If you love road trips, don’t miss this epic eight-day itinerary through Interior and Southcentral Alaska for stunning views, local culture and history, and the thrill of the open road, all surrounded by unfathomable miles of wilderness.
Day 1 Fairbanks
Start the day with a trip to the University of Alaska Museum of the North, easily one of the top ten attractions in the state. Here, you can learn about Alaska’s exciting gold rush history, the dynamic aurora borealis, and the Alaska Native people that developed ingenious ways to thrive in the state’s challenging weather and terrain. Follow that with a stop by the Trans-Alaska Pipeline viewing station for an up-close look at this feat of modern engineering. Once you’ve taken your turn at one of several gold panning tours in the city, it’ll be time to turn in for the night.
Day 2 Alaska’s Arctic
Rise early for your adventure north into the Arctic. Several companies offer tours along the famed Dalton Highway, the only road in the U.S. that crosses the mighty Yukon River and connects the conventional highway system to Prudhoe Bay and the Arctic Ocean. View the majestic Brooks Range, walk on spongy Arctic tundra, and keep your eyes peeled for caribou, bears and other wildlife. You’ll return to Fairbanks with an incredible experience, and an official certificate to commemorate having crossed the Arctic Circle.
Day 3 Chena Hot Springs
Now’s your chance to recuperate from yesterday’s long adventure. Take a leisurely, 60-mile drive to Chena Hot Springs, where you can soak or swim in a rock-lined pool that’s warmed by the hot springs. The outdoor pool stays open all year long, even when winter temperatures dip to 40 below. While at the hot springs make sure to tour the Aurora Ice Museum, a year-round marvel that was created by two of the world’s preeminent ice carvers. Curl up on an ice bed, photograph an ice sculpture, or pull up a stool at the Aurora Ice Bar and sip an appletini in your very own sculpted ice glass.
Go ahead and spend the night—in a nearby lodge, not the ice hotel—and make sure to let the front desk staff know that you’d like a wake-up call if the northern lights come out. (They’re only visible during the shoulder season and winter; during the summer, the night skies are too bright to see the aurora.)
Day 4 Delta Junction and the Copper River Valley
Drive back to Fairbanks, then head south on the Richardson Highway to Rika’s Roadhouse in Delta Junction. The drive is about 135 miles, all told, and the carefully restored roadhouse is the centerpiece of Big Delta State Historical Park, which preserves a slice of mid-1900s life on the Valdez-to-Fairbanks trail. Keep driving another 160 miles to the Copper River Valley community of Glennallen, where you can enjoy a half-day fishing tour or quick flightseeing adventure, then relax in a lodge for the night..
Day 5 McCarthy and Kennicott
Make the 70-mile drive to the rural community of Chitina. From there, you have two options: Either take a short flight by small plane to the quirky little town of McCarthy, or drive the 60-mile, unpaved McCarthy Road to get there. This is truly a road like no other—narrow, with blind turns, and built on an old railbed that still occasionally surfaces old spikes to puncture tires beyond saving—so double-check whether your rental car company is all right with you taking the car there. Once in McCarthy, book a short tour to wander the historic mine buildings of nearby Kennicott, or go trekking or ice climbing on the beautiful Root Glacier. Spend the night in McCarthy or Kennicott.
Day 6 McCarthy and Kennicott to Valdez
The pace of life in McCarthy—which has a year-round population of about 28 people—is slow an unhurried. Savor that feeling during breakfast, then pack up and head back to Chitina; you should be on your way by about midday. From Chitina, you’ll drive another 120 miles to the seaside town of Valdez, known its dramatic mountain backdrop. En route, stop to view mighty Worthington Glacier and the stunning waterfalls that gush from steep, rocky walls along the last 30 miles of road leading into Valdez. Spend the night in one of the local hotels.
Day 7 Valdez
Make the most of Valdez’s beautiful surroundings with an all-day boat cruise to the Columbia or Meares glaciers. Or, if you’d rather, go kayaking or fishing instead. Valdez is famous for its fishing derbies, so make sure you have a derby ticket in hand before you set foot on the boat. If you’d rather stick close to town, explore the city’s three museums that highlight local culture and history, including the aftereffects of the Gold Rush, the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and the Good Friday Earthquake of 1964. Sleep tight for a second night in one of Valdez’s many B&Bs or hotels.
Day 8 Anchorage
Take the Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Valdez to the Southcentral port town of Whittier; it’s about a six-hour trip, and makes for a spectacular sightseeing cruise through Prince William Sound. From Whittier, it’s a 60-mile drive back to Anchorage, including a 2.5-mile trip through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest shared road/rail tunnel in the U.S. Once in Anchorage, you can either start your journey home or choose to spend an extra day, touring the city’s excellent museums and shopping for gifts before you head back.