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As I set out in my rental car from downtown Anchorage towards the Seward Highway, I cranked up the music ready to settle in for the two hour drive to Seward. I didn’t anticipate how quickly the city would fade into one of the most mesmerizing landscapes I’ve seen. On one side of the road is the shoreline and mudflats of Turnagain Arm and on the other are the rugged Chugach Mountains. It was the most wonderful form of sensory overload.
I immediately knew that this drive was going to take much longer than two hours.
When driving from Anchorage to Seward, along the Seward Highway, there are so many incredible places worth exploring.
Seward Highway Overview
The Seward Highway stretches 125 miles from downtown Anchorage to the small coastal town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. Anchorage is located on the Cook Inlet, which branches off of the Gulf of Alaska.
Turnagain Arm is a waterway located at the north end of the Cook Inlet. It forms the northern boundary of the Kenai Peninsula. The Seward Highway follows the shoreline of Turnagain Arm which is dotted with pull-outs where you can stop and enjoy the view as well as trailheads.
Best Places to Stop While Driving from Anchorage to Seward
The drive might only be 125 miles, but you’re going to want loads of time to get out and explore the beautiful viewpoints, trails and stops along the way. I ended up driving all or portions of this route several times because I couldn’t get enough.
If you want to be more efficient than me and just do the drive once, I recommend planning your route. Here are the best places to stop on your road trip from Anchorage to Seward!
1 | Anchorage is Alaska’s Largest City
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest city, which originally flourished when the Alaska Railroad chose it to be the home for its headquarters. The city serves as a gateway to several notable outdoor adventure destinations such as Denali National Park, Chugach State Park, Talkeetna Mountains and the Kenai Peninsula.
Check prices on places to stay in Anchorage.
2 | Wildlife Spotting at Potter Marsh
Just outside of Anchorage on the Seward Highway is the Potter Marsh Boardwalk. This wildlife refuge features a boardwalk that is over 1500 feet long! Bring your binoculars to spot the cranes, trumpeter swans and maybe even moose in the morning or evenings.
At one time this marshland was part of Turnagain Arm and subject to its tides, but with the construction of the Alaska Railroad the water flow has been restricted. This led to the formation of this now protected marshland.
3 | Unique Mudflats and Tide Along Turnagain Arm
As you drive out of Anchorage, you quickly find that the road is sandwiched between the water of Turnagain Arm and the Chugach Mountains. The shoreline of Turnagain Arm is easy to identify because it is lined with mudflats, particularly notable during low tide. But don’t be tempted to walk out on them. This shoreline is also known for its incredibly large tides (the largest in the US!) and high winds. The mudflats are essentially quicksand which can trap you as that tide comes back in.
When you’re driving from Anchorage to Seward, I highly recommend these stops along Turnagain Arm.
4 | Accessible Waterfall at McHugh Creek Falls
Who doesn’t love a good waterfall? At mile marker 111, you’ll find a turnoff for the McHugh Creek Day Use Area which is part of Chugach State Park. Just a short walk from the parking lot is a beautiful 20-foot tall McHugh Creek Falls as well as breathtaking views of Turnagain Arm.
If you’re looking for a more of a challenge, there are several out and back trailheads that depart from this area. Take precautions if you hike in this area as there is frequent bear activity.
Pro Tip: There’s a $5 fee or state parks parking pass required for parking. Sure you can risk not paying it, but wouldn’t you rather support the state parks?
5 | Spot Whales from Beluga Point
From mid-July through August, Beluga whales are often seen swimming in this area, as are their predators, orcas. But even if you are driving from Anchorage to Seward during other times of the year, it’s still a gorgeous place to stop and enjoy the view of Turnagain Arm and watch the bore tide rush in.
I happened to stop here right at “golden hour” in September and I was mesmerized by how vibrant the yellow leaves on the trees were in this lighting.
One particularly interesting thing about Beluga Point is that artifacts dating back more than 8000 years have been found here! These are believed to provide evidence of the earliest habitation in the area around Anchorage.
6 | Walk Along Bird Ridge (After You Climb It!)
I stopped here on a whim because I saw the bright fall colors along Bird Creek and a fly fisherman from the road. After photographing this scene, I took some time to explore the trails that depart from this parking area. The Bird Ridge Trail is a 4.6 mile out and back trail with a steep 3200 feet of elevation gain. The climb is worth it for the view from the top. On some days, you may even be up in or above the clouds!
