Road tripping Alaska
There’s nothing quite as freeing as hitting the open road in Alaska with miles and miles of majestic mountains, peaceful coastline, lush forest or flat tundra streaming past your car or RV windows. Surprisingly varied, the wild landscape changes as you drive through the state — past large swaths of national parkland, glaciers, waterways and other protected areas. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife. At some point along the way, you’ll likely see a bald eagle, maybe a moose or some Dall sheep, and if you’re lucky, a beluga whale in the Cook Inlet.
There’s only one thing that may be more mind blowing than the views: with only a handful of highways in the state, you could drive for days and still only see a relatively small section of the state. In fact, the majority of Alaska is only accessible by boat or airplane.
So where can you go on the highway? We’ve outlined a few of our favorite road trips right here:
From Fairbanks to Anchorage
Alaska’s two largest cities anchor the ends of this road trip and Denali National Park and Preserve sits between them, making it one of the most popular routes in the state. Leave plenty of time to explore things to do in Fairbanks before you hit the road to Denali, just two hours south. One of the silver linings of 2020, the park road will open to private vehicles on certain days throughout the summer. Spend your time in the park looking for Denali’s Big 5 (bear, moose, wolves, Dall sheep and caribou). You could fill days with hiking, fishing, ATVing, ziplining, rafting and more around Denali, but Talkeetna awaits. This charming small town offers similar adventures and a chance to flightsee over Mount Denali. On the final leg of the tour through the Matanuska-Susitna Valley, make a short detour to Palmer, a farming community that dates back to 1935. Pick some berries at a local farm, go hiking at Hatcher’s Pass or visit the Knik Glacier. Arriving in Anchorage opens up countless more attractions.
From Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula
Head south on the Seward Highway for one of the prettiest coastal drives in the state; it’s a designated National Scenic Byway and an All-American Road. There are plenty of pull-offs for photo opportunities, beluga spotting or hiking trails. Only an hour in, you’ll reach the turnoff for Girdwood, a small resort town with great hiking and restaurants. And just a little later, you’ll discover the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and Portage Glacier. Head further south and you’ll hit the end of the road in Seward, gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park. Take a scenic day cruise into the park to view glaciers, whales, sea lions, puffins and more. While you could spend at least another day fishing, glacier trekking and kayaking in Seward, the Kenai River (and its king salmon) beckons from the towns of Soldotna and Kenai. Keep driving and you’ll hit Homer, the artsy fishing town packed with restaurants and galleries. Head to the Homer Spit to find a halibut fishing charter or a boat ride to Kachemak Bay State Wilderness Park.
From Fairbanks to Valdez
The Richardson Highway, previously known as the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, was one of the most important access routes during the Fairbanks gold rush and can still transport travelers back in time. Stop at Rika’s Roadhouse in Big Delta State Historical Park, for the first glimpse into the early 1900s. Sullivan Roadhouse serves as a museum to the pioneer days in Delta Junction. And continue the history lesson in Copper Center at the George I. Ashby Memorial Museum. From Copper Center, make the detour to Chitina and head into Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, our country’s largest national park. But if you’re itching to go fishing, finish the drive into Valdez during daylight so you catch views of Worthington Glacier and roadside waterfalls. Set along the Prince William Sound with a dramatic mountain backdrop, Valdez is an adventure town offering more than just fishing. Take a hike, boat or helicopter to play on the area glaciers.
From Anchorage to Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve
From the Matanuska Glacier to fishing holes near Glennallen and Chitina, there are plenty of incredible attractions along this road, so don’t rush. But when you do finally reach the end of those last 60 miles on the gravel McCarthy Road and arrive in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, you’ll know you found a gem. It doesn’t have the same name recognition as Denali, but it is known as the land of superlatives (home to the largest and longest glaciers and volcanoes in North America) and home to the historic mining town of Kennicott, now a ghost town (and yes, there’s a tour available). Stay in the small neighboring town of McCarthy for access to backpacking and hiking, mountain biking, whitewater rafting and kayaking, glacier trekking, ice climbing and more.
Read to hit the road now? Take a look at the Alaska map and start planning your route. There are plenty of other ways to combine these destinations or add on additional ideas. Look to our local experts for some tips on where to go or check out the Alaska vacation planner for more ideas.