12 days is a long time. In America, most workers receive just two weeks – 10 business days – of paid vacation each year. Adding in weekends and one holiday, the longest single trip you could take in any given year is just 17 days long. If you choose to spend 12 of those precious vacation days in Alaska, you’re committing a big part of your vacation budget for the year to explore this bucket list destination. But don’t worry – it’s absolutely worth it!
Alaska is the kind of destination you never forget, and that always makes you want to return. So even if you spend 12 days in Alaska, you won’t see it all – and that’s okay. 12 days will show you a lot of Alaska, and you can always plan a second trip, explore a different part of the state, or visit during a different season.
I was fortunate to grow up in Alaska, and spent 15 years of my young life exploring The Last Frontier with my family. Since I (and they) moved down to the “Lower 48,” I started my career as a travel writer and decided to share stories and resources for my home state. Now I plan at least one trip back to Alaska each year, including most recently in September 2021. There’s always more to explore – and your trip will be different than mine, thanks to the variety of experiences Alaska has to offer.
In this post, I’m going to help if you’re one of those people willing to spend 12 days in Alaska – or you have more vacation time and want to enjoy a leisurely journey through the state. As you’ll see, 12 days is both a perfect length of time and still not enough. This 12-day Alaska itinerary will show you a wide swath of the state, and leave you wanting more. Don’t worry though, Alaska will always be there to explore on future trips! Let’s dive in and help you plan the perfect 12-day Alaskan vacation for 2022 or beyond.
In this post, I promote travel to national parks that are the traditional lands of many Alaska Native groups, including the Aleut, Athabascan, Haida, Inupiat, Tlingit, and Yuit peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
Common FAQ About Visiting Alaska
Before jumping into any itinerary, I like to address a few common questions I usually get in the comments. This saves time for both of us, since you’ll know both the basics and specifics you need to plan your trip.
How Do I plan a Trip to Alaska? (Will You Do it For Me???)
To begin, I want to highlight this post: How to Plan Your First Trip to Alaska
In it, I cover a step-by-step process that will help you conceptualize your Alaska itinerary planning process before diving into the details below. I recommend opening that in a separate window on your computer, reading it, then coming back to this post.
Unfortunately, I don’t offer trip planning services, but I do have something that will help if you want a more custom itinerary than this one laid out below. My 12-day Alaska Itinerary Planning Pack will take you from overwhelmed to excited faster than you can learn to correctly spell ptarmigan! (That’s the Alaska state bird…)
When is the Best Time to Visit Alaska?
However, this 12-day Alaska itinerary is specifically designed for summer travel; you could possibly use it in late spring or autumn, though it depends a lot on your travel dates.
If you want to visit Alaska in the winter to see the Northern Lights and other frozen goodies, check out my specific Alaska winter itinerary. It’s the perfect way to visit during the dark, cold months and make the most of them.
What Should I Pack for Alaska?
Alaska has varied weather and it changes fast, so it’s hard to know what to pack.
In short, you can wear your normal clothes but plan ahead by wearing layers every day. This is the secret to staying comfortable in Alaska’s varied climates and changing weather. A hat and gloves will never go wrong – or take up too much space in your suitcase – nor will bug spray or a mosquito head net if you plan to do much hiking. People joke that the mosquito is the Alaska state bird sometimes! (But you now know it’s the ptarmigan and how to spell it…)
For additional guidance, I have an Alaska packing list as well as guides for what shoes and jackets work best for Alaska travel. I’m also working on a rainy day packing list but haven’t published that yet. (I’ll add the link once it’s published.)
How Much Does it Cost to Visit Alaska?
Alaska is a decidedly un-budget-friendly destination, and there’s no real way around that. I’ve got a guide on how much it costs to visit Alaska, and I generally estimate it costs $215-$295 per person, per day to visit Alaska.
That means that for a 12-day trip like this one, you can expect to spend $2,580-$3,540 per person, or $5,160-$6,960 per couple. Setting a general budget of $5,000-$7,000 for a couple to visit Alaska for 12 days is a good starting point.
If you can’t swing that expense, I also have tips on how to save money while visiting Alaska too.
