The breathtaking beauty of Alaska makes for a epic roadtrip. Alaska’s name is based on the Eskimo word Alakshak meaning great lands or peninsula and it truly is. Frequently referred to as America’s last frontier, Alaska is massive. When a scale map of Alaska is superimposed on a map of the 48 lower states, Alaska extends from coast to coast! Twice the size of the state of Texas. So, exploring it in 8 days is quite a challenge, but don’t worry, we have an itinerary to maximize your time and see the most beautiful places. If you’re still not convinced you should visit Alaska by car, check out 8 Reasons to do an Alaska Roadtrip.
“To the lovers of wilderness, Alaska is one of the most wonderful countries in the world” John Muir
We flew into Anchorage late in the evening and stayed in a local hotel so that we could start our adventure early the next morning. Here is our full 8-day itinerary.
Day 1 | Whittier and Seward
Driving Time: 3 hours
On our first full day we headed south towards Whittier and made lots of stops along the way. The weather was grey and raining making it difficult to see the mountains.
Patter Marsh was our first stop, it’s only 18 minutes from Anchorage. This 2,300-acre wetland is a protected coastal wildlife refuge with a 1,550-foot raised boardwalk for easy viewing. We didn’t really see any birds, not that we really looked for them, as we got distracted with lots of moose. We stopped here on our way back as well and were not disappointed – more moose.
Turnagain Arm Bay
This is more of a drive and admire thing. The road winds along the dramatic shorelines of the bay. Every turn you take offers a unique view of the mudflats across Turnagain Arm with the snow covered mountains providing a perfect backdrop. Along the way watch for moose sightings and mountain sheep wandering around the slopes of Chugach State Park.
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) is a non-profit sanctuary dedicated to “preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, research, education and quality animal care.” The Center cares for injured or orphaned animals and provides them refuge. You will find elk, bears, wolves, moose, bison, lynx, caribou, eagle and other animals here. Parts we enjoyed the most were mama / baby brown bear walking around and Kobuk, the black bear playing with his toys.
The Center is open from Friday through Monday 10AM to 5PM in summer months. You can drive or walk the 1.5-mile loop to see the 200-acre preserve. Make sure to check the feeding schedule and watch animals being fed, it’s a lot of fun.
We took a small detour on the way to Whittier and stopped in Hope. The town itself is very small, just a few local restaurants and storefronts but very charming.
The road to Hope runs along Turnagain Arm and offers great views of mudflats. It was worth the 15 minute detour.
Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
The 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel was built during World War II and is the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America. The tunnel is the only way to get to the town on Whittier by car. This is a one way tunnel, it switches direction every half hour. Traffic from Whittier leaves on every hour and traffic into Whittier on half hour mark. Note from Ann: this was a cool and unique experience – driving on train tracks for miles directly under tons of rock makes you marvel at human race and engineering advances.
Whittier is a small harbor town surrounded by mountains and water. It is attractive in a strange kind of way. You can see the whole town in about 10 minutes, so don’t plan on spending a lot of time here. But it’s a great place to grab some fresh seafood. We checked out Ray’s Waterfront and had some amazing appetizers and seafood.
From Whittier we drove to Seward and stayed the night there.
Day 2 | Kenai Fjords National Park
Driving Time: 2 hours
Our second day was all about Kenai Fjords National Park, it’s an amazing place. Other than a couple of spots, most of the park has to be viewed from a boat, there is no way experience it by foot. So, this day was our cruise day.
Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise
There are lots of options for cruises and destinations, so make sure you do your research. If you’re looking for a short and less rocky tour, sign up for Resurrection Bay Wildlife Cruise. It’s about 3-4 hours and stays mostly in the calm bay. You’ll see the lush green shorelines, islands, and abundant sealife. If you’d like to see glaciers and more of the Kenai Fjords, take one of the longer cruises but we ready for rocky open ocean waters.
