Halibut Cove | Shutterstock
Halibut Cove | Shutterstock

Take a Never-Dark Summer Road Trip Through Alaska

Visitors who venture up to Alaska from the lower 48 (that’s what Alaskans call the continental US) may think the primary mode of travel for an Alaskan vacation is by cruise ship. But that’s not necessarily true — road tripping can be the best way to see some of the state’s unforgettable sites at your own pace and on your own schedule, with an itinerary that’s totally doable in a week.

Visit from June through early September, when the sun barely (if ever) sets, so you’re cruising down the open road during after-dinner daylight and will never run out of time to sightsee. Better yet, the roads on this route are well maintained (you don’t need a fancy or especially rugged car to drive out here), gas is cheap (for better or worse, you’re close to the source), and you may even witness some epic moose crossings as you navigate your way through Alaska. Note that cell service isn’t reliable, so you’ll want downloaded or printed maps on hand (retro!), plus some music or podcasts saved to your device.

This Alaskan road trip itinerary winds from Anchorage to Denali National Park to the beaches of Homer. The schedule can be flexible to extend your visits at any stop, but as mapped, this is plenty of time to see and enjoy it all.

Length of trip: 8 days
Hours of daylight on the summer solstice: 22 hours
Population of smallest town visited: 50

Anchorage Museum

Day 1: Arrive in Anchorage

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is the main airport in Southcentral Alaska, so this will be your starting (and ending point). Flights are frequent from Seattle (a common connection point for Alaskan travelers). Rent a car on site, and don’t skip out on a warming meal at Pho Lena, a family-owned Southeast Asian spot just minutes from the airport, where you can indulge in noodle soups, curries, and savory noodle dishes.

Head downtown to check into the Hotel Captain Cook (fans of a certain Alaska-set TV show may recognize the digs as the main character’s pied-de-terre) and explore the state’s biggest city. Culture buffs can take in local and indigenous art, as well as exhibits on local history at the Anchorage Museum and souvenir fiends can shop down Fifth Avenue. Grab a cone of spruce tip ice cream at Wild Scoops and if you’re up for a late night adventure, see if there’s a drag show at Mad Myrna’s. Note, you’ll be in Anchorage twice more during this trip, so don’t feel the need to hit up everything at once.

Wild Scoops

Day 2: Tour Talkeetna

Fuel up for a day of driving and exploring at Snow City Cafe, a local favorite for Alaska-inflected diner classics, such as reindeer sausage and snow crab omelets. Our 44th President once ate cinnamon rolls here, so you know those are good, too. Pay a visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center before venturing out of the city en route to Talkeetna, a hamlet with a population of just 1,200 people. The two-hour drive is scenic and smooth — if you need to stop for bathrooms or caffeine, plan to pull over in Wasilla.

In Downtown Talkeetna, stop for lunch at Mountain High Pizza Pie. Browse the local shops for crafts and Alaskan wares, working your way down to the Talkeetna River for enchanting views. Some visitors love using their time in Talkeetna to go "flightseeing" — that is, taking a scenic small flight to see Denali, the tallest mountain in North America.

Once you’ve seen Talkeetna, hit the road for the two-and-a-half-hour drive to Denali Grizzly Bear Resort. If that’s too much driving for one day, you can also check into the nearby Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge and drive up to Denali in the morning.

Denali National Park | Shutterstock

Day 3: Enjoy Denali National Park

Today’s your day to enjoy the great outdoors! Head to the visitor’s center at Denali National Park and Preserve for an overview of the 7,400-square-mile park, plus free guided ranger hikes and more. You’ll have the morning at leisure before grabbing a quick lunch and hopping on the narrated bus tour, the best way to venture deep inside the park and see wildlife. The six-plus hour tour navigates the narrow cliffs of the park to get up close to the mountain, with a naturalist pointing out bears, moose, and more along the way. The renovated school bus is actually quite comfy and you’ll get some breaks for fresh air during the tour.

