Southcentral Alaska and the nearby island of Kodiak are full of opportunities for fun and education. This eight-day itinerary takes you to animal rehabilitation centers and World War II military fortifications, plus a chance to see massive Kodiak brown bears in the wild.
Day 1 Anchorage
Begin your journey in Alaska’s largest city with a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, or the Alaska Aviation Heritage Museum—or all three. Snag a reindeer hot dog—Alaska’s most popular street food—for lunch from one of the downtown vendors, then rent a bike and use it to pedal along the Light Speed Planet Walk, a series of model planets that are spaced throughout the city so that it takes you the same amount of time to walk between them as it takes light to travel between the planets themselves. Spend the night in Anchorage.
Day 2 Cooper Landing and Seward
Rent a car and head south on the 125-mile drive to Seward. This roadway—aptly named the Seward Highway—is beautiful, with steep mountains on one side and the fast-moving waters of Turnagain Arm on the other. You might get lucky and see a bore tide, or white beluga whales chasing fish up the inlet. Along the way, stop in the small but exquisite Cooper Landing Historical Society Museum, located in the equally small and wonderful town of Cooper Landing. Make sure you get to see the museum’s fully articulated brown bear skeleton, which was assembled by the local school. Once you reach Seward make it a point to stop by the Alaska SeaLife Center, a rehabilitation and research center where you can have close encounters with injured or orphaned marine wildlife. Overnight at one of Seward’s many excellent hotels or B&Bs.
Day 3 Seward
Learn all about glaciers by paying a visit to the Exit Glacier Nature Center, about 10 miles out of Seward, then hiking the gentle trails near the glacier’s toe. For a more challenging day, book a guided glacier trekking trip or make the tough hike up to the Harding Icefield, where Exit Glacier and some 40 other glaciers originate. End the day by taking a helicopter ride to another local glacier, where you can enjoy a sled dog ride with dogs from the kennel of an Iditarod champion.
Day 4 Soldotna and Kenai
Depart Seward and make the 95-mile drive to Soldotna, where you can visit the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge Interpretive Center and the Soldotna Homestead Museum, which includes historical log cabins built by some of the earliest Soldotna homesteaders. The nearby town of Kenai also has an excellent visitors center that documents the history and culture of this part of the state. Pick up a walking map for a self-guided tour of Old Town Kenai, which includes a historical Russian Orthodox church. Spend the night in either Kenai or Soldotna.
Day 5 Homer
Drive another 75 miles from Soldotna to Homer. Along the way you’ll have panoramic views of four active volcanoes on the other side of Cook Inlet, plus an opportunity to see one of the most-photographed buildings on the Kenai Peninsula, the Transfiguration of Our Lord Russian Orthodox Church in Ninilchik. Once you arrive in Homer, get your bearings at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. Next, stop by the wonderful Pratt Museum on your way to the Carl E. Wynn Nature Center, where you can take a nature walk on the center’s grounds or book a visit to the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies field station across the bay. Spend the night at one of Homer’s many fine hotels or B&Bs.
Day 6 Kodiak
Take a regional flight or an 11-hour Alaska Marine Highway ferry ride to Kodiak Island. If the ferry schedules line up just right you can make the sailing overnight, sleeping in a cabin berth instead of a hotel room, then wake up in Kodiak. Here, the theme of small but fascinating museums continues with the Alutiiq Museum, which houses more than 250,000 artifacts documenting over 7,500 years of history for the indigenous Alutiiq people of this region. The Baranov Museum is also fascinating, filled with artifacts from Kodiak’s era of Russian occupation. But the most fascinating of all may be Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park, where World War II fortifications are dotted through the rainforest. One of the bunkers holds a volunteer-run military museum that contains artifacts dating as far back as WWII, many of them still in working order.
Day 7 Kodiak
Today is all about bears. Book a fly-out trip to see the famous (and massive) Kodiak brown bear in the wild at nearby Katmai National Park or the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge. You can also book a van tour that takes you around Kodiak Island and offers good chances of seeing at least a few bears.
Day 8 Anchorage
Fly back to Homer and pick up your car or, if you made arrangements for a one-way rental, fly straight back to Anchorage. There, you can shop for any last-minute gifts and then start making your way home.