9 Alaska Itineraries from Anchorage (With A Car or Without One!)

9 Alaska Itineraries from Anchorage (With A Car or Without One!)When planning your great Alaska adventure, Anchorage could very well be the starting point. Some people fly into the city while others get there following a long (and gorgeous!) cruise or ferry ride from the Lower 48. Once in Anchorage, itineraries vary based on two parameters:

  1. Whether or not you rent a car.
  2. The number of days you have.

Our own Alaska trip was different. If you’ve read our detailed post about driving to Alaska, then you know that we drove from LA to Alaska and back, taking full three weeks to explore the Last Frontier State in between. However, we have so many questions coming in from blog readers who are flying into Anchorage, that we wanted to help with some suggestions. Hence this post!

We’ve put together 9 detailed itineraries, based on our experience as well as research. Some are geared towards drivers, others rely on public transportation. Some are short, others long. We really hope one of these will be a good fit for your needs!

Train Itineraries From Anchorage

If you’re in the mood for an easy ride up through the Alaskan landscape, then why not take a train? These vestiges of a time now gone will take you all across the state in style.

9 Alaska Itineraries from Anchorage

1. Seward (3-4 days)

A train trip from Anchorage to Seward takes 4 hours and 20 minutes. If you do opt to go to Seward by train, you’ll be able to sit back and prepare your itinerary over the 107 miles that separate the two cities.

Day 1

On the first day of your trip, make sure you catch an early train out to Seward. Leaving while the sun is still down will give you more time to explore the city in the afternoon.

9 Alaska Itineraries from Anchorage (With A Car or Without One!)

Once you arrive, you’ll have the whole of the city at your fingertips. Take a tour through the SeaLife Center or walk down by the Seward Marina. The harbor is full of beautiful boats, wildlife, and entertainment for you to enjoy well into the evening.

More about the awesome things to do in Seward.

In the evening, you can rest up in an Orca Island Cabin, the Harbor 360 Hotel, or any of the other B&Bs in the area. You’ll need to stay in Seward overnight, though, to start back on your journey in the morning.

Day 2

On the second day of your trip, you’ll want to take a cruise through the Kenai Fjords. This cruise last 6 hours and includes a lunch. While you’re out on the water, you’ll have the opportunity to spot whales, coastal rainforests, and the remaining glaciers in the area.

Read our own Kenai Fjords cruise report and tips here.

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

When you return, you can catch dinner in downtown Seward before spending the night at your hotel.

Day 3

Your last day in Seward should be an early one. Take the morning to visit the Seward Museum, where you’ll be able to get an in-depth look at the history of the area.¬†Winter admission to the museum is free, while summer admission costs $4.00 per person. Children under the age of 12 are allowed into the Museum for free.

You can also take a walk down the Waterfront Park to catch a final glimpse of any whales or seals that might be enjoying an early morning. After a luxurious lunch, you can make your way back to the train station and journey to Anchorage, having well-acquainted yourself with one of Alaska’s beautiful cities.

2. Denali National Park (3-4 days)

In the Alaskan summer, you can take the northbound Denali Star Train out of Anchorage and up to Fairbanks and the Denali National Park. This 233-mile, 7 and a half hour journey is a longer one, but riding on the Denali Star Train line will make it seem easy as pie. You’ll even be able to spot one of Alaska’s most notable natural landmarks from the train itself: Denali, the tallest mountain in all of North America.

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

Day 1

After the long train ride, you’ll depart the Denali Star Train in the midst of Denali National Park. You’ll need to visit the Wilderness Access Center to pick up tickets for the tours you’ll be going on in the next few days.

From here, you can visit the Park’s kennels via shuttle. The kennels at Denali National Park are home to some of the most boisterous sled dogs you’ll ever get to meet. Here, you can watch a sled dog show and see just how powerful these playful pets really are.

Once the show’s over, you can hike back to the Visitor’s Center (or take the shuttle) for an end-of-day tour. Afterwards, make sure you check into one of the hotels in Denali Park. Depending on your preference, you can stay in a lodge, a cabin, or in any of the bed and breakfasts nearby.

Day 2

You’ll want to pack for a full day on your second day in Denali, because you’ll be spending most of your waking hours in the park. Take a bus or a shuttle ride from your hotel to the park and see what adventures are waiting for you (this is a link to our own trip report and tips).

Day 3

The itinerary for your third day in Denali varies based on the length of your trip. If it’s your last day in the area, then take an early morning shuttle up to Savage River. Here, you can hike along Denali waterways for half the day before taking the train back to Anchorage.

