Alaska Road Trip – Treasured Tiny Towns
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
It seems like no matter where you go in Alaska, the most awe-inspiring natural beauty surrounds you in just about every possible direction. Majestic, larger-than-life landscapes are just apart of the norm in the Last Frontier. But what we love the most is stumbling upon tiny little (highly underrated) towns with scenery so undeniably striking that we simply MUST spread the word. So we designed this Alaska road trip through towns with populations of 1,000 residents or less, because you deserve to be rewarded with this much scenic eye-candy.
The entire Alaska road trip is roughly 650 miles in length and takes about 13 hours of drive time. Keep in mind, this is one-way. So the round-trip distance would be 1,300 miles and 26 hours. This would be a great trip to take on a 3-4 day weekend. Better yet, take a few extra vacation days to really soak in the scenic beauty that surrounds you. The Alaska road trip can also be jumped on at any point along the way, depending on your location in the Interior, Southcentral or Kenai Peninsula regions of Alaska. To view the Alaska road trip map, CLICK HERE.
Stop 1: Fox, Alaska (population 417)
Established in the early 1900s as a mining camp, the tiny town of Fox is filled with rich gold rush historic charm. In town you’ll find tons of delicious restaurants, plus you’ll be surrounded by the striking beauty of the Tanana Valley in the distance. If you are a sucker for a good Northern Lights show, Fox is a great place to be!
Stop 2: Nenana, Alaska (population 386)
Although the experience through Nenana is absolutely spectacular via the Alaska Railroad, we happen to think that it’s abundantly worthy of being included on any road trip. The views overlooking the tributary of the Nenana River flowing into the Tanana River are absolutely enchanting. Check out the Mears Memorial Bridge for a truly unique photo-op.
Stop 3: Healy, Alaska (population 1,021)
Home to the famous Stampede Trail from the popular book (and movie) Into The Wild, Healy is a tiny town that really stands out from the crowd. It’s location on the outlying border of Denali National Park & Preserve boasts incredible amounts of scenery and recreational opportunities. The nearby McKinley Village area is another gem that you should explore along the way. It is filled with delicious restaurants, entertainment, shopping and much more.
Stop 4: Cantwell, Alaska (population 219)
This beautiful little town began as a flag-stop on the Alaska Railroad route at the junction with the Denali Highway. It is an idyllic little community, perfect for escaping the crowds and getting a serene dose of peace and quite. This is also a popular outdoor recreational paradise for locals that enjoy activities such as hiking, mushing, hunting, trapping, ATVing and more. One of the more recognizable roadside stops nearby to Cantwell is by the massive roadside igloo-like structure that is now merely an abandoned hotel. Named Igloo City, this quirky attraction is roughly 22 miles south of Cantwell off the George Parks Highway. Another neat roadside attraction near Cantwell is the Alaska Veteran’s Memorial (pictured above), which is roughly 64 miles south of town in the Denali State Park off the George Parks Highway.
Stop 5: Talkeetna, Alaska (population 876)
Any town that has a mayor named ‘Stubbs the Cat’ is a place that anyone and everyone needs to experience. The charming and quirky town of Talkeetna is filled with yummy eateries, fun shops, friendly locals and spectacular views of Denali and the Susitna River. Stay overnight and you might even spot the Aurora Borealis dancing above you in the clear night sky.
Stop 6: Eklutna, Alaska (population 70)
This Dena’ina Athabascan native village is located about 30 miles north of Alaska’s largest city of Anchorage, and it is a true hidden gem. Visit Eklutna Lake to experience breathtaking panoramic beauty and recreational activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, fishing and more. Be sure to check out the Eklutna Spirit Houses for a little dose of Russian Orthodox history.
Stop 7: Portage, Alaska (population 3)
After the 1964 Good Friday Earthquake destroyed nearly the entire settlement of Portage, nature began to slowly reclaim the land. Today, what remains is truly spectacular. Hike Portage Valley to experience the sights of Byron Glacier or Portage Glacier. Or, head over to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to explore all the fascinating wildlife species that they take in due to being injured or orphaned. This experience is a must.
Stop 8: Hope, Alaska (population 192)
Drive the 17-mile-long Hope Highway towards the mouth of Resurrection Creek. Enjoy spectacular views in the distance overlooking the Turnagain Arm and Seward Highway across the Cook Inlet. Fishing, hiking and camping in Hope are very popular activities during the summer months.
Stop 9: Cooper Landing, Alaska (population 289)
The enchanting community of Cooper Landing really knows how to pack on the wow-factor. Enjoy the turquoise waters of Kenai Lake, and the fierce glacial flow of the Kenai River. Salmon and trout provide abundant fishing opportunities, while the nearby Kenai Mountains are perfect for those looking to hike or camp in the backcountry. A hike to the Russian River Falls is also a MUST, but remember to be bear-aware!
Stop 10: Ninilchik, Alaska (population 883)
This idyllic little native village is truly a breath of fresh air. With old fashioned values, historic charm, friendly locals and incredible recreational opportunities, you’ll have a hard time pulling yourself away. Hit the saltwater and fish for halibut and salmon, or grab the ATV’s (or mountain bikes) and head up into the Caribou Hills, which is also a great area for hunting. The beautiful coastline is great for beach combing and spotting eagles by the masses. If you’re lucky enough to catch a sunrise or sunset in Ninilchik, you’ll feel as though you’ve won the eye-candy lottery!
Looking for more where that came from? If you are intrigued by historic towns in Alaska, be sure to check out this great article; The Lifeline – Accessing Port In Whittier WWII Engineering Feat. We’re positive that you’ll also enjoy this read; Adak Island – Salvaging Items Left Behind.
Be sure to let us know in the comments below if we left any of your favorite tiny towns off the road trip. We know we only covered a few regions, but we’re just getting started and have plenty more Alaska road trips to share in the future! If you love getting outdoors, hitting the open road and experiencing all the breathtaking beauty that The Alaska Life has to offer, we want to live vicariously through you! Share your favorite Alaska road trip moments with us on our Facebook page by clicking HERE, and they might just end up being featured in one of our next blog posts.