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10 Day Alaska Itinerary
Updated November 2020, The 10 Day Alaska Itinerary was originally written in June 2018
Alaska is likely the destination that garners the most questions of anywhere I write about. It’s somewhat exotic, especially for many Americans, being one of two states that are not contiguously attached to the rest. So how do you go about planning a trip to Alaska?
When I’m at home and not on the road you usually can find me back in Alaska exploring every bit I can. I was born here, grew up, and still live here. So I’ve created a basic 10 day Alaska Itinerary perfect for most first-time visitors that will hit the highlights of Southcentral Alaska + Denali.
Day 1. Arrive In Anchorage
Day 2. Drive To Denali
Day 3. Explore Denali National Park
Day 4. Explore Denali National Park
Day 5. Drive To Seward
Day 6. Explore Kenai Fjords National Park
Day 7. Explore The Kenai Peninsula & Drive To Homer
Day 8. Explore Homer
Day 9. Drive To Girdwood
Day 10. Explore Girdwood, Turnagain Arm, Anchorage & Depart Home
Quick Tips For Travel In Alaska
Alaska is a bucketlister for many travelers. Here are some quick tips and advice to help you make the most out of your 10 day Alaska itinerary.
The Best Time To Visit Alaska
It’s undeniable that June, July & August are the best months to visit Alaska as far as the weather and temperatures go. The downside is that this is the most popular time to visit, so it’s likely more crowded and prices are at peak levels.
The shoulder months of May & September are great months to visit as weather is still decent, crowds are smaller and prices are a touch less.
The winter months of October-April are when Alaska is least visited. Days are short and cold weather will have set in. However this is the best time to attempt to see the northern lights- but it can be downright cold with temperatures ranging from freezing point to -40°F, and colder! Warm weather clothing this time of year is a must. Driving can also be treacherous with snow and ice, requiring a bit more planning for road trips, as many amenities between Alaska towns are closed October to May.
The Cost Of Travel In Alaska
There’s no hiding the fact that Alaska tends is an expensive destination. With that said there are ways to cut costs like planning to camp in the warmer months, renting a car and self driving, cooking your own meals, and more. Learn more on how to travel Alaska on the cheap in my post How To Travel Alaska On A Budget. To give you a rough idea of costs for planning a trip in Alaska, here are the costs of common amenities:
- Accommodations: Hotel- $120-200/night. Hostel- $40-80/night. Campsite- $12 per night on average, $25 for ones with amenities.
- Car rentals: small car– $35/day in the winter and shoulder seasons, $100/day in the peak season. Larger cars & SUVs– $50/day in the winter and shoulder seasons, $140/day in peak season.
- Gasoline: $3.30/gallon.
- Food: Preparing own meals- $1-5 per meal. Budget restaurant/cafes- $10-15 per plate. Midrange restaurants- $20-30 per plate. Higher end restaurants- $30+ per plate.
- Entrance to museums and cultural centers: $10-15 per person.
- Entrance to parks: Free to $10 per person. Most of Alaska’s state and national parks are free to enter. Denali charges $10 per person to enter. State parks typically charge a $5 parking fee and are free to enter.
Money Saving Tips
- Visit outside tourist season– June-August are the most expensive months to visit.
- Consider the shoulder season– May & September.
- Shop for airline sales– Airlines have more competition between May and September as many more airlines fly to Alaska in the summer months.
- Use mileage– Are you part of an airline rewards program? If you are check to see if your airline or a partner of theirs flies to Alaska.
- Get outside– Most of Alaska’s natural attractions are free to visit aside from a parking fee at some sites. All national parks in Alaska have free entrance except for Denali National Park!
- Go camping– Accommodation can get expensive in the high season. For those adventurous enough, pitching a tent is a great way to save money as many managed campgrounds in Alaska have inexpensive fees.
10 Day Alaska Itinerary
Day 1. Arrive In Anchorage
The Anchorage airport is busiest from 10 pm to 2 am. Most flights arrive from Seattle and do so later at night, so Day 1 will likely be spent getting to Alaska. After arrival, pick up your rental car and head for your hotel in Anchorage.
- Shop hotels in Anchorage here. There are many accommodations scattered around Anchorage, with many near the airport and in downtown. If you’re trying to keep to the lowest budget possible, I recommend Bent Prop Hostel (check prices on Booking and at Hotels.com). If you’re looking for something upper scale, I’d say you should grab a room at the Hotel Captain Cook (check out prices and deals on Booking and Hotels.com).