12 Days in Alaska Itinerary: Quick Glance
I find it helps to see the entire 12-day Alaska itinerary in one place before jumping into the weeds on daily activities, meal suggestions, and hotel recommendations. Here’s my proposed itinerary for your 12-day Alaska trip:
|Day 2||Anchorage – Glennallen|
|Day 3||Glennallen – McCarthy|
|Day 4||Wrangell-St. Elias National Park|
|Day 5||McCarthy – Fairbanks|
|Day 7||Fairbanks – Denali|
|Day 8||Denali National Park|
|Day 9||Denali – Talkeetna|
|Day 10||Talkeetna – Seward|
|Day 11||Kenai Fjords National Park|
|Day 12||Seward – Anchorage|
Ready to dive in and explore each of these days in greater detail? Read on – this itinerary is packed with everything you need to know to spend 12 days in Alaska!
Day 1: Anchorage
After breakfast at your hotel, it’s time to get out there and start exploring Anchorage. If you’d rather try a local restaurant, there’s only one place to go: Snow City Cafe. This is a locals-favorite spot that gets a line as early as it opens!
Start by getting oriented and acquainted with the city’s history; the best way is on an Anchorage Trolley Tour. This one-hour tour leaves from the Anchorage Visitor Information Center along 4th Avenue. On the tour, you’ll learn about Alaska and Anchorage history, see evidence of the 1964 Earthquake, and get a sense of life in The Last Frontier from your local driver-guide. After the tour, you can head into the Visitor Information Center for more advice on how to spend your time in Alaska’s biggest city (assuming you go off-book from my suggestions!).
After that, stroll a bit along 4th Avenue until lunchtime; there are a number of cool souvenir shops along this street, and you can walk to Resolution Park at the end of the street. This park overlooks Cook Inlet and contains a statue of Captain James Cook – whom the inlet is named for (and the park is named for his ship). This offers great views of Mt. Susitna and even Denali on a clear day.
For lunch, walk back down 4th Avenue to Tia’s Reindeer Sausage stand. Marked with a yellow umbrella, this is the best place in town to try reindeer sausage. Be sure to try the pineapple sauce on top!
In the afternoon, you have two choices, depending on your interests – or you could squeeze them both in if you have the energy.
Choose between riding bikes on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and visiting the Anchorage Museum:
- If you’re feeling active, head to Pablo’s Bikes and rent bikes and helmets; you can easily ride to the start of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail, which runs for 11 miles along the Anchorage waterfront. This is another opportunity for great views and to get your heartrate up with a low-impact activity.
- If you’re a culture vulture, the Anchorage Museum is a must-visit. This museum was rennovated almost entirely in 2017 and has several new wings of galleries. There’s a fantastic exhibit about Alaska (it’s called ALASKA) and another curated in tandem with the Smithsonian to highlight Alaskan Native culture and artifacts.
I seriously can’t choose, so if it was me and the weather was good, I’d squeeze them both in!
For dinner, head to my favorite place in town: 49th State Brewing. This craft brewery actually started in Healy (near Denali) but has quickly become a highlight of the Anchorage dining scene. They have a gorgeous space along 4th Avenue and if you can grab a patio or window table for dinner, you’ll have epic views to pair with their food and beer.
Accommodation Resources for Day 1:
- Book 2 nights in Anchorage for “Day 0” (your arrival day) and Day 1.
- For hotels, I recommend the following downtown hotels:
- For vacation rentals, consider this water view apartment in a great location (from $127/night, also on Booking.com), this apartment right near the Coastal Trail and downtown (from $255/night), and this huge house which is gorgeous and has space for up to two families (from $381/night).
Day 2: Anchorage to Glennallen
After a short single day in Anchorage, it’s time to head out of town to explore the rest of Alaska. Start by picking up your rental car; you could pick it up on your arrival date (Day 0) but be aware there are no free parking spots in Downtown Anchorage, so you’ll pay for the car and parking for two days when you’re not using it.
In any case, hop into the car and head out of town along Alaska Route 1, the Glenn Highway. It’s a 3 hour, 10-minute drive from Anchorage to Glennallen total, though I have a few suggestions for stops along the way.
