Alaska's Southern Route

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Remote towns, wild parks, glaciers, bush flights and scenic day cruises: Fantastic route through some of Alaska's best kept secrets.

Day 1: Anchorage

Anchorage is not the capital of Alaska (that’s Juneau), but it’s by far the biggest city in the state, and home to about half of the population. If you arrive early in the day, consider a visit to either the Anchorage Museum of History and Arts, or the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Other good options include a walk along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, or – if you’re not too…Read more

Anchorage is not the capital of Alaska (that’s Juneau), but it’s by far the biggest city in the state, and home to about half of the population. If you arrive early in the day, consider a visit to either the Anchorage Museum of History and Arts, or the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Other good options include a walk along the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, or – if you’re not too tired after a long flight – a hike up the popular trail to Flattop Mt.

Most car rentals companies offer airport pickup, with the exception of some local agencies who are located a short taxi ride away.

Overnight: Anchorage, AK

View from the airplane, Alaska

Day 2: Glacier View

The day starts with a drive east along the Glenn Hwy, which quickly becomes a winding, mountainous and super-scenic road. the highway follows the Matanuska River valley, parallel to the stunning snowy peaks of the Chugach Range. The road is rich with little gems; you can stop at the tranquil beach of Eklutna Lake, or visit the Eagle River Nature Center. Another great option for a scenic detour is the…Read more

The day starts with a drive east along the Glenn Hwy, which quickly becomes a winding, mountainous and super-scenic road. the highway follows the Matanuska River valley, parallel to the stunning snowy peaks of the Chugach Range.

The road is rich with little gems; you can stop at the tranquil beach of Eklutna Lake, or visit the Eagle River Nature Center. Another great option for a scenic detour is the Hatcher Pass area, a beautiful off-the-beaten-track alpine area in the Talkeetna mountains close to the town of Palmer. Surrounded by green tundra and overlooked by impressive granite peaks, this is a great area for a short (or long) hike. Also in Hatcher Pass is the Independence Mine Historical Site, where you can visit the remains of an interesting deserted gold mine from the 1940’s.

The day ends near in the Matanuska Glacier area, in one of the few remote lodges located in this beautiful corner of Alaska.

Overnight: Glacier View, AK

Hiker overlooking the Glenn Highway and Matanuska River, Alaska

Day 3: Wrangell St. Elias National Park

Your destination today is Wrangell-St. Elias National 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 tallest 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 Kennicott, only five miles apart, are…Read more

Your destination today is Wrangell-St. Elias National 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 tallest 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 Kennicott, only five miles apart, are located in the heart of the park and getting to them is an adventure in itself.  The only road into the east side of the park is the Mccarthy Road, a scenic and narrow gravel road with a rather rough reputation. While that reputation is not always deserved (it used to be much rougher in the past), most rental car companies won’t allow you to take their vehicles here. The alternative way to enter the park is via small planes, always a popular mode of transportation in Alaska: leave your car in the Chitina airport, and catch a 35 mins flight with a bush plane to McCarthy. In fact, flying is the best way to understand this park: Some of the glaciers and mountains here are so large, that you can only truly comprehend the landscape if you fly over it.

McCarthy is a tiny outpost that developed alongside the Kennecott mines, super-rich copper mines which operated here in the early 20th century and eventually abandoned in the 1930s. The difficult access prevents this area from becoming a big-numbers tourist attraction, which is exactly how the locals want to keep it. Accommodations can be found in Kennicott or in McCarthy.

Overnight: Kennicott / McCarthy, AK

Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Day 4: Kennicott and the Root Glacier

A short walking distance from the deserted ghost town of Kennicott lays the white ice of the Root Glacier. This will be your playground for the first half of the day: The local guides will meet you in the morning, and lead you on the 2 mile hike along the glacier to the access point. You’ll spend the next few hours hiking, observing and photographing the glacier’s unique landscape: waterfalls disappearing…Read more

A short walking distance from the deserted ghost town of Kennicott lays the white ice of the Root Glacier. This will be your playground for the first half of the day: The local guides will meet you in the morning, and lead you on the 2 mile hike along the glacier to the access point. You’ll spend the next few hours hiking, observing and photographing the glacier’s unique landscape: waterfalls disappearing into the ice, ice caves, turquoise pools and super-clear meandering streams. You’ll get the professional gear (crampons and gloves) from the guides; the physical challenge is not more extreme than a regular hike and the whole experience is a true highlight. The tour ends back in Kennicott around 2-3 pm; group size is typically 8-10 people. Extended tours and / or privately guided departures are available at an extra cost (and if you truly feel adventurous, ask us about the ice climbing option).

