Dreaming of hitting Alaska’s open roads and expansive wilderness this year? While the state is home to only 13 major highways, the Last Frontier offers 14,336 miles of road to explore. [Just to put that into perspective: it’s only about 2,800 road miles between New York City and Los Angeles.]
With so many options on the road ahead, we tapped a panel of Alaskans to find out their favorite stops along these major highways. Take these recommendations and pair them with our suggested itineraries to plan the perfect road trip!
If you’re driving the legendary Dalton Highway north of Fairbanks…stop at Atigun Pass. At 4,800 feet, Atigun Pass is the highest highway pass in Alaska. At mile marker 244, you'll cross the Continental Divide, and 10 miles up the Chandalar Shelf provides multiple opportunities to pull over and hike or look for Dall sheep. Expect expansive views of the Brooks Range.
If you’re driving the Steese Highway near Fairbanks…try your hand at gold panning. “Gold Daughters is a great place to spend a few hours,” says Josh Howes, president of Premier Alaska Tours. “The authenticity of the experience, the personal story of the girls and their family, and of course, everybody gets GOLD!”
If you’re driving on the George Parks Highway between Fairbanks and Anchorage...be sure to pull over for views of the Alaska Range. “Travelers should schedule a stop at Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. The views of Denali, Hunter and Foraker are spectacular. From these vantage points, even on a less than perfect day, the view gives one the perspective of how vast the state is,” Knightly Tours President Bill Pedlar says.
Alternatively, Explore Fairbanks President and CEO Deb Hickok says, “I often head south from Fairbanks to Denali via the Parks Highway. Just a short way from town at milepost 344.3, there’s a lookout that honors an Alaska territorial governor George Alexander Parks. There the Alaska Range in all its glory is visible on a clear day. Driving on for the next six miles or so, the expansive views to the west are breathtaking.”
Continue south of the national park toward Denali State Park, for another stop at mile 135, the Denali Viewpoint South near McKinley View Lodge, for another spectacular view.
If you’re driving to the “End of the Road” in Juneau...find spiritual refuge. The National Shrine of St. Thérèse lies about 22 miles outside of downtown Juneau, and has welcomed people of all faiths and from all corners of the world for 80 years. Explore the trails, walk the labyrinth or visit the chapel.
If you’re driving on the Seward Highway...pull over for animals. “We spend lots of time on the Seward Highway on our way to Whittier, Seward or Homer. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a must pull over for us. The bears, muskox, reindeer and the enormous wood bison pull us in every time,” says Scott Habberstad, Alaska Airlines Director of Sales and Community Marketing.
If you’re driving on the Richardson Highway...brake for lakes. “When we go salmon fishing in Chitina, we always stop on the way down to view the spawning fish at Summit Lake, and to get Thai food from Tok Thai in Glennallen,” says Kory Eberhardt, A Taste of Alaska Lodge proprietor.
Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises President Colleen Stephens adds, “Willow Lake is around mile 87 of the Richardson Highway. This pull-out provides amazing views of the mountains in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. There are great viewfinders to focus in on the mountains and on the right day awesome reflections of the mountains in Willow Lake. Interpretive signs discuss the history of the area and the Ahtna people whose land you can view. It is truly a magical place, easily accessible and, for me, a place that reminds me why I am thankful that I call Alaska home.”
If you’re driving the Sterling Highway on the Kenai Peninsula…make time for art. “The Norman Lowell Gallery is located outside of Homer on the family’s homestead where Norman and his wife Libby built their home many years ago, and still live today. The gallery is absolutely breathtaking, and I recommend it to anybody going in or out of Homer. It is my favorite hidden gem in Alaska,” Howes says.
If you’re driving on the Glenn Highway in the Mat-Su Valley...plan some time for a hike. “My favorite roadside hike is the Lion’s Head,” says Alaska Alpine Adventures Owner-Guide Dan Oberlatz. “It’s a geologic feature called a roche moutonnée and is located at mile 106 of the Glenn. Though the hike is short (45 minutes max to the top), the trail is steep until you get to the top. That said, the views of the Matanuska Glacier and the surrounding Chugach and Talkeetna mountains are breathtaking. And because it’s not really an ‘official’ hike or trailhead, you kind of feel like you’re exploring a bit.”
If you’re driving the Teller Highway near Nome...visit the town of Teller. It’s about 73 miles to the small Inupiat town and well worth the beautiful drive. Look for musk ox, caribou, all kinds of birds and other wildlife along the way. Local gift shops carry handmade Alaska Native crafts and artworks.
If you’re driving the Chiniak Highway on Kodiak Island...make time to explore history. This scenic, 42-mile road will take you past ocean inlets and surf beaches, but more importantly, you’ll have the chance to walk along old batteries and airstrips from World War II.
Knowing where you want to go is half the battle in Alaska. We also asked our experts for their best tips on what to bring or how to prepare:
- Bring a physical map. “Cell coverage can be challenging in places and therefore travelers should not rely on GPS-dependent cell feeds. Physical maps that allow you to conduct basic community to community navigation are essential,” Stephens says.
- Buy The Milepost. “It lets you know where the hidden stops are,” Eberhardt says.
- Keep your itinerary simple. “Alaska is a big place with a lot of amazing attractions, destinations and things to do. Try to focus on one destination at a time and really immerse yourself in that community – sample the restaurants and breweries, hike the trails, visit their museum and hang out with the residents. I often hear of people trying to cram too much into a weekend and don’t leave enough time to really experience each place, which I think is a mistake,” Howes says.
- Dress in layers. “Pack layers appropriate for the season,” Hickok says. Watch this video for tips on layering in winter.
- Pack rain gear. “The most important piece(s) of gear is good quality (Goretex or similar) waterproof/breathable rain gear, particularly if you’re planning on hiking. It goes without saying, Alaska’s weather can be challenging, and being prepared to hike in all types of weather will make your adventure all the more enjoyable,” says Oberlatz.
Ready to hit the road now? Pull out an Alaska map and start planning your route. Better yet, order an Alaska Vacation Planner.
Editor’s note: The health and safety of Alaska’s visitors and residents, along with its member businesses, remains a top priority to the Alaska Travel Industry Association throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Alaska tourism businesses are open under the Reopen Alaska Responsibly plan and can help you decide if it’s right for you to travel now or in the future. We encourage you to stay in touch with your travel providers for the latest updates and travel requirements.