Grab a late dinner at 49th State Brewing, where you’ll find excellent fish and chips, plus crab grilled cheese. Or if off-roading is more your thing, opt for a Midnight Sun ATV tour to take in the never-setting sun over the rocky terrain of the national park, while driving your own four-wheeler.

Day 4: Depart Denali for Anchorage

You’re heading back south today. Before you say goodbye to Denali, you can fit in one last hike or hit up the Nenana river for a white water rafting adventure. Then change into warm and dry clothes and start your five-hour drive back to Anchorage. Stretch your legs on the way at Independence Mine State Historical Park in Palmer to learn a bit about the Alaskan gold rush. Back in Anchorage, grab dinner downtown, and rest up for your early morning two-hour drive to Seward in the morning.

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Day 5: Set off for Seward

Seward, a port city on the Kenai Peninsula, is a popular spot for the commercial fishing industry and for tourists to enjoy glacier cruises, fishing expeditions, and more. You’ll want to arrive in Seward by 11am to catch the 11:30am or 12pm glacier cruises exploring the Kenai Fjords National Park and Resurrection Bay (the rides are slow and long to reach the untouched glaciers, so you can nap on board). If you have extra time at the dock, keep an eye out for seals, which often swim in the local harbor. Back in Seward, dine at The Cookery, an oyster bar and seafood spot showcasing local fare.

Seward | Shutterstock

Day 6: Deep sea fishing in Seward, spend the night in Homer

If you want to catch Alaskan halibut or salmon, this is your chance! Wake up early for a pre-booked deep sea fishing charter, which will take you miles out into the open ocean (it’s smart to bring seasickness medications). If you do catch something, you can have it frozen and shipped back home to enjoy. If you’d rather see aquatic life on land, head to the Alaska Sea Life Center, an immersive aquarium to view seal pups, puffins, and more.

When you’re ready, set off on the three-hour drive to Homer. There aren’t many stops on the way, so be sure to have snacks and anything you need with you. In Homer, a popular stop is the Salty Dawg Saloon, a historic bar in a 19th-century cabin. If you’re hungry, swing by Captain Pattie’s Fish House for crisp fried seafood with a waterfront view. Treat yourself with a night at the waterfront Homer Inn & Spa or stay in one of the town’s many more modest accommodations.

La Baleine | Within the Wild

Day 7: Enjoy Homer and night drive to Girdwood

Today’s your day to enjoy Homer, a coastal town with a population of about 5,700. Enjoy the exquisite views of Kachemak Bay and linger through the shops on Main Street. Two Sisters is a local favorite for coffee and baked goods, as is La Baleine for locally sourced brunch and lunch items, including a homemade ramen bowl topped with freshly caught fish. Pick up a great new read at The Homer Bookstore, stock up on a new Alaska-themed wardrobe at Salmon Sisters, and see how reality stars really live at the Kilcher Family Homestead. For dinner, check out local favorite Vida’s Thai or grab more seafood at Fresh Catch Cafe.

If you’re up for a full day (or longer) excursion, you can also book a water taxi to Halibut Cove, a remote community (we’re talking population 50) with a state park, beautiful waterfront walks, and hyper local restaurants to enjoy before heading back to Homer. Depart to Girdwood’s Alyeska Resort for your last night, where an indoor pool and hot tub await. If you haven’t eaten dinner yet, Jack Sprat and its creative cuisine (think local scallops with pumpkin hot sauce, curried lamb with pappardelle and tomato jam, or halibut cheeks with ham vinaigrette) is known as one of the best in the state.

Day 8: Back to Anchorage

In the morning, head up the mountain to catch some fresh air and excellent views before driving the last hour back to the airport to catch your return flight. If you have time to spare, stop at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood, where you’ll visit rescued bears, reindeer, and more animals up close. If you have time and cash to spare, a helicopter excursion to go dogsledding atop a glacier is an incredible once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Back in Anchorage, you can also rent bikes or walk the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail before you take off. Following eight days of never seeing darkness, it should be easy to sleep on the plane.