Pro Tip: There’s a $5 fee or state parks parking pass required for parking. Also, due to the elevation gain, snow is not uncommon near the top. Consider bringing microspikes/ crampons and extra layers.
Nearby, there are also turnouts from the Seward Highway to Bird Creek and Bird Point. Those turnouts are located on the side of the road closest to the water. Bird Ridge is located on the mountain side of the road.
7 | Explore the Northernmost Rainforest in the World in Girdwood
About 40 miles south of Anchorage, this one-time gold mining town is now a year round resort community. Girdwood is also home to the northernmost rainforest in the world and nestled between mountains and glaciers. This makes it a great place to get out and explore or even to stay a night.
Take the Alyeska aerial tram to enjoy 180-degree views of Turnagain Arm. Or, enjoy a dayhike on the four mile section to Crow Pass on the 21 mile long Crow Creek Trail.
Check prices on places to stay in Girdwood.
8 | Wildlife Encounters at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
No trip to Alaska is complete without enjoy some of the wildlife! If you prefer not to encounter bears and moose in the wild, visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This is a self-drive or walking tour with educational information throughout but there are daily programs that you can join as well for a more guided experience.
Cost is $16 per adult. Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours here.
9 | Boat Ride to the Retreating Portage Glacier
Just down the road from the AWCC, is the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center which is the launching point for tours to see nearby Portage Glacier. From here you can join a one hour boat tour to take you up close to this rapidly retreating glacier. There are also guided hikes offered here.
Portage and the surrounding area are a common overnight stop when driving from Anchorage to Seward!
Pro Tip: The Begich, Boggs Visitor Center is only open Memorial Day to Labor Day.
10 | Enjoy Some Solitude in Moose Pass
I may have fallen in love with this sleepy little mountain town because I happened to be driving through when this gorgeous rainbow was perfectly shining through the trees. But, after reading more about Moose Pass, it offers easy access to many of the areas best hiking trails. If you want some peace and quiet, bring a picnic or camping gear and stay a little longer here.
Pro Tip: If you happen to be visiting the area in late June, stop in for their annual Summer Solstice Festival!
11 | Hike the Lost Lake Trail
When planning my trip, the Lost Lake Trail was the most commonly recommended trail. Sadly, my short trip didn’t allow me time to fit this one in, but I guess I have a reason to go back! I did, however, park at the trailhead and hike in a short way to get a feel for the terrain.
This 13.8 mile out and back trail has just moderate elevation gain. Expect to climb a ways through the forest before getting to the views of the surrounding area above the treeline.
Pro Tip: I’ve read several reports of lynx and moose track on the trail. As always, be aware of your surroundings and take the appropriate precautions.
12 | Visit Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park
At mile marker 3.7, just outside of Seward is the Exit Glacier turnoff. This is the only portion of Kenai Fjords National Park that is accessible by road. There are several trails to explore with varying levels of difficulty. I recommend the 1.6 mile (one way) Glacier Overlook Loop Trail which provides a great photo op in front of Exit Glacier as well as views of the Outwash Plains and surrounding mountains.
Pro Tip: This is bear country, so bring your bear spray and know how to use it!
13 | Relax and Explore the Charming Coastal Town of Seward
This charming coastal town absolutely stole my heart when I visited in September. The busy season was winding down, making it a relaxing sanctuary and perfect base from which to explore the Kenai Peninsula. Read all about the incredible waterfront cabin I stay in, where to eat and things to do in Seward.
Check prices on places to stay in Seward, Alaska.
Alternatives to Driving from Anchorage to Seward
Grab a ticket on the Alaska Railroad! The train tracks follow nearly the same path as the Seward Highway. There is a daily service on the route from Anchorage to Seward with a stop in Girdwood, but the route only runs from May 9 to September 21.
There are two classes of service on the train – Adventure Class and Goldstar Service. The Goldestar Service from Anchorage to Seward (return) is nearly double the price (over $350), but includes glass domed ceilings and an outdoor upper deck.
If you’re on a budget, renting a car will likely be cheaper than taking the train from Anchorage to Seward, especially if you are splitting the cost with others. Plus, you have the freedom to stop along the way while you’re driving from Anchorage to Seward.