Savage River is open year-round to hikers and has no set hours. If you’re visiting in the fall (and spending a fourth day in Denali), you may want to wait until nighttime to visit so that you can get a glimpse of the auroras overhead.

Optional Extra Day

On your optional fourth day in Denali, you can take an early morning shuttle back into the park to get a better glimpse of the wildlife living in the area. You’ll then want to be on a train back to Anchorage by early afternoon.

3. Denali National Park & Fairbanks (5-7 days)

Fairbanks, Alaska
Fairbanks, Alaska

If you have more time to spend in the Denali area, take advantage of it! Families that are staying for a week can use the above itinerary to map out their first two days in the area. From there, though, things will start to vary.

Day 3

Spend the morning exploring the Savage River area, hiking to get a better look at the waterway. As the afternoon comes around, head down to the train station. You’re not heading back to Anchorage, though. Instead, hop back onto the Denali Star Line for a 4 hour, 121.5 mile trip over to Fairbanks.

You’ll want to secure accommodations in Fairbanks ahead of time so you can rest up without having to run through the semantics of securing a hotel. Fairbanks has a plethora of bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, and hotels at the ready; all you need to do is choose the place that’s most appropriate for your family.

Day 4 & 5

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

On the fourth and fifth days of your vacation, take the opportunity to explore Fairbanks to its fullest. You’ll be able to use available public transportation to make your way to any of the following hot spots:

  • LARS (Large Animal Research Station)
  • The Museum of the North in Fairbanks
  • Georgeson Botanical Gardens
  • Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
  • Pioneer Park
  • Riverboat Discovery

You can take a gander at our guide to Fairbanks to learn more about all of the places and more. Once you’ve tuckered yourself out, head back to your lodging of choice for the evening and prepare for the final day of your trip.

Day 6

You should spend the final day of your Alaskan vacation making the most of your time in Fairbanks. Make sure to visit some of the hot spots you missed the day before in the morning. In the afternoon, you’ll want to head back to the train station and prepare for the 12 hours, 356-mile trip from Fairbanks to Anchorage.

Car Itineraries From Anchorage (3-4 Days)

If you’re not interested in taking the train, you can always rent a car and turn your Alaskan vacation into a road trip. Let’s explore your shorter road trip options here.

1. Girdwood, Portage, and Seward

Girdwood, Alaska

Day 1

After leaving Anchorage, your first stop on this road trip will be in Girdwood. Girdwood is only 40 miles away from Anchorage courtesy of AK-1 S, meaning that it’ll take under an hour to get you to your destination. Here, you’ll be able to visit the Alaska Wildlife Center. Alternatively, you can spend your early morning hiking around Portage Glacier before getting lunch in town.

In the afternoon, make your way over to Seward. This drive will take just under two hours, as Seward rests some 90 miles away from Girdwood. You don’t have to explore Seward in the evening, but if you have the energy, you can take advantage of the gorgeous waterfront views the city boasts.

Day 2

You’ll have the whole of your second day in Alaska to explore Seward. You’ll need it, too. The Seward Marina and Sealife Center are both teeming with wildlife. The local Exit Glacier area also makes for great mid-day hiking. Once you’ve worn yourself out on the natural features of the area, you can head back into town for a peaceful dinner.

Day 3

On the last day of your trip (unless you’re looking for a little more time in Seward), make your way up to Lowell Point in the early morning. From here, you’ll be able to look out over the Pacific Ocean and whale watch. Once you’re finished, you can drive an hour and 44 minutes over to Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort, where you’ll be able to enjoy a luxurious meal and snowy ski slopes.

At the end of the day, you can readily drive the 40-minute jaunt back down to Anchorage, where you’ll be able to either settle in for the evening or head back home after a busy – but satisfying – trip.

Optional Day

If you do have time to stay in Seward for an extra day, make sure to book a cruise to the Kenai Fjords!

2. Portage and Whittier

For a shorter trip, why not explore Portage and Whittier?

Stream flowing from Byron Glacier, in Portage Valley Alaska
Stream flowing from Byron Glacier, in Portage Valley Alaska

Day 1

Start out your trip with a visit to the Girdwood Alaska Wildlife Center. Once you’ve toured the area and hiked around Portage Glacier, you can cross over the Girdwood Tunnel to enter into Whittier. Do note that the tunnel’s operations vary by season. In the summer, the tunnel is open between May 1 and September 30. In the Winter, you’ll be able to cross the tunnel depending on the weather.

The drive from Girdwood to Whittier takes a quick 41 minutes, as you’re only traveling 23.5 miles. Even so, do your research ahead of time to make sure you can cross the tunnel with ease. Once you have, you can settle into a Whittier hotel for the evening.

