Arrival at Anchorage
Landing in Anchorage, Alaska, and rental car pickup at the airport. Lodging in Anchorage.
Anchorage – Denali
Leave Anchorage and head north towards one of Alaska’s most popular attractions, Denali National Park. The park is named after the tallest mountain in North America (20,320 feet), located within its boundaries. Along the way, consider a stop in Talkeetna, famous for its vibrant social life and for being the logistical center for mountain climbers attempting to summit “The Big One”. Talkeetna is located 2.5 hrs north of Anchorage, and the park’s entrance is about three more hours further north. Accommodations are available near the Park’s entrance. Lodging: Denali National Park, AK
Optional: scenic flight over Mount Denali
A few air taxis operate flightseeing tours over Mount Denali and the Alaska Range based out of Talkeetna. This is probably one of the best day tours in Alaska and some of the best aerial views money can buy: 60-120 minutes of glacial landscape, snowy peaks and granite cliffs. Some tours also include a glacier landing on the mountain itself, allowing for an incredible photo-op and an opportunity for a quick snowball fight.
The Park spans over 6 million acres, and allows you to encounter the rich wildlife of Alaska. Only one dirt road crosses the width of the Park, and we dedicate this day to riding along this road. Riding on the Park’s buses allows you to see bears, caribou, moose, mountain sheep, wolves, etc. The dramatic mountain views, including the chance to see Denali’s peak, provide wonderful photo-ops. Accommodations near the Park’s entrance.
Denali – Matanuska Glacier
Driving south to Palmer and turning east on the Glenn Hwy, which becomes a winding mountain road at this point. The road runs parallel to the wide Matanuska River, and on the other side you can see the snowy peaks and glaciers of the Chugach Range. The day ends in a remote lodge near Matanuska Glacier, one of the longest in Alaska. The lodge’s accommodations are well-kept rustic wooden cabins – a true Alaskan experience.
Matanuska Glacier – McCarthy
Driving along the diverse landscapes of Glen Hwy, and later turning south to the Richardson Hwy and east again to the Edgarton Hwy, up to Chitina. If the weather allows, along the road you’ll be able to see the Wrangell mountain range, mostly dormant volcanoes which peaks reach heights of up to 13,000-16,500 feet above sea level. These mountain mark the beginning of Wrangell-St. Elias Park – a huge park that forms a part of the largest natural reserve complex in the world (along with adjacent parks in Canada and Alaska). The Park contains some of the highest mountains in North America, the highest of them all being Mount St. Elias (18,000 feet).
The town of McCarthy and the ghost town of Kennecott are located in the heart of the Park, and getting to them is an adventure in itself. The road leading from Chitina into the Park is poorly maintained, and as such is not insured by most rental companies. The car will therefore remain in the Chitina airport, and you will arrive to McCarthy by flying in a light plane. Wrangell–St. Elias is one of wildest natural reserves in the world, and flying is almost the only way to see the inside of the park. Most of the Park’s glaciers and summits are so large, that you can only see and truly admire the landscape’s intensity from the air. The flight is 30-40 minutes long, and it ends at McCarthy’s airport.
McCarthy itself is a tiny town that developed alongside the Kennecott mines, which operated here in the early 20th century. The mines were abandoned in the early 1930s, but the town lives on. Despite a certain growth in tourism in recent years, McCarthy is still considered an undeveloped tourist destination because access is difficult. As a result, the town manages to preserve its unique nature, and is reminiscent of Wild-West towns. Accommodations in Kennecott or McCarthy.
Kennecott and McCarthy
Root Glacier is at a walking distance from the remnants of the Kennecott mines’ factories. The morning is dedicated to touring the glacier with professional guides. The tour takes 4-6 hours, during which you will see the glacier’s unique landscape up close: waterfalls vanishing into the ice, clear turquoise pools and ice caves. The tour utilizes designated equipment that will be supplied by the guide (crampons and helmets), and does not entail any special physical exertion beyond a regular hike. At the end of the tour we return to Kennecott.
