Vacations don't have to be all about the sun and the sand. If you're looking to escape the heat, or just experience something a little different, then an Alaskan road trip is the perfect solution. There's no better route than the scenic Seward Highway! The road may be a little windy as it takes you through the magnificent Kenai Mountains, along the breezy coastal Turnagain Arm, into the Chugach National Forest and through some of the country's most rugged untamed landscapes. To conquer the Seward Highway is a feat of which to be proud... and a feat that will be hard to forget.
The start of the Seward Highway is in the town of Seward, which is right outside Kenai Fjords National Park. Seward is a small town with loads of personality, and since it's so close to the park, it's got tons of amenities. It helps to book a tour on a boat or a bus to visit Kenai Fjords, since it's pretty remote, and there are loads of companies that offer different excursions and experiences. When you visit, make a point to stop by Exit Glacier. It's one of the easiest and most impressive glaciers to reach, and it's often used by scientists as a prime example of glacial recession and global warming.
Chugach State Park is the country's third-largest state park. It also happens to be the state of Alaska's favorite state park. There are various units in the park, and the Turnagain Arm unit contains more than a few scenic points where you can pull off the Seward Highway and take in the views. Beluga Point at mile marker 110.5 is great for spotting whales, Windy Corner at mile marker 106 has incredible views of Dall sheep on the hills, and the park's headquarters at Potter Section House State Historic Site, a former Alaska Railroad worker camp are some of the highlights here.
Within the lush Chugach National Forest is Portage Glacier, another gem to visit before it disappears forever. You used to be able to spy it from the Begich/Boggs Visitor Center, but now a boat ride across the lake is required to spot the receding ice sheet, which you can book a tour to. If you're lucky, while you're visiting, you can watch a chunk of ice break off and crash into the lake below... it really gives you a sense of how powerful glaciers can be.
The Last Frontier has some pretty special and unique flora and fauna, and you can learn all about them at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The center has a 1.5-mile scenic loop that winds its way past various enclosures that house animals that are being rehabilitated by the center. You might be able to spy bear cubs, wolves, musk oxen, bison, elk, moose, and even eagles as you walk or drive around the center.
Take a rare break from winding through the mountains to take in the view from atop them with the Alyeska Tram Ride. It's a quick but awe-inspiring three- to seven-minute ride to the top of Mt. Alyeska. You can see hanging glaciers, moose and bears, towering spruce forests, snow-capped peaks, and more. At the top, the observation deck is the perfect place for a picnic, a hike to a glacier, a berry-picking excursion, or even paragliding.
A rugged road trip calls for rib-sticking grub, which is exactly what you'll get at Turnagain Arm Pit BBQ. With succulent ribs, pulled pork, smoked brisket, flavorful sausage, deep fried wings, and BBQ staples like collards, banana pudding, and sweet tea, you might forget for a moment that you're in Alaska, not the South!
Indian Valley Mine National Historic Site is a cute little tourist attraction that has deep roots in the past. The cabin that houses their gift shop is one of the oldest buildings on the Turnagain Arm, and it's also got a little museum on site as well. You can also experience panning for gold, like the earliest settlers in Alaska did, and take in the views as you relax right at the edge of the coast.
Once you reach Anchorage, you'll find even more excitement. If you're looking for a reliable restaurant where you can get a cold drink, good food, and have a relaxing but fun time, the Moose's Tooth is for you. They serve up innovate and delicious pub grub, along with mouth-wateringly fun pizzas. Taco, chicken Rockefeller, gyros, and more inspire their pie options, and since they have a brewery onsite, you can wash it all down with a fresh pint of something a little different.
Aviation has been super important in Alaska, a state where mountainous landscapes, rough weather, remote towns, and massive distances make travel a little challenging. From 1920s-era Stearman C2Bs to a 1981 Boeing B737-29OC, this collection of old-school aircraft (located right by one of the busiest seaplane bases in the world) is an interesting look at one of the most interesting and unique facets of Alaskan life.
Summer is probably the best time for a trip down the Seward Highway. Winter brings severe cold and extreme weather, and fall tends to be on the rainy, cold side of things. Winter can last well into the spring in Alaska as well, but the warmer months in the state can be quite pleasant, and make for great hiking and exploring weather! The highway does get shoveled in the winter, so it's a safer road to travel if you're set on visiting Alaska then, but your options for exploring parks might be more limited.