The Best 7 Day Alaska Itinerary: Visit Denali, Seward and More in the Summer
August 22, 2021
A road trip in Alaska is an amazing experience to add to your bucket list. Just a few of the things that itinerary covers include taking a scenic plane ride around the tallest mountain in North America, hiking on a glacier and seeing incredible Alaskan wildlife. Road tripping around Southcentral Alaska is sure to make you fall in love with the amazing scenery, the rugged attitude and all of the things that make Alaska so special.
If you only have a week, you can see a lot of Alaska with prior planning and a willingness to keep on the move. This itinerary assumes that you are flying into Anchorage, renting a car and ready to be very active during your trip. This schedule leaves little time for relaxation!
If you have less than 7 days, pick what is most important to you and prioritize that! If you have more time, there is an endless list of things you could do in this incredible state. I don’t like to say that anyone “has” to spend a certain amount of time somewhere, but I think 7 days is a great amount of time to see some of the best things that southcentral Alaska has to offer, visit two national parks and more fun things along the way.
The activities in this itinerary are based on a visit to Alaska in the summer. The summer months allow you to visit and hike in Denali National Park, see whales off the coast in Seward and enjoy warm weather. Summer temperatures average in the 50’s °F and 60’s °F, but be prepared with layers in case it is colder.
The spring and fall can also be wonderful times to visit Alaska, as you can still have great weather and there will likely be less crowds. Just be sure to check conditions ahead of time for places like Denali. Average spring and fall temperatures tend to be lows in the 20’s °F and highs in the 30’s °F and 40’s °F, all depending on which month you visit and where you go.
Alaska in the winter is absolutely beautiful but offers a very different experience. In the winter, you can see the northern lights, go dog sledding, ride snowmobiles and do other fun cold weather activities. Winter temperatures will likely be below freezing for the duration of your visit.
- If you are renting a car, be sure to book several months ahead of time because Alaska has been experiencing a rental car shortage for the last couple years.
- Be prepared for the possibility of traffic delays. Road maintenance occurs in the summer and many of the roads you’ll drive for this itinerary offer no alternative routes. I had no serious delays, but I’ve heard horror stories of 8 hour delays due to construction. Whenever possible, keep your plans flexible and know that this is possible.
- The speed limits are pretty low in Alaska and I saw many people pulled over by police. Be sure to abide by the speed limit.
- Services are spread out in Alaska, so it is a good idea to fill up on gas whenever possible. I also recommend downloading offline maps because you may lose cell reception during parts of the drive.
- There are moose signs everywhere when you’re driving around Alaska! I only saw them in the national parks but keep your eyes peeled while driving. If you’ve never seen a moose, they are huge and you would not want to run into one (or any wildlife for that matter).
The weather can change quickly so it is important to be prepared for both cold and warm weather in the summer.
Here are some things you should be sure to pack for your trip:
- A lightweight jacket or windbreaker for layering.
- Hiking shoes or boots.
- Trekking poles if you would like them for hiking.
- A camera with a good zoom lens for wildlife photography.
- Binoculars for the Denali bus tour.
- Sunglasses and sunscreen, especially for hiking on glaciers.
- A reusable water bottle.
- A first aid kit.
- Gloves, a hat and warm socks.
- A poncho or umbrella for rain.
Start your trip by flying into Anchorage and renting a car! Be sure to have your rental car reserved in advance because Alaska has been experiencing rental car shortages in recent years.
If you are looking for a local and delicious takeout meal to enjoy on your way to your next destination, I highly recommend visiting Moose's Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. Moose’s Tooth Pub offers a wide range of creative pizza options and high quality food, served alongside an extensive beer selection.
I recommend trying the Amazing Apricot pizza which includes apricot sauce, cream cheese, carrots, onions and cheese (it comes with chicken too but I ordered it vegetarian). It’s the perfect mix of sweet and savory and a delicious flavor combination! If you are ordering take out, order ahead because waits can be long. If you are eating in, be prepared for long wait times, but there is an outdoor patio space and a bar where you can wait and enjoy the atmosphere.
After enjoying your pizza and making your way out of the city, drive two hours north to stay the night in Talkeetna. Talkeetna is a cute town located about halfway in between Anchorage and the entrance to Denali National Park.
It is known for electing Stubbs the cat to be mayor for 20 years. (He unfortunately passed away in 2017) The town is small but a popular destination for visitors. People come each year to go flightseeing, rafting and fishing. I stayed in the Talkeetna Inn and it was a nice place to stay with basic amenities.
