Alaska Classic Road Trip | 4x4

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Alaska classic land tour itinerary: four National Parks, scenic backroads, remote towns and a variety of landscapes.

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

Downtown Anchorage, Alaska

Day 2: Parks Hwy

This morning you’ll head north towards one of Alaska’s most well-known attractions, Denali National Park. The park is named after the highest mountain in North America (20,320 feet), located within its boundaries. Along the way, consider a stop at 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…Read more

This morning you’ll head north towards one of Alaska’s most well-known attractions, Denali National Park. The park is named after the highest mountain in North America (20,320 feet), located within its boundaries. Along the way, consider a stop at 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.

Overnight: Denali National Park, AK

Fall colors in Broad Pass, near Denali, Alaska

Day 3: Denali National Park

Denali National Park spans over 6 million acres; this is probably the most accessible place in the state to meet Alaska’s famously charismatic wildlife. The park is crossed by one gravel road, and today’s plan is to use it to get a deep look into the park. The Park’s system of tours and shuttle buses allows for great chances of spotting bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, and more. The…Read more

Denali National Park spans over 6 million acres; this is probably the most accessible place in the state to meet Alaska’s famously charismatic wildlife. The park is crossed by one gravel road, and today’s plan is to use it to get a deep look into the park. The Park’s system of tours and shuttle buses allows for great chances of spotting bears, caribou, moose, Dall sheep, wolves, and more. The dramatic mountain views and the chance to see Denali’s peak, provide superb photo-ops.

Overnight: Denali National Park, AK

Visitor enjoy a quite sunset, Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska

Day 4: Denali Hwy

The Denali Highway is actually not within the boundaries of Denali National Park. To be honest, it’s not a real highway, either – it’s a 135-mile long, isolated and very scenic road. This used to be the main access road to Denali National Park before the construction of the Parks Hwy in the 1970’s. These days it’s not used much, and most people that drive it are either outside visitors…Read more

The Denali Highway is actually not within the boundaries of Denali National Park. To be honest, it’s not a real highway, either – it’s a 135-mile long, isolated and very scenic road. This used to be the main access road to Denali National Park before the construction of the Parks Hwy in the 1970’s. These days it’s not used much, and most people that drive it are either outside visitors or locals using the road as basecamp for hunting trips.

Leaving Denali Park and heading east, the road parallels the steep Mountains of the Alaska Range, winding next to huge rivers scattered trees and open tundra. Keep your eyes open: this road offers countless chances for wildlife encounters, most commonly caribou, moose, bald eagle, swans and beavers.

The road is not perfectly maintained and it could get a bit rough in places, especially after long rainy spells, but overall it’s not a difficult drive and it’s arguably one of the most scenic roads in Alaska. A few isolated lodges located not far from the east end of the road offer the only accommodations options in this remote corner of the state.

Overnight: Paxson, Alaska

Bikers along the Denali Highway, Alaska

Day 5: 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. That reputation is not always deserved (it used to be much rougher in the past), and the drive to the town of Mccarthy typically takes about 2.5 hours. The road offers some fantastic views, especially when following the immense Copper River and crossing the super-deep Kuskulana Canyon.

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.

The afternoon hours will be dedicated to exploring Wrangell St. Elias National park from the air. Since the park is so huge, the only way to properly see it and understand the landscape is flying over it. Fortunately, the local air taxi offers some incredible flightseeing trips. If you wanted to see glaciers and mountains, this is your lucky day.

The flight is 50 mins long (upgrades are available), and it ends at the Mccarthy airport.

Overnight: Kennicott / McCarthy, AK

Aerial view of the Kennicott Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Day 6: 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

Aerial view of Root Glacier, Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Alaska

Day 7: Valdez

This morning, drive the Mccarthy Road back from McCarthy to Chitina. Once reunited with firm pavement, keep west towards 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, drive the Mccarthy Road back from McCarthy to Chitina. Once reunited with firm pavement, keep west towards 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

Worthington Glacier, Alaska

Day 8: 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

Kayaking near the Columbia Glacier, Alaska

Day 9: Palmer

A day of scenic driving, first north along the Richardson highway and then west along the beautiful Glenn Hwy. Multiple view points and hiking trails wait along the way, most notably around the Matanuska Glacier area and in the Hatcher Pass area. If you leave Valdez early enough, Hatcher Pass is a great option for a detour: a beautiful off-the-beaten-track alpine area in the Talkeetna mountains close to the town…Read more

A day of scenic driving, first north along the Richardson highway and then west along the beautiful Glenn Hwy. Multiple view points and hiking trails wait along the way, most notably around the Matanuska Glacier area and in the Hatcher Pass area.

If you leave Valdez early enough, Hatcher Pass is a great option for a detour: 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 fantastic area for a short (or long) hike. You can also visit Independence Mine Historical Site, an interesting deserted gold mine from the 1940’s.

