Alaska itinerary 10 days – how to plan your dream Alaska vacation

A land of epic proportions, dominated by vast icy vistas torn apart by jutting mountains and ferocious waterfalls, Alaska is a US state like no other. Despite the harshness of the environment, visitors will find Alaska inhabited by boundless wildlife. Whether catching sight of native salmon leaping into the claws of a poised brown bear or being sprayed by orcas emerging from ocean depths, Alaska has enough big fauna and stunning scenery to keep you permanently awestruck. While largely impenetrable just 100 years ago, these days Alaska’s wild terrain is far more accessible, allowing for trekking and exploring where few people have gone before. Alaska’s back-to-back national parks are so huge as to be seldom busy, providing superb outdoor adventures backgrounded by fjords and glaciers, either guided by locals or your courageous faux-fur-lined self. Our very own Alaska road trip itinerary spans ten days covering some of the region’s most coveted sights… Jump in.

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Photo: David Mark

Best time of year to travel

With long hours of sunshine and more temperate weather, summer is undoubtedly prime time for Alaska land tours. The warmest months of June, July and August will also be the most crowded dates with prices at a premium. Savvy, cost-conscious travellers should consider the shoulder months of either May and September for decent weather, lesser fees and smaller crowds.

Winter in Alaska, spanning the months from October to April, will have visitors experiencing short daylight hours and extreme temperatures ranging from freezing to -40°C! Road trips to rural outposts could be treacherous at this time and drive-by amenities between towns may be limited. The benefits of bracing the Alaskan winter, however, are significant; you’ll have top sights all to yourself, you’ll be paying less and will have the opportunity of possibly seeing the Northern Lights. Seasonal events such as Fur Rendezvous and the Iditarod are also worthy reasons to travel in winter.

Photo: Steve Halama

Photo: Mckayla Crump

Alaska travel tips

Alaskan weather is bound to keep you guessing, so, to avoid getting caught out, layer up with fleece, a hood and gloves while also packing a waterproof jacket for good measure. Summer travellers should plan around the long hours of daylight and take on extra activities to fill them. Don’t be too alarmed when you find the sun still up at 10 pm!

Alaska’s icy setting sadly hasn’t deterred the mosquito and, believe it or not, the state is notorious for these pesky bloodsuckers. Wear strong mosquito repellent if you are outside around dawn or dusk and consider a stylish face net when exploring the Denali area. Mosquitos notwithstanding, respect Alaska’s wildlife and make sure to adhere to the state’s ‘bear safety measures’. Bears and other wildlife will know if you’re packing a peanut butter sandwich and some animals are brave enough to come and get it. Minimize the risk of a run-in with a grizzly by packing your food tightly if you must carry it, not leaving any food unattended and repressing the urge to feed any animals you do see.

Photo: Paxson Woelber

LGBTQ+ in Alaska

Rural populations tend not to be the biggest LGBTQ+ advocates, and, as such, being out and proud in rural Alaska could garner a frosty response (as well as frosty nips!). Alaska’s only sizable city of Anchorage, however, sees a growing gay community catered to by a number of openly gay bars and clubs as well as an annual week-long Pridefest in June. If you’re wondering about gay destinations across the state, try visiting the Southeast Alaska Gay & Lesbian Alliance, online or in Juneau.

Photo: Will Swann

Photo: Steve Halama

Best way to see Alaska in 10 days

The sheer vastness of Alaska may seem intimidating but we’ve done some graft and put together a selection of the best places to visit in Alaska to cover a ten-day itinerary. There’s nothing stopping you extending your stay in any of your favourite areas, in particular, we recommend spending a week or as long as time allows in the region surrounding Anchorage.

Before you plan a trip to Alaska, pick your mode of travel to help whittle down your itinerary. Many of Alaska’s top natural sites are accessible via car or cruise ship, while other more remote destinations would require chartering a plane or sailing boat. Cruises are convenient and popular for their diverse itineraries covering coastal areas which are inaccessible by highways, such as Glacier Bay National Park or capital city, Juneau. If this is for you, we suggest opting for a round trip from Seattle with a brief sojourn in Anchorage.

