An Epic Alaska Road Trip

With rolling hills of tundra framed by majestic mountain ranges, Alaska’s interior region is a place for grand adventures. On this adventurous Alaska road trip you’ll fulfill nearly every Alaska checklist item; hike wilderness trails high atop an alpine ridge in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and explore an abandoned mining community; travel glacially-fed rivers and witness the power of Alaska’s wild waterways; fly over crevasses and through the gorges of Denali; spy grizzly bears and caribou on an excursion through Denali National Park; or challenge yourself with an introduction to packrafting. At the end of each day, offer a toast to Alaska’s majestic outdoors from your luxury lodge or cabin. This adventurous itinerary takes time to explore the Interior region by road and air, but also weaves into the journey a crossing of pristine Prince William Sound to “connect the dots” between the Interior and Southcentral regions. An adventure through the heart of Alaska, this luxury itinerary offers an unparalleled experience.

ANCHORAGE 

Days 1 and 2 

Begin your journey in Anchorage, the bustling economic and cultural hub of the state. Settle in at a cozy historic inn located in downtown Anchorage and take in the views; Cook Inlet to the west and the Chugach range to the east. Take a stroll of the compact downtown and finish your day on the deck of 49th State Brewing Company, with a clear shot of Denali in the distant north. 

Start your trip with a visit to the fascinating Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. You’ll be accompanied by a private docent through this all encompassing showcase of Alaska’s rich cultural, historical, industrial, and recreational influences. The nearby Alaska Native Heritage Center, tucked away in a forest of spruce and birch trees, reflects upon contributions of Alaska’s diverse tribes, that represent nearly twenty percent of the population.

Later that afternoon, travel north along the Glenn and Parks Highways to the small village of Talkeetna in the northern section of the scenic Matanuska-Susitna Valley. 

TALKEETNA 

Day 3 

Spend your day exploring walkable and quirky Talkeetna, a town of just a few thousand on the banks of the mighty Susitna River. Denali looms large here with resplendent views on a clear day and most climbers that attempt the summit pass through Talkeetna. Stop by the Walter Harper Ranger Station for a look into the lives of mountaineering rangers and their central role in the history of climbing in Alaska. 

After lunch on Main Street, hop aboard a jet boat for an adrenaline-fueled ride on the three rivers surrounding Talkeetna. The Susitna, Talkeetna, and Chulitna rivers are braided, shallow channels that transit deep into the interior region of Alaska and require these shallow, jet-style vessels to navigate. 

Return to town in time for a hearty meal at the Wildflower Cafe and a stroll along the river to hopefully capture a glimpse of Denali in the distance before returning to Belle’s Cabin for the night. 

DENALI NATIONAL PARK

Days 4-6 

Leaving Talkeetna behind, drive north to Denali National Park’s entrance, where you’ll meet your small plane for a short flight deep into the park’s Wonder Lake area near the end of the Park Road. Here, enjoy two nights exploring the lower elevations of Denali’s tundra, meadows, and lakes at a luxury wilderness lodge. 

Hike the abundant trails for a backcountry workout, pedal along the Park Road, grab a camera and capture the flora and fauna of the Wonder Lake landscape, stopping now and then to pick wild blueberries from bushes lining the trails and lake shore, or just pick up a book from the lodge library and put up your feet up with Alaska’s wide expanses in full view.

Leave the park by road, watching for bears, caribou, moose, and wolves as you travel through the tundra and spruce forests, ending your day at Tonglen Lake Lodge.

Tonglen Lake Lodge Adventures 

Days 7-9

This morning you’ll get a taste of the true Alaska backcountry as you lift off from a private heliport to access a remote wilderness area on the boundaries of Denali National Park. After the breathtaking flight, you’ll land and explore the rolling tundra and alpine ridgelines on foot with an experienced, local naturalist.

Later this afternoon, after some downtime at the lodge and with plenty of summer daylight remaining, you’ll meet your guides for a white-water rafting adventure through the Nenana River Canyon. In paddle rafts and protected from the elements by a dry-suit, you’ll navigate exciting Class III-IV rapids, with names like Razorback and Coffee Grinder, keeping your eyes peeled for the Dall sheep and golden eagles that call this steep-walled canyon home.

On your last day in the Denali region, you’ll experience a form of wilderness travel born in Alaska: packrafting. These lightweight boats that can easily be carried, allow you to travel quickly through wilderness areas. Together with your experienced guide, you’ll hike out to a tumbling mountain stream taking to the water and floating past the majestic peaks of the Alaska Range. End your day around the campfire at Tonglen Lake Lodge, reliving your Denali Adventures.

DENALI HIGHWAY ROAD TRIP

Day 10 

Make an early start this morning, as your Alaska road trip continues along the wild and remote Denali Highway, one of North America’s great drives. The 135-mile gravel road runs east to west, through raw, wild tundra framed in the distance by the towering Alaska Range. End your day by settling in at the Lodge at Black Rapids, a comfortable timber framed lodge built next to the original Rapids Roadhouse, a historical stopover for weary travelers. 

RICHARDSON HIGHWAY AND KENNECOTT NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK

Day 11 

Your Alaska road trip adventure continues south along the Richardson Highway toward Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, which at 13.2 million wild and untouched acres is six times larger than Yellowstone National Park. 

After arriving in Chitina that afternoon, catch the air taxi aboard a bush plane for the short trip to McCarthy, taking in the spectacular views of the Kennicott Valley as you go. Literally in the heart of this vast national park, McCarthy and the neighboring ghost town of Kennicott, provide a taste of modern life lived at the frontier amidst some of the most awe-inspiring scenery on the planet. On landing, you’ll be met and taken to Kennicott Glacier Lodge.

Wrangell-St. Elias National Park

Days 12-14 

Start your mornings with views of the Wrangells before embarking on the day’s adventures. Attach your crampons and join an expert mountain guide for a hike across Root Glacier, taking in the otherworldly blue pools, moulins, and crevasses.

Venture further afield the next day with a river rafting trip from the toe of Kennicott Glacier down through Nizina Canyon, testing your mettle against Mother Nature’s wild, glacially-fed waters, and enjoying unobstructed views of Stairway icefall. Alternatively, stay on dry land and travel into a place few people experience as you take a bush plane deep into the Wrangell Plateau for a day hiking amongst its alpine lakes and clear streams.

VALDEZ

Day 15

Returning to Chitina, your Alaska adventure continues south along the Richardson Highway and across Thompson Pass to Valdez, a picture-perfect mountain town nestled against the backdrop of Prince William Sound. 

Stay the night at Robe Lake Lodge on the shores of its namesake body of water at the foot of the Chugach mountains. Relax in the lodge hot tub or sauna, or savor the lakeside views from the log lodge’s Great Room. 

PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND

Day 16 

Sail the pristine waters of Prince William Sound today aboard the Alaska Marine Highway System ferry for the journey to the port city of Whittier. See floating ice calved from Columbia Glacier and watch for blowing humpback whales and bald eagles, as you transit the beautiful coastline of the Chugach National Forest and Nellie Juan Wilderness. 

From Whittier, a deepwater port town constructed at the beginning of World War II, drive through the two-mile Anton Anderson tunnel on your way back to Anchorage. End your Alaskan adventure with dinner at the cozy Marx Brothers Cafe, a local institution. 

Stay overnight at the Copper Whale Inn before returning your rental vehicle and flying home.

From The Magazine

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