Road tripping in Alaska is my absolute favorite.
The roads are empty and long, the mountains are rugged and dramatic, the nature is full of wild, native animals. You can get lost for hours without a plan and still run into the most beautiful hikes, rivers, and glaciers (until climate change melts them all).
If you’re trying to do a little more pre-planning before your trip, you’re smart. And, you’ve come to the right place. With the help of my cousin who’s stationed in Alaska, small talks from locals on their favorite spots, and the fact that Alaska is fucking gorgeous, every stop we made on this road trip was amazing and literally memorable.
I put this together to help with your road trip too based on what we experienced/learned, so read on! And as always, I am a huge proponent of don’t blindly follow internet lists- add your own spontaneous things too! Sometimes the best stuff is the stuff you find on your own.
In This Post
When to go
The peak season in Alaska is summer: mid-June to mid-August. Their summers have unusually long days and dry weather- which makes for a perfect road trip. You might be thinking “oh, bloggers are so stupid, everywhere has long summer days.” Well, yeah, but I mean that in Anchorage, the longest June day can get 19 hours of sunlight. Their winters are rough with cold, snow, and very few hours of sunlight, so don’t road trip in this. Perfect for seeing the Northern Lights, bad for living out of a car for a weekend.
Since cost is a huge thing for me, we went in late August which made flights from Seattle and hotels slightly cheaper, while not being too far from the peak season. But… it was so (intermittently) cloudy! So, I seriously recommend following the official guidance from their website and not being cheap like me.
Where to stay
I am not actually going to make suggestions here because I don’t have experience in staying in different places along Alaska. I just made this section to say, don’t stay in the sketchy ass hostel we stayed in.
What to see
Best stops along the Glenn Highway
Alaska’s official website has the full list of stops and their locations, if that is what you wanted. These are instead my favorite ones which I recommend not missing!
Alpine Historical Park
Alpine Historical Park is a coal mining town started by some of the early white settlers, with its buildings kept preserved as a free outdoor museum. I loved this because it was so unique – how many empty towns can you walk through that serve as a museum? There are a lot of signs to guide you on the significance of the park as well as the buildings.
DO. NOT. MISS. THIS. Where else in the world can you drive to and then walk on a massive glacier?! In fact, according to the signs, Matanuska is the largest glacier accessible by car. Seriously, check it out now because it’s shrinking, and the Trump administration’s rollbacks on car fuel efficiency will not help. Walking on top of it was like being on a totally different planet. The cloudy day actually worked out because it gave the glacier these beautiful blue hues.
You do have to pay a fee, but it’s well worth it. And they do offer tours if you’re interested, but you can also explore at your own pace. For more information on visiting, check out their website.
Caribou Creek Recreational Mining Area
This is actually what prompted our road trip. We were going to go gold mining, find gold, then retire before 30.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find any gold. But, we did find the most peaceful, untouched-by-humans piece of nature either of us had ever been in. We were surrounded by mountains, and all alone in this area- save for the bear tracks, moose tracks, and bald eagles flying overhead. In some ways, it was actually frightening and irresponsible because we weren’t prepared for bears. But in other ways, it was the most humbling and peaceful experience.
To be fair- most of Alaska falls into this category. This was just the first place we had experienced it.
Best stops on the road to Mt. Denali
Denali National Park
The next day, we wanted to go to Denali National Park. This is a little over 2 hour drive from Anchorage (so actually- if this is the focus of your trip, you should probably start from Fairbanks). But it was raining. Hard. Like storming. And this is coming from a Seattle person. We kept driving, thinking it would hopefully clear up… but no. From what we could see through the storm, the mountains were majestic and in a way the storm was beautiful. Not wanting to hike in a downpour, we turned around…
Even though I didn’t really get to “do” anything in Denali, I’m hoping you have better luck. Even with low visibility, you could tell it was gorgeous! So since I have no info for you here, check out their website for the full list of activities and ways you can experience the park.
Talkeetna is one of those themed touristy small towns with local markets and homemade wares for sale. Think like Leavenworth in Washington State or Alpine in San Diego. We went mostly for window shopping and to take a look at the cute city, but there are also more active activities in the area if you’re interested in those.
Denali Brewing Company
Denali Brewing Company’s tasting room is the perfect way to wrap up a long day of driving and exploring! They have flights and their craft beers are delicious.
(Bonus) Stops technically on AK-1 but not Glenn Highway
Depending how you plan out your weekend, here are a couple of amazing stops south of the Glenn Highway. We fit this in as technically it was a three day weekend for us.
By the way- this drive is absolutely scenic because eventually you’re driving along Turnagain Arm and Chugach State Park. So picture being surrounded by waterway, mountains, and forest.
Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk
If you want to get close to Alaska’s wild animals without putting yourself in danger or going on a guided tour (which are fun and informative- just unaffordable if you’re me), Potter Marsh is your place. It’s a wildlife viewing area, so you walk around bridges to see many of Alaska’s animals in one place. We saw an eagle rip apart a salmon… crazy!
McHugh Creek Day Use Area
This area is full of hikes, and we chose a random two hour one. It was one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve ever done. There were actually other people on this trail who had seen bears. Be prepared!
Throughout this hike, you see the water from the drive again and the foothills in the background. Part of the mountain was also burned down at the time we went, which made some areas slippery but also beautiful in a different way.
Have you ever gone on a weekend road trip in Alaska?? What was your favorite stop?? What are you most excited to see??