After the boat ride, we drove to Exit Glacier, located 15 minutes outside of Seward and one of the only Kenai National Park areas accessible by car. Once you park, it’s only a 15-20 minute mostly flat walk to the glacier viewpoint. There are several trails, but the easiest one is Edge of the Glacier Trail (Lower Trail) that will lead you to the front of the glacier. If you’re looking a more challenging hike, take the Harding Icefield Trail, which climbs 3,500 feet and is 8.4 miles roundtrip. It will reward you with stunning views of the Glacier and Harding Icefield.
Day 3 | Talkeetna
Driving Time: 4 hours and 15 minutes
On our third day we drove back through Anchorage and headed Northeast to Talkeetna on our way to Denali National Park. In case you don’t know that, all roads lead through Anchorage in Alaska, at least the roads we took.
On the way out of Kenai Peninsula, we stopped in Moose Pass, a small Alaska town nestled on the shores of Trail Lake. Our favorite thing about Moose Pass was a quick stop at Moose Drop-In Trading Post – an amazing homemade fudge place. If you’ve followed our blog you’ve probably noticed we have a thing for fudge when we travel. This one was just as good as our Sedona fudge.
Alyeska Resort / Mountain Views
On the way back through the Turnagain Arm, we stopped at the Alyeska Resort. The resort is tucked away in the Chugach Mountains and in the summer time is the place to go for expansive views, wilderness adventures and great food.
Down in the valley, check out the Moose Meadows for moose sightings or occasional bears. Note from Ann: be careful of bears, even in parking lots. I came across one about seven feet away right by a parking lot and I was alone!
Denali Lookout Point
As you’re driving to Talkeetna, you can get the first glimpse of Mt. Denali right across the street from the entrance to the Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge (there is a pullout on the left). On a clear day, you can get great views of the Susitna River and foothills in the foreground and the mountain in the background. We happened to be there on a cloudy day, so no luck on the mountain view, but it was still a great view.
We spent the afternoon and dinner in Talkeetna. It’s a small town with a cute small downtown area with restaurants and shops.
These were are favorite places:
Roadhouse – bakery and restaurant with amazing baked goods. Our favorite was the raspberry cinnamon roll – called razzie.
Talkeetna Spinach Bread – this small place has amazing spinach bread that you should try if you visit Talkeetna.
Nagley’s Store – a 100-year old general store worth checking out.
Aurora Dora – admire the beautiful photographs of aurora shot by a local photographer.
Kahiltna Gold Birch Syrup – outside of town but worth checking out. You can buy Alaskan souvenirs, birch-derived items such as syrup, sweets, and preserves. You can also do a 15-20 minute tour of the facilities and learn about making birch syrup. If you buy a bunch of stuff you can ship it home via USPS Priority Mail box for $15.
Near Talkeetna we stayed at the Talkeetna Lakeside Cabins. The cabins were very rustic but had all the necessities. We only spent one night, but I would spend more time if I went back again. But watch out for the mosquitos, the Alaska state bird, they were everywhere, especially bad near the lake.
Day 4 | Denali National Park
Driving Time: 3 hours
No Alaska Roadtrip would be complete without visiting Denali National Park. It is definitely a bucket list-worthy item. The park is massive – 9,492 square miles and includes a large portion of the Alaska Range with it’s 20,320 foot Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America. One of the best ways to see the park is by flight with a stop on the mountain.
Flight over Denali
After spending the night in Talkeetna, we were going to take a flight over Denali that day, but clouds, snow and rain changed our plans. Because of the weather conditions, schedules were backed up, there were no landing on the mountain and views were limited. Mt. Denali is so tall that it creates its own micro climate, you never know what the weather will be like out there. So, if you book flights in advance you’re taking a big chance. Companies we talked to were updating schedules and changing destinations constantly to ensure safety and visibility. If you don’t want to book in advance, you can go in the morning to the tour offices (located in downtown Talkeetna) and see what’s possible. You can also go directly to the airport and find a company to book with there.
