This route is perfect for people who want to truly experience Alaska. What an adventure it is to spend a few weeks on the road in one of the most wild places in the country. Follow our Alaska road trip itinerary at your own pace—there’s a lot of ground to cover and so much to do. In this itinerary we’ll suggest the route and activities that we think will give you the full value of the state. Getting to parts of Alaska can sometimes be difficult, but luckily our route has you flying in and out of Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport. Alaska Air even offers nonstop flights from some cities like Frankfurt, Reykjavik, Chicago, Los Angeles and more. After your arrival into Anchorage, you’ll begin your trip north and explore two national parks along the way. If walking on a glacier or flying over a fjord in a helicopter aren’t on your bucket list, they should be now!
Alaska has a reputation for being remote, rugged and unforgiving. These are all true, but with this road trip itinerary we’ve made it easier than ever to navigate the unfamiliar territory with your friends or family. That being said, Alaska is still more spread out and less developed than most US states, so be prepared. You might not be able to run to your local Target if you forget a rain jacket. Depending on what month you are planning to go, do your research to determine the predicted weather. A good rule of thumb in Alaska is to always have a rain jacket and warm layers with you, even if it’s a blue bird day with 75 degree temperatures. Weather can be very unpredictable there, especially in the mountains. This Alaska road trip is intended for the summer, but can also be done in the early fall before snow comes. We recommend about two weeks for this trip, especially if you’re planning on doing some hiking in the parks. If you’re going to fly all the way to Alaska, you might as well stay as long as you can!
Pick up your rental car and check in at your hotel. We recommend the Lakefront Hotel for the views of Lake Hood, the world’s largest and busiest float plane base. You can enjoy a meal on the deck watching planes take off and land on the water.
Take time to rest and adjust to the time change. You will also need to get used to the longer-than-average daylight. During the summer solstice, Anchorage gets about 19.5 hours of daylight!
Explore downtown with an hour-long Anchorage Trolley Tour. We also recommend checking out the South Anchorage Farmer’s Market and buying local fish, meats, vegetables, fruits, flowers and so much more!
Enjoy a scenic float plane ride with one of the local aviation companies. We recommend flying with Rust’s Flying Service. Be prepared to take lots of photos and videos while you enjoy glaciers and wilderness from a bird’s eye view for the first time. Don’t worry about where you sit in the plane—there’s great views everywhere.
Enjoy dinner in downtown Anchorage at one of the many great spots to eat.
After spending some time in Anchorage you’ll want to get on the highway going north towards Palmer. Stop along the highway to take in the scenic views of the Chugach Mountains. Get lunch in Palmer before heading east to hop on the Parks Highway. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife along the road. If you’re lucky, you might get to see a moose! We recommend spending a few nights in Talkeetna.
Head to the Talkeetna airport early in the morning to take a flight with K2 Aviation. This flight-seeing company can take you all over Denali National Park, and even land on Ruth Glacier!
After your flight tour, check out the Denali Brewing Company in downtown Talkeetna. Enjoy the scenery along the river. On a clear day, you’re able to see breathtaking views of Denali National Park.
Wake up early to get the best light during your drive to Denali National Park. Continue on the Parks highway to enjoy the southern Denali view points–these are the best shots to see Denali. You’ll be happy you got an early start, because clouds often cover the peaks in the afternoon.
Drive toward the Denali National Park entrance and get settled where you’re staying. We recommend staying at either the Grande Denali Lodge or the Denali Bluffs Hotel.
Contact the visitor center ahead of time to book a bus tour into the Denali National Park & Preserve. This will be a 12-hour day to best see Denali and the Alaska range. There is limited lodging inside the park for those wanting a memorable stay, as well as campsites accessible by the park bus. For those on a tighter schedule, there is a free bus that will take you to the end of the public access road (also accessible by car).
There are hikes for all levels, so be sure to get out and enjoy the trails. With gorgeous scenic vistas all around you, you’ll have a perfect excuse to stop and take some photos!
Drive northeast from Denali to Fairbanks. There’s a lot of tour companies here for you to adventure with, especially in the summer. We recommend going dog sledding if you’ve never been before–it’s a one-of-a-kind experience and the dogs are adorable! There’s also kayaking, hiking, fishing, berry-picking and northern lights tours if you’re there at the right time.
Before heading south again, make sure to drive out to Chena Hot Springs and enjoy a nice evening soak, or one of their all-inclusive summer family packages.
Since it’s a four-hour drive from Chena Hot Springs to Paxson, we recommend breaking it up and stopping at Harding Lake State Recreation Area along the way. It’s a great place to stretch your legs, picnic and soak your feet in the water for a bit.
There are some really scenic view points along the highway, so account for time to stop and take photos. You can camp along the Denali Highway for some incredible views, or you can stay in cabins outside of the quaint little town of Paxson.
Continue from Paxson to Gennallen, then enter the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Our route has you stopping at the visitors center first so you can get more information about your stay. If you loved your last scenic flight, you can take another one to experience North America’s largest tidewater glacier–the Hubbard Glacier. It spans 76 miles long, seven miles wide and 600 feet tall.
Fun fact: Wrangell – St. Elias is America’s largest national park, at over 8 million acres. It’s the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland all combined. Another fun fact…the next three largest parks in America are also in Alaska.
If you haven’t been ice climbing or hiking on a glacier, this is the place to do it. Book a day-trip with St. Elias Alpine Guides for whatever sounds the most fun to you. Besides hiking and ice climbing, they also guide ice cave exploration, alpine hikes, fly-in hikes, rafting, mine tours and more.
Continue on to Valdez, which will be your last stop before heading back to Anchorage. You might be numb to glaciers by now, but you’ll want to experience the Worthington Glacier in Valdez, which is completely accessible by car.
Stay overnight in Valdez and save your last full day for a fishing boat tour. The area is known for its halibut fishing and annual Derby winners typically weigh their fish in at almost 300 pounds. Book a trip with an outfitter and spend up to 12 hours out on the water catching as much fish as your heart desires! A professional fish cutter will meet you on the dock to fillet, vacuum seal and flash freeze your fish. They’ll even ship them to your house via Fedex!
Depending how you broke up your road trip, driving back to Anchorage might be your longest section. It’s a good time to soak up what you’ve just experienced and appreciate the public lands we are lucky enough to have.
You might have to spend a bit of time in Anchorage before catching your flight home. This would be a good time to buy any souvenirs you wanted for yourself or friends and family. Places like Polar Bear Gifts or Oomingmak Anchorage Cooperative would be great places to do that. Have a safe flight back!