8-Day Alaska Road Trip Itinerary for Adventure Travelers

This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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 the best tips on where to stop, things to do, and more!

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 Alaskan outdoors. Keep in mind that campsites in Kenai Fjords and Denali National Parks book up fast, so be sure to make reservations early.

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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!

Moose eating plants in Alaska in the spring

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.

Sea Plane on Lake Hood in Alaska

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!

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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!

Homer Alaska // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Seward Alaska // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Exit Glacier in Alaska // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Nauti Otter Hostel in Alaska // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Ailiaki Glacier // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Matanuska Glacier // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Denali Kennels // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Denali National Park Map // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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.

Denali National Park // This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.
Denali on a clear day

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.

This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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!

This Alaska road trip itinerary will take you through the best of the state including Kenai Fjords & Denali National Park.

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    1. Your post is very informative, and I’ll keep the tips in mind while planning. The pictures are spectacular, too. Since you cook vegetarian food, I’m assuming the restaurants you recommended have vegetarian options.

      1. Hi Tina, I visited Alaska before I was vegan so I can’t confirm the dietary restrictions. Apologies!

  1. Hey Kristen – Good stuff. Love your newsletter – good info in a short format. You pretty much nailed Alaska. Two suggestions, tho:
    – Denali National Park supporters worked very hard for a long time to change the name of the mountain to Denali rather than McKinley (rightly so – I can say that as I was born and raised in Ohio, the prime objector to the name change). There is no ambiguity necessary. The name is Denali “the High One” and at one time in the past was named Mt. McKinley. Denali climbers have never referred to it as Mt. McKinley.
    – You spent just over a week here. Most Alaskans recommend a minimum of 2 weeks visit with one month’s visiting time pretty standard. This is not a marketing ploy. Mentioning these recommendations will give a clearer picture of what it really takes to see Alaska. You hinted at this when you mentioned your desire to visit Katmai and extending your stay in Denali.
    Your restaurant suggestions were good, too. Don’t forget to mention Rosco’s Pizza in Ninilchik (my place!!) next time: roscospizzaalaska.com. There are many other “don’t miss”s but not on the one week visit plan. Good job!!!

    1. Hi Ross, thanks so much for leaving this comment. I was born in Indiana–nice to e-meet you neighbor! You’re totally right I spent just over a week in Alaska, can can’t wait to get back. Unfortunately, due to my work schedule, I wasn’t able to stay longer–I hope in the future to spend 3 months truly exploring Alaska deeper–I’ve got a lot more National Parks to check off my list there. I’m sure Rosco’s Pizza is great–I am lactose-intolerant and this was my trip itinerary so unfortunately outside of pizza in Anchorage we didn’t grab anymore. Have an awesome summer!

  2. can we simply drive to Alaska and expect to find accommodations available to us on the day of arrival??

    we have been to Alaska twice and want to drive it but are uncertain as to how easy it will be to simply ‘wing it’?

    thank you

    1. All of the lodging and campgrounds for Kim’s itinerary shared here were booked ahead of time and you can find her recommendations within the post. I’m not sure that I’d recommend winging it – not only will you not be guaranteed a place to stay (especially in the high season) but it can take a lot of time to look around for open accommodations which isn’t ideal if you have a limited amount of time. If you have plenty of time and are traveling in a campervan where you can be self-sufficient you might have more flexibility, but otherwise we’d recommend roughly planning out your route and booking your accommodations so you can enjoy your trip without having to worry about that.

  3. Hey there! Planning our first trip to Alaska- due to scheduling work can only stay a week- how difficult is it to drive there- we are from the southeastern lower 48 so worried we may run into conditions we are unable to handle. Is driving OK or should we beer towards train and bus travel? Looking at mid-June for timing. We definitely want to see Denali and the fjords in Seward. Your article gives us a great start to planning.

    1. Hi Rose! Driving up to Alaska is on paved highway and unless there’s a storm coming in, it’s an easy (but long) drive. If you only have a week it might be worth flying into Anchorage or Fairbanks and then renting a car. The drive up is beautiful, but it won’t leave you much time to explore Denali and other areas. Hope that helps!

    1. MICA Guides has several options for glacier trekking on the Matanuska Glacier. The Ice Fall Trek is about 4 hours and is a good option for almost anyone. They also offer a full-day advanced glacier trek for more experienced hikers.

    1. Hi Brittany – this post was written by one of our former writers, so unfortunately we’re not sure about actual expenses.