Alaska is the largest state in the U.S. by far—it’s more than twice the size of the second-largest, Texas. That means you could easily spend months here and not see it all. But even if you only have a week in Alaska, you still have plenty of time to get a taste of “The Last Frontier.” Consider the following seven-day itinerary to sample some of the best the state has to offer.
Anchorage is one of Alaska’s easiest airports to fly into, with plenty of connections available. It’s also conveniently located within driving distance of some of the state’s best tourist attractions, so it’s the best place to start your trip. Pick up your rental car at the airport, or from Avis’ handy downtown location.
If you skipped the in-flight snacks, start your day off with breakfast at lively Snow City Cafe, an eclectic eatery that’s popular with locals.
Shake out your legs after a long flight with a hike on Flattop Mountain. A quick 20-minute drive from downtown Anchorage, it offers a great bird’s-eye view of the city to help you get your bearings. The trail to the summit is three miles and involves a bit of rock scrambling. The Blueberry Loop trail is a gentler route that offers equally impressive views without the exertion. And, as the name hints, this route is full of delicious wild berries that you can pick for free.
There’s also a short, paved 0.3-mile loop that’s wheelchair accessible from the parking lot and leads to a great Anchorage vista.
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Head back to Anchorage and stop in at the Anchorage Museum, Alaska’s largest. This recently expanded museum displays a wide variety of Alaskan art, cultural exhibits, and historical artifacts. Don’t miss the unique grocery store display, which shows the price of staples throughout the state and gives you a good window into the cost of living here.
Finish your day at 49th State Brewing Company, a local brewery with a great food menu. On a clear day, you can enjoy your drinks and dinner with a Denali view from the patio.
Where to Stay in Anchorage: The Comfort Inn Downtown – Ship Creek makes a great base for exploring Anchorage. It’s located a short walk away from the downtown area, next to picturesque Ship Creek (a big local fishing spot). There’s also a free airport shuttle.
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Enjoy an organic and locally sourced breakfast at the Middle Way Cafe on your way to Alyeska Resort. In the summer, this ski resort turns into a hiker’s and mountain biker’s paradise, with tons of trails. Not feeling the climb up? Hop on the tram to the top and keep your eyes peeled for bears and other wildlife below. A lodge and plenty of dining options await once you disembark. For the best views of the mountains and hanging glaciers, follow the short trails up to the mountain’s summit.
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Disappointed that you haven’t seen a bear or moose yet? On your way back into town, stop in at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a sanctuary that takes in injured animals (or those that can’t live in the wild on their own, such as abandoned bear cubs). Here you’ll be able to see bears, moose, bison, wolves, foxes, caribou, and other Alaskan wildlife.
Back in the Anchorage city center, take advantage of the approximately 19 hours of daylight and rent a bike to take out on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. This 11-mile paved path winds along the coast and is another great spot for Anchorage city views. A few miles in, you’ll come across Earthquake Park, which commemorates the place where a 1964 quake sent an entire neighborhood into the ocean.
After your ride, treat yourself to a cone from Wild Scoops. This ice cream shop serves up unique flavors made from local ingredients like fireweed, a ubiquitous Alaskan wildflower.
Get an early start this morning and make your way to Valdez. This drive should take just over five hours, but unless you’re completely jaded, you should budget six or seven hours, as you’ll be pulling over often to admire the jaw-dropping scenery and snap photos.
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About 100 miles into your drive, you’ll come across Matanuska Glacier. Pull in here and take the short trail through the woods to a viewing platform for the best vantage point.
Once you arrive in Valdez, stretch your legs with a walk around town. Stroll along the waterfront and watch the fishermen bring in the day’s catch.
Get dinner at The Potato, where you’ll find many locals unwinding on the deck with a drink and an order of rosemary curly fries.
Where to Stay in Valdez: Totem Hotel and Suites, Valdez’s newest hotel. This sparklingly clean property has the best location in town, less than a five-minute walk from the waterfront area and most tour operators. Plus, it offers a free, generous buffet breakfast each morning.
