One Week In Alaska Roadtrip Itineraries: Hit The Highlights- Anchorage to Fairbanks

This post is part of a series called One Week In Alaska
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Part One: Roadtrip Itineraries for One Week In Alaska- Hit the Highlights.

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I’ve had a lot of interest in one week in Alaska roadtrip based itineraries from readers this summer. I’ve come up with six itineraries for varying interests for one week in Alaska road trips and today I will be covering part one of the ‘One Week In Alaska’ series. The posts to follow are a few suggestions for different routes on the Alaska road system, which is a tiny fraction of the land. I will start this with: it’s impossible to see the entire state with one week in Alaska, but a short time is better than no time in Alaska at all! 82% of Alaska’s communities are not reachable by road, making Alaska a difficult and expensive place to experience fully. However, you can see a great amount by road tripping and trekking, which is much easier on your wallet and a whole hell of a lot more simple to arrange. A word of warning: driving distances between many Alaskan towns, cities and sights are long. Another thing to note: Alaska has two seasons, winter and construction. Most visit in the May- September time frame, in which drive times can take even longer as road construction shares that same time frame. Check the Alaska DOT’s 511 for road condition information. Another trusty source of information is the Alaska Milepost, I highly recommend purchasing one before your Alaska road trip!

*This post contains affiliate links.

It’s hard to fit the best of Alaska in one week, but you can definitely get a lot in if you’re ambitious. Of course these one week in Alaska itineraries are all suggestions and can be altered to your liking. Cheers to adventuring the last frontier!

Hit the Highlights- Anchorage to Fairbanks.

This itinerary gives you a pretty good sampling of what the 49th state has to offer in just one week in Alaska. From glaciers to the tallest mountain in North America, small towns, cities, inlets, rivers and everything in between. This a great option for people taking an Inside Passage Cruise between Seward and Seattle. Trip can be done one way from Seward to Fairbanks after a cruise or from Fairbanks to Seward before the cruise.

Fly into Anchorage and out of Fairbanks (Can be done in reverse), or a great add on to a cruise.

Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage, drive to Seward.

You’ll likely arrive at the Anchorage airport at an ungodly time. Our airport is busiest between 10PM-2AM. Pick up your rental car and head to your hotel room for a few hours of sleep before heading off on the road.

Once you are well rested, grab a quick brunch (Bearstooth and Snow City are some of my faves), run by a store and grab any supplies you’ll need and head south on the Seward Highway. If you go straight to Seward with no stops, plan on a roughly two hour drive (about 125 miles).

Seward Highway safety: This a very scenic drive, so you should probably tack on some more time for this. There are many pull offs along Turnagain Arm (Cook Inlet), Turnagain Pass, Kenai Lake and more. Use the pull offs! The Seward Highway is the most dangerous road in Alaska and one of the most dangerous in the USA. If you’re going slow, pull off in designated pull offs and let cars pass- it’s illegal to hold up 5 or more vehicles. You MUST drive with headlights on at all times. You could see goats and sheep on the cliff side along the road and sometimes whales in the inlet. Wildlife viewing is not an emergency! Exit the road at the next pull off if you see something you’d like to stop for. Don’t endanger other’s lives by stopping in shoulders or even worse in the middle of the road because you see something you want to look at.

Places I recommend to stop:

  • Beluga Point
  • Bird Creek
  • Girdwood
  • Portage and/or Byron Glacier
  • Alaska Wildlife Center
  • Turnagain Pass
  • Kenai Lake

Once you begin descending from Turnagain Pass you will arrive at Kenai Lake where the road splits. Continuing left will keep you on the Seward Highway to Seward. Heading right will take you onto the Sterling Highway toward Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski and Homer.

About 3 miles before Seward you’ll see a turn off for Exit Glacier. I recommend a stop here. Exit Glacier is a part of Kenai Fjords National Park. You can opt for a quick 1 mile round trip walk to the face of the glacier or the much longer and strenuous hike up to Harding Icefield (about 8.4 miles roundtrip to the emergency shelter).

*Note: there is no fee to enter the national park or visit the glacier. There is a visitor center and restroom at the trailhead. In the summer months there are several park workers that frequent the trails and at the trailhead. Feel free to ask them any questions, they’re very helpful.

Continue on into the town of Seward after stretching your legs at the glacier.

Seward is compact and easily walkable. There are many campsites available as well as hotels for those less adventurous. I’d recommend a visit to the Seward Sealife Center and having a fresh Alaskan seafood dinner if your budget allows.

Other options: If Seward isn’t appealing to you, you can opt to take the Sterling Highway to Kenai & Soldotna for fishing, or go all the way down to Homer (about 5 hours from Anchorage). Homer is small fishing town meets hippy, it’s a nice mix. Halibut fishing here is usually great and many charters are on offer.

