Updated: Oct 5, 2019
What a wonderful trip – we loved our Alaska road trip so much it inspired us to start a blog!
With loads to do and see in Alaska, this is only the tip of the iceberg – but we put our itinerary together looking at several different sites and blogs and wanted to share our insights with you all so you can enjoy the beautiful state as much as we did!
Bring a rain jacket
Rent a car and drive yourself around - you’ll have much more freedom that way. The drives can be long though, so break them up wherever you can
Breweries are abundant – try them all if you like beer!
Activities are quite expensive – you may want to prioritize what excites you most (flying, kayaking, fishing, etc.)
Denali mountain is only seen by 30% of people, so be flexible in your Denali planning in case a clear sky emerges - really awe-inspiring!
Itinerary - There are many ways you could plan your time in Alaska, here is how we decided to – as a helpful starting point!
Day 1: Travel to Alaska (many flights arrive after midnight)
Day 2: Anchorage, explored the city and started journey to Denali
Day 3: Talkeetna/Denali, finished the drive and got started in Denali with a short hike
Day 4: Denali, took the bus into the park and hiked
Day 5: Denali/Start transit, took the bus less far into the park and hiked
Day 6: Transit day down to Seward, many stops along the way
Day 7: Seward, sea kayaking trip to a Glacier
Day 8: Seward/Homer, Exit Glacier in Seward and explore Homer
Day 9: Homer/Girdwood, explore Homer more and make way back to Girdwood
Day 10: Girdwood/Whittier/Anchorage, did whatever we missed
Now for the real details!
Wow, what a cool place - six million acres of spectacular scenery (the size of Massachusetts they say!). So much to see and so much ground to cover. We particularly enjoyed the ability to off-trail hike wherever your heart desires, though ideally in water-proof shoes as we learned.
Where to stay?
We wanted to break up our trip and reduce expensive hotel prices in Anchorage and Denali, so we rented a cute Airbnb in Talkeetna (half-way between). Even saw a few moose meandering outside!
It’s generally expensive to stay in Denali and it's best to book early. Also option to camp if that’s your style
In Denali, we stayed at McKinley Creekside Cabins – solid option and a 15 minute drive from the park
What to do?
Day 1: To get our legs warmed up – we took the free shuttle to a short but beautiful Savage River Alpine trail – took us approximately 2 hours to complete – but that was mainly due to Lexi’s speedy downhill pace. The trail is about 4 miles, but the elevation is 1400ft, so it certainly gets the pulse going - and gave us an idea of the sheer vastness of Denali. We also bought our second bus ticket this day, as we were nervous about the buses filling up.
Day 2: We weren’t exactly enthralled with the idea of an 8 hour bus journey...HOWEVER…our trip deeper into the park really was spectacular. We chose the 6:45am journey to Eielson Visitor Center. Side note, we still bought tickets to Wonder Lake in case we wanted to go the whole way – but were told by locals it wasn’t worth it unless you had a truly sunny day. The bus journey into the park is a real treat – plenty of moose/ caribou and a few dall sheep cruising about. But the real highlight were the grizzly bears – it was our first time to see them up close and personal - and was a real sight to behold. We trundled on to Eielson where we took the 2 mile Thorofare Ridge trail – with a pretty intense 1000 feet gain. Now we HATE having to go back on ourselves – so – the advantage of Denali is you can go off-trailing – so made our own way back and went slip-sliding downside a mountainside!! You really can make your own fun.
Day 3: We wanted to get a final hike in – but thought it would be good to explore a different part of the park (and not have to take the full bus ride). We weren’t sure where we would stop – as you are able to jump off the bus whenever you see a pass or a mountain you are interested in climbing. In the end, we stopped at the Polychrome Overlook (another option we heard people enjoyed was Stony Dome). From there we did some more off-trail hiking to the ridge above the road and made our way across the ridge until we were ready to go back down. During this one, we did get quite close to a Moose and her baby, so took a bit of a detour – but that is how it goes! You can then jump back on a bus whenever you see a green one heading back.
Where to eat / drink?
For our stayover in Talkeetna, we grabbed breakfast from a quirky food truck, Breakfast Candy, scrumptious tots and a great breakfast sandwich. We also made our way into Talkeetna town to grab some cash, check it out and grab a coffee from Conscious Coffee.
If planning to take the bus, you’ll need a packed lunch. Since most buses go pretty early, it’s good to grab one the night before or find a place that is open. McKinley Creekside - where we stayed – opens at 5 for breakfast and grabbing a sandwich! A waiter also told us you can call 1-907-683-DINE to get one made for you.
We always crave a good beer and pub food after a long hike – best place for this is 49th State Brewery – a short drive away in Healy, with an excellent beer selection.
For our second night we followed an intriguing sign to a restaurant called The Perch – was tucked away and actually delicious.
South Central (Seward & Homer):
Completely different scenery than Denali – but equally beautiful. Think glaciers, ocean views, fishing villages and general scenic driving!
Where to stay?
