Learn about Alaska’s eleven vibrant, distinct indigenous cultures and get a taste of local history with this eight-day tour through Southcentral Alaska. Highlights include re-created Alaska Native village sites, World War II ruins, and tiny coastal towns that can only be reached by boat.
Day 1 Anchorage
Start your journey at the Anchorage Museum, which features world-class art and an extensive collection of artifacts; the nearby downtown area is full of cafes where you can get a delicious lunch. Next, catch the free shuttle to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where you can explore the history of Alaska’s eleven distinct indigenous cultures, take a guided tour through re-created village sites, experience a Native dance performance, and shop for fine art created by Alaska Native artisans.
When you’ve had your fill, take the free shuttle back downtown and browse a few of the many gift shops, or rent a bicycle and pedal part of the paved 11-mile Tony Knowles Coastal trail that starts downtown. End your night with dinner at one of Anchorage’s many fine dining establishments.
Day 2 Anchorage
Once you’ve had breakfast, take a drive to Earthquake Park, where you can walk a short trail and view interpretive signs that showcase the effects of the Good Friday earthquake. The magnitude 9.2 earthquake, which hit in 1964 and had far-reaching effects throughout the southern portion of the state, was the largest earthquake recorded in North America and the second largest in the world. Next, visit Lake Hood, the busiest seaplane base in the world, and tour the excellent Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum.
As you head back downtown for lunch, stop by historic city hall for a short, ranger-guided walking tour. If you’re still going strong, make the thirty-minute drive northeast to the Eklutna Historical Park, where you can see the St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, built in 1830, along with colorful spirit houses, an unusual Athabascan tradition that’s built to serve as a refuge for the spirit of the recently passed.
Day 3 Seward
Board the Alaska Railroad Coastal Classic train, or make the 125-mile drive south to the coastal community of Seward. The narrow, winding road between Anchorage and Seward, known simply as the Seward Highway, is designated as a National Scenic Byway for its spectacular scenery, with rugged mountains on one side and sparkling water on the other. If you are traveling by cruise ship, you might meet (or leave) your boat in this port.
Once you reach Seward, your many options for a day adventure include day hikes near Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield, a kayaking/hiking tour to picturesque Caines Head State Recreation Area and its World War II ruins, a helicopter ride to a nearby glacier, or a dog sled outing starting from the kennel of a champion Iditarod musher. Spend the night in Seward.
Day 4 Kenai Fjords National Park
On your second day in Seward, take one of the popular day cruises into Kenai Fjords National Park, where the steep walls of the fjords were carved by ancient glaciers. You’ll get to see some glaciers and World War II ruins at a distance from the boat, but the real attraction here is wildlife: Depending on your luck you may see humpback whales, orcas, enormous Steller sea lions, sea otters, seals, puffins and other seabirds.
Day 5 Cooper Landing and City of Kenai
An hour’s drive north of Seward is Cooper Landing, a quaint roadside community nestled in the Chugach Mountains. Make time to visit the K’beq Interpretive Site, where you can take part in an interpretive walk that explores the heritage of the local Dena’ina Athabascans. An hour to the west in the city of Kenai, where you can tour the Kenai Visitor and Cultural Center, take a self-guided walking tour of Old Town Kenai, and visit the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Church, a National Historic Landmark that is one of the oldest Russian Orthodox churches in Alaska.
Day 6 Ninilchik and Homer
Continue south on the Sterling Highway to the small Russian settlement of Ninilchik, where you can visit one of the most-photographed buildings on the Kenai Peninsula, the Russian Orthodox Holy Transfiguration of Our Lord chapel, est. 1901.
Once you’ve created a photo memory, it’s time to get back on the road south to Homer, a coastal town that bursts with some of the state’s best art, food and fishing. Along the way you’ll see panoramic views over Kachemak Bay, the Kenai Mountains, and of course the famous Homer Spit, a 4-mile-long finger of land reaching into the ocean. “Must visit” attractions include the small but splendid Pratt Museum, the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, and the eclectic blend of restaurants and gift shops on the Spit; make sure you leave plenty of time to browse.
Day 7 Across the Bay
Homer is, first and foremost, a water town. Take full advantage of this with one of the many Homer-based sea kayaking tours, or pedal your own way on an unusual fat bike tour of the sandy coastline. You can also take a day ferry across Kachemak Bay to the tiny seaside communities of Seldovia or Halibut Cove, or hop a water taxi to explore the popular hiking trails in Kachemak Bay State Park—but make sure you brush up on your bear safety first.
Day 8 Homer to Anchorage
It’s time to head back to Anchorage. The drive usually takes at least five hours, but if you haven’t yet had your fill of wildlife, leave extra time to visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage. It’s the perfect place for guaranteed wildlife sightings, and if you time it just right you can see the brown bears and black bears being fed.
As you travel Turnagain Arm, keep one eye on the cliffs to the right for Dall sheep, and the other eye on the water to your left where you might see a bore tide or small, white beluga whales. Just kidding! Both eyes on the road, please. Trying to watch wildlife (or the scenery) and drive at the same time is a common cause of accidents here, so make use of the plentiful roadside pullouts when you want to soak in the views.