Before you get too far, you have the opportunity to stop off at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. If you have an interest in learning about Alaska Native culture during your visit, this is another must-do. You can explore the main museum, then walk a forest path past representations of different Alaska Native homes and villages. It’s an immersive museum that’s meant to bring Alaska Native cultures alive – which they absolutely are, in communities across the state!
From there, continue along the Glenn Highway – wave hi to my old hometown when you pass Eagle River – and stay on the Glenn toward Glennallen when you approach the Wasilla-Palmer interchange.
Stop for a late lunch at Long Rifle Lodge. This restaurant overlooks Matanuska Glacier, which you’ll be exploring for the afternoon!
At 2:30pm, meet your guide and group for a guided hike at Matanuska Glacier with NOVA. This is the best (and safest) way to do a glacier hike during your trip, as guides will outfit you with the proper footwear and take you on a safe path across the glacier.
After your glacier hike and plenty of photo opportunities, continue along the Glenn Highway to Glennallen. Stop for dinner at Caribou Hotel before heading to your hotel. (Unless you’re staying at the Caribou Hotel, in which case, that’s very convenient!)
Accommodation Resources for Day 2:
- Book 1 night in the Glennallen area.
- There are limited options, so I recommend the Copper River Princess Wilderness Lodge as it’s a nice place among the other motel and 2- or 3-star options.
Day 3: Glennallen to Kennicott/McCarthy
As you’ve probably guessed, this 12-day Alaska itinerary includes a lot of driving. This is a necessity because Alaska is just that big!
Today’s drive is actually longer than yesterday; it’s a 3 hour, 15-minute drive from Glennallen to McCarthy or Kennicott, the main “towns” in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Since there isn’t much to do in Glennallen, I recommend heading out after breakfast to get that drive done early in the day.
Both McCarthy and Kennicott are very small, with limited amenities and activities, so once you arrive you’ll have a lot of freedom. I’d start at the National Park Visitor Center since that will give you a good sense of the activities you can enjoy tomorrow in this part of the park.
If you feel like stretching your legs in the afternoon, head to the Root Glacier Trailhead. In just a few miles of easy walking, you can reach the glaciers that stretch out of the Wrangell Mountains in this part of the park. You can even hike on the glacier if you feel confident doing that.
I saw different lengths for this trail, ranging from about 4-6 miles, so be sure to wear the right shoes for that distance!
The McCarthy Road
The McCarthy Road is a ~60-mile gravel road that takes you from Chitina to McCarthy. As it is not paved most rental agencies do not allow you to drive on this road.
As you research your rental car options, be sure to confirm that you’ll be allowed to drive on this road with the rental car you choose.
There are only a few options for lunch or dinner this day: Meatza Wagon in Kennicott and The Roadside Potatohead in McCarthy (also called Potato in Google Maps) are the main ones, plus meals at your hotel if they’re offered.
Accommodation Resources for Day 3:
- Book 2 nights in McCarthy or Kennicott.
- There are limited options in these small towns, but two great options are the Kennicott Glacier Lodge and Ma Johnson’s Historical Hotel. They are obviously quite different and show the range of options in the area.
Day 4: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park
Today’s the day to explore Wrangell-St. Elias National Park – the largest national park in Alaska, and in the entire United States!
As this park is literally inconceivably huge – it’s TWICE the size of Denali! – you won’t be able to see it all in just one day. However, there are ways to make the most of a short time. Specifically, you should budget for a flightseeing tour in Denali National Park.
Wrangell Mountain Air operates out of the small airstrip in Wrangell and offers two flightseeing routes specifically in the park (plus two others that go outside the park). They aren’t cheap, but you’ll get up above the mountains and glaciers to see the majesty of this park in all its glory.
After your flightseeing tour, you might wonder what else to do with the day. St. Elias Alpine Guides offers a number of guided walks and hikes; their Kennicott Mill Town Tour will give you all the history of this particular part of the state, while their Ice Cave Exploration will tick this experience off many Alaska travelers’ bucket lists.