The afternoon could be spent in a number of ways: you could tour the remnants of Kennicott’s deserted buildings independently, or you could do it as a guided tour (*not included). Tours are about 2.5 hrs long and are well worth the effort and the minor extra cost. Another great option is to take the shuttle down to Mccarthy and visit the local bar for an evening of live music and loud locals.

Accommodations in Kennicott or McCarthy.

Overnight: Kennicott / McCarthy, AK

Root Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Day 5: Valdez

This morning, fly back from McCarthy to Chitina (35 min. flight). Once reunited with your vehicle, drive back to the Richardson Highway, the scenic road that connects Fairbanks in the north to Valdez in the south. The road takes you south along the mountain views of Thompson Pass and Worthington Glacier, then into the steep and narrow Keystone Canyon, where huge waterfalls come down crashing the canyon walls. Valdez itself…Read more

This morning, fly back from McCarthy to Chitina (35 min. flight). Once reunited with your vehicle, drive back to the Richardson Highway, the scenic road that connects Fairbanks in the north to Valdez in the south.

The road takes you south along the mountain views of Thompson Pass and Worthington Glacier, then into the steep and narrow Keystone Canyon, where huge waterfalls come down crashing the canyon walls. Valdez itself is located at the east side of Prince William Sound, a gorgeous bay full of glaciers and wildlife.

The sound earned some unwanted international attention in 1989, when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez caused a catastrophic oil spill and an environmental disaster that lasted for decades. Today the damage is not visible to the eye and most of the wildlife is back to pre-1989 population size, but in a community where most folks work either in the oil industry or as commercial fishermen, this is still an open wound.

Overnight: Valdez, Alaska

Hikers on the ridge, Thompson Pass, near Valdez, Alaska

Day 6: Columbia Glacier

Located in the northeast corner of Prince William Sound and not too far from Valdez, Columbia Glacier is one of Alaska’s biggest tidewater glaciers. This impressive giant has been receding rapidly in recent years, leaving behind a narrow bay choked with blue ice. Today’s tour departs Valdez before noon. The destination is the humongous face of the Columbia Glacier, where one can witness some impressive (and sometimes outright crazy) calving…Read more

Located in the northeast corner of Prince William Sound and not too far from Valdez, Columbia Glacier is one of Alaska’s biggest tidewater glaciers. This impressive giant has been receding rapidly in recent years, leaving behind a narrow bay choked with blue ice.

Today’s tour departs Valdez before noon. The destination is the humongous face of the Columbia Glacier, where one can witness some impressive (and sometimes outright crazy) calving activity. The captain will maneuver the boat as close as possible to the glacier’s face (safety first, of course), allowing for some fantastic photo ops. Occasionally the ice in front of the glacier can become too thick to go through, but the scenery is wonderful nevertheless. The boat is quite spacious (two decks, covered and heated), light lunch is included, and the tour is about 6 hours long.

During the morning or the evening hours, consider a quick drive from Valdez to the opposite side of the bay, where the Salomon Gulch Hatchery is located. The hatchery itself, producing millions of salmon annually, is interesting enough; that said, the major attraction is often the wildlife exploiting the situation. Have fun, take lots of photos and keep your eyes open – bears are often seen here, along with otters, sea lions, seals, bald eagles and many other birds, mostly gulls and kittiwakes.

