Alaska is a wild land of incredible people, nature, culture and stunning National Parks. Year after year, as I continue to explore more National Parks throughout the United States, my mind always races back to memories of my Alaska Road Trip. I visited Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park, both of which were filled with incredible scenery, adventure, and wildlife. In this post, I share an 8-day Alaska road trip itinerary that starts and ends in Anchorage, covering many highlights you won’t want to miss during your first visit to Alaska.
Explore Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park in this 8-day Alaska Road Trip Itinerary. Discover best tips on where to stop, things to do, and more!
As it goes in all of the destinations we share, please practice good trail etiquette and remember to Leave No Trace. This means packing out all of your garbage, being respectful to others on busy trails, and following the established rules.
Getting to Alaska
Alaska is a huge state and Anchorage will be your starting point for visiting Denali and Kenai Fjords National Parks. Several major airlines fly in and out of the Anchorage airport.
For traveling throughout Alaska, taking the train is a popular option but in my opinion, renting a car is the best way to cover a lot of territory in a short amount of time. There are also several camper van rental companies in Anchorage if you want to really emerge yourself in the Alaska outdoors. Keep in mind that campsites in Kenai Fjords and Denali National Parks book up fast, so be sure to make reservations early.
Best Time to Visit Alaska
In Alaska they joke that June is Spring, July is Summer, and August is Fall. For the best weather on your Alaska road trip, visit from mid-June to mid-August. If you visit in the shoulder of that time period, you’ll have fewer crowds, but you risk running into rain and even snow. By late August or early September, the bugs have mostly died off, so that’s also something to think about.
Keep in mind that in Denali National Park, some services and parts of the park don’t open until late June. June is the driest of the summer months and August is generally the rainiest so make sure to pack appropriately. With all this being said, the next time I head to Alaska I’m hoping to travel up there sometime between December and March so I can see the aurora borealis, also known as the Northern Lights. The Iditarod Sled Dog Race is also in early March, which I’d love to see the start of!
Ultimate 8-Day Alaska Road Trip Itinerary
Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage
After arriving in Anchorage, The Anchorage Museum is a great place to kick off your trip with an introduction to the history of Alaska and to learn more about the plants and wildlife you’ll be seeing throughout your Alaska road trip. Post museum, get outside and appreciate how easy it is to enjoy nature within Anchorage’s city limits. Rent a bike downtown and pick up an Anchorage bike map. The Moose Loop is a 32-mile ride that connects Anchorage’s four main multi-use pathways including the scenic Tony Knowles Coast Trail where we got to see our first moose while on the path. Not a bad sighting for our first day in Alaska! Make sure you visit Hood Lake. This lake has the greatest number of daily float plane landings or takeoffs of any lake in the world.
Fun Alaskan fact: one of our tour guides told us that 1 in 6 people in Alaska own an airplane!
Looking for more outside time? Hike the 3,150 foot Flattop Mountain just south of Anchorage for incredible views of the city. It was roughly a 3-mile hike that rewards you with a dramatic city skyline.
Where to eat in Anchorage
Snow City Cafe is a must for breakfast. Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria is awesome for lunch or dinner.
Where to stay in Anchorage
The Arctic Adventure Hostel is perfect for a budget-friendly option.
Day 2: Homer, AK on the Kenai Peninsula
Travel distance: 226 miles from Anchorage to Homer
If you didn’t learn on your first day, Alaska = wildlife. We spent the morning exploring Potter Bird Marsh south of Anchorage where we saw numerous bald eagles, gulls, Arctic terns, and other shorebirds. Afterward, we visited the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, which is on the drive to Homer and totally worth a stop. The AWCC is a refuge center where they take in injured animals or young that have been abandoned by their parents. They’re also leading a massive initiative to breed wood bison and reenter these animals back into Alaskan wilderness areas. It was an informative and fun stop!
When you arrive in Homer, head to the “spit” a small sliver of land extending into the bay. This is as far south and west as the road goes in Alaska. If you are interested in ocean fishing at all, this is a place to do it. And don’t miss a stop in at the famous Salty Dog Saloon for a drink to celebrate your first day on the road!
Where to eat in Homer
Homer had some of our favorite food stops during our entire Alaska road trip. Two Sisters Cafe for coffee and pastries is a must and don’t miss out on Little Mermaid for fresh seafood.
Where to stay in Homer
The Driftwood Inn offers budget-friendly rooms in downtown as well as an RV Park. If you’re looking for a unique experience right on the water on the ‘spit’, book a room at Lands End Resort.
