See Southcentral Alaska's Scenic Byways & National Parks
This six-day itinerary takes you on three of Alaska's prettiest highways, with stops for adventures in Kenai Fjords National Park and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, plus a flightseeing adventure to Denali.
Your adventure begins in the morning with a scenic day trip aboard the Alaska Railroad to Seward. Most of the trip parallels the Seward Highway, a National Scenic Byway and All American Road that traces the shoreline of Turnagain Arm, showcasing glittering water on one side and steep, rocky cliffs on the other.
Once you arrive in Seward, you have two options for exploring Kenai Fjords National Park: take a shuttle bus or taxi 12 miles from town to the Exit Glacier Nature Center, which offers the only land access to the park. Walk the network of trails for close-up views of the glacier and the Harding Icefield. Alternatively, take a half-day boat tour from Seward’s small boat harbor to explore the park’s deep, glacier-carved fjords from the water. Be sure to bring your camera and dress for the weather! The evening return train arrives in Anchorage quite late, so plan to eat dinner in Seward or aboard the train.
Rent a car and make the 115-mile drive north to Talkeetna, the small community that serves as the staging area for climbers attempting to summit 20,310-foot Denali. For most of the way you’ll be driving on the Parks Highway, another of Alaska’s designated National Scenic Byways. Along the way, stop in Wasilla to visit the headquarters of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Once you reach Talkeetna, take a flightseeing trip for an up-close, breathtaking look at Denali. Overnight in a lodge, roadhouse, or cabin.
Day 3: Talkeetna to GlenNallen or Copper Center
Retrace your steps on the Parks Highway, this time driving through the small community of Willow, then up and over Hatcher Pass. The scenic drive through Hatcher Pass gives you amazing views over rolling mountaintops and alpine tundra. Leave yourself time to tour Independence Mine State Historical Park, a gold mine that was active until the 1950s, and enjoy lunch at a mountain lodge or beside an alpine lake before you continue on your way.
Your next stop is Palmer, a picturesque little town with an agricultural flair and home to the Alaska State Fair every August. It’s also a great place to fuel up and rest before you continue on the Glenn Highway, another National Scenic Byway. Consider stopping to view the Matanuska Glacier, Alaska’s largest road-accessible glacier, before you continue on to the small communities of Glennallen or Copper Center, where you’ll spend the night.
Day 4: McCarthy/Kennicott
From Glennallen, it’s an easy 70-mile drive to Chitina, the launching-off point for air-taxi trips to the small towns of McCarthy and Kennicott. Both towns are located in the largest national park in the United States, the 13.2-million-acre Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which includes nine of the 16 highest peaks in the U.S. Once your plane lands, take a tour of the old copper mill or a guided walk on the beautiful Root Glacier. Overnight in McCarthy or Kennicott, then fly back in the morning. (If you’d prefer, you can drive the 60-mile access road from Chitina to McCarthy — check with your rental car company to see if you can drive on this gravel road.)
Day 5: Valdez
From Chitina, it’s 120 miles of paved highway to the seaside town of Valdez. Leave yourself plenty of time for this drive; you’ll want to stop often and take in the beautiful views, especially on the last 30 miles of road, which include the Worthington Glacier and two famous roadside waterfalls, Bridal Veil Falls and Horsetail Falls.
Known as “Little Switzerland” for its dramatic mountain backdrop, Valdez is also famous for its halibut fishing. Fill your afternoon with a half-day fishing charter, a half-day kayaking trip, or a visit to Valdez’s three museums that highlight the outsize role this little town has played in Alaska’s history. Spend the night at one of the many B&Bs or hotels, and consider extending your trip by a day so you can take a full-day cruise to the Columbia or Meares Glaciers.
Day 6: Valdez to Whittier
Board an Alaska Marine Highway state ferry for the six-hour cruise to the quirky port town of Whittier, where almost the entire town lives in one massive building. The entire Alaska Marine Highway System is a National Scenic Byway, and quite possibly the best sightseeing cruise in the world. Keep an eye out for wildlife sightings, including humpback whales and orcas, as you sail through the rich waters of Prince William Sound. The ferry can accommodate vehicles (if you book your tickets before all the car berths fill up). Once you arrive in Whittier, you’ll drive through the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America on your way back to Anchorage. The drive is about 60 miles in total.
Consider detouring between Days 2 and 3 to visit Denali National Park, which is just 150 miles north of Talkeetna. You’ll want to stay at least two days. On the first day, you’ll have time to take a short adventure tour into the park after you arrive. On the second day, you’ll take a long bus tour deep into the park’s wilderness. On day three, you can get back on course with your driving adventure.
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