Venture out to experience the majestic parklands of Alaska — this 12-day sample trip begins with Denali National Park, home of the tallest peak in North America, Denali, and rolls into Wrangell-St Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States. The journey concludes with tours of Valdez, the McCarthy-Kennicott Copper Mine and the Mat-Su Valley.
Day 1 Anchorage
Begin your journey in Alaska’s largest city, where you can experience our rich culture & heritage. Rent a car, van or RV from one of the many rental agencies around the city. You'll have seemingly endless opportunities for things to do, sights to see, great dining and meeting the wonderful people living in this special place. Visit the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Anchorage Museum of History & Art or the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum for an in-depth look at our culture and history. Enjoy fine dining and shopping downtown—without having to pay a sales tax! You can also go flightseeing to nearby remote mountains and lakes, take a day trip on a small boat cruise near the city or explore Anchorage's many hiking and biking trails.
Day 2 Anchorage-Denali
Wake early and drive north out of town on the Glenn Highway (6th Avenue in downtown Anchorage) following the signs to Wasilla. There you will transfer to the George Parks Highway before arriving at Denali National Park, a journey of about 236 miles. The drive should take about 5 hours if you don't stop to photograph the marvelous vistas (and why wouldn't you?). Watch out for wildlife!
There are plenty of lodging options in Denali, ranging from cabins, B&B’s, lodges, resorts, motels, hotels and RV parks. While in the Denali corridor you can enjoy a rafting trip, horseback riding, hiking, shopping or a dinner theater show.
Day 3 Denali National Park
Spend the day on a guided wilderness tour of Denali National Park. Panoramic views of mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and glaciers provide the backdrop as you look for bears, caribou, wolves, marmots, ptarmigan and other animals. Overnight again at your lodging of choice and ready yourself for the next day of touring the wilderness back country along the Denali Highway.
Day 4 Denali Highway to the Copper Valley
From Denali, travel south about 30 miles to Cantwell where the George Parks Highway will intersect with the Denali Highway. This will begin your scenic tour through the Alphabet Hills and some of the most beautiful wilderness in Alaska. Most of the road is gravel and requires you to drive between 35 and 50 mph. There are a few outback lodges along the way with food, restrooms, information and ancillary services. Take your time and enjoy the spectacular scenery and watch for moose, caribou, wolves, bald eagles, ravens and a host of small critters fighting for existence in this wilderness biome.
This area is a major hunting and fishing region for Alaskans as they stock their freezers for winter. In late summer you will see many hunters as they peruse the hills for their winter stock.
After about 135 miles, you will exit the Denali Highway at Paxson. Turn right onto the Richardson Highway. You will pass several roadhouses that offer food, accommodations, fuel, camping and guided fishing charters on the tributaries to the world famous Copper River. Stop at the Copper Valley Visitor Information Center for details about the Copper Valley, Kennicott, Valdez and Prince William Sound. You'll have your choice of lodging, which ranges from cabins, B&B’s motels, hotels, lodges and RV parks.
Day 5 and 6 Copper River Valley (Gakona-Glennallen-Copper Center)
The Copper Valley's myriad of activities can keep you busy for days. Take a guided fishing charter for King and Red salmon on the Gulkana and Klutina rivers (tributaries to the world famous Copper River); fly over the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park; or visit the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park Headquarters and Visitor Center and Ahtna Heritage Museum or the Copper Center Museum. Stay for at least two nights, as your travels and activities will be dynamic and a good rest will be needed before you travel on.
Day 7 and 8 McCarthy-Kennicott Mine
Drive back up the Richardson Highway to mile 82.6 where it intersects the Edgerton Highway. Travel east and then southerly to the little historical town of Chitina. You can overnight at the old and renovated Gilpatrick's Hotel Chitina or just stop for a rest, food and drink and then continue on up to McCarthy. You'll travel via the McCarthy Road, a 60-mile gravel highway along an old railroad bed from the copper mine days. At the end of the road, you will park and walk across the bridge where you can take a van into McCarthy or travel on another 5 miles to the Kennicott Copper Mine. Confirm with your car rental agency you are allowed to drive on the McCarthy Road; if not, or simply if you'd prefer, you can take a small plane from Chitina to McCarthy.
Day 9 and 10 Valdez-Prince William Sound
Travel south along the Richardson Highway where you will climb from 1600 feet above sea level to about 2800 feet over the next 90 miles. At mile 28, look for the spectacular Worthington Glacier on your right. From the public parking lot, you can take a leisurely hike up into the glacier where you can take photos and look for ice worms. Continuing on you will exit the Copper Valley at a cut in the mountain at the 2800-foot level. Before you lie the Chugach Mountains and the valley into which you will descend to sea level in just 3 or 4 miles. You'll drive through Keystone Canyon, which has dramatic 800-foot waterfalls.
Proceed on into Valdez, the home of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) terminus and east Prince William Sound. With flightseeing to the Chugach Mountains, day cruises in Prince William Sound to the Columbia and Mears Glaciers, fishing charters, good restaurants, museums and the TAPS terminus, Valdez is definitely a two-day destination.
Both communities have comfortable, clean and well-appointed hotel rooms, B&B’s and cabins. McCarthy was, in the mining days, the place for relaxation, entertainment and excess, accommodating the needs of the miners on their limited time off. Today the buildings have been renovated and the town is still fun and entertaining. Take a full day to hike, explore the grounds or go flightseeing.
Overnight at either Kennicott or McCarthy.
Day 11 and 12 Mat-Su Valley Palmer
After traveling back down the McCarthy Road and with an overnight stop at Copper Center or Glennallen, you will begin the day, after breakfast, traveling west along the Glenn Highway toward Palmer. Along the way are several roadhouses, and the scenery is unrivaled by many other highways in Alaska. Near Palmer is the Musk Ox Farm where, every year, several newborns welcome you. Also near downtown Palmer is the Reindeer Farm, where you can pet reindeer, elk and bison.
After a day of touring and driving, you will return to Anchorage and check into your lodging of choice, enjoying a relaxing night of dining, movies and plays or just recuperating and preparing for your journey home. You will have memories that will last a lifetime and very well may begin to plan your next Alaska adventure even before you arrive home.