All of our research told us that flights from Talkeetna are better than flights from other locations, you get to see more of the Alaska Mountain Range. In addition, there are two main types of flights – a flyover only and a flyover with a landing on the mountain. Of course we would recommend the landing.
First Afternoon in Denali
There is one main road that runs in and out of the park. The Visitor Center and transportation hub are located at mile marker 0. Private cars are only allowed to go to mile 15. Anything beyond that point requires a bus tour, which we did on the following day. For this afternoon we had three options – hiking, playing with huskies, or ATV tours. We chose hiking since we knew we’d be on a bus all next day.
Option: Hiking – there are some hiking trails at the Visitor Center and at mile 15 stop. In addition, the park is what’s called a trail-less wilderness, which means you make your own trail throughout the park. Since we’re not that adventurous, we decided to do the following trails:
- Horseshoe Lake Trail – a 3.2-mile trail from the Denali Visitor Center through woods to get to a beautiful lake and river. The hike starts downhill and goes down 250 feet in elevation down to a lake. On this hike, you will encounter beaver dams and an active beaver lodge. We saw multiple beavers working and transporting branches across the lake. The dams are pretty large and impressive as well.
- Savage River Loop Trail –this is a 1.6-mile loop trail that’s pretty much flat and easy to access. There are beautiful views along the way and great opportunities to see wildlife and wild flowers. While driving to mile 15 for the hike, watch for Mt. Denali views – mile nine on the park road is the first place where you can see Mt. Denali.
Option: Husky Homestead – located inside Denali National Park, one of the best things you can do at Husky Homestead in the summertime is cuddle puppies and play with huskies. You can also get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating a championship racing team and living in Alaska’s Interior. You have to come to Husky Homestead on their bus, which picks up at local hotels. There is no way to get there in a car. Tour lasts about 2.5 hours including bus time and costs $59.
Option: Denali Wilderness ATV Adventure Tour – This tour goes inside Denali National Park and is a great way for nature and wildlife sightseeing as well as learning the history and ecosystem of Denali. The ATV tours pick up at local hotels and drive to the tour location. Total time is 2.5 hours; with 1.5 hours on the trail, covering about 10 miles (16 km). Costs vary depending on type of tour and ATV.
Day 5 | Denali National Park Bus Day
Driving Time: none (except on the bus)
Spend a full day exploring the remaining 74 miles of the road into Denali National Park. The only way to go past mile 15 is on a bus. There are lots of options and things you need to know to use your time wisely. Check out our Explore Denali National Park on a Bus post to learn about the best way to experience Denali in a day.
Denali was a great place to see wildlife, even if it was from far away. We saw brown bears, caribou, foxes, moose, beavers, marmots and ptarmigans.
Day 6 | Hatcher Pass
Driving Time: 2.5 hours
From Denali, we headed towards Hatcher Pass to end up in Wasilla for a couple of days.
Hatcher Pass Scenic Drive
Hatcher pass is a scenic drive that cuts through 300,000 acres of wilderness in the Talkeetna Mountains. The area includes more than 30 summits and associated glaciers. The Palmer-Fishhook road north of Palmer from Mile 49.5 Glenn Highway leads to the east side of Hatcher Pass while the Willow-Fishhook Road off the Parks Highway leads to the west entrance. There is one mile in the middle connecting the two sides of the road that doesn’t open till around July 4th and west part of the pass is a gravel road. But the views are worth the trek.
Because our Alaska roadtrip was in June, we actually drove the west side, explored it and then drove around to the east side and explored that side. There are more activities on the east side, but both sides are beautiful. You can hike in alpine tundra, admire the mountain views, enjoy the wildflowers and wild animals. You can also do gold panning and visit the Independence Mine Historical State Park. If you’re looking for specific hikes, try the Gold Cord Lake hike.
