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. Flickr, Madeleine Deaton[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7813" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Madeleine Deaton[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7818" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, J. Stephen Conn[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7822" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Timothy Wildey[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7815" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Jimmy Emerson, DVM[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7805" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Andrew E. Russell[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7807" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Malcolm Manners[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7806" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, David Casteel[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_11587" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Nagley's Store - Photo Courtesy of Talkeetna Tiny House Cabin[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7820" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Paxson Woelber[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7811" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, readlistendream[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7812" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Frank Kovalchek[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7821" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Ted Angstadt[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7808" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Rick Fogerty[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7816" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Erik Halfacre[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7823" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Heike Heumann[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7809" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Ross Fowler[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7817" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Daniel Hoherd[/caption] 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) [caption id="attachment_7819" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Steve[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7824" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Flickr, Amy Meredith[/caption] 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.
Written by Courtney Dowd-Stanley
What about gas stations? Dont want to get stuck with no station around…
It would be easier with a partner to help with driving. My favorite place is Talkeetna, a magical place.
Why wouldn’t you goto the end of the road & Visit Homer?
My husband and I did a road trip last June. I have limited mobility. Prior to making the trip, I ordered a bariatric walker with the seat and had it shipped to the Anchorage community loaner closet. Having been a nurse in Home Care, I knew most communities have these loaner closets where people donate all sorts of equipment from walkers to hospital beds. All they ask is that when you no longer need the equipment it gets returned to them. When we arrived in Anchorage, we picked up the walker. At the end of the two weeks, we donated it to the loaner closet. Whether you need a bariatric or regular walker, you can take your chances on the loaner closet having a walker when you arrive or you can order one and have it shipped there for your pick up or you can check your walker at the airport and use a wheelchair within the airports. The walker with the seat is great because you can sit down when you get fatigued or start having pain. I also had a cane I used for short distances. I even went fishing for halibut and salmon in Cook Inlet and salmon and trout in the Kenai River. The fishing guides were great in working with me. I planned our road trip completely. Many times I was able to stay in the car and take in the stunning scenery. Go and enjoy!!
sounds like an interesting trip!
Bob, if you’re doing what we call ‘the loop tour’, which is ANC, Glennallen, Fairbanks, Denali (or reverse), it’s about 386 miles between FAI and ANC, no matter which way you go. That’s without the Kenai, Tok, or up the Haul Road. Again, The Milepost and AAA are your best traveling tools for Alaska.
Looks to me for a 1300 mile trip in 3-4 days, most of it would be driving.
Did I miss something in my interpretation of your description ?
This is more like 650ish miles…
The Milepost is your answer. Check out themilepost dot com. If you have AAA they can put together a trip ticket for you, to include travel thru Canada if you have some idea of your route through. To give you a sense of scale, it’s about 2400 miles between Spokane, WA and Fairbanks, AK without a lot of side trips.
Another option is to fly up and rent an RV; lots of them around.
How about rv hookups along the way. We are new to rving and don’t think we are ready to go w/o power, etc.
There are plenty of RV parks along the way!
Yes you can. I have had knee and hip replacement and still have back issues. I made nearly this exact trip….plus others in 2015. There are also nearby activities and sites at most of these locations that you would also be able to do without issue.
I would love to see all of the places in Alaska on snowmobile that would be awesome
If you have no other medical issues, then yes. If you happen to be diabetic, make sure you have some healthy foods along for maintaining your numbers. Don’t forget your med alert if you have one while traveling. Come on up! A walking aid that you can sit and rest on is REALLY handy (I’ve got a bad knee).
Day Dreaming about the time I get to go visit Alaska again… The wait is killing me. arg. :)
Keep going on down to Homer, AK…it’s a wonderful little town!
I made this trip last summer from Nenana south to Cooper Landing. Not knowing your exact situation-I’d say yes. Most everything is easily accessed from the road. Take it slow and you’d really not have an issue..
Your facts are wrong. The Giant Igloo is not in Cantwell, its 21 miles south in the Mat-Su Bor.
We lived there for more than 10 years, and know its not ‘in Cantwell’, but its nearby and is one of the closer roadside attractions near Cantwell.
Right. We have a soft spot for Cantwell (lived there more than 10 years), but these are the closest ‘roadside attractions’ that one might see close to there.
I would think so! Most of what is found here can be accessed right from the road, or even seen from a drive-able surface. Lots of fantastic paved pull-outs along the way to stop and take in additional sights as well.
These road tris sound amazing!
I’m not sure if Courtney Dowd-Stanley has driven this route, but the Igloo is 21 miles south of Cantwell and the Veterans Memorial, pictured in the Cantwell section, is 73 miles south of there. Both are worth stopping to visit.
I am not in a wheelchair but have limited mobility
Would this trip be ok for me?