Road Trip in Alaska

You could call Alaska one of America's hidden gems. Often considered a cold, barren land, many people overlook this scenic state's natural wonders.

As one of America's last truly untamed places, you'll leave Alaska with a whole new sense of appreciative wonder.

Alaska Rules of the Road

If you don't plan on traveling by dog sled or seaplane, you'll need to know the general rules of Alaskan roads. Most streets you encounter will be relatively narrow, so take your time and be cautious while driving.

The following are a list of Alaskan traffic laws you should be familiar with:

  • Never text and drive.
  • Never drink and drive.
  • Always wear a seatbelt.
  • In general, the maximum speed allowed on Alaskan highways is 55 MPH.
  • In the event of an accident resulting in property damage or injuries, contact the police so that they can conduct a full investigation.
  • Obey all stoplights and road signs.
  • When an emergency vehicle (e.g. ambulance, fire truck, police car) is approaching, pull over to the right side of the road.

For more information about specific traffic laws in Alaska, refer to the Alaska driver's manual.

Driving with an Out-of-State License

If you have a valid driver's license from another state or country, you can use it to legally drive in Alaska for up to 90 days. After that, you need to apply for an Alaska driver's license.

If you'll be visiting for longer periods of time or are thinking about taking a trip to Canada, consider applying for an International Driving Permit (IDP). You can do so by contacting your country's agency or department of automobiles.

Major Alaskan Roads

Alaska's main roads are primarily on the state's east side (closer to Canada). They run through some of the more populous and urban parts and will connect you to the major cities.

The major highways are labeled by name and not number, which might take some getting used to. The main roads and the communities they pass through are as follows:

  • Alaska Highway.
    • Runs through Delta Junction, Tok, Fairbanks, and into parts of Canada.
  • Dalton Highway/Haul Road.
    • Passes through Coldfoot and Deadhorse.
  • Denali Highway.
    • Connects Cantwell, Paxson, and Denali National Park.
  • Edgerton Highway/McCarthy Road.
    • Stretches across Chitina and McCarthy.
  • Elliot Highway.
    • Runs through Fox and Manley Fox Springs.
  • Glenn Highway.
    • Runs through Anchorage, Eagle River, Chugiak, Eklutna, Palmer, Glennallen, and Tok.
  • Parks Highway.
    • Passes through Wasilla, Houston, Willow, Trapper Creek, Talkeetna, Cantwell, Healy, Nenana, Denali National Park, and Fairbanks.
  • Richardson Highway.
    • Runs through Valdez, Copper Center, Glennallen, Paxson, Delta Junction, and Fairbanks.
  • Seward Highway.
    • Runs through Anchorage, Girdwood, Moose Pass, and Seward.
  • Steese Highway.
    • Runs through Fairbanks, Fox, Central, and Circle.
  • Sterling Highway.
    • Intersects Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna, Kasilof, Clam Gulch, Ninilchik, Anchor Point, and Homer.
  • Taylor Highway.
    • Runs through Chicken and Eagle.

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Sights & Activities—Alaska's Natural Wonders

With everything from glaciers to volcanoes, Alaska is home to a rich and diverse natural world.

Glaciers

  • Mantanuska Glacier—just outside of Palmer, AK.
    • This glacier is miles long and accessible to the public.
    • Ice climbing classes and hiking trails.
  • Childs Glacier and Recreation Area—Cordova, AK.
    • In the summer, witness icebergs collapsing into the waters below (also known as calving).
    • Accessible from the Copper River Highway.
  • Worthington Glacier—just outside of Valdez, AK.
    • Snowiest location in Alaska.
    • Hiking trails and ice climbing trips.

Beaches

  • Homer Spit Beach—Homer, AK.
    • Fresh seafood.
    • Fishing and boating.
    • Walking tours.
  • Schooner Beach—between Yakutat Bay and Malaspina Lake.
    • Lots of empty waves, great for surfers who can bare the cold.
    • See shipwrecks, driftwood, and glass floats from years past.
    • Views of Mount Saint Elias, one of the tallest peaks in the US.
  • Kincaid Beach—Anchorage, AK.
    • Hiking trails.
    • The only beach in Anchorage.
    • Picnic and bonfire areas.

Volcanoes

  • Mount Wrangell Volcano—St. Elias National Park.
    • One of America's largest and still active volcanoes.
  • Mount Spurr Volcano—Cook Inlet.
    • Still active.
    • See lava domes and ice cones formed by its eruptions.
  • Augustine Volcano—Cook Inlet.
    • Formed the nearby Augustine Island.
    • Still active.

Hot Springs

  • Circle Hot Springs—Circle, AK.
    • Campgrounds and resort lodging.
    • Year-round swimming.
    • Grocery store and gas station nearby.
    • Right outside the Circle Hot Springs Airport.
  • Chena Hot Springs—Fairbanks, AK.
    • Resort lodging.
    • Year-round swimming.
    • Aurora ice museum.

