One Week in Alaska Road Trip: Anchorage to Fairbanks
Updated November 2020, One Week in Alaska Road Trip: Anchorage to Fairbanks originally written in July 2017
Taking you from Anchorage to Fairbanks this road trip itinerary gives you a pretty good sampling of what the 49th state has to offer if you only have one week in Alaska. From glaciers to the tallest mountain in North America, small towns, cities, inlets, rivers, and everything in between.
This one week Anchorage to Fairbanks road trip can be a great addition for people taking an Inside Passage Cruise up to Alaska from Seattle or Vancouver. The trip can be done one way from Seward to Fairbanks after a cruise or from Fairbanks to Seward before the cruise.
Driving distances in Alaska can be long, and don’t be surprised if you get caught up in construction, especially in the summer. Check the Alaska DOT’s 511 for road condition information. Another trusty source of information is the Alaska Milepost, I highly recommend purchasing one before your Alaska road trip!
Day 1: Arrive In Anchorage, Drive To Seward
You’ll likely arrive at the Anchorage airport at an ungodly time. Our airport is the busiest between 10 pm-2 am. Pick up your rental car and head to your hotel room for a few hours of sleep before heading off on the road.
Where To Stay In Anchorage
If you’re looking for a place on the cheap check out my Best Hostels In Anchorage Post. Otherwise here are a few options:
Once you are well-rested, grab a quick brunch (Bearstooth and Snow City are some of my faves), and run by a store to grab any supplies you’ll need before heading south on the Seward Highway. If you go straight to Seward with no stops, plan on a roughly two hour drive (about 125 miles).
Planning to spend more time in Anchorage? Check out my Anchorage Travel Guide for ideas
Seward Highway safety: This a very scenic drive, so you should probably tack on some more time allow for stops. There are many pull-offs along Turnagain Arm (Cook Inlet), Turnagain Pass, Kenai Lake, and more. Use the pull-offs, the Seward Highway is the most dangerous road in Alaska and one of the most dangerous in the USA.
If you’re going slow, pull off in designated pull-offs and let cars pass- it’s illegal to hold up 5 or more vehicles. You MUST drive with headlights on at all times.
You could see goats and sheep on the cliffside along the road and sometimes whales in the inlet. Wildlife viewing is not an emergency. Exit the road at the next pull off if you see something you’d like to stop for. Don’t endanger other’s lives by stopping in shoulders or even worse in the middle of the road because you see something you want to look at.
Places I recommend to stop along the Seward Highway:
- Beluga Point
- Bird Creek
- Portage and/or Byron Glacier
- Alaska Wildlife Center
- Turnagain Pass
- Kenai Lake
Once you begin descending from Turnagain Pass you will arrive at Kenai Lake where the road splits. Continuing left will keep you on the Seward Highway to Seward. Heading right will take you onto the Sterling Highway toward Soldotna, Kenai, Nikiski and Homer.
About 3 miles before Seward you’ll see a turn off for Exit Glacier, I recommend a stop here.
Exit Glacier is a part of Kenai Fjords National Park. You can opt for a quick 1 mile round trip walk to the face of the glacier or the much longer and strenuous hike up to Harding Icefield (about 8.4 miles roundtrip to the emergency shelter).
*Note: there is no fee to enter the national park or visit the glacier. There is a visitor center and restroom at the trailhead. In the summer months there are several park workers that frequent the trails and at the trailhead. Feel free to ask them any questions, they’re very helpful.
Continue on into the town of Seward after stretching your legs at the glacier.
Seward is compact and easily walkable. There are many campsites available as well as hotels for those less adventurous. I’d recommend a visit to the Seward Sealife Center and having a fresh Alaskan seafood dinner if your budget allows.
Other options: If Seward isn’t appealing to you, you can opt to take the Sterling Highway to Kenai & Soldotna for fishing, or go all the way down to Homer (about 5 hours from Anchorage). Homer is a funky, fun little fishing town. Halibut fishing here is usually great and you’ll usually find many charters on offer in the summer.
Where To Stay In Seward
| Cityofseward.us |
Orca Island Cabins
| Expedia.com |
Day 2: Take A Glacier Cruise
Seward is in a great position to explore the numerous glaciers and abundant wildlife of Resurrection Bay. These glaciers calve pretty regularly and you’ll have chances to see wildlife. I recommend booking a Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise with Major Marine Tours for the best experience.
After the cruise, drive back toward Anchorage and make any stops you’d like to check out that you may have missed on the way down.
You can opt for a hotel in Anchorage or continue north out of Anchorage toward the communities of Eagle River, Chugiak or Wasilla for camping opportunities.
If you do have a bit more time to budget for you Anchorage to Fairbanks itinerary, I’d suggest spending a night over in Kayaker’s Cove to add an adventurous day on your trip.
Option: Take a fishing charter instead, relax in Seward, enjoy a nearby hike.
