Here it is, two weeks since we’ve returned from Alaska and I’m finally trying to put my thoughts down. Given all that we saw and did during our trip, I honestly didn’t know where to start. Do I talk about the food? Because I can easily say that the meals we had were above and beyond what I expected. Or how about the wildlife? We saw several moose and loads of bald eagles, but not a single bear. Maybe I should mention the crazy amount of coffee stands you’ll see throughout Alaska, but how you’ll be hard pressed to find a place that makes a pour over. (Sorry, hubby.)
Considering we did all the things, I decided it would be best to just lay out our itinerary and give quick info on our whereabouts. I have several other posts about Alaska in the works, but for now, this will have to do. 🙂
You should also keep in mind just how ginormous Alaska is. In order to see the most of the last frontier — in the limited time we had — we were constantly on the move! Pair that with the extended daylight hours and we were on the move from around 9:30 am until 10:30 pm most days. Obviously, everyone’s travel style is different, but this is what suited our group. All ramblings aside, I present you with Planes, Trains & Automobiles: A 14 Day Alaskan Itinerary.
Day 1: Travel Day
Fly from NYC to Seattle to Juneau
Good luck finding a direct flight from the East Coast to Alaska.
Uber to Airbnb
Even though it’s still light out, go to bed because you’ve just spent a day traveling and the time difference will catch up with you soon!
Day 2: Juneau
Breakfast in Juneau
We loved The Sandpiper Cafe and apparently the locals do too. Portion sizes are huge, so you might consider splitting them, especially the French Toast Sampler.
Walk to Mt. Roberts Tramway Station
- Go earlier in the day before the passengers disembark from their ship to avoid crowds.
- Tickets are $34/pp and are valid for 24 hours.
- Ride the tram to the top for views of downtown Juneau.
Hike the Alpine Loop to Father Brown’s Cross
Gaze at the mountains surrounding the Gastineau Channel.
- Difficulty level: 2.5/5
- Sneakers preferred — hiking boots are optional — as long as you don’t plan to go beyond the cross.
- Don’t be a dummy and wear flip flops/sandals on this trail as it’s narrow, hilly, and rocky at times.
Take a bus to Mendenhall Glacier
City buses are $2/pp and they drop you about 1 mile from the Visitor Center.
- Bus leaves transit center every 30 minutes and takes close to an hour to get to the glacier stop.
- Privately owned tour buses also make this trip for $20/pp, each way!
Walk rest of the way to Visitor Center.
- There is a flat, paved trail along the road for this purpose.
Hike to Nugget Falls
Out and back from Visitors Center to falls, allowing time to stop and take pictures.
- Walk time: 1 hours 30 minutes
- Difficulty level: 1/5
- Hiking boots definitely not required. Sandals or flats would be fine. Trail is wide and flat.
Head back to downtown Juneau
- Taxis from Visitor Center to downtown Juneau (or vice versa) are approximately $35 one way.
- Get dinner and call it a night, or arrive at Airbnb and decide to go walk up around the corner to see what’s there.
- Tell your mom you’ll be right back and then let her start to worry that you’ve met a bear because you’ve been gone for over an hour. 😉 We walked up Basin Road to the Gold Creek Flume Trail. This short trail sits atop a historic log flume that was built in the 1890’s as part of Juneau’s hydroelectric power plant. (Sadly, I have no pictures of this cool place.)
Day 3: Juneau
Head down to the docks
Grab food from the many vendors/food trucks.
- We loved the fish tacos at Deckhand Dave’s.
Check out the Juneau Whale Project
Grab some fudge on the way from the locally owned Alaskan Fudge Co.
- Walk off the fudge by going north on Egan Drive towards the Juneau Seawalk and Whale Sculpture.
- Walk time: ~15 minutes
Grab some beers at Alaskan Brewing
Hop on the city bus towards Alaskan Brewing Co.
- Take a tour or just try a flight.
Behold the beauty of Glacier Gardens
Take in the scenery as you ride up Thunder Mountain in the Tongass National Forest.
- The botanical garden has humongous hanging baskets, as well as the very unique upside down “flower towers” made by inverting a tree into the ground and placing 75-100 flowering plants into the former roots of the tree.
Catch a flight to Anchorage
Uber to Juneau airport for flight to Anchorage.
- Land in Anchorage and go to Airbnb
Day 4: Anchorage
Coffee and donuts
Grab breakfast/snacks at Golden Donuts before catching the city bus downtown.
City Trolley Tour
Lasts 1 hour and shares some interesting stories about the history of Anchorage.
- Keep your eyes peeled for the Bears on Parade Statues around town.
- After tour ends, ogle the beautiful flowers at the visitor center.
Stop in the federal building across the street (for free) to talk to a Park Ranger, see the stuffed wildlife, and maybe catch one of the 20 minute movies.
Lunch at 49th State Brewing
Tuna sandwich cooked to perfection. They couldn’t do flights because apparently the tasting glasses have legs.
