Going on Alaska Road Trip is a fantastic experience, but with the massive size of the state and the rapidly changing weather conditions, proper planning is a must, especially if you want to see the best places to visit in Alaska. Our suggested Alaska Itinerary: 7 days will take you through the top attractions in Alaska.
On our end, we traveled two weeks in Alaska in end of June and loved every second of it, but it took us some time to research and plan our Alaska itinerary. If you have more time, check out our 10-day Alaska itinerary
- How to Choose your Alaska Itinerary
- Alaska Itinerary: 7 days Road Trip
- Day 1: Drive from Anchorage to Denali
- Day 2: Denali National Park and Preserve
- Day 3: Denali Flightseeing and Drive to Anchorage
- Day 4: Anchorage
- Day 5: Seward
- Day 6: Kenai Fjords National Park
- Day 7: Whittier & Anchorage
- Best Time to Visit Alaska
- Alaska Travel Tips
How to Choose your Alaska Itinerary
Expectations and duration of your trip are the essential deciding elements. With so many things to do in Alaska, and given the distances between places, you have to decide what to see in Alaska once you know how long you want to travel in Alaska.
We recommend ten days to 2 weeks to explore the top attractions. An extended visit will let you explore more, but not everyone might have sufficient time to do so. On the other end, if you have limited time to visit Alaska, it is still worth visiting, and we encourage you to do so. We put together this Alaska 7-day itinerary, which includes Denali National Park. Though the road is long and the whole Denali visit takes three days, the park is such an iconic Alaska attraction you should not skip. Bonus point: the drive from Anchorage to Denali is stunning!
Notes on our Alaska road trip itineraries:
- Given the long distances, the best place to fly into Alaska for these itineraries in Anchorage, However, we did not include the time to arrive and depart Anchorage. Depending on where you live and fly from, you might need to tweak the below Alaska itineraries by a day or two.
- The seasons impact the road access and things to do significantly. Here we are focusing on the summertime from June to August
- While these suggestions are based on car rental and self-drive road trip options, the itineraries can also be applied for organized tours since they include top attractions in Alaska.
Alaska Itinerary: 7 days Road Trip
This short itinerary will take you to some of the best Alaska destinations.
Here is a snapshot of what our 7-day Alaska Trip covers, taking you to Denali National Park, Anchorage, and Kenai National Park. When it comes to Alaska travel adventures, things to do in Alaska include glacier hiking, fjords kayaking, and wildlife viewing.
When you reserve your car rental, make sure that your rental policies include:
- Unlimited mileage: Alaska is huge, and mileage adds up quickly
- Insurance: Most regular or car rental insurances do not cover when you drive on dirt roads. Given that Alaska has plenty of dirt roads make sure your insurance cover potential damages. AAA Car Insurance has been known to pick up you up regardless of where you are. But be prepared to for potentially blown tires and cracked windshields.
Day 1: Drive from Anchorage to Denali
- Distance from Anchorage to Denali: about 250 miles (400 km)
- How long: About 4 hours drive, but add a couple of hours for stops and sightseeing
- What to see: Scenic Road from Anchorage to Denali, Denali Sled Dogs, Denali Short Hikes
Scenic Road from Anchorage to Denali National Park
During your drive along the scenic road from Anchorage to Denali, make sure to stop at these areas:
- Thunderbird Falls near Old Glenn Highway, a 200-foot (60 m) waterfall barely 30 minutes away from Anchorage
- Eklutna Lake and Eklutna Village, one of the oldest settlement continuously inhabited Athabaskan Indian since 1650
- Talkeetna and Susitna River Bridge
- Denali Viewpoints, several opportunities once you are on the Parks Highway
- Chulitna River
Half-Day in Denali National Park
If you leave Anchorage early enough in the morning, you can enjoy part of your afternoon in the park:
- Visit the Denali Visitor Center to book a bus, reserve a ranger-guided hike, or gather information about the park
- Check the sled dog kennels at the Visitor Center, 3 miles inside the park (summer: 9 am—4:30 pm). Denali is the only US national Park with working sled dogs.
- Explore the area around Savage River. You can drive at two different locations: the Mountain Vista Rest Stop (Mile 13) or the Savage Rest Area (Mile 15) and can hike around the area.
- If you made it early, you could even try to catch one of the afternoon buses and go for a half-day hike from one of the transit buses
- Need something to chill and relax? Click here to check this horse-drawn carriage ride with backcountry dining
- Looking for something to wake up from the long drive? Click here to reserve a Ziplining adventure.
As we did leave Anchorage early, we had time to see the dog sleds, do a nice hike around the Savage campground, and find out about buses for the next days. We even managed to pitch our tents!
Once you arrive close to the entrance of Denali National park, the road inside the park only goes for the first 15 miles (24 km ) up to the Savage River trailhead. After that point, only buses operate within the park.
