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Example Itinerary: 12 day roundtrip Alaska

Example Itinerary: 12 day roundtrip Alaska

Alaska, also known as "The Last Frontier," is the largest and most remote state in the United States. Alaska offers a unique and unforgettable vacation experience for adventurers and nature lovers.

Last summer our colleague Rianne went on a vacation to Alaska with her parents and sister and she made a wonderful round trip with the rugged Jeep Wrangler of supplier Indie Campers. A trip of +/- 2500 kilometers, which they will cherish forever!

In this blog you can read about the route they drove and what there is to do and see in Alaska. This sample route can be extended in many ways, for example with an extra night's stay at one of the places mentioned, or just an extra stop halfway through the long stretches of driving.

Good to know

Alaska is beautiful year-round. But most people prefer to visit this state during the warm summer months. Summer is therefore the peak season for Alaska, and that's something to keep in mind when planning your trip. Whether it's RV rental, accommodation or an excursion, booking on time is the best tip we can give! Keep in mind that most tours and activities are only offered between mid-May to mid-September.

Day 1: Anchorage
Today we wake up early due to the jet lag and we go exploring in Anchorage. In terms of size and population, Anchorage is by far the largest city, but it is not the capital of Alaska, which is Juneau. We visit the visitor center and the Anchorage Museum - with local art and exhibits about the state's native inhabitants. In the afternoon, it's time to pick up the camper, a rugged Jeep Wrangler with rooftop tent and a very practical kitchenette for on the road. Please note that in the United States it is mandatory to have had at least one overnight stay before picking up the motorhome. 

Day 2: Anchorage - Valdez | 480 km | approx. 5 hrs and 30 min.
Today the roadtrip really begins and we drive east along Glenn Highway. On the way are several beautiful stops along the route with views of the vast nature and high mountains. After a lunch stop and driver change, we continue on our way and suddenly see a black bear at the edge of the road; the first one this trip! With half an hour to go to Valdez, we pass Thompson Pass, where we see two brown bears running in the distance. We are definitely in bear country.

Just before we drive into Valdez, we see two waterfalls hidden in the rocks. Valdez is a beautiful port town, located at the end of a 19-kilometer-long fjord.

Day 3: Valdez
Valdez is the perfect base to visit the impressive Columbia Glacier, one of the fastest moving glaciers. On a boat excursion you will come right up to the edge of the glacier and can see giant chunks of ice falling into the sea. During the excursion you have a chance of seeing whales, otters, puffins and other wildlife. 

Day 4: Valdez - Chitina > McCarthy | from 190 km | approx. 2 hrs and 15 min.
After an early start, we drive from Valdez to the town of Chitina. On the way a moose crosses the road in front of the car. And when we drive up the Edgerton Hwy we see a sight you often only see in pictures - a more than 11 kilometers long, dead straight road, which goes on endlessly. And because we were so early, not a car in sight. An early start has its advantages!

Arriving in Chitina, we park the Jeep and take a plane to McCarthy, located in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park. That same afternoon we join a guided tour of the town of Kennicott - an old and abandoned mining town - and the mining factory. That evening we stay at the authentic and historic Ma Johnsons hotel - which formerly served as a boarding house.

There are two options for traveling toward McCarthy: 

  • By Car: If you have a little more time and a car/camper suitable for going off-road then you can drive the infamous McCarthy Rd. This route runs from Chitina to McCarthy/Kennicott. The road is a 90 km gravel road (closed in winter) and will take you about 2 -3 hours to drive.
  • By plane: If you have a little less time or do not feel like driving this gravel road, you can also fly to McCarthy with a small bushplane. The flight alone is a great experience as you fly over the National Park and the pilot talks about what you see. The flight is about 30 minutes.

Day 5: McCarthy > Chitina - Gakona | from 130 km | approx. 1 hr and 15 min.
This day we start with a spectacular hike on the Root Glacier, accompanied by an experienced guide. With crampons under our shoes and a (photo) camera within reach, we walk for several hours over the ice plain. Cool! In the late afternoon we fly back to Chitina, where we are reunited with our Jeep and drive to Gakona, our overnight spot for tonight.

