When our family made the decision to book a trip to our 50th state, I was over the moon excited. Building out an Alaska itinerary was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.
After 49 states, several countries, and a year-long boat trip, travel planning doesn’t intimidate me. In fact, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I consider it a fun challenge to incorporate as many destinations and adventures into a vacation as I can.
But this trip to Alaska challenged me in ways I’d never been challenged before.
I was paralyzed with planning details. Nothing about the logistics made sense. I struggled with a serious case of FOMO (fear of missing out), while trying to balance a realistic Alaska itinerary. I had a long list of things I wanted to do, with no real organization or plan.
Here are a few specific details I locked in right away:
- We chose a land vacation (not a cruise.)
- My kids wanted to see snow, so we went in April to take advantage of snow and warmer temperatures than winter.
- Our flights flew in and out of Anchorage.
- A 4-wheel drive SUV felt like a must. We locked that in immediately.
Beyond that, I was working with a week-long blank slate.
Alaska Itinerary Challenges
So here is the million dollar secret that took me about 2 months to figure out: there’s only 1 main road. In my head, I absolutely could not grasp this concept. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t build an itinerary that didn’t involve backtracking.
In planning our trip, I identified 3 distinct areas I wanted to explore: Anchorage, Seward, and Talkeetna.
In all of our other road trip adventures, we typically tried to make our trip a big loop. Even our year-long boat trip was a Loop! However, when you fly in and out of Anchorage, there’s truly no way to physically travel without driving on the same main road for most of your trip.
Backroads aren’t an option because there aren’t any.
I know it sounds bizarre, but you just have to trust me. I consulted many locals in addition to all of the map apps. Short of using other modes of transportation (train, plane, etc.), there’s really no way to not spend most of your time driving on the same road.
Before I detail our exact itinerary, let me share a little bit about the different regions we chose to explore:
Anchorage (with a 1 hour radius)
Assuming you’ll start and end your trip in Anchorage, there are several ways you can divide your time here.
Probably the smartest thing we did was book a tour with Salmon Berry Travel & Tours. They offer a large selection of options, but we felt like the Turnagain Tour was a “must.” This tour takes you on one of the most scenic highways in America past tons of the Bay of Alaska shoreline. You’ll spot wildlife, glaciers and breathtaking views.
The Turnagain Tour also includes a tram ride up Mount Alyeska, lunch at a local brewery in Girdwood, and a trip to The Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center. Having an experienced tour guide with loads of information helps set the stage for an amazing vacation. We were so thankful to start our trip with all of his local knowledge and points of interest!
Seward is a coastal town south of Anchorage. You’ll take the main road and for the first hour the drive will be somewhat populated. However, the second hour (+) is an extremely desolate road with no services-cell, gas, food, etc. For that reason, I don’t recommend doing this drive at night or as a day trip from Anchorage. Unless you plan to do a ton of hiking, you really don’t need more than 1 or 2 days in Seward.
That said, it’s TOTALLY worth it to make the journey down to Seward! You’ll end up at Mile Marker 0 of the Alaskan Highway and have the most spectacular views of Resurrection Bay.
Seward is on the edge of the Kenai Fjords National Park. You’ll absolutely want to sign up for the whale/wildlife harbor cruise! We were able to see thousands of Orcas and Grey Whales. It was spectacular and a once in a lifetime experience to watch them breach in the wild!
Other items to add to your Seward, Alaska Itinerary: Exit Glacier; Alaska Sealife Center; Lowell Point; 13 Ravens Coffee Shop (in a train car!)
Talkeeta is the gateway to Denali National Park. It’s located several hours north of Anchorage and is a quaint little mountain town. You’ll definitely want to hit a major grocery store before leaving Anchorage because the only option in Talkeetna is a little convenience store.
However, what the town lacks in modern conveniences it makes up for 10 fold in charm! There are some adorable restaurants and shops in the main area of town, and the majority of the lodging is little cabin Sunshine Log Home.
Of course the most notable thing about Talkeetna is the proximity to Denali. In town you’ll find the Visitor Center, along with many sightseeing companies. I highly recommend Alaska Floatplane Company. Jason is the best and you will not be disappointed with your experience.
So with all of that, let me share our exact Alaska Itinerary…
Day 1: Fly to Anchorage. We landed around 11PM and went straight to The Comfort Inn on Ships Creek.
Day 2: Relaxing day in Anchorage- getting our bearings and adjusting to the time change. We did some sightseeing around the city. And we drove up to Wasilla to visit the Iditarod Museum. We spent the night in a VBRO on a lake just north of Anchorage specifically to have a shot at seeing the Northern Lights (which we did.)
Day 3: Turnagain Arm Tour with Salmon Berry Travel & Tours After our tour we stocked up on some groceries and made the drive north to Talkeetna to a VBRO cabin.
Day 4: AK Sled Dog Tour was our main scheduled activity of the day. Afterwards we enjoyed a late lunch at Denali Brewing Co. Finally, after a crazy few days we opted for some downtime at our adorable cabin. The kids wanted to build snow forts and watch a movie by the fire. We cooked dinner at the VRBO and enjoyed the more relaxing pace of the evening.
Day 5: Another day in Talkeetna; However, this day did not go exactly as planned. Initially we booked a Flight tour of Denali. Unfortunately, the snowy conditions that the kids were loving so much forced us to cancel. Instead spent some time driving around the area, and wandering around downtown Talkeetna. On this afternoon we made the long drive to Seward. (You go right through Anchorage, so staying there is an option if you prefer to break up the drive.) We stayed at the Harbor 360 Hotel.
Day 6: We started our day in a train car coffee shop watching an otter play around in the marina. After getting our National Park Passport Book stamped at the Visitor’s Center, we boarded the Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise (4 hours.) After seeing tons of orca and grey whales, we headed north to the Mount Alyeska Resort. Snow skiing and the resort pools are optional (we decided to hit the pools)- but dinner at the Double Musky Inn is a MUST!
Day 7: Back on Day 5 when we were unable to take the flight tour of Denali National Park I was really only disappointed that we’d leave Alaska having not set foot on a glacier. I ended up booking a glacier flight out of Anchorago on Regal Air. After a late lunch it was time to head back to the airport for our flight home.
Final Tips For A Perfect Alaska Itinerary
Enjoy every second! Pack in as much as you can, but leave a little wiggle room for the unexpected.
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