Start your day with breakfast and coffee at Conscious Coffee. This cute coffee window has great breakfast sandwiches and coffee, plus it was the shop that opened the earliest while I was there!
If you are interested and able to spend the money, a flightseeing tour is an incredible thing to do from Talkeetna. This is where planes take off to fly around Mount Denali and the Denali National Park mountain range. I recommend booking a flight with K2 Aviation, they offer multiple options with various lengths and prices. You also have the ability to add a glacier landing to each of the tours.
Unfortunately, the day that I was supposed to do the flightseeing tour, the weather was not clear enough to take off. This is very common, especially in the summer months. Keep in mind that if this is a big priority for you, you should allow extra days in Talkeetna to maximize your chances of the weather being clear.
After the flightseeing tour, it’s worth spending some time to walk around Talkeetna and visit the various shops and restaurants. Some places to eat include Mimi’s Haus of Cheese, West Rib Pub & Grill and Talkeetna Spinach Bread.
After your time in Talkeetna, make your way to stay outside of Denali National Park for the next night (or longer). On your way, be sure to stop at Denali Viewpoint South and Denali View North, two viewpoints in Denali State Park. If the sky is clear, these spots provide excellent views of the Denali Mountain range.
When you arrive at Denali, there are a few hotel options right outside the park in the town of Denali Park. I stayed in the Denali Bluffs Hotel and loved the view of Denali National Park and the nice, clean room. There is also a food truck in the convenience store parking lot next door where we enjoyed a vegetarian burrito and curry.
If you only have one day in Denali National Park, I recommend the transit bus tour so that you can see as much of the park as possible. Personal vehicles are not allowed past the 15 mile marker of the road, so taking a bus tour is one of the only ways to get further into the park.
The transit bus tours have the added benefit of giving you the ability to get off at any time for hiking. Without getting off and hiking, the bus tour typically takes about 8 hours round trip with some stops along the way. Options vary depending on the season so be sure to check the national park website for details. The bus is an incredible way to see wildlife such as moose, grizzly bears and elk.
There is also an option to take a narrated bus tour, where you will learn a bit more about the history and wildlife in the park. This version is not set up to get off any time like the transit bus. I talk in more detail about what to expect on the buses in my guide to the Denali transit bus.
Be sure to reserve your tickets to the bus tours a few months in advance as they do sell out.
If you have another day in Denali, I recommend visiting the Sled Dog Kennels and hiking within the first 15 miles of the park. Denali is the only national park with sled dog kennels and during the summer, you can see them up close and possibly pet them or see a demonstration. It’s a great way to learn about these incredible animals.
There are also several hiking trails that do not require taking one of the park buses. Options include the 2 mile Horseshoe Lake Trail, the 7 mile Mount Healy Overlook Trail and the 9 mile Trip Lakes trail. Denali is unique in that they also allow visitors to explore the terrain off of marked trails. This is a great option if you are adventurous and have hiking experience, just be sure you’re properly prepared and discuss your route with a ranger.
After a full day or more exploring Denali, stay outside of the park again and get ready for an early start the next morning to make the drive down to Matanuska Glacier.
Matanuska Glacier is located a four and a half hour drive from Denali Park. I recommend doing the drive in the morning and booking a tour of Matanuska for the afternoon.
While it used to be available for self guided exploring, it is now only accessible via a guided tour. There are a few different companies that offer tours but I went with Glacier Tours. They tend to offer the most tour options, making the timing more flexible.
Matanuska is the largest glacier in the US that can be reached by vehicle and is absolutely incredible to hike on. You are provided micro spikes and a helmet to wear on the tour, making the hike on the ice quite doable for most abilities. Hiking on a glacier and seeing the incredible ice formations, drinking the glacier water and taking in the views is an amazing experience to add to your bucket list.
After hiking the glacier, I recommend driving to Anchorage for the night to stay before driving down the Kenai Peninsula the next morning.
The drive from Anchorage to Seward is absolutely beautiful and will take you along the coast with views of the water on one side and mountains on the other. Without stopping, it will take you about 2 and a half hours without traffic. However, there are several stops worth making along the way.
Located not far from Anchorage, the Potter Marsh is a nice place to walk along some boardwalk trails and spot local wildlife. (It’s a great place for bird watching!)
This park is a beautiful stop to have a picnic, go on a hike or take a quick scenic walk. There is a waterfall right by the parking lot and several viewpoints.
Beluga Point is a popular spot to see whales not far from McHugh Creek Day Use Area. I did not see any whales but there are nice views of the water here. Despite the no trespassing signs, many people cross over the train tracks and climb around the rocks right on the water’s edge here. Use your own judgment and be cautious around the tracks and when on rocks. Binoculars are great for spotting whales in the water and mountain goats on the mountains.