As you’re staying for another night in the McCarthy/Kennicott area, you’ll have a chance to sample all the dining options in these two towns. Lucky you!
Accommodation Resources for Day 4:
- Stay a second night in your Kennicott/McCarthy accommodations.
Day 5: Kennicott/McCarthy to Fairbanks
Today is a travel day – and the longest day of driving in the entire trip. Rise and shine, grab breakfast at your hotel, and hit the road!
It’s a 7.5-hour drive from Kennicott and McCarthy to Fairbanks, but will likely take you 8-9 hours due to lunch and other stops.
On your way north, you can stop at the other Wrangell-St. Elias Visitor Center, located near Copper Center. This one has more to offer including a theater where they show a video about the park, sweeping views of the Wrangell Mountains, and a few easy walking paths.
For lunch, stop at the Gakona Lodge, north of Glennallen. This traditional roadhouse is one of the last in the state, and they offer food at their restaurant and tavern. I recommend contacting them in advance once you know your travel dates since it’s a small, family-run lodge and they may need to prepare for guests they know are coming.
Continuing north on the Richardson Highway, you’ll have sweeping views as you head north toward Interior Alaska; you’ll also be following the route of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, and there are a few spots you can pull off the highway to snap photos at the pipeline.
Once you arrive in Fairbanks, you’ll probably be pretty wiped. Head to The Pump House for dinner before retiring to your hotel.
Accommodation Resources for Day 5:
- Book 2 nights in Fairbanks.
- There are a couple of great hotels and accommodations in Fairbanks:
- Taste of Alaska Lodge – A cozy, family-run property with a nearby aurora-viewing business. Rooms start from $195/night. Book on Booking.com, Hotels.com, or directly with Taste of Alaska Lodge.
- Chena Hot Springs Resort – Summer packages are all-inclusive of meals, tours, and hot springs access. Rooms start from $84/night. Book on Hotels.com or directly with Chena Hot Springs Resort.
- Sophie Station Suites – Great for families and closer to town. Rooms start from $98/night. Book on Booking.com, Hotels.com, or directly with Sophie Station Suites.
Day 6: Fairbanks
You have just one day in Fairbanks, so – just like Anchorage – you’ll need to make some choices about how you spend your time. There are generally two options: spend the day at Chena Hot Springs or explore Fairbanks instead.
I last visited Chena hot springs during the winter; there won’t be this much snow during your visit!
If you choose to head out to Chena Hot Springs, get started early; it’s an hour’s drive out of town to reach the hot springs resort. They offer day passes ($15) for those who want to visit for a quick dip, so be sure to pack your swimsuit and flip-flops. Towel rentals are an additional $5 or you can grab one from your hotel. Beyond the hot springs, you can also visit the Ice Museum on the resort property, and book other activities like hiking. They also have an on-site restaurant which is the best (only) place for lunch if you choose to spend your day in Fairbanks here.
If you instead decide to spend your day in Fairbanks exploring the town, here are some of my favorite things to do:
- Morris Thompson Cultural Center – Located in the visitor center, this is a great way to get oriented to Fairbanks and learn about city (and state) history.
- Running Reindeer Ranch – Take a forest walk with actual reindeer and learn about these animals from their caregiver.
- Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum – Combining two unlikely collections (antique cars and vintage clothing) this museum is fascinating even for people who are not interested in either.
- Museum of the North – A small but jam-packed museum of history dating back 15,000 years to the first human settlements in Alaska.
- Paws for Adventure or Trail Breaker Kennel – Meet sled dogs and learn about dogsledding in Alaska at either of these kennels. Many also offer trail rides in sleds or on ATVs pulled by the dogs! The latter was started by four-time Iditarod champion Susan Butcher.
- Pioneer Park – A touristy spot to learn more about Fairbanks history.
- Gold Dredge No. 8 – For those who love mining history, this museum is a fascinating chance to learn about gold mining in Interior Alaska.
- Riverboat Discovery and Chena Indian Village Living Museum – Perhaps the most Disney-ish thing I recommend, this is a popular attraction that teaches you Fairbanks history and Alaska Native culture.
