This trip provides the chance to see the highlights of Southcentral and Interior Alaska, and could easily be extended to three weeks or shortened to one week. It is especially popular with families, since flights into Anchorage are relatively cheap with lots of car or RV rental options available.
Fly into Anchorage, get a rental car, then find your hotel and settle in. (If you haven’t already, make reservations for your trip to Denali on Day 4.) If you have time, you may want to get oriented by heading to the downtown visitors center.
Or if the weather cooperates, take a walk along the Coastal Trail; it offers great vistas across Cook Inlet and is readily accessible from downtown.
Drop by New Sagaya’s for an espresso, croissant, and sack lunch. Spend the day exploring the Anchorage Museum and the Alaska Native Heritage Center, or heading out for a short hike in Chugach State Park. Overnight in Anchorage again.
Get an early start since this is a long day. Drive north on the Parks Highway, stopping in Talkeetna (115 miles) for lunch. If you want to add a one-hour flightseeing trip over Denali National Park (recommended), you should probably spend the night in Talkeetna, adding another day to your trip.Otherwise, continue north to the Denali Park area (150 miles from Anchorage) where a range of lodging and camping options are available.
This is your day to explore Denali National Park by tour bus, but advance reservations are absolutely necessary for this all-day adventure (many people book several months ahead of time to be sure of a space).
Many buses turn around at Eielson Visitors Center, where you’ll get a fine view of Mt. McKinley (if it isn’t obscured by clouds), but you could also ride to Wonder Lake and back (11 long hours) or take a shorter wildlife-focused tour. Return to your hotel or campsite for a second night.
Drive north on the Parks Highway, stopping in Nenana for a quick visit before rolling into Fairbanks (125 miles) for the night. Head to the new Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center for an introduction, and then over to Pioneer Park to see the historical buildings, ride the kiddie train, do a bit of shopping, or take in a musical comedy show. Stick around for dinner at the Alaska Salmon Bake.
Set aside a couple of hours to see the University of Alaska Museum of the North and other nearby sights, including the Large Animal Research Station (musk ox and caribou) and Creamer’s Field (great birding).
Check out of your hotel and get an early start. Drive to Chena Hot Springs for a soak in the wonderful outdoor pool and a tour of the Ice Museum (don’t miss this), before turning south on the Richardson Highway.
Head south on the Richardson Highway through beautiful country around Summit Lake, where there are several nice day hikes, and on to Glennallen for a gas-and-groceries stop before ending the day in quiet Copper Center (165 miles).
Stay at the historic Copper Center Lodge and head over to the Wrangell–St. Elias National Park Visitors Center north of town for an introduction to this part of Alaska.
Drive to the little town of Chitina (50 miles) with its century-old buildings, dirt streets, and fish wheels before continuing out a scenic 60-mile dirt road to McCarthy in the heart of Wrangell–St. Elias National Park. (Many rental car companies prohibit driving on this road, but a shuttle service is available.)
Surprisingly fine food and lodging can be found in McCarthy and nearby Kennicott, where you can tour the old copper mine buildings or take a glacier hike. You could easily add several days to your trip in this fascinating area.
Drive back out to the main (Richardson) highway and head south to Valdez, with short stops at Worthington Glacier and Keystone Canyon en route. Valdez is only 180 miles, but plan to take at least six hours.
Drive the 50-mile Copper River Highway (gravel) to the Million Dollar Bridge and Childs Glacier, where you could spend several hours just watching enormous chunks of ice calving into the Copper River.
Take the morning ferry to Whittier and drive through the tunnel to Portage and then south to Seward (90 miles) where you can visit the Alaska SeaLife Center and enjoy dinner at Ray’s Waterfront or Exit Glacier Salmon Bake. Hotels, B&Bs, and in-town campsites are all available.
Bring your fishing pole if you want to join the throngs of anglers catching red salmon on the Kenai and Russian Rivers. The Aspen Hotel and the Kenai River Lodge both offer riverside accommodations in Soldotna.
Take a Kachemak Bay tour to Gull Island and Halibut Cove or a day trip to Seldovia, returning to Homer for the evening. Other options include halibut charter fishing or the budget choice: trying your luck at the Fishing Hole.
It’s a five-hour drive to Anchorage, but if you get going early enough you could still have fun along the way or in the big city on those long summer days.
© Don Pitcher from Moon Alaska, 10th Edition