Five Most Scenic Highways of Alaska

©istockphoto/brytta

If it’s not yet, a long vis­it to Alas­ka belongs on your buck­et list. But how to see it and where to go? While lots of vis­i­tors opt for cruise tours via the Inside Pas­sage, this route is only a frac­tion of what Alas­ka has to offer. If you’re feel­ing intre­pid, con­sid­er tra­vers­ing the state over­land via one of these famous routes and get a new view on Alaska’s bog­gling 663,300 square miles (or what por­tion of it you have time to explore).

Alas­ka Cana­da Highway
Built dur­ing WWII, the Alas­ka Cana­da High­way con­nects Daw­son Creek, British Colom­bia to Delta Junc­tion, Alas­ka. Its 1,387-mile length guides dri­vers through forests of black spruce, past aus­tere tun­dra, around snow-glazed moun­tains, and by fields of wild­flow­ers. Its north­ern end enters Beringia, where evi­dence sug­gests some of the ear­li­est New-World human set­tle­ments were established.

This dri­ve not only gives you a feel for the grandeur, geol­o­gy, and his­to­ry of Alas­ka, it’s also become quite a safe, reli­able route. Acces­si­ble year-round, it’s a per­fect intro­duc­tion to Alaska’s beauty.

George Parks Highway
Vis­it­ing Denali Nation­al Park via the Parks High­way should be a pri­or­i­ty. More than 6 mil­lion acres of wilder­ness, crowned by the tallest peak in Alas­ka, Denali Nation­al Park’s beau­ty is almost incom­pre­hen­si­ble. And high­way access is pret­ty straight­for­ward. Bonus: it’s total­ly paved and open dur­ing all sea­sons. The route runs 362 miles, link­ing Anchor­age to Fairbanks.

If you decide to make a win­ter vis­it, you’re more like­ly to be reward­ed with views of Denali, which is vis­i­ble only about one in three days dur­ing the summer.

Denali High­way
Before the com­ple­tion of the Parks High­way in the ear­ly 1970s, the Denali High­way, con­nect­ing Pax­son to Cantwell was your lone route into the nation­al park. These days, it’s a sea­son­al, par­tial­ly unpaved option for dri­vers who like plot­ting a slight­ly adven­tur­ous course. It’s acclaimed by Men’s Jour­nal as one of America’s most thrilling roads and as a top 10 dri­ve for “dri­vers’ dri­ve” by Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Traveler.

Some rental com­pa­nies place restric­tions on des­ig­nat­ed routes, so plan accord­ing­ly if you’ll be rent­ing your ride.

Seward High­way
The Seward High­way, a 127-mile stretch from Anchor­age to Seward, is one of the best visu­al feasts you’ll ever expe­ri­ence, with prime pic­ture-tak­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties of water­falls, moun­tain views, and steely blue water­scapes. Take this paved, year-round road all the way to Seward, locat­ed on the Kenai Penin­su­la, where you can fish, camp, and watch glac­i­ers calv­ing out in the bay.

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Pho­to by @kyleoutside

Dal­ton Highway
This one’s for the road war­riors. Dal­ton High­way is 75% unpaved and has plen­ty of steep grades (as well as intense truck traf­fic). Although it’s open year-round, tourists unused to intense con­di­tions should plan to tack­le this road dur­ing best pos­si­ble con­di­tions: dur­ing late spring or sum­mer. If the dri­ving is a lit­tle too white-knuck­le and you still want the expe­ri­ence, tours are avail­able. If you’ll be rent­ing a vehi­cle, check to make sure the com­pa­ny allows its vehi­cles to be dri­ven on this wild road.

Gen­er­al Road Advice
You’ll want to make sure that your vehi­cle is up to the chal­lenge of the Alaskan high­ways. Even the best of these roads take a long year­ly pum­mel­ing from intense weath­er and some lead through total iso­la­tion. If you’ll be tack­ling a tough one, think 4‑wheel dri­ve SUV or RV. Keep in mind that Alaska’s fuel prices tend to run high, so account for that cost in your trav­el budget.

Statewide, you’ll have the best con­di­tions for dri­ving between May and Sep­tem­ber. The length of your trip will depend on the num­ber of places you plan to see. Use this mileage chart to find the dis­tance between your intend­ed route stops.

©istockphoto/Natalia Bratslavsky

 

The Trip of a Lifetime
Reach­ing Alas­ka is a quest in itself. Get­ting around once you’re there can be a thrilling and chal­leng­ing expe­ri­ence. Remote wilds, high gas prices, the very real fear of run­ning into a moose—Alaska offers plen­ty of excitement.

So grab your paper-bound road atlas (who knows if the GPS will work out here) and get going.