On the subject of possible U.S. road trips, the topic of conversation is often drawn towards the formidable route to Alaska!
Seen as the ultimate road trip, venturing across Canada (passport required) and into the Last Frontier before embarking on one of the most magical of car experiences.
Even from Blaine, WA in the far north-west of Washington State, it would still take 31 hours to realistically make it across the border back into the U.S. and to Mosquito Lake in Alaska.
That’s an incredible 1,684 miles, and from the two most easily reached destinations between mainland U.S. and Alaska state.
Take this road trip from San Francisco to Mosquito Lake and it becomes a 45 hour and 2,579-mile road trip – or 90 hour and 5,158-mile return journey.
Of course, if you are planning to take a road trip to Alaska you will need time to explore this huge state – the largest state in fact.
Fortunately, many of Alaska’s reachable and most noteworthy sites and landmarks are on the east side of the state including Glacier Bay National Park, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Denali National Park, Whittier, Seward, and the Kenai Fjords National Park.
Anyone who wishes to explore Alaska by car will need to plan their route meticulously ahead and know what they want to see, how to get there and where to stay.
Booking accommodation on any road trip in Alaska is essential.
Accommodation that is can be canceled last minute is often a better choice, and it gives some flexibility and freedom on your road trip for last minute diversions or complete change in direction.
In this article we’ll look at the best places to head on an Alaska road trip and find out whether the road trip to the Last Frontier is really worth it!
1. Wrangell-St Elias National Park
A typical road trip from main U.S. into Canada and into Alaska usually happens on the Alaska Highway 1, just past Beaver Creek (the last gas station before the Canada and U.S. border can be found here).
Past the border the Alaska Highway 1 continues its northern route, and on the left you’ll see the peaks and beautiful terrain of the Wrangell-St Elias National Park.
There isn’t an obvious route into the National Park from the north, there is the McCarthy Road – which is a gravel track road – that can be accessed from Chitina in the south that will take travelers along the coastal south side of the park to get up close and personal.
Stop at Valley Viewpoint just past Chitina, have your camera at the ready and stop and soak in the tranquil beauty around.
The journey from the U.S. and Canada border on Alaska Highway 1 to Chitina to pick up the McCarthy Road into Wrangell-St Elias National Park is around a 5-hour drive (approx. 280 miles).
Anchorage is not only one of the first places mentioned by anyone when mentioning top destinations of Alaska, but it is also the largest city of Alaska, home to around 290,000 residents.
Anchorage sits towards the south of Alaska on the coast, and a popular port on the tourist cruise route.
In fact, many visitors fly into Alaska to Fairbanks, rent a car and drive to Anchorage, return the car rental at Anchorage (look for rental car companies who offer this) and then take a one-way cruise back to either Vancouver in Canada or San Francisco in the U.S.
Not only is the city of Anchorage very cultural with a lot of history, and has a great selection of restaurants, bars and B&Bs – but it is also a main stop on the Denali Star Alaska Railroad route up to Fairbanks and through the Denali National Park.
Owing to its size and place in Alaska it serves as a good base stop to head further south Seward and the Kenai Fjords, or north to Fairbanks and the Denali National Park.
The road trip journey from the U.S. and Canada border to Anchorage is around 7 hours and 15 minutes across 400 miles.
3. Kenai Fjords National Park
If a stop at Anchorage is planned on an Alaskan road trip, then a visit to the Kenai Fjord National Park is well within easy reach.
Travel south on Seward Highway all the way down to the town of Seward, which is approx. 125 miles and a 2hrs 20mins journey.
The scenic route is particularly magnificent – with plenty of walking routes, trails, lakes and peaks to explore along the way.
Moose Pass is particularly delightful, and nearby is the rustic wooden shack charm of the Trail Lake Lodge – their pie and ice cream is amazing!
Once in Seward look out for the Kenai Fjord National Park Visitor Center right in the heart of town. There visitor center has plenty of advice and information how to explore the National Park whether you choose a tour operator, boat and walking and hiking options.
If you want to stay within the park you will need to plan-ahead. To book camp sites, lodges, and the small number of cabins available it’s best to visit the National Park Service Kenai Fjords website for all the details needed and current availability.
A road trip to Alaska wouldn’t be complete without a stop at Fairbanks – in fact the route between the U.S. and Canada border, Anchorage and Fairbanks is almost triangular in nature.
This route puts the driver and their passengers squarely on the path through the Denali National Park.
Fairbanks is the second largest city in Alaska, behind Anchorage, with a population of around 33,000.
It’s far enough north to be the coldest city in Alaska too.
Fairbanks has a small industrial center helping provide its own economy, along with offices, restaurants, bars, hotels, and shops.
Although Alaskans usually do things their own way with their own style.
Fairbanks is also well known for its Northern Light spectacles due to how far north the city is, it is one of the best easily reachable places in Alaska to see the Northern Lights.
June is also a time to see the midnight sun in Fairbanks, with the sun setting as late as 12:30 am on June 21st, rising again just over 2 hours later.
5. Denali National Park
A road trip to Alaska wouldn’t be complete without a stop at the Denali National Park, home to Denali Mountain, which has the highest peak in North America at 20,310 feet above sea level.
In fact, it’s has the third highest peak, from sea level, in the world!
The scenic views in and around the Denali National Park are simply breathtaking.
The beautiful thing about road tripping around the National Parks, especially Denali, is how empty certain stretches of roads can be at times.
Of course, there are always peak periods and busy spots, but its easy to escape for a while.
The Denali National Park can be reached via the Parks Highway, with the visitor center a 4hr 15min drive (240 miles) from Anchorage in the south, or 2hrs and 10min drive (125 miles) from Fairbanks in the north.
6. North Pole
Yes, you can actually visit the North Pole!
North Pole, Alaska that is.
Just outside Fairbanks this small city has become a popular tourist highlight due to all year-round Christmas decorations and festivities – even the streetlights are shaped like candy canes.
If you visit, make sure to stop off and see if you can catch a glimpse of Santa at Santa Claus House where it truly is Christmas Day every day!
Conclusion: Is That Alaska Road Trip Worth it in 2023?
Due to its northbound location, the Alaska state has something very unique to offer travelers and road trippers.
The Last Frontier has a raw and natural beauty.
It is very cold, so planning ahead is necessary. The nights are long and cold, with little daylight time to see much of the majestic beauty.
The best months to road trip to Alaska are between May and September.
A road trip to Alaska is very much worth it, and offers something for every generation and every type of road tripper!