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.
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.
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.
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.
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.