Day 3: Seward, AK on the Kenai Peninsula
Travel distance: 175 miles from Homer to Seward
If you are in town on the 4th of July you can’t miss the Mount Marathon Race. It is a 5K race with an elevation change of 1,700 feet. It takes approximately 35 minutes to get to the top and racers run down the mountain in less than 10 minutes. In 2013 when I visited, I watched two runners break the 1981 record and they had 4 runners complete the race in less than 45 minutes for the first time. It’s an incredible experience if you have the opportunity!
If you’re looking to fish while in Alaska, both Homer & Seward have tons of options for half-day & full-day fishing charters. There are also numerous companies who will mail your fresh catch back to the lower 48 for you.
The Alaska Sealife Center in downtown Seward, AK is a unique and interesting stop. They offer several behind-the-scene tours including an Octopus Experience and a Puffin Encounter.
To explore the outdoors around Seward, the Exit Glacier Area in Kenai National Park is perfect for a quick hike. As you are driving into the park you’ll notice multiple signs with four-digit numbers on them. The numbers mark the location of Exit Glacier in previous years. It is fascinating and a little scary to see how much the glacier has rescinded.
Where to eat in Seward
For dinner the Exit Glacier Salmon Bake Restaurant is great or check out the Highliner Restaurant.
Where to stay in Homer
One of our favorite lodging nights was the Nauti Otter Hotel. They have hostel-style rooms as well as old renovated camper trailers and freestanding cabins.
Insider Tip: I should point out that that one of my only regrets from my 8-day road trip in Alaska was not spending the money to visit Katmai National Park. Multiple outfitters in Seward & Homer will advertise day trips to Katmai if you’re interested. It’s one of the best places in Alaska to view brown bears feeding on salmon!
Day 4: Explore Kenai Fjords National Park
Travel distance: 200 miles from Seward to Palmer
We took an 8-hour boat tour of Kenai Fjords National Park to see sea life and the Ailiaki glacier up close. This glacier extends from the Harding Icefield. While up close, a portion of the glacier “calved” and water gushed out from under the ice of the glacier. It was a sight to see! They say this water forms a “lubricant” that allows the ice to move over the rocks beneath the ice.
On the trip, we also saw sea otters, sea lions, humpback whales, eagles, and several other birds that nest on the rock cliffs of several islands in the area.
On the return trip, the boat stopped at Fox Island (owned by the tour operator) and we had a buffet lunch with prime rib and salmon. If we went again I’d skip the stop at Fox Island and head into town to find a local place for food.
Don’t forget that it doesn’t get dark until close to midnight so make the most of your time & make the 200-mile drive to Palmer, AK to prepare for glacier trekking tomorrow!
Day 5: Glacier Trekking with MICA Guides in Palmer
Travel distance: 120 miles from Palmer to Talkeetna
We started our 5th morning in Alaska, glacier trekking with MICA Guides. It was a really cool experience trekking on the Matanuska Glacier and if I went back I’d opt to do their ice climbing expedition.
Post-glacier trekking we headed on to Talkeetna, my favorite town on our entire Alaska road trip. This is the starting point for climbers headed to 20,400 foot summit of Denali (the tallest mountain in North America).
The Talkeetna Museum was small and informative. Also, don’t miss the Denali National Park Visitor Center in Talkeetna. They have a great video on the challenges of summiting Denali. Visiting the town cemetery is a solemn experience to pay tribute to over 140 people who have perished while attempting to summit Denali, as well as pilots, rescue personnel, and others.
Where to eat in Talkeetna
The Denali Brewing Company is a fun place to be at night because it’s the hotspot in town. Breakfast at the Talkeetna Roadhouse is a must for their “fall off your plate pancakes” (they are MASSIVE!).
Where to stay in Talkeetna
The Talkeetna Roadhouse also has lodging available as rooms, dorms, cabins, and suites.
Day 6: Explore Denali National Park
Travel distance: 137 miles from Talkeetna to Denali National Park
Before you go to Alaska, make sure to check out the current conditions for Denali National Park, which has the latest info on bus schedules, camping, and more. Then once you are in Alaska, the Denali Visitor’s Center is a great place to start your day in Denali National Park. It’s large and has various displays and stories as well as a film on the National Park. Check out the dog sled demonstration at the Denali Kennels if you have time (demonstrations are cancelled for 2021). It is really interesting to learn how the park operates during the winter with dogs. If you don’t have time to catch a demonstration, you can visit the kennels daily from 10am-4pm during the summer. Free buses leave the Denali Visitor Center 40 minutes prior to each demonstration since no parking is available at the kennels. You can also walk 1.5 miles from the Denali Visitor Center to the kennels.