Day 2

You’ll be able to spend the second day of your trip exploring all of the attractions Whittier has to offer. These include the Prince William Sound Museum, which will appeal to children and adults alike. You can also spend your day hiking on Whittier’s local trails or familiarizing yourself with the sights down at the Whittier Harbor. Make sure you’ve booked your hotel of choice for two nights, as you’ll be bunking in Whittier once again.

Day 3

On the last day of your trip, you’ll cross back through the tunnel to return to Girdwood. Here, you’ll be able to spend the day enjoying all of the attractions available to you at Alyeska Resort. Make sure you grab a meal in town at the end of the day before driving the 40 miles back to Anchorage.

3. Denali Road Trip From Anchorage

Day 1

Make the 4 hours, 237-mile drive from Anchorage to Denali courtesy of AK-3 N. Once you’re settled, visit the National Park’s dog kennels via shuttle to watch a sled dog show. From here, you can hike to the park’s Visitor’s Center to learn more about the area. Make sure to book a hotel either in the park or near it to make the next morning’s travel easier.

Day 2

Take a shuttle from your Denali hotel into the National Park. You can spend your day hiking, re-visiting the kennels, and enjoying the many other attractions in the area.

Day 3

Take the morning to hike the Savage River area outside of the National Park. Once you’ve wrapped up your morning, hit the road to make the 4-hour drive back to Anchorage, where you can either spend the night or catch a plane back to your hometown.

Car Itineraries From Anchorage (5-7 Days)

Want to spend a little more time on the road? There are a few longer road trips you can take that’ll expose you to all of Alaska’s natural secrets.

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

1. Kenai Peninsula Road Trip

Day 1

The trip from Anchorage to your first stop, Girdwood, will take a mere 48 minutes. In that 40 miles, make sure to look for bears, puffins, and other Alaskan wildlife. Once you’re in Girdwood, you’ll be able to find these creatures more readily at the Alaska Wildlife Sanctuary.

After exploring with the animals, you can make your way over to Portage Glacier and eat lunch down by the glacial lake. Once you’ve finished, all that’s left is a 1 hour, 15-minute drive to Cooper Landing, where you’ll be spending the night. Here, you’ll have your choice of hotels and B&Bs to rest up in.

Day 2

Spend your next morning hiking around Cooper Landing. Once you’ve got your boots muddy, you can then drive the 45 miles and 52 minutes over to Soldotna. Soldotna is a smaller Alaskan city, but you’ll still be able to stretch your legs on some of the local trails after grabbing lunch.

After resting up in Soldotna, you can make your way onto AK-1 S to drive the last 2 hours and 20 minutes over to Homer, AK. Homer is 120 miles away from Soldotna and full of urban energy. If you’re up for a late-night adventure, you can spend the evening exploring the many restaurants in the area.

Day 3 & 4

After settling into your lodgings in Homer, you’ll be able to spend the next two days exploring the city’s many attractions. These hot spots include:

  • The Homer Spit
  • Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center
  • Kilcher Homestead Living Museum
  • Pratt Museum
  • Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies
  • Kachemak Bay State Park (boat tour available)
  • Bishop’s Beach Park
  • Hallo Bay Lodge Bear Viewing

There are also ample hiking opportunities available in the Homer area. Spend these two days of your trip making the most of this Alaskan city, and you’ll find that you appreciate the area all the more.

The Homer Spit
The Homer Spit

Day 5

Leave Homer early in the morning and make your way over to Seward. The 3 and a half hour, 168-mile drive will let you and the kids rest up before another day full of exploration. In Seward, you’ll be able to visit the Seward Marina and Sealife Center, where you’ll be able to go whale-watching and learn more about Alaska’s aquatic wildlife.

If you want to spend the night in Seward, you can (and arguably should)! However, if you want to get back to Anchorage ASAP, then you’ll need to complete the drive on the fifth day of your visit. This drive lasts 2 and a half hours and will take you past 127 miles of Alaskan wilderness.

The Homer Spit

Optional Day

If you want to spend more time on the road, you can pre-book a cruise to Kenai Fjords from Seward Marina. This 6-hour tour will let you explore the area’s gorgeous waterways up close and personal.

There are also additional hiking opportunities near Seward and Portage Glacier. If you want to take the extra time to dig your heels into Alaska, spend the night in Seward and watch the sunrise over Alaska’s chilly hills.

2. Denali & Anchorage

If taking a train up to Denali doesn’t excite you, then it’s easy enough to turn the aforementioned itinerary into a road trip.