Waterfalls

  • Russian River Falls—Chugach National Forest.
    • Summer and fall are the best times to visit.
    • See the annual salmon runs and the bears that thrive off of them.
    • Campgrounds.
    • Hiking trails.
  • Ketchikan Falls—Ketchikan, AK.
    • The salmon capital of the world.
    • Best to visit in the summer and fall.
    • Historic fishing site.
    • Ketchikan community located nearby.
  • Thunderbird Falls—Eagle River, AK.
    • Great for a short, family hike.
    • Viewing platform.

Mountains

  • Denali Peak—Denali National Park, AK.
    • Known as the “Roof of North America," this mountain is taller than those in any other American state.
    • Formerly named Mount McKinley until its recent reversion back to its indigenous (and most commonly used) name.
    • Tours by plane available.
    • Views of massive glaciers and granite deposits.
    • Hiking trails.
  • Penguin Peak—Bird, AK.
    • Hiking trails for the experienced.
    • Best to hike in the summer (avalanche danger in the winter).
    • Views overlooking Bird Ridge and the Turnagain Arm.
    • Home to Dall sheep.
  • Mount Russell—Denali National Park, AK.
    • Campgrounds.
    • Great for experienced mountain climbers.
    • One of the lesser-known climbable mountains in Alaska.

See the Northern Lights

Seeing the Northern Lights is an unforgettable experience that people the world over travel far and wide to view.

The best time to see the Northern Lights in Alaska is during the colder months, from September to April, just after the sun sets. This means you need to be prepared for the intensely cold conditions. Make sure to bring:

  • Multiple layers of clothing.
  • Wind-proof pants and jacket.
  • A parka or heavily insulated coat.
  • Thick socks.
  • Snow boots.
  • Hats, mittens, and scarf.
  • Hand and foot warmers.

The most accessible cities for viewing are Anchorage and Fairbanks, AK. Both have companies that will take you on tours, or you can observe the lights on your own.

Sights & Activities—Alaska's Wildlife

With sparse human population and largely undisturbed natural habitats, Alaska is home to a diverse collection of wildlife. There are conservations, research centers, and zoos allowing visitors the opportunity to see Alaskan animals up close and personal.

Conservations

  • Fountainhead Wedgewood Wildlife Sanctuary—Fairbanks, AK.
    • Near the Wedgewood Resort.
    • See native wildlife, from foxes to moose, frogs to owls, and snow hares to flying squirrels.
    • Great for bird enthusiasts.
    • Hiking trails.
    • Visit Wander Lake.
    • Catch and release fishing.
  • Alaska Raptor Center—Sitka, AK.
    • See a variety of owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles.
    • Education center.
    • Raptor release parties.
  • Alaska Wildlife Conservatory Center—Portage Glacier, AK.
    • Hundreds of acres to explore.
    • See grizzly bears, bison, moose, coyotes, and more.
    • Rehabilitate and release animals that are deemed able to return to the wild.

Research Centers

  • Kodiak Fisheries Research Center—Kodiak, AK.
    • Great place to take kids.
    • Touch tank with saltwater creatures (e.g. starfish, anemones, and clams).
    • Learn about the Alaskan saltwater fishing industry.
    • Educational displays on Alaskan fisheries.
  • Large Animal Research Station—Fairbanks, AK.
    • Daily tours.
    • See caribou, muskoxen, and reindeer up close.
    • Great for families.
  • Alaska Sea Life Center—Seward, AK.
    • Non-profit research center.
    • Aquarium.
    • Education programs.
    • See puffins, sea lions, and harbor seals.
    • One of a kind octopus encounter.

Zoos & Learning Centers

  • Sitka Sound Science Center—Sitka, AK.
    • Touch sea stars and sea cucumbers in the touch tanks.
    • Educational displays on Alaskan sea life.
    • Aquarium.
    • Salmon hatchery.
  • Alaska Zoo—Anchorage, AK.
    • Focused on wildlife conservation and rehabilitation.
    • See bears, wolves, tigers, bison, porcupines, and much more.
    • Guided tours.

Sights & Activities—Alaska Museums

See Alaska's rich natural and native history on display at one of its many museums, which include (among others):

  • Alaska State Museum—Juneau, AK.
    • Exhibits on the Alaskan natural history, plants, and indigenous peoples.
    • Guided tours during the summer.
  • Alaska Native Heritage Center—Anchorage, AK.
    • Workshops taught by native Alaskan artisans.
    • Meet and greet with local artists.
    • Experience the history and culture of Alaska natives through unique artifacts.
  • University of Alaska Museum of the North—Fairbanks, AK.
    • Exhibits on the history of Alaska's wildlife, natural world, and indigenous people.
    • Nationally recognized architecture.
    • Alaskan art and culture displays.
    • Auditorium shows in the summer.

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