska.

With 82% of Alaska’s communities inaccessible by road, air transportation offers a crucial alternative for moving goods to Alaska’s far-flung residents. Interestingly enough, the Alaska Department of Transportation & Public Facilities owns and operates 237 airports within its Rural Airport System, and only 49 of them have paved runways.

Air Freight Transit Times

Just how fast can air freight be? If you’re willing to pay for it, you can often get next-day service from Seattle to Alaska destinations.

Once your cargo has arrived in Alaska, it can get to locations around the state in a matter of hours. Scheduled service from Anchorage to Nome can take just under two hours. Anchorage to Bethel? Just an hour and a half.

In other words, when we said air freight was fast, we meant it.

Over-the-Road Freight to and Around Alaska

First of all, if you’re curious, yes, some freight does get driven to Alaska over the ALCAN highway. Companies doing less-than-truckload (LTL) or full truckload (FTL) shipments may use two-driver teams, a strategy that can move freight from locations like Dallas, Texas to Fairbanks in as little as seven days or to Prudhoe Bay in as little as eight days. (!)

Sample Over-the-Road Transit Times via the ALCAN Highway
Origin: Dallas, Texas

7 days

7 days

8 days
Prudhoe Bay

Within Alaska, the state’s ~14,000 miles of public roads link Alaska’s Southcentral region with some of its Interior. (And the road stretches all the way up to Prudhoe Bay!)

However, it’s worth noting that only about a thousand of those miles are Interstate Highways constructed to American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards. In other words, while some of Alaska’s roads make for fairly simple over-the-road transport, others do not.

Add to that Alaska’s intense winters, and you’ll see why road transportation in Alaska isn’t as simple a business as it can be in the lower 48.

Even though trucking in Alaska can be tricky business, it’s also vitally important business. Trucks move freight to land-locked Interior communities like Fairbanks, Delta Junction, North Pole, and Tok, as well as Denali Park and Eielson Air Force Base. And, of course, over-the-road freight is critical for moving freight to Alaska’s Southcentral communities like Palmer, Eagle Creek, Wasilla, etc.

In fact, by tonnage, 46.4% of all freight moved within Alaska is moved by truck, making it the most popular mode for domestic, in-state freight.


Percentage of domestic, in-state freight moved by truck.

The next-most utilized? Rail at 23.3%. We’ll cover that mode next.

Rail Freight to and Around Alaska

Believe it or not, there is rail freight service to Alaska, although it may not be what you expect. The Alaska Railroad operates a line that links Seattle, Whittier, Anchorage, and Fairbanks, with a little help from a fleet of rail barges. In Seattle, rail cars are loaded onto the barge, leveraging what’s essentially a roll-on, roll-off system. The barge goes from Seattle to Whittier, where the cars are unloaded from the barge and put on rails.

The cars then continue on to destinations like Anchorage and Fairbanks, linking Seattle with Alaska’s Southcentral and Interior regions.

Although there’s long been talk about a Canada-Alaska railway, there’s no rail link between the two areas—yet. However, in the last few years, a proposal has emerged to link Delta Junction, Alaska and Alberta, Canada with a rail line that passes through Yukon and British Columbia. The project is still under discussion. However, it does have the potential to offer some new paths for freight movement to and from Alaska.

Getting Alaska Residents & Businesses the Goods, Supplies, and Materials They Need

Moving freight to and around Alaska isn’t for the faint of heart. Between harsh weather, significant distances, remote destinations, limited accessibility, and more, the challenges are numerous. However, with some know-how and some Alaska ingenuity, transportation and logistics companies use ships, airplanes, trucks, and trains to connect residents and business owners with everything they need in Alaska.

Looking for a freight partner in Alaska? We’ve moved all kinds of goods, supplies, equipment, materials, and more all over the state—including specialized projects, such as medical equipment. Just reach out for a complimentary quote from our team to get started.

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