I get it. Alaska can be overwhelming. Choosing the places to visit is the hardest part of all as we all have. But believe me, Alaska is one of the few places where we don’t have to have a checklist to go. Every place is special and presents nature in its purest form. All we have to do is live in that moment and relax.
The below list is huge, all we have to do is trust the gut and choose those few places we love to enjoy completely instead of all of them. Slow travel is the right way of travel.
Checking the flights? There is a high probability that we land in the city of Anchorage first, as it is easy and cheap from mainland USA. And there is so much to see around that we will not be able to cover in a single trip. We all need Scott’s Cheap Flights email to remind us of any future deals to Alaska.
Anchorage is a beautiful place. There are so many places in Anchorage like Alaska Native Heritage Center, Anchorage Museum, Alaska Zoo, and Lake Hood Seaplane Base, that it can take at least a day to explore this beautiful city.
When it is done, let’s go to the real nature, out of the city limits, far from luxuries, and deep into the wild. Here are all the places to see around Anchorage:
Towards South (Seward)
Seward is located 2.5 hours south of Anchorage, just off the coast of the North Pacific Ocean. It can be reached by road on beautiful Seward Highway (State Hwy 9 and AK – 1 N) or by pretty Alaska Railroad trains with perfect schedules for a perfect day-trip.
Here are all the places to see south of Anchorage:
1. Seward Highway
Seward Highway is one of the beautiful highways in the USA. Soon after leaving Anchorage, the landscape turns into a paradise. A 2-lane road with cliffs on one side and a Gulf of Alaska waterway on the other side, with snow-capped mountains on the far side, it is a road from dreams. Even the rest stops come with a beautiful view or even better, we can find whales cruising just off the coast. No wonder there are so many places to see along the way. Driving along this highway made me realize that camping here should be out-of-the-world, hope it will be done someday.
A complete day can be easily spent on this highway looking at places like:
1.a. Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
This is a must-stop for everyone. It is easy to see wildlife on the roads in Alaska but not everyone is lucky. And this place has our back. From Bears to Bison and Moose to Caribou, there are at least 20 species of wild animals here with a special mention for Musk Ox, the fairy and furry animals. We can drive around or walk in this beautiful sanctuary spending at least a couple of hours.
1.b. Turnagain Arm
If we can do one hike on Seward Highway, that has to be the Turnagain Arm trail. Located in Chugach State Park, it can be accessed from multiple mileposts on Seward Highway. Passing through lush rainforest and along the highway, this trail is not just for spectacular views of Turnagain Arm. From bears and Moose on the trail to Belugas at Beluga Point and Dall Sheep at Windy Corner to , it got so much all along. As we climb higher, the landscape turns surreal with colorful alpine tundra and wildflower valleys.
Depending on the milepost and exits, this hike can take anywhere from 2 hours to all day.
2. Kenai Fjords National Park
At the end of the Seward Highway is Seward, a serene town on the coast of Resurrection Bay. Historically, called “Alaska Starts Here“, it is true that it should be one of the first places to see in Alaska. Seward is home to Kenai Fjords National Park, which is one of the unique Parks and it got the landscape, wildlife, glaciers – something for everyone.
Check out our wonderful experience in Kenai Fjords National Park:
It is best to choose a longer cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park which increases the chances of seeing whales and other wildlife.
Once done, a walk along the town of Seward must be rewarding along with trying food in one of many restaurants just off the coast, although they can be pricey.
Seward town and Kenai Fjords National Park together can take a full day to explore peacefully.
3. Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier is probably the only glacier in Alaska where we can walk up to and almost touch it. With less than 2 mile hike, we can reach this glacier and witness how the glaciers are melting and changing the landscape around it.
Part of the huge Harding Icefield, this glacier is melting and reaching the waters. This trail also connects to Harding Icefield’s 8-mile round trip trail which is the real journey into the wild.
It can take couple hours (2-mile Exit Glacier hike) to more than a day (Harding Ice field) depending on the trail.
4. Whittier (Portage Glacier)
This place is a diversion from Seward Highway and one of the places that can be easily missed but shouldn’t.
Just at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre, the road splits into a smaller one – Portage Glacier Rd. The road is small but stunning. And it goes thru a tunnel (which opens only every hour as it is an active railroad) near the town of Whittier. It is an experience of its own to drive thru the longest dual-use highway tunnel.
And it doesn’t end there. This is a great place for Kayak or Jet-Ski on Portage lake admiring the Portage glacier or Portage Pass trail offer spectacular views.
Whittier has a population of only about 200 and do you know that almost all of them live in one building? Even the grocery store, school, nursery, post office, and whatnot are in the same building.
Did that excite you to visit this beautiful town?
Whittier along with Exit Glacier can be seen in a single day on the way back to Anchorage from Seward.
Further down south of Seward, Homer is a great place to find bear-watching flights. But, to save time and fuel, it is best to fly from Anchorage itself. And yes, these sightseeing tours are pricey but worth it.
Look at the maps and you will realize that East of Anchorage is full of Chugach State Park. And there is so much to see in there.
1. Chugach State Park
This massive 495,000 acres of the park is filled with mountains, glaciers, pretty lakes, and a beautiful coastline. If it has been anywhere else, it would be a National Park. But it is shadowed by its giant neighbors. And that doesn’t mean this park can get a pass. From off-beaten places to fewer crowds, this park is a must-visit.
While hike around Chugach State Park can take more than a week, here are some of the places to see in a day east of Anchorage:
1.a. Eklutna Lake
By now, we should know that most of the lakes in Alaska are the result of glacier melting and this one is no exception. Product of Eklutna Glacier, this massive lake is one of the beautiful lakes in Alaska. Nestled in between snow-capped mountains, this lake is a popular spot for kayaking.