Day 6: Gakona - Fairbanks | 380 km | approx. 4 hrs and 15 min.
We drive to Fairbanks via the Richardson Hwy, but you can also drive via the town of Tok - which adds an extra hour and a half of travel time. If, like us, you take the "direct" route to Fairbanks, Rainbow Ridge is a must-stop on this route. Already from afar you can see the colorful mountain ridge looming, a very impressive sight! The rest of the route is also beautiful and shows a varied landscape with trees, open fields, high mountains and also ... the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline. This pipeline is 1300 kilometers long and runs from northern Alaska to Valdez in the south and assures the United States of energy and economic growth. Are you a fan of Christmas? Then plan a visit to the town of North Pole - yes, it really exists and it's Christmas here all year round!

In the winter months, Fairbanks is THE city to see the Northern Lights. During the summer months, unfortunately, the Northern Lights cannot be seen. This is because of the midnight sun, which means it only gets dark for a few hours in a day. Hotels often have good thick curtains, but it may be helpful to bring an eye mask for sleeping. Fairbanks is the northernmost stop on our trip.  Should you want more, it is possible to drive even further north towards the Artic Circle.

Day 7: Fairbanks - McKinley Park | 200 km | approx. 2 hrs and 15 min.
This morning we sleep in a bit and enjoy a delicious breakfast at The Cookie Jar. After visiting the Antique Auto Museum and the Fairbanks Ice museum, that afternoon we continue our journey south. For the next two nights, we'll stay at the Denali Bluffs hotel, with stunning views of Denali National Park.

Tip: If you have some time left in your schedule, go rafting on the Nanena River. There's a good mix of calm currents and big rapids that will get your heart racing! 

Day 8: Denali National Park
The national park has only one road and one park entrance. This 150-kilometer road, consisting mostly of gravel, runs from east to west. Since you are not allowed to enter the park by car yourself, we will join an organized tour. If you prefer to visit the park at your own pace, you can use the park shuttle and explore the park on foot.

In Denali NP you have a chance to spot the Denali Big Five: the moose, caribou, Dall sheep, grizzly bear and wolf. It doesn't take long before we spot the first wildlife, high on the mountain we see five white dots which is a group of Dall sheep. We cannot believe our luck when we see a grizzly bear walking in the distance, and not much later we also see caribou. A successful day!

Day 9: McKinley Park - Palmer | 320 km | approx. 3 hrs and 30 min.
Today is quite a drive, but it is certainly not boring. Wherever you drive in Alaska, everywhere you have the chance to spot wildlife like moose and bears along the road. So keep your eyes peeled! Furthermore, all along the Park Hwy you have several vantage points on Mt. Denali, the highest mountain in North America. On a clear day, you can even see the snow-capped mountaintop from Anchorage or Fairbanks. Near Palmer you will find a reindeer farm to visit or you can admire the Knik Glacier from the air, or from the water.

Day 10: Palmer - Homer | 430 km | approx. 5 hours
The end of the trip is already approaching, but there are still some final scenic spots on this journey. Today we drive to Homer - the southernmost and last stop on our route - here we stay for two nights. The route to Homer is beautiful. The Sterling Hwy runs largely along the coast of the Kenai Peninsula. Across the water we can see the two volcanoes (Mt. Redoubt and Mt. Iliamna) of Lake Clark National Park. We stay at the tip of the town of Homer and from our overnight spot we can spot seals, bald eagles and otters.

Day 11: Homer
Homer is known as the halibut capital of the world. From Homer you can book several excursions. Among them a morning/afternoon fishing trip or whale watching. Totally spectacular is a bear safari. An hour's flight takes you to Katmai or Lake Clark National Park, where you land on the beach. For 3 hours we walked around with an experienced guide and were able to witness the Alaskan Coastal Brown Bear up close. Truly the ultimate ending to this vacation!

Day 12: Homer - Anchorage | 360 km | approx. 4 hrs and 15 min.
Today we drive back to Anchorage, where we return our RV. Because no one could be at the location, we received instructions in advance via email about the return process. We noted the mileage, took pictures of the outside and inside of the RV and left the key in a key box. This was easily done.

With one last afternoon left in Anchorage, we decide to buy a souvenir as a reminder of this wonderful trip and ended the vacation with one of the best pizzas in Alaska - at the Moose Tooth Pub & Pizzeria. The next morning we fly back home, thinking back to the many wonderful things we have had the pleasure of experiencing over the past two weeks.

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