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By now you’ve had plenty of time to admire Prince William Sound from the land. Join Pangaea Adventure’s Gold Creek Coastal Journey tour to get a new perspective on the area. This kayak trip will take you from the harbor downtown to Gold Creek State Park, where you can have a picnic on a beach, walk through rainforests, and explore a hidden waterfall. This is a great chance to see wildlife like otters, seals, and salmon.
The tour lasts for about six hours, leaving you plenty of time in the afternoon to explore Valdez Glacier. This glacial lake is a quick 10-minute drive out of town and very accessible. From the parking lot, you can walk right down to the lake and follow a path around to viewpoints of the glacier and floating icebergs.
For dinner, check out Valdez’s gourmet food truck scene—local favorites include the Nat Shack and Aunty Yum Yum’s Real Thai Food Truck.
You can’t come to Valdez and not check out the largest glacier in the area. Sprawling across more than 400 square miles, Columbia Glacier is the second-biggest glacier in the entire state of Alaska and is absolutely awe-inspiring to see. Book yourself on Anadyr Adventures’ Columbia Glacier Iceberg Tour to get the best experience. You’ll take an hour-long boat ride to the end of the glacier (keeping an eye out for otters, seals, and whales on the way) before transferring into kayaks. Kayaking will let you go to places that the larger boats can’t, and give you a silent atmosphere that allows you to hear the glacial icebergs popping and fizzing as they melt in the water. You’ll need to keep your distance from the larger icebergs, but be prepared for a show—my group saw several icebergs flip and calve during our paddle.
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For dinner, grab a seat at The Fat Mermaid, but be prepared to wait, as it’s a local favorite.
Wake up early, as today you’ll be driving about seven hours to Talkeetna. As with the drive to Valdez, this road is very picturesque, so leave yourself lots of extra time.
The best way to recover from a long car ride is to move, so sign up for a hike with Alaska Nature Guides to get your blood flowing again and introduce yourself to the area. These guides operate hikes in Denali State Park and around Talkeetna. You can book a custom hike, or opt for a five- to six-mile wilderness hike with epic Denali views. Shorter and more/less strenuous hikes are available as well, all of which offer a great overview of the Denali region. I highly recommend the Cury Ridge Hike, which gets you up above tree line fairly quickly and exposes amazing views of the Alaska Range (when the weather is cooperating). The hike takes around three hours and isn’t too grueling. The guides are Adventure Green Alaska certified, adhere to leave-no-trace principles, and take care to not disturb the wildlife. All the guides are extremely knowledgeable about the area and the wildlife and make the hikes a great learning experience.
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Where to Stay in Talkeetna: Talkeetna Cabins. Located in the heart of downtown Talkeetna, these adorable cottages are perfectly located within walking distance of all the major attractions, restaurants, and shops. The cabins are equipped with kitchens, plenty of living space, and cute porches with views of Talkeetna.
If you’re not one of the 1,000 expert mountaineers here to climb Denali, the second-best way to see the amazing Alaska Range is by air, so book a seat on one of Talkeetna Air Taxi’s flightseeing tours with a glacier landing. The experienced aviators will take you up in a small plane, getting heart-poundingly close to the mountains and giving you a view non-climbers would never get to see otherwise. Up above the clouds, you’ll see Denali, massive glaciers, and the other high peaks of the Alaska Range before gently landing on a glacier. You’ll have time to walk around, have a glacial snowball fight, and snap plenty of photos before boarding your return flight.
After you’ve come back to earth, take the rest of the afternoon to explore downtown Talkeetna. There are lots of quaint shops for souvenir shopping and plenty of independent restaurants where you can grab a bite to eat. Don’t miss the Talkeetna Ranger Station, a National Park Service outpost where you can learn about Denali’s history, current conditions, and other fun facts—this is where climbers must check in before they start their summit attempt.
From here, it’s about a two-hour drive back to Anchorage where you can drop your car off and catch your evening flight home.
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Caroline Morse Teel was hosted by the Alaska Tourism Board. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline for photos of Alaska and the rest of the world.