We visited this lake at around 11 AM and we were one of the last ones to get in as the parking got full. So it is best to visit early in the day and the hike around it, if not kayaking, can be rewarding.
1.b. Thunderbird Falls
Just at the entrance of the Lake Eklutna Rd, this waterfall is a quick 1-mile hike and the views from the canyon are the best. It is worth if got time.
As it is just off the AK-1 highway and a small parking lot, this place can be full almost all the time. Parking on the side of the road is available.
1.c. Reflections Lake
As the name says, this pretty lake is popular for its reflections of nearby mountains. This one is also just off the highway but on the other side.
Eklutna Lake would be my first preference but if looking for family hikes, Thunderbird falls and Reflections Lake can be easy and both can be covered at the same time as Eklutna Lake.
See at the end of the post for the directions.
2. Matanuska Glacier
Matanuska Glacier is one of the largest glaciers in Alaska and is about 100 miles from Anchorage. It can be a day trip all by itself or can be seen along with others towards East in June or July when the sun is shining almost all day.
Although Sun can be around almost 24 hours in the month of June/July, it is not advisable to plan for driving all day. There are several accidents reported every year due to lack of sleep by drivers who like to see most of Alaska in these months. Plan for regular sleep and drive accordingly.
There are a couple of places along the highway – Scenic Turnout and State Recreation Site where we can get a free and close-up view of the glacier. But of course, for a hike onto the glacier, there is a fee of about 30$ for unguided hikes and about 100$ for guided ones. It can be worth hiking the glacier or even drink water from it.
Check out the Alaska website for Glacier tour recommendations.
This list is never complete without mentioning – Denali National Park which is North of Anchorage. And obviously, these six million acres of National Park deserve a trip of its own.
There is only one road in the Park. And it can be accessed by car for the first 15 miles only. The rest of the travel is allowed by privately owned buses – Narrated and Non-Narrated (Transit). Of course, Narrated ones are pricey. Transit buses are best, as you can leave these buses, hike for some time, and get on the next bus.
Since Denali National Park is the home of the tallest peak in North America, seats in these buses fill up pretty fast. Although there is a slight chance of walk-in availability, it is best to book these buses at least 3 months in advance.
If just visiting and not camping (which is a great experience), Denali can be seen in a day on these buses.
Apart from Denali National Park, here are some of the must-see places to see north of Anchorage:
1. Hatcher Pass:
If there is one place to not miss in the list, that has to be Hatcher Pass. Like I said for everything else. And I can’t help, Alaska is amazingly beautiful.
Hatcher Pass is breathtaking. After climbing ~4000 ft on the mountain road, beautiful mountains surround us. There are several hikes here – with Independence Mine State Historical Park being a famous one. This 1.5-mile hike can be a quick and easy one to do. It is a colorful experience to watch several paragliders cruising next to the peak of the mountains.
Just a few minutes before we reach the Independence Mine parking lot (which should be the endpoint of the road for most vehicles), there is another huge parking lot (to the right while ascending the peak) which is the base for Hatch Peak and April Bowl Trail. This trail can be with fewer crowds and a pretty lake, a must-visit.
Day fee is required to visit Hatcher Pass like many other places in Alaska. We can pay with a card here but cash is recommended to carry. Elkutna lake day’s fee can be paid only with cash. Day fee at each place will not exceed 10$.
Another place that it is a must. Known as ‘gateway to Denali’, Talkeetna is a hub for flightseeing tours over Denali National Park and nearby glacier landing. But it doesn’t end there. This small town has cool vibes especially at places like Nagley’s store and Artisan’s Open Air Market.
3. Denali Peak views
If Denali buses are not operating for any reason (like COVID now), Denali peak can be seen from multiple viewpoints on Parks Highway (the highway that connects Anchorage and Fairbanks).
Remember that Denali Peak is rarely seen as it is mostly in clouds. Due to its elevation. Duh!
At mile 135 is Denali View South and at mile 167 is Denali View North. But the most impressive view outside National Park is at mile 147 at Byers Lake where the peak reflection can be seen. Although it is a 5-mile hike, a short one on Northside for a couple of hours can help to see the peak.
If the trip is more than a week, it is worth traveling further North to Fairbanks. Journey to the Arctic circle start here, even home of Santa Claus – North Pole can be visited and above anything else, Northern Lights in the right season.
Subscribe now so you don’t miss our journey to Arctic Circle on the most dangerous Dalton Highway.
As you see, Alaska is a beautiful place with so much to see around and it can be very pricey. But not with the right planning. We stayed in Ingra House hostel to minimize costs without compromising much. This hostel is private, comfortable, and cheap.
We purchased the flights from a deal we received thru Scott’s cheap flights. And we picked many free things along with a must like Kenai Fjords Cruise although pricey. That made the trip affordable for us.
Which places would you like to see around Anchorage? Or what places we missed. Let us know in the comments section.
Save these places and download offline maps for navigation while in Alaska along with some podcasts or playlists.
Remember it is very hard to get a mobile signal in Alaska. And if you are like me who doesn’t plan and download stuff, Skyroam can help increase the chances of being online. Use coupon code ‘PINJUROAM‘ to get 15% off. Buy now:
Here are some of our other most-loved stories. Be sure to share it to your friends and pass the fun.
Our most adventurous camping in the Up-North Michigan:
How this trip changed our relationship?
How about Wonders of the World? We are on a mission to see them all.
We also made a video about these places around Anchorage for a quick look. Check this out:
Cheers and Safe Travels!