Palmer is located about an hour north of Anchorage; this is also the final destination of the day.

Overnight: Palmer, AK

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

Day 10: Seward

Your next destination is the town of Seward, about 4 hours drive south of Palmer. 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…Read more

Your next destination is the town of Seward, about 4 hours drive south of Palmer. 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

Deserted dock, Seward, Alaska

Day 11: Kenai Fjords National Park - Homer

Today’s plan is to spend the morning on a cruise to the nearby Aialik Glacier, and then head to Homer in the afternoon. 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…Read more

Today’s plan is to spend the morning on a cruise to the nearby Aialik Glacier, and then head to Homer in the afternoon.

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 get to Homer later that day. The road to Homer will take you along a scenic stretch of the Chugach Mountains, then along the Cook Inlet shoreline. Weather permits, you could expect some great views of the big volcanoes (11,500-13,000 feet) across the inlet. Your destination, the charming town of Homer, Alaska, is literally the end of the road.

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.

Overnight: Homer, AK

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska

Day 12: Bear viewing

Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks lay on the west side of the Cook Inlet, across the bay from Homer. These two wild parks are arguably two of the best locations in the world to view bears in the wild. Today’s plan is to go on a day trip to one of these parks and spend a few hours with the furry giants also known as the coastal brown bears…Read more

Katmai and Lake Clark National Parks lay on the west side of the Cook Inlet, across the bay from Homer. These two wild parks are arguably two of the best locations in the world to view bears in the wild. Today’s plan is to go on a day trip to one of these parks and spend a few hours with the furry giants also known as the coastal brown bears of Alaska.

The brown bear is not a social animal by any mean, but every summer, when the salmon begin moving upstream, big concentrations of bears are formed along the rivers. These bears will spend most of the summer fishing and competing for fishing and mating rights. Busy with their fishing agenda and concerned mostly with the presence of other bears, the bears are generally very tolerable of human presence. This does not mean you should approach them too closely, of course – these are still very wild and very big animals – but it allows for an unforgettable wildlife viewing experience.

The exact destination of the trip is determined by the local operators in Homer the day before (and sometimes, the day of) departure, based on bear activity observed in each area. Both Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks are not connected to the road system, so arrival at the bear viewing location is done using a variety of small aircraft, including (but not limited to) floatplanes, helicopters and wheeled planes capable of landing on the beaches during low tides. The super-scenic flight will take you over some serious mountains, glaciers and active volcanoes, and is a highlight on its own right. The tour is usually led by the pilot or by a professional guide, unless the destination is Brooks Camp, where park rangers oversee the site and direct the visitors.

Once the tour is over, you’ll fly back to Homer.

Overnight: Homer, AK

Bear viewing tour, Geographic Harbor, Katmai National Park, Alaska

Day 13: 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. The Crow Pass Trail,…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. The Crow 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 all the way to a great little view point called “the Gorge”. Overlooking the town is Mt. Alyeska, and you can take the tram to the top and enjoy some excellent views of the area. Other options include bike rentals, dog sledding, helicopter flightseeing tours, and more.

Overnight: Girdwood, AK

Hikers overlooking Portage Glacier, Alaska

Day 14: 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.

Moonrise over Turnagain Arm, Alaska

Why choose this tour?

Named “The Classic Route” for a reason, this tour features a great combo of land and coastal exploration, landscapes and wildlife, popular attractions and remote parks. Even though you won’t be able to see all of Alaska in a matter of two weeks time (it’s just too big), it’s still plenty of time to make your way around without feeling rushed.

The trip begins and ends in Anchorage. The route will first take you north to Denali National Park, then east to 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 the scenic Glenn Hwy, and ends in the beautiful Kenai Peninsula.

Along the way you will visit some of Alaska’s most famous parks, take a super-scenic bush flight, go on a couple of fantastic day cruises, hike on a glacier, visit a historical ghost town, and view bear activity in the wild. During all this time, you will have plenty of opportunities to play outside for as much as you’d like.

On this tour, you will

1 Ride the Denali Shuttle Bus into the park, in search of the local charismatic wildlife.

2 Drive to gravel road of the Denali Highway, enjoying wide open spaces and fantastic views.

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

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

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

6 Take a day tour to Katmai or Lake Clark National Park, where you can view the world-famous coastal brown bears of Alaska in the wild.

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

  • $5,310 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

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

Transportation

  • 14 day 5-passenger SUV rental (Ford Escape or similar).
  • No road restrictions – vehicle allowed on unpaved roads.

Tours

  • Denali shuttle bus to Eielson Visitor Center RT (Mile 66, approx. 8 hrs).
  • Bush plane flightseeing over Wrangell St. Elias National Park (50 mins.)
  • 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).
  • Bear viewing tour in Katmai or Lake Clark National Park, including a RT flight in a small aircraft from Homer (5-8 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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