By far the most popular day trip from Portland is the so-called Mount Hood Loop, which connects many of the sights in the Columbia River Gorge into a single day’s driving adventure. Depending on side trips, the loop is about 160 miles in length — not too stressful if you get an early start and make frequent stops.Destination:Activities:
If you have a vehicle, the 40-mile drive north from Juneau provides a wonderful escape. Twenty-three miles out is a quaint Catholic chapel built in 1939, the Shrine of St. Therese (907/780-6112, www.shrineofsainttherese.org). The cobblestone chapel is hidden away on a small bucolic wooded island connected to the mainland by a 400-foot causeway. Named for Alaska’s patron saint, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the chapel is open all the time, with Sunday service at 1 p.m.Destination:Activities:
Cook Inlet bends east from Anchorage, becoming Turnagain Arm. The inlet was named by Captain James Cook’s master, William Bligh, who later captained the ill-fated HMS Bounty. The Seward Highway curves around Turnagain Arm, past the town of Girdwood and the turnoff to Portage Glacier and Whittier, and finally south over the Kenai Mountains to Seward, 127 miles away.Destination:Activities:
This is one of the most beautiful parts of the Mat-Su Valley region and a wonderful side trip from either the Parks Highway north of Wasilla or the Glenn Highway at Palmer. It’s a 49-mile drive, starting in Palmer and ending at Mile 71 on the Parks Highway (30 miles north of Wasilla).
Most folks get to Hatcher Pass from the Palmer end. Hatcher Pass Road (also called Fishhook-Willow Rd.) begins in rolling forest-and-farm country and then climbs along the beautiful Little Susitna River, which is popular with experienced kayakers who enjoy Class V white water.Destination:Activities:
The 127-mile Seward Highway—a National Scenic Byway—connects Anchorage with Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Mileposts are numbered from the Seward end; subtract these numbers from 127 for the distance to Anchorage. The Seward Highway has passing lanes, wide shoulders, and a 65 mph speed limit much of the way, but take the time to enjoy the scenery. Keep your headlights on at all times, and watch for moose.Destination:Activities:
Head back out the Sterling Highway and take a right on West Hill Road; just after the pavement ends, go right at the fork (a left puts you on Diamond Ridge Rd., which drops you back down to the Sterling) onto Skyline Drive. You climb along a high ridge among expensive homes and B&Bs until you see the famous view of the Spit, the bay, and the march of mountains on the southern coast, all framed by fireweed late in the summer.Destination:Activities:
Cutting into the heart of the Wrangells, the challenging McCarthy Road follows an old railroad route past ragged mountain peaks, picturesque ponds where you’ll hear loons (and buzzing mosquitoes), and sweeping vistas of the mighty Copper River. This could be the longest 60-mile road in Alaska—plan on three hours from Chitina, several more if it’s clear and you stop for views of the Wrangells.Destination:Activities:
From the Edgerton Highway junction to Valdez is 82 beautiful miles through green forested hillsides along surging creeks with countless waterfalls emanating from ice patches and small glaciers atop the jagged Chugach.
If you’re terminally enchanted by this stretch of road and want to linger, two state recreation sites offer camping ($12): Squirrel Creek at Mile 79 and Little Tonsina at Mile 65. The Tonsina site is a bit noisy, located a half-mile from pipeline pump station number 12, which is run by jet aircraft turbines and sounds like a plane perpetually taking off.Destination:Activities:
There aren’t enough superlatives in the English language to describe adequately the 50-mile ride out on the Copper River Highway from Cordova to the famous Million Dollar Bridge.
The scenery—mountains, glaciers, the river, and the delta—rivals any 50 miles of road on the continent, never mind the state. The wildlife—thousands of shorebirds and ducks, Canada geese, trumpeter swans, bald eagles, moose, bears, and spawning salmon—gives Denali a run for its money.Destination:Activities:
The Denali Highway, which stretches 136 miles east–west across the waist of mainland Alaska from Cantwell, from 30 miles south of Denali Park to Paxson at Mile 122 on the Richardson Highway, may be the best-kept secret in Alaska. Originally the Denali Highway was the only road into Denali National Park, and this beautiful side trip has been largely ignored by visitors since the opening of the George Parks Highway in 1971.Destination:Activities:
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