Exploring Alaska: A 9-Day Self-Drive Adventure

Alaska Road Trip | Itinerary

The Alaska road trip lasted a total of 9 days and 9 nights. It was somewhat of an impromptu journey, sparked by the sudden realization that we should visit as many places as possible while still on the West Coast. Had it not been for this spur-of-the-moment decision, we might never have planned a road trip through Alaska. Before this, I had never imagined that one day I would set foot in this renowned yet seemingly distant land.

Due to the sudden planning, the trip was quite thrilling. It wasn’t until we started planning that we realized just how vast Alaska is, likely requiring multiple visits to cover everything. Knowing that it might be a long time before we could return, we ambitiously planned a tight itinerary despite the long distances between destinations. We flew into and out of Anchorage, Alaska's largest city. Given that it was almost peak summer season, airfare and hotel prices were quite high. As budget-conscious students, we settled on a red-eye flight that departed in the afternoon. Upon arrival in Alaska, it was still early morning local time. Alaska’s summer is nearly perpetual daylight, and even though it was bright outside before landing, Anchorage was still asleep.

Looking back at the trip, we flew from Los Angeles to Anchorage, first driving north and back.Denali National ParkAfter that, you can drive from Anchorage to the airport.Whittier(math.) genusBy boat via Marina HighwayEast toValdezAfter that, take the land road southwest toSeward and HomerThe journey to Anchorage was a bit detour and a bit rushed. The weather in Alaska is very changeable, so the itinerary will be affected easily. If I were to go to Alaska again, I would arrange two or two more days, or leave one or two more days for buffering, or visit fewer places.

Despite this, the trip was incredibly fulfilling. Here is a summary of the itinerary and accommodations for your reference:

  • Day 0-1: Depart from LA and arrive in Anchorage early in the morning. Since it was too early for any attractions to be open, we slept for two hours at Anchorage airport before starting our itinerary. In the morning, we visited the Anchorage Museum and picked up a rental car from Avis downtown at noon to head to Denali National Park.
  • Day 2: Spent the entire day at Denali National Park.
  • Day 3: Early morning drive through Anchorage toWhittierTake a boat toValdez, and camped at ValdezSee Worthington glacier nearby.
  • Day 4: Originally planned for an icebreaker tour, which was canceled due to weather, so we traveled by land to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.
  • Day 5: Drove from Valdez to Seward, passing by Matanuska Glacier, and had lunch at Moose’s Tooth in Anchorage.
  • Day 6: Spent the entire day at Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, visiting Exit Glacier in the morning and taking a boat tour to see glaciers and marine wildlife in the afternoon.
  • Day 7: Enjoyed dog sledding with Ididaride in the morning in Seward, then drove to Homer in the afternoon.
  • Day 8: Spent the entire day in Homer on marine ecology and kayaking tours.
  • Day 9: Drove back from Homer to Anchorage and flew back to LA.

The 9-day, 9-night route was as follows:

Alaska Road Trip | Car Rental Experience

The cost of living in Alaska is quite high. Renting a car in Anchorage can be cheaper if done in the city rather than at the airport. We found significant price differences between airport and downtown rentals. Renting from Avis downtown and returning the car at the airport incurred no additional fees, unlike the usual practice. So, for those who aren’t in a hurry upon arrival, renting downtown is both economical and convenient.

However, there are downsides. The Avis downtown rental office opens only at noon, so if you arrive on an early red-eye flight like we did, there will be a waiting period.

Alaska Road Trip | Scenic Highlights

Driving long distances in Alaska offers breathtaking scenery, making the journey enjoyable despite the distance. Summer in Alaska means nearly no darkness, making driving much more relaxed. I found that many of the most stunning parts of this trip were the unnamed scenic views along the drive. Below, I outline the scenic routes we took, with further details on the towns and attractions we visited.

Starting Point | Anchorage

Anchorage, the capital of Alaska, is a sizable city. Most visitors to Alaska will spend some time here. Although we used Anchorage primarily as our flight hub, we did visit the Anchorage Museum, which provided a rich introduction to Alaskan history.

Anchorage -> Denali National Park

The drive from Anchorage to Denali took over five hours, despite the map suggesting about four.