Day 2: Take a Glacier Cruise

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Seward, Alaska

Seward is in a great position to explore the numerous glaciers of Prince William Sound. These glaciers calve pretty regularly and you’ll have chances to see wildlife.

After the cruise, drive back toward Anchorage and make any stops you’d like to check out that you may have missed on the way down.

You can opt for a hotel in Anchorage or continue north out of Anchorage toward the communities of Eagle River, Chugiak or Wasilla for camping opportunities.

Option: Take a fishing charter instead, relax in Seward, enjoy a nearby hike.

Day 3: Talkeetna

Talkeetna is a funky, fun, little Alaska town with a cat for a mayor. It’s an 115 mile, about 2-2.5 hour drive north from Anchorage. Take the Glenn Highway north from Anchorage and make sure to follow the signs as you approach the Mat-Su Valley toward the Parks Highway and Wasilla. About 100 miles north of Anchorage you’ll see signs for the Talkeetna Spurr Road turn off, take the exit to the right and follow for about 14 miles where you’ll end up in tiny, walkable Talkeetna. There’s plenty of places to camp as well as cabins an inn, and a hostel for rent, and there are several little restaurants. If you can afford it, I would splurge on the Denali flightseeing tour with one of the air taxi companies based in Talkeetna. Many of these flight seeing trips do include a glacier landing. I’ve not personally done a Denali flightseeing tour yet, but I have yet to hear a bad thing about it from anyone who’s done it. These flights can range from $220 to $460 per person. Other activities in Talkeetna include the Denali Zipline, kayaking & rafting tours, and the riverboat trip up the Devil’s Canyon.

*Note: the Denali flightseeing tour, as with any flightseeing tour is heavily weather dependent. Pilots will not fly if weather conditions are poor or unstable. Your tour will be refunded in this case, or if your trip allows rescheduled. 

Day 4-5 Denali National Park

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The biggie: Denali (formerly Mt. McKinley).

Get to driving, Denali National Park sits about another 2.5 hours and 145 miles north along the Parks Highway.

Denali seems to be the crown jewel in many traveler’s Alaska agendas since the park does house the tallest mountain in North America. I’ve allotted two days here for exploring the park, but it can easily be done in a day for those only wanting a bus tour, or you could spend weeks or even months here depending on what you want to do. You cannot drive past the Savage River post in Denali National Park (unless you visit in September and secure a Denali Road Lottery Permit in May the same year) which is only a few miles past the visitor center. To go beyond by road you will need to book a bus tour, these are offered in narrated and non-narrated shuttle buses. Non-narrated buses range from $26.50 to $34.00 per person (kids under 15yo are free). Narrated bus tours range from $80.75 to $194.00 per person (kids 15yo and under range from $33.50 to $92.00 per kid). Click here to visit the park website’s info on buses and schedules. Camping sites are available fro $15.00 to $30.00 per item per nights. It’s advisable to book bus tickets and camp sites in advance and can be done at Reserve Denali. A $10 per person pass fee will be charged per visitor at the entrance of the park. National Park Pass holders just need to show their pass to get in. If going into backcountry you must obtain a backcountry pass at the visitor center- they are free.

There is plenty of trekking options within the park as well as other activities on offer in and around. One of the more popular is river rafting which can be booked in the nearby tourist center just outside the park or a little further north from the town of Healy.

Day 6 Drive to Fairbanks

The drive from Denali to Fairbanks is 130 miles and should take about 2-2.5 hours not including any stops. Many will opt to stop at Healy, Nenana and more.

Day 7 Fairbanks, fly home.

Fairbanks has a few sites on offer as well such as Pioneer Park, the Chena River and downtown Fairbanks. If you have extra time after you arrive in Fairbanks you could continue up to North Pole (no, not the actual one, just the goofy town with the name). Want a relaxing way to spend your last bit of time in Alaska? You could head toward Chena Hotsprings and have a nice soak in the hot waters. The Chena Hotsprings Resort is 62 miles northwest of Fairbanks and should take roughly 1 hour 15 minutes each way. Entrance costs are $15 for adults, $12 for kids 6-17yrs (must be accompanied by a parent), and $13.00 for Seniors 60+ yrs.

Want more ideas for one week in Alaska itineraries?

Check out the following posts in the ‘One Week In Alaska’ series:

Part 2: The Dalton Highway- Way Off The Beaten Path. Available after July 26.

Part 3: Glaciers, Fjords, & South Central Alaska. Available after August 5.

Part 4: The Big Loop: Anchorage to Fairbanks & Back. Available after August 10.

Part 5: The Little Loop: Anchorage to Denali & Back, including the Denali Highway. Available after August 15.

Part 6: The Best of Wrangell St. Elias and Prince William Sound. Available after August 20.

Want to Travel Alaska? Are you on a budget?

 

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