5 Days in Alaska: Perfect Road Trip for the First Time Visitor

5 day road trip alaska 5 Days in Alaska: Perfect Road Trip for the First Time Visitor

This year marked Kevin’s landmark 40th birthday. So I knew we had to do something special to celebrate (or at the very least, cushion the blow).

Kevin and I channel our inner Alaskans!

This year’s birthday had to be big — you know, like that big number 40! And it had to be something that would be hard to forget. You know, since he’s turning 40…and he’s getting more forgetful. Okay, I’ll stop with the ‘turning 40’ jokes!

I love this cartoon. And yes, I had to squeeze in one last joke about turning 40.

It doesn’t get much bigger than Alaska. But where to start? The state is bigger than Texas, California, and Montana combined!

Living it up in Alaska. Kevin is amazed that he almost forgets it’s his birthday. Or maybe it’s just that he’s 40!?

Lucky for Kevin, I’ve been to Alaska over a dozen times. And was able to quickly devise a 5 day road trip adventure. Cruises are a very popular option in Alaska. But if you’re like us, you’ll love the freedom of traveling by car. We enjoyed veering off the path, and handling our own schedule. Plus, in true Kevin and Phil style, we packed in way more than any cruise could come close to doing!

It doesn't get much more spectacular than driving through Alaska on the Kenai Penninsula.

It doesn’t get much more spectacular than driving through Alaska on the Kenai Penninsula.

Check out our 5-day Alaskan itinerary below, which starts off in Anchorage and includes stops in Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula. And oh yeah, if there was any doubt, it includes plenty of animal encounters.

DAY 1: ARRIVAL IN ANCHORAGE

Kevin fulfills his birthday wish of kissing a moose

  • 3 PM, Arrival in Anchorage. It’s a pretty small airport – so you’ll be able to grab your rental car in less than 20 minutes of landing.  First stop: Palmer, located 1 hour away from Anchorage.
  • 4:30 PM, Arrival at the Reindeer Farm in Palmer, located on the outskirts of Anchorage. Take a guided tour and come face-to-face with a reindeer. It’s fun and a little frightening all at once. These guys LOVE to eat!

I’m surrounded! I try my best not to lose an eye!

  • Tours of the reindeer farm take about 1 hour and cost just $11 for adults and $9 for children, seniors, Military or Alaska residents. We agreed – the best deal on the trip! You’ll get to enter the pen to pet and feed reindeer as well as visit Dolly the Bison, Rocky the Moose and the small herd of Elk. Food for the animals is included on the tour.

Kevin gets right into the Alaska spirit and kisses the moose! I couldn’t believe it. 

This is my lame attempt at kissing the moose. Clearly, I’m just not that into him and keep my distance!

  • 6 PM, Drive to the Iditarod Official Headquarters, 20 minutes away near Wasilla (yes, THAT Wasilla home to the Palin family). It doesn’t get much more Alaskan than the famed 1,100-mile Iditarod dogsled race, which begins in Anchorage and travels to far-off Nome.

  • The Iditarod Headquarters offers dogsled rides in the summer until 5 PM. We got here pretty late, but still enjoyed looking around the tiny museum and chatting with the enthusiastic staff. Kevin especially loved that they thought we were in our 20’s! We’ll take it.
  • Admission to the museum is free — as were the compliments! One staffer said we dressed like we were from GQ Magazine. Okay, now they’re pushing it…

2018’s Iditarod champion – learning all about how this race got started.

  • 7 PM, drive back to downtown Anchorage (about 1 hour) to get in some Alaskan souvenir shopping. You’ll know you’re in Alaska when you enter a store and are surrounded by life-sized stuffed bears! Personally, we loved Grizzly Gifts in downtown Anchorage.

Watch out behind you Kevin – it’s a bear!

Wait, where are we? Kevin picks out a T-shirt to mark his great Alaskan adventure.

  • Evening: Grab dinner and drinks at Orso, one of my favorite restaurants in Anchorage. They went all out for Kevin’s birthday and even wrote out a personal note in a birthday card. So VIP!