Denali National Park Lodging
- Within the park:
- Campgrounds: Reserve your spot in one of the six Denali National Park camping sites, though, for your first night, you might want to stay at the Savage River campground. Other campsites are further inside and require you to take the bus. It’s feasible, provided you arrive early around the park to catch one of the afternoon buses.
- Lodges: You can also stay in a Denali lodge, one of the several privately-owned lodges available on private lands within the park.
- Outside the park
Most people stay in hotels near Denali National Park, either around Healy, 11 miles north of the park entrance, or Cantwell, 30 miles south of the park entrance. There you can find motels, B&Bs, and other lodgings for all budgets.
In the peak summer months, the accommodation tends to fill quickly. Make sure to book your Denali accommodation early.
We rented two tents and sleeping gear at Denali Mountain Works close to the Denali park entrance, as we wanted to experience Denali at night. Plus that location meant we could catch the early buses and maximize our time in the park. However, the other towns are not that far, and you plan your days regardless of where you sleep. The communities have restaurants too, so if cooking your dinner over a stove is not your thing, staying in Cantwell or Healy will be better choices.
Staying in the park meant we could go for a stroll after dinner, enjoying the long summer days. Even at midnight, the twilights allowed to see without a headlamp. Beware that these long days will trick you into thinking it’s earlier than what it is.
Day 2: Denali National Park and Preserve
Get up early to make the most of your day! With only one road and the obligation to travel by bus, make sure you decided what you want to see before heading out that day.
Buses run from mid-May to mid-September, and while no reservation is required, you might want to do so if you are staying only a short time to secure your seats. You can choose between several types of buses, depending on your interests. Some are guided buses with a driver providing information about the park. Others will drop you off at trailheads or campgrounds.
How to explore Denali
- Take the bus up to Wonder Lake Campground or Kantishna, which is where the road ends. You might enjoy lunch by the lake. This bus ride will take you the whole day (13-hour round trip to Kantishna, 11-hour to Wonder Lake) and won’t give you much time for any hike. The ride is, however, a great way to explore the park.
- For a chance of seeing Denali, make sure to stop at Denali from the Eielson Visitor Center, should the weather cooperate and allow for clear visibility of the highest mountain in North America. Another chance of seeing it is from the road along the road to Savage River.
- Join one of the Denali national park tours or ranger-guided activities
- Go for a short hike if you skip the full park bus ride. Or if you plan on hiking one of the longer Denali trails, be sure to book the first Denali National Park shuttle.
- Book one of the different activities around Denali: Whitewater Rafting, Ziplining, Backcountry Dining, Wilderness Exploration
- Denali Wilderness Hiking Tour
- Price: $145.00
- Denali Highway Photography Tour
- Price: $455.20
- Denali Highway Jeep Excursion
- Price: $169.00
- Denali Backcountry Safari
- Price: $99.00
We took the first bus up to Wonder Lake, where we had lunch. While this 11-hour return bus trip is lengthy, the bus takes through fantastic scenery. Keep your camera handy as changes of seeing caribou herds, coyotes, Grizzlies, and Moose, are quite high. We even saw a sow and her cub in the middle of the road. Pack your lunch and drinks because there is no food in the park. Mosquitoes are fierce, a pain really. They were so aggressive and numerous that we wore of head mosquito nets! They might not make the most dramatic selfies, but believe me, they are great!
Our bus was one of the transit shuttle buses that are green to distinguish them from the guided tour buses. Note that, while you reserve your seat and specific departure time when going into the park, the return journey is first come, first serve. Because we wanted to maximize our time in the park, we took the last bus in the afternoon, but it was full. We had to wait for over an hour at the Eielson Visitor Center for another bus to come and pick us up. Speaking about the Eielson Visitor Center, make sure to stop there. The view of the valley is incredible, and you might get a chance to see Mount Denali if the weather cooperates. You will understand why Denali is the highest mountain in North America, sitting proudly at 20,310 feet (6,190 m)!
Denali National Park Animals and Wildlife
While different sections of the park are home to various wild animals, you are bound to see plenty of actions regardless of where you are. Caribou, moose, and Dall sheep are regular sightings. And of course, bears are regularly seen along the road. Both grizzly and black bears, though black bears are rare. You have pretty good chances of seeing grizzlies as they are more common. Wolf packs live in the park but can be elusive. Like with any wildlife, the animals are usually more active during the night, and at dawn and dusk. Another reason to be up and about early!
Important reminder: Wildlife is by definition wild and dangerous. Please make sure to inform yourselves about wildlife safety in the park. Stay away and do not feed the animals. In some instances, do not carry food with you as it might attract them.