Overnight: Valdez, AK

Icebergs, Columbia Glacier, Alaska

Day 7: Seward

The morning starts with an early ferry ride from Valdez to Whittier, across Prince William Sound. Whittier, a quirky little town, is not much of a destination on its own right; however, it’s worth noting that virtually all residents of this town live in one apartment building (don’t worry, you won’t miss it!). Whittier is connected to the rest of Alaska via a narrow tunnel which is used alternately by…Read more

The morning starts with an early ferry ride from Valdez to Whittier, across Prince William Sound. Whittier, a quirky little town, is not much of a destination on its own right; however, it’s worth noting that virtually all residents of this town live in one apartment building (don’t worry, you won’t miss it!). Whittier is connected to the rest of Alaska via a narrow tunnel which is used alternately by vehicles and trains. The tunnel is very well monitored so the risk of meeting the train in the middle of the drive is not high; still, it’s an interesting ride.

On the other side of the tunnel lays the beautiful and glacial Portage Valley; stop here and check out the displays at the visitor center, or go for a walk on one of the valley’s many hiking trails. After visiting the valley, continue south to the town of Seward.

Seward is located at the edge of Kenai Fjords National Park, a coastal area dominated by the vast Harding Icefield. Glaciers extending from the icefield towards the sea created a series of deep fjords, rich in wildlife and extremely photogenic. On the way to Seward you could stop for a hike in one of the many hiking trails along the way, or spend the afternoon on a stroll along the Seward waterline. If you like staring at big fish, Seward’s fishing charters typically return to the harbor around 6:00 pm; you can see the charters crews filleting their catch by the water, to the delight of outside visitors and local gulls alike.

Overnight: Seward, AK

Fishing vessels, Prince William Sound, Alaska

Day 8: Kenai Fjords National Park

Today’s plan is to spend the morning on a cruise to the nearby Aialik Glacier, and then use the rest of the day to continue exploring the Seward area. With the exception of one road leading to Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park is only accessible by boat or aircraft. A day cruise along the rocky shoreline of this wild park allows for the best chances to view its abundant…Read more

Today’s plan is to spend the morning on a cruise to the nearby Aialik Glacier, and then use the rest of the day to continue exploring the Seward area.

With the exception of one road leading to Exit Glacier, Kenai Fjords National Park is only accessible by boat or aircraft. A day cruise along the rocky shoreline of this wild park allows for the best chances to view its abundant wildlife and incredible glacial landscape. The cruise offers excellent chances to view whales and orcas, as well as other marine mammals. Aialik Glacier is a big wall of white ice, and you can rest assured that the captain will allow for ample time next to the glacier, where you can photograph big chunks of ice crashing into the calm water of the bay. The cruise departs Seward in the morning and returns 6 hours later, leaving you lots of time to enjoy the rest of the day. The prominent options in the area are the Harding Icefield trail, Caines Head trail (coastal walk) or some section of the Lost Lake trail. If the weather is iffy and not very suitable for hiking (this is Alaska after all), you could spend some quality time in the Alaska Sealife Center learning about the local marine biology.

Optional upgrade: kayaking in the Bear Glacier Lagoon

Bear Glacier flows out of the Harding Icefield towards the ocean, but its terminus rests in a beautiful glacial lagoon, filled with icebergs. This tour starts with a jet boat ride from Seward to the lagoon; chances of viewing the local marine wildlife (whales, orcas, sea lions and more) along the way are pretty high. After a safety brief, you get your own double-seat ocean kayak and go on a guided adventure among the icebergs. You could choose one of two options:

  • Half-day tour: the classic choice. 5.5 hours total, out of which about 2.5 hours are spent kayaking. Upgrade cost: $110 per person.
  • Full-day tour: folks in good shape looking for a full day trip can go for this option – 9 hours total, 5.5 of which are spent kayaking all the way to the glacier’s face. This trip ends with a gorgeous heli ride back to Seward, hence its more hefty price. Upgrade cost: $375 per person.