As you can tell, there’s a lot to do in Fairbanks despite its relatively small size (it’s home to just about 30,000 people). You won’t be able to do it all with only one day, but you can squeeze in a few of these activities.
For dinner after this long day of exploration, head to Thai House. This is one of several great Thai restaurants in Fairbanks, started by Thai immigrants who settled and built a community here. It’s surprising, but you can find great Thai food in the “Golden Heart” of Alaska! (That’s Fairbanks’ nickname.)
Accommodation Resources for Day 6:
- Stay another night in your Fairbanks accommodations.
Day 7: Fairbanks to Denali
Today’s another half-day of travel, so you can sleep in a bit before hitting the road. Stop by LuLu’s Bread & Bagels to grab breakfast on your way out of town; their bagel breakfast sandwiches are a local favorite.
Then it’s time to head south out of Fairbanks along Alaska Route 3, the Parks Highway. It’s a two-hour drive from Fairbanks to Denali, and a pretty scenic one at that. If you get an early enough start, you can stop off in the town of Nenana. This small mostly-Native Alaskan community might not seem like much but is a historic site: it’s where the golden spike was driven to connect the northbound and southbound construction of the Alaska Railroad, back in 1923. Today there’s a small railroad history museum that’s free to visit and features some small, locally-made souvenirs about Alaska railroad history.
As Nenana is almost exactly halfway between Fairbanks and Denali, it’s another hour of driving to reach the small tourism area near the entrance to Denali National Park. Though not officially incorporated, most people call it Nenana Canyon or, if they’re feeling sassy, Glitter Gulch – because of the half-mile strip of souvenir shops, restaurants, and hotels along the highway surrounded by Alaskan wilderness. Don’t be confused though, it’s not glittery by Alaska standards and still has a lot of character.
For lunch, head to Lynx Creek Pizza; it’s my favorite (of the only two) pizza spots in Glitter Gulch. While their pizza menu is great, I prefer to go off-book and order a margarita pizza with artichoke hearts. Your tastebuds will thank me if you try it too!
You’re probably excited to get right into Denali National Park, so spend the afternoon doing that! Head to the Visitor Center first, where you can pay your park admission, stroll through the Alaskan Geographic gift shop, and use the facilities – they are a lot more, erm, rustic once you get into the park!
Then make the 15-mile drive along the Denali Park Road to the Savage River area. Along the way, you may spot moose and even get a glimpse of the mountain the park is named after, Denali herself. Savage River is the furthest you can drive a private vehicle in Denali National Park; to go further (like tomorrow in your 12-day Alaska itinerary) you’ll need to board one of the official park tour buses. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
The Savage River area is perfect for hiking and has two main choices: the relatively easy Savage River Loop (roughly two relatively flat miles) and the more challenging Savage Alpine Trail (four miles one way with over 1,200 feet in elevation change). How long your hike takes will depend on which trail you do, but you can expect to spend 2-3 hours of your afternoon here.
After that, it’s time to head back out of the park for dinner. Even though you might be gross from hiking, tonight’s the night for a fancy dinner – don’t worry though, Alaska is casual even at the best restaurants in the state. Make an advance reservation at 229 Parks, where multi-James Beard Award nominee chef Laura Cole makes some of the most incredible food you’ll have on your entire trip. 229 Parks is about 15 minutes south of Glitter Gulch (meaning it requires a car) but well worth the drive both ways.
If you want to enjoy a nightcap, I recommend heading to The Alpenglow at the Grande Denali Lodge. Even if you’re not a hotel guest, you can sit at the bar and enjoy the view.
Accommodation Resources for Day 7:
- Book 2 nights in Denali.
- Denali has a limited number of accommodations in the Nenana Canyon area; my top recommendations are:
- There aren’t a ton of vacation rental options near Denali National Park, so you’ll need a car if you choose to stay in a vacation rental instead of a hotel right in town. This house (from $325/night, good for families or small groups) or this house (from $443/night, good for large groups, also on Booking.com) are both good options.
- I have a full list of Denali accommodations I recommend.