Day 3: Denali Flightseeing and Drive to Anchorage
After exploring the park either on foot or wheels, you might want to enjoy a bird’s view through a flightseeing tour. Several tour companies operate outside the park, or even from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Some trips even land on the glaciers.
- Denali National Park Flightseeing Tour from Talkeetna
- Price: $237.60
- Denali Heli-Hiking Tour
- Price: $570.00
- Denali Experience Flightseeing Tour
- Price: $238.70
- Denali Peak Flight
- Price: $399.00
End your day driving back to Anchorage, another 250 miles (400 km) that will take you between 4 to 6 hours depending on how often you stop.
Where to stay in Anchorage, Alaska
We stayed at the Anchorage Downtown Hotel, a small budget but clean and well-located hotel in Anchorage. Find out the latest prices on Anchorage Downtown Hotel. For other Anchorage hotels, click here for latest Anchorage hotel deals and availability.
Day 4: Anchorage
Anchorage is Alaska's largest city, and your gateway to the wilderness and mountains of Denali, Kenai, Talkeetna, and Chugach. While Anchorage is no New York City, a day is worth spending there to explore the top things to do in Anchorage.
Make sure to visit the Anchorage Native Heritage Center. Not only the center provides excellent information and display about the different Alaska Native traditions and language, but you might also catch one of the performances. Games, dances, music - a great way to learn more about Alaska heritage. We spent a couple of hours here, longer than we initially planned thanks to their interesting exhibits and performances. You can buy food, tasting some local meals.
Another Anchorage things to do worth checking is the Anchorage Museum, the largest museum in the state. There you can learn about the history of Alaska but also admire local art and craft.
If you want to pack on Alaska homemade products, Anchorage is also an excellent place for shopping on traditional Alaska Native art or local treats such as salmon jerky. We packed a few samples of that tasty jerky, which made for great snacks while we were on the road! Jams of local berries are a must-try! Salmonberries, lingonberries, cloudberries anyone?
- Anchorage Sail and Walk
- Price: $73.00
- Anchorage Bike and Brewery Tour
- Price: $209.00
- Anchorage City Tour with Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Price: $99.00
- Anchorage Craft Brewery Tour and Tastings
- Price: $99.00
- Talkeetna Small-Group Day Tour from Anchorage
- Price: $145.00
- Anchorage Trolley Tour
- Price: $20.00
- Private Tour: Anchorage 3-Hour Tour
- Price: $345.00
- Small-Group Tour: Anchorage Half-Day Tour
- Price: $75.00
Day 5: Seward, Alaska
Another early morning drive from Anchorage to Seward and the Kenai Peninsula, but that's how you can pack these incredible in this short Alaska Itinerary: 7 days road trip. The drive along the Seward is one of the most scenic roads, taking you along the stunning views of the Turnagain Arm and Portage Valley.
- Distance from Anchorage to Seward: 130 miles
- How long: About 2:30h-3h depending on how many times you stop
- What to see: Turnagain Arm, Portage Valley, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
- Travel Tips: Fill your tank in Girdwood, 40 miles from Anchorage. The next service station is in Seward.
Besides the incredible vistas, you can break your drive with a stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center dedicated to preserving Alaska's wildlife. Depending on the time of your visit, you can watch the feeding of the animals.
With so many things to do in Seward, there is plenty to fill your time, but a spot well-spent is the Alaska SeaLife Center. Spend your afternoon at the center to learn about the marine life and ecosystems of Alaska. The center also provides care for injured marine animals and hosts different exhibits and pools featuring Steller's sea lions, Giant Pacific Octopuses, salmon, and king crab. The outdoor platform offers a great view of the Resurrection Bay and mountains.
Other fun things to do in Seward:
- Try your luck Gold Panning
- Catch Dinner during an afternoon fishing trip on the Kenai River
- Search for gray whales on a whale watching cruise(mid-March to mid-May)
Or head to the Kenai Fjords National Park for a ranger-guided tour or a short afternoon hike. See below for ideas and hiking options, such as the Glacier Overlook Trail of Exit Glacier. The Kenai Peninsula is one of the most beautiful places in Alaska, so you won't be disappointed, whatever you do.
During our afternoon in the peninsula, we hiked along the Hidden Creek Overlook in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. The trail snaked along the river, passing through the forest and on rocky cliffs. Highly enjoyable! Beware this is Alaska and bear country. Though we did not encounter any animal, we saw numerous claw marks on trees, print and bear scats on the ground.
Where to stay in Seward
Several accommodations in Seward are available. You can also overnight in Kenai Fjords in one of the three public cabins.Some people love Seward; others can leave it fast enough due to the regular visits of cruise ships that come to shore. Everyone has different expectations, so it's hard to say in advance. We did not spend a night in Seward as our main itinerary took us further down Kenai.
We would recommend looking for a small hotel, or a place that is outside of town, so you can enjoy a more rustic setting and the beauty of the Kenai Peninsula.
