Photo: Attilio Pregnolato/Shutterstock

8 Unforgettable Road Trips Through Alaska

by Julie Cao Aug 16, 2016

Author’s note: Some highways are unpaved. Take extra food, drinks, fuel, cash, an emergency kit, and spare tires with you. Equip your vehicle with a CB radio and a satellite phone as you will not have any cell-phone signal. Do not skip any gas station on the road.

1. Anchorage to Seward (Seward Highway, AK-1 and AK-9)

From Anchorage, take the Walter J. Hickel Parkway (formerly known as Minnesota Drive) that then turns into O’Malley Road. From O’Malley Road, take the on ramp onto New Seward Highway. Drive along the coast of Turnagain Arm and stop at any lookouts for an excellent view of the Chugach State Park Mountains and the Cook Inlet. The largest bore tide takes place here in the afternoons, between 3pm and 8pm. Pull over at Bird Point to get the best view. Return to the coastal highway and check out Moose Pass, where you will more than likely spot moose. Trek to the lakes in the Chugach National Forest and enjoy some foraging — there’s a harvest of berry bushes. Stop for a scenic view of the glacial lake, Kenai Lake. Finish your trip at Seward and enjoy a sunset walk on the Waterfront Park.

2. Anchorage to Palmer (Glenn Highway)

From 6th Avenue in Anchorage, drive northwards on Glenn Highway and visit the Eagle River Nature Center. From there, hike the Rodak Nature Loop to view the salmon spawning and the Eagle River Valley. Stop at the Sheep Mountain Lodge for an Alaskan seafood and steak lunch. Continue journeying on the Glenn Highway and park your vehicle at the Matanuska Glacier Scenic Lookout. Jump over the railing on your right and get a close peek at the giant sheet of blue ice. Pass Lion’s Head, pay attention to the cliff on your left where Dall sheep and mountain goats run on the hills.

3. Valdez to Glennallen (Richardson Highway, AK-4)

From Valdez, travel along the oldest highway in Alaska, Richardson Highway, and stop at Keystone Canyon for a view of Horsetail and Bridalveil waterfalls. Pass the peak of the Thompson Pass at an elevation of 2,678 feet, and stop at any lookouts to get a close-up view of alpine flowers, low rivers, the Chugach Mountain Range, and bears. Spend 10 minutes hiking up to the Worthington Glacier at the Worthington Glacier Recreation Center, and touch the retreated blue ice. Look out for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the 800-mile pipeline transporting oil from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez. Then, pay a visit to the Copper Center Visitor Center, the gateway to the largest national park in the USA, St Elias National Park and Preserve, and hike the Boreal Forest Trail and Copper River Bluff Trail to view the Wrangell Mountains. Get lunch and fill up your vehicle with gas at Glennallen.

4. Paxson to Cantwell (Denali Highway, AK- 8)

From Paxson, travel on Denali Highway which runs between Wrangell-St Elias Peaks and the Chugach Range. Kayak the glacial Delta River amid canyons and snowy hills while viewing the bears, waterfowl, and caribous. Next, drive over the top of the Maclaren Summit, the second highest highway pass in Alaska with an elevation of 4,086 feet, and take in the stunning vistas of Maclaren River, Maclaren Glacier, and the Alaska Range. If you are feeling adventurous, trek the 3-mile Maclaren Summit Trail that takes you across the tundra to Maclaren Summit. Stay overnight at Maclaren River and Lodge.

The next day, drive through a 1,000-foot-long bridge across Clearwater Greek, pass Susitna River and come to Valdez Creek Mine Viewpoint. View the Valdez Creek, which produced around 495,000 troy ounces of gold during the 1900s. Take time to stop and admire Denali, the tallest mountain in North America with an elevation of 20,310 feet. Bring your own food and drinks for a picnic, and fill up your gas tank before you leave Paxson. There are no service stations on this road.

5. Haines to Yukon (Haines Highway, AK-7)

From Haines Airport, take the Haines Highway, which is surrounded by the Takhinsha Mountains. Enjoy a picnic along the Chilkat River. If you are into hiking, spend three to five hours walking through the steep Mt Ripinski trailhead, and reach the summit to get a wonderful view of Douglas Island, Lynn Canal, and Mt Riley. Stop at the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve to pay a visit to the countless bald eagles inhabiting the area. Visit Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center at Klukwan and learn about the culture and the history of the Chilkat Indian tribe. At night, camp at the Mosquito Lake State Recreation.

The second day, cross Muncaster Creek Bridge, Little Boulder Creek Bridge, and Big Boulder Creek Bridge. View the Saksaia Glacier in the west before crossing the Canadian border to Yukon. Check your fuel before this road trip, and bring your own food and drink. There are also no service stations on this road.

6. Seward Highway – Portage Glacier – Whittier (Portage Glacier Road and Whittier Tunnel Drive)

Turn left onto Portage Glacier Road from Seward Highway (if coming from Anchorage); make a long stop at Portage Glacier. Take a look at Portage Glacier on the Portage Lake, visit the Begich Boggs Visitor Center, and hike the Byron Glacier Trail for a better view of Portage Lake and Valley, Byron Creek, and Portage Glacier. Cross to Whittier through the 2.5-mile Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, the longest railway and highway tunnel in North America. Take a cruise to explore Prince William Sound, which has 17 tidal water glaciers and dramatic ice calving activities. Finish your day with fish and chips at Swiftwater Seafood Café.

7. Seward – Exit Glacier (Seward Highway and Exit Glacier Road)

Drive northward from Seward along the coastline of Resurrection Bay, and take a left on Exit Glacier Road. Spend a few hours hiking the Lower Loop and Upper Loop Trail to get a fantastic view of the Exit Glacier. If you are feeling energetic, spend a day trekking the 8.2-mile Harding Icefield Trail to have the valley floor and the ice field within your arms’ reach. Enjoy fresh Alaskan seafood and beer at Exit Glacier Salmon Bake on your return trip to Seward.

8. Fairbanks – Prudhoe Bay (Dalton Highway, AK-11)

From Fairbanks, drive north on the most remote and scenic highway in North America, Dalton Highway. Look out for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline running parallel to the road. Then stop at the Yukon River, the third longest river in North America, to fill up your gas tank, and have lunch at Hotspot Café. After that, travel through a long stretch of spruce forest, tundra, and taiga to reach the Arctic Circle marker. Look out for bears and caribou herds on the road. Make an overnight stop at the Coldfoot. Enjoy a buffet dinner at Coldfoot Camp Trucker’s Café, and camp at Marion Creek, or stay at the Coldfoot Camp.

The next day, continue journeying through the North Slope and visit Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which is home to caribous and migratory birds. Embark on a backcountry hiking trip through the Gates of the Arctic National Park. Afterward, drive through the Atigun Pass, the highest highway pass in Alaska, with an elevation of 4,739 feet, and continue traveling along the foothills of Brooks Range, frozen tundra, and Ivishak River. Stop at Prudhoe Bay, visit the oil field, which is the largest in the US, and dip yourself in the Arctic Ocean in the midnight sun. Stay overnight at Prudhoe Bay Hotel. Gear up your vehicles before your return journey to Fairbanks.

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