Why Don’t More People Live In Alaska? (5 Scary Reasons…)

Whenever I talk to someone from down south about living in Alaska for more than five minutes, I inevitably reveal that Alaska has just over one person per square mile.

Alaska has a land area of 663,267 square miles and a population of 736,081. It is the largest state by area and the 48th-largest by population, ahead of only Wyoming and Vermont.

At this point, the person pauses and says, “Why are there so few people up there?” and then I’m the one who’s pausing.

Thankfully, this post is in a written format so I don’t have to worry about leaving out any of the major reasons.

Here are the top five reasons why more people don’t live in Alaska, at least as far as I can tell.

5 Reasons That Alaska Is Sparsely Populated

1. The Weather

I’ll get the obvious one out of the way: it’s extremely cold here. In the summer, it’s manageable in most places, but many people consider the winters unbearable.

In Juneau, the capital, which is located in the southeast portion of the state, the average high temperature in July is 63 degrees. In December, temperatures typically reach a high in the low 20s and sometimes dip below 0 degrees at night.

In the winter, when we’re lucky, we get sunlight from 8:30 AM to 3:00 in the afternoon. Go to work in the dark, come home in the dark.

In Fairbanks, the average temperature in July is 73 degrees. In December, it goes from a high of 0 to an average low of -15.

For the days around the winter solstice in December, Fairbanks often gets a little over three hours of sunlight a day, from around 11 AM to 2:45 PM.

The lack of sunlight causes many people to have seasonal affective disorder in Alaska, which makes us a little more depressed and cranky in the winter.

I have to remind myself not to take it personally when one of my friends snaps at me in the middle of January. I also have to remind myself not to snap at people.

2. Geography

Even though I referenced both in the opening, the amount of land area in Alaska and the population density can be a bit deceiving when talking about why more people don’t live here.

There are 3,174 mountains with names in the State of Alaska, which adds up to a lot of square miles where it would be difficult for someone to live.

Additionally, 35% of Alaska is covered by forests, many of which are protected lands owned by the state or federal governments. This all adds up to even more land that no one is allowed to live on.

3. Wildlife

Another major issue is the amount of wildlife we have up here, including bears, moose, elk, and others.

Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game estimates that 30,000 grizzlies (brown bears) and 100,000 black bears currently live in the state.

While this is a pull for some people, it means that there are significant conservation efforts (and the possibility of danger) that can hamper people from spreading out.

4. Isolation

Another one of the big issues that prevent people from wanting to live in Alaska is isolation. However, for some people, that is more of a selling point.

Outside of Anchorage, Juneau, and Fairbanks, most of the rest of the state is either on an island or an hour or more drive into the nearest city.

Granted, a lot of people come to live here because of that fact, often because they want to start a new life or simply want to get away from the big(ger) cities from which they came.

That said, even people who have lived in Alaska for years occasionally feel the sting of being isolated.

Every time someone in Juneau goes on vacation to somewhere hot like Phoenix, the realization that it takes a two-hour flight just to get to Seattle and then you have to take a three-hour flight is exhausting. I want to take a nap just reading that sentence.

Also, everyone up here pays for Amazon Prime, but we don’t get the Two Day Guarantee. I recently ordered something small, a Lord of the Rings One Ring replica, which arrived nine days after I ordered it.

It’s not all bad, though. Living in a city that has like 12 murders total in the past 20 years does make a person want to raise children here.

5. Cost of Living

This is something I haven’t really touched on yet, but the prices of everything in Alaska are higher than in most places down south.

This is mostly caused by the expense of shipping. In many places, everything arrives by boat or by plane, which costs more than having it delivered by truck.

While most of the rest of the United States enjoyed Subway’s $5 footlongs, Alaskans were paying $7 or $8 each, depending on the location.

It’s even worse in smaller communities. I used to work at a grocery store that gave 10% case discounts.

One of our regular customers was the lady who owned the convenience store in one of the smaller communities in the state.

She mentioned that she had to sell cans of 16-ounce Red Bull for $8 a piece to cover the cost of the product, plus the cost of taking the van on the ferry to fill it up and return home.

The other side of this coin, however, is that wages are higher here to cover the higher cost of living.

The unintended effect of this is that we frequently get people, particularly in retail, who get tired of living here (usually for one of the reasons listed above) and work for a few weeks to get the money to move back down south.

That said, I always take my vacations on payday. It’s so nice to be able to take my paycheck and watch it go a lot further when I’m in the lower 48.


These are the main reasons why more people don’t live in Alaska or at least, don’t remain here after they’ve moved up.

A big part of any move to Alaska (or anywhere else, really) is knowing what you’re getting into beforehand.

If you want to move to Alaska, here’s my advice: don’t come here in the summer. Summer Alaska is like our highlight reel, displaying the best we have to offer.

Summer vs Winter up here is like meeting a beautiful, funny, and amazing person, marrying them after you’ve known each other for three days, then finding out they shower once a week and grind their teeth in their sleep.

If you want to see what Alaska is really like, fly up in December for a three or four-day weekend. If you can handle that, you’re ready to move up here and we’re always happy to have new Alaskans join us.

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