Alaska may not be everyone’s ideal vision of the sun-n’-surf, hit-the-golf-course retirement spot. But an analysis by the National Institute on Retirement Security finds that Alaska and other cold-weather states offer more and better-funded services, benefits, and employment opportunities for seniors than more traditional retirement locations like Arizona and Florida.
Yes, Alaska is called “The Last Frontier”, and it is rugged and remote. Temperatures can reach 80 degrees below zero in places, there are thousands of acres of uninhabited territory, and in the winter it can be dark both at night and most of the day.
But Alaska does have an appeal for the hardy outdoorsman, hunter, fisherman, or naturalist. And they do, in fact, have golf courses. At Muskeg Meadows, a well-known course in the town of Wrangell, there’s the Raven Rule, which says that “a ball stolen by a raven may be replaced, with no penalty, provided there is a witness.”
There are thousands of accessible lakes, 3,000 rivers, and hundreds of miles of seashore, which makes the state one of the best destinations for fishing. Residents over age 60 get free hunting, trapping, and fishing licenses. Naturalists will appreciate the many opportunities to see bears, moose, humpback whales, and many rare species like bald eagles that are hard to find anywhere else. Hikers and bikers can find many trails that wind past snow-covered mountains, ancient glaciers, and green woodlands.
Living in Alaska is expensive, though. This is largely because of the remoteness. Utility lines are harder to install and maintain, and much of the food has to be flown in from other parts of the country. The cost of living is 34% higher than the national average, utilities are 50% higher, and food 37% more expensive. Except for the major cities, amenities like medical centers are not to be found. Alaska also has a high rate of violent and property crime, the fifth-worst rate in the country.
On the other hand there’s no state income tax or sales tax, no taxes on pensions or Social Security, and many localities give a partial break on property taxes for seniors. Also, residents get $1,000 to $2,000 per person per year from the Alaska Permanent Fund, which forwards part of the royalties from oil and mineral sales to the population.
And, some say, the remoteness and cold weather tend to promote a sense of community among the residents. Says Randall S. Linde, a private wealth advisor who works in Juneau and Ketchikan, “There aren’t many malls or a lot of places to go spend a lot of money, so people here focus more on relationships.”
Here are three potential retirement destinations in the Last Frontier State.
People in Alaska’s capital city are generally friendly and down-to-earth. Seniors, artists, boat captains, and state legislators all mingle together in the local pubs and parks. The residents also contribute to the city: many volunteer with art and nature events and exhibits, and over 100 help at the local tourism office to greet visitors in the summertime.
Juneau is known for its artistic talents. The local theater has had over 65 live premieres, a few of which have garnered national attention. There are galleries that specialize in Native art in silver, wood, and beads. The city also has highly-regarded museums like the Alaska State Museum, which displays Alaska’s wildlife and Native cultures.
Outside the city, the natural scenery is breathtaking, and very amenable to hiking, camping, hunting, and fishing. There are over 90 maintained trails. Exploring the local glaciers and humpback whale-watching are great pastimes. The snow-covered mountains and ice glaciers are also good for skiing, both downhill and cross-country. For an extra perk, you can have a helicopter drop you off at a remote slope where the snow has not been disturbed.
Juneau has good amenities for a city of 31,000 including a regional medical center. Seniors also get a $150,000 exemption from property taxes, are eligible for sales tax exemptions, and can ride public transportation free of charge. But the cost of living is 44% higher than the national average, partly because food and supplies have to be flown or shipped in.
Those looking to live in a metropolitan area can find it in Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city with over 300,000 people. Anchorage has the amenities one would expect in a large city, including an international airport, a growing downtown area, malls, box superstores, restaurants, theaters, museums, music venues, a professional sports team. Even in the middle of winter, the streets can be packed with cars. Anchorage’s location is within 9 ½ hours flight of 90% of the industrialized world, so it is a refueling stop on many international flights and a hub for FedEx and UPS.
The city is at the foot of the Chugach Mountains and close to Chugach National Forest. It is also adjacent on the west to an inlet of the Gulf of Alaska. A diverse wildlife population exists within the city and the surrounding area. Bears and moose are regularly sighted within the city, along with mountain goats, sheep, lynx, foxes, and wolves. The streams running through the city have salmon, and fishing is popular in the summer.
Like the rest of the state, Anchorage lends itself readily to outdoor recreation. It contains dozens of parks and 122 miles of paved bike paths.
The maritime climate tends to be more moderate than other parts of Alaska, and the activities are varied. On the same day in the summer you can fish in a downtown stream, hike in the mountains, explore glaciers, and have dinner in a four-star restaurant. In the winter, people enjoy the maintained cross-country ski trails, snowmobiling, ice skating, and ice sculptures. Anchorage is 45 minutes away from Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s premier alpine ski resort.
Those looking for a more natural environment will find plenty of smaller towns and secluded, rural areas in Alaska. Sitka is one such smaller town. Real estate blog Movoto rated Sitka the top place in Alaska for its livability, low crime rate, and low unemployment rate.
With a population of 9,000 Sitka is on the Pacific Ocean and at the foot of the towering Mount Edgecumbe, a dormant volcano somewhat resembling Japan’s Mount Fuji. The town was originally settled by Russia and still shows its Russian heritage, complete with the gold domes and crosses of Saint Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral. There are 22 buildings in Sitka on the National Register of Historic Places, and a local dance troupe performs Russian folk dances using authentic music, choreography, and costumes.
The downtown area has numerous art galleries and gift shops. Sitka National Historical Park features a set of totem poles carved by Native artists that are placed along a well-maintained trail in the park. Near the park is Sheldon Jackson Museum, one of two official Alaska State Museums which features Alaska Native cultures. In the summer, the town hosts the Sitka Summer Music Festival.
Sitka has many hiking and bike trails that begin in the rainforest that surrounds the city and often end up high in the mountains.
Sitka also has attractions for those interested in wildlife. The Alaska Raptor Center rehabilitates injured birds and releases them back into the wild. The few that don’t regain flight remain at the center and displayed to visitors. Fortress of the Bear features a three-quarter-acre habitat for orphaned brown bear cubs, complete with covered viewing areas.
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