Back in the 1960s and 1970s, Alaska had the country’s largest population of young folks who came from somewhere else. Some were here with the military, and many others headed north to hit it rich during the pipeline era.
Like everyone else, they got older. And quite a few of them are sticking around, according to a 2023 analysis from The Washington Post.
It’s true that the Last Frontier is mostly cold and remote, although southeast Alaska has a climate similar to that of the Pacific Northwest. In fact, the state capital, Juneau, is only about 900 air miles away from Seattle, the nearest big city (or 1,410 driving miles — not a whole lot of roads in Alaska).
But some rural areas in the Lower 48 also require long drives/flights to get to major cities. It’s also true that some of these regions are colder and have fewer amenities than some towns in “Seward’s icebox.”
Alaska retirees may overlook the weather and the distance for several reasons, according to The Post:
“By almost every measure, Alaskans pay the lowest taxes in America. There’s no state income, sales or estate tax, and seniors get a healthy break on property taxes. … Alaska residents can also qualify for annual checks from the state permanent fund, a $77 billion investment behemoth created to preserve the state’s oil wealth for future generations. Annual fund dividends vary based on how well its investments are doing, but they typically top $1,000.”
In 2022, every qualifying resident received a record high of $3,284 from Alaska’s Permanent Fund Dividend program.
If you’re getting up in years and yearning for adventure (or peace and quiet), these places might be a good place to start.
Population: 287,000 as of 2022
Alaska’s largest city has the lion’s share of amenities, including but not limited to the largest airport, two hospitals and two large senior living communities with assisted living, skilled care and memory care options.
The Alaska Center for the Performing Arts regularly hosts world-class touring shows as well as local theater, music and dance productions. Anchorage has a symphony, an opera and KLEF-FM, one of the few remaining all-classical radio stations in the U.S. You can fish for king salmon in the shadow of downtown office buildings — and senior residents get free fishing (and hunting) licenses. Numerous lakes are good for canoeing and kayaking (or winter skating), and the municipality has 120 miles of paved multi-use trails.
Not the outdoorsy type? The University of Alaska gives free tuition to anyone age 65 or older, and the Anchorage Senior Activity Center offers all sorts of pastimes that don’t require a coat and boots.
Population: 6,300 as of 2022
Back in 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the creation of the Matanuska Valley Colony, giving farmers a chance to get 40 acres for free if they were willing to live in tents for a while. Farmers still till the soil, but Palmer has developed a growing retail area without killing the friendly, small-town vibe.
Palmer has a hospital, and an increasing number of medical specialists and medical testing facilities are setting up shop in the region. The state’s “Pioneer Home” system has a retirement center in Palmer, and a couple of senior apartment complexes are located within walking distance of supermarkets and other shopping (including an independent bookstore).
An agency called Mat-Su Senior Services offers adult day care, home-delivered meals, help with household chores, transportation to medical appointments and other amenities. Some of these services are based on a sliding scale and may even be free.
Population: 9,700 as of 2022
Wasilla is a good example of the local joke, “The best thing about it is that it’s only 20 minutes from Alaska.” Enormous expansion of retail and housing development completely changed the face of this once-quiet town over the past couple of decades. Even so, Wasilla still has moose, bears and other wildlife within its (increasingly long) city limits.
As noted earlier, the region has seen noticeable growth in medical testing facilities, and its hospital has been nationally recognized in terms of stroke and cardiovascular care. If you can’t get the treatment you need, Anchorage is only about 40 miles away.
Fishing, boating, hiking, snowmachining and a small ski resort keep outdoorsy types busy. There’s a good library system and a thriving community theater that does some fairly adventurous programs in addition to family favorites.
Population: 5,900 as of 2022
This is one of the most beautiful spots in Alaska, with its stunning mountains, the deep-blue Kachemak Bay and views of still-active volcanic peaks across Cook Inlet.
Loads of tourists in the summer, too, but Homer maintains its small-town charm and stubborn independence no matter how many RVs show up.
Homer has a hospital and medical clinics, including specialty care such as oncology and neurology. An organization called Homer Senior Citizens Inc. maintains four senior apartment complexes and an assisted living facility. It also offers services such as adult day care, classes, support groups, meal delivery and respite care.
The town is known for its excellent restaurants and a small but vibrant arts scene, as well as world-class fishing and other outdoor activities. There’s a weekly newspaper and a real supermarket instead of just convenience stores. Those who remember Motel 6 spokesman Tom Bodett may also remember the name of one of his books, “As Far As You Can Go Without a Passport: The View From the End of the Road.” It was based on his life in Homer and should give seniors an idea of what they’d find there.
5. Cooper Landing
Population: 340 as of 2022
If you like boating, rafting, fishing or hiking, then you’ll love Cooper Landing, which is about 105 miles south of Anchorage. Dwarfed by the Kenai Mountains and overlooking the turquoise-colored Kenai River, “The Landing” gets very busy each summer as day-trippers head down to play in the water, hike gorgeous trails in the Chugach National Forest and watch grizzly bears prowl for salmon leavings. The rest of the year, things are fairly quiet.
A senior housing complex is available, and the Cooper Landing Senior Citizen Corp. provides bus transportation to Soldotna and Kenai for shopping and medical appointments. Soldotna also has a hospital; if your situation is serious, you might be sent up to Anchorage.
Visitors and residents alike appreciate the adorable Cooper Landing Library, which is located in a log cabin. The closest movie theater is in Kenai, which is 50 miles away, but you might catch a return performance by the moose that walked in to swipe some popcorn back in April 2023.