Overnight: Seward, AK

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Day 9: Girdwood

Your destination today is the town of Girdwood, about 45 minutes drive south of Anchorage. The road to Girdwood runs parallel to Turnagain Arm, a narrow bay known for its panoramic views and extreme tides. This is also a great area for wildlife viewing, especially beluga whales and Dall sheep. A ski town in winter, Girdwood turns during summer into a hub for local outdoor activities. Overlooking the town is…Read more

Your destination today is the town of Girdwood, about 45 minutes drive south of Anchorage. The road to Girdwood runs parallel to Turnagain Arm, a narrow bay known for its panoramic views and extreme tides. This is also a great area for wildlife viewing, especially beluga whales and Dall sheep.

A ski town in winter, Girdwood turns during summer into a hub for local outdoor activities. Overlooking the town is Mt. Alyeska, and you can take the tram to the top and enjoy some excellent views of the area. The Cross Pass Trail, one of Alaska’s best hiking trails, is right out of town (4-6 hours RT). If you’re looking for a flatter hiking experience, Winner Creek Trail offers a fun walk in the rainforest. Other options include bike rentals, dog sledding, helicopter flightseeing tours, and some surprisingly good dining options.

Overnight: Girdwood, AK

Hikers overlooking Portage Glacier, Alaska

Day 10: Anchorage

Drive back north to Anchorage and enjoy another look at the beautiful views along the Turnagain Arm. The trip ends at the Ted Stevens International Airport in town, where you return your rental car and begin the journey back home.

Drive back north to Anchorage and enjoy another look at the beautiful views along the Turnagain Arm. The trip ends at the Ted Stevens International Airport in town, where you return your rental car and begin the journey back home.

Full yellow moon, Alaska

Why choose this tour?

This tour features a great combo of land road trip and coastal exploration, and it does so in a fairly low cost.

The trip begins and ends in Anchorage. The route will first take you to the eastern region of Wrangell St. Elias National Park and the town of Valdez, a wild mountainous area habituated by wild mountainous locals. Then the route turns back west via ferry, towards the beautiful Kenai Peninsula. Along the way you will take a couple of bush flights, go on a couple of fantastic day cruises, hike on a glacier, visit a historical ghost town, and essentially play outside for as much as you’d like.

Important note: this itinerary utilizes the ferry services of the Alaska Marine Highway system. In recent years, the ferry between Valdez and Whittier has been running 3 times a week. If you’d like to book this tour, please contact us to make sure your travel dates fit the ferry’s schedule.

On this tour, you will

1 Fly over the immense wilderness of Wrangell St. Elias National Park.

2 Go on a guided hike on the white ice of Root Glacier.

3 View massive glaciers and rich marine wildlife on two scenic day cruises, to Columbia Glacier and to the beautiful Kenai Fjords National Park.

Still not sure?

You’re more than welcome to contact us, we’ll be happy to chat and help you pick the right tour.

Total cost

  • $3,400 Per Person, double occupancy.
  • Taxes and fees included.

Deposit / Cancellations 

  • Covid-19 Policy! Yes, these are special times:

    • Deposit: $100 (for the whole trip, not per-person)
    • Balance is due 60 days prior to departure.
  • Cancellation fees:

    • Up to 60 days prior to departure: NO CANCELLATION FEE except for the $100 deposit.
    • 59-30 days prior: 10% of the trip cost + cancellation fees charged by vendors.
    • 29-1 days prior: 20% of the trip cost + cancellation fees charged by vendors.

Trip cost includes

Accommodations

  • 9 nights in hotels, lodges (usually rustic cabins) or B&B’s.
  • Breakfast is not included unless specifically mentioned.

Transportation

  • 10 day Fullsize car rental with unlimited mileage.
  • RT flights with a bush plane between Chitina and Mccarthy.
  • Ferry ride between Valdez and Whittier (passengers + vehicle).

Tours

  • Guided glacier hike on the Root Glacier near Kennicott (6 hrs).
  • Scenic day cruise to Columbia Glacier out of Valdez (6 hrs).
  • Scenic day cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park, inc. lunch (6-7.5 hrs).

Not Included

  • International and / or domestic flights.
  • Rental car additional costs: insurance, additional driver, gas.
  • Meals.
  • Tips.
  • Optional excursions or admission to optional sites (museums, trams, etc.).
  • Anything not specifically mentioned under “trip cost includes”.

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