Do some shopping along 4th Ave
- Trapper Jack’s for shirts, postcards, jewelry & tchotchke.
- Sevigny Studio for handmade Alaskan gifts like artwork.
Check out the hand painted graffiti murals in Ziggy’s Alley.
- Located between E Street and C Street, behind the buildings on W 4th and W 5th Avenue. (Don’t be surprised if you ask a local and they know nothing about this.)
- If you’re lucky, Ziggy will see you snapping pictures of his paintings and come out from his apartment to meet you.
Head out to the Alaskan Zoo to see some of the more elusive Alaskan wildlife like wolves, polar bears and grizzly bears.
- Though many of the animals located here are rescues, I left feeling sad and depressed because that’s how most of the animals looked. 🙁
- Enclosures were small and barren.
Call it a night with some takeout
- Order some take-out and bring it back to the Airbnb.
Day 5: Travel — Anchorage to Seward
Travel time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Pick-up the rental car
We chose Midnight Sun Car & Van Rental.
- An SUV would be recommended if travelling the McCarthy Road.
- Be sure to get windshield chip insurance. Trust us.
Get sustenance for the road trip to Seward
Grab some “breakfast” at Dipper Donuts and Kaladi Brothers Coffee
- Many claim this is the most scenic drive in all of Alaska. If it’s cloudy/rainy/foggy, you won’t be able to take advantage of the glorious views. If not, pull over throughout your drive to take pictures at the many photo spots or just enjoy the view from the car.
- Fill up on gas and check tire pressure before leaving Anchorage as you’ll be lucky to find a gas station with air anywhere along the drive.
Arrive at Resurrection Lodge on the Bay
There’s plenty to do around the Seward area.
- Horseback riding with Bardy’s Trail Ride
- Dinner at Chinook’s
- Try spotting the many murals around town as you head to Seward Brewing Co. for a pint
Day 6: Seward — Travel to Palmer
Travel time: 3 hours
Breakfast at the lodge
Afterward, walk along the bay and grab a coffee at Resurrect Art Coffee House, located within a former church.
Resurrection Bay Tour (Cruise)
Park rental car and check-in 1 hour early for the bay cruise, then stop in the local shops while waiting to board the ship.
- Cruise the bay looking for wildlife — including otters, seals, whales, puffins, and even a mountain goat if you have a keen eye.
- Stop at Fox Island for surf & turf lunch.
Leave Seward and head to Exit Glacier
Travel time: 17 minutes by car
Hike out the Glacier Overlook Trail.
- Walk time (out and back): 1 hour
- Difficulty level: 3/5
- Hiking boots preferred as trail gets steep and rocky.
Drive to Palmer for a nights stay
- On the way, stop in Girdwood at Double Musky Inn for spicy cajun dinner.
- Arrive at Alaska Garden Gate B & B. (Cutest place ever!)
Day 7: Travel — Palmer to McCarthy
Travel time: ~6 hours
Hit the road after breakfast at B&B
Drive to Chitina: ~3 hours 50 minutes
- Paved roads end in Chitina!
- Make sure your rental car has windshield chip insurance and that your car is allowed on the McCarthy Road, ideally well before you reach this point. (We rented a Ford Escape to give more ground clearance.)
Drive McCarthy Road to McCarthy: ~2 hours
- The road is rough, but not nearly as bad as we expected. Some parts are oil & stoned, but most of it is not.
- Plan on going 30-35 mph, at best, and often slower.
Arrive at McCarthy
- At the end of the road, pay to park your vehicle and haul your luggage across the river via footbridge. Your lodging will meet you with a shuttle.
The drive to McCarthy is long, but so, so beautiful! You are surrounded by mountains, glaciers and even plains as the landscape changes. This drive was one of the standout moments for me.
- We stayed at the Blackburn Cabins just outside “downtown” McCarthy.
- Flightseeing with Wrangell Mountain Air.
- Dinner in “downtown” McCarthy at The Potato.
- Walk back to the cabins and call it a night.
Day 8: McCarthy & Kennecott
Bike into “town” for breakfast
Leave the bikes — no locks, no bike racks. McCarthy is cool like that.
Shuttle to the Kennecott Mines
Want to go inside the 14-story mining building? Then shell out $28/pp to get a fully guided tour. So worth it!
Shuttle back to town
Rides are $5/pp each way and can be purchased in McCarthy or at the mines.
- Dogs and large backpacks (if they take up a seat) are also 5 bucks.
Dinner and drinks at the New Golden Saloon
- Food in this one horse town is shockingly good, given the remote location. Pork belly, anyone?
- Ride bikes back to cabins.
- Jon and I walked beyond our cabins out back to the toe of Root Glacier. I held chunks of glacial ice. #nobigdeal
Day 9: Travel — McCarthy to Anchorage
But first, grab coffee and pastries at the “Gift Shop” in McCarthy. It’ll likely be the best coffee you’ve had thus far.
- Walk back across the footbridge to get our parked car, and start the drive back into modern civilization.
