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Alaska road tripping

A weekend excursion along Alaska’s pristine Seward Highway

Fishing boats docked in the harbor at Whittier, Alaska, on the Prince William Sound. Photo credit: Christina Butcher

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You made it to Anchorage for a weekend excursion, but you find yourself itching to get out of town. The towering mountains, blue glaciers and rippling lakes are calling your name ... So, what are you going to do? Follow the calling, of course, and embark on a road trip along Alaska's famous Seward Highway.

The 125-mile stretch of unforgettable, scenic roadway will take you south through Chugach State Park, Turnagain Arm and the Kenai Peninsula as you wind your way from one destination to the next. Here are a few highlights you can look forward to on your upcoming Alaska road trip.   

Anchorage to Girdwood

This 37-mile stretch of roadway hugs the shorelines of Turnagain Arm, a waterway in the Gulf of Alaska to your right, while forested mountain peaks of Chugach State Park rise to meet the sky on your left. Give yourself at least two hours to stop-and-go along this stretch of roadway, as there are plenty of wildlife viewing areas to explore. Potter Marsh, where you can catch sight of migratory trumpeter swans, and Beluga Point Lookout, where the lucky will spy beluga whales moving in the chilly water, are two spots worth pulling over for.  

Once you arrive at Girdwood -- which is at once a hippy haven and a resort town -- set a few hours aside to embark on a memorable hike like Crow Pass Trail. The first few miles of this 20-plus mile trail will lead you through an abandoned gold mine, to waterfalls tucked inside a mountain gorge, and to the shores of the jaw-dropping Crystal Lake and Raven Glacier. The trail isn't exceptionally steep or strenuous, although it often gets overlooked for shorter, more family-friendly trails like nearby Winner Creek and Rainbow Falls.

Girdwood to Portage Valley & Whittier

Once you're ready to hit the road again, continue south for another 14 miles to Portage Valley. Despite its proximity to Girdwood, Portage Valley offers a completely different experience to travelers. One of the valley's biggest attractions is Portage Glacier, best viewed from the upper deck of a (very) small cruise ship on Portage Lake. Book a ticket for the Portage Glacier Cruise in Portage Valley, then enjoy a one-hour, guided cruise that'll bring you to the foot of the blue-ice glacier. Tour guides offer in-depth knowledge of the surrounding landscape as the ship churns along icy waters beneath you.

After disembarking, jump back in the car and head nine miles southeast to Whittier via the Whittier Tunnel. This 2.5-mile-long highway and railway tunnel is a single lane, shared tunnel allowing one-way travel every hour. Expect travel through the tunnel (wait time included) and into Whittier to take approximately one hour.

In the teensy, blue-collar town of Whittier, we recommend heading to Swiftwater Seafood Café for lunch. The one-room café is popular among locals and tourists, as it delivers "real" food stripped of frills and foofoo. We're talking hot, diner coffee served in Styrofoam cups, locally caught fish and chips, and homemade desserts delivered to the table by the owners themselves. After you eat, walk along the shoreline to take in views of the secluded Prince William Sound and the multitude of fishing boats docked in the harbor.

Portage Valley to Hope

From Whittier, travel west (back through the tunnel) to Portage, then continue along Seward Highway to the historic town of Hope, Alaska. Hope is only 50 miles from Portage. It was one of the first gold mining towns established in Alaska, and log cabins, a mercantile store with hitching post and turn-of-the-century social hall still mark the town center. Hope is also an excellent destination for a quiet afternoon of river fishing on nearby Twentymile River and Resurrection and Six Mile Creeks.

During summers with a strong salmon run, fisherwomen can expect to catch enough pink salmon to fill the ice chest. Just remember to get an Alaska sport (recreational) fishing license before casting your line, otherwise you'll face a hefty fine from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Worse yet, you'll be in for a long drive back to Anchorage with a hungry belly.

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