Along the way, we frequently saw U-shaped valleys carved by glaciers, a rare sight for those of us raised near the Tropic of Cancer. The weather was highly variable, switching from clear to rainy quickly. Despite the rain, the melting snow-capped mountains were beautiful, and the scenery changed dramatically with the weather.

Anchorage -> Whittier

Driving along Highway 1, this one-hour scenic drive hugs the fjord, offering continuous views. We passed several glaciers, though the cloudy weather made photography challenging.

Whittier -> Valdez | Marina Highway | Richardson Highway | Wrangell St Elias National Park

Alaska Marine Highway is the state’s ferry system. While the drive from Whittier to Valdez is 357 miles by land, it’s only 90 miles by sea. Many visitors opt for the ferry for at least one leg of the journey. We took the ferry from Whittier to Valdez and found several planning details worth noting, which I’ve detailed in a separate post.

Valdez is stunning, and the drive along the Richardson Highway is scenic. We stayed in Valdez for two days and also visited Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Valdez -> Seward | Matanuska Glacier | Kenai Fjords National Park | Ididaride

Driving from Valdez to Seward involved retracing our steps to Anchorage and then heading south to Seward. This stretch was the most enjoyable, with scenic drives and views of several glaciers, including the major attraction, Matanuska Glacier. The abundant scenic photos from this segment were hard to choose from, with the snow-capped mountains creating a breathtaking atmosphere.

Leaving Valdez, the weather improved, revealing the glacial remnants clearly, including many U-shaped valleys, a distinct glacial formation.

On the way to Anchorage via Route 1, we passed by Matanuska Glacier, a private spot worth visiting for a close-up glacier walk.

The road from Anchorage to Seward is also a famous scenic drive.The scenery is beautiful.

Arriving in Seward, we spent a day and a half at Kenai Fjords National Park. This national park’s itinerary is documented in detail.

We also enjoyed a dog sledding tour with Ididaride in Seward, one of the highlights of our Alaska trip.

Seward -> Homer

Continuing along Route 1 from Seward to Homer, this was the shortest segment of our journey, taking just over three hours. The weather was excellent, making for a pleasant drive. The route transitioned from close-up snow-capped mountains to coastal scenery, offering a new perspective.

After passing Kasilof, Route 1 runs along the coast, transitioning from close-up views of snow-capped mountains to distant snowy peaks across the sea, offering a different yet equally breathtaking scenery.

Homer → Anchorage

On our last day in Alaska, we had an afternoon flight back to LA, so we left Homer in the morning for Anchorage. The beautiful and cool Alaskan landscape was hard to leave behind for the heat of Southern California. The drive was filled with more spontaneous photo opportunities, with clear weather on our final day providing perfect views.

Anchorage Gourmet | Moose's Tooth

If, like us, you drive through several different cities, you're likely to pass through Anchorage multiple times. If you have the chance, I highly recommend trying Moose’s Tooth. This restaurant is very popular, so be prepared for a wait. We usually arrived around afternoon tea time, and despite the large seating area, the line still extended outside the door. On average, the wait was at least an hour, not including the steady stream of people picking up takeout. We ate there twice during our trip. After our first visit, we loved it so much that we made sure to return. The pizza here is highly recommended and might just be the best I've had in the United States!

On our first visit, we ordered the Hungarian mushroom soup and a medium-sized half Avalanche, half garlic lovers pizza. The pizzas at Moose’s Tooth come in small, medium, and large sizes, and the medium was already quite substantial. However, it was so delicious that we devoured it and decided to order a small Santa’s Little Helper and Shrimp Fiesta to-go. The Shrimp Fiesta was a bit pricier, but it became my favorite with its slightly lighter yet incredibly tasty flavor. We loved it so much that when we passed through Anchorage again, we made sure to find time to return. Looking back, I still fondly remember the Shrimp Fiesta—it’s the best pizza I’ve had in the United States.

In addition to their famous pizza, Moose’s Tooth is also renowned for its extensive beer selection. While waiting, we joined others at the bar and ordered two large glasses of IPA and Hard Apple Ale, which tasted like a beer version of apple cider. Once we finally got a table, we ordered a sampler of four different beers to try: L’enfant Terrible, Fairweather IPA, Chugach Session, and Northern Lights Amber.

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