Hiking in Denali is interesting. I expected there to be hundreds of trails for both day hikes and backpacking but quickly realized that Denali is mostly wilderness with few very trails. Triple Lakes Trail is the longest trail in Denali National Park at just 9.5 miles one-way with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. You can access the Triple Lakes Trail from either the Denali Visitor Center or off of HWY 3.
Another great hike is the 2.7 mile (one-way) Mount Healy Trail which gains 1,700 feet to a viewpoint part-way up Mount Healy. The trailhead can be found off the Taiga Trail near the Denali Visitor Center.
Otherwise, be prepared with good navigational skills and equipment as a majority of the hiking in Denali National Park is completely off-trail.
Where to eat near Denali National Park
There are several restaurants near the entrance of Denali National Park but Moose-AKa’s is one of the best options. They serving Serbian specialties like Turkish coffee and other Eastern European dishes. Reservations are highly recommended.
Another great place to eat near Denali is 8 miles north of the park in a small town of Healy. It’s worth the drive to go to 49th State Brewery for great food and the best microbrew I found in Alaska. If you don’t make it there, they also have a location in Anchorage.
Where to stay in Denali National Park
Denali Hostel is 13 miles south of the Denali National Park entrance and was perfect for us. Our room was called, “Train Wreck” and consisted of two bunks beds in a co-ed room. It was a short walk to the bathrooms and the community house area.
Day 7: Explore Denali National Park
We took the 13-hour bus tour (90.3 miles) to Kantishna which is known as the “end of the road”. During the summer, private vehicles can only access the first fifteen miles of the Denali Park Road and I knew I wanted to see more than that.
I was nervous when I booked the tour since this was technically our only day in the Park and for the most part, we were going to spend it on a bus. But I don’t regret it! We opted for the narrated tour vs. just a shuttle bus because I wanted to learn as much as I could about the park in the one full day we had. I was also hoping to see as much wildlife as possible along the drive and we were lucky to observe caribou, moose, ptarmigan (a type of bird), ground squirrels, Dall mountain sheep, and one grizzly bear (for a split second, no pictures).
The terrain was unique and varied. Mount Denali can be seen on clear days as early as mile 9. The park estimates that only 40% of those who visit Denali National Park have clear skies to see the mountain. We, unfortunately, were in the “60% club” and never got a totally clear glimpse of Denali. The tour also stopped at the Eielson Visitor Center (Mile 66) which, on clear days, offers amazing views of Denali and the Alaska Range.
My only regret after visiting Denali National Park was that we didn’t spend an entire week in the park. I wish we would have packed enough gear to have camped for an evening at the Wonder Lake Campground at Mile 85. You’ll definitely need mosquito nets for exploring this area as it is very wet and mosquitos plague the area all summer long. The campground has 28 tent sites which must be reserved ahead of time.
Day 8: Drive back to Anchorage & Depart
Travel distance: 237 miles from Denali National Park to Anchorage
For the final day on our Alaska road trip itinerary, we got an early start and joined a ranger for a 3-mile guided walk to Horseshoe Lake. Then we said goodbye to Denali and hit the road for Anchorage. We stretched our legs again in Wasilla to visit the Iditarod Trail Dog Sled Headquarters. The famous race is a large part of the Alaskan culture. They have an 18-minute film which has great footage about the 1,049-mile dogsled race and explains how they set up for it yearly.
We also joined a guided tour of the abandoned Independence Gold Mine just outside of Wasilla which operated for only 4-5 years before the vein was depleted. It was neat to see the historical buildings left and learn about the area which, through history, has been home to 8 different gold mines. Getting to the mine is half the fun, you’ll have to travel down Hatcher Pass Road for an incredibly scenic 30-minute drive.
What to Pack for an Alaska Road Trip
Check the average temperature for your trip and be prepared for all types of weather.
- Pack clothing that you can easily layer. In the summer you can often wear shorts and short-sleeve shirts during the day but you’ll want layers if the weather turns. Evenings can also be chilly. Check out these posts for more on how to layer and what to wear hiking.
- Mosquito repellent and head nets are a must for traveling in the summer months if you plan on hiking. We thought nets would be overkill but ended up purchasing them in Wasilla once we saw how bad the bugs could be!
- Sun protection is key, don’t forget sunscreen, sunglasses and a brimmed hat.
- A beanie will come in handy even if visiting during the summer.
- A lightweight and breathable rain jacket is important so you can throw it on over your clothes if it starts to rain.
- Alaska can be fairly wet, especially in August, so make sure to pack waterproof hiking boots.
Have you done an Alaska road trip before? Got questions about our Alaska road trip itinerary? Leave us a comment below!