Day 1

On the first day of your visit, you’ll want to make a quick stop in Talkteena, AK. Talkteena is a two hour, 113-mile drive away from Anchorage. Here, you’ll be able to stretch your legs while exploring the local river walk. Talkteena, after all, rests at the crossroads of three glacial rivers, making it the ideal spot to have lunch and enjoy the sound of running water.

From Talkeetna, it’s a 2 and a half hour, 152-mile drive to Denali. If you have the energy after your drive, you can hike the local Savage River Area before checking into your hotel for the evening.

Day 2

We recommending that you spend your second day in Denali at Denali National Park. Take a shuttle into the part in the early morning and spend the rest of your day hiking or enjoying the park’s many attractions. If you’re visiting in the fall, definitely stay in the park through the evening. You may catch a glimpse of the auroras overhead.

Denali at Sunrise

Day 3

If you didn’t visit the dog kennels at Denali on the second day of your trip, you absolutely need to visit them today. Here you’ll be able to watch sled dogs play and test their strength. You may even be able to take a ride on a dog sled!

After visiting the Visitors’ Center and saying goodbye to the dogs, head back onto the road and drive to Fairbanks. This 2 hour, 123-mile drive will set you up to spend a luxurious two and a half days exploring the Fairbanks area.

Day 4 & 5

Similarly to the Fairbanks’ visit described in the train itinerary, you can spend your fourth and fifth days on vacation exploring the many attractions in the Fairbanks area, including:

  • LARS (Large Animal Research Station)
  • The Museum of the North in Fairbanks
  • Georgeson Botanical Gardens
  • Morris Thompson Cultural & Visitors Center
  • Pioneer Park
  • Riverboat Discovery

On both nights, make sure to stay within the city limits. You’ll be able to more readily explore the city’s nightlife and seasonal attractions if you do.

Day 6

On the last day of your visit, spend your morning visiting one or two of the attractions you missed on the previous days of your trip. Then, hit the road and head back to Anchorage. On average, the drive takes 6 hours, as you’ll have to make your way across 360.6 miles of Alaskan highway.

Two-week Alaska Itinerary From Anchorage By Car

If you have more time on your hands this two-week Alaska itinerary will take you around the state’s most popular spots.

Days 1-6

You can use the Kenai Peninsula Itinerary to schedule the first week of your Alaskan vacation.

Days 7-11

Take care to divide the next five days of your trip between Denali and Fairbanks, as you would if following the aforementioned itinerary.

Day 12

You’ll want to prepare the kids for the twelfth day of your trip. This day, you’ll be heading to the North Pole. A 17-minute, 13.5 mile drive away from Fairbanks, courtesy of AK-2 E, you’ll be able to do more than see this natural wonder in all of its beauty. You’ll also be able to dive into the history of St. Nicholas and Santa Claus.

If you can get the kids to calm down, eat lunch in Delta Junction and take advantage of the thematic boutiques in the area. At the end of the day, you can head back to lodgings in Fairbanks or settle down in the distant Glenallen. If you do want to head out of Fairbanks, Glenallen is a 4 hour and 13 minute drive away via AK-2 E and AK-4 S. Driving this extra 248 miles will help you get a jump on the next day’s activities.

Day 13

Views from Glenn Hwy between Palmer and Glenallen, Alaska
Views from Glenn Hwy between Palmer and Glenallen, Alaska

If you haven’t already made your way over to Glenallen, then today is the day to do it. On your way, you’ll have the option to drive the McCarthy Road, which’ll take you right up to the gates of Wrangell St. Elias National Park. Do note, however, that McCarthy Road is a dirt road. If you’ve rented a car for your trip, you may want to forgo this visit.

Instead, you can drive over to Valdez. This scenic drive will take you through Alaska’s varying ecosystems, exposing you to as many chilled tundras as it will glistening forests. After your 2 hour, 120 mile drive, you’ll be able to visit the Solomon Hatchery, among Valdez’s many other local attractions.

Day 14

At last, with the kids tuckered out, you can start your drive back to Anchorage. Make sure to head down the scenic Glenn Highway to get a final glimpse of America’s final frontier. The drive will take 5 and a quarter hours over 300 miles, but the views you’ll get are more than worth the time spent on the road.

Take Your Time and Enjoy the Beauty of Alaska

As you can see, there are a lot of great options for creating a memorable trip to Alaska and all she has to offer. Take your time to really appreciate the gorgeous land in all its glory!

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

9 Alaska Itineraries From Anchorage (With A Car Or Without One!)

 

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