Alternatively, embrace the added freedom of a great American road trip and hire a car or RV. This way you’ll be free to explore urban Anchorage and tackle the epic Denali Mountain in your own time. Our 10 day Alaska itinerary will guide you there and beyond…

Photo: Bryan Goff

Day 1 - Anchorage

Gateway to Alaska’s greatest wilderness adventures, including the mountains of Chugach, Denali, Kenai and Talkeetna, Anchorage is both Alaska’s largest city and cultural hub. Not a metropolis by any means, Anchorage allows visitors to rest while gaining insight into native Alaskan traditions, art and local delicacies. The Anchorage Native Heritage Center holds heaps of cultural information and artefacts and also puts on various musical and dance performances to celebrate Alaskan Heritage. The Anchorage Museum meanwhile is all about art, craft and history of the region. Fill up on homemade products while you’re here, shopping for traditional artworks or even tasty salmon jerky. The state’s berry jams are also a must-try.

Arrive in Anchorage for the weekend to make the most of the Anchorage Market & Festival where musicians and performers mingle among food and gift vendors downtown. On a clear day, the surrounding mountain ranges can also be glimpsed from the market’s edges.

Day 2 - Anchorage to Denali National Park

After taking it easy in Anchorage, it’s time to get on the road towards Denali National Park, home of the tallest mountain in North America, Denali. The journey will take around 4 hours straight but we suggest getting an early start to make the route a more fun one with stop-offs for moose-watching at the hay flats, a coffee break at the cute town of Talkeetna and for any decent viewpoint of Denali Mountain you catch along the way.

While a self-drive Alaska road trip is a winner, an alternative is to take the Alaska Railroad from downtown Anchorage all the way to Denali in 7.5 hours. Once in Denali, there are a small number of lodges that book up well in advance or two other options are to stay in Cantwell to the south or Healy in the north. As you enter the park you’ll also have to pay the entrance fee which stands at $10 per person for a 7-day pass.

Denali National Park | Photo: Steve Halama

Denali National Park

Denali National Park | Photo: Pixabay

Day 3 - Denali National Park and Preserve

One of the best ways to explore Denali National Park is with a private vehicle but if you have a very limited time, opt to take a round trip bus through the entire park (13 hours to Kantishna, 11 hours to Wonderlake) or even take a memorable ‘flightseeing tour’ which may even allow you to set down on a glacier. Ranger-led activities and day tours are available daily throughout summer as well as tickets for thrill-seeking adventures such as Whitewater Rafting, Ziplining and Wilderness Exploration. Those who want to go their own way can also follow signs for Denali Short Hikes or the Denali Sled Dog Kennels for free demonstrations. If in doubt, start by dropping by the Eielson or Denali Visitor Center for information or take the road to Savage River.

Whichever way you go, keep your camera on you to snap whatever wildlife comes your way, likely to include grizzlies, coyotes and caribou herds, all within phenomenal surroundings.

Day 4 - Denali to Chitina and McCarthy

Next on our Alaska road trip itinerary is our scenic second drive, this time towards historic McCarthy, a town serving as the gateway to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. The journey will take a full day so set out early to do it laidback, stopping at whatever sights make you gasp! The Denali Highway will make driving pleasure but do pack up on snacks and drinks (and gasoline!) while you can because towns on the road are few and far between.

Beware of Alaska’s less-than-standard dirt roads which stretch all the way along the Denali Highway and the road from Chitina to McCarthy. Often car rental companies will shirk any responsibility for damages, so do check your insurance for coverage or drive extra carefully! Driving slow will also allow you to keep one eye peeled on the forest either side (one eye remaining on the road!) to catch sight of a majestic moose or two.

Photo: Danika Perkinson

Day 5 - McCarthy and Wrangell-St.Elias National Park

After safely traversing moose-ville and rubble-laden roads, you’ll arrive tired in McCarthy looking for a lodge. The town itself is full of history and a leisurely diversion from the road but nature lovers will soon be impelled by the fresh air rolling off its adjacent forests to venture into Wrangell-St.Elias National Park. This is where adventurers can get their rocks off, indulging in everything from glacier hiking to rafting on Kennicott Glacier Lake. To see Wrangell in its entirety you’ll want to board a small plane and take to the skies for a bird’s-eye view of Chugach and Wrangell Mountain glaciers.

