The Seward Highway has rapidly become one of the best-known highways in both Alaska and the U.S. at large for its stunning beauty and wealth of tourist attractions. Extending south from Anchorage, the largest city in the state, the Seward Highway connects the interior of Alaska to Seward, a famous port city in its own right and a hub for cruise ship departures.
If you’re traveling between Seward and Anchorage, there’s no better way to do it than via the Seward Highway. Here is a sampling of the many things you can see and do while you’re on your Alaskan adventure.
Stop at Turnagain Arm
Located just outside the city of Anchorage, Turnagain Arm is famous for its gorgeous coastlines and its abundance of wildlife. It was named due to the adventures of 18th century explorer James Cook, who mistook it for the Northwest Passage, a fabled river that stretched across North America and connected the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Upon discovering that Turnagain Arm was not the Northwest Passage, Cook’s vessel had to “turn again” back to the ocean.
In addition to the spectacular shorelines of Turnagain Arm, it is also known as a wildlife watching spot. Dall sheep and beluga whales can often be witnessed in this location, so bring your binoculars and consider stopping for a while to admire the view. There are numerous locations along the road where you can safely park your car and observe Turnagain Arm’s natural beauty.
While it is also possible to venture onto the beaches of Turnagain Arm for collecting seashells and sightseeing, under no circumstances should you walk out onto the mudflats that surround the land. These mudflats are composed of a coastal silt that functions similarly to quicksand, trapping people, which combined with the tides of the water can very easily result in drowning. Be very careful when approaching the water of Turnagain Arm.
Visit Beluga Point
As the name suggests, Beluga Point is a popular place for watching beluga whales. Located south of Turnagain Arm, this secluded locale offers gorgeous views of the Arm and mountains alongside the whales themselves.
Hike a Trail
There are numerous hiking trails located along the Seward Highway, allowing you to explore the otherworldly landscapes of southern Alaska at your leisure. Hiking trails vary wildly in terms of their length and difficult, so research them beforehand and bring a map so you know which ones you want to travel and where to find them.
Visit the Alyeska Ski Resort
The largest ski resort in Alaska, the Alyeska Ski Resort is located in the town of Girdwood, roughly 40 miles south of Anchorage, and is a popular stopover for travelers. Beyond offering great skiing trails, the Alyeska Ski Resort is famous for its Aerial Tram, which offers tourists a spectacular view of the mountains for miles around.
In addition to this, the town of Girdwood is home to a number of other tourist attractions. If you’re into kayaking, hiking, or other outdoors activities, Girdwood has them in spades. It is also located by Chugach State Park, one of the best known parks in Alaska.
Visit Portage Valley
Just south of Girdwood is Portage Valley, which offers unusual sights of dead trees. This is because of the 1964 earthquake that struck this part of Alaska, submerging a local town into Turnagain Arm and permanently altering the landscape.
Visit the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Located about 15 miles south of Girdwood, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state. Founded to care for animals that are sick, injured, orphaned, or otherwise unable to care for themselves, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center allows them to survive and thrive in a natural, relaxed, and safe setting.
At the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, you’ll be able to observe a slice of Alaska’s native life, including moose, bears, caribou, musk oxen, and much more. You can walk or drive around the complex, whichever you prefer. Remember to bring your camera so you can take plenty of pictures of these majestic creatures frolicking in their environments.
Visit Portage Glacier
Once one of the major glaciers located in southern Alaska, rising global temperatures have resulted in Portage Glacier shrinking in size. Located near the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, while there is a visitor center still in operation, Portage Glacier has sufficiently retreated that it is no longer possible to view the glacier from the center itself.
However, the visitor center is still worth a visit as it offers boat rides to Portage Glacier that take roughly one hour there and back. There are also a number of hiking trails that allow you to walk to the glacier, though these are not recommended for newbies. There are also a number of great exhibits at the visitor center itself, including an ice cave.
Visit Turnagain Pass
Turnagain Pass is located south of Portage Glacier and is known as a popular spot for snowmobiling in the winter. In the summer, it is used for hiking, berry-picking, and wildlife watching.
Located on a spur road off the Seward Highway near Portage Glacier, Whittier is best known as the other major cruise ship terminal in the area. 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 of its 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 via land is done via the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, unique in that it carries both road and rail traffic, though not at the same time. In Whittier, you can admire the views from the harbor or journey to Begich Towers, which contains a hotel, a grocery store, restaurants, a pool, a hospital, and more.
Visit Tern Lake
Located at the intersection of the Seward and Sterling Highways, Tern Lake is noted for the sheer diversity of wildlife it hosts. Depending on the time of day or year, you might see Dall sheep, bears, bald eagles, muskrats, beavers, or more. During the summer, you can also watch salmon spawning at Tern Lake. In addition to all this, the lake offers spectacular views of the mountains.
Visit Moose Pass
Located 30 miles north of Seward, Moose Pass is famed for the breathtaking views it offers of the Alaskan countryside. Surrounded by Chugach National Forest, the town offers hiking, kayaking, and other outdoors activities.
Visit Exit Glacier
The last stop for many travelers heading to Seward—or the first stop for travelers leaving it—is Exit Glacier. Located just four miles north of Seward, Exit Glacier is noted as one of the easiest glaciers for tourists to access. Part of the Harding Icefield, Exit Glacier has been retreating in a similar fashion as Portage Glacier, though it is still easily accessible by foot.
The Nature Center at Exit Glacier offers a number of hikes of varying difficulty out to Exit Glacier. Less adventurous travelers will want to take the Glacier Overlook trail, which is paved as well as accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. This trail takes 45 minutes to walk from one end to the other and will take you right up to view Exit Glacier. Other trails will require more exertion and/or experience to successfully hike.
Due to the rapid rate of glacial retreat, the trails at Exit Glacier feature markers of where the glacier used to extend to and what year it melted away from those locations. It is also possible to go off the beaten trail and walk up to the glacier itself, though you do so at your own risk. Exit Glacier also offers picnic areas, bathrooms, running water, and other conveniences that can be used for a full day’s outing with your friends and/or family.
These are just a small sample of the sights and delights that await you on the Seward Highway. Remember that there are numerous places along the highway where you can simply pull over to take pictures, hike, or do other activities. Remember to dress in comfortable, layered clothing because the weather in Alaska can change on a dime, and always bring survival gear in case something happens to you when you’re far away from civilization.
Whether you’re into watching wildlife, hiking through gorgeous landscapes, skiing, kayaking, fishing, natural history, or exploring small towns, the Seward Highway has something to offer you. When you travel the Seward Highway, you’re experiencing one of the most important slices of Alaska’s cultural heritage, an array of the sights, sounds, and attractions that make our state one of the greatest places to visit in the world. Journey down the Seward Highway and you’ll quickly discover why it is one of the most famous highways in the U.S.