Bird Creek is a popular place for fishing. If you aren’t fishing, it’s a quick stop where you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Bird Creek River with mountains in the background.
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center takes special care of injured and orphaned animals and has a commitment to conservation, education and research. There are over 200 acres of habitats for the animals, which include moose, bison, caribou, elk, bears, fox and more. You can visit the sanctuary through a self guided or guided tour and learn about the various animals that live there.
Byron Glacier is a 3 mile hike that is rated easy and leads you right up to the glacier. The hike begins in the forest and is mostly flat until reaching the glacier. From there, you can touch the glacier and see the river flowing underneath it.
After reaching it, you have the option to climb up further over some boulders and get a view of the impressive glaciers on the mountainside. Depending on the time of year you visit, there may be ice caves present. Always use caution and be very careful on the ice or in caves, they are not necessarily stable.
Portage Glacier is an impressive ten story tall glacier that is only accessible by boat. There are Portage Lake cruises in the summer where you can see the glacier from the water and enjoy the surrounding scenery.
Whittier is a small town that was used as a military base during WWII. Before the 1940’s, the area was only reachable by sea, but a tunnel was built so that the Alaska Railroad would reach the water and so that a port could be established. Today, the port is still used year-round as an important ice-free port for Anchorage.
To reach Whittier, you will drive through the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in North America, which only allows for one way traffic. The schedule is typically 15 minutes of vehicle traffic going one way, 15 minutes for trains to go through and 15 minutes for traffic going the other way.
Check the schedule ahead of time and plan accordingly to minimize your wait time! When you make it through the tunnel to Whittier, there are restaurants along the bay, tour options for activities like kayaking and jet skis and beautiful views. During my short time there, I had lunch at the Swiftwater Cafe, had coffee from Otter Ice Cream & Coffee, checked out the various shops and drove by the abandoned Buckner building.
Tern Lake is a quick stop where you can see a beautiful reflection of the mountains on a small lake framed with greenery. You will find it just off the road right after exiting Route One to drive to take State Highway One to Seward. It’s a beautiful place for photography.
Finally, arrive in Seward to spend the next couple nights. There are several great restaurants in Seward. I recommend Seward Brewery for something more casual and The Cookery for a nicer meal (be sure to make a reservation in advance).
There are multiple hotel options in Seward to suit your needs. I stayed at Hotel Seward and thought that it was a great value. It is centrally located, has a range of room options for different budgets and is filled with kitschy decor.
Start your first full day in Seward with a visit to Resurrection Bay Coffee Shop. This coffee house is located inside of a former church and has art and gifts for sale in addition to pastries and coffee.
When you’re ready for the day, I highly recommend getting out on the water to see Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. There are a few different ways to do this depending on your appetite for adventure. You can take a day cruise where you’ll see wildlife and enjoy the views, or you can go on a kayaking tour and get up close and personal with the natural beauty.
I recommend taking a full day kayaking tour with Kayak Adventures Worldwide out to Aialik Glacier, where you will get to kayak next to the glacier with an experienced guide. During the ride out to the glacier, you will have the opportunity to see puffins in the Cove of the Spires, whales in the bay and views of additional glaciers. No matter which way you choose, exploring Kenai Fjords by water is a memorable experience that you won’t soon forget.
On your second night in Seward, enjoy another one of the delicious restaurants that Seward has to offer.
If you have another day in Seward, check out the beautiful hiking trails in the land portion of Kenai Fjords National Park.The most popular trail is the Exit Glacier trail, a 2.2 mile hike that will lead you to a view of the beautiful but shrinking Exit Glacier. The glacier has been shrinking at an alarming pace in recent years and you can see yearly markers of where the ice used to end. It’s a powerful place where you can see the impact of climate change right before your eyes.
If you have time and are an experienced hiker, you can also hike to the Harding Icefield beginning from the same trailhead as Exit Glacier. The trail is 9.2 miles with over 3,000 feet of elevation gain and will lead you to a view overlooking the iceland that feeds into over 30 glaciers in the surrounding area.
If this is your last day in Alaska, make your way back to the Anchorage airport. If you’re looking for one last delicious stop in Anchorage, get ice cream from Wild Scoops. They are a small batch ice cream shop with some delicious and experimental flavors. There are two locations and both are less than 20 minutes from the airport. I really enjoyed the black cup coffee oreo ice cream!
I hope this itinerary helps you plan your dream trip to Alaska! For more details on Alaska travel, check out my other blog posts:
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