Day 6 - Drive to Valdez

Vacating our McCarthy lodge, we make moves to Valdez, with an estimated travel time of 4-5 hours. Stop along the way as many times as you’d like, with a recommended break at the roadside near Worthington Glacier for a ‘wow’ moment or two.

When in Valdez, do as the locals do and take a carefree walk around the town pier, enjoying the fishing activity and ambience. Views from the mountains are best seen from the shores, with the opportunity for bear watching in nearby creeks and salmon farms. From Valdez, you’re in a prime position to get up close to a real Alaska glacier. Consider signing up for a full-day cruise tour of Columbia Glacier to marvel at huge blue ice wall from sea level, marvelling at both its extreme force and vulnerability – for these quietly retreating glacial cliffs show the devastating fallout of climate change. As each iceberg calves and drops into the ocean – sending shock waves outward to your boat – global sea levels rise.

Alternatively, get a little closer to the ice (safely!) with a kayak expedition out to Valdez Glacier. Start slow, gliding over the tranquil Valdez Lake before paddling out to the ice caves and docking your kayak on the glacier. Your guide will teach you about the fascinating nature of glaciers allowing time for an unforgettable lunch atop the ice.

Photo: Paxson Woelber

Photo: Steve Halama

Day 7 - Ferry to Whittier and Kenai Peninsula

Day seven has us on the water once more, as we cross the Prince William Sound from Valdez to Whittier, potentially laying eyes on majestic birds, whales and orcas, as well as ever more glaciers during the six-hour trip. Back on terra firma, we traverse Kenai by car, winding up at Homer on the very tip of the peninsula. Racking up approximately 10 hours of travel in a day, it is at Homer where we get some much-needed rest.

Day 8 - Homer and Katmai National Park

Spending some downtime in Homer is easy, a leisurely walk around this quaint coastal town will lead you through to Homer Spit home to numerous coffee houses and restaurants sat a short way from the shore where you’ll find impressive views of Kachemak Bay and the mountains beyond. In close proximity to Katmai National Park, Homer is also a jumping-off point for enjoying nature in Katmai, such as river or ocean salmon fishing or ever-popular ‘flightseeing’ tours across the park. After landing back on earth, wander the park grounds to find the famed brown bears that hunt at Brook Falls.

Photo: BC Y

Day 9 - Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park

Start early on your penultimate day in wonderland, and push forward to Seward. A three-hour drive will bring you to the edge of Kenai Fjords National Park, location of the famed Harding Ice Field where as many as 40 glaciers stand. Exit Glacier in the north of Seward is a popular one, where you can get up close or gain perspective with a walk along the short Glacier Overlook Trail or the somewhat longer Harding Icefield Trail (which takes 6-8 hours!).

In the afternoon, get back in the water and take a boat tour around Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay, looking out for sea lions, seals and whales along the way. Another option is to take a ranger-guided kayak tour of the fjords – although solo missions are possible, the changeable conditions of the water means you’ll need someone with you who knows what they’re doing!

Day 10 - Drive to Anchorage via Girdwood

Our final leg takes us on a short last drive back towards Anchorage, with an optional break-in Girdwood. As many flights leave Anchorage in the early morning, you’ll likely have almost a whole day left to explore. One and a half hours to Girdwood from Seward, your gang can rest here, either taking advantage of the glorious hiking spots (including Lower Winner Creek, Alyeska’s North Face and Virgin Creek Falls) or a last supper at one of Girdwood’s many great restaurants. If you still have time, on the 40-minute drive from Girdwood to Anchorage, try dropping the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre, McHugh Creek and/or Beluga Point, or simply land in Anchorage for a slow afternoon of shopping for souvenirs downtown. Gluttons for punishment might even take one last hike up to Flat Top for panoramic city views.

Photo: Noel Bauza

Make planning a trip to Alaska easy

Our team of trip design experts at Mr Hudson would love to label ourselves as your exclusive Alaska trip planner! Sign up to our service and we will collate local information, handpick activities and provide details of the best sightseeing excursions based on your travel gang’s specific wants and needs. Find out more about our trip design service here.

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