Enjoying Kevin’s birthday dessert, on the house at Orso’s in downtown Anchorage.

  • After dinner, check into The Lakefront Anchorage. The rooms are spacious and clean. But my favorite part are common areas filled with stuffed Alaskan wildlife. It’s sort of like a scene out of Night at the Museum.

Inside The Lakefront Anchorage hotel.

DAY 2: DENALI, DRIVING ANCHORAGE TO SEWARD

Getting ready for our pontoon plane ride to Denali National Park.

  • 10 AM -1 PM, Airplane tour of Denali National Park with Rust’s Flying Service
    • We were short on time, and couldn’t make the long drive up to Denali. But you’re just 45 minutes away from the famed national park by airplane from Anchorage.
    • The 3-hour tour goes above Denali National Park. We flew  above Denali’s lower peaks and viewed the entire length of the rugged Ruth Glacier.

Flying high above Denali National Park – breathtaking!

  • Along the tour, you’ll also enter the Great Gorge, the world’s deepest, and emerge into the Ruth Amphitheater. Along the way back you might even spot a moose or bear!

Spectacular views into the deep crevices.

Kevin is amazed and freaking out all at once!

  • 2 PM, Depart Anchorage to Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (1-hour drive). There is more fun to have.
    • The drive south on the Seward Highway is spectacular. Keep an eye out for bald eagles and Dall sheep along the highway.
    • But that’s not all we loved on the drive. Yes, I found a bakery. Make a stop along the way at the Alpine Bakery and get a cinnamon bun. Kevin had them heat it up, which was a wise decision.

Quick stop along the way south at the Alpine Bakery in Girdwood. Well worth the quick stop off the highway.

  • 3:30-5 PM, Take a VIP “Walk on the Wild Side Tour” at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
    • You’ll get to see the inner-workings of the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and get up close and personal with a porcupine and have the chance to feed one additional animal (they have a moose!). I was sold by this lone fact alone!

Alaska Wildlife Center Tour – a must-see along your trip along the Alaska road trip adventure!

The very cute baby musk ox.

Kevin feeds the baby porcupine.

  • 6 PM, drive to Seward (1.5 hour drive). We loved our time in Seward — and had our best meal in Alaska at The Cookery. Everything is local and fresh.  You can’t go wrong with the fresh seafood, and we are still talking about the halibut.

Inside The Cookery in Seward.

Must-order dish: the fresh caught halibut at The Cookery

  • It’s a long day! We stayed in downtown Seward at the Sauerdough LodgeIt’s a nice option if you like to be within walking distance of shops and restaurants.

Inside the Sauerdough Lodge in downtown Seward.

DAY 3: EXPLORING SEWARD, THEN JOURNEYING TO HOMER

Downtown Seward

  • 8:30 AM, we woke up early to enjoy the delicious breakfast and homey atmosphere at the Sea Bean Café, located at the same location as the hotel. We also recommend Resurrect Art Coffee House just up the road.

Kevin enjoys the comfy couch inside the Sea Bean Cafe in Seward.

  • 10 AM – 12 PM, Spend the rest of your morning exploring the informative Alaska Sealife Center.
    • The center is dedicated to understanding the marine ecosystem of Alaska through research, rehabilitation, conservation and education.
    • The facility was built with funds from the 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil spill.
    • We also realized that we knew very little about the spill — especially after checking out the exhibit (learning the spill happened near the Alaskan city of Valdez. It makes complete sense, but I had no idea. Mind blown!).

I’ve never been so close to a puffin. I could have petted it (and oh, did I want to!).

  • 12-12:30, walk along the coastal trail just outside the Alaskan Wildlife Center. This is the historic start to the Iditarod dog-sled race. These days, it leaves from Anchorage but you’ll find some historic plaques. But the views of the bay make it worth the easy walk.

Roaming around the shoreline of Seward – makes a fun way to spend the afternoon.

  • 1-4:30 PM, Join a kayaking tour with Liquid Adventures. The company also offers stand up paddle-boarding, but something told me that it probably wasn’t a good idea. One of us would likely end up in icy water — and let’s just say, it wouldn’t be fun for anyone!

