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  • Explore the Big City's Culinary Variety
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    Explore the Big City's Culinary Variety

  • Day Trip: A Wildlife Cruise
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    Day Trip: A Wildlife Cruise

  • Learn About Alaska Native Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
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    Learn About Alaska Native Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

  • See Enormous Brown Bears in the Wild: Katmai National Park
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    See Enormous Brown Bears in the Wild: Katmai National Park

Oh, the Wild Places You'll Go: An Alaska Road Trip
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Oh, the Wild Places You'll Go: An Alaska Road Trip

By Lisa Maloney

  • Route distance:
    253.00 km
  • Suggested Time:
    3 days

Wildlife, wild lands, and adventure in Alaska.

Perched at the hub of the south-central Alaska road system and holding host to the state's biggest, busiest airport, Anchorage makes the perfect gateway for to a road trip through Alaska. You'll fly into the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport, where you can rent a car or take the train to a downtown hotel. The state's only "big city" may be the only place in the world where you have a chance of seeing to see wild animals like moose and bears in one moment and then retiring retire to your comfortable hotel room or a fine restaurant in the next. You'll be spending some of your adventure time outside, so make sure you pack a good weatherproof jacket, waterproof boots, and non-cotton layers to help keep you warm and dry.

01
Explore the Big City's Culinary Variety
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Explore the Big City's Culinary Variety

If you're lucky enough to be in Anchorage for breakfast, there's only one place to go: Snow City Cafe, beloved   by visitors and locals alike. If your hotel is downtown, it's best to walk to the cafe — parking is at a premium. After breakfast walk around town, where you can browse excellent street-side gift shops on 4th and 5th avenues and keep an eye out for the hotdog carts scattered along 4th Avenue between E and G streets. Look for the popular Tia's Gourmet Sausage cart — a great place to stop  for lunch. Make sure you ask about her reindeer "hotdogs." These treats look like typical hotdogs, but are made with a large percentage of reindeer meat and are a staple of Alaskan street food.  

You can spend the afternoon browsing more gift shops or cycling the paved 18-kilometer Tony Knowles Coastal Trail that runs from downtown Anchorage to heavily wooded Kincaid Park. For a guided experience, take a local tour. Big Swig Tours will chauffeur you through the city's best breweries, while the Anchorage Culinary Tour walks you through the best downtown restaurants. Both last a little more than three hours and start from downtown Anchorage, so you can let someone else do the driving. Make sure you save space for dinner at one of the state's best seafood restaurants: Tiny F Street Station, a favorite haunt for aviators in the area.

205 km
2.5 hours by car
02
Day Trip: A Wildlife Cruise
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Day Trip: A Wildlife Cruise

If you want to see Alaska's aquatic wildlife, like humpback whales, orcas and even migrating gray whales, it's time for a day trip to the port town of Seward. You can make the 2.5-hour drive on the paved, two-lane Seward Highway yourself, with tundra-clad mountains looming  on one side and the gorgeous, fast-moving waters of Turnagain Arm on the other. That said,  this beautiful route also notorious for traffic accidents and delays. Although it takes a little longer, you might prefer to ride the Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic train from downtown Anchorage instead. You'll get all the same scenery you'd see from the road but without the stress of driving. As an added bonus, when the tracks take a short detour from the road you'll get views of the massive Spencer Glacier spilling icebergs into a backcountry lake.

Once in Seward, it's time to jump on a six-hour tour of Kenai Fjords National Park. In addition to whales, you might also see massive Steller sea lions, comical sea otters and hundreds of seabirds including puffins, murres and cormorants. Most tours include a lunch option.

211 km
2.5 hours by car
03
Learn About Alaska Native Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
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Learn About Alaska Native Culture at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Alaska's indigenous people are divided into 11 distinct cultural groups, each defined by the language and customs they developed to thrive in Alaska's challenging conditions. Drive Anchorage's Glenn Highway or take a free shuttle bus to the Alaska Native Heritage Center,  where you can learn about each group and tour authentic native dwellings. The Native Heritage Center also displays examples of  world-class Alaskan Native art, shows videos about Alaska Native culture and shows demonstrations of traditional singing, dancing and drumming. 

If you still have energy in the afternoon, the free shuttle bus or a short drive west on the Glenn Highway will also take you to the Anchorage Museum, which has an excellent selection of Alaska Native native artifacts and regalia. Make sure to visit the museum's Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, where hundreds of artifacts are on loan from the Smithsonian Institution. There is also a glass-fronted exhibition area where you can sometimes watch Alaska Native artisans demonstrating traditional crafts like carving in walrus ivory.

500 km
1.5 hours by plane
04
See Enormous Brown Bears in the Wild: Katmai National Park
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See Enormous Brown Bears in the Wild: Katmai National Park

No animal is more iconic to the state than the Alaska Peninsula brown bear — and no bear-viewing location is as famous as the Brooks Falls bear-viewing camp in Katmai National Park. There's only one way to get there: riding in a small plane. Most airlines offer a courtesy shuttle to Lake Hood, the world's busiest seaplane base, where you board a small float plane for the trip. You can also drive there on Anchorage's city streets. Plan this trip well in advance, because access opportunities are limited to preserve a safe environment for both bears and people.

Once at the camp, you'll be given a safety briefing, then allowed to walk the boardwalks between three elevated bear-viewing platforms, which give you great views of dozens of the massive animals as they snag struggling salmon out of the rushing water. All the bears care about is fattening up on fish before the long winter sets in, so they won't pay much attention to you. You'll get to see a full range of behavior — from belly flops into the water to "snorkeling" with just their nose above the surface, looking for fish — until it's time to board your flight back to Anchorage.

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