If I could sum up our week in Alaska in one word it would be STUNNING. The scenery we experienced over this trip was so much more beautiful than I ever imagined it would be and I’m even willing to go on the record & say that Alaska has been the most beautiful place I’ve ever traveled to so far (which I never thought I would say after the scenery we experienced driving Highway 101 down the Pacific Northwest coast last year).
There’s no doubt that the Pacific Northwest journey is a very close runner-up, but Alaska officially takes the cake… at least for now. The main reason I think that Alaska has clinched that #1 spot is because of the variety of views and terrain that we saw while in Alaska… each one unique and just as stunning as the last.
To keep this post of a ba-zillion photos and way too much information as “organized” and resourceful as possible, I decided to try my best to group the photos + information based on each of our stops. Under each location, I noted where we stayed, where we ate, what we did and any other “fun facts” from that location. I also plan on sharing a post on 10 tips I wish I knew before road tripping in Alaska and what to pack for a trip similar to this one <— I read as many blog posts as I could find before we left (which wasn’t many), and really learned a lot from these few posts. I’m hoping that this post, as well as the few that are in the making, may help others who are preparing for their upcoming trip. So if you’re not in the game to visit Alaska, you may just want to look at the pics and skip the text of this novel-like post.
Flight Information: We flew directly from Chicago to Anchorage on Alaska Air. The flight was 6 1/2 hours (yikes!) but the plane was equipped with wi-fi AND charging stations attached to each seat, which was awesome since I used my laptop throughout the entire flight. The only negative I would note about Alaska Air was that you have to pay to check your luggage ($25 per bag). Matt and I ended up packing in just ONE suitcase for the entire week to save money, which I’ll chat about next week . After flying into Anchorage, we picked up our rental car and took off for our first adventure!
Drove from Anchorage to Girdwood (an easy 1 hour drive with lots of photo-ops and look-out points)
Stayed: Alyeska Hotel & Resort (highly recommend for the area)
Ate: There was actually an outdoor festival happening on the property while we were staying at Alyeska the first night, so we ended up eating at the fest which was delicious! We sat outside, enjoyed the live music, and chowed down on some local food. <— Rookie Tip: Bring bug spray!! It was so nice to sit outside by the fire on the patio, but there were lots of mosquitos!
Activities: Because we came straight from our flight to the resort, we really didn’t have a ton of time to do any activities. Since we had to be up early and get back on the road, we opted to relax for the remainder of our time there. We walked/drove around the area and took in the gorgeous scenery along the highway and around the Alyeska grounds. While we were out exploring, we saw a momma moose and her newborn babies in town. How cute are those mini moose?! <— Cute to look at, but apparently not too cute to get up close and personal with.
We didn’t have time while we were there, but we did hear great things about buying a ticket to ride the gondola up to the top of the mountain and eat at the fancy restaurant up there. If you’re staying at Alyesak this would be super convenient because the gondola is literally just a few steps from the hotel (on the property) but we heard the restaurant is fine dining and a tad pricey.
Drove from Girdwood to Seward (a little over 2 hours, MORE gorgeous views and look out points!)
Stayed: Murphy’s Inn… let’s just say there weren’t too many rooms left when we booked ours in this small town just a month before we left. =/ Amazing views though!!
- Breakfast: The restaurant inside the Alyeska hotel before we hit the road — it was delicious, with a great view overlooking the lake and mountain.
- Lunch: Lunch was included in our boat ride. Turkey wraps + Chips + a cookie = all my favs!
- Dinner: Chinook’s! <— Highly recommend this hot spot right on the harbor. The seafood was fresh, the views were gorgeous, and the prices were pretty reasonable.
Activities: We took a 6 hour Glacier and Wildlife tour with Kenai Fjords and this excursion was by far my favorite part of the entire trip (totally worth the splurge)! We saw otters, humpback whales, killer whales, seals, lots of birds, and a glacier… not to mention some stunning scenery. I think Matt and I stood (sometimes even in the rain) outside on the boat deck 5 1/2 of the 6 hours because we were in such awe of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g around us. Legit amazing. If you’re in Seward, I would DEFINITELY recommend looking into something like this.
Seward was an adorable coastal town. Literally picture perfect — all of it. The next morning we got up and hiked around Exit Glacier, which is in that same area and was a lot of fun!
Drove from Seward to Whittier (about 2 hours, almost the same exact route as the day before but going the opposite way)
Alaska as a whole was absolutely stunning but Whittier, to me, was the prettiest spot of them all. It was hands down the most gorgeous place I have ever been.
I literally felt like I was on movie set or in a different country the entire time. The town was super quiet, all you could hear were the countless waterfalls that were scattered throughout the mountains surrounding the harbor. Outside the sound of the waterfalls, the town was pretty darn quiet — I’m talking population of 200 year round kinda-quiet.
