8 Reasons to Visit Alaska by Car

8 Reasons to Visit Alaska by Car

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I can’t begin to tell you how many people asked if we were going on a cruise when we said we were going to Alaska. It’s funny it never occurred to me when we were planning that it wasn’t a common roadtrip destination. Having experienced an Alaskan cruise and an Alaskan roadtrip here are our eight reasons why you should visit Alaska by car.

1 | Less Crowded

Cruise ports tend to be very crowded, especially in season. Our roadtrip was in second half of June, beginning of peak season, and it never felt crowded. So much of the tourism is geared towards cruises that many inland towns don’t feel like tourist cities at all. You get to experience the local vibe, eat at local restaurant and meet locals.

2 | Visit Denali – the Tallest Mountain Peak in North America

Denali National Park is not close to a cruise port like Juneau, Skagway, Ketitchan and others. Some cruise lines offer tours that include land and sea with 2-4 days of the tour being on land to explore the Denali National Park. That requires a long drive or train ride inland. While it’s possible to visit Denali from a cruise, it’s not as convenient as driving there. If you don’t know much about Denali – here is the key highlight, Denali Park Road (the only road through the park runs along the Alaska Mountain Range and culminates in astounding views of Mt. Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America – 20,310 elevation. For more information on Denali read our Comprehensive Guide to Visiting Denali National Park Visiting Denali.

3 | More Opportunities to see Wildlife

On a cruise you will likely see wildlife from the ship and on excursions. But when you spend ten days on an Alaska roadtrip there are even more opportunities. We saw countless moose along the roads plus lots of wild animals in Denali National Park. Near Anchorage you will also find the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) sanctuary. 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. Our favorites were the mama and baby Brown Bears and Kobuk, the black bear playing with his toys.

Moose hanging out by Potter Marsh

4 | Stay in a Cabin or a B&B

Compared to a tiny cruise room these are hard to beat. You will be close to nature, locals and get to live a fuller experience.

5 | More Opportunities to Interact with Locals

We spent time walking around small local towns and learning from local people. For example, we met a couple that runs a fudge store in Moose Pass and learned how they select their flavors and heard their life stories. We also got to try some amazing fudge! Can’t go wrong. Throughout our Alaska roadtrip, we chatted with other travelers and got some great recommendations for exploring other areas of Alaska that we were not on our itinerary originally, like the town of Hope. Because we had a car, we could adjust our trip on the fly and explore different places.

Thanks to my friend Sandii who took this picture while we were in Anchorage enjoying the Summer Solstice celebrations.

6 | Take Advantage of the Long Summer Days

With a cruise ship you have a curfew for getting back to the boat. On an Alaska roadtrip you have all the flexibility you want and in the summer when it doesn’t get dark until almost midnight so the only way to see the sunset on land is to stay at a hotel.

10:30pm and the sun is still bright
Sunset over a lake in Wasilla, around 11:30PM.

7 | Eat Local Food

Cruise food can be amazing, but after a week I’m ready to get more variety. We’ve had some amazing seafood on this trip at local non-chain restaurants. In fact, the food was amazing everywhere in Alaska. Our two favorite spots for food were in Anchorage and Talkeetna.

8 | Less Expensive

When I experienced a cruise we paid for expensive excursions to get to see Alaska. They were amazing experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything but if you’re on a budget that can be rough. When you’re inland you can find more options for tours at better prices.

I loved both my trips to Alaska on land and water, but if I go back again it will be by car. If you are able to experience both, go for it. But, if you’re not a fan of cruise ships or want more flexibility don’t hesitate to fly into Anchorage and rent a car, just do it in summertime. You won’t regret it! If you’d like to see the itinerary from our Alaska roadtrip, check our site, we’ll be publishing it soon.

Which would you recommend, an Alaska cruise or a land roadtrip ?  Both? and why?

If you’d like to pin this post, here is a good image.

16 thoughts on “8 Reasons to Visit Alaska by Car

  1. I’ve never been on either but now I’m really tempted to visit Alaska as a road trip! I think the ability to take your time and switch up the route if you so desired is appealing to me the most. One a cruise, you’re going to see the stores and the areas they want you to see and they’ll be super crowded with other cruise ship tourists so finding the fudge shop experience you had would be unlikely. Your sunset photos are fantastic – the lake one is simply spectacular but I also love the looooooooooong shadows you’re creating in the one in the other showing off the time!

  2. These are all great reasons. I lived in Alaska for 10 years and exploring by car is a such a great way to see the state and get a real sense of what the landscape and people are like.

  3. I never considered the curfew on a cruise ship. It would be awful to be shuffled back on board and watch hours of daylight pass without being able to enjoy it. Jenn tells stories of living in Montana and having midnight sun to play in. I can’t wait to experience that. I have been in Holland in the summer, but it was dark by 10:30.

  4. I have been to Alaska twice and it’s probably my favorite state, however, both were on cruises. You aren’t kidding when you say that the cruise ports are crowded! I thoroughly enjoyed Denali. We did the interior of Alaska from Anchorage to Fairbanks via train on the “tour” part of our cruisetour. Wildlife and the landscapes are why I love Alaska so much and I totally agree that you are missing out on the best of Alaska if you don’t see the interior. I would love to do it again and by car!

  5. Great advice. Been to Alaska many times. And I would say the following: 1. You can’t really experience the Inland Passage any other way than by boat and that’s a unique experience. So thumbs up for small cruise ships and there are great ones that don’t have the limits of cuisine and more you seem to have experienced. 2. Driving from Anchorage and up through Denali and beyond is amazing. You really do get to experience another part of Alaska. 3. BUT … there are places in Alaska that you just can’t get to by car or boat so jump on that small plane and head up to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or west to King Salmon or …. so many options. You could spend you life exploring Alaska and still only scratch its surface.

    1. That is so true, we definitely want to go back and explore by train and plane, each way is so unique and all are amazing! 😍

  6. I went on an Alaskan cruise with my family when I was younger. It was cool to see some of the old port cities. But I agree, I’d definitely want to see more of the small inland towns. Roadtripping through Alaska sounds way fun!

  7. For me, road trips are always the best way to visit new places… especially a place like Alaska with so many dramatic landscapes and off the beaten track destinations to enjoy. Love the list, definitely bookmarking this one.

  8. Planning a road trip to Alaska next year when I saw this on Kerri Ma’s group thought I would check out. Looks amazing. Were you at all worried about breaking down whilst driving? What was the phone signal like?

    1. No worries about breaking down, we got a new rental car, there is reception in most places, at least with Verizon. There are also other cars on the road in the summer, so if you break down, you can flag someone down. Roads are wide and very well maintained. We were surprised that there were no windy mountain roads either, they’re mostly flat roads through wide Glacier valleys.

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