Why This Trip?
This loop itinerary includes spectacular scenery everywhere, and a wide variety of landscapes. You'll drive east to the glacier-filled seaside town of Valdez, and then embark on an incredible ferry ride to Whittier and explore great mountain scenery around Girdwood before returning to Anchorage.
Scenic Drive from Anchorage to Valdez
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Pick up your rental car in Anchorage and drive through gorgeous scenery on your way to the seaside town of Valdez—a trip that will take about 5.5 hours nonstop. Plan for 6-7, though, as you'll be find some beautiful distractions along the way. About 2 hours into the drive, pull off to marvel at the mammoth Matanuska Glacier, one of Alaska's few roadside glaciers. Closer to Valdez, you'll be treated to another one, Worthington Glacier, which you can take in from a viewing platform ($5 parking). As you get closer to Valdez, stop at the pullouts in Keystone Canyon to take in the views of Bridal Veil Falls. Make time for one last detour on your way into town - a stop at Valdez Glacier Lake, where you can marvel at icebergs that have calved from the glacier. If you want to get closer, book a kayaking tour to paddle around them!
Day and Overnight in Valdez
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This town is sitatuated spectacularly on shimmering waters and surrounded by mountains, with wildlife and glaciers galore. So get out there! Take a day cruise out to see those glaciers and look for sea otters, puffins, whales, and bald eagles. Or grab a paddle and take a kayaking tour. Depending on the time of year, there are fantastic wildlife viewing opportunities in Valdez. Stop at the Solomon Gulch Hatchery or Crook Creek Information Site to see salmon returning to their spawning grounds, as well as the chance to spot bears fishing.
Ferry from Valdez to Whittier, Overnight in Whittier
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Today you'll enjoy another spectacular boat ride—this one aboard a ferry* (with your car) to Whittier. It'll take around six hours, during which you can kick back and take in the scenery as you look for wildlife.
Once you arrive in Whittier, and offload your vehicle, spend a little time in this charming town. If you want to stretch your legs after your boat ride, check out the local monuments, or, do the self-guided walking tour of historic buildings from WWII and the Cold War -- it takes about 30-minutes to see them all!
Overnight in Whittier.
*The Alaska Marine Highway Ferry between Valdez and Whittier does not operate every day. On average, there are three ferries a week May - September. Search for a sailing in advance on the AMHS website, and plan your itinerary around it.
Day in Whittier
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Or, enjoy some time with your feet on the ground. For a small town, Whittier has several great trails to explore. Portage Pass is the most popular. Round-trip it's 4-miles, but it's a quick 2 if you just hike to the top and back, where you'll get views of Passage Canal and Whittier on one side, and Portage Glacier on the other. Here's a full list of trails in Whittier.
After your day in Whittier, it's up to you when you depart, but you'll need to time your departure from Whittier with the Whittier Tunnel Schedule. From May 1 - September 30, you can leave Whittier every hour on the hour, with the last tunnel opening at 11pm.
From Whittier, it's a quick, 40-minute drive to Girdwood—a ski resort town in winter, and an adventure hub in summer with great trails, opportunities to flightsee and dog sled, and a scenic tram up the mountain.
(photo - Glacier Jet Ski Adventures)
Morning in Girdwood - Drive to Anchorage
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If you have time this morning, do an activity here. Visit the 1898-era Crow Creek Mine, where you can pan for your own gold or go for a hike! Then make the 40-mile drive back to Anchorage; giving yourself plenty of time to take in the beautiful scenery along the Turnagain Arm.