- If you do happen to be on a flight that arrives earlier in the evening and want to grab dinner, my two all-time favorites are Moose’s Tooth in midtown, and Glacier Brewhouse in the heart of downtown Anchorage.
Plan your time in Anchorage: The Anchorage Travel Guide + 20 Things To Do In Anchorage
Day 2. Drive to Denali National Park
Try to get an early start for your drive to Denali National Park. It’s roughly a 4 hour drive from Anchorage. Head north on the Glenn Highway out of Anchorage until you get past the hay flats (look for moose!) where the road splits take the Parks Highway toward Wasilla. You’ll remain on the Parks all the way to Denali.
Scenic stops to make and fun spots to visit include the town of Talkeetna and the pull offs near Denali State Park where on a clear day you’ll have great views of the tallest peak in North America: Denali.
Alternatively, you can take the train on the Alaska Railroad from the Anchorage Depot in downtown to Denali. This is a more relaxing, albeit longer journey at 7.5 hours.
There are a small handful of lodges in McKinley Park, the little tourist town near the park entrance. Book ahead in summer as these places tend to book well in advance. Otherwise, your options are either south of the park in Cantwell and just a little north of the park in Healy.
Campers can head into the park and camp at Savage River. Note that the entrance fee to Denali National Park is $10 per person for a 7 day Pass.
- Grab breakfast at Snow City Cafe or Bear’s Tooth Grill before leaving Anchorage.
- Book a hotel in or near Denali, or reserve a campsite in the national park. Outside the national park, I can recommend the Denali Princess Lodge if you’re looking for a grand experience. Check prices for the Denali Princess over at Hotels.com.
- Grab dinner at 229 Parks Highway Tavern, 49th State Brewery (you can get your photo with the replica bus from Into The Wild here too), or The Salmon Bake.
Day 3 & 4. Explore Denali National Park
On day 3 & 4 you’ll have some options to explore on your terms in Denali. I highly recommend a flightseeing tour of Denali if you can swing the cost. Most flightseeing tours will have you in the air for one to two hours and usually will land you on a glacier.
Other land based activities include bus tours of Denali National Park: Kantishna Experience, the Tundra Wilderness Tour, and the Denali Natural History Tour.
- Kantishna Experience: This is a roughly 12 hour trip to the end of the park road at Mile 92 in Kantishna and back to park headquarters.
- Tundra Wilderness Tour: the Tundra Wilderness Tour takes about 8 hours, a bit shorter than the full trip to Kantishna. The tour allows for more wildlife viewing (hopefully!) while still allowing you to see a decent chunk of the park. The bus usually turns around at either the Toklat River (Mile 53) or Stony Overlook (Mile 62).
- Denali Natural History Tour: The Denali Natural History Tour is the shortest at roughly 5 hours and will take you to the Teklanika River (Mile 27) before turning around. This tour focuses more on the history of the park and the cultural history of the people from the Denali area.
*The Kantishna Experience, Tundra Wilderness Tour, and Denali Natural History Tour are all run by the National Park Service and can be booked online Reserve Denali. Tours run from mid-May until mid-September.
**You cannot self-drive through Denali National Park beyond Savage River (except during the Denali Road Lottery in late September).
Plan your time in the park: The Denali National Park Guide + 14 Things To Do In Denali
- Shop Denali flightseeing tours here. Alternatively, there are flightseeing tours that leave from Talkeetna further south.
- For those not interested in narrated bus tours, there are cheaper transit buses that traverse the park. These run mid-May through mid-September as well.
- Optionally for those that feel one day in Denali National Park is enough, you could drive north to nearby historic Nenana on your second day, or take in a hike in Denali State Park.
Looking for other Alaska Itinerary ideas? Check out this Alaska itinerary by fellow Alaskan Valerie & Valise.
Day 5. Drive to Seward
Get ready for a long driving day today! The drivetime from Denali to Seward is about 6.5 hours. For those without a car this venture is possible by train but will need to be split over 2 days.
Leave Denali in the morning, making scenic stops for anything you missed on your way up. You should arrive in Anchorage by midday, so plan to grab lunch at one of Anchorage’s restaurants (I’d recommend Moose’s Tooth, Glacier Brewhouse, or 49th State Brewery if you haven’t tried them already on your arrival in Anchorage). In the early afternoon begin your drive south to Seward along the Seward Highway making any scenic stops along the way, trust me, there are tons!