Day 6: Kenai Fjords National Park
The Kenai Fjords National Park is famous for the massive Harding Ice Field from which about 40 glaciers emerge. One of the most popular is Exit Glacier, which can be accessed from the north of Seward. Drive up to Exit Glacier to admire the glacier up close, or even go on one of the nearby hiking trail, including the Glacier Overlook Trail.
Explore the Kenai Fjords National Park:
- Board one of the boat tours that cruise along the waters around Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay, and spot sea lions, whales, and seals.
- Kayak the Kenai Fjords, though the icy and the changing conditions make it more recommended for experienced kayakers.
- Go on one of the ranger-guided programs
- Glacier hike: Besides the moderate Glacier Overlook Trail, another more strenuous and challenging trail is the Harding Icefield Trail, which takes at least 6 to 8 hours. Click here to book a guided hiking tour to the Harding Icefield.
- Take a flightseeing tour to admire the mountains and glaciers from high up
- Exit Glacier Ice Hike in Seward
- Price: $133.90
- Small-Group Kayaking in Resurrection Bay from Seward
- Price: $139.00
- Bear Glacier 30-Minute Helicopter Flight from Seward
- Price: $319.00
- Seward to Skilak - Backcountry Adventure Day Trip
- Price: $379.00
- Seward Wilderness Hiking
- Price: $108.00
- Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise from Seward
- Price: $176.84
- Bear Glacier Private Flight Tour from Seward
- Price: $178.62
- Private 1-Hour Wildlife Flight Tour from Seward
- Price: $358.62
It's time to leave Seward and drive to Whittier
- Distance from Seward to Whittier: 90 miles
- How long: About 2 hours
Where to stay in Whittier
While the choice of lodging might not be significant, you can find several accommodations in Whittier. Check the prices for The Inn at Whittier.
Another option is to stay in Girdwood/Portage, just 30 minutes away from Whittier. Girdwood is a more fancy town with resorts and all. Prices tend to be more expansive but if you want to splurge on restaurants and amenities, that the place for it.
Day 7: Whittier & Anchorage
Start your day cruising or kayaking the Blackstone Bay glacier, or even heading further out into Prince William Sound. Click for the best deals and availability for Prince William Sound Cruises.
If you had your fill of boating, you can learn about Whittier history at the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area, and find out more about the importance of the Alaskan rail in the region.
As your last day of this 7-day itinerary, you can make a final stop at the Portage Glacier pass before you head back to Anchorage. The 5.4-mile (8.5 km) moderate round-trip hike provides excellent views into Portage Lake and the Portage Glacier.
While we did not start from Whittier, we joined tour groups for kayaking and cruising along glaciers in Prince William Sound, and we had a blast! We kayaked along the Valdez Glacier from Valdez, and our in-laws went on a glacier cruise to Meares Glacier. Both were fantastic experiences, which we can only recommend.
Like all good things, the trip end takes you back to Anchorage.
- Distance from Whittier to Anchorage: 60 miles (96 km)
- How long: About 1:30h drive
Best Time to Visit Alaska
The peak season to visit Alaska is from mid-May to mid-September. The temperatures vary from 60°F to 80°F (15°C to 25°C) and even higher. Alaska weather can change rapidly within the day. While we were there end of June, we experienced snow and ail one day, to be in a short-sleeve t-shirt a couple of days later.
Thanks to its position in the Arctic Circle, days are extra long, and you can still experience twilights at midnight at the end of June.
Mosquitoes can be problematic in June and July when the grounds are still wet from the snowmelt. Come August; the soils have dried, the insects are fewer, which makes for an enjoyable time to go hiking.
Alaska Travel Tips
- The days tend to be long in Alaska in summer, giving you plenty of time to enjoy the area, and drive around. However, note that it will disorientate you, as it will be 9 pm or 10 pm when you think it’s 5 pm.
- Mosquitoes in Alaska are infamous, and not a legend! Bring strong mosquito repellent. A face mosquito net will come in handy, especially in the Denali area
- Weather change rapidly - again, not a legend. You can experience 4-seasons in one day. So layer up.
- A good waterproof jacket, fleece, hoody, and gloves will be useful
- If you are planning on hiking, gaiters and hiking poles might be of value as you travel through potentially muddy and slippery trails
- Do not feed animals and please, please watch for bear safety measures. Not only for your safety of course, but also for the bears and other wild animals. They will smell your garbage bags, your snacks, and left over. The closer they come to human food and human interaction, the less scared they are, and thus the more likely of attacks from the animals to the humans. When this happens, the animals will pay for human carelessness. Rangers and wildlife service might decide to kill the animals to prevent further attacks. So please please, pack it out, pack it tight, and leave the wild animals be wild.
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