For Seward, we spent two nights at the Bear Lake Lodgings – a family run B&B overlooking Bear Lake. They have available kayaks/ canoes to borrow for some lake time, serve a tasty breakfast with a to-go option if you have an early start – and hand dipped chocolate ice cream – so a winner in our books!!
In Homer, we had the pleasure of staying in a Yurt (one of our favorite things to do) that sat atop a hill and looked out across the whole bay. This yurt was particularly great because it had a small bathroom house next to it with a piping hot shower!
What to do?
And now onto possibly our favorite part of the entire trip – sea kayaking in Seward!! We choose Adventure 60 North in Seward– a great choice, but reckon all companies are pretty similar. From start to finish this trip was just awesome – a fabulous guide (Seth, really sound guy), some good kayaking time, and our boat took a special detour for us as they were told of a whale-sighting! While there are a few different day trip options – we chose Aialik Bay. The various glaciers are outlined here – but we thought this one would give us a good mixture of kayaking, glacier viewing (especially calving) and a boat tour.
In Homer, we mostly explored the town given some fires in the area that took us longer to get there than expected – though did enjoy a stop in the Wildlife & Visitor Center on the way. If we had additional time in Homer, we would have taken a water taxi to Kachemak Bay and done a hike OR a fishing trip. While a bit out of the way to get to, we really enjoyed the ambiance of the town.
Where to eat / drink?
To eat: Many people will mention the Cookery. We were told this was a bit over-rated and had long lines, so instead we went to Apollo. While not great reviews on Yelp, the salmon was scrumptious! The second night we went to Thorn’s Showcase Lounge, nothing to write home about – but was still good.
To drink: Under the recommendation of our good pal, Seth (our guide) – we went straight from kayaking to the the Seward Alehouse. Great beer, great music and free games – what more could you ask for! If you happen to be there on a Thursday, we were also tipped off about a dance night at The Yukon – might as well make that a stop too!
To eat: We went to the Little Mermaid for dinner, had a bunch of appetizers and all were delicious (oysters were yummm). For breakfast, you’ll probably hear about Two Sister's Bakery. This place was hopping – but mostly just has baked goods, not really our scene. So we stopped at Wild Honey Bistro, which had lovely crepes (savory and sweet!) and a beautiful view.
To drink: To continue our brewery love, we went to Grace Ridge Brewery – had a great local vibe and a good selection of beers. We also stopped by Bear Creek Winery the following morning. This winery specializes in berry wine… if you like that they are great – if not, still worth it to try (we had strongly differing opinions on berry wine).
Central (Anchorage/ Whittier/ Girdwood):
Each were great to explore and had little gems. We enjoyed having these as at the beginning, end and stopovers between the other two destinations.
Where to stay?
Hotels can get a bit pricey, so for Anchorage we decided to stay at a really nice Airbnb – with a mattress so good it inspired us to google mattress types at breakfast.
For our final nights, we splurged, and stayed at the Alyeska Hotel (oooh la la – very fancy)… Not really our scene but it had late adult-only pool hours, nice touch!
What to do?
In Anchorage, we rented bikes from Alaska Pablo’s cycle shop and took the really scenic (most overused word in this post) Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. Because we just love cycling and the breweries were calling our names, we extended our route through the city before heading back. Making a full 21-mile round loop in total.
Depending on how your timing works – Girdwood, Whittier and the surrounding areas are most definitely worth a stop. The Turnagain Arms drive is just breathtaking – we stopped at the Beluga point – but this is just one many to choose from!!
Girdwood is not only a good stop for food and drink – but also mountain biking, hikes, a tram to the top of the mountain and reportedly a cool hike with the hand tram – but check with locals for if it is currently in operation.
Whittier – a little village on the other side of the mountain – now we are not going to do it justice as it was lashing rain – but on a clear day, this must be a gem of a place. Nestled between mountains, waterfalls and the sea – it must be just idyllic.
Where to eat / drink?
Anchorage: Moose’s Tooth was the most talked about and busiest restaurant we had been to and for good reason - specializing in pizza and beer. Definitely worth a stop. We also had a nice breakfast the day we arrived at Snow City Cafe - the heart attack on a plate (aptly named) kept us happy and full for the day! We also hit up several breweries and thoroughly enjoyed them all (Resolution Brewing, Anchorage Brewing Company and King Street Brewing Company)
Girdwood: Had a good lunch on our way down to Seward at the Girdwood Picnic Club and then hit up the Girdwood Brewing Company (2x!) - really enjoyed that! Upon recommendation for our guide Seth - we went to the Double Musky for dinner - a cajun flare and very filling. He tipped us off that ordering the appetizers is better value and equally delicious.
Whittier - not really a food and drink place, more about the views!
Would you recommend to your friend / family? Yes, 100% for those that enjoy the outdoors. If you don’t, this one might not be for you
Would you return? Most definitely, we even started fantasizing about buying a yurt while we were there
Favorites to speak of:
Lodging: Hands down the Yurt in Homer
Activity: Sea kayaking won for us, as a great mixture of physical activity and scenic views
Eating: Little Mermaid - delicious seafood and tons of great appetizers (our favorite way to eat)