Day 8: Denali National Park
While 12 days in Alaska might seem like a lot, my suggested itinerary includes a lot of travel – which means that you’ve got to pack a lot into the single days in each of the three Alaska National Parks you’re visiting. Today’s your “Denali Day,” and it’s going to be a busy, long, unforgettable one!
Start bright and early: your Denali National Park tour bus will pick you up as early as 6:20am depending on the tour you choose. While this might seem ungodly, it’s good for two reasons: first, the sun will likely already be up – or close – thanks to the Midnight Sun. Second, wildlife is more active in the dawn and dusk times of the day, meaning the earliest tours get a great chance to see wildlife. (Later tours will also have a chance, though it obviously depends on the animals themselves!)
As I mentioned earlier, Denali National Park is not accessible by private vehicle, so National Park Service buses are the only way to get into the park, see wildlife, and potentially, see the mountain of Denali herself. After two crazy years, you’ve probably heard that yet another issue has arisen regarding visits to Denali National Park: the road has closed at Mile 43 (of 92) due to a landslide and subsequent construction work.
While there are a few options for Denali bus tours in 2022 (read more about them here), with 100% certainty, I recommend everyone should book the Tundra Wilderness Tour. I know it’s long; I know kids get bored – and adults too. Trust me, that it’s the best way to see Denali National Park – even with the shortened experience. It’s still worth it.
If you catch a morning bus tour, you’ll be back in the early afternoon for lunch in Glitter Gulch; grab a quick bite from the food truck outside Sled Dog Grocery. I know it doesn’t look like much, but they make great food quick so you can refuel for the afternoon’s adventure: flightseeing!
Book the 3:15pm Glacier Landing tour from Fly Denali. If you splurge on just one part of your Alaska itinerary, this is it. It’s expensive for most people at $599 per person, but 100% worth it. On this three-hour tour, you’ll soar up above Denali National Park – following a similar route to the park road, based on the weather – before landing on a glacier flowing down from Denali for a 20-minute chance to explore the glacier, snap pics, and make snow angels. I’ve done this tour twice (in 2007 and 2021) and both times were unreal. It’s easily the coolest, most unusual experience you’ll have in Alaska.
After that, it’s time for dinner! Head to Moose-AKas along the main strip in Glitter Gulch. This European-style restaurant features dishes from Eastern Europe specifically and is another one of the best meals you’ll have on your Alaska trip. (Seriously, Denali’s food scene has gotten elevated since I worked here in 2007!)
If you’re not totally wiped, I have one last suggestion: head to the Denali Salmon Bake for a McKinley Margarita. This towering blue monstrosity is mostly for the tourists but local workers enjoy them on occasion too. (Click here to see a very old pic of me enjoying one back in 2009! Yes, I’m wearing the same North Face jacket I recommend for Alaska – even back then!)
Accommodation Resources for Day 8:
- Stay a second night at your Denali hotel or accommodations.
Day 9: Denali to Talkeetna
While you might want to stay in Denali for at least another day – or possibly forever – it’s time to move on and see other parts of Alaska. There’s so much to see, you couldn’t see it all even with a lifetime. (Speaking from experience here!)
Turn your wheels south on the Parks Highway again, and drive south to Talkeetna. It takes 2.5 hours to drive from the Glitter Gulch area to the tiny town of Talkeetna, but you’ll probably want to stop a few places along the way: there are great Denali viewpoints along this part of the Parks Highway as it winds south and west around the mountain – you’ll actually be closer to the mountain at points along this drive than you were in Denali National Park.
Once you arrive in Talkeetna, it’s time for lunch. Mountain High Pizza Pie is a great option, as their outdoor seating area is perfect to enjoy your pizza and a beer on a nice day. They also have a huge menu and do half-and-half pizzas, which means both adults and kids will find something they enjoy, no matter who you’re traveling with.
In the afternoon, you have two choices: adventure or leisure. I’m an adventurous person, so let’s start with that. Mahay’s Jet Boat Adventures offers a number of cool tours from Talkeetna; you’ll board a boat on the Susitna River and zip along the water to take in more of the scenery and learn about this unique community and its place in Alaska. Since you only have the afternoon, reserve spots on the 2:30pm Wilderness Excursion.
