Southcentral Alaska is a fascinating blend of city skyline, parkland and urban farms, all set against a stunning wilderness backdrop and easily accessed from the road. This four-day trip can stand on its own, or be used as an add-on to a longer itinerary.
Day 1 Anchorage to Valdez via Whittier
Start your drive by heading south from Anchorage along the Seward Highway, a nationally designated Scenic Byway. This coastal roadway showcases the gleaming waters of Turnagain Arm on one side and forest-clad mountains on the other; use the plentiful pullouts for photo ops. Don’t forget to stop by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured wildlife, where you can see animals like brown bears, black bears, bison, caribou, moose and more.
Just down the road from the conservation center you’ll travel through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest shared rail-vehicle tunnel in North America (be sure to check the schedule for tunnel openings). The tunnel offers the only land access to Whittier, a small coastal community with a fascinating World War II history, set against stunning scenery on the shores of Prince William Sound. Grab a quick seafood lunch in one of the local cafes before you board an Alaska Marine Highway ferry for the six-hour trip to Valdez, where you’ll spend the night. (Car berths on the ferry fill up quickly, so make sure you reserve your ticket well in advance.)
Day 2 Valdez
Valdez is one of Alaska’s premier destinations for fishing and outdoor recreation, all set against a mountain backdrop that’s earned it the nickname “Little Switzerland.” The area is also rich in history: It figured prominently in the earliest gold rushes, the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake, and is the southern terminus of the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Consider booking a full or half-day fishing charter for your chance to catch a monster-sized halibut or salmon and possibly win a prize in the local fishing derbies. Or you can take a full-day cruise to the Columbia or Meares glaciers, viewing marine life along the way.
Day 3 Mat-Su Valley
Start the five-hour drive from Valdez to the Mat-Su Valley community of Palmer. Make sure you stop for photo opportunities at Bridal Veil Falls, Horsetail Falls, and Worthington Glacier, all on the first 30 miles of road on your way out of Valdez. Another must-see stop is the Matanuska Glacier, where you can hire a guide to take you trekking or even climbing on the ice. Once you reach Palmer, consider touring one of the local musk ox or reindeer farms, or learn more about this area’s agricultural roots at the Colony House Museum. Overnight in Palmer at a charming bed and breakfast or hotel.
Day 4 Mat-Su Valley
Explore the alpine beauty of Hatcher Pass, a wilderness area located a half-hour drive north of Palmer. Just driving up to the pass will get you up above treeline and into the tundra, where you can enjoy spectacular, sweeping views of the nearby mountains. One of the most popular attractions here is a guided tour of Independence Mine Historical State Park, where you can learn about the early gold rush history of this area. Next, make the 45-minute drive southwest to Wasilla for a stop at Iditarod Headquarters, where you can learn about the 1,000-mile Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race through historical displays, video exhibits and photos. If you like freshwater fishing, the lakes and streams around Wasilla hold rainbow trout, grayling, Arctic char and even king salmon. Complete your adventure with a drive to Anchorage, where you’ll depart from the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.