Book your Seward Glacier Cruise Here!
Day 3: Talkeetna
Talkeetna is a funky, fun, little Alaska town that at one point in time had a cat for a mayor (RIP Stubbs). It’s an 115 mile, about 2-2.5 hour drive north from Anchorage.
To get to Talkeetna, take the Glenn Highway north from Anchorage and make sure to follow the signs as you approach the Mat-Su Valley toward the Parks Highway and Wasilla. About 100 miles north of Anchorage you’ll see signs for the Talkeetna Spurr Road turn off, take the exit to the right and follow for about 14 miles where you’ll end up in tiny, walkable Talkeetna.
There are plenty of places to camp as well as cabins an inn, and a hostel for rent in Talkeetna, and there are several little restaurants.
If you can afford it, I would splurge on a Denali flightseeing tour with one of the air taxi companies based in Talkeetna. Many of these flightseeing trips do include a glacier landing. I’ve not personally done a Denali flightseeing tour yet, but I have yet to hear a bad thing about it from anyone who’s done it.
These flights can range from $220 to $460 per person. Other activities in Talkeetna include the Denali Zipline, kayaking & rafting tours, and the riverboat trip up the Devil’s Canyon.
*Note: the Denali flightseeing tour, as with any flightseeing tour is heavily weather dependent. Pilots will not fly if weather conditions are poor or unstable. Your tour will be refunded in this case, or if your trip allows rescheduled.
Where To Stay In Talkeetna
| Booking.com |
Day 4-5 Denali National Park
Get to driving, Denali National Park sits about another 2.5 hours and 145 miles north along the Parks Highway.
Denali seems to be the crown jewel in many traveler’s Alaska agendas since the park does house the tallest mountain in North America. I’ve allotted two days here for exploring the park, but it can easily be done in a day for those only wanting a bus tour, or you could spend weeks or even months here depending on what you want to do.
You cannot drive past the Savage River post in Denali National Park (unless you visit in September and secure a Denali Road Lottery Permit) which is only a few miles past the visitor center.
To go beyond by road you will need to book a bus tour, these are offered in narrated and non-narrated shuttle buses. Non-narrated buses range from $26.50 to $34.00 per person (kids under 15yo are free). Narrated bus tours range from $80.75 to $194.00 per person (kids 15yo and under range from $33.50 to $92.00 per kid). Visit the NPS website for more info info on buses and schedules.
Camping sites are available from $15.00 to $30.00 per item per night. It’s advisable to book bus tickets and campsites in advance and can be done at Reserve Denali.
A $10 per person pass fee will be charged per visitor at the entrance of the park. National Park Pass holders just need to show their pass to get in. If going into the backcountry you must obtain a backcountry pass at the visitor center- they are free.
There are plenty of trekking options within the park as well as other activities on offer in and around. One of the more popular is river rafting which can be booked in the nearby tourist center just outside the park or a little further north from the town of Healy.
Looking for ideas? Check out my Denali National Park Guide
Where To Stay In & Near Denali
Camping (tent & RV) in Denali National Park
| Reservedenali.com |
Day 6: Drive To Fairbanks
The drive from Denali to Fairbanks is 130 miles and should take about 2-2.5 hours not including any stops. Many will opt to stop at Healy, Nenana and more.
Where To Stay In Fairbanks
Plan your visit to Fairbanks: The Fairbanks Travel Guide + 12 Things To Do In Fairbanks
Day 7: Fairbanks, Fly Home
Fairbanks has a few sites on offer as well such as Pioneer Park, the Chena River, and downtown Fairbanks. If you have extra time after you arrive in Fairbanks you could continue up to North Pole (no, not the actual one, just the goofy town with the name).
Want a relaxing way to spend your last bit of time in Alaska? You could head toward Chena Hotsprings and have a soak in the hot waters. The Chena Hotsprings Resort is 62 miles northwest of Fairbanks and should take roughly 1 hour 15 minutes each way. Entrance costs are $15 for adults, $12 for kids 6-17yrs (must be accompanied by a parent), and $13.00 for Seniors 60+ yrs.
Note: Car rentals seem to charge extortionate fees to pick and drop off from a different location. If this is the case, your best option will likely be to add an additional day onto your trip and return back to Anchorage and fly out from there.
Have Any Questions About This Anchorage To Fairbanks, One Week In Alaska Road Trip?
Ask your one week in Alaska questions in the comments section below!
Want More Ideas For One Week In Alaska Itineraries?
Check out the following posts in the ‘One Week In Alaska’ series:
- Hit The Highlights- Anchorage to Fairbanks
- North To The Future: The Dalton Highway
- Glaciers, Fjords, & South Central Alaska
- The Big Loop: Anchorage to Fairbanks & Back
- The Denali Highway Road Trip
- The Best of Wrangell St. Elias and Prince William Sound