You should arrive in Seward in the early to late evening depending on how many stops you make along the way. I’d recommend grabbing dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants in town. There are several hotels in Seward, but if planning to be there around any holiday weekend make sure to book well in advance. For those with tents, there are a few campgrounds in Seward.
Looking for ideas? Check out The Seward Travel Guide + 9 Things To Do In Seward
- Get more info on the City of Seward’s campgrounds here. There are also other public and privately-owned campgrounds around Seward & Kenai Fjords, see the list here.
- There are a handful of accommodations options in Seward that you can shop here. From personal experience, I can recommend the Nauti Otter for those trying to keep to lower budget (check prices on Booking and on Hotels.com). If you’re looking for something a bit higher end I recommend the Harbor 360 Hotel with views right over the water, check out prices on Booking, and on Agoda.com.
Day 6. Kenai Fjords National Park
I recommend taking a Kenai Fjords wildlife cruise to views the best parts of the park and to view wildlife and glaciers. Many times you’ll get to see glaciers calving right in front of you, and the possibility of spotting otters and even whales. I highly recommend booking a trip with Major Marine Tours after cruising with them and seeing orca, sea birds, Steller sea lions, puffins, bald eagles, and more with them.
Other land based options in the park include the walk to Exit Glacier and the hike beyond to Harding Icefield.
If you don’t mind splurging. Take a helicopter tour of Kenai Fjords National Park and even land on Godwin Glacier.
For those traveling with kids the Seward Sealife Center makes for a great activity for a part of the day.
If wanting to get some fishing in, take a halibut or salmon charter out of Seward.
Day 7. Explore the Kenai Peninsula on your drive to Homer
Get an early start on your day to Homer. The Total drive time is 3.5 hours to Homer. You’ll pass through several communities on your venture: Cooper Landing, Sterling, Soldotna, Kenai, Kasilof, Ninilchik, Anchor Point, and finally onto Homer.
There are several hotels and cabins in Homer. Additionally, you can camp at one of the City of Homer’s campsites, like the popular one on the spit or one of the privately-owned campgrounds. For dinner I recommend trying Fat Olive’s, there are also quite a few great places to grab food along the Homer Spit. And no trip to Homer is complete unless you grab a drink at the Salty Dawg Saloon.
- Click here to read more info on camping in Homer.
Day 8. Explore Homer
Take today to explore in and around Homer. A few attractions to check out is the Homer Spit, Bearcreek Winery, take a water taxi across the bay to Kachemak Bay State & Wilderness Park. In Halibut Cove grab lunch at The Saltry.
For those wanting to spend a day fishing, you can book a halibut or salmon charter from Homer.
Plan your visit: The Homer Travel Guide + 14 Things To Do In Homer
Day 9. Drive To Girdwood
On your way up to Girdwood make any scenic stops that you may have missed when you headed south to the Kenai Peninsula. To break up the journey, turn right off the Seward Highway onto the Portage Highway. From here you can drive to the Byron Glacier Trailhead and do the short hike out to Byron Glacier. Or head to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center to learn about Portage Glacier and take a glacier cruise to Portage Glacier. A short drive back along the Seward Highway will take you to Girdwood. Girdwood is a small town about 40 minutes drive south of Anchorage. There are many cabin rentals in the area as well as the Alyeska Resort.
There are several lovely hikes that can be down in and around Girdwood in varying difficulty including Lower Winner Creek, Alyeska’s North Face, or the short walk to Virgin Creek Falls. Girdwood also has several great restaurants, I recommend trying the Double Musky or Jack Sprat for dinner.
Plan your visit: The Girdwood Travel Guide
Day 10. Explore Girdwood, Turnagain Arm & Anchorage. Depart Home
As you already know, Anchorage Airport’s busiest times are from 10 pm to 2 am, so your flight will likely leave in the late evening or middle of the night. This gives you a final bonus day to explore between Girdwood and Anchorage. Grab some breakfast at the Bake Shop before leaving Girdwood in the morning, and explore anything else you might not have had time for the day before in town. Make any scenic stops on your way back to Anchorage. Two recommendations are the nearby Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, McHugh Creek, & Beluga Point. Once back in Anchorage you can opt to try any restaurants that you may still have on your list, have a walk around the downtown area shopping for any last Alaska souvenirs, check out what’s on display at the Anchorage Museum, or even take a hike up Flat Top for panoramic views of the city.
Have Any Questions About This Alaska Itinerary?
Ask in the comments section below.