  • The kayak tour in front of Bear Glacier was a major highlight. We even saw a piece of ice break off the top of an iceberg and float away. It felt like a documentary!

A seals swims up to check us out.

  • 5 PM, Drive to Homer (3-4+ hours with stops for photos). Grab dinner along the way in Soldotna, Alaska, at St. Elias Brewery, for some tasty pizza and micro-brew beer.

The train runs right along the highway, along the drive from Seward.

Inside the St. Elias Brewing Company in Soldotna, a great spot to grab a bite along the way to Homer.

Room at the Otter Beach Lodge in Homer.

DAY 4: SEARCH FOR BEARS IN HOMER, THEN DRIVE TO ANCHORAGE

  • 7 AM – 1 PM, Join Smokey Bay Air on what we consider an Alaska must-do bucket list item and see bears in their natural surrounding at Katmai National Park.

  • Talk about an adventure — Smokey Bay Air offers small group tours right into the heart of brown bear country. When picking a tour company, you must make sure it has a strong safety record and offers quality service. We highly recommend them.

  • Smokey Bay Air was my top choice and they went above and beyond expectations. You arrive by plane – the only way in, and besides seeing all the bears, you’ll pass by spectacular nature including massive volcanoes.

  • 1-3 PM, After the tour, you’ll have time to check out Homer. You’ll find plenty of art galleries and street performers along “the spit” (where all the boats are docked). As one of the locals told us about Homer’s artist connection, “When you have such long winters, everyone becomes an artist of some kind!”

Live music along the Homer Spit

Quaint Homer — love all the shopping!

  • Before heading out, we grabbed a bite at the Little Mermaid, where the servings are big. I suggested to Kevin that we just order the garlic bread since I wanted a “light” meal. Let’s just say, I’m glad we split it!

Our “light” snack at the Little Mermaid. We devoured it!

  • 3 PM, Drive back to Anchorage (it’s about a 4 hour drive). And while we had the hearty snack at the Little Mermaid, we were hungry by the time we got into Anchorage. We recommend getting some Alaskan King Crab legs at the Glacier Brewhouse in downtown Anchorage. These just might be the freshest you’ll ever taste.

Kevin is so focused! And ready to dig into the King Crab legs

I can’t help but grab his nose with the claw!

  • 10 PM, Another late night. Noticing a trend? Check into your comfy digs at A Wildflower Inn in downtown Anchorage.

Our room at the Wildflower Inn, a cozy B&B in downtown Anchorage.

DAY 5: ANCHORAGE, RETURN HOME

Breakfast at Wildflower Inn

  • It’s sadly the last day. But we’ve packed in a lot! We recommend getting an early start to maximize your time.
  • 10 AM-12 PM, Explore the Alaskan Native Heritage Center, which shares the heritage of Alaska’s 11 major cultural groups.

  • The center has live dance performances and a museum that goes into great depth on the history of Alaska’s different native groups.
  • But our top recommendation? Go outside to the lake with native structures surrounding it. This section reminded us of Epcot’s World Showcase. But instead of countries, you’ll find different native clans. Inside each of the homes you’ll find staff who will share stories and explain all the objects on display.

Kevin is impressed by the whale teeth.

  • 12 pm – on, Spend the rest of your afternoon exploring downtown Anchorage.
  • We shopped and picked up one last souvenir — a stone carving of a bear to remind us of our tour in Homer. Then enjoyed our time hanging out in a coffee shop. Talk about an epic 5 day adventure! I think we’ll both need a nap once we get back home!

Stone carving in one of the shops in downtown Anchorage.

Kevin enjoys his hot tea at Kaldi Brothers Coffee in downtown Anchorage.

Enjoy your time in Alaska! And while 5 days isn’t a huge amount of time, you’ll still get to cover a lot of ground on this itinerary. And hopefully we’ll get to explore the Last Frontier again soon!

Summary
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Our 5 day itinerary in Alaska is epic. We'll take you from Anchorage to Denali and along the Kenai Peninsula to see Seward and Homer. It is a 40th birthday adventure that we'll never forget!

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