If you’re more interested in leisure, Talkeetna is a great point on this 12-day Alaska itinerary to book a fishing tour. There are a number of operators in the area, so you can research them and choose based on your own interests. (There are loads of other things to do in Talkeetna too.)
Then it’s dinner time – is it just me, or is this itinerary always talking about eating? Alaska has great restaurants, and I want to recommend them all! Tonight, your destination is Denali Brewpub. This place is super popular, so you might want to make a reservation, especially if you have lunch next door at Mountain High Pizza Pie for lunch (just swing by after lunch!). After that, you can head to the Fairview Inn for a nightcap at the local watering hole.
Accommodation Resources for Day 9:
- Book 1 night in Talkeetna.
- There are a lot of accommodation options in Talkeetna, but here are two I like:
- The Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge is the best option in town, with sweeping views of Denali on a clear day – but it’s a ways out of town, cutting you off from the local flavor (book on the hotel website or Hotels.com)
- Rocky’s Cabin is a historic cabin in the heart of town. You can’t book online; call 907-229-6053 to inquire about availability and prices.
- For vacation rentals, your options are varied; I like the 2nd Street Retreat right in town since it’s modern and convenient (from $146/night; book on VRBO)
Day 10: Talkeetna to Seward
“On the road again…” is the mantra of this itinerary – which is just a fact of traveling in such a big place and packing as much into this itinerary for 12 days in Alaska! In any case, it’s another mostly-travel day; the drive from Talkeetna to Seward is 4.5 hours with no stops – but I think you’re gonna want to make some stops along the way!
Here’s how I suggest approaching this long day:
- Set out from Talkeetna after breakfast; as their name suggests, Flying Squirrel Bakery is a quirky spot where you can fuel up before heading south.
- Make the drive from Talkeetna to Eagle River, which takes 1 hour, 45 minutes. If you need to stop and stretch your legs, Miller’s Market is a great spot for grabbing the biggest ice cream cone in Alaska.
- Once in Eagle River, stop for lunch at Matanuska Brewing. This is my hometown!
- If you want to be a bit active, make a detour to the Eagle River Nature Center. The drive is beautiful and you can go for a short hike.
- Continue south from Eagle River through Anchorage and down toward Seward. It’s another (almost) three hours to Seward, so do this in one straight drive if you can. There are a few rest stops along the way if you need the facilities. (My favorite is in Turnagain Pass as it’s a cool glacially carved mountain pass.)
Once you arrive in Seward, you can check into your accommodations and then head to the Alaska SeaLife Center. This is one of the best things to do in Seward, and gives you a great way to learn about the wildlife you’ll see out on the water in Kenai Fjords National Park tomorrow.
For dinner, head to Seward Brewing Company. They have an incredible lineup of Alaskan craft beers and delicious food; if the salted watermelon salad is still on the menu when you visit, that’s a must-try!
Accommodation Resources for Day 10:
- Book two nights in Seward.
- For hotels, I recommend:
- In terms of vacation rental options, stay in this retro yet modern apartment (from $99/night), cozy up in this downtown studio (from $114/night), or try this award-winning B&B (from $179/night).
Day 11: Kenai Fjords National Park
This is probably your last full day in Alaska (since most red-eye flights mean you’re leaving late on Day 12) and your last national park of the trip – let’s make the most of it!
Start with a great breakfast from Sea Bean Cafe. This local coffee shop has pastries and other treats that will fuel you up for a day on the water, since that’s the only way to see Kenai Fjords National Park!
There are a number of day cruises in Kenai Fjords, but my favorite is offered by Major Marine Tours. They brought back their 7.5-hour cruise for the 2022 season, which offers the best of both worlds: enough time out on the water to see wildlife and glaciers, without taking up the entire day. The cruise departs at 9:30am and returns at 5pm, and lunch is included so you don’t need to worry about that. While on the boat, you’ll have the chance to spot wildlife including whales, sea otters, seals, and sea lions, as well as sea birds like puffins and plenty of glaciers too.
After disembarking the boat, it’s time for dinner. I have two suggestions and leave it up to you: Seasalt or The Cookery. I personally haven’t been to either but both have received rave reviews from past travelers I’ve referred there as well as in my Alaska travel tips Facebook group.