- Stop for gas and food in Glenallen.
Arrive in Anchorage
Check-in to Airbnb and decompress for a bit before heading out for a bite.
- Dinner at Moose’s Tooth. Great beer and pizza! Fun fact: Even if you get a small personal sized pizza, they let you split it between 2 of their many options on the menu. This means Jon and I got to try 4 different types of pizza between the two of us.
- Return rental car and Uber back to Airbnb.
- Call it a night since we have to be up early the next morning.
Day 10: Travel to Denali
Travel time: 8 hours
Arrive at Alaska Railroad Station
Take an Uber and check the luggage — then wait to board the train.
- Alaska Railroad requests that you check-in 1 hour prior to departure time. Not completely necessary, but I’d be there at least 30 minutes prior to departure.
- Train leaves Anchorage at 8:15am and arrives in Denali at 3:40pm.
Arrive at Denali Train Depot
See a momma moose and her two babies while you wait for hotel shuttle to arrive.
Check into lodging
Salmon Bake Cabins — don’t even get me started on this mess!
- Dinner at one of the many restaurants along the boardwalk area. We chose Prospectors Pizza. (I know, I know…pizza again!)
Day 11: Denali
Denali Raft Adventures
Whitewater rafting on Nenana River
- Approximately 10am-1pm
- Dress in warm layers. They provide outerwear to keep you dry.
Lunch back at the boardwalk
Black Bear Coffee House is quite a treat for any meal.
Denali ATV Adventures
ATV & Side by Side tour on what used to be part of Denali National Park, but was later excluded due to mining activity.
- Approximately 3pm-5pm
49th State Brewing
Take the shuttle from the boardwalk to 49th State Brewing in Healy
- Dinner and beer while enjoying the restaurant interior decor.
- Check out The Magic Bus replica that was actually used in the Into the Wild movie.
Day 12: Denali and travel to Fairbanks
Travel time: 4 hours
Check out of crap cabin
Shuttle to Denali Visitors Center
There is no luggage storage at the Alaska Railroad depot and our train didn’t leave until 4pm.
- Thankfully the Denali Visitors Center has a gift shop that is conveniently close to the Alaska Railroad depot.
- They charge $1/hr per bag.
Wander around visitors center.
- Watch a short movie, that rotates every 30ish minutes.
Catch a green bus and ride out to Mile 15
No cars beyond this point — and going farther requires a fee and switching to a tan park bus.
- Because we were at the mercy of the Alaska Railroad train schedule, we couldn’t do any of the longer bus rides into the park, but thankfully, things all worked out.
- We took a free green bus from near the Visitors Center to the Savage River Trailhead. NPS claims this roundtrip loop will take 2 hours, but we found it was quite a bit less than that.
- Not only did we have unobstructed views of Mt. Denali (major win!), but we were able to visit the Denali Dog Kennels.
Check-in at Alaska Railroad
Board 4pm train to Fairbanks.
- For this portion of the ride, we didn’t have to check our luggage as there are fewer passengers and no other stops going northbound.
Arrive in Fairbanks at 8pm
Uber to Airbnb
- Order takeout for dinner and relax.
Day 13: Fairbanks
Breakfast & Eskimo Olympics
Take a city bus ($3 for unlimited day pass) to Carlson Center for Eskimo Olympics.
- Morning sessions are free, but the evening entrance is not.
- Watch Native Baby Regalia, Greased Pole Walking and more!
Lavelle’s Taphouse & Bistro
Take the bus downtown to shop before sitting down for a meal.
- Check out Lavelle’s Taphouse to grab some good beers.
- Walk up the street to Lavelle’s Bistro to have a nice dinner with cocktails.
Eskimo Olympics again
Back to Carlson Center for evening events at Eskimo Olympics.
- Uber back to Airbnb
Day 14: Fairbanks and travel home
Breakfast in Fairbanks
Nice options at The Cookie Jar, including dessert (if that’s your jam).
Head to Riverboat Discovery for afternoon tour, from 2-5pm. It’s a well “guided” river boat tour, with stops along the way, including:
- Bush pilot takeoff/landing demonstration
- Susan Butcher Kennels (Iditarod dogsled team)
- Chena Indian Village walking tour
Enjoy your last dinner in Alaska at The Pump House, then Uber to the airport for 7:30 pm flight home!
- Arrive at JFK at 10:40 am the following day. If your flight is canceled, stay the night at Pike’s Waterfront Lodge on Delta’s dime. Be sure to check out the beautiful paintings located around the hotel before you leave.
And there it is, folks!
Planes, Trains & Automobiles was our 14 day excursion that took us roughly 1,250 miles throughout the last frontier. Not counting our flights to and from Alaska, we traveled about 32.5 hours within the state.
It definitely was a lot to do, but considering how much we got to see, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat. Well … except I’d probably drive from Anchorage to Denali and then onto Fairbanks. The northbound train trip took 12 hours because you only travel at about 30 mph. By car, we literally could’ve cut that time in half! But that’s just me. 😉