This 10-day sample trip sweeps you through some of the most majestic parklands in all of Alaska, including Denali National Park, which is home to the tallest peak in North America, and Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the largest national park in the United States.
Day 1 Anchorage
Begin your journey in Alaska’s largest city, where you can experience our rich culture and heritage with visits to the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and the Alaska Native Heritage Center. If you like planes, the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum and nearby Lake Hood, the busiest seaplane base in the world, are fascinating stops. End the day with one of several fun walking tours, or by exploring Anchorage’s many hiking and biking trails; there are several bike rental shops downtown.
Day 2 Anchorage to Denali
Wake early and make the drive north to Denali National Park. The trip is about 240 miles and usually takes at least five hours, once you allow time for rest and photo stops. There are plenty of lodging options to choose from in Denali. Once you’re checked in to your lodgings, you should still have time for a short tour: Popular options include rafting, horseback riding, touring the National Park Service’s sled dog kennels, flightseeing, ziplining, day hiking or a dinner theater show.
Day 3 Denali National Park
Spend the day on a guided wilderness tour of Denali National Park. Bus tours that take you deep into the park along its only roadway are the most popular option here, but you can also book fly-in hiking trips, Jeep “safaris,” and longer versions of most of the trips mentioned in Day 2. Panoramic views of mountain ranges, rivers, lakes and glaciers provide the backdrop as you look for brown bears, black bears, caribou, wolves, marmots, ptarmigan and other animals. Overnight again at your lodging of choice.
Day 4 Denali Highway and the Copper River Valley
From Denali National Park, travel about 30 miles south to the small community of Cantwell. This marks the beginning of the 135-mile Denali Highway, which will take you east through some of the most beautiful wilderness in Alaska. Most of the road is gravel, so your maximum speed may be as low as 35 mph—but the views are worth it. A few wilderness lodges along the way offer food, restrooms and a chance to ask for information. Take your time and enjoy the spectacular scenery as you watch for wildlife like moose, caribou, bears, wolves, bald eagles and ravens. Once you reach the tiny community of Paxson, which marks the end of the Denali Highway, follow the Richardson Highway south for another 75 miles to Glennallen, where you can visit the Copper River Valley Visitor Center and find lodgings for the night.
Day 5 Copper River Valley (Gakona, Glennallen or Copper Center)
The Copper River Valley’s many activities can keep you busy for days—but for now, pick one. Take a guided fishing charter for king and red salmon on tributaries to the world famous Copper River, raft the same rivers, book a flightseeing trip over Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, or visit the park headquarters and visitor center, the Ahtna Heritage Museum and the Copper Center Museum.
Day 6 Copper River Valley to McCarthy
Today will offer a driving adventure like no other. Start by making the 70-mile drive southeast to the small community of Chitina, where you can rest and fill up on gas before starting the more challenging leg of your trip. When you’re ready, set out on the unpaved road to McCarthy. This road is only 60 miles long, but it’s narrow, has many blind corners, and was built on an old railbed that sometimes still surfaces tire-popping railroad spikes. Plan at least two or three hours to make the drive, and double-check that your rental car company allows it. Once you arrive in McCarthy, you’ll have to park your car and cross a narrow footbridge to get into town.
If you don’t want to risk your tires on the McCarthy Road, you can also take a regularly scheduled shuttle service or book a small plane flight from Chitina to McCarthy. Spend the night in McCarthy or at a lodge in the neighboring town of Kennicott, located five miles away.
Day 7 McCarthy to Kennicott
Spend the day enjoying the sleepy, laid-back feel of life in McCarthy, where the year-round population was just 28 people as of the last census, and cellular service is a recent innovation that may still be limited to just one carrier. Choose from long day hikes, fishing, whitewater rafting, or a guided trekking or ice climbing trip on the nearby Root Glacier. You can also walk, bike or take the local shuttle bus for the 5-mile trip to Kennicott, a nearby ghost town that comes back to life with visitors every summer. Kennicott the town was founded to tend to the needs of the workers of the Kennecott Copper Mine, and much of the old mining equipment still works; you’ll have to book a tour to get into the buildings, though.
Day 8 McCarthy to Valdez
Retrace your drive (or flight) out of McCarthy and back to the paved road system, where it’s another 120 miles southwest to the friendly little port community of Valdez. The last 30 miles of roadway into Valdez are some of the prettiest in the world, so leave yourself plenty of time for stops to view sights like the roadside Worthington Glacier and the spectacular waterfalls that line the steep walls of Keystone Canyon. If you reach Valdez before business hours are over you can visit the town’s three museums, which display Alaska Native artifacts and tell the story of the outsized historical events that have taken here, including the cataclysmic effects of the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake that measured 9.2 on the Richter scale—the second-largest earthquake ever recorded in the world.
Day 9 Valdez
Enjoy a full-day tour of your choice in the beautiful waters of Prince William Sound. Popular options include cruising to the Columbia or Meares glaciers, kayaking among icebergs shed by the same glaciers, or taking advantage of Valdez’s world-famous halibut fishing. Upon your return, enjoy dinner in one of Valdez’s excellent restaurants and turn in for another night.
Day 10 Mat-Su Valley and Palmer to Anchorage
It’s time to make the 260-mile drive from Valdez to the farming town of Palmer in the Mat-Su Valley. The trip takes you back through the beautiful scenery you just visited a few days ago but, since you’ll be seeing everything from a new perspective, leave yourself plenty of time for another round of photo stops. Once you reach Palmer, visit the family-run musk ox or reindeer farms, where you can get up close and personal with baby animals. From here, it’s another 45 miles—or about an hour’s drive—to Anchorage, where you can catch a nice dinner and rest up in your hotel before starting the journey back home tomorrow.