There’s only one way in and one way out of Whittier, which is a ONE-WAY railroad tunnel that is the longest tunnel in North America and only opens for one direction of traffic every half hour. You have to wait in your car, in line, until the tunnel is open to enter into Whittier. After all of the cars head into town, the tunnel closes on that side and cars leaving the town are allowed out. That system continues to work back & forth until a train comes in, when the tunnel is closed to cares. The roundtrip toll to get into the town (through the 2+ mile tunnel) is $13 but SOOOOO worth it. Can you see why I felt like I was on a movie set?! Just getting into Whittier was something out of an old movie.
Stayed: Whittier is the neighbor of Girdwood so we actually only stayed in Whittier for the day and stayed overnight back at the Alyeska Resort. Since Whittier is so small, I think spending just a few hours to “pass through” is plenty.
Ate: The Inn at Whittier <— Quite possibly the prettiest lunch view I have ever had in my life. #seriously
Activities: We stumbled upon Whittier without doing any research or knowing anything about it (best wrong-turn ever!!). Since we didn’t really have a plan coming in, we walked around town, sat on the piers, took in the beauty and then ate lunch. I would suggest trying to get into town in time to rent a kayak because the views, number of waterfalls falling into the bay, and calm waters would make for an amazing day kayaking.
Drove from Girdwood to Denali National Park then back to Willow (holy driving!)
I would NOT suggest driving from Girdwood to Denali and then back down to Willow in one day like we did! We didn’t necessarily mind the travel, but we would probably do it differently next time around… since we had a lot of time in the car that day.
Stayed: Alaska Inn B&B <— great host couple, delicious breakfast, and the B&B is on a private lake so Matt and I were able to use the family’s canoe/paddle boat to explore the whole lake all by ourselves. I don’t know if we’ve ever been on a lake by ourselves. And although it was a smaller lake, we had so much fun taking in the beauty around us. It felt “so summer”.
- Lunch: Visitor’s Center at Denali National Park (surprisingly it was pretty good!)
- Dinner: Some dive in Willow that had amazing hamburgers.. or maybe we were just very hungry by the time we ate dinner. We ate them on a picnic table on the side of the highway. As you can imagine, that dinner was super romantic.
Activities: Denali, and the drive leading up to Denali, was gorgeous… in a very different way than our travels in Alaska up until this point. There was far less water (and no more ocean) but instead a more rustic and mountainous scene. When in Denali, we hiked a bit and then explored via car. In the park we saw a GIANT mother moose and more babies as well as a few caribou!
This little family was hanging right outside the Visitor’s Center, which had me thinking, “Who needs to hike when you can catch wildlife like this right in the parking lot?!” Haha (don’t tell Matt)
Later in the day, we went and checked out the Iditarod dogs, which was fun because you could walk right up to them and pet them… if you wanted. As you can tell from this pic I’m “slow to warm up” when it comes to dogs and these HUGE huskies were no exception.
Willow to Anchorage (about an hour and a half… easy drive, less stunning but still pretty)
After our amazing breakfast and the opportunity to chat all things Alaska with the B&B owners, we headed out of Willow to spend the rest of our trip in Anchorage!
Vacation Fail: Somehow I stopped taking pictures. Since we were walking around a lot in the city, I didn’t bring my heavy camera and therefore have ZERO pics of Anchorage to share.
Ate: Moose’s Tooth <— my aunt recommended this place before we left and ironically a few people on Instagram recommended it as well. Now I can see why!! The pizza was DELICIOUS, I would highly recommend checking this place out if you like pizza and/or beer! <— Which who doesn’t?!
Activities: To be honest, there wasn’t as much to do in Anchorage as we anticipated… or at least not as many things that interested us. We did rent a tandem bike one afternoon and rode the coastal trail, which was so much fun and had us laughing out loud most of the ride. When we were riding we saw another Moose right ON the trail!
Other than that mini excursion, we had fun just relaxing and not being “on the move” as much! Anchorage had a mall in town, lots of souvenir shops, and even food trucks that sell reindeer sausage (yes… that’s a thing! Who knew?!). Overall, we enjoyed our time in Anchorage but we probably wouldn’t spend a whole 2 1/2 days there if we were going to do it again.
And after a few lazy days in Anchorage, it was back to sweet home Chicago for us!! We came home feeling like this trip was a once in a lifetime trip and one that we are so grateful we took! We know it’s not for everyone and if you’re one of those people, thank you for sticking with this crazy-long post… even though I don’t blame you if you just looked at the photos and skipped the text.
I know reading all of these details isn’t for everyone (especially if you’re not planning on going to Alaska) but posts with this random information REALLY helped me plan our trip so I’m hoping that this excessive information may do the same for someone else thinking about taking a similar trip. And if you are one of these lucky people — OMG, I’m SOOO excited for you!! Bring your camera, EXTRA camera batteries, and get ready to experience some of the most beautiful scenery the USA has to offer.
Here’s another post about Alaskan road trip tips as well as some packing tips. I swear ALL of you deserve something special for making it to the end of this super long post. How about in honor of all things Alaska, I send you an electronic BEAR HUG?!