In the afternoon there’s a guided tour of the abandoned processing factories of Kennecott mines. The factories were abandoned in the 1930s, but are impressively preserved to this day. The tour illustrates the mines’ activity and history, and the lifestyle of the workers in the mines and factories – a fascinating and highly recommended experience. Accommodations in Kennecott or McCarthy.
McCarthy – Valdez
In the morning, flying back from McCarthy to Chitina (30-40 minutes). After the flight you return with the car to the main road, and from there south toward Valdez. The road traverses the mountain views of Thompson Pass, and continues to Keystone Canyon with its large waterfalls. Valdez itself sits at the shore of Prince William Sound, a beautiful bay full of wildlife and glaciers. It rose to fame about twenty years ago when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground there and caused a catastrophic environmental disaster. Accommodations in Valdez.
Columbia Glacier day cruise
A full day of sailing near the Columbia Glacier, one of Alaska’s largest glaciers. This glacier has been receding very quickly, leaving behind it a vast area dotted with beautiful chunks of ice in all sizes and shapes. The peaceful water and magnificent views of Prince William Sound make it an ideal sailing destination. This cruise will take you past some massive blocks of ice that have detached from the glacier with a massive splash, and on them you can sometimes spot marine mammals (such as sea lions, seals and sea otters) catching some sun. The cruise leaves Valdez in the morning and returns in the afternoon.
Valdez – Whittier – Homer
In the morning, a ferry ride from Valdez to Whittier, a small town on the west side of Prince William Sound. Near Whittier there’s a glacial valley called Portage Valley, with an interesting visitors center and nice and easy hiking trails. After visiting the valley, driving towards Homer, on the southwestern side of the Kenai Peninsula. The road crosses the Chugach Mountains and continues parallel to Cook Inlet. Along it there are many viewpoints that overlook the inlet and (in good weather) the big volcanoes (11,500-13,000 feet) on the other side of the road. Accommodations in Homer.
Katmai National Park
Katmai Park is one of the best places in the world to watch bears in the wild. When the salmon arrive, you can see big concentrations of bears along the rivers, fishing and competing with each other over select fishing sites. The bears are observed from a very short range (they are not aggressive towards humans), and the experience is unforgettable.
Reach the observation sites and return to Homer by a light marine plane. The flight provides a lookout on the mountainous coastline of the Park. The airline chooses the exact site of the tour, based on the locations of bear concentration, which change along the season according to the location of the salmon. The tour is usually lead by the pilot itself, unless it’s in Brooks Camp – where park rangers oversee the site and direct the visitors. The day ends back in Homer in the late afternoon. Accommodations in Homer.
Homer – Seward
Driving from Homer towards Seward. Seward is located by a deep fjord, and is straddled on both sides by glacier-covered mountains. The town’s location near the Chugach mountain range and the Kenai Fjords Park makes it especially attractive. Spend the afternoon in the Sealife Center and on Exit Glacier adjacent to the town from the north. Accommodations in Seward.
Kenai Fjords Park
Kenai Fjords Park is almost inaccessible by land, and sailing is the main way to experience its views and diverse wildlife population. The day is dedicated to sailing between the fjords. The marine animals common to this region include whales, sea lions, seals, various water birds and sometimes even orca whales. Accommodations in Seward.
Seward – Girdwood
Driving from Seward to Girdwood, about 35 miles south of Anchorage. Along the way you can stop at a few pretty viewpoints, and visit Alaska Conservation Center for wildlife conservation. Girdwood is a cute little ski town located in a beautiful area at the bottom of Chugach Mountains. We recommend spending the afternoon going up the tram to a viewpoint over the area, or hiking in one of the many hiking trails around town. Accommodations in Girdwood.
Girdwood – Anchorage – Home
The last bit of driving before Anchorage is a proper ending to the trip – the road runs parallel to Turnagain Arm, which demonstrates one of the most extreme tidal ranges in the world, and you drive down a narrow road between the sea and the coastal cliffs. You can often see pods of beluga whales in the waters along the road, or herds of mountain sheep on the cliffs on the other side of the road.
After arriving the Anchorage, and in accordance with flight schedules, return the rental car at the airport and fly home. Bon voyage!