After exhausting Anchorage excursions, leave the city for a superb road trip south on the Seward Freeway, taking advantage of numerous detours, culminating in the picturesque harbor town of Seward.
This legendary 125-mile stretch of road runs along a slender spiral of water called the Turnagain Arm before ascending into the spectacular Chugach and Kenai Mountains, where ancient glaciers flash with summer greenery. The route passes tiny communities, truck stops and aquamarine alpine lakes before finally descending into Seward, located on the edge of Resurrection Bay.
The time-pressed traveler could get to Seward and return in a long full day, logging more than five hours of driving alone. This memorable trip is best enjoyed over two or more days and nights, allowing for heavy side stops for distinctive Alaskan experiences and surprisingly delicious meals, leaving plenty of time to wander, take photos and take in the beauty. Alaska’s unrivaled.
Don’t miss a stopover in Girdwood, located approximately 45 minutes south of Anchorage. This artistic and laid-back ski resort is located a few miles inland from the highway. Girdwood moved inland after the 1964 earthquake, and today it is a collection of small but memorable restaurants, charming art galleries, ski chalets and condos, and a single school for young people in the city.
Girdwood is the recreation mecca. Winter slopes and ski lifts are transformed to accommodate adventurous mountain biking descents in summer. Play it safe and pedal the paved trails through the city, taking in the mild climate and slow pace. A popular stop for hikers, the Winner Creek Trail is accessible just behind the beautiful Hotel Alyeska.
The more sporty could forge the famous 21-mile-long Crow Pass Trail. The good news: it can be enjoyed in small bites on a scenic day hike. The first few miles of the trail are rewarding, climbing up from Girdwood with sweeping views of glaciers, remnants of long-standing gold mining and jagged peaks.
For eating there are a number of great options. Start your day with breakfast at a local icon, the A bakery (194 Olympic Mountain Loop). A morning staple for over 40 years, the Bake Shop offers homemade dishes like sourdough pancakes and sweet rolls. Or, go to lunch and enjoy homemade scratchy soups and sandwiches on freshly baked bread.
If you find yourself in Girdwood in the evening, try to dine at Jack Sprat (165 Olympic Mountain Loop). Its regional cuisine with a touch of Alaska is truly special, highlighting fresh seasonal produce and locally sourced proteins such as halibut. Its high chalet windows offer lovely views of the mountainous landscape.
Nearby, the menu rarely changes at Auberge Double Musky (Mile 0.3 Crow Creek Road), but why play with perfection? The tucked-away steakhouse known for its lively French Quarter decor and even busier weekend wait times combines a world-class wine cellar with on-site Creole classics with an Alaskan twist. It has delighted locals and tourists for decades.
Portage was once a highway town at the head of Turnagain Arm, another victim of the 1964 earthquake with few remains today but decaying cabins overwhelmed by aggressive brush. In its place, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (Mile 79 Seward Highway) is a sprawling sanctuary packed with activity that’s sure to delight animal lovers. This non-profit resort offers large enclosures for Alaskan orphan and rehabilitating animals such as bears, moose, muskoxen, and caribou, and is open year round.
Visitors can see the animals while driving or walking the 1.5 mile loop that surrounds the center and venturing along several boardwalks and trails. There is an on-site snack bar and gift shop with lovely souvenirs. The hours are from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. from May to August and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in September.
A turn east at Portage on Portage Valley Road will bring the curious traveler to two worthy destinations: the Begich, the Boggs Visitor Center and, beyond, the town of Whittier.
the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center (Portage Lake Loop) is approximately 5 miles east of the freeway and opens late May through early September. The center was built on the shores of Portage Lake on the moraine left by the retreat of the Portage glacier in 1914. The glacier can be seen by boat trips to its front. The center itself offers science-based educational opportunities for adults and children.
Drive further and travelers will experience a truly different experience thanks to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. The 2.5-mile-long one-way highway toll tunnel is the longest in North America, a dark and brooding viaduct that cuts through the mighty mountains, originally a rail tunnel connecting the west side of Turnagain Arm to the military port town of Whittier. Find the tunnel timetables online to schedule your visit accordingly.
Whittier exists as a major deep-water port, with a quirky community where most residents reside in one of the two large buildings; the visible lack of building land quickly explains this strange residential reality. For activities there are glacier viewing boats, regular cruise ship stops, a beautiful harbor view hotel called the Inn in Whittier (5A Harbor Loop Road) and also camping and RV options.
Frankly, the tunnel experience itself is strange enough to be worth a detour for an hour. But if you have time, visit the small but surprisingly full Prince William Sound Museum (743, rue Whittier). An impressive number of exhibits fill its cozy space, capturing the story of Whittier’s highly original history, including reflections of his military heritage during World War II and the Cold War.
Finally, the Seward Highway brings you to scenic Seward, a town of about 2,800 year-round residents surrounded by the beautiful mountains of Resurrection Bay. The town’s economy is a mishmash of fishing gear, kayaking businesses, sightseeing tours, shops, restaurants and bars, the Alaska Vocational Technical Center, and the bizarre Correctional Center. of Spring Creek, a maximum security prison just visible across the bay.
Seward strengths include the Alaska SeaLife Center (301 Railway Ave.), a convenient aquarium and working science facility that offers the chance to watch puffins and sea lions swim, get up close to octopus, and learn about the special place that is Resurrection Bay.
From the SeaLife Center, a leisurely stroll to Fourth Avenue offers a serene sense of Seward’s long-ago border culture, with its Old West storefronts, historic murals, churches in bell towers, its commemorative plaques and its charming old architecture. Plus, a paved trail runs from the SeaLife Center along the waterfront, past RV pitches and campgrounds. Seward has plenty of hotel, rental, and camping options for those staying overnight.
Day cruises through Kenai fjords national park are an incredibly popular way to see the glorious waters just beyond this pretty waterfront town. Otters, seals, puffins, orcas, and various migrating whales can all play cameos on these half-day or full-day charters, some of which include stops on the island for meals.
If you prefer to see a glacier on foot, allow a few hours for Exit Glacier. Located just inside Kenai Fjords National Park, this glacier on the edge of the Harding Icefield has receded significantly in recent years, and signs point to where the glacier faced in years past. A moderately graded hiking trail leads to lookout points where the glacier is easily seen and photographed.
While in Seward, adventurous anglers can opt for a half or full day cruise for halibut or salmon fishing. Charters usually provide all fishing gear, and in town there are options to fillet and freeze fish for shipment after your excursion is over. These trips leave early and return late and allow for a full Alaska experience. Play your cards right, and you’ll enjoy the scenery on a wildlife viewing trip as you return home with a freezer full of fish to commemorate your unique and unforgettable Alaska experience long after its end.