Ice ice baby: Alaskan road trip on Seward Highway

Starting in Anchorage, Alaska's Seward Highway meanders 127 miles (204 kilometers) across the Kenai Peninsula, before ending in the harbor town of Seward at Resurrection Bay. You could drive it in under three hours, but don't. Spend at least a couple of days to the round-trip to give yourself some time to explore wonderful nature of south-central Alaska.

You’ll see few towns and almost no sign of civilisation, except the road you’re driving on. But if you're looking for whales and waterfalls, blue glaciers and sharp-toothed mountains, calm ponds and mighty fjords, there's enough to see too keep you busy taking pictures all the trip long.

Seward Highway
Seward Highway

Start in Anchorage

Anchorage got its start as a railroad camp, a tent city along the banks of Ship Creek. In 1915 there already lived 2000 people here, with only 1 bath tent. The smell must have been great back then. Nowadays it is the biggest city in Alaska, and home to 44% of the population of the whole state.

When the Seward Highway leaves Anchorage, it shrinks to two lanes and glides alongside Potter Marsh (mile 117.4). A protected wetland, the 2,300-acre viewing area is just south of the city and has a long, raised 1,550-foot (516m) boardwalk from which you may access the wetland without disturbing the migratory birds who stop here to take a rest. There is a pull-out along the Seward highway to access it.

Potter March
Potter March

Chugach State Park

Beyond the marsh, the road squeezes between the grey cliffs of Chugach State Park and the ocean. This stretch of highway is listed as a National Scenic Byway and is designated as an All-American Road. There are several viewpoints, but one of the most visited is Beluga Point, at milemarker 110.5, named for the beluga whales that frequent the area. Another popular viewpoint is Windy Corner at milemarker 106 where Dall sheep are often visible just up the hill.

Beluga Point
Beluga Point

The best place to see the Alaskan bore tide is at Bird Point (milemarker 96). The tidal wave of up to 6 feet (2 meters) that occurs when the tide pushes river water upstream, attracts also extreme kayaking guys who ride the wave with there tiny boats.

Bore tide
The bore tide rolling in

Girdwood

The turnoff to Girdwood (mile 90) is marked by a field of wildflowers in early summer. It was renamed for Colonel James Girdwood, Scots-Irish entrepreneur who staked the first four gold claims along Crow Creek in 1896. The town was moved 2.5 miles (4 km) up the valley after the devastating Good Friday Earthquake of 1964, when the land under the original townsite subsided into Turnagain Arm, putting much of the town below high tide. The land has not all since been reclaimed, and you can still see drowned cabins in the marshy areas where the city formerly extended.

girdwood
A view from the highway, near Girdwood

Mount Alyeska and Portage Valley

The Alyeska Resort is the largest ski area in the state. Mount Alyeska is a fairly challenging mountain, and has a much higher percentage of advanced and expert runs, as compared to most other mountains in North America.

Alyeska
A view from Mount Alyeska

A few miles further down the road, the mountains pull back to reveal green wetlands. A landscape full of dead, salt-soaked trees is all that's left of a forest destroyed when the 1964 earthquake permeated the soil with seawater. Portage Valley was carved by numerous glaciers that still straddle mountain peaks visible from the valley floor. At the end of the valley, icebergs that recently calved off Portage Glacier are visible. At mile 78.9, turn off to the Begich Boggs Visitor Center on the shores of Portage Lake to see them.

Portage Lake
Portage Lake

Canyon Creek

When leaving the valley, the road rises up to 900 feet (274 meters) to Turnagain Pass. Once you're through the pass, the mountains close in around you. The views are fantastic. Mountains fold into one another, while Canyon Creek foams at their feet. From mile 47 to 18, crystalline lakes with steel-blue waters are littered along the road.

Canyon Creek
Canyon Creek

Seward and Resurrection Bay

At the end of the road lies Seward. Enjoy the view of the busy harbor, where countless white masts and hulls stand out against the dark blue ocean. Above, Marathon Mountain rears to 3,022 stony feet (921 meters), the steep and challenging site of one of Alaska's most popular foot races. The best view on the road is also the final one. At mile 0, you can see Resurrection Bay in all it’s glory. In the mouth of the fjord seals and sea lions can be spotted, while the snow capped mountains provide a mighty background. The opening of the film The Hunt for Red October was filmed here, with the bay serving as a stand-in for Russia's Murmansk Fjord.

Resurrection Bay
Resurrection Bay

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tags: 
road trip, north america, USA