Crossing the border into Alaska may in some ways feel like the end of the journey, but tons of excitement still lies ahead.
Just south of Glennallen along the Richardson Highway, the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Visitor Center invites you to experience the nation’s largest national park. At 13.2 million acres, the park is larger than the country of Switzerland, and together with three other U.S. and Canadian parks – Kluane National Park, Tatshenshini-Alsek Provincial Park and Glacier Bay National Park – makes up the largest chunk of protected land in the world. The park sits east of the highway and is home to some of North America’s tallest mountains.
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Matanuska Glacier tumbles out of the mountains just shy of the highway, and is a popular stop for easy glacier encounters. Guided treks are available on the ice itself, as are river-rafting excursions and other tours of the area. Camping is available at nearby Matanuska Glacier State Recreation Site.
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Palmer has one of the most unique founding stories in Alaska. President Roosevelt’s New Deal established the Matanuska Colony at Palmer in the 1930s and relocated 203 Midwest farm families to Alaska to work the land. Today many of those same families are still in the area and many farms remain, providing an unusual visual juxtaposition of hay fields, farmland and bright red barns backing up to towering mountains. The local Colony House Museum is a great place to get a taste for life in the colony.
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Alaska’s largest city is also its most urbane, with excellent dining and shopping and a vibrant downtown. The city’s proximity to a wide range of recreational activities, its extensive trail network and its excellent cultural facilities make it a great place to linger for a few days.
Anchorage is known for its parks and trails, including the nearby Chugach State Park, Chugach National Forest and the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge. As you head south toward the Kenai Peninsula, you’ll drive right past the refuge. Keep an eye out for beautiful white tundra swans and other migratory birds, beaver, moose and fish in the waters of the marsh.
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Designated an All-American Road by the National Scenic Byways program for its spectacular scenery, the Seward Highway links Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula. Along the drive south, you’ll wind along the coast of Turnagain Arm, which is characterized by the jagged coastal mountains and extreme bore tides. On the high cliff walls directly above the highway, mountain goats are frequently spotted picking their way along impossibly narrow cliffs. In late summer, beluga whales can be seen chasing silver salmon in the waters of Turnagain Arm.
For one of the best views of the Arm, turn off the highway at the relaxed little ski town of Girdwood, and take the tram at Alyeska Resort, Alaska’s largest alpine ski resort. At the top, you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of Turnagain Arm and seven glaciers visible in the nearby mountains.
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In summer, the Kenai Peninsula hums with activity. The legendary annual sockeye and silver salmon runs on the Kenai River bring thousands of anglers to the area. Dozens of guides and charter operators are available to help visitors land monstrous fish – no tall tales required. Communities like Cooper Landing, Sterling, Kenai and Soldotna are all great places to connect with a guide, spend the night and eat freshly prepared local seafood.
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Located about halfway between Kenai and Homer on the Kenai Peninsula, many visitors stop in Ninilchik for gas and a quick photo of its onion-domed Russian Orthodox church. But pausing a day or two is well worth it. Ninilchik’s Russian heritage, great scenery and some of the best clamming on the Kenai Peninsula (an area renowned for big razor clams) are all good reasons to stay a while.
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This is it! The end of the road. Homer lies at the western terminus of the U.S. road system and on the shores of gorgeous Kachemak Bay. Favorite activities in this artistic community include trolling local galleries, sport fishing for halibut and salmon and exploring the shops and eateries on the legendary Homer Spit.
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