Newcomb Park Wasilla Lake
We decided to stay in Wasilla and explore a couple local lakes. There is Newcomb Park on Wasilla Lake, which is great for walking and sunset views.
In addition, we stayed on Lake Lucile about a mile away and ended up watching alpine glow and sunset from there.
Day 7 | Matanuska
Driving Time: 3 hours
The Alaska Almanac estimates that Alaska has 100,000 glaciers only 616 of which have been officially named.
As you’re driving towards Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Area, make sure to watch for viewing spots along the road, they start at mile marker 91 through 102. We chose Matanuska Glacier for our glacier walk. Mostly because it’s Alaska largest glacier accessible by car. It’s a 26-mile long and 4-mile wide valley glacier, a body of solid ice that flows in a river-like way through an existing valley. We took a tour with a guide and ice walking equipment, which takes you farther on the ice and the guide provides great information during the hike.
Note from Ann: if you choose to go on the glacier without proper equipment, be careful. We saw a lot of people sliding all over ice and kids falling close to the edges of ice cliffs. There are also deep ravines filled with muddy water that look like you can walk on them that you can fall into. Warning signage is non-existent, so stay in designated areas and be cautious.
Sheep Mountain Lodge
After Matanuska we continued down the road to Sheep Mountain Lodge. This area is a great opportunity to see dall sheep high up on the mountains. We saw a couple on the way.
At mile markers 112 to 113 there are also great views of the Wrangell Mountains and Cooper River. In addition, make sure to look to the left at the surrounding mountains, there are colors from iron stain on the ancient volcanic soil. Make sure to stop at Sheep Mountain Lodge and check out their pies and ice cream. Afterwards, we drove back to Wasilla for our second night. If you have more days, you could continue the drive to Valdez, a sea town with stunning views and glaciers.
Day 8 | Anchorage
Driving Time: 1 hour
Alaska has the lowest population density per square mile in the country. If New York City had the same population density as Alaska, only 16 people would be living in Manhattan!
We made it back to Anchorage and spent most of the day exploring the city and its nature areas. Anchorage is the largest city in Alaska. The downtown areas are located from 3rd to 7th Street between C and H streets. You can walk around and explore the local flavor, see Anchorage City Hall, Town Square Park, check out souvenir stores and restaurants.
A few food places to check out in Anchorage:
Glacier Brew House – salads, pasta, chowder and calamari appetizer – all amazing. For dessert, definitely check out their world famous bread pudding – it’s yummy.
Simon and Seaforts – if you’re looking for a nice place to eat with spectacular sunset views, check this place out.
Wild Scoops Ice Cream – try handcrafted Alaskan ice cream. There was a long wait to get it, but it was worth it.
Alaska Reindeer Sausages – one of the things everyone kept telling us to try is reindeer sausage and reindeer hot dogs. There are lots of street vendors that sell offer these and you should try it, just so you can say you’ve had it.
If you’d like to explore some nature areas in Anchorage, check out Kincaid Park – lots of forests, hiking trails and wildlife. This 1,400-acre park is an ideal place to escape from the city life and see some moose, fox, porcupines and an occasional bear.
Our Alaska roadtrip adventure started and ended in Anchorage. We flew out the next morning all excited to come back some day and discover more of Alaska.
- Destinations are far away from each other, so prepare for a lot of driving.
- All roads lead through Anchorage, it’s more of a starburst roadmap, so you will be backtracking on the same roads. Leave some activities for the way back.
- There is not a lot of places to eat, get gas, etc. so plan ahead.
- The weather is unpredictable (even in the summer) and will dictate what you can see and do, so roll with the punches.
- Mosquitoes can be prevalent in places, so come armed with bug spray.
- Bring your long zoom and best camera equipment, the views are spectacular.
We’ll be back in Alaska sometime. Help us plan our next trip here – tell us about your favorite spots there in comments below.
If you love our Alaska Roadtrip itinerary, here are some Pinterest images.