With some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, stretches of unspoiled land, and abundant wildlife, Alaska is a magical place to visit. While there are many popular ways to get around in Alaska ranging from cruises to trains, one of the best options for experiencing all that Alaska has to offer is to travel by car. Alaska scenic drives allow you to explore the mountains, rivers, glaciers, tundra, and small towns up close and at your own pace.
Why go on scenic drives in Alaska?
Scenic drives in Alaska will take you through wilderness, mountains, and small towns that you might otherwise miss and allow you to get off the beaten path. Exploring Alaska by car lets you take your time and follow your own schedule. A scenic drive is a great way to get to most destinations and attractions, with the trip itself becoming the centerpiece. Along the way, you can stop for a hike, visit one of Alaska’s small towns, or take a detour on a side road.
What you need to know
The best way to make scenic drives part of your vacation is to rent a car in Anchorage. Anchorage can be used as a great base for scenic day drives. If you are thinking of longer road trips, you might want to consider renting an RV or motorhome. In any case, you should be sure your vehicle is in good condition and be well prepared for the unexpected. If you choose a longer road trip, be sure you have the supplies you need and that you will have access to fuel along the way.
When should you go?
Road conditions in Alaska are best in the summer, between May and September. Some roads are closed in the winter, so if you are planning winter scenic drives, make sure that the roads will be open. When planning your trip, be sure to allow enough time to travel so you can fully enjoy the scenery along the way. Scenic drives are best when you follow a leisurely schedule. You never know what you might see encounter along the way, and if you are rushing, you might miss a great view or an encounter with wildlife. Some of the drives are long, so it is a good idea to plan to spend at least a week in Alaska and preferably longer.
Where should you go?
With so many choices for scenic drives in Alaska, you might have a hard time deciding where to go. Here are five of the most scenic drives in Alaska to get you started.
Legendary Parks Highway with views of Denali
Built in 1971, George Parks Highway is a scenic road that stretches over 300 miles connecting Anchorage to Fairbanks and passing through Denali National Park. The two-lane road is paved and open during all seasons. Named for the former territorial Governor, George Parks, it is one of the newest roads in Alaska. Along this drive, you will see breathtaking views of central Alaska, pass by Hurricane Gulch, and you can stop for hikes or fishing if you so choose. The main attraction is Mt. Denali, the continent’s tallest mountain, which can be seen most clearly during the winter. This drive takes about five and a half hours and is best in late spring through fall.
Seward Highway with coastal views
Seward Highway takes you from Anchorage to Seward spanning 127 miles. You will pass between the Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountains, through the Kenai Peninsula, enjoying views of waterfalls, mountains, fjords, glaciers, wildlife, and wildflowers. The two-lane road is paved and is open year-round. There are many attractions to see along the way, including the glaciers at Chugach State Park, Bird Point, Girdwood, Portage Valley, and Canyon Creek. You might also want to stop for a hike, fishing, camping, mountain biking, or downhill skiing. Allow a long weekend to take full advantage of this scenic drive.
Glenn Highway to see the Matanuska Glacier
Glenn Highway takes you from Anchorage to Glacier View on a winding 109-mile road. It follows along the Matanuska River and offers stunning views of ever-changing terrain. This paved road will take you eastward through mountains on the coast and the interior, agricultural flats, the Matanuska Valley, to the Cooper River Basin. The road, which follows a trail from 1898 and is named after Captain Edwin Glenn, became a highway after World War II. The best time to take this drive is from late spring to fall.
Hatcher Pass Scenic Drive
This 51-mile drive from Willow to Palmer through the Talkeetna Mountains, where the first snows fall, links the Glenn and Parks highways. It was one of the first roads built in the Alaska Territory. Along the way, you can see wildlife, wildflower displays, and alpine scenery, and stop for hikes or skiing. At Independence Mine Historical State Park, you can learn about the history of gold mining. The round trip drive from Anchorage takes about 3 hours. The Hatcher Pass detour, Fishhook road, will add another two hours to the trip. With 20 miles of gravel, this drive is best in the summer and fall. The road is narrow and steep in places and closed during the winter.
If you are especially adventurous, you might want to try this remote gravel highway that stretches 414 miles from Fairbanks to the North Slope oil fields. Constructed to support the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the road is now open to the public to the Deadhorse Drilling Station. It begins in the interior, traverses Brooks Range, and runs through the tundra lowland of the Arctic coastal plain. If you attempt this drive, be sure to prepare well. Bring extra gas, spare tires, and anything else you might need.
These five scenic drives in Alaska are just the tip of the iceberg. With Anchorage as a base, you can try several short scenic drives. If you are interested in a longer road trip, you can make it the centerpiece of your vacation. Whatever you decide, be sure to take your time and travel at a leisurely pace so you get a full taste of everything that Alaska has to offer. On Alaska scenic drives, you are sure to encounter some of the most amazing scenery in the world and have the adventure of a lifetime.