Things to do along the Seward Highway
The Seward Highway has quickly become one of the most well-known highways in Alaska and the United States due to its breathtaking beauty and wealth of tourist attractions. The Seward Highway stretches south of Anchorage, the state’s largest city, and connects interior Alaska to Seward, a famous port city and cruise ship hub.
When traveling between Seward and Anchorage, there’s no better way than the Seward Highway. Here is a sampling of the many things to see and do during your Alaskan adventure.
Stop at the Turnagain Arm
Located just outside of the city of Anchorage, Turnagain Arm is famous for its beautiful coastline and abundant wildlife. It was named after the adventures of 18th-century explorer James Cook, who believed it to be the Northwest Passage, a fabled river that stretched through North America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. When Cook discovered that the Turnagain Arm was not the Northwest Passage, he had to “return” to the ocean again.
As well as the spectacular shores of Turnagain Arm, it is also known as a game viewing area. Dall sheep and beluga whales can often be seen at this site. So take your binoculars with you and consider stopping for a while to enjoy the view. There are numerous places along the road to safely park your car and observe the natural beauty of Turnagain Arm.
While it’s also possible to head to the Turnagain Arm beaches for shelling and sightseeing, be sure not to set foot on the mudflats that surround the country. These tidal flats are made up of coastal mud that works in a similar way to quicksand, trapping people which combined with the tides of the water can very easily lead to drowning. Be very careful when approaching the water of Turnagain Arm.
Visit Beluga Point
As the name suggests, Beluga Point is a popular spot for spotting beluga whales. This remote area south of the Turnagain Arm offers great views of the arm and mountains alongside the whales.
Hike a trail
There are numerous hiking trails along the Seward Highway that allow you to explore the otherworldly landscapes of southern Alaska. The length and difficulty of the hiking trails vary greatly. So do your research beforehand and bring a map so you know which ones you want to tour and where to find them.
Visit Alyeska Ski Resort
Alyeska Ski Resort is the largest ski area in Alaska and is located in the town of Girdwood, about 40 miles south of Anchorage. It is a popular stopover for travelers. Alyeska Ski Resort not only offers great ski slopes, but is also known for its Aerial Tram, which allows tourists to enjoy spectacular mountain views for miles.
In addition, the town of Girdwood is home to a number of other tourist attractions. If you enjoy kayaking, hiking, or other outdoor activities, Girdwood has them for you. It is also located at Chugach State Park, one of the most famous parks in Alaska.
Visit Portage Valley
Just south of Girdwood is Portage Valley, which offers unusual dead tree sights. This is due to the 1964 earthquake that nativeized this part of Alaska, submerged a town on the Turnagain Arm, and permanently changed the landscape.
Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Located about 15 miles south of Girdwood, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is one of the state’s most popular tourist attractions. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center was established to care for animals that were sick, injured, orphaned, or otherwise unable to take care of themselves. It allows them to survive and thrive in a natural, relaxed, and safe environment.
At the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, you can see a slice of Alaskan native life, including moose, bear, caribou, musk ox and more. You can walk or drive around the complex, whichever you prefer. Remember to bring your camera so you can capture plenty of pictures of these majestic creatures frolicking in their surroundings.
Visit Portage Glacier
Once one of the largest glaciers in southern Alaska, rising global temperatures have caused Portage Glacier to shrink. Portage Glacier is near the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center while a visitor center is still in operation. It is no longer possible to view the glacier from the center.
However, the visitor center is still worth a visit as they offer boat trips to Portage Glacier, which take about an hour round trip. There are also a number of hiking trails that you can use to walk to the glacier. However, these are not recommended for beginners. There are also a number of great exhibits in the visitor center itself, including an ice cave.
Visit Turnagain Pass
Located south of Portage Glacier, Turnagain Pass is known as a popular spot for snowmobiling in the winter. In the summer you can go hiking, berry picking and wildlife watching.
Located on a cul-de-sac off the Seward Highway near Portage Glacier, Whittier is best known as the area’s other major cruise terminal. Originally built as a military base during World War II, Whittier is one of the most unusual towns in Alaska, not least because nearly all 220 residents live in a single building, the Begich Towers Condominium. This fact has led to Whittier being referred to as “the town under one roof”.
Reaching Whittier by land is via the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which is unique in that it carries both road and rail traffic, albeit not simultaneously. At Whittier, you can admire the views from the harbor or drive to the Begich Towers, which includes a hotel, grocery store, restaurants, pool, hospital and more.
Visit Tern Lake
Located at the intersection of the Seward Highways and the Sterling Highways, Tern Lake is known for its abundance of wildlife. Depending on the time of day or season, you may see Dall sheep, bears, bald eagles, muskrats, beavers, or more. In summer you can also watch salmon spawning at Lake Tern. In addition, the lake offers a spectacular view of the mountains.
Visit Moose Pass
Located 30 miles north of Seward, Moose Pass is famous for its breathtaking views of the Alaskan landscape. Surrounded by the Chugach National Forest, the town offers hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities.
Visit Exit Glacier
The last stop for many travelers heading to Seward—or the first stop for travelers leaving them—is Exit Glacier. Located just 4 miles north of Seward, it is considered one of the easiest glaciers to reach for tourists. Part of the Harding Icefield, Exit Glacier has retreated in a manner similar to Portage Glacier but is still within easy walking distance.
The Nature Center at Exit Glacier offers a range of hikes of varying difficulty to the glacier. Less adventurous travelers will want to take the Glacier Overlook Trail, which is paved and also wheelchair and stroller accessible. This trail takes 45 minutes to walk from one end to the other and takes you straight to the exit glacier. Other trails require more effort and/or experience to hike successfully.
Due to the rapid retreat of glaciers, trails at Exit Glacier have markers showing where the glacier used to extend and the year it melted away from those locations. It is also possible to get off the beaten path and walk to the glacier at your own risk. Exit Glacier also offers picnic areas, bathrooms, running water and other amenities that you can use for a day trip with friends and/or family.
This is just a sampling of the sights and delights that await you along the Seward Highway. Remember that there are numerous places along the highway that you can just drive past to take photos, hike, or do other activities. Remember to dress in comfortable, layered clothing as the Alaskan weather can change at any moment. Always bring some survival kit with you in case something happens to you when you are away from civilization.
Whether you’re looking for wildlife viewing, hiking through beautiful countryside, skiing, kayaking, fishing, natural history or exploring small towns, the Seward Highway has something for you. When you drive the Seward Highway, you’ll experience one of Alaska’s most important stretches of cultural heritage, a collection of sights, sounds and attractions that make our state one of the greatest places on earth. As you drive down the Seward Highway, you’ll quickly see why it’s one of the most famous highways in America.