Accommodation Resources for Day 11:
- Stay another night in your Seward accommodations.
Day 12: Seward to Anchorage
After an incredible 12 days in Alaska, I’m sorry to say that your time is coming to an end. This is your final day, and you need to get back to Anchorage for your departure flight, which will likely be in the late evening (or even after midnight tomorrow morning). Here’s how to enjoy your final day in The Last Frontier.
Before leaving Seward headed north to Anchorage, stop off to explore Exit Glacier. This is actually the only part of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by car; this glacier used to cover the entire valley floor but is one of the fastest-retreating glaciers in Alaska. You can take a hike to the Glacier View viewpoint, or get your heart rate up a bit with the slightly more ambitious Exit Glacier Overlook trail. Together these two trails will only take 1-2 hours depending on how fast you hike, making them a perfect activity.
Then, head north from Seward to the town of Girdwood, a 90-minute drive. This small ski town is nestled among the mountains on the way back to Anchorage, and is perfect for lunch and an afternoon of adventures. Speaking of lunch, Jack Sprat is my favorite place in town but typically doesn’t open ’til 4pm. You could have a light lunch at The Bake Shop and a bit more once Jack Sprat opens. In between, head to Alyeska Resort and ride the Alyeska Aerial Tram up the mountain.
Once you disembark, you can enjoy the incredible views, go for a short hike, or enjoy a drink at the mountain restaurant, Seven Glaciers. Another great spot for a drink – though back near sea level – is Girdwood Brewing Company. (All this to say, there are a lot of great places to eat and drink in Girdwood, and you can’t really go wrong!)
Once you’ve eaten and ridden the tram, I recommend getting back on the road to Anchorage. Along the way, you’ll be driving along Turnagain Arm; keep your eyes peeled for Belugas in the water and Dall sheep on the rocky mountainsides. Back in Anchorage, you can head to the Moose’s Tooth for dinner. This is the best pizzeria in Alaska and they make great craft beers – and incredible root beer too. It’s the perfect final dinner to enjoy before heading to the airport.
Accommodation Resources for Day 12:
- None due to departure!
What to Do if You Have…
11 Days in Alaska
If you have one fewer day in Alaska and want to follow this itinerary, I recommend combining Day 2 and Day 3: set out early from Anchorage, skip the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Matanuska Glacier, and drive all the way to McCarthy/Kennicott for the night. This is a bummer since you’ll miss two cool activities, but it’s the best way to not miss out on any other activities later.
13-14 Days in Alaska
If you have an extra 1-2 days in Alaska, I would add on a visit to Homer or Valdez. Each of these towns has a lot to offer but are very distinct in terms of the slice of Alaskan life you’ll experience.
Homer is a three-hour drive from Seward, so I would drive from Seward to Homer on Day 12 and stay there through Day 13-14 depending on your timing. In Homer, you can explore the Homer Spit, catch a ferry to Seldovia, or book a fishing charter. It’s a 4 hour, 15-minute drive back to Anchorage, so be sure to keep that timing in mind for your departure.
Valdez is a detour from McCarthy/Kennicott, so you would add it in after Day 4 and delay all of the activities from Fairbanks onward by the 1-2 extra days you have. Valdez is another waterfront community where you can book a glacier tour into Prince William Sound, book a fishing charter, or just learn about Alaska history. From the McCarthy Road cutoff, it’s a two-hour drive to/from Valdez.
15 Days in Alaska or Longer
If you have 15+ days to explore Alaska, lucky you! What I recommend is instead of spending all that time in Southcentral and Interior Alaska (this itinerary), take a look at my 7-day Alaska itinerary suggestions, then consider booking a 7-8 day small ship cruise such as with Uncruise or Alaskan Dream Cruises. This will allow you to explore different parts of the state in very different ways.
There you have it – the longest travel itinerary I’ll write for Alaska; perfect for those of you who want to explore a lot of Alaska during your time. Have any questions about how to spend